On the House

Bringing the outside in.

Living in the
low-maintenance
garden of
my dreams.

As the cold winds continue to blow outside, and the nursery catalogues pile up, dog-eared, on the coffee table, I have trouble wondering if I can really wait for late spring for my terrace garden to return. And during a drive to New Hampshire wrapped in a blanket to shield myself from the cold air seeping into the cracks of my convertible roof, I try to picture the leaves on the trees, but alas I cannot. The attempt makes me shiver as I recall what the route looks like when my top is down, so I just turn up the heat on the dashboard and picture the ÒgardenÓ in my living room that awaits my return. But if you’re looking for the picture attached to this article of a bounty of lush green on every windowsill–forget it! 

The truth is, as a gardener in the Northeast, I have trouble nurturing those plants from the tropics, where most indoor plants are from.  Besides, I travel so much and was always dependent on someone else to keep my indoor plants alive. I learned years ago that leaving the job of plant watering to housemates, neighbors, housekeepers or friends is a disaster. Not only is there an 80 percent chance you will lose a plant, there also is a 100 percent chance your relationship will be forever altered. Their quiet resentment and your gushing guilt will keep you obligated to care for hamsters, angry cats and goldfish for years to come. Plants just might not be worth it!

But there also is still a way to bring the outdoors in maintenance-free. As my off-season visits to the famous gardens of the world have taught me, you don’t need plants to make a garden. The fountain at the entrance of the Boboli Gardens in Florence is so beautiful I wonder if the blossoms are jealous and happy not to be competing in February.

I have long been a collector of beautiful garden accoutrements. I covet my stone birdbath from central Pennsylvania and my cement statue of a voluptuous half-clothed goddess with a chipped knee and only three fingers. The extra-large iron-and-marble coffee table that I picked up at The New York Botanical GardensÕ annual sale three years ago is the centerpiece that anchors my oversized, modern, modular sofa in my living room. The birdbath serves as an end table, and the statue sits atop a zinc laundry tub from England turned upside down.

And there’s more! A 200-year-old lamp post discarded after the renovation of a park in Paris, rewired, illuminates my modern metal bookcase. And two wire garden chairs are covered in exquisite and expensive "indoor fabrics," adding comfort with high style opposite the sofa.

The room is dappled with greens: There’s the moss of the sofa and the chartreuse in the pillows. A photographic triptych on one wall features blown-up seed pods, and a large painting of an apple orchard commands another wall. Dozens of gardening books from around the world fill the bookshelves and half of the marble coffee table. The only care needed for my garden is a feather duster!

And when I return after weeks of traveling, I need only thank the postman for holding my mail. All my relationships remain intact, and I can pore through pictures of far-away gardens that I do not have to maintain to enjoy. I truly live in the garden of my dreams.

A Wexford native, Rebecca Cole is most well-known as co-host of the Discovery Channel’s interior design series "Surprise by Design."  She has been a contributor on the "Today" show and has appeared on scores of television and radio shows.  Her books include Potted Gardens, Paradise Found: Gardening in Unlikely Spaces, and
Flower Power.  Coming soon: her line of tiles, furniture, and garden accoutrements.