Thursday, July 30, 2009

Windermere Water Feature Construction

Jose and Primo beginning to dig out the two foot depth of the pond.

Having built the retaining wall of 4x4's and putting in 60 yards of sandy fill we've been starting to shape out the pond for our water feature over the last two days. Our liner is 20x30 feet and we're going to make a pond approximately 14x 24 and 2 feet deep. The electrician is coming to wire up the big pump (one and a half horsepower). Having most of the rock work done by the end of the day. That's going to consist of a little less than four tons of Florida field stone and a little more than a ton of ( log cabin) flag stone and about a ton of Niagara jacks. Now take the ingredients, mix them all together carefully, season with an artistic eye, and you should have one beautiful water feature. Ours will have one major waterfall that will cascade down into a bunch of rocks and a smaller river effect on the other side. Tomorrow we'll be putting on the finishing touches and then of course the plants will be the thing that be brings it all to life in the end. Check out our next blog tomorrow to see the progress. Our crew for this endeavor includes Mike, David, Steve, Primo, Jose, Roland and me, your Garden Monkey Florida.
By the end of the day the pond is dug out, the liner installed, and we begin to fill it which ended up taking about 5 hrs. It's a big pond!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Renningers Antiques in Mount Dora

A row of permanent shops at Renningers

Sunday morning, Mike, Stephen and I headed up to Renningers Twin Markets in Mount Dora. It's about a thirty minute ride northwest from Colonialtown and a favorite weekend getaway. One of the things that make it unique is that it has a flea market on one side and a first class antique market on the other.
For another," the flea market is the real deal, not a bunch of inferior trash brought in from the orient last week and guaranteed to break the next. Ninety percent of the merchandise is recycled or fresh grown (including the miniature goats and African geese). The vendors are as unique as the merchandise, and as we got there very early, they provided the best people watching.
Collectible comic book characters and cartoon figurines.
Miniature goat about the size of a small dog
African goose dreaming of the un-caged days

Actually the most intriguing thing was people" imagining". I was really intrigued by the big space that had no people in it but had a few dozen empty beer cans, an empty quart of Jim Beam and a couple of drained wine bottles. Judging by the displays everywhere, including the Santa Claus head mobile and the twenty foot long plank with a hundred pairs of toy dinosaurs glued to it in solemn procession, I think those empties might be the remnants of a bipolar person in full blown mania seeking to self-medicate. At least in this environment they would not stick out like a sore thumb. The only thing that would look strange here would be a "normal" person. I know we all felt right at home.

Lost City, possibly home to a Bipolar man, definitely home to the last remaining dinosaurs

The last remaining dinosaurs on a mission

A beer can mobile

On the Antique side there was the charming dealer who used to be in Palm Beach. He has exquisite taste and I fancied a pair of dolphin planters that he had copied by a Cuban craftsman from Miami. He says these are the last ones and I believe him. We've never regretted a purchase from him yet. There is a custom jeweler here as well who fashions classic pieces that could only be equalled by fin de siecle masters.

Fine antique jewelery at Renningers

There are over 150 dealers with permanent displays and I'll have to feature some of my other favorites in future posts. In addition to the weekly wonders, there are monthly fairs that bring in 200 more dealers, and four times a year, the Extravaganzas bring in over a thousand. It's no wonder that this place is the antique center par excellence in the whole state of Florida. Best of all, it;s in Orlando's backyard.

A pair of Mi-Mo swivel seat bar stools

A mounted sailfish above mosaic inlaid cow head

A lion statue I wouldn't mind receiving as a birthday gift

A monkey on the cross holding a guitar clock , more Lost City

An antique shop at Renningers that has been around for 25years and counting

A perfect example of the vast people watching opportunities at Renningers

An antique shop with everything from deer heads to put on your mantle to board games to play with your kids.
I've bought many pieces of antique furniture at Renningers for my design/build projects. Visit my website at

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Butterflies at the Winter Park Farmers Market

Lorenzo behind his butterfly exhibit.

