Decorating with Stag Horn Ferns: Meet Philomena!

Stag Horn Fern and Bench(That’s Philomena! Above, top right.)


I have a thing for garage sales. My mom and I go ever Saturday, like it’s our religion, and most people we know are dumbfounded by this. They pepper us with questions. “Do you haggle?” No, we’re shy so we usually pay full price unless that price is ridiculous and we’re brave enough to suggest a lower figure. “What are you looking for?” Nothing in particular. It’s like a treasure hunt. We go with an open mind in search for awesomeness–at a fair price.



Gilded cash register This was $1,200. I don’t know if that’s a fair price or not. But I do know it did not make my cut for “reasonably priced items for staging.”



Case in point, the other day, I found these, in a box marked “Free”. Seriously? Seriously. For free. The garage sale woman was so nice, she reiterated, “They’re free,” in case I had missed the sign. (I had not.) JB and I just finished making a table (more on that in a future post) using turned legs from Home Depot (at $10 a leg x 4 legs, definitely not free), so I cursed myself a bit for not being prophetic enough to foresee that there would be free table legs in my future. Oh well. It’s okay, there will be more tables to build. I can see it already.



Carved table Legs

I get excited every time I look at these. All that carving…and free! 



Anyway, I also have a thing (read: big, pulsating crush) for stag horn ferns. You know, these guys.



Stag horns on wall




JB’s last name starts with a “B” and rhymes with “luck” so you can imagine why all things resembling antlers and horns have a special soft place in my heart.



Stag horn on white house




See the resemblance?



Real stag



So when I found this stag horn fern at a garage sale for $15, I handed over my fifteen dollars. (Home Depot charges $45 for the same size so this was a case of very fair pricing.) I christened it Philomena (I guess I gave it a gender, too) and brought it home with all sorts of ideas blooming in my mind. Note: I name all my houseplants. Philomena joined her siblings Gertrude, Anastasia, Penelope and Roger. The “boy” in the bunch belongs to JB. Somebody needs to have some kids already, eh?



Stag Horn Fern MountedThis is Philomena before I gave her some style.



I thought maybe I’d hang her in the bathroom because stag horn ferns are fans of humidity–they don’t like the temperature to dip below 65 degrees–and we all know showers make bathrooms feel a bit equatorial every time we use them. But she didn’t look right there. (I did, however, suspend an air plant and moss in a glass orb to see how an air plant survives in a bathroom. I can tell you they do not survive in my office or living room.)




Feeding Stag Horn Banana PeelFood (banana peels or Gro Now tablets) goes right back there.



But I had the perfect place outside. So I hung her. Then I fed her. Yes, here is maybe the best part of owning a stag horn fern: you can/should/will really want to feed them banana peels. The woman who sold her to me told me once a month. Advice on the internet runs the gamut from one per month to 4 to 8 per month. I’m sticking to one per month since I also  read that the decomposing banana peel can attract fruit flies. If you own one, please let me know if you feed it banana peels and how often.



Stag Horn Fern in Bathtub

I took this picture standing outside the restaurants The Lark and The Lucky Penny, here in Santa Barbara. I have stag horn fern (and galvanized bathtub) envy. So pretty!



Then my garage sale partner (aka, my mom) called and said, “You know what would look good? A frame around Philomena.” My mom’s an artist so she’s always coming up with clever ideas like that. I don’t know how I got so lucky (for my mom and for what I’m about to tell you), but I happened to already own an empty frame that was…the exact size I needed. I popped it over the board Philomena was mounted on and it fit–just like that. I know, right? (Note: Frame was former garage sale find. One of those items I had no idea what I’d do with it, but for $2, I knew I would come up with something. And that, is why, garage sales are worth getting up early for.)



Stag Horn Fern Framed

Lookin’ good Philomena! 


Before I go, I feel like I must impart some of my new-found knowledge about stag horn ferns. Allow me to boil my hour of internet research into a palatable few factoids. If you happen to have a giant stag horn fern, like my friend Tim, and should separate it into smaller pups (yes, that is stag horn fern lingo; you read it here) so the weight of one doesn’t make your tree topple over and so you can pass the pups on to a dear friend who really loves stag horn ferns and can think of a few other place she (eh hem!) would like to put them, you can watch a great video on how to do that here.



Stag Horn by House

 This is my friend Tim’s stag horn fern. I think it needs dividing…




Hanging Stag Horn

Tim is the lucky owner of this beautiful monster, too. Which also looks in desperate need of dividing…(in my biased opinion).




Stag horn fern cluster

I’d turn it into this.


