2015 In Review

Outdoor Fairy Garden
Outdoor Fairy Garden

What Are Gardeners Reading?

I am always interested in what my readers are reading and using from my blog and sometimes I’m surprised. Blogging for four years means I have gotten a little better about what people are clicking on and what gets the gardening juices flowing. Looking at my archives and statistics, I see a variety of topics that are capturing people’s interests. Perennial(!) or evergreen blogs that capture readers interest turn up again and again and  I re-blog them with better photos and updated writing. Maybe I need to write a book using one of these topics!

Comments

Pink Zazzle Gomphrena
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

The Garden Diaries blog was viewed over 110,000 times in 2015 with 58 posts and I have regular thoughtful comments from people. Thanks for all those comments! Keep them coming. Feedback and questions are welcome and help me become a better writer. Readers from over 166 countries read my blog. That just blows my mind! My most commented post was Plant Geek Alert-Pink Zazzle Gomphrena. Lots of interest in this plant and I continue to grow and love it.

Controversial

My most controversial blog was on Butterfly Bushes-Should you plant these? Or not? Picked up by Garden Rant it received lots of comments good and bad.

The Great Butterfly Bush Debate
The Great Butterfly Bush DebateHere are my top read posts overall for 2015

The News

It was a big year for me in the news. My White House experience appeared in The Baltimore Sun and one of my designs appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

1. Broken Pot Garden   16, 649 Readers

Yes, you read that right! This post from March 2013 has had an awesome 16, 649 readers this year alone. Picked up by different Home and Garden sites and one called “Woohome” that has funneled thousands of readers to my site bumps this post to the top of the heap. You can read it at Broken Pot Garden if you haven’t seen it yet.

Broken pot garden
Broken Pot Garden

2. Containers With Pizzazz    16,605 Readers

the garden diaries container
Containers With Pizzazz

One other post which is right up there with “Gnome Home”, with 16,605 readers is my container post “Containers With Pizzazz: Not Your Ordinary Container”. I have refined this post over the years, adding new pictures and techniques to create containers which stand out from the crowd.

3. Swarming of the Bees    4,078 Readers

bee swarm
Swarming Of The Bees

Whenever I do talks on beekeeping, this is the number one question that I get-Why do bees swarm? So, no surprise here with this being a top post. “Wrangling” swarms is something I do every spring and is fascinating and fun. Honey extraction is another beekeeping topic that people can’t get enough of at Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey.

Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey
Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey

4. Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter  3, 734 Readers

body butter
Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter

Surprise, surprise!  I had no idea until I started reading my stats, that this was a top 5! Easy to make with a few ingredients, honey is the unexpected ingredient to make a wonderful soothing body balm.

5. Miniature Garden-Whimsical Creations

3,155 Readers

miniature garden
Miniature Garden Creations

People love miniature gardens! The above mini garden I photographed at the Philadelphia Flower Show and the purple splashes of color and attention to detail makes it stand out for me. Read how to put one together for yourself.

Other Top Posts

Thanks to all my readers who are just visiting or follow my blog. Here’s to another “fruitful” and bee sting free year in 2016.

White House Christmas-2011
White House Christmas-2011
White House Christmas
Decorating the White House for Christmas, 2015
Monarch
Butterfly Watching
Amaryllis Primer
Amaryllis Primer

 

Plant These For The Bees
Plant These For The Bees
Making Of A Labyrinth
Making Of A Labyrinth
Salvia Amistad
Salvia Amistad
Magical Sunflowers
Magical Sunflowers

 

Shade From the Ground Up
From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade
Sex in the Garden
Sex in the Garden

Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 2

Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families on the Blue Room tree
Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families Blue Room tree

Decorating the White House for over 68,000 guests is a mammoth task. An army of volunteers along with countless White House staff work feverishly to create a magical experience for all visitors. My volunteer assignment this time was the Blue Room which has the largest tree in the White House, topping off at 18 feet and one inch. Volunteers were scattered all over pitching in where needed, clambering up scaffolding and ladders to get every ornament and wreath hung in time. To read about my first time at the White House in 2011, go to Decorating the White House for Christmas . Check out Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 1, if you missed my first post for this year.

A pom pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011
A pom-pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011

Volunteers start working in a warehouse a couple of days in advance of working at the White House where I was assigned to the “bow team.” I can make bows in my sleep and I am always surprised by people when they have trouble with this task. It was a pleasure working with the sumptuous ribbon to create bows and garlands for all the sixty-two trees and assorted mantels in the White House. My team created multi-layered bows and garlands for two straight days before going to the White House to start decorating the rooms. Boxes of wired ornaments and other decorating items were delivered to the White House in hundreds of carefully marked boxes the morning that we started.

