Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Museums on Us

There was a time when I could easily (if not generously) support the artistic and horticultural organizations that interest me.  But things are financially tight right now… as they may be with you… and I give careful thought to every expense.  I look out for special “community days”, coupons and partnerships that discount admission or purchases at museums and gardens.

Bank of America’s Museums on Us is one of those benefits that exists whether you use it or not!  As you can imagine, Bank of America contributes to many cultural institutions throughout the world, and they’ve asked over 150 of these museums to offer free admission to B-of-A customers every first weekend of the month.

You can view a complete list of participating sites online.  Keep in mind… Museums on Us sometimes corresponds with free “community days” at these organizations and not every site is open both Saturday and Sunday, so do a little homework before heading out.  But basically, you just need to show your Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit/debit card and a photo ID to receive free admission.  I’ve benefitted once a year since the program started, specifically, to visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C.  But I hope to take even greater advantage of Museums on Us this year.

Bank of America has one of the largest and most diverse corporate art collections in the world.  And about three years ago, they started lending out works for free.  Through their Art in Our Communities program, museums and art centers can borrow individual pieces or complete exhibitions.  Bank of America even covers the cost of packing and shipping works of art, restoration and framing, shipping insurance and some exhibition literature, so that organizations of all sizes can participate in Art in Our Communities.  Click here for a list of current traveling exhibitions.  You can also view some pieces from the Bank of America collection online.

And finally, Bank of America displays their collections in public art galleries at their headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina; Boston; Los Angeles and San Francisco; Wilmington, Delaware; and London.  These galleries are open, for free, usually during regular business hours.  But they sometimes host special events and tours after hours.

Our hometown Bank of America branches provide “gallery” space for area artists and extra wall display for a local art gallery.  Yours may too.  It’s a nice way to emphasize the neighborhood feel of these offices and promote arts in the community.  Bank of America Corporation is one of the biggest financial companies in the United States, and in some ways, programs like Museums on Us and Art in Our Communities are simply good public relations.  But they also expand our idea of community.

And isn’t it great to get a little freebie from your bank?  Check out Museums on Us for something to do this weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Green and Gold in the Garden: Aucuba and More

Nothing is quite as cheerful as the combination of green and yellow in the garden, especially this time of year when everything is looking rather ragged.

Himalayan Pine 'Zebrina' has yellow and blue-green needles.

Euonymus fortunei 'Moonshadow'
I’m lucky enough to walk past this charming Aucuba every morning on my way to work.  It has been particularly lovely over the last few weeks as Daffodils have slowly emerged at its feet...  first as dark, blue-green foliage, then in bud and now with sulphury yellow trumpets.

Commonly known as Japanese Laurel or Gold Dust Plant, Aucuba is a slightly rounded, evergreen shrub originally from Asia.  It grows easily in Zones 7 to 10 and will survive, if not prosper, further north.  I’ve always loved the tropical quality of Aucubas with their large glossy green leaves that seem to be splattered with golden yellow paint.  But there are varieties with almost solid green foliage.  All are cultivars of Aucuba japonica, which produce miniscule purple flowers.  Female plants will also yield clusters of small red berries if a male plant is grown nearby.

Aucuba definitely prefers lightly shaded, protected spots in the yard.  Too much sun or winter wind can weaken specimens, leaving them susceptible to fungal diseases and nematodes.  Aucuba responds well to pruning, so just cut back any damaged foliage and shape the shrub in the spring.  Don’t over-fertilize, over-mulch or add too much organic matter to the soil when planting.  Aucuba actually thrives as an understory or foundation plant in urban and seaside gardens and, once established, is drought-tolerant.  Most Aucubas eventually reach about 7’ tall by 5’ wide in Central Virginia.

This beautiful Aucuba inspired me to seek out other examples of green and gold brightening our landscapes right now, and I found… an absolutely perfect Winter Daphne or Daphne odora.

The dark rose-pink buds open into much softer pink blossoms.
This particular cultivar is called ‘Aureomarginata’ for its yellow-bordered leaves.  The color combination is a creamier, calmer version of Aucuba but is just as effective at illuminating a shady corner.

Daphne includes several species of small, rounded shrubs, mostly native to Asia and Europe.  Daphne odora is known for its dark pink buds that blossom into amazingly scented, pinkish-white flowers, at the end of winter.