And now, a bit of advice…


Stag Horn Fern Facts (try saying that 5 times fast!):


1. SHFs are epiphytes or “air plants” which means they do not need to have direct contact with the soil. They take their nutrients from the air.



Stag horn ferns on patio



2. And banana peels. To feed your SHF a banana peel, stick it behind the mound of the plant.  (See photo with my hand, above.) The decaying peel will feed the plant–and a few fruit flies, so watch out. The potassium in the banana peel helps offset sodium and SHFs, like many humans, try to avoid sodium. If you don’t want to attract fruit flies with decomposing banana peels, place two Gro Now tablets in the back of the plant (where the banana peels would otherwise go) once or twice a year. As the plant is watered, the nutrients will be released.


3. There are 17 species in the SHF Platycerium genus. One of them is known as “Hula Hands” and has fronds that appear to curl and wave in the breeze, much like the hands of an actual hula dancer.  Note: Alas, this is not the variety I have.



Stag horn fern office



4. If the root ball looks dry or it is hot and dry outside (like it is now; 86 degrees in March, by gosh!) water the plant twice a week by drizzling water into its mound or submerging it in a bath or bucket of water. When it is not hot, watering once a month should suffice. (Keep an eye on that root ball!) Mist your SHF, using clean water, as often as you’re trigger finger can handle–they love it!


5. The plant forms it’s own mounding backdrop from what are called base shields. As new ones form, old ones die and decompose allowing the plant to feed itself.



Stag horns Elle Decor

Image via Elle Decor


6. As one site said, they like “bright shade”. Yes, that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but they went on to clarify saying, “filtered sun.” If you keep yours indoors, SHFs prefer natural light from a south or east facing window. They don’t want to get chillier than 55 degrees so if you have yours outside, like mine, you may want to hang it so you can bring it in at night during the winter.


7. Don’t wipe the soft fibers when cleaning the leaves.



Stag horn ferns on walljpg



8. Name your SHF. Bucky? Fernalicious? Staggy? I’ll leave this part up to you.



Do you have any tips on taking care of stag horn ferns? Do you love them as much as I do? (Hard task, as I love them a lot!)


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Stenciling on burlap: a tutorial

Burlap bee 2When I saw these hand towels, I was smitten. I loved the crisp white linen and delicate eyelet. But it was the fern and bee design that had me swooning.


Bee toweljpeg



So when I decided to re-upholster the seats of my wrought iron outdoor chairs, I thought I’d see if I could replicate the design.



And I could! Here’s how I did it.


Sunbrella shot


I started with these guys which I had upholstered with a remnant of Sunbrella fabric a few years back. The upshot was Sunbrella is awesome in its fade and stain resistance. The downside? The pattern was way too tropical for these decidedly untropical chairs.



So I banished them to the garage–until now. Our new house is in desperate need of outdoor seating so I figured I’d use what I had. My next instinct was to re-upholster them using drop cloths.



Brilliant, I thought. Drop cloths are inexpensive, readily available at Home Depot, a great neutral color, and water-resistant.


Drop cloth water resistantLook at the pooled water, waving like Casper the Friendly Ghost.



But it can also be plain.



And boring.



Drop cloth chairDull, no?


So I had to do something better.


And better involved burlap.


The rich tone and texture of burlap would add some visual interest.  But not enough. That would come from stenciling on a design.

Blue fern stencilI found this fern stencil at Michael’s for under $3–before the 40% off coupon. Sold!




Bee stencil


For the bee, I turned to Google for a clip art graphic. I inflated the size to the dimensions I needed (5 1/2″ x 4″) before printing it onto white copy paper. Note: Learn from my mistake. If your printable image is solid, convert it to an outline before printing so you don’t waste your ink, like I did. Eh hem. I used an X-acto blade to cut out the solid (outlined in your case) areas of the bee graphic.



Fern leaves on burlap


While I was busy as a bee, cutting my stencil, I looked over at the fern stencil from Michael’s and it hit me, “I could’ve placed one of those plastic report covers over the printed bee, traced it with a Sharpie and then cut the design from the plastic.” If I had, I’d have a stencil that would hold up a lot better than the copy paper one I made although, to be fair, it did hold up through the two rounds of stenciling which is all I really needed it for.


