how to arrange sunflowers (because they can be divas)

We are in full sunflower season here.  And while sunflowers are certainly show-stoppers and crowd-pleasers (think sunflower festivals), sometimes it’s hard to handle them.  The sunflower is easy to grow from seed and glorious in a field or tucked in the back of a garden.  But, as a cut flower she can look stunning one minute and then quite dismal the next, her large head bent over like she has overstayed her time at the party.  Depending on the variety (and there are many), stems can be thick and curved in odd ways, and heads can be heavy and large and, well, awkward.  As my sister says of the sunflower:  She wants to do what she wants to do.

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mid-week flowers

Late summer climbing roses and sweet autumn clematis (that wandered over from my neighbor’s yard) in a small blue and white bowl. Afternoon therapy. I used chicken wire scrunched in a ball and some floral tape to hold it in place. But you can use anything you have around the house. Give it a try with whatever you can find! And it’s okay if the flowers are fading (aren’t we all) and if it only lasts a short while. It’s more about the making I think.

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New Year’s Eve: 5 rooms to make you want to stay home

Let’s face it New Year’s Eve is the most glamorous and elegant of holidays. So the thought of staying home, even for us die-hard homebodies, can feel a bit deflating. On the other hand, there is the over-hype and the noise and crowds and the hangovers that can be avoided by choosing the less adventurous option. I like an early dinner (this year at my sister’s house) and a quiet night at home. I just read that Martha Stewart feels the same way and is usually asleep before midnight (of course she does eat caviar to give the night some sense of specialness and we would expect nothing less from her).

Suppose you opt for a night at home, a bit fancy but not fussy. Now imagine some of your favorite rooms where you could pass the hours away. Rooms do come and go for the most part. Some of your favorites might be long gone in reality but very much alive in your memory. Some are real and some are imagined. But that’s the beauty of this exercise and of New Year’s Eve: looking back and looking ahead.

Here are five rooms where I’d love to spend New Year’s Eve and what I like about them.


I’d never pass up the opportunity to linger in Nicky Haslam’s fabled Folly De Grandeur. Once a Tudor hunting lodge and once occupied by the iconic designer John Fowler, its rooms have recently been auctioned off, and so this enchanting country place has been on my mind. I love the playful elegance of this sitting room. It’s the perfect place to spend the night sitting by the fire, slipping out into the garden, sipping champagne, and thinking up New Year’s resolutions.



Nothing is better, in my mind, then a night spent in bed with books and magazines and maybe and ipad. Any bedroom fashioned by Cathy Kincaid will do: her cozy, sophisticated layers of patterns paired with the plumped pillows, skirted beds and beautifully draped windows. Some eggnog or hot chocolate on the nightstand.



I’ve been to Americus, Georgia where antique dealer Furlow Gatewood has his homes, and I’d love to spend New Year’s Eve in one of his rooms. The soft palette, charming vignettes, classic lines, and interesting antiques of this sitting room make it very inviting. I imagine a night of Southern hospitality and wit and charm. And just look at those French doors!


Okay, I might not spend the whole night here, but what a pretty bathroom by British designer Penny Morrison for a long soak with plenty of candles lit. This is in her country house in Wales, and I love the old-fashioned yet chic feel of it (and all of her bathrooms!). The Colefax & Fowler fabric on the curtains and pelmet elevate the mood don’t they? As does the pretty white linen draped on the table. Can’t you just smell the lavender bath oils?



Style icon and master gardener Bunny Mellon created this room in her country estate Oak Springs (which is still in operation today). It’s soothing and elegant and welcoming. Classic Bunny. Not to mention it is filled with books. I’d spend the night by the fire looking through her garden and horticulture books!

We stay at home to please ourselves, just as most of us make rooms to please ourselves. Perhaps this night in will give us time to reflect on our surroundings. And if nothing else, these five rooms might suggest one or two things that we can do to our own rooms to make them the ones we long for.

Cheers and Happy New Year!


Christmas at Ladew Gardens: a country manor house drawing room

655A2FC3-E133-447B-9885-A9708C73590DThe manor house at Ladew Topiary Gardens was built in 1820 and purchased by Harvy Ladew (1887-1976) in 1929. For the rest of his life Mr. Ladew (as he is lovingly referred to by the staff at the Gardens) restored and decorated the house, while creating the exquisite gardens on the property. Both the house and gardens are open to the public  from April-October. The house is re-opened for its annual Christmas Open House with each room decorated by a designer or garden club. This year we took part in this special event and decorated the drawing room.


When decorating a historic house we think it is important to respect the style of the period and incorporate designs that enhance the original architecture rather than distract from it. For this large, centrally located drawing room, traditionally used for entertaining and socializing, we chose a neutral palette of whites, brown, and taupe to compliment the pale green chintz on the furniture and the dark cherry antiques.


Mixed evergreens served as the backdrop to the featured white flowers: magnolias, paper whites, and amaryllis. Blue and white decorative pieces were used as accents. We incorporated natural and garden elements with plaid and gingham ribbon, and hung handmade stockings in hunting scene toile as a nod to the equestrian lifestyle that Mr. Ladew lived and loved.




Mr. Ladew’s manor house is a place of tradition, character, and moxie: you feel this as you walk through the rooms that are just as he left them: thoughtfully decorated and collected. If the house is haunted, it is by ghosts of the creative spirits who passed through its rooms like interior designer Billy Baldwin and musician Cole Porter (who actually played the piano in the drawing room). And of course by Mr. Ladew himself, who certainly knew about the art of living well.


Thanks so much to all of you who attended the open house. We appreciate your support of  Ladew Topiary Gardens and ECS!

(* all photographs by Michael Sneeringer, Jr.)


Holly and Brooke

what we love about November…

Falling leaves in shades of red, orange, and yellow, country walks, apple orchards, mulled wine, heirloom chrysanthemums, cornucopias, cozy sweaters, planting bulbs, Thanksgiving, pheasants, afternoon naps, sheaves of wheat, plaid everything on these “soft-dying days” as Keats called them…









We hope you are enjoying these November days…


Holly and Brooke