Monthly Archives: October 2013

Smashing Pumpkins

by Categorized: Crafts, Holidays Date:

Pumpkin-FireBreathingYears ago, when I lived in California, my friends held an annual Halloween party that featured a pumpkin contest. They asked me to be the “chief judge,” an honor I was thrilled to embrace, primarily because my own pumpkin-carving abilities are virtually nil.

I know a great pumpkin when I see it, but forget about my actually creating one that goes beyond the primitive visages I struggled to hack out in early elementary school, only to discover that some trick-or-treating art critic had smashed my paltry efforts in the street.

The competition at my friends’ parties started out innocently enough, but grew fiercer by the year (many of the participants were lawyers). Before long there were pumpkins carved like Faberge eggs. Uncanny portraits of political figures of the day. Huge pumpkins that opened up to reveal intricate, miniature worlds, like dollhouses or dioramas. One year there was even a witty pumpkin installation built with cans of pumpkin pie filling

Judging was no picnic, I must say, and some of the pumpkin artists spurned the justice I meted out as blind. To make matters worse, one of the categories was dubbed “the lawyers’ division,” in which the creator of any pumpkin that had not won in another category could argue why it should have. I’d hate to face any of them in court.

I imagine many of these pumpkin creators have gone on to enter contests with more prestige — and better judges. This all came to mind when I discovered some of the winners of the annual pumpkin carving contest at Amazing what spectacular feats some people can achieve with a simple orange gourd.


Pumpkin-Optical Illusion


Pumpkin-ToothyPhotographs all via



Master Gardener Application Deadline Is Extended

by Categorized: Botany, Ecology, Gardening, Horticulture, Invasive Species, Plants, Trees Date:

Bartlett Arboretum

Master Gardener Application Deadline Extended

Just about every truly serious gardener I’ve met in Connecticut is a Master Gardener; it’s a credential I aspire to and hope one day to find the time to attain. It takes serious commitment.

The UConn Extension System’s 2014 Master Gardener program, which begins the first week of January, provides horticultural and environmental training to people who want to expand their gardening know-how and share it with the public through volunteer activities.

The program includes more than 100 hours of classroom work — in 14 all-day class sessions once a week — covering botany, plant pathology, entomology, integrated pest management, herbaceous and woody ornamentals, edibles, turf grass, invasive plants and diagnostic techniques. Classes can be taken at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, or at the County Extension Centers in Norwich, Torrington, Hamden or Vernon.

Students also do supervised research — on identifying insects and plants, diagnosing plant diseases and providing recommendations — and participate in community outreach projects, such as community gardens, educational booths at Earth Day events and county fairs, and working with the Connecticut Invasive Plant Group. In all, it involves about 60 hours of volunteer work.

The fee is $415, and partial scholarships may be available, depending on need.

The deadline for postmarking applications has been extended to Nov. 8. Details about the program and the application form are available at the Home and Garden Education Center’s website at and at County Extension Center offices.

Photo: Bartlett Arboretum

Gilded Pumpkins

by Categorized: Crafts, Decorating, Do It Yourself, Holidays, Seasons Date:

Gilded Pumpkins

Put that carving knife away. Here’s a dazzling idea for decorating pumpkins, spotted at National Home Gardening Club’s website: Gild them.

Sure, the harvest season is supposed to be all about natural colors and rustic textures, but why shouldn’t Halloween have a chance to sparkle?

I like the idea of giving away the glamorous pumpkins to your guests at the end of a party, too.

Photo via National Home Gardening Club



Caution: These Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes Are Killer

by Categorized: Children, Design, Do It Yourself, Furniture, Historic Houses, Home Design, Mid-Century Modern Date:

I just happened upon a very amusing blog called Projectophile — written by Clare Fauke, a married Chicago mother of three and passionate do-it-yourselfer who describes her style as “Mid-Century Modern meets keeping-dangerous-things-away-from-small-children.”

Hence one of her particularly hilarious posts: “15 Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes that will Kill Your Children.”

Here’s a sampling, with Clare’s comments:


— That’s going to require at least ten stitches.


— This stylish modern mother is too absorbed in her reading to notice that all her children have fallen into the living room garden.


— For goodness sake, don’t send your kids trick-or-treating near a mid-century modern home.

And if you do a lot of your furniture shopping on Craigslist, as Clare does, you’ll appreciate her Projectophile post titled “25 Most Dangerous Craigslist Adjectives Exposed.”

As in:

Fun: You can’t actually sit on it; you can only look at it, or fall off of it.


— What a FUN chair!

Going Once, Going Twice

by Categorized: Accessories, Antiques, Art, Auctions, Collecting, Decorating, Furniture, Heritage Date:


Queen Anne Dressing Table

What gets your heart thumping, your competitive juices flowing? For some, it’s running in a marathon. For others, it’s a fierce tennis match or game of bridge.

But there’s nothing quite like an antiques auction if you’re hankering for dramatic tension, pumping adrenaline, the agony of defeat and the ecstatic thrill of victory.