I’ve never grown Daphne odora myself, because I really don’t have a good spot for it.  It definitely needs partial shade; something that mimics an open woodland with very little root competition; well-drained, fertile soil and regular moisture.  It also grows fairly slowly and struggles if transplanted.  Difficult, I know.  ‘Aureomarginata’ is supposed to be less temperamental.  And it’s so very sweet, both in appearance and fragrance, that I am tempted to try growing it in an enormous planter surrounded by Hellebores and Cyclamen.  Perhaps near my basement door where it would be shadowed by the house and I could enjoy it every day.

I also discovered these stunning variegated Boxwood or Buxus sempervirens.  This particular cultivar is called ‘Aureovariegata’ for its dark green leaves edged in pale yellow.

I know some gardeners have a love-hate relationship with Boxwood.  But I am fan.  Boxwood bring back memories of childhood visits to old Colonial gardens... the play of light and shadows, the musky scent, the sound of crushed oyster or pebble paths.  Boxwood come in a wide range of luxurious green foliage, which bestow a sort of visual calm in any landscape.  Variegated cultivars provide subtle excitement.
Buxus sempervirens, also known as Common or American Boxwood, performs best in partial shade in Zones 6 to 8.  (Mine grow in direct, morning sun, which means they bronze a lot in the winter.)  It prefers a slightly sweet, neutral soil, pH of 6.5 to 7.2, and its shallow roots don’t like to be over-mulched or over-watered.

Like all Boxwood, ‘Aureovariegata’ is evergreen and does flower in spring with the tiniest yellow-green stars.  It is slow-growing and responds well to shearing, but ‘Aureovariegata’ can eventually reach 8’ tall by 6’ wide.  These particular shrubs have been shaped into rather fat pyramids.  Gorgeous!

Luckily, we live close to one of the best Boxwood growers in the East.  Saunders Brothers is a third-generation family business that supplies shrubs, fruit and ornamental trees, perennials and annuals to nurseries and landscapers throughout the Mid-Atlantic.  They initiated and coordinate The National Boxwood Trials to assess Boxwood performance in various habitats throughout much of the U.S. and even in other parts of the world.  You can view the 2011 Report on their website, which is a great resource for anyone who currently grows or wants to grow Boxwood.

Saunders Wholesale Nursery is open to the public three times a year.  And they maintain a retail Farm Market from spring to autumn.  If you don’t have room for Buxus sempervirens ‘Aureovariegata’, the Saunders family recommends B. sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’, which is beautifully variegated but remains only about 2’ round.

A much smaller example of green and gold is Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’.
Commonly called Sweet Flag or Japanese Rush, Acorus gramineus is an ornamental grass native to Asia.  ‘Ogon’ is literally striped bright green and yellow and its foliage remains evergreen in Zones 5 to 11.  The colors are especially vivid on new growth.  Sweet Flag loves moisture, light shade and organically-rich, almost-muddy soil, so I’ve planted it around one of my rain barrels where it can regularly catch overflow.  But several books recommend adding Acorus to mixed container gardens.  And I’ve transplanted rhizome divisions to much drier parts of the yard… still softly-shaded, but much, much drier.  I just water these younger plants by hand during the hottest part of the summer.
Acorus sends up citrusy-yellow flower spikes, or spadices, in summer.  These spikes are nestled among the strappy leaves, unlike well-known plants, such as Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Peace Lily, which protect each spadix with a curved spathe or hood.  Acorus grows about 10” tall and will continue to spread if happy.

And finally, I found a Hamamelis, or Witch Hazel, and Cornus mas, or Cornelian Cherry, in full bloom.

To be honest, I’m not sure if this Witch Hazel is Hamamelis virginiana or H. mollis.
Both species are large deciduous shrubs with open branching, essentially understory trees, that grow well in partial to full sun, in Zones 5 to 8.  Each could eventually reach 20’ tall and 15’ wide.  Witch Hazels are famous for their spicily-aromatic blossoms that look a little like clusters of ribbon or funny mop-heads and bloom in late winter.  Depending on the cultivar, flowers range in color from yellow to peachy-pumpkin to brick red.
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diana'
H. virginiana and H. mollis sport bright sunshine-yellow fringe with purple-brown centers.  These Witch Hazels provide year-round interest in the garden.  In addition to early, fragrant flowers, they produce little brown berries that attract wildlife, have distinctive, smooth gray bark and turn brilliant colors in the fall.  Hamamelis virginiana is native to moist woodlands of eastern North America.  As you probably know, Witch Hazel astringent is made from an extract of its bark and twigs.  H. mollis is native to similar habitats in China.  Its leaves are more silvery-green.  Both species can handle heavy clay soil.