Another Saturday at the Farmer's Market in Winter Park began with an obligatory visit to the patisserie for quiche Lorraine and the chance to engage in a little French speaking, so easy on the ears in the morning. There were lots of tee-shirts for Bill Segal, who is running for mayor of Orange County. I know Bill since he frequents a conclave that floats in and out of the local Einstein's called The Breakfast Club.. They exist everywhere in the world, these informal groups of coffee drinkers and bagel noshers ruminating on tidbits of the day's news and assorted bites of gossip. It's an agreeable way to add structure to a day and strengthens the sense of community. Here invitations to other events are extended and reviews of previous gatherings are submitted. On Saturdays, many of these folks assemble on the porch at the Market in what was the old freight train terminal. It makes a great place for politicians to glad hand as the crowd here consists of people who not only vote, but tend to be involved in politics, at least as contributors. And most refreshingly, here in Winter Park, the political spectrum freely ranges from to the right of Attila the Hun to left of Che.
From catepillar to cacoon to butterfly, at Larenzo's butterfly display you can purchase a plastic box containing everything you need to watch the entire transformation.
Decidedly less political is the display of butterflies and chrysalis offered by Lorenzo, much to the delight of children and grownups alike. Lorenzo is a native of Cuba who has been selling these ephemeral beauties here for fifteen years. Two years ago he furnished the butterflies we set loose in the garden on Lake Conway we had created for Irene Ellis. Her daughter Pam and I thought it was a fitting tribute to a woman who loved gardens, nature and life. And the butterfly is a fitting symbol of the beauty and fragility of existence. We plant butterfly attracting plants in almost all our gardens. And when I see a butterfly fluttering among the blossoms I think of Irene and other beautiful souls I have known as being reanimated in them. I might well up just a bit, but the sense of peace and contentment overtakes me in the end .

This little girl was really having fun at the butterfly display but I think I accidently made her camera shy as I snapped the photo.
Sweet lady from the Phillipines has been at the market for twenty years.
Popcorn made the old fashion way, in a huge cast iron popper and then topped with a sugar glaze, delicious.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Winter Park Antique Shop

Open for business, I'm ready to go inside to visit Hardy Hudson and see what new treasures he's gathered at his antiques shop on Park Ave. in Winter Park.

Certainly one of the finest antique shops I've ever been in is Antiques on the Avenue. The proprietor, Hardy Hudson ,has an incredible eye and voracious appetite for acquiring the most amazing objects- pottery, glass, paintings, sculpture, you name it, he's got it. I'm personally prejudiced in favor of him since he loves my paintings. Almost exactly a year ago he was driving by my studio as I was having a big sale. Big sale indeed! Hardy bought five paintings on the spot and said if I touched another one up, he'd buy it too. He sold that one as I brought it in to show him a couple of days later. He's sold them all except two. One he kept for himself, the other , a big study of Constable's "The Haywain" is still at the shop.

This is the painting I had displayed in front of my studio during my big sale that caught Hardy's attention as he was driving by.

It was great seeing Hardy completely swamped by catalogs and boxes. He could hardly move, he said the extra clutter was a result of buys made at the big pottery show in Zanesville Ohio. He is the coolest kind of antiquarian. He really loves beauty and he and I share a particular affection for Florida landscape paintings. He inspires me to do more. It seems appropriate that Hardy's shop is right next door to the world class treasure that is the Morse Museum. His store ranks equally high in its category.

Beautifully decorative pottery pieces bought in Zanesville, Ohio.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Winter Park Farmers Market

One row of vendors selling everything from organic dog treats to sizzling brauts.

This Saturday we went to the Winter Park Farmers Market. It's a spot I know well, having been a vendor here of orchids and bromeliads for over a dozen years. The greatest strength of the market are its flowering plants and prepared foods. This place is nationally known, having been featured in several magazines and most recently shown on the Travel Channel's "Weekend Getaways with Samantha Brown. " And it's about as much fun as you could expect to have any where on the planet on a Saturday morning.
Here I am viewing a fine speciment of bromeliad at one of the market's several flowering plant stands.

