Monday, January 23, 2017

All About Myrtle Topiaries

Happy New-ish Year! 

2017 is my sixth year of blogging - time flies! Is there anything you'd like me to blog about? Please share your suggestions in the comments section as I'd love to know.

One topic I frequently get questions on is my myrtles. Each time I post a topiary photo here or on INSTAGRAM, everyone wants to know how I care for these fabulous but fussy houseplants with such distinctive forms. Well I'm delighted to shed some light on this personal passion of mine. In the right environment and with a bit of TLC, anyone can keep myrtles happy and healthy for years.

The variety I favor is myrtus communis compacta or dwarf myrtle, an herb with fragrant foliage when crushed. These can be grown outdoors as evergreen shrubs in warm climates. Planted as a hedge, they are a lovely way to delineate parterre beds in formal gardens. The small leaves, which are an attractive glossy dark green, make them suitable for close pruning; a reason they are popular as shaped topiaries.

As topiary houseplants in colder environments, their needs are quite different than those of hardy shrubs living outdoors in warmer climates. Before sharing how I grow these verdant gems, let's look at those currently in my shop: 
Both photos above are from last week. See the three on the French round table? They were repotted just before Thanksgiving, and are doing great. All have fresh growth, a good sign that everyone is happy, as well as plenty of moss plus weeds. For now the weeds can stay because I welcome the extra pop of greenery during these gray wintry days. When they start to overwhelm, time to yank them out to conserve nutrients for the myrtles. The velvety moss stays; its roots are not as deep or invasive. 

For scale, here I am 😊 next to one of my giant triples. Now twice their original size, this handsome pair came from the nursery of the late Allen C. Haskell, a fine horticulturalist and nurseryman with a passion for topiaries.   
A couple more photos of my collection at Tone on Tone. Since we sold our DC home with its conservatory, I've moved most of them to the shop where they are bathed in natural light all day thanks to our floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Plus the heat is kept very low at night so my "topes" do not get dried out.
Now let's talk about how to care for these green beauties:

In DC, dwarf myrtle cannot live outside during winter. It must come in before any threat of a freeze, which is around early October. Once inside, avoid placing near a radiator or heat register. After all danger of a frost is over, it can go back outside for sunshine and fresh air. Keep protected from thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds as this top-heavy plant can easily topple over.

Give it as much light as possible, especially indoors. Otherwise it will turn spindly and not have that coveted density. Make sure to rotate occasionally for even growth on all sides.

Never let the myrtle dry out completely, but water accordingly. If sitting outside in full sun, especially in a porous clay pot, daily watering might be necessary. Be mindful not to have water sitting in the saucer for too long as this can cause root rot. During winter I generally water (use lukewarm, please) every other day; do so until water seeps out in the saucer, which should be reabsorbed within 3 - 5 hours. Dump out any excess water afterwards. Misting is also beneficial.

Usually the topiary is already in a pot that is too small, making it somewhat root bound - that's ok for a while. Think of it as a bonsai where you want to focus its energy / growth on top rather than at the roots. However, when it absorbs water too fast and needs constant watering, time to repot. Choose a pot one size larger to keep the proportions balanced. Also, if a pot is too large the plant will waste energy sending out roots to reach for water at the bottom. 

To maintain a neat, tight form, clipping or shearing should be done every two weeks from late winter to the end of summer. Monthly is recommended for the rest of the year. This also encourages denser growth because whenever a shoot / sprig is clipped, two new ones emerge to create more foliage. When not in a rush, I clip at the branch between the leaves, being careful not to cut the actual foliage which can create unsightly brown spots. But since I have so many, I tend to just shear the entire "ball." 

From late winter to early fall, I will fertilize with Miracle-Gro once a month. Fertilizing is essential to the success of container gardening where the nutrients are depleted by the plant as well as leached out with watering.   

Bugs are unavoidable. I spray liberally with a mild insecticidal soap on the foliage and soil. If persistent, take to your nursery for diagnosis and proper treatment.

Shedding of the old leaves as new ones form is to be expected. But excessive dropping may be due to diseases, insects, changes in light and moisture levels, etc. Please consult your nursery's specialist.