You also often get to take something home.

Nadeau’s Auction Gallery in Windsor is holding its Important Annual Fall Antiques & Fine Art Auction Saturday, Oct. 12, beginning at 11 a.m., with quite a lot of enticing items to go on the block.

From Nantucket lighthouse baskets, vintage toys, plenty of antique silver, pewter, andirons and paintings, to Rose Medallion and Rose Famille porcelains, 19th century furniture, Oriental rugs, vintage toys, Civil War ephemera, Quimper dishware, weathervanes, clocks and a Navy cutlass or two for good measure.


Nadeau’s is at 25 Meadow Road in Windsor, just off I-91. Preview hours for Saturday’s auction are Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m., Thursday from noon to 5 p.m., Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. For more information, including a detailed catalog, go to


Photos, from top: Queen Anne dressing table in cherry, with unusual three-quarter fan carving. Nantucket lighthouse basket by Jose Formoso Reyes (1902-1980). “Mara Evening” oil painting by Bob Kuhn, 1989. All via Nadeau’s Auction Gallery.

People’s Possessions: A Peek At The Past

by Categorized: Antiques, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

Howard Inventory

A sleigh blanket valued at 75 cents. A silver medal, 50 cents. A $2 pair of boots. Two sets of curtains, $7. Two dining tables, $8. Three “comfortables,” $7.50 — those are comforters, or quilts. A $4 watch. A $1 candle stand.

The list goes on. These items were among the possessions included in a three-page inventory that described and valued the clothing, furniture, stock and land that Captain Nathaniel Howard owned when he died in 1819.

Curator Christina Vida of the Windsor Historical Society will give a talk on Oct. 22 titled “What People’s Belongings Can Tell You,” about probate inventories and the information and insights they often can offer curators, researchers and genealogists.

Captain Howard’s inventory helped provide an understanding of what Windsor households looked like around 1810 and also helped guide Vida’s decisions on furnishing the recently opened parlor and store at the Strong-Howard House.

The house, which dates from 1758, is undergoing restoration slated for completion by the end of 2015. What makes it interesting is that it’s being furnished with reproduction antiques, so that visitors can gain a more direct experience of what life was like there. Unlike most museums, visitors will be able to sit on the chairs, poke through documents in Captain Howard’s desk, examine the items like combs and fabrics that were sold at the store — and eventually even have a chance to cook at the hearth.

Vida’s talk on Tuesday, Oct. 22, is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Windsor Historical Society, 96 Palisado Ave. (Route 159), Windsor. The fee is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for society members. For more information, call 860-688-3813 or go to


Photos: A detail of Captain Nathaniel Howard’s probate inventory, top. The Strong-Howard House, above. Both via the Windsor Historical Society

Plants For Fall And Winter Interest

by Categorized: Color, Garden Design, Gardening, Nature, Plants, Seasons Date:

Purple BerriesKevin Wilcox of Silver Spring Nursery in Bloomfield will present a workshop on plants for fall and winter interest, along with tips for their care, Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. at the office of the Connecticut Horticultural Society, 2433 Main St., Rocky Hill.

“We will discuss the various features for fall and winter interest, such as colorful foliage, exfoliating bark and flowers,” Wilcox says, and a slide show will accompany his talk.

The fee is $10 for members of the horticultural society, $15 for others. To register, call the horticultural society at 860-529-8713.

Sourwood leaves


Fountain Grass-Poisson

Red twig dogwood-Messina

Photos, from top: Callicarpa bodnieri var. giraldi ‘Profusion,’ a Japanese species of Beautyberry that Wilcox says grows best with some afternoon shade. Photo via Kevin Wilcox | Silver Spring Nursery.

The color change in the leaves of Oxydendrum arboretum, or Sourwood Tree. This native tree grows to around 20 to 30 feet high and is a member of the heath and heather family, just like rhododendron and mountain laurel. Photo via Kevin Wilcox | Silver Spring Nursery.

Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry,’ or the Winterberry Holly, is a deciduous holly with stunning red berries. Photo via Kevin Wilcox | Silver Spring Nursery.

Showy ornamental grasses such as fountain grass (Pennisetum Alopecuroides) add graceful interest to a garden in winter. File photo by CLOE POISSON | The Hartford Courant

The fiery red stems of red twig dogwood stand out in any winter landscape. Unlike most shrubs, it is at its best after its leaves fall. File photo by RICHARD MESSINA | The Hartford Courant

Transplanting CT DIGS

by Categorized: Philosophy Of Home Date:

This is a new home for CT DIGS — a transplanting that’s in keeping with Connecticut’s state motto¬† — Qui transtulit sustinet.”

I’ve often thought that the real spirit of that motto isn’t the exact translation — “He who is transplanted still sustains” — but that “He [or she] who is transplanted continues to thrive.”

Look for my earlier posts (I started CT DIGS in April 2010) at

And in case you’re wondering, the gardener holding the shovel in that file photo by Mark Mirko of The Hartford Courant is none other than renowned Connecticut garden writer Tovah Martin.