Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It's been fun hearing from fellow African violet lovers since posting about the National African Violet Convention. I have emailed 27 brochures to interested growers! This is more than I ever expected and I'm just so tickled that there is that much interest out there. Thank you to all who entered my giveaway or a vintage houseplant book with a chapter on growing these furry-leaved beauties.

Without further adieu, the winner by random drawing is....

Cindy Brown who wrote:
I received two violet plants as gifts when I was ill over ten years ago. I combined them into one container, and it still blooms every year. Aside from loving the pretty blooms, it reminds me of the love I felt from my family and friends when I needed it.

Congratulations, Cindy! You have until this Friday at noon central time to email me at with your mailing address. As I continue my summer cleaning, I will have more little impromptu giveaways, including one for an oldie but goodie quilt book. You just never know what I might find in the closets, nooks, and crannies here at Ashton House!

Monday, June 22, 2015



I was so delighted to receive so many email requests for my African violet care brochure that I mentioned in my previous post. It's been a hectic weekend getting the primitive quilts magazine that I edit ready for the printer, so I'm still catching up on my emails and will be contacting you shortly if I owe you a copy. I was cleaning out my library shelves this weekend and came across an extra copy of a vintage 1958 book on windowsill gardening that contains a chapter on growing these beauties. The book happens to be in my favorite color—pink! In the spirit of giving, I'm giving away this copy. If you'd like a chance to win it, just leave a comment on this post telling me what you like about African violets or leaving me a question you may have about them. I'll draw a random winner this Wednesday (June 24) at noon central time and announce her or him later that day. The winner will have until this Friday at noon central time to contact me and claim the book. If no one enters, I plan to donate this little treasure to my local library. I'd love for others to discover the joy of growing these plants, and vintage garden books are some of the best resources. They don't make them like they used to!

When we moved into our old Victorian home more than 10 years ago, I could hardly wait to stock the library, which was literally lined in bookshelves, with interesting tomes. Before I knew it, the shelves were overflowing—I guess all those empty shelves were just a little too tempting for two bookworms! We thought we'd never fill them. Little did we know that task would be much easier than we thought! But now that I'm getting older, I figure it's best to start scaling back on the collection. Hubby helped me cull more than 100 books (see below photo) from the shelves to donate to one of our local libraries. Some of the books were textbooks from my college days (It's hard for me to let go of the memories—I only kept a few from my journalism and psychology courses).

While I was on the organizing kick, I decided to clean out one of my dining room hutches and managed to part with about a third of it. Lots of china and linens. If you're local to Des Moines and see anything you want in the below photo, contact me before 6 p.m. my time today (Monday) as we're hauling it to Goodwill tonight.

All this cleaning didn't stop me from picking up a few quilt books at my friend Julie's occasional sale (Julie owned one of my favorite quilt shops, Prairie Star Quilts). I thought the quilt name encyclopedia book would be a good reference to have on hand for my job as editor of Primitive Quilts and Projects magazine, and the Toy and Miniature Sewing Machines book is filled with lots of vintage eye candy for someone like me who loves those little treasures. 

Julie was selling her stash of reproduction fabric for a song. Bundles were just $6! The last thing I need right now is more fabric, so I resisted the temptation for the most part and bought just one bundle of Jo Morton prints.

I did quickly snap up this vintage fabric cutter to add to my collection.

It sure works great for pinking my wool projects!

The weekend also found me checking out a thrift store my friend Vicki told me about and I snagged quite a deal on this brand new dress that had never been worn. It originally sold for $99 and I got it for $9. When I try clothes on, I usually snap a photo in the dreaded mirror, which always seems to make you look quite a bit worse than you actually do, and then take it home and ponder it for awhile. If I still like the looks of it a day later, I'll go back and get it.