But what if there are future projects that require bees stencils? You never know, so for that reason, if you happen to have any plastic sheets of some kind lying around, you’d be wise to use them–not copy paper!–to create your stencil. If you don’t, here’s another idea. It turns out there’s a whole industry of products designed around creating stencils. You may already know all about this, but if you don’t, check it out. It’s called stencil paper and looks like this:


stencil paper


Back to my archaic method, once I finished cutting my bee stencil, I rested it on the fabric, along with the fern stencil, and plotted the placement. Once everything was in the proper position I began painting using black acrylic paint. I found it was helpful to keep my non-painting hand pressed down on the stencil so the paint couldn’t bleed underneath the stencil. Tip: Do not add water to your paint or it will be too runny and may bleed under the stencil!


Fern and bee stencil copy

Bee and fern in progress


Once the stenciling was finished and the paint had dried, I unscrewed the seat cushions from the chair, draped the stenciled burlap over the cushion, (making sure the design was centered), then secured the fabric to the back of the cushion using a staple gun. After screwing the burlap seats back in place, I sprayed their tops with clear acrylic spray paint to protect them from the elements–and any messy diners!



Burlap Bee chair after


Bee Chairs AfterTa da! So much better!



Note:  Before I reupholstered the chair cushions with the piece of stenciled burlap, I draped it over a pillow and duct taped it in place to see how it would translate into a decorative pillow. I think it works!  Other uses? Sew the burlap into a beach tote or reusable grocery bag; create a table runner or frame it.




Burlap bee 2

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Framed: A gilded chalkboard tutorial

Here’s what no one tells you about chalkboard paint. Before you get to start scribbling and writing on the surface…


Eleanor Roosevelt quote Gilded Chalkboard Frame


You must do nothing. But sit and wait, staring at that beckoning blackboard, conjuring up all sorts of doodles and drawings and inspirational sayings you could be creating in white chalk, colored chalk and any combo in between–if only, you didn’t have to wait three days* for the surface to cure.


Yep, that’s right. Three WHOLE days. When we painted the wall in our living room (which you can see here),  it was agony. I had stocked up on chalk and was so ready to make my mark. And then…I read the part about “Conditioning and Use” on the side of the Rust-Oleum can. Darn, darn, darn!


Rust-oleum paint


I’m not a good waiter. At all. But it’s not just the three days. Once the wall has cured, there’s conditioning left to do. The instructions add, “Before writing, condition the surface by rubbing the side of a piece chalk over the entire surface and erase. This will leave a coat of chalk dust that will provide the best erasability.”


What? Turn my pretty blackboard grey?


Yes. In other words, if you don’t want your first attempt at writing a line of prose with all the lines that turned out super slanty to become a shadow of failure permanently etched onto the surface of your chalkboard stage, you must wait three days AND condition.


Cured chalkboard wall


Sadly, the high drama of the super blackness goes way muted to a kind of swirly grey. If your squint your eyes it’s almost like an amateur abstract painting. Almost.



So when I decided we needed a gilded framed chalkboard to hang on the wall in our office, I was so happy to discover Home Depot sells these…

Home Depot Chalkboard Panel


Pre-fab black chalkboard panels! Not only do these mean no waiting three days for the surface to cure, but you don’t even have to prep and paint the darn thing yourself. Easy peasy. So they must cost a bundle, right? Hardware/craft stores like to punish lazy people. Nope, I’m happy to report at $6. 88 (before tax) for the 2′ x 3′ x 3/16″ panel, it cost less than it would to purchase an unfinished board with the same dimensions (those were $5) and a pint of chalkboard paint ($10 per pint). Quick calculation: $6.88 versus $15.  And don’t forget the value of not having to spend the time painting it and waiting for it to cure. Sold!


Gilded frame


Once I purchased my panel and brought it home, I measured the opening of my frame and marked the chalkboard panel for my cut lines.



Measure frame


With JB’s cautious presence and helpful hints about how to avoid pain and/or injury, such as “Use grips to clamp the board down,” and “Keep the strings of your hoodie tucked in or you could strangle yourself!” I cut the board using a circular saw.


Cutting the chalkboard


When the panel was cut to size, I popped it into the back of the frame. Then I hammered brads into the frame to keep the panel snuggly in place. The frame–a $20 Salvation Army score–was, thankfully, already wired on the back so I got to skip the step of adding screw eyes and wire.


Hammering brads


Back of frame with brads


Then it was time for hanging. And graffiti-ing.


The whole process took less than an hour before I was able to begin writing on my new chalkboard. One hour versus three days? Home Depot had me at prefab.


PS, I decided to conduct a test on the scrap I sawed off to see if I wrote directly on the chalkboard, without conditioning its surface by rubbing it with a side of chalk, if the marks would really etch. I hoped it wouldn’t because I prefer the strong black background of the unconditioned chalkboard to the grey conditioned look.