One of the newer attractions is from a dairy located only about four miles from downtown Winter Park that makes artisinal cheese. They have a killer blue and just recently added a Swiss that is as good as any I've ever tasted. If the gouda they plan to be introducing in the fall is half as tasty, it will be good. Two incredible French cuisine stands produce some of the tastiest morsels imiginable. The one run by Quebecois has a croque monseuir made with boursin and bacon that is memorably moist and creamy. Another stand run by native Orlandoans has bread puddings, like key lime, double chocolate and rum raisin that are truly decadent.
For BreakfastI had a sicilian omelet cooked up by a Colombian family that included shrimp, asparagus and feta cheese, although the German woman's crepes would have been just as good.

This is not a good time for greens so my friends who grow organic ones just had the last of this season's zinnias and sunflowers. They plan to take August off. Our seasons in Florida march totally to a different drummer.


The charming couple who have a home here and a farm in Adele Georgia, came with some terrific peaches and the last of their summer squash and zucchini. I realize how much I miss this place, it's a groove that you have to get into coming each Saturday to kick off the weekend. And it's a habit I fully intend not to kick again any time soon.
The Winter Park Farmer's market having just celebrated its 30th year in existence drawes a crowd each weekend of market goers who come to enjoy the fine cuisine of local food artisans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More of only in Miami Beach

The scene I witnessed on Monday morning on 41st Street was even more bizarre than sable hats with palm trees. Black yamulke propped on dishwater blonde hair, a forty something wearing shorts and holding a long turqoise skateboard looked like a panhandler, but I didn't have to turn him down. He only seemed to be approaching fellow yamulke wearers who also had prayer shawls. And by the time I got close enough to hear his spiel, I heard him say, "I'm not asking for a handout- I do accounting, web design, taxes..." Obviously this is the kosher way to street hustle in the heart of Miami Beach. Where else could I have been amused, but not surprised , to be the audience for a sketch like that ? Photobucket (The art of the deal mid- beach syle)

The capstone to my trip through diversity ended when I went to the west end of the street to take a picture of the belltower of the St Charles Catholic Church. Resting thirty feet up the building's side was a monumental statue of Jesus. One of his hands was holding an orb, while the other seemed to be offering a benediction to the building across the street. It used to be the bayfront Howard Johnsons Hotel I stayed at years ago when I first started coming down to buy plants. Now it serenely houses the Talmudic University. I'm pretty sure I saw an image of Buddha being formed in the clouds that rose up above the aqua blue waters of Biscayne Bay behind it.
Photobucket(Jesus gives his benediction to Talmudic Univ.) Photobucket(My old Howard Johnson as an institution of higher learning, Talamudic University)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Miami Beach Anachronisms

The mixture that makes the beach such a great town inevitably spawns some anachronistic images. One of my favorites, which I've witnessed before, was on last Friday night. On the 41st street bridge crossing Indian Creek, a middle-aged blond haired hasidic Jew wearing the most beautiful giant sable hat. The headgear would have been perfect for a snowy day in Kiev, but set against the palms and sultry July night in Miami Beach, the effect was truly surreal.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lincoln Road Miami Beach for Dinner

We took a cab to Lincoln Road. My old favorite haunt, a Belgian restaurant, has closed but my second favorite, Carnivale did not disappoint. I'm really glad our waiter didn't arrive in a few minutes, because after I caught one of the owner's eyes, he came over and asked if we had been helped already. When I said no, he immediately summoned the nearest waiter and said " We've cooked all day, wr made the ravioli. the sauces and all the rest and now they've finally come, our guests! Let's get them some food, what do you say?" The rest of our experience was flawless-penne with vodka sauce was extraordinary and beef carpaccio salmone was as good as I have ever tasted. Our experience was of course enhanced by the passing parade that is Lincoln Road. And a clever sense of humor turned a negative into a memorable experience that showed how quickly a sense of humor can turn things around.

Miami Beach breakfast at Lincoln Road

We arrived about six last night at our "boutique" hotel, The Atlantic Beach. By the time we provisioned ourselves and settled in, I just didn't have a blog in me. But today, I can't wait to write.

