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GRAVEL, ROCKS, PALMS AND TOPIARY, that’s what Las Vegas landscaping is made of. My wasband just got back from a visit there with these images in his pocket, taken in Paradise Palms, a neighborhood of mid-century houses by architects Palmer and Krisel, best known for their Palm Springs developments, that are pretty swell in their own right. (The houses, by the way, are real bargain by East and West Coast standards. One in fairly good condition might go for around $230,000. Others need a complete makeover.)

Something about these freewheeling front yards makes me want to laugh. Is it the anthropomorphic look of the pruned hedges, the casual strewing of boulders, the symmetrical line-up of mini-cacti in gray gravel? It’s so different from what we call a garden here in the East. Scroll down for a look at what can be done under pretty arid circumstances.

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Photos: Jeff Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

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A SWITCH has been thrown somewhere — “Garden ON” — and spring is busting out all over. Everyone with a Facebook page has been deliriously posting pictures of daffodils and magnolia blossoms, but indulge me a few, if you will. These, taken about 10 days ago at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, already seem a moment that has passed. Things are farther along now. To me (not being a bee), that’s the chief meaning and purpose of flowers: a reminder of how beautiful, and heartbreakingly ephemeral, it all is. And by “it,” I mean life.

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IMG_2845On a lighter note, how funny is this sign, spotted in front of a Flatbush Avenue dive bar? “Spring is the time of plans and projects,” a quote from none other than Tolstoy, with whom I heartily concur — and also $4 drafts!

An odd thing happened with the onset of April, which always feels like real New Year’s to me. Two days ago, I signed a contract of sale on my cottage in East Hampton, the renovation and landscaping of which has been a recurring subject on this five-year-old blog. It was an emotional roller coaster to the end, with yet another near-deal falling through and a decisive buyer stepping up just last week. We’ll close on or before May 15. That is a great relief, of course — the house was officially on the market only six months, but it had begun to feel like forever.

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But that’s not the odd thing. The odd thing is, now that the real-estate paralysis has lifted, I feel like blogging again. I have a backlog of drafts and posts to write. Fair warning! Meanwhile, consider the flowers.

 

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A TRIP TO THE NEW CROWN HEIGHTS STORE, Reclaimed Home, could just save you a longer trip upstate. The architectural salvage and secondhand furniture on offer here are reminiscent of what you might find while foraging at the Stormville flea market in Putnam County, or in a Catskills antique store.

The spacious shop, which opened last weekend at 945 Carroll Street, in a former tattoo parlor a block from the 1000 Washington Avenue entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is a joint project of two longtime friends, top — Phyllis Bobb, a veteran flea market vendor who formerly owned a Victorian house in Beacon, N.Y. (its renovation is fully documented on her 7-year-old blog), and fine-arts painter Emilia DeVitis.

The repurposed pieces in the store, however — a decorative 19th century radiator grille used as the top of a side table, for instance, or a 1920s ‘waterfall’ dresser on wooden wheels, given new pizzazz with a painted red chevron design, are unique in all the world. Prices are accessible, and the info on the price tags exhaustive and painfully honest — a cast-iron chandelier is marked “Not vintage,” a piece in mid-paint job “Not finished yet.”

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Check out the website, which displays many of the pieces for sale in the shop, with detailed descriptions and prices, or better yet, go to the store. It’s open five days (Wednesday-Friday 9-5; Saturday and Sunday 10-6, Monday and Tuesday by appointment).

 

 

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IT’S SPRING, and I like my life again. Winter is my time for serious worry. With spring come more lighthearted concerns. Instead of How the hell am I going to pay my bills?, it’s Are you supposed to cut above the leaf node or below?

Yes, the Felco has come out of its sheath and, as long as I still own my cottage on the East End of Long Island, I am working it – transplanting things from here to there, raking leaves off the perennial beds, spreading new grass seed in bare spots, feeding the daffodil foliage that’s beginning to poke up. Only just beginning: after our brutal Northeast winter, the season is very slow to start this year. Mid-April already, and the only forsythia blooming is the forsythia I forced in a vase.

With spring comes optimism that I will sell my cottage soon and be able to turn the full force of my attention to the other house I own in the same bayside community. There’s been a price chop on the cottage, to 435K, which immediately attracted a new offer. A pattern is emerging: people (young people, as it happens) fall in love with the house’s considerable charms — really become infatuated with it. Soon fantasy turns to the reality of all that’s involved in owning and maintaining a house. It’s a big decision, and some become convinced (in one case by a father/financier who was “not feeling the vintage thing”) that some other house, a house built more recently than c.1940, would be easier.

Maybe so, maybe not, but this time I’ll keep my own excitement in check until a contract is signed. Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly enjoying staying in the cottage — recently redecorated with thrift shop furniture and exceedingly bright and pleasant — and country life in general. Sitting on the deck on a warm day. Walking down to the bay at sunset. Morning yoga at the Springs Presbyterian Church, a meadow view behind the window panes. A multigrain fruit and nut muffin from the Springs General Store. It’s the simple things, said a friend, and that’s my motto of the moment.IMG_2838

I moved three miscanthus – tall ornamental grasses – from the backyard up to the front of the property to screen the parking court, since the ilex I chose not to wrap in burlap last fall has been nibbled bare, rendered useless as screening, by the resident deer. As I tucked the grasses into their new spots, I talked to them. Don’t they say plants respond to our conversation, or perhaps just to the carbon dioxide we exhale as we lean over them, blabbing away?

“Now you guys have about 30 days before the maple leafs out, so take advantage of the sun now and do all the growing you can,” I told them. “Okay? Okay. Conditions may not be ideal, but you’re gonna be just fine.” I reassured them and myself at the same time.

 

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WITH TWO AS-YET SEMI-FURNISHED BEACH HOUSES to rent this summer, I’m back to my old shoestring-decorating tricks. Nothing I love more than visiting thrift shops and yard sales with a purpose.

On my way out to Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.), where I’ve been staying in my cedar-shingled cottage again for the first time in a year-and-a-half — that’s the one on the market for sale — I made five stops en route from Brooklyn: the Southampton Hospital Thrift Shop, the Southampton Animal Shelter Thrift Shop, and the Retreat Thrift Shop in the Bridgehampton Mall, from which I came away empty-handed (mostly clothes and/or overpriced, though I’ll keep trying). Then, heading further east, I stopped at the always-promising ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) Thrift Shop in Wainscot and the rarely-disappointing LVIS (“Elvis”) (Ladies Village Improvement Society) Thrift Shop in East Hampton, from which I emphatically did not.

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At ARF, I scored a never-used, just a teeny tad shopworn wicker sofa and armchair, plus ottoman, made by the Lane Furniture Co., with Hamptons-standard white cushions, for $325. (Fridays are 50% off days, but the manager gave me half-price even though it was a Wednesday.) Abracadabra, the living room is pulled together. That they are super-comfortable is a bonus.

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Nor did LVIS, whose furniture barn is a go-to whenever I’m doing errands in the village of East Hampton, let me down. There I found two framed posters, below, of art I love for $20 apiece, and a white ginger-jar lamp for $15.

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Then, at an estate sale in Amagansett last Friday, I picked up a square Moroccan-style pouf, below, for $50. I’ve been wanting a pouf in the worst way. It’s pretty stunning with my thrift-shop sofa, on the tan-and-white striped rug donated by my friend Stephanie (who is also the source of some mismatched dining chairs, a very chic look).

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Thanks to thrift shops and good friends, one of my chief middle-of-the-night worries — how am I going to furnish two houses by Memorial Day? — is on the way to being solved.

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