Submission by guest blogger – Leslie Ferebee, PHS Sr. Shows Special Events Coordinator
Michael demonstrates how an artichoke will make a perfect addition to his fall arrangement.
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, award-winning Flower Show Major Floral Exhibitor Michael Bruce hosted a committee visit to his house in Westmont, New Jersey. The event was titled “Proper Props: Plants in Pots – Making Garden Rooms.” Michael wanted us to see his gardens and share with us tips and tricks for using “props” in your garden.
Immediately upon entering his cozy house we noticed the art-covered walls (and the canvas-hooded Kasbah lounge seat nestled front and center amidst a room full of eclectic furniture). Continuing to look around, you could see creativity everywhere.
There was a nosh table setup with treats; grapes marinated in sour cream and brown sugar, a number of interesting cheeses and toasts, and the cutest little blue soup tureens lined the table.
First, we gathered around in the living room, where Michael gave us a brief overview of what we were going to see. He told us about his back and front yards and how over the years he used plants, shrubs, and trees as well as props to create privacy and sweet little areas to nestle into.
It was an overcast day with the threat of rain, but it embraced us and made the whole afternoon very intimate.
In the front of his house, he’d installed hardscaping to make a small terrace and created a seating area with a pergola and lots of pots with beautiful foliage – a container garden. He also shared the evolution of the front area with many of the trees he’s planted, including quite a few Crepe Myrtles.
After admiring all of the work that had been put into the designs of the front of the house, it was time to check out the back yard. The first things you see are the stone columns in the rear, which had been used in one of Michael’s Flower Show exhibits. Michael told us that he often uses props from the Flower Show and events that he designs in his own home garden, for instance huge pots and oversized iron sculptural “trees.”
As we wandered the yard he showed us how he planted around the perimeter of the property to establish privacy. Over the course of a couple of decades, the borders have grown lush with numerous shrubs, trees, and vines.
Nestled in the corner is a gazebo overgrown with multiple varieties of vines. When you peek inside you can see an adorable nook he’s set up with a table – made from a large ceramic pot topped with glass – and wrought iron chairs, just right for a small dinner party with friends at dusk or coffee and the New York Times on a beautiful Spring Sunday.
In the center of the yard, separated by a pathway to the rear, were two raised beds – one for vegetables and one for more ornamental plants. Nearer to the house were another two more sweet little patio areas under a pergola he’d constructed from piping.
We decided to break for a nosh and return to the house. To our delight, one of Michael’s colleagues, Marilyn Ford (who, by coincidence was to be feted that evening for her birthday) had prepared the most wonderful warmed vichyssoise soup. It had sweet potatoes, leeks and pears. (Oh my, now I’m hungry!) The recipe is included at the end of the blog. That is what our little blue tureens were for. How adorable is that?! As we rounded the table we realized that the grapes also had a hint of rum!
Sated, spoiled, but not done yet, we moseyed to the rear porch for coffee and cider and sweet treats. We found that Marilyn is multi-talented just like Michael; yes…she pressed the apples for the cider herself!
Settling in for the finale of the day, we all took seats inside and outside (and even on a petite hand-made balcony) to watch Michael create an abundant fall arrangement. Ever the raconteur, Michael not only teased us with anecdotes and stories of Flower Shows and events that he’s done, he made sure to educate us on how to include foliage from your garden in your arrangements.
As the day wound down, we realized that after we departed, Michael was going to entertain again that evening for Marilyn’s birthday party. I guess when you do what you love to do, there is only the prospect of knowing that everyone who experiences your creations and company will certainly share that with others and return again and again. Michael, as the Governator says, “We’ll be back!” Visit Michael Bruce Florist online at http://www.michaelbruceflorist.com/.
MARILYN FORD’S RECIPES
Grapes with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar (serves 6)
3 c. of seedless grapes (mix colors)
juice of one fresh orange
½ c. sour cream
2 T. dark (spiced) Rum
¼ c. brown sugar
zest of one orange
fresh mint leaves, chopped
Mix grapes, orange juice, sour cream and rum – chill 1 hr.
Transfer to serving dish – Sprinkle with brown sugar, orange zest and mint
Sweet Potato & Pear Vichyssoise (or warmed)
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, sliced
3 celery ribs, sliced
3 leeks, mostly whites, cleaned and sliced
¼ c. peeled, chopped fresh ginger
4 pears, peeled and cored
4 sweet potatoes (not yams), peeled and cut into small pieces
4 c. chicken/vegetable stock
salt/pepper to taste
½ c. low fat Greek yogurt
Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté onion, celery, leeks, shallots and ginger
Add pears, sweet potatoes and chicken stock – stir and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 25 mins.
Season with salt/pepper.
Set aside to chill or serve warm.
Add yogurt before serving.