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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Faux Bulbs - What to Look For

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

So you think you have a brown thumb, not a green thumb? Or, you waited too late to buy bulbs for indoor forcing.  Not to worry.  You can still have flowering bulbs in the middle of winter. And these do not need watering. Yes, I'm talking about artificial flowering bulbs...faux bulbs.

You may be shaking your head, "I don't like artificial flowers," but before you rule them out, take a look at this collection of artificial flowering bulbs. Admittedly, some of the varieties look more realistic than the others. 

What do you look for when buying faux bulbs?  One of the first things to consider is what materials were used to make the plants.  The ones that I think look the most realistic are the ones made using fabric instead of plastic. Look at the paperwhite blossoms that are made from fabric. One of the best features of the blossoms is the beige wispy papery thin skin at the base of the flower cluster. 

One of the least desirable features of this faux paperwhite is the leaf with its clearly visible wire. The wire is a mixed feature. Being visible detracts from the plant, but being present allows repositioning the leaves into more realistic positions. 

Mixing the four artificial groups of plants together mimics mixing bulbs grown outdoors. There are three hyacinth plants in this arrangement.  Each of which has its own realistic features. 

The potted hyacinths are the least realistic ones in the group, but still have some redeeming qualities. The blooms are made from a combination of plastic and fabric that simulate the open flower buds and the closed buds at the top of the flower. 

The unsprouted bulbs are some of the best features of the faux hyacinth. 

These leaf stems are more life-like than the paperwhite leaves, but cannot be repositioned like the paperwhites. That is just one of the several reasons why this plant looks real. The sparseness of the bloom stalks reminds me of the real grape hyacinths that grow in my yard. The real plants have many leaves with just a few bloom stalks. Next, the small-leaved plant with its round leaves in the same pot adds to the naturalness of the plants. In the yard there are always other little volunteer plants growing alongside planted ones. 

Even though the bloom is made from plastic, it looks pretty realistic due to the variations in color and individual bud sizes, both of which are the ways real grape hyacinths grow. 

The third group of hyacinth blossoms are a mixture of fabric and plastic. Plastic blooms just do not seem as authentic as fabric ones and also tend to break down over time. Sometimes the plastic plants become brittle, other times they become greasy, almost melted. These grape hyacinths were on the more expensive side, and have retained their color, shape, and texture. 

Design of a faux bloom makes a difference in how good it looks. A closer view of the second artificial grape hyacinth shows the difference in the design in this hyacinth compared to the other grape hyacinth which is more realistically designed. This bloom has uniform fabric buds with an abrupt change to the smaller plastic buds at the top... not a very life-like design. 

Seeing the plants from different angles is important.  All of these plants have overall profiles that look like their real counterparts. The gentle draping leaf stems and blossom stems look real compared to some other artificial plants that have stiff upright stems. 

Using natural fibers like the vine basket holder helps the faux flowers look more natural, also. 

Varying the heights of the plants to keep the same scale of different heights as real plants is another factor in making faux plants look real. 

From across the room, the plants look very much like live plants. The paperwhites on the white book shelf are real. 

Faux Bulbs - What to Look For
  • Materials - fabric versus plastic 
  • Select plants with the least visible support wires 
  • Design of the faux plant should mimic the design of the real plant
  • Relative sizes of faux plants used together should reflect relative sizes of real plants 
  • Stems should drape, not stand upright 
  • Mix natural materials with artificial plants 
  • Small features like other plants and unopened bulbs add authenticity 

Reader questions
A couple of readers asked how I get real paperwhites to stand up without falling over. 

The answer is mixed. I tie something around the cluster of paperwhites to help them stay upright. Then in the end they still topple over. 

This year I used green twine which goes very well with the green stems. In past years I have also used ribbons, varying from grosgrain to satin to Christmas, just whatever was pretty. 

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Narcissi to Beat the Winter Doldrums

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Deep into winter, when skies can be very gray and temperatures frigid, flowers are just the thing to brighten the inside and to bring warmth to the house. Narcissus bulbs, also called paperwhites, are some of the easiest bulbs to force for indoor blooming when the outside landscape is dull, lifeless, and dreary. A great way to beat the winter doldrums.

These were planted in mid-December and are in my kitchen sunspace that gets bright light even on cloudy days.  The sun is bright most of the time in north Texas. There are 232 days per year classified as sunny days (30% clouds or less).  

When traveling to other parts of the country, I realize I miss the sunny skies of Texas. I am Texan by choice brought here as a young bride over 43 years ago, but for many years I missed the flowers that grew in north Alabama that were nurtured by the abundance of rain under cloudy skies. I still miss the flowers, but have learned to love the sunshine more. 

Perhaps just as important as the bright light is for forcing bulbs is the potted bulbs are warmed from the solar heat coming through the windows and overhead skylights in the sunspace. 

If you live in areas that have really cold winters, consider watering your bulbs with at least room temperature water, instead of really cold water straight from the faucet, to mimic warming soil needed for bulbs to begin growing.  You may be very neat and careful when you water your plants, but I have a tendency to splash water outside the container.  That is why I use some kind of saucer like this oval platter underneath my containers to catch the splashes that can damage furniture.  Lesson learned the hard way.  

Not only do the blooms cheer up the kitchen, but these smell so good. The fragrance of some narcissus varieties is very strong, actually overpowering, but these have a light fragrance. 

To help keep the stems upright, I rotate these every day. See the stems leaning to the right, toward the sun?  

Though the winter is cold and some years bitter cold with snow and ice, the narcissus blooms help me beat the winter doldrums and make me happy.  

The only snowflakes I have seen this winter are the blue and white glass ornaments hanging above the bowl of narcissus bulbs.... but the winter is not over yet. 