We started out the day with a terrific breakfast at Balans on Lincoln Road. It's one of the few cafes there to open early. A few years back, we had a stint at selling orchids and bromeliads right next to Balans at the Sunday Farmers Market. That's when I took the picture of a couple shopping that became the basis for a painting. You can view my other artwork at

After going back to the room, I headed north to the Fountainebleu. Ten blocks north of 44th and Collins, this amazing construction from 1954 is considered a masterwork of Morris Lapidus. This architect, who was snubbed by the cognoscenti of his day, has rightly assumed his role as one of the founders of post-modernism. His style is defined as MiMo (mid-century modern) and he is single handedly responsible for setting the style and tone for the whole section of Miami Beach north of 41st Street.

This was my first visit back since the latest remodeling, which was an attempt to restore it to the original Lapidus look that had been bastardized in previous attempts to "fix it up." And although it's managed to undue some of the previous harm, it is still not as good as the original. I can only imagine what the Mona Lisa would look like if a trio of less talented artists had been invited to over paint Leonardo's masterpiece.
Nothing about it now trumps my memory of it as a sixteen year old. Every year in high school, my debate team spent the week between Christmas and New Years at a competition held at Miami Beach High School that attracted National Forensic Leaguers from all over the country. My friend Brian and I donned suits that we brought just for the occasion and proudly presented ourselves to the maitre'd of the main dining room of the Fountainebleu. If anything seemed strange to him about seating a couple of unattended young men ( I looked fourteen), nothing in his demeanor betrayed it. The surroundings surely enhanced the taste of the vichyssoise and escargot, but I'm pretty sure they really were good.

Certainly we were living proof of Lapidus' adage that if you build a wonderful set, its occupants will have a great time acting in it. That evening we two starred in our production of a grand little play that is fondly enshrined in my memory. Little wonder that the botched attempts at improving on the site of our production seem so much like heresy to me. But a glimmer of some that is great from the original has been returned. The reconstruction of Morris' "Stairway to Nowhere" is most appreciated. Originally constructed solely as an entrance to the coat room, its real purpose was to allow the hotel's clientele, after dropping their outerwear and hats, to make a grand entrance to the throngs of guests milling around the lobby. Each was probably expecting that they would become the star of the history of their own lives. I think Morris would have been amused at the little drama a couple of boys played out in his place that December night in 1966.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Plans for Tomorrow, In Miami Beach

We'll leave around around 10 thirty and should have late lunch at Lincoln Road cafe. I'm excited to go as usual. Orlando is my pretty sweet and comforting wife, we have beautiful children together and I'll always love her. But Miami Beach is my hot seething mistress who makes my blood boil. It's a yin/yang thing. Every life should have it. Too much of one or the other could unbalance me. But when the proportions are right everything flows just fine,

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Landscape Windermere

This week has seen us focusing on some of the more mundane aspects of the hacienda project. Fine tuning the irrigation, bed work and mulch installation have helped polish off the front. We are working on addressing drainage issues created by the new gutters. We have ordered new pavers to match the existing ones for the expansion of the back terrace. Railroad ties for creating the berm that will eventually house the water feature have been requisitioned. And today we begin the painstaking job of creating 28 2x6x12 crossmembers for the pergola top. Each has to be cut with a proper end, then filled , sanded and painted before being installed.
Steve, Jose and Primo are working on three little sod jobs on the east side of town, while Mike and Roland work in Windermere.
The prediction is for heavy showers this afternoon, but fortunately the carpentry for the pergola can go on in one of the two huge garages at the hacienda. I'll be going to ranch country to pick up the sod today and tomorrow and later I'm doing two little design projects for places in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs. It's not as exciting as doing a big installation, but everyone deserves a little help. And watching a team of highly trained monkeys working in your front yard in the rain should be at least mildly amusing for someone to see.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Progress in Windermere

Friday we wrapped up work on the front of the hacienda with everything but the pedestals and their accompanying urns. Monday we start the retaining wall in the back in preparation for the new terrace, pergola and water feature. The owners, Lawrence and Debra were in town for the holiday and couldn't have been happier with the progress. And I brought over a few orchids, just to show them some of the beautiful things they could grow here. We have so many hundreds of growers of orchids and bromeliads around us that the bounty available is almost an embarrassment of riches. With Lawrence in particular being an avid gardener, I'm pretty sure he'll become as much an addict as I am. At least the physical effects of this addiction all seem to be good. It's about as evil as being addicted to exercise and healthy food. If something's going to kill me, let it be these things.