How To

sioo wood protection environmentally friendly Have you ever noticed how the wood in so many Scandinavian designed products is light and pretty?  Blonde wood and lime washes pervade and give such a clean and fresh but also warm sense.  Personally, I’m really fond of this look – far more than some of the other solutions that Shelley wrote about in her decking materials guide a few weeks ago.

I came across a few wooden decks while researching my book that had me wondering just how do some of these decks maintain such a light and pretty patina.

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I’ve been to Lowes five times in the last three days. Isn’t that always how it goes when you are working on projects? I never seem to be able to account for all the contingencies for which I will need materials.

This week was (is) kind of nutty. In addition to my own regular writing deadlines and ongoing book work, my daughter is the lead in the school play and it is tech week (for those of you – like me- who haven’t been through producing a play – this is the week when it all gets seriously-hardcore-insane right before the real show). My parents are visiting as well, which means two things – construction projects are getting done in record time and the bourbon in the liquor cabinet is just about gone.

I’m trying to navigate it all by keeping everyone on track, where they need to be, and with the right tools to get their jobs done. It’s part super-mom, part general contractor, part hostess with the mostess, top-chef and part writer. I’m taking moments of solace in my garden and reaping the last of the harvestable goodies for some seasonal decorations.

bark vase

I showed you this vase a couple weeks ago (here).  Want to know how it was made?  After a hike in the woods where my son (who has a habit of gathering so many ‘interesting’ things that he generally can’t carry them all by the end of the walk) I saved this coil of birch bark from the collection.   To make it into a vase, I wet it (softening it slightly) just enough to be able to slip a plastic water cup into the center.  I have been changing out the mix every few days adding something different to pair with the fake red berries.  This time, I gave it my best effort  ikebana effort by adding stems of Callicarpa.

I am obsessed with Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry) since the shrub I planted a couple years ago is mature and laden with gorgeous eye-catching purple berries.  I redressed the container by my front door with a combination of Callicarpa and other garden cuttings to include red-twig dogwood, boxwood, lavender, lighted branches.

I also added a couple inexpensive globe glass light covers (turned upside down) and stuffed with a string of lights to illuminate.

I can’t wait until this evening (hopefully amidst the madness) where I can set up the camera at twilight to capture a picture of how pretty these look when they are lit up.  I’ll post an update with those pictures as soon as I can.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lowes.  This is a series that I am doing through the end of the year.   I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own.  See the other posts in this series. 

Fall Badge Rectangle


I’m usually last-minute when it comes to holiday decorating.  But this year, (thanks to an ongoing partnership with Lowes) I have been planning and getting started earlier than usual.  This is particularly helpful since I like to bring nature inside and use it all around the house in festive ways.  Acting now, means that I can easily find materials in the woods and garden without the risk of having to dig through the snow.  So this is my four-part plan for next couple weeks.

what to gather from the fall garden for holiday decorating

Make Like a Squirrel and Get Gathering.

Fall is such a pretty time to enjoy the outdoors.  Not only are the colors beautiful but with the furnace starting to turn on in the house, my lungs gasp for the crisp fresh air.   A nice walk through the woods or a spin around the garden is ample opportunity to gather holiday decorations.  Look for mosses, sturdy seed heads, branches with berries, and just berries, pinecones, chestnuts, bark, nests, nuts, grass heads, succulent babies and basically anything whose texture or color appeals to you.  This is my garden palette so far, but I still need to take jaunt down the road for some winterberry and sumac and then I can really get decorating.

kitchen before

Refresh the backdrop

When the holiday season actually arrives in a few weeks there is little time for anything but celebrations, shopping and preparations.  If at all possible, this isn’t the time to start even the smallest house upgrade which will add to seasonal stress and mess.  Which is why I opted to freshen up our eat in kitchen area now.