Cornelian Cherries are related to our native Dogwoods but originate from Europe and Western Asia.  They develop into large, upright shrubs, either grown with multiple stems or trained to a single stem… a small ornamental tree, really, that can reach 25’ tall and 15’ wide.  They enjoy sun to partial shade in Zones 4 to 8, and both the plant and its blossoms are exceptionally hardy, hence the mas part of the botanical name.
Cornus mas provides so much pleasure.  It is one of the earliest bloomers in the garden.  The tiny trumpet flowers cluster on bare branches, rather like old-fashioned chenille pom-poms, and are more primrose in color than those of Hamamelis.  Its summer cherries mimic small, red coffee beans and are delicious cooked in desserts or preserves… if you can get to them before the birds and squirrels.  It comes into leaf early, and foliage remains green well into the fall, before turning a muted, purple-red.  Some cultivars even have variegated foliage.  And its grayish, exfoliating bark creates a lovely winter silhouette.

Perfect, right?  The main problem for me is that Cornus mas and all Hamamelis require space I just don’t have.  In my small city plot, I contend with close power lines, adjoining houses and municipal right-of-ways and these shrubs would never reach their full potential.  But imagine them in a suburban garden with a backdrop of evergreen hedges for a beautiful scene of green and yellow at the start of every year.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it is
Aucuba as in…
Ah-KOO-bah   (like Aruba with K in place of R).
The emphasis is on KOO.
Some folks say Ah-KEW-bah (like a cue ball with H instead of LL).

Daphne as in…
DAF-knee        (like a combination of Daffy Duck and knee).
The emphasis is on DAF.

Buxus as in…
BUCKS-us        (like male deer and us).
The emphasis is on BUCKS.

Acorus as in…
ah-KOR-us      (just like a chorus of angels).
The emphasis is on KOR.

Hamamelis as in…
ham-ah           (like gamma with H instead of G)
MAY                (the very merry month)
lis                   (like lisp without a P).
The emphasis is on MAY.

Cornus as in…
KOR-nus          (very much like cornice).
The emphasis is on KOR.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coconut Swirls

Coconut is a popular symbol and flavor of Mardi Gras.  But sometimes a whole coconut cake is just too much sweetness… and a lot of work!  Coconut Swirls are like little bursts of coconut and chocolate and are a perfect Carnival dessert for all ages.  You just need a few ingredients and about an hour to “bake”.  This classic recipe was developed by Cheryl Newton in Florence, Alabama and shared with Southern Living readers many years ago.  It reads as follows:

1/3 cup butter or margarine
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
½ cup instant nonfat dry milk powder
3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Remove from heat, and stir in water and vanilla.

Combine powdered sugar and milk powder; stir ½ cup at a time into butter mixture until smooth.  Stir in coconut.  Shape into 1” balls, and place on ungreased baking sheets.  Chill 20 minutes.

Place chocolate morsels in a small heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag and seal.  Submerge in hot water until chocolate melts.  Snip a tiny hole in one corner of bag, and drizzle chocolate over coconut balls.  Store in refrigerator.

Yield: 3½ dozen

If you bake regularly, you probably have all these ingredients on hand, except the dry milk powder.  A couple hints:

Definitely sift your confectioner’s sugar.  You can even do it twice, so that there are no lumps when you add it to the melted butter.
The ultimate “batter” will be very sticky.  So keep a wet cloth or paper towel handy when you are rolling the balls.  Keep the balls small.  I always have difficulty making them consistent in size.  And don’t worry about crowding them on the cookie sheet.  They aren’t going to spread, and it just makes them easier to drizzle with chocolate.

I use miniature chocolate morsels.  They melt faster.  I’ve never had luck with the zip-lock baggie trick.  So I usually just make a pseudo-double boiler… this time, I set a metal bowl inside a pitcher of boiling water.  The chocolate melts in a minute.

And then I use a fork to kind of ribbon the chocolate over the balls.  It doesn’t have to be exact.  After all, it’s Mardi Gras!  But work as quickly as possible.  The chocolate will harden.
Yes, Coconut Swirls do taste very much like a Mounds candy bar with more emphasis on coconut.  Delicious and rather decadent.  Share with your friends and laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Iciness at Home, Final Chapter

We took a quick road trip over the weekend.  And in just one day, we experienced ashen clouds that could rival those of a summer storm, moments of intense sunshine, brisk winds during hurried walks, occasional drops of icy rain and a brief snowstorm with white-out conditions.