Should we get bitter cold, snowy, icy days, I will just close the shades to help insulate our house and narcissi from the cold and retain the solar heat...  and enjoy the narcissus bulbs and snowflake ornaments inside while winter rages outside. 

Want to grow your own narcissus bulbs inside?  See these two posts for directions and inspiration. 

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January - The Blue Hour

Sunday, January 10, 2016

l'heure bleue en Janvier 
the first in a monthly collage of blue images

The color blue is one of my favorite things in life, and l'heure bleu is one of my favorite times in life. L'heure bleue is not so rare that few people ever glimpse it, but l'heure bleue is a rare beautiful few minutes that occurs only when all the atmospheric conditions are just right. Because of its beauty that makes time stop for an instant, the expression l'heure bleue has come to describe a variety of special times and events, not just a description of a special blue glow at dusk. Each month in 2016, I plan to share a collage of blue images that create a little l'heure bleu for me.

Sources: Birdhouse and Girl Statue - botanic bleu;  Clock  

The blue hour is a magical time when the sun has set and when the sunlight slipping below the horizon glows with blue light before darkness descends. The blue hour expression comes from the French l'heure bleue. 

Snow covered well house with its bird house and horizontal supports for a climbing clematis from a previous year 
Photographers, painters, poets, and even perfumers have been enchanted with l'heure bleue over the ages. Monet painted several series of paintings of the same subject, such as haystacks, poplars, and the Rouen cathedral, to capture the changes in light throughout the day, including l'heure bleu. Modern digital cameras and computer photo editing software help today's photographers enhance their photos like this digitally enhanced photo of our well house. 

None of the magic is lost using modern technology; rather the bird house and the lattice board supports for a climbing clematis look even more magically. 

The Blue Hour Site website contains a calculator for determining both morning and evening blue hour times for creating photographs bathed in natural l'heure bleue light and gives tips on how best to capture the blue hour on film.  

Jacques Guerlain, French perfumer, created the L'Heure Bleue fragrance in 1912, a time when the Belle Époque period was drawing to a close just before World War I. The perfume is still sold today, and the time in Paris just before World War I is often referred to as l'heure bleue. 

Guerlain loved the l'heure bleue period each evening and is quoted as saying, "The sun has set, but night has not yet fallen. It’s the suspended hour… The hour when one finally finds oneself in renewed harmony with the world and the light.”  A snow-covered metal sculpture girl with her arms thrown open as she twirls around is in harmony with the world in our back garden just outside the breakfast room windows. 

The statue was a gift from my mother for my 50th birthday. Mother thought of the 50th birthday as very significant, the one that gave her pause to think. Perhaps a suspension in time for her that marked entering a new age and leaving her youth behind, her own personal l'heure bleue. She once talked about how 40 was just another birthday for her, but 50 was the one that marked a turning point. She gave all four of her children a special present to mark that very special 50th birthday for each of us. 

As an old year wanes and a new year begins, I think of l'heure bleue and Guerlain's thoughts of the suspended hour... when one finally finds oneself in renewed harmony with the world and the light. 
Beautiful blue images suspend time and harsh realities of life fade away, recede to dim blurs... if just for a brief time... l'heure bleue. 

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Stars, Trees, Angels in the Christmas Master Bath

Friday, January 8, 2016

The twelve days of Christmas come to a close on January 6, 2016 and so do the Christmas decorations in my house.  Some people remove all their Christmas decor on December 26, some by New Year's Day on January 1, but following the tradition of French Christmas celebrations, my decorations remain until Epiphany, January 6.

Christmas in the Master Bathroom

includes stars, trees, and angels. 

In keeping with the rest of the house, the Christmas decorations in the master bathroom focus mainly on natural greenery with a few golden accents.  The mostly unadorned tree leans in the ceramic wastebasket giving a relaxed country feel to the tree instead of a more formal look.  

The small live tree has just one decoration, a large glass star at its peak.  

Wired gold ribbon ties the three-dimensional star to the top of the tree's main branch. 

The bow and the ribbon tails that flow outward maintain their positions perfectly due to the wire. Using a narrow ribbon allows the star to "shine" as the focus instead of being overpowered by a wide ribbon. 

By placing the tree in front of the mirror, the greenery and star are doubled by their reflections. 

A ceramic wastebasket holds the tree and plenty of water.  The wide rim of the wastebasket keeps the tree securely in place. 

As always, a little French inspiration. The wastebasket is designed for the bathroom, Luxe Pour la Maison Le Bain Paris (luxury for the home bath).  

A trio of golden angels made from natural materials stands around the tree, but there is still lots of room on the vanity for everyday activities.  

The gift box is not merely decoration. It holds receipts for Christmas presents. By keeping the box on my vanity, the box is handy for me to immediately place receipts inside before I have a chance to put them in another "safe place" never to be seen again. Everyone knows not to open any Christmas packages, so the receipts remain undisturbed until needed or until discarded after Christmas. When I started doing this, it saved me lots of time and frustration searching for receipts. 

A set of purple seasonal towels hanging above the bathtub goes well with the framed bouquet of French lavender. The embroidered trees are silver colored like the frame for the lavender. Sometimes the best finds happen when I am not even looking for them. While shopping for towels for a friend for Christmas, I happened across this set that are perfect for my master bathroom. My friend received a different design and colors for her bathroom.  

The Christmas balls on the tree are bleu, the perfect shade to match the bead board walls. 

Christmas is drawing to a close for this year, but I believe Christmas is a way of life for all year, not just during the traditional holiday season. So even though the ornaments are put away and the greenery is removed, Christmas lives on in my heart. 

I will honor CHRISTMAS in my heart and try to keep it ALL the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

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