This room is our epicenter, it is the coziest place in the house and our lives happen around this table.  After nearly 9 years since the last refresh, the paint is tired and we need the area to function a little better.

before and after kitchen makeover for holidays from

I hosted a group of girlfriends for a pre-holiday gathering last week and unveiled phase 1 of the upgrade – the paint.  The dingy cream and tan walls and dinged up baseboards got a fresh slick of bright modern white (the color is Chantilly Lace). I went all in for the Modern Scandinavian look I have been coveting for years and I painted out the large wood window to sleek black (this is my inspiration).  My love of woodsy decor looks so much sharper with this clean backdrop where before it was lost in all the browns. Those pillow covers are new too….I cut up a knitted blanket that I loved in to four squares to make cozy sweater cushions.

There is more to come on this project (and I am hoping to find a brighter day for the second round of photos so you can see how lovely it really is) – Phase 2 is in the works and involves a little construction — I plan to have it done in the next 2 weeks so I can share a final pre-holiday makeover with you before Thanksgiving.

Friends gathering for Lowes Pre-Holiday Party

Clean & Clear

Some prefer spring cleaning, but for me, that time is so busy with gardening prep that it just doesn’t happen.  I prefer pre-holiday cleaning with a healthy side of clutter clearing.  The closets are pared down making room for the holiday gifts to come, the winter clothes come back, everything gets a refresh in preparation for impromptu guests and all the extras go to a local charity. Everyone wins.  A little extra project I am doing this year — cleaning as many windows as I can (I am embarrassed to say many have never been done).  I tested this little Pinterest window cleaning trick that uses Jet Dry, and I can tell you it works. Exterior windows are done in a fraction of the time I would have expected. I also took the time to polish up my grandmothers silver tea service that was recently handed down to me.  The cream and sugar vessels make the best tiny vases.

Showcase Treasures

My gatherings are slowing making their way into projects.  The chestnuts are so pretty around the base of this hurricane lantern from Lowes.   Later, I can swap them out for other pretties as well.

I also have no shame about combining fake florals with real ones.  These red berries are the perfect pairing for all sorts of fresh flowers.  I started with orange Dahlias and when those were gone I swapped in chrysanthemums. I can’t wait to see what will be fresh next week for the pairing.

Tomorrow I will share with you my trick for making that Birch bark vase.

Tell me, How are you preparing for the holidays? Or are you like the normal me and wishing it to just hold off for a bit longer?

I’m going a little backward today.  The primary reason is that this Before and After project is going to be After and then Before (if you actually want to click on it…) is because I just can’t bear to look at the before for one more minute.

This project is in my vegetable garden and after taking the summer to write a book, it is so neglected that I have started observing it as a laboratory for examining how quickly and succinctly the wild reverts.  I have been staring at it all summer, longingly, and then walking inside to sit back down at the computer to keep writing.  It has been that kind of season….

So this is what it looks like now after a heavy duty hour of weed pulling (whew….the exercise feels so good!).

before and after fall cleanup and vegetable garden dressing from

I am so pleased that this bed is tucked in and ready for winter and next spring.  I used regular landscape fabric as opposed to black plastic (which is commonly used by commercial growers for weed control in beds like this).  I am not a fan of putting things like back plastic in my garden – it always ends up being a nuisance.   But I am experimenting a little here; I think that landscape fabric will help accomplish many of the same goals as the plastic but without some of the adverse side effects.

before and after fall cleanup and vegetable garden dressing from

Black plastic is impermeable and it can also overheat the soil, killing as many good things as bad, beneath.  On the up-side though it does control weeds, it does break down organic material beneath it faster, and it does help the soil warm earlier in the season allowing for longer planting time.   So will landscape fabric control weeds?  Yes, I am sure that it will, and I am also sure that it will not superheat the soil (it is grey, permeable, and slightly reflective).   But will it warm the soil early?  We will have to wait until spring to find out.

What you can’t see in this picture is that I have 4 other beds that look just like the before of this one. (ugh!) But as I get closer to my book deadline (only 24 days left!)  and have more time to spend remediating them and clearing them out for next year, I plan to try a little something different on each.