Winter is unpredictable and often makes the shortest journey a real adventure.  Cold weather also lends our interiors greater importance.  They become places of protection and retreat… where plans are made and memories are rekindled.

Photographer Irene Suchocki really captures the magic of winter in her quiet landscapes,

A Winter's Tale
nostalgic scenes of urban life
On a Cold Winter's Night

Everything is Illuminated
and glamorous interiors.
The Golden Age

The Secret History
Originally from Toronto, Irene now lives in Montreal and travels often.  You may have seen her work before... her Eye Poetry Photography is one of the most popular stores on Etsy… or think you’ve seen it before… her photographs often reinterpret well-documented cities, like Paris and New York, with a hazy, dream-like quality that is somehow mysterious and recognizable.  She calls her work “visual poems”.  “I love to photograph iconic places… in a way that gives the sense of having tumbled through a secret doorway into a previously unseen world.”
Ink and Snow
Irene’s prints are incredibly affordable and make great gifts.  And her art lockets, created in collaboration with jewelry maker Lori Patton, are perfect for any seeker of ultima Thule or Snow Queen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Iciness at Home, Continued

This Muhly Grass is amazing… like small frothy waves arrested in time and ice crystals.  But it is the memory of what it was just a few months ago – a porcupine plant of stiff green blades and pink, gossamer plumes – that makes its current icy state all the more magical.

Maya Romanoff’s wall coverings are very much like my frozen Muhly Grass.  Beautiful in their own right.  And stunning when I think about the imagination and care needed to produce them.

Maya began his company in 1969, first exploring tie-dyed fabrics and fabric as an artistic medium, then handcrafted, folded paper, wood, grass, bamboo, gold leaf, and eventually, mica and glass beads.  He and his wife Joyce still run the corporation with his original inquisitiveness, his interest in other cultures and his enthusiasm for experimenting with new technologies.

Wallmica in Isfahan
Maya Romanoff products are available through several showrooms, including their flagship showroom at Merchandise Mart in Chicago and Donghia in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Dania, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Beadazzled Flexible Glass Bead in Sylvie
with Donghia's Albero

Beadazzled Bauble in Pearlie

in Bianca
in Coco Butter

with Donghia's Estrella

Callisto Mirror

with Donghia's Delphi

Designed with Amy Lau, Anniversary Crystal wallpaper honors
the company's 40th anniversary and Maya's early dyed fabrics.

with Donghia's Flirt
These really gorgeous materials remind me that winter is never perfectly white.  They capture the season’s slightly shimmery muddiness and softening textures and transform them into a startling exquisiteness.

Maya Romanoff wall tiles in Vail home designed by Jorge Castillo
Maya Romanoff is based near Chicago, and about half of their products are constructed at this facility.  The rest are made in collaboration with craftsmen in developing countries.  Maya and Joyce are committed to reducing waste and promoting green materials here in the United States and abroad.

Snow and ice are transformative in the garden.  They encase branches, leaves and seed pods and redefine their silhouettes.  And layers of freezing water reveal other colors and forms, like a veiled window into an almost-hidden glacial world.
Oly furniture, mirrors, accessories and light fixtures really echo the frosty complexity of winter.
Oly is the brainchild of Kate McIntyre and Brad Huntzinger, who first collaborated in the 1980s when they founded Ironies.  Ironies still produces some of the most elegant home furnishings I’ve ever seen, especially in terms of wrought iron designs and hand-painted finishes.
But Kate and Brad were very interested in creating a line that was a little younger and more affordable, so in 1999, they started Oly.  Oly designs are about blending the traditional with more contemporary life, adding a little humor and drawing influence from France and Indonesia.  But most importantly, they celebrate craftsmanship and beautiful materials, such as natural fibers, antiqued mirror, limestone, granite, marble, onyx, agate and hammered iron,
Yves Side Table
Lorna Accent Table


mahogany, sono and mindi woods, burnished or brushed sheet metals, reclaimed glass,
Isabella Sconces
and shell.
Nest Mirror
Serena Screen

Their creations in resin are especially lovely.
Anni Vessels
Muriel Chandelier
Paris Vases
Adeline Table

Both Ironies and Oly are based in Berkeley, California.  Oly furniture and most accessories are made in their own factory in Indonesia from as many locally sourced materials as possible.