While I was at it, I tested chalk from Pottery Barn versus the 99 Cents Only Store.


Conditioning test


(You are my witness. I’d say the answer is:  the difference is in price, not quality.)


Conditioning test results



Ta da! They both wiped clean. Well “clean” in that grey swirly sense of a chalkboard. No etching after all! I can’t say if this is specific to Home Depot’s prefab chalkboard panel that had who-knows-how-long-to-cure before I purchased it or if they use a special paint that plays by different rules than Rust-Oleum. But, the bigger question for me was, could I ever entirely revive the board to the true black background I preferred?




Etching test results



*Note: Krylon’s Chalkboard aerosol paint only requires 24 hours for initial use but still recommends conditioning your surface with chalk after it has cured. While the aerosol is great for small chalkboard projects (I used it for a silver platter I turned into a chalkboard sign and was happy with the results), for painting walls be sure to use the brush and roll-on variety of chalkboard paint. Use a paint roller to apply paint to the body of your wall and a brush for the detailed areas such as where the wall meets the ceiling, the baseboard, and/or an adjacent wall that you don’t want chalkboard-ified.


Have you experimented with this? Am I only the only one who was duped into believing you had to condition your chalkboard (essentially turning it gray) or else it would etch?

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The Writing on the Wall: Our new chalkboard wall!

The wall in our living room used to look like this.


Living Room Wall Before




It needed a little somethin’ somethin’. At first I thought that might be grasscloth. But my budget told me otherwise. It said, “Keep looking. You can find something for less money.”


As the painter’s tape in the photo might lead you to (correctly) guess, paint won this contest. But first, there were other contenders.


Like a photo mural wall!





I saw this wall graphic at McConnel’s Ice Cream on State St. and thought, “Bingo! I’ll use a black and white photo, have a company blow it up to the size of our wall, and we’ll stick it up with wallpaper adhesive.”



JB likes jazz so I toyed with the idea of an old, grainy photo from a jazz club. Like this, but less French. Romantic, oui?


French Cafe KissImage via French Culture


The concept that a photo could give the illusion our wall actually receded in space, and thus make our living room appear even larger, was intriguing. But when I considered that photos with persons might also give the (somewhat creepy) impression that strangers were hanging out with us in our living room, I nixed the plan of having people in the photos.


And switched to nature themes. Like a road leading to nowhere.


Road to Nowhere 2

This is actually a wallpaper which you can find here. But it felt a bit desolate.



I do like this birch tree wallpaper, but it is already everywhere….





So I considered a natural version of it, like this.



Birch treesVia Fine Art America


Alas, it felt too wintery to feel right in spring and summer. Darn.


Nothing seemed quite right. I was like the Goldilocks of wallpapers. And I was still stymied by not knowing if I used a photo I took myself, who could blow it up to 10′ 3″ wide x 8′ tall we needed for our wall without blowing our budget at the same time.


REIThis is the photo mural behind the counter at our local REI.  It’s fabulous and fabulously large, but a wee bit dramatic for everyday living room viewing.



In the end, chalkboard paint was the winner. Yes it has been done. And then done some more, but the scribbles and art we’ll draw on it will be our own. Also, while we’re still in the remodeling phase and making up our minds about permanent choices, something that is less of an investment, easily changed–but fun, nonetheless–felt right.



Here it is in all its graffiti glory: our new chalkboard wall…


Chalkboard Wall After


I like that now we can write humongous To Do or Reminder lists.



Here’s the very first thing we wrote on the wall after a late night viewing of the, oft underrated, film Karate Kid.


Chalkboard Miyagi2 copy


My assessment of having a chalkboard wall?  Not only is it entertaining, but it feels like having a rotating art installation in your own living room. And at only $20 for the two coats we needed for our wall, the price came in at “Heck yeah!”


Note: I don’t think we’ll do this, but it did occur to me that we could add crown molding on all sides and paint the molding a metallic gold, thus making the wall read like a gigantic gilded picture frame with a chalkboard center.



Gilded Molding

Like a minimalist’s version of this. If you’re game, you can buy the molding here.



But, for now, I think we’re treating this wall as a “Let’s see how long we like this” element, so adding molding wouldn’t be so wise. Without the addition of gold molding, we can rest easy knowing the day we decide we need say a white wall on which to adhere a black and white photo of a rambling road, we can change the wall–with the stroke of a brush!


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It’s a wrap: celery heart rose wrapping paper

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Finished wrapping paper with font


This morning, I read an email from Yahoo which I wouldn’t normally bother with but its subject line advertised great ideas for V Day and I’m feeling kind of stumped. JB calls it a “Hallmark holiday”; I call it a wonderful holiday because it mandates romance. I mean who doesn’t need a nudge from Cupid now and then, right? (I’m raising both hands in the air right now.)