The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the White House
The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the warehouse

 

State floor room locations-Wikipedia
State floor room locations-Wikipedia

East Room

Continuing our tour of the White House, from the ground floor you ascend steps to the main State floor which includes the historic East Room, the largest room of the White House. Greeted by four imposing fir trees covered in frosty icicles, shimmery white and silver ornaments and dancing reindeer, the whole room sparkled. Displayed against one wall is the ornate historic crèche or nativity scene made of terra-cotta and carved wood. Fabricated in Naples in the eighteenth century, the crèche was donated to the White House in the 1960’s.

The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
Flying reindeer on the East Room's mantel
Flying reindeer on the East Room’s mantel

White House DSCN6441

Green Room

The Green Room was probably my favorite decorated room (besides the Blue Room which was my team’s job!), because of the peacocks adorning the mantel and trees. Jewel tone ornaments were coordinated with the emerald silk covered walls. A historic meeting between first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart took place in this beautiful room. Teal, emerald-green, and purple colors dominated this room.

Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Close up of the mantel's peacocks
Close up of the mantel’s peacocks
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room

Blue Room

I spent several days working in the Blue Room as my assignment and I was “star struck!” Stars were the overall theme in the room-wreaths, tree, and even the stanchions that surrounded the tree had stars. Holding the largest tree, at eighteen feet and one inch tall, the Blue Room tree comes from the famous Bustard’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA, only about a two hour drive from me in Maryland.

The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room
The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room

An oval room, the Blue Room is primarily used by the President to receive many of his guests. Ornamented with a beautiful 6 inch wide silk ribbon overlaid on top of large gold stars, the tree is a shimmering display of red, white, and blue, inspired by the U.S. flag. It took our team a full three days to completely decorate this monster tree, using ladders and scaffolding and lots of patience.

Families of the military were asked to write messages to their loved ones and the messages were beautifully inscribed on a wide silk ribbon that wound around the tree. After Christmas, when the decorations are dismantled, the families will receive the snippet of ribbon with their note.

Messages were inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland
Messages inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland

I helped design and construct the three star wreaths that hung in the Blue Room windows. Up high on a ladder, I wired the large stars in place and suspended stars from ribbons on the wreaths.

Star wreaths in the blue Room windows
Star wreaths in the Blue Room windows

Red Room

In 2011 when I was part of the team to decorate the Red Room, I really enjoyed the color scheme and rich decorations for this ruby colored room. In 2015, I was interested in how the decorations would change. Cranberries were still used in the wreaths and in topiary trees elsewhere in the room-no surprise there! This year though, different shades of red and gold were interwoven into the tree and mantel and the beautiful striped garland was striking. Magnolia leaves were also a nice addition to the mantel. The cardinals on top of the tree were perfect.

Red Room Mantel
Red Room Mantel
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper added
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper

 

Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room
Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room

white house

State Dining Room (Nutcracker Heaven!)

The first Christmas party in the State Dining Room was hosted by President John Adams and his wife in 1800, so like the rest of the White House, there is a lot of history here. Seasonal delights, such as the imposing gingerbread house with Bo and Sunny perched in front, is probably the star attraction. Close to 500 pounds, the gingerbread house has more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing. I liked the small groupings of snow people on either side and there was a small White House garden to one side.

Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
A gathering of snow men outside of the mammoth chocolate gingerbread house
A gathering of snow people made out of gum paste arrayed in front of the chocolate gingerbread house

Nearby, a large gumball machine full of treats is on display along with the many nutcrackers and toys, sure to delight the younger children who visit.

Gumball machine full of treats
Gumball machine full of treats

DSCN6388

Nutcracker tree
Nutcracker tree

white house

A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table
A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table

Grand Foyer

The Grand Foyer held my favorite designed trees, which flanked the Blue Room. Imposing fir trees arrayed with giant glass balls and stars arranged with a very heavy gold ball garland positively glowed with color. The use of ball garlands used in several areas of the White House created a rich layered look and each one was wired in by hand so that they stayed put.

Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones
Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones

DSCN6360

Volunteer Reception

To finish off my week at the White House, all volunteers with one guest received an invitation to a special evening reception with food and entertainment. Tables in the Dining Room and East Room were laden with all kinds of food and drink. The dessert table was especially appealing with iced cookies, sticky pudding with caramel sauce, yule logs, cakes, macaroons and other special treats. Smoked salmon, crab claws, carved roast beef and ham, and the famous mac with cauliflower and cheese were enjoyed by all.

