On the Avenue in Regent’s Park, London

GARDEN PHOTOGRAPHY is not easy. The light has to be right, and unless a shot is perfectly composed, it often looks like a jumble.


So I was amazed at how each and every one of my photos of the Avenue Gardens in London’s Regent’s Park, taken this week last year, came out looking like a picture postcard. That’s because the design, completed in 1864 — High Victorian bedding schemes with fountains and ornaments — is so rigidly formal and symmetrical.


I had arrived in London the day before, and gone out walking with my cousin Elissa (Regent’s Park is right across the road from her house). It was misty and raining, and — jet lag brain — I had forgotten my camera.

Pity, because that might have made these rather trite shots more interesting. When I returned the next day, the sun was shining.

All my pictures need is a scalloped edge and a postage stamp.


You can see from the hyacinths and tulips — and that giant chartreuse euphorbia, below — how much farther along their season is. When we in the New York area are just getting green shoots, England’s bulbs are in full flower.


casaCARA’s New Q&A Page

I welcome comments and questions. Lately, I’ve gotten several e-mails on topics that don’t apply to a particular post, but that I think are worth sharing:

  • looking for property under 150K
  • where to find good buys on mid-century furniture
  • contemplating a move from the Hudson Valley to Philadelphia

So I’ve started a new Q&A page. To get there, click this link, or go to Contact/Q&A above.

Tag Sale Season

THERE REALLY OUGHT TO BE a National Tag Sale Day the first weekend in April. I don’t know about you, but each year at this time my thoughts turn to getting rid of stuff, and foisting it off on your neighbors is one good way.

I used to love going to tag sales. Now I love having them — making up flyers and hanging them on lampposts, then having a horde of people walk away with my cast-offs, leaving me several hundred dollars richer.

When I moved 2-1/2 years ago from a Cobble Hill triplex to a Boerum Hill duplex, I had two legendary tag sales: The Great Pre-Halloween Mother-Daughter Tag Sale, and the Gigundo Cheapo Book and Tag Sale. At one of them, I sold a shearling coat I had bought for $1,000 for $40 (shame on me for buying it in the first place.)

I photographed some of the stuff for memory’s sake, and looking back, I’m entirely free of regret.



During one sale, a group of tourists who were part of an “Undiscovered New York” walking tour happened down my little mews alley and, despite the guide’s efforts to hurry them along, started picking through my stuff with glee.

Soon I’ll be downsizing again, but I really don’t have enough excess this time around to have a full-on tag sale. I’ve already made one trip to the Strand with books (which paid for lunch), and to Housing Works on Montague Street. Most clothes I just put out on the sidewalk, and I’m often humiliated to find them strewn about and rejected by passersby.

In lifetimes past, before eBay, my favorite weekend activity was driving hundreds of miles in search of flea markets and estate sales, nurturing collections of illustrated children’s books, Art Deco anything, folk-art bottlecap figures, American art pottery, hammered aluminum, and oh, so much more.

Now I try to keep only what is functional. And yet….and yet….there’s always more to get rid of.

Philly’s Secret Gardens

This is adapted from my article in the April 2009 issue of Garden Design magazine.


THE GREENING of Philadelphia goes back to 1683, when founder William Penn modeled its four park-like squares (still there!) on those of Europe’s “green countrie townes.” The whole Greater Philadelphia region is a temperate-zone Eden, with fabled public gardens like Longwood and Chanticleer. But you don’t have to stray far from the brick and cobblestone streets of Center City, abloom in April with pear and cherry blossoms, to grasp the city’s three-century-old garden obsession and see how it’s playing out in the hip Philly of today.


  • Step into the 18th century on the corner of 4th and Walnut, where a Colonial-style formal garden is artfully re-created next door to Dolley Madison’s former abode. It’s a tidy little gem, with boxwood parterres, a miniature orchard, and a handsome vine-covered pergola.
  • phila310
  • Drive 15 minutes south of the city to stroll the riverfront grounds of Bartram’s Garden, home of early botanist John Bartram. All elements of an authentic Colonial garden are there, including a kitchen garden near the eccentric 1728 house, below. Heirloom daffs and rare ‘broken’ tulips, scattered among silverbell trees, horse chestnuts, and bottlebrush buckeyes, bloom in profusion this month, along with native flame azaleas.


  • Then check in to the 15-room Revolutionary-era Morris House Hotel, where breakfast is served in a tangerine-colored library and afternoon tea in front of a fireplace (that’s the courtyard, below).
  • img_0039



  • West of the Schuylkill River, hundreds of cherry trees make Fairmount Park a fantasia of pink from mid-March through early April (the painting below is from the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia website, which has a map of the best viewing spots).


  • Take tea among cloud-pruned evergreens, a koi-filled pond, perfectly placed boulders, and concrete pagodas at Shofuso,below, the Japanese house and garden built in 1957 to evoke the late 16th/early 17th century.


    • From March 30-April 18, see organic sculpture take shape at the 92-acre Morris Arboretum, where pdoughertyhutrenowned artist Patrick Dougherty, working with locally gathered sticks and no pre-conceptions, will weave a large-scale, site-specific creation likely to resemble a whimsical fairy-tale dwelling (see an example of his work at right).



    • The city’s rep for vanguard culture is growing. Tour the hydroponic growing houses at Greensgrow, an urban farm and nursery in the up-and-coming Kensington section, and pick up some unusual container plants and hard-to-find heirloom vegetable starters.


    • In the uber-hip Northern Liberties neighborhood, choose from hundreds of gorgeous cement urns and planters made from antique molds, below, arrayed under enormous skylights at City Planter.


    • Indulge in chocolate-chip pancakes at the Morning Glory Diner in Bella Vista, just south of Center City, and be wowed by the eye-popping window boxes( 215 413 3999).


      The East End’s Early English Houses

      I WAS SURPRISED this weekend to realize how many outstanding examples of English Colonial architecture remain on the East End of Long Island.

      Below, The Old House, Cutchoguep1030421

      While 17th century Dutch settlers in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley built houses of stone, with barn-like roof gables, and split “Dutch” doors, the English built clapboard houses in their own vernacular, with steep-pitched roofs, prominent central chimneys, diamond-paned windows, and board-and-batten doors.


      The oldest English house in New York State is in Cutchogue, on the North Fork. Built in 1649 in nearby Southold and moved to Cutchogue in 1660, “The Old House” was restored in 1940 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.


      It’s considered one of the country’s finest examples of First Period (1626-1725) architecture, with  leaded glass windows, below, a massive fluted chimney, and a paneled sitting room that dates to the 18th century (you can see the interior when the house opens for the season in late June).

      In East Hampton, on the South Fork, John Mulford’s well-preserved 1680 house, below, on the village green, is one of America’s most significant and intact English Colonial farmsteads. It opens for tours Memorial Day.



      Right next door is the c.1720 Home Sweet Home Museum, below, so called because the composer of that song, John Howard Payne (1791-1852), lived there for a time. Like the Mulford house, it is saltbox or “lean-to” style, with a Colonial garden and a windmill on the property — one of several fine old windmills in East Hampton.