Design solutions from Margot Austin
Q: I'm not much of a gardener, or florist for that matter, but I do have a crabapple tree in my backyard that has lovely blossoms in the spring. How do I go about cutting a few branches to arrange indoors? Or would that hurt the tree? Bridget Sorrensen, Ottawa
A: At STYLE AT HOME, we're huge fans of flowering branches. Just after I got your letter, I came across this pretty photo from American furniture company Oly. Even though the room is filled with Oly's beautiful furniture, it's the branches that knock my socks off. These are cherry blossoms, but crabapple blooms are just as gorgeous. Pruning won't hurt your tree; it's part of good maintenance.
How to enjoy flowering branches indoors
Cutting at a 45-degree angle with pruners, choose branches that are at least four feet long. Cut in the afternoon; that's when the flowers have the most moisture.
Choose a sturdy, tall vase that works for the space where you'll be displaying the branches. Clean the vase with a mild bleach-and-water solution (one part bleach to 10 parts water). Fill halfway with room-temperature water; stir in a packet of flower preservative. Hold up each branch next to the vase to decide how tall you'd like it to be; cut away secondary branches or shoots that would be below the rim.
Recut the bottom of the main branch at a 45-degree angle. To encourage water flow, make a vertical cut up the stem or smash the base of the stem with a hammer. Place the branch in the vase. Repeat with all branches until you have a magnificent arrangement. Use the offcuts to make smaller displays.
Change the water often, recutting stems each time. Place in a bright room away from direct sunlight; arrangements should last for about seven days.
TIP Use the above techniques to create dramatic indoor displays every season: lush leafy branches in summer, crimson-leaved maple tree cuttings in autumn, and white pine or red dogwood branches in winter.
Q: Last May's issue showed some beautiful faux shrubs for the deck. I'm wondering what they're made of and where I can purchase them? Is it OK for these types of shrubs to be left out in the rain? As well, how does one take care of them? Barb Bush, Prince George, B.C.
A: Aren't these great? I'm nuts for topiaries, but I'm way too delinquent to keep up with trimming. Also, real evergreens planted in urns can die of thirst fast. These faux – a.k.a. everlasting or permanent – ones are usually made of plastic. The most common types replicate boxwood or cedar, and forms include balls, spirals, pyramids and even animals. They'll endure inclement weather well, but despite their name, they won't last forever. High winds, torrential rains, and freezing and thawing take their toll over time. Ask your local garden centre or florist about them. If they don't have any in stock, they should be able to order some.
Image courtesy of Oly
Q: We recently purchased this 17-year-old home. It has a relatively new multicolour roof. I'm looking for suggestions about how to improve the façade because I'm having problems with the contrasting bold colour combinations. I'm also thinking about removing the shutters. What do you think? Lisa Irwin, London, Ont.
A: I vote for keeping the shutters: they perfectly suit the Georgian architectural style of your home and draw attention to its symmetrical design. However, I'm with you on the colour; the burgundy has to go. Bring this home into the 21st century with a more subdued scheme. Paint the shutters a shade of grey that matches one of the tones in the brick, like Benjamin Moore's Escarpment CC-518, and the eaves, window trim and columns a creamy white like White Down CC-50 to define the windows and frame the entryway. For your door, I love the idea of a deep grey like Kendall Charcoal HC-166. Through digital wizardry, we applied the colours to your photo, but hold up samples against the brick to be sure they work in real life. If not, try others until you find the right combo.
Q: I'm hunting for house numbers, but all the ones I've found look the same – made of metal in traditional shapes. Do you know where I could get some interesting modern ones? Steve Hanson, Calgary
A: I have two ideas for you. First, the Bingo numbers shown at right, from Italian manufacturer Serralunga, are contemporary and dramatic. They're huge – almost 18 inches tall – and come in great colours. If this style doesn't work for you, contact a commercial sign making company to have numbers custom-made to your specs. Most will be able to offer you design ideas and a choice of materials.