Early in the evening the dessert table was empty but quickly became jam packed
Early in the evening the dessert table was easy to get to but quickly became jam-packed
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration

white house

A choir serenaded the volunteers
A choir serenaded the volunteers

The First Lady welcomed all the volunteers and graciously thanked everyone for all their efforts in making the White House a magical place.

I met lots of new people, learned some great tips on decorating in a grand manner, and had some of the best food of my life. I will never forget this Christmas!

I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark
I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark

 

Next: How to decorate you own mantel like the White House!

To follow this blog and get regular updates, click on “Follow” in the right hand column.

 

 

Decorating the White House for Christmas-Part 1

East Landing with Bo

Everyone loves to decorate for Christmas and after finishing decorating my house, I itch to do more! So I have always had a desire to decorate the White House but thought it was an impossible dream. But after watching the HGTV special last year and seeing the army of volunteers that are busily hanging garlands and balls, I was determined to try.

I got to see the famous bee hive on the White House grounds
I got to see the famous bee hive on the White House grounds

I wrote a letter to Michelle Obama right after Christmas and forgot about it. But in August I was thrilled to get an official letter from the White House Social Office informing me that I could fill out the volunteer application on line which I did right away. The application was pretty standard and asked things such as to list and explain in some detail your volunteer experience, and to send pictures of your work. I have decorated Hampton Mansion for Christmas with my Garden Club for many years and hoped that that experience would help.

I love this portrait of Grace Coolidge at the White House
I love this portrait of Grace Coolidge at the White House

In October I was thrilled to learn by email that I was accepted conditionally pending a security check. The Social Office also requested that volunteers not post to Facebook or blog about their experiences before the event but afterwards was fine.  The reason was to keep the theme secret before “the big reveal” on November 30th. The theme was to be kept secret until our opening reception on the 30th but we suspected that it was a military theme.

Everything Red!

Once I learned that I was accepted, I started to get emails from AgencyEA, an event planning company based in Chicago. AgencyEA is known for planning Ophra Winfrey’s events so I knew that they must be good.  AgencyEA reserved blocks of rooms in two hotels that were within walking distance of the White House with a really good rate as it can be quite expensive to stay in D.C. I made arrangements to stay at the Donovan House for 6 nights and planned on checking in on Thanksgiving night.

The Red Room has red silk covered walls
The Red Room has red silk covered walls

After eating dinner at my brother’s house, my husband and I drove into D.C. and checked in to the hotel and met some of my fellow decorators and people from AgencyEA. I got a red badge, red work apron,  and room assignment- the red room! The Agency told everyone that we would be working for 2 days at an off site warehouse and then 3 days at the White House.  I learned that I would be working with a team of 130 volunteers and AgencyEA employees from over 40 states.  There were mother/daughter , husband/wife, and sister teams, and the youngest volunteer was 12 and the oldest was 80!

After being told to report the next morning at 6:30 AM in the downstairs lobby to board the buses I turned in.

One of the gardens that I planted with bulbs and moss
One of the gardens that I planted with bulbs and moss

Warehouse

The next morning, the drive to the warehouse lasted about 40 minutes and we arrived at a huge brick warehouse that the National Park Service rents and stores all the Christmas paraphenalia from previous years and other props used by the Park Service.  It was fascinating to walk up and down the aisles and see what was there.  There were pallets of stuff, such as lumber, corn oil ???, sleds, silver bowls, large urns, plus tons of Christmas stuff.  It was a veritable treasure trove of Christmas decorations- the mother load!!!

The ornaments used were beautiful and each had to be individually wired to the tree
The ornaments used were beautiful and each had to be individually wired to the tree

But we were put right to work and there was a huge amount of work to do!!! I started out inventorying boxes of ornaments, taking the wrappers off of ornaments and removing the hang tags from balls and replacing them with wires.  People are known to steal the ornaments from the trees at the White House so the balls must all be wired to the trees. We worked with the decorations that belonged to a specific room and made sure that everything was accounted for and placed in the loading area when we were done.  It could take hours and hours to do a room depending on the size. I worked with a team of about 6 or 7 people. Each room had a “key” basket that contained an example of every kind of ball, ribbon, or branch used to decorate that particular room.  A designer from AgencyEA had selected the colors and ornaments and ribbon months before.