Celery in a bag2


So what’s their big idea? Autocompose Valentines. (I was wondering what that red heart icon was doing next to Yahoo’s “Compose” button; now I know.) They say these will be the best valentine you ever send. They had me at “best”.

Celery on board



I clicked the Love one first (scroll down to read it). Obviously the beginning is a nod to (or a full on rip off of?) The Proclaimer’s song, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), but the rest is random cheesy muck that I thought was darn funny. I wonder if thousands of people are going to send this same mushy boiler plate valentine to their loved ones. It’s so over-the-top romantic yet completely impersonal as it was composed by Yahoo. I emailed it to JB along with an explanation of its Yahoo origin and a post script to forget that part about giving up chocolate–that’s never going to happen!




Celery heart cut


Happy Valentine’s Day,


To the love of my life, I would walk five hundred miles to see you. And, if necessary, I would walk five hundred more. You play the strings of my heart with delicate grace. When we are apart, I am lost without hope. I would give up chocolate forever in exchange for five more minutes with you.


Love for all eternity,


Your Name

Painted celery heart


The next one, I’m assuming, is for friends–or someone you really like a lot–called Favorites.  I emailed it to my best friend (with a huge disclaimer about where it came from so she won’t think I’ve lost my mind).


Stamping celery heart



Dear Favorite,


I don’t know what I like better–your sense of humor or your sense of direction. I want you to know how much I appreciate that you’re always willing to split dessert with me. The truth is, you’re a trendsetter. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you walked around the world with a sign that reads, “LOVE ME” across your back!


You’re a winner!


Your Name


Roll of wrapped paperI think the last one, All Outta Love, is the best! I can think of a few people I would’ve liked to send this one to in years past.


To someone who deserves the best,


Well, they can’t all be great, right? When did I dip myself in love repellent? I don’t remember doing that. Someone should remind all those hand-holders that it’s flu season. Ugh, what was this email about? I got so bored I forgot.




Your Name

Small shot

Darn you, Yahoo for not giving me any ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I did come up with a handmade wrapping paper idea, on my own, to wrap a V Day present for a friend who I’m eternally grateful to for helping me set up this blog.  See the full instructions below.



paper with tie 2


1. Cut the end off a celery heart (in other words, cut off the rooted end of a cluster of celery stalks). Make it a clean slice as the remaining stump will become your stamp.


2. Paint the stamp with acrylic paint (pink, red, white, etc.).


3. While the paint is still wet, stamp it onto your paper. (I used a roll of brown craft paper from Staples.)


4. Draw leaves on both sides of the “rose”. (I used a combination of a green ink pen and a green colored pencil.)


5. Once the paint has dried, use the paper to wrap a present. For a finishing touch, I added a twine bow and hot glued wood shavings I made using a planing tool on some redwood. (JB just built a gate and fence and it was a bit tight so planing only helped it. Wink, wink.) I hot glued a small heart, cut from pink copy paper, to hide where I had hot glued to the shavings to the bow.



Planing fence




Planed wood

6. Simple and cute. Now go out there and show someone you love them. It’s mandatory!


Finished wrapping paper

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Love spell: A Valentine’s Day Banner!

What’s the fastest way to spell out your love? With a Valentine’s Day banner, of course!


It’s quick, easy and inexpensive and here’s how to do it.


Horns xs and os



Begin by drawing your triangles onto black construction paper. Note: Store your construction paper out of the sun, especially the darker shades, or it will fade as you can see mine has.

Drawing on black construction paper


Cut your triangles. For cutting paper, I like to use the scissors made for kids. They stay sharp even after cutting a whole lot of paper, they cost just a few dollars, and they keep me from using–and dulling–my fabric scissors on paper.


Cuttin triangles



Once you’ve cut your triangles, draw your Xs and Ox. I used white chalk for the letters. Note: The 99 Cents Only Store is a thrifty source for chalk.


Drawing x and o




Now add the hearts. I used pink chalk (also from the 99 Cents Only Store).



Adding hearts



Use a hole puncher to make two holes near the top of the flat end of the triangle.


Punching holes



Cut a strand of twine that is as long as you would like your banner to be. Add a few inches on either side so you have loose ends that are long enough to pin, nail, or tape to a wall.


Threading the twine



Now it’s ready to hang. Remember, to prevent the banner from fading, avoid hanging it in direct sunlight.


Happy, almost, Valentine’s Day!


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