And that's all! Just minutes each day dedicated to the care of a few living sculptures that add such warmth, charm and personality. I really love these civilized yet whimsical beauties, and couldn't imagine not having them

In our former home, myrtles lived amongst us in nearly every room. Enjoy these photos - many taken by photographer Helen Norman for Martha Stewart Living and Southern Living magazines.             
Here I am demonstrating how to properly clip using my favorite Japanese pruners. If any seem tipsy, steady their trunks while clipping.
Some also come up with Tom and me to Maine (below photo). Yes, they travel with us!
Additionally, I have other types of topiaries like this pair of rosemary. Unfortunately both were zapped by the frost when left outside during an unusually frigid winter. 
Next to the rosemary is a "Duckfoot" miniature ivy which I had for quite a while. I gifted it to a friend last year when Tom and I were in between homes.

Speaking of homes, I have exciting news to share: Tom and I are moving, again! Not far, though...just a few blocks from our Tudor, which we'll be selling soon. Anyone interested in a move-in ready storybook Tudor with fabulous architectural details including slate roof, dramatic chimney, arched front door, interior French doors, ceiling beams, bay windows, period woodwork and hardware, etc? All the double glazed windows were recently added. We replaced the HVAC system, and installed custom shutters, built-in bookcases, lighting, staircase runner, marble floors, and more. It is located in the tree-lined neighborhood of North Woodside, Silver Spring (inside the beltway) where there are many gracious colonials, charming bungalows, and unique Tudors all from the 1920 - 30s. Please spread the word - thank YOU kindly.

Why are we moving? We found another small home (a Cotswold style Tudor) on a large lot with plenty of gardening potential 🌼. More to come!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas at our Home

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....everywhere you go! From Maine to Maryland, we love this festive time of year.

Tom and I are back from Maine, and we're thrilled to be spending the holidays in our Tudor. And we just finished adding seasonal decor to our home, so please come in!

In keeping with tradition, I have gathered from nature plus gleaned from our collection ornaments, items and keepsakes that have special sentiments. This year it's all about simple, scaled down and a little sparkle since our 1928 Tudor is on the small side; anything over the top or grand would be out of place.

The holidays are about sharing, and I'm excited to join the Deck the Halls Christmas Home Tour co-hosted by Jennifer of Decor Gold Designs and Randi of Randi Garrett Design - two talented ladies whose holiday homes shimmer and dazzle. In addition there are many others participating - the full lineup is at the end of this post. For those visiting via the fabulous Nicole of Eye for Pretty, welcome! 
Let's start the tour in our entry foyer which smells incredibly fragrant thanks to the fresh cedar garland. When it comes to greenery nothing beats the real deal from Mother Nature. Add timeless white satin ribbons and voila!
Hi, Mocha πŸ˜‰ She is ready to greet guests. Just come prepared with treats - the good kind! 
Speaking of nature, do you like the woodland fir tree that Tom, Mocha and I brought back from Maine? It's a bit of a Charlie Brown tree. Being so sparse, it really shows off our collection of vintage ornaments from the early 1900s. I decided to place the tree in an antique iron urn on top of a Swedish chest set in front of the living room bay window. Since there isn't a family room, this is where we spend much of our time relaxing, reading as well as watching TV (housed in an armoire across from the sofa), so we really get to enjoy the tree.

Since this is primarily our winter home, I went with mostly brass light fixtures and hardware for warmth. The Basil ceiling light is from Circa Lighting. The lacquered gold tray, from Pier 1, adds a touch of needed glam because we can all use some of that, haha.
A closer look at our collection of vintage ornaments all in shades of silver and white. These small, light weight ornaments are perfect for the delicate branches of our Maine woodland tree. Can you find the lyre? French horns? Baskets of flowers? Below is my favorite one: a hummingbird with stiff strands of plastic for wings.
Now please come into our dining room, which is also the library. Downsizing means having multipurpose rooms. I designed the wall of built-ins to hold my art books plus creamware china. Notice the unlacquered brass lighting here as well.

Normally there is a footbath on the 19th-century French farm table - see above photo. For Christmas I decided to switch that out for an iron urn to complement the one in the living room. Gold mercury ornaments tucked with sprigs of white pine in the urn make a simple, seasonal centerpiece. 
Going for gold! The farm table, set in a casual yet festive style, is ready for guests with cream-colored linens heightened with gold flatware and napkin holders.
An 1800s Georgian pine transom, stone lamb, brass candlesticks with beeswax candles along with bleached pine cones dress the mantel for these special days . . . .
. . . . and nights when the pinecones are illuminated with mini copper twine lights.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing our new home. Pleas stay tuned for exciting news next time.