I am going to dress one in black plastic (I am scientist at heart….there must be a control), leave one alone (as in just pull the weeds), but I am also going to plant cover crops on one and then I plan to plant some fall/winter planted flower seeds on one (for next years farmers market flower booth!).   I’ll let you know how they all work out next year.

I am curious if you have planted cover crops before?  I am looking for one that I can cut back early and whose subsequent mulch will  then smother all those grass seeds that are everywhere?  Suggestions are heartily appreciated.

images by rochelle greayer

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lowes.  This is a series that I am doing through the end of the year.   I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own.  See the other posts in this series. 

Fall Badge Rectangle

So you really want to see the before???? go through…

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I confess my vegetable garden this year sucks.  I blame the book project….you just can’t do everything.

tomato bed by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comDespite my negligence, I do have peppers, corn (I got in just one planting) and tomatoes (both from starts and volunteers) and basil.  Everything else has either been eaten by the woodchuck, was never planted, or  succumbed to weeds.

But its the tomatoes that are really making me feel bad – especially the volunteers.  They are working so hard to give me lovely fruit  — that aren’t even splitting (that’s what I get for not watering!)  — but they are pathetically buried in weeds and their limbs lay all over the ground.

The guilt of taking the red treasures without even the slightest attempt to help them to their feet finally got to me and I set out to do some late season tying up.

This isn’t the easiest thing to do and I don’t recommend you ever let things get to this stage.  But if you make the effort and you are really careful — your tomato plants will be happier and the fruit they produce will not lie in the dirt rotting or waiting to be taken away by creatures.


You will need stakes (I like these metal U-posts and use them over and over every year), twine (my favorite is the Nutscene Tin of Twine– it never tangles and it comes it pretty colors), something to cut the twine with and a sledge hammer.

tying up tomatoes by rochelle greayer

The posts will provide you with something to wrap the twine around (make sure to pound them in deep with the sledge) and I advise putting them on all corners of the planting area as well as wherever else you need.

Slowly and carefully thread the twine under the plants and wrap it around the posts – easily lifting the plants off the ground.  Keep moving around the planter and work with the plants to figure out the best way – because honestly, if you have left it to this stage (as I have) then you have no right thinking that these plants should succumb to your will.  You must work with them…coddle them…do what they want to do or I assure you, they will literally snap.  And then you just have useless broken plants.


Tie off the string regularly so it doesn’t unravel.  And also take care to prop plants up on the posts and tie them in.

It’s late but if you do it now, it is better than never.

images by rochelle greayer

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lowes.  This is a series that I am doing through the end of the year.   I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own.  See the other posts in this series. 

garden hut black slats patio cover from torvan via www.studiogblog.comI am desperately trying to finish off some projects that have been carrying on for too long.  One of which is the pergola over the cobblestone patio that I laid last fall.  I have just finished putting the polymeric sand between the stones and now I need to turn my attention to the pergola that will go over the top.

modern chicage house by Ranquist Development via

I have been hashing through the design details in my head for months and I have finally settled upon a style.  Black Slats.

The house is currently very dark brown, but I am slowing getting it stained black (season by season, side by side….who says you have to paint your house all at once?)  so going black makes sense to tie everything together.

outdoor bathroom from via

Open slats are modern but have a cottage appeal — which I think will strike a perfect balance for my quirky  1940’s house…plus they leave plenty of room to go a little glam….which I am dreaming of in my garden.

black slat garden via

It has me thinking that maybe I need to go all black….I love the black pots (which I already have some of) and all the black accents.  This green/black color scheme works so well in Danish and Scandinavian light…I wonder if it will work in New England light?

images by Torvans, Trendir design by Ranquist Development, bo bedreskona hem

upcycled firepit by house and fig via www.studiogblog.comWould you like to learn about making this stylish fire pit?  House and Fig has the detailed instructions for turning an old washing machine drum into this fire pit for under $10 and in less than an hour.   Hard to believe — but totally do-able.  Go check it out. 

image from House and Fig