Fellow volunteers decorating
Fellow volunteers decorating

Wreaths and Things

Cedar Stars in White House East Landing

Someone from the Agency  asked if anyone knew how to make wreaths and I volunteered because I preferred to make something rather than count and wire ornaments. I was assigned then as the team leader for a group of 7 people to assemble 8 cedar stars about 3 feet in diameter that would be hung in the East room landing by the Gold Star tree. Since the cedar stars would be hung in the window, they needed to be double sided. After dragging 50 feet of extemely heavy garland over to our work station, we set to work dismantling the cedar garland and wiring the bunches onto the star wreath bases. The wreaths took all day and into the next as they were very labor intensive.

Other teams were involved in a variety of tasks- making endless pine cone garlands, sewing felt poinsettia petals and leaves, unloading and sorting tons of fresh greens, making knotted wreaths out of military medal ribbons, constructing felt trees, and wiring hundreds of thousands of ornaments.  Someone was even sewing on an ancient Singer sewing machine. The tasks were endless.

Lunch was a festive affair with wraps, hot soup, snacks, desserts, and drinks.  It felt good to be sitting down for a while!

Military Medal Ribbon Wreaths
Pine Cone Garlands

At the end of the day, we piled into the buses and went back to the hotel and collapsed. But we returned the next day and did it all over again, but at a more feverish pace because we had to get it done by the end of the day. By the end of that second day we all realized that the theme for the Holiday would be a military one as so many of the decorations were all about the armed forces.

Cut Out Poinsettias in East Landing
Framed Purple Hearts on Blue Room Tree

White House!!!!

Here was the whole reason we all volunteered! To actually go to the White House and decorate.  I met some of my new friends in the dark outside our hotel at 6:15 AM for our trek. We walked 10 minutes to the White House and ended at the North East entrance for security check points.  The Agency stressed to us beforehand that we needed our badges, name tags and a photo ID to get in.

Security Checkpoint at the White House

There were two security checkpoints to go through where they look at your driver’s license and check your name off of a list. You and your belongings have to go through a metal detector. It was pretty much like airport security except you could keep your shoes on. The security lines took about a half an hour and then we were in! We entered through the East Landing and were treated to coffee and donuts and figured out where the bathroom was. The entrance hallway is quite interesting with lots of candid photos from past and present administrations lining the walls.

East Landing of the White House

We were given a tour of the White House and met the Chief Usher, the Special Assistant to the President, the Curator, and the Executive Housekeeper. We were made to feel welcome and appreciated. The Curator stressed to us that the White House is a living museum and asked that we not touch or handle the furnishings.  All of us were just in awe to be inside and wouldn’t think of touching anything!

Our first task was to unload all the boxes that were delivered by truck to the White House and make sure that each labeled box was carried to the correct destination. Then we got to the best part –decorating!

Red Room

Color palette of the red room
Color palette of the red room

The Red Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor of the White House and is decorated in different shades of red.  The walls are actually hung with burgundy silk. Usually the Christmas decorations are all bright screaming red but I was relieved to see that the decorator had taken a different tack and we were going to use copper, gold, dark red, wine, cinnamon, and touches of cream.  I approved of the color palette!

My job the first day was to decorate the Red Room with 5 other people.  We looked through our “key basket” to see what materials we had to work with and started brain storming about the best way to get everything done.  We had two 5 foot trees mounted in large red wooden planters, and a gorgeous Italian marble mantel with caryatid supports to decorate.  For materials, we had beautiful glittery pine cone balls, yards and yards of 8″ wide coppery gold wired ribbon, gold leaf branches, fresh lemon leaves, 2 long balsam fir garlands, and assorted glass ornaments with some snowflakes.  The ornaments ranged from a dozen large copper balls, smaller gold and white ones, to glittery tear drops. We were told to start decorating and we jumped right into it and made some very large bows for the mantels and adorned the garland on the mantel with an assortment of the ornaments.

Then we started to decorate the trees with doubled ribbon garlands swagged around the trees.  We put the larger ornaments in the center of the tree and filled in every available spot with the smaller ornaments.

When lunch rolled around we strolled over to the formal dining room where a fantastic hot buffet awaited us. Salads, thick sliced ham, soups, breads, drinks and dessert were all available.  The White House staff ate first and then we got in line. The kitchen staff was phenomenal! They must have known that with all the physical work that we did we would be hungry.

Red Room Tree

A crew from HGTV with Genevieve was circulating around the rooms filming and interviewing people for the Holiday special that will be aired Dec 11. They talked to me for a few minutes while I was decorating the trees and had me sign a release form.

After working all day, we left at 4PM to go back to the hotel and collapse.

White house collage

Copyright Claire Jones 2011