Once again, many thanks for your visits here and at our shop in Bethesda, Maryland. This summer I also had the opportunity to meet a few blog readers who visited Castine, Maine for the house and garden tour - that was such a treat. 

Now before we say goodbye, I'd like you to visit my friend Erin over at The Sunny Side Up - her home is delightfully bright and beautiful. And check out the rest of the blogs below for more inspiration.

Merry Christmas!
PS - Don't forget to follow along on my INSTAGRAM page.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Loi - Tone on Tone
Lindsay Hill
The Leslie Style
Eye for Pretty

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hello and New Shipment Preview

It's been toooo long! Lots to catch up on.

First, I hope you had a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving. Tom and I celebrated with my large family, feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, ham, pecan pie as well as Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese food - very international, very yummy! For those that do not know, I am the youngest of 12 so when I say large family that is an understatement considering spouses, significant others, nieces, nephews, and pets 🐢🐱

Thanks very much for your emails while I was "away" from the blog. I'm truly grateful for your support and friendship.  

The past few months have been incredibly busy - please pardon my absence. I miss writing about everything: home, garden, design, etc. In my next post, I'm finally ready to show the work that we've done at our Tudor, and take you on a tour as part of the exciting news that Tom and I will be sharing. 

In the meantime, enjoy this preview of the new shipment that arrived at Tone on Tone in mid-November. Seems like we spent weeks unpacking the 40-foot container, cataloging the new arrivals, setting up the shop.... The focus of this shipment is on Scandinavian painted antique furniture, a personal passion of mine. It's a classic collection full of pieces with charm, clean lines, and cool tones. Here's a peek:
This early 20th-century Swedish knee-hole desk (48.5" w x 26.25" d x 30.25" h) is such a versatile piece - can go traditional or transitional. It's perfect for working on the laptop, but also fabulous as a vanity or dressing table.
Here is another desk: an early 1800s Swedish petite (only 29.75" wide!) secretary in a charming blue color. It's sweet but simple. 
I have a thing for BLUE!  Here is a Danish Rococo bonnet top corner cabinet on a quirky stand. I can't decide if I should show it closed or opened - what say you? 
Doesn't the shop's collection of antique ironstone look even more beautiful displayed in such a stunning cabinet? By the way, those slots in the top shelf would have held the household's finest silver spoons.

Though 1827 is written inside one of the doors (most likely to mark a special year), the piece actually dates to the mid-1700s.
Also Rococo (in style) is this sideboard or buffet with an undulating serpentine front. While most of my Swedish pieces tend to be linear, I couldn't resist this sideboard's sculptural form. Note the reeded oval medallions on the doors.

Over the sideboard is an 18th-century Swedish oil on canvas of a Roman ruins landscape painted in a Grisaille manner. This large painting (40.5" w x 61" h), with its original wooden frame, most likely came out of a paneled Neoclassical room which would have been stylistically influenced by the recent excavations at Pompeii during the 1750s.
Speaking of sideboards, this elongated Mid-Century one is so stylish with its fretwork doors and slender legs. At 39.5" high, it's ideal as a buffet server or console under a TV.
Next to the sideboard is an antique Swedish Mora clock from Fryksdalen, Varmland (near Norway). It has that signature hourglass shape with lovely proportions.
Here are two of my favorite new chests. The one shown above is Italian from the late 1700s. The painted finish with Classical figures, urns and a faux marble top has been beautifully refreshed. The tall slender legs with fluting give it an airiness.

Below is a Swedish Gustavian chest with a laurel leaf band that wraps around the canted corners and sides. In addition to the bedroom, this chest (40" w x 19" d x 32.5" h) would make a handsome statement in a foyer, living room, etc.    
I love demi lune consoles for their form and function. This elegant pair from Sweden is unusually small (28.5" w x 15.25" d x 29.5" h) - perfect for those narrow walls. The two can be placed back-to-back to form a single table. 

The armchair is a French Directoire bergere that's been reupholstered in Belgian linen; the webbing and cushion fill (partially down) are all new. This is a small but comfy chair! 
For more info, please visit the shop's website, send me a personal email at or stop by the shop. And, don't forget to follow along on Instagram: @Loithai

Thanks so much