Leap of Gardening Faith: Pruning Rhododendrons


GARDENING REQUIRES many leaps of faith, especially when you’re learning on the fly as I am (but then again, I suspect that’s what most gardeners do throughout their lives). This morning I took a giant leap, with Dong’s help. He arrived at 8AM, chain saw in hand. I was still in my pajamas, but no matter. This is the country. I went outside.

He was here to radically prune five overgrown rhododendrons that have towered over my East Hampton cottage since I bought it in May of ’09. Those rhodies bloom magnificently purple in mid-May, but 20 feet up, way over the roofline. I never really got to enjoy the flowers.

And though they sheltered the house and I enjoyed the sense of seclusion they provided, two close friends who are professional garden designers agreed they ought to be hacked back, both for appearance sake and the health of the shrubs. So when Mary-Liz visited two weeks ago, she got out her pink marking tape and, at my request, thoughtfully tied ribbons around each branch just where they should be cut. I could never have made those decisions myself.

Finally, this morning, Dong arrived to do the job. I held my breath. He buzzed his way through the five rhodies (Mary-Liz had suggested possibly leaving one large near the house, but when the other four were down, I thought it better to make them all uniform.) The operation was over before 9.


Suddenly the area feels bare. The side of the house is exposed in all its discolored cedar shingle glory. I looked at some nearby shade plants, like the pulmonaria under the magnolia, and thought, it’s not gonna be happy. Other things, however, probably will be very happy for the extra sun.

Am I happy? I’m afraid to go out and look again. But as Dong said, “Don’t worry. Next year it will all fill in.” Let us pray.

Cottage Bathroom: Close to Done

DSCN0979I’M OUT IN SPRINGS these rainy days, enjoying the shut-in life. Bring on the cabin fever. I’m busy with query-writing, soup-making, and savoring my newly renovated bathroom.

(Go here for ‘Before’ pics.)

I came out here Wednesday from Brooklyn, not knowing if I’d have a flushing toilet (the plumber hadn’t called me back). I do.

I have everything I need, except a sink. The plumber didn’t get around to installing it — a vintage pedestal still sitting in the basement instead of the bathroom — before going on vacation for a week. OK. I’m sure he deserves a vacation.

DSCN0961My initial reaction — I hadn’t been out here in a month, having decided to leave the contractor to it, and not try to micro-manage things from afar — was generally positive. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about the turquoise grout I chose for the floor and subway-tiled shower walls. I had thought it would be kicky and fun, but my first impression was not “kicky”; it was tacky. For about a day-and-a-half, I toyed with the idea of asking Miguel  to re-do the shower walls with white grout. But then I decided I don’t care that much. And by today I’ve decided I *love* the floor and even like the shower walls. The problem with colored grout on white tile, I’ve realized, is that it emphasizes irregularities, and old houses have irregularities.


So be it. It’s a cottage. It’s grout. It’s not important. Onward. (This is why I didn’t become an interior designer, even though I went to school for it: no head for details. I hope God is not really in them.)


I love the wainscoting and my new medicine chest, below, found for $50 on Court Street in Brooklyn (there’s an orange sticker inside that says ‘Hub Towel Supply Co.’) I’m using it in place of the carved yard-sale mirror, which is too large to hang flat anywhere in the room, now that the wainscoting, topped by molding that projects 1-1/2″ from the wall, is in. (I hadn’t thought of that.)


Speaking of projecting from the wall, the light fixture I ordered from Rejuvenation, which I like and which (whew) casts adequate light — it takes a 100-watt bulb — doesn’t quite clear the medicine chest, which is 5-1/2″ deep.

I’ve called and ordered a new fixture with a deeper projection — 9″ instead of 6″ — and will have that installed when it comes. Rejuvenation will exchange it and I only have to pay for shipping.

See what I mean, though? I’m a broad-stroke person. Not good with details, at least not the first time around. Good thing I’m my own client.