Hubby and I also celebrated our anniversary. As those of you who know me well already know, I am a big fan of purses and bags. Hubby got me this Bosom Buddy bag that was on my wish list. Its ribbon is the perfect shade of pink to match my favorite wedges. You know a girl can never have too much pink—or at least that's what I think! Have a happy day, everyone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


African violet lovers gathered in Kansas City this year for the National African Violet Convention. If I'm remembering correctly, I think there were more than 600 entries for this year's show, which opened the night before to convention registrants. I was eager to check out the glorious displays, including this vibrant violet called 'Cajun's Hot Expectations'. These varieties are not your grandma's ordinary violets! Not that there is anything wrong with Grandma's violets! My hope in sharing these photos with you is that you will discover the amazing variety of violets available to us. Did you know there are more than 10,000 varieties?! These photos are but a small fraction of the total ones I took at the show (it took me two hours to take all of them!).

I am especially fond of violets with variegated foliage like the Cajun's series. The double blooms pack an extra punch. 

Here's another beguiling bloomer from the Cajun's series. This pretty-in-pink variety is called "Cajun's Dixie Pride". 

One of the fun things about attending the national convention is that you get to see new cultivars like 'Carnival Confetti'. This bloom type is called a "fantasy" because of its fanciful speckles. I wish more of these interesting varieties were available in ordinary garden centers, but you usually have to belong to a violet club to find them.

I was able to purchase this new vivid green bloomer by Optimara (these violets are commonly sold in grocery stores here in the Midwest, but unfortunately, they don't carry the more interesting varieties like these). They were going for a whopping $22 at the show, so they weren't cheap.

I'm not a huge fan of red but I do have one red-blooming violet called 'Heinz's Sentimental'.  I love the striking variegated foliage paired with the richness of the red bloom. One of the violet vendors was selling this spectacular specimen at the show. 

'Picasso' is an old favorite of mine that I've been growing for six years. Whoever grew this one at the show had certainly done a marvelous job.

My pictures can't do this blooming behemoth justice! It was quite a sight. This particular specimen of 'Rob's Boolaroo' was probably 23 inches wide and garnered 2nd best in show. 

In the past, I haven't had a lot of luck with trailers, but for some reason one of the trailers I've been growing for the past two years is flourishing once again. It's not really in much bloom but the leaves are looking so much better than they were.

Violets weren't the only stars of the show. Other members of the gesneriad family were also in display, including many varieties of streptocarpus. 'Moscow Lady' is quite showy in magenta, don't you think? Streptocarpus or as we call them, "streps" are easy to grow and can be quite vigorous. They're larger than violets so you need more growing space to accommodate them.

I thought this strep ('Dale's Tiger Swallowtail') was aptly named because its markings really do resemble a butterfly.

Another aptly named strep— 'DS Meteor Shower'...

I was especially looking forward to seeing the episcias. These beauties, prized more for their foliage than blooms, can be finicky growers, especially the pink varieties like 'Pink Smoke'. As a result, many grow them in terrariums to increase the humidity.

Another member of the gesneriad family is the Kohleria known for their showy little blooms. This one is called 'Bud's Showgirl'.

I was smitten with the pale pink peach 'Bud's Little Pig'—so much so that I sent a note to the grower asking if she might have a starter I could buy. Luckily, she did and I will go pick it up in July.

And last but not least, I must share this darling pig terrarium garden. If any of you has one of these glass pig containers and is interested in selling it, please contact me at my email me button under my profile pic. I'd love to start my own terrarium garden in one of these cute containers. 

Interested in learning how to successfully grow violets? Just email me by clicking the Email Me button under my profile pic or leave a comment and I'd be glad to send you the official African violet brochure that tells you how to best care for them. I've been growing violets for 20 years now and I can honestly say they are worth the time and effort that goes into them. It's a blessing to have your own indoor garden year-round. I can't tell you what a joy it is to see their cheerful blooms in the midst of an Iowa winter!

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Shortly after I returned from my Quilt Market/Minneapolis trip last month, I had to head for Kansas City to the National African Violet Convention and then to Omaha for another trip. While I was in both Kansas City and Omaha, I enjoyed searching the vintage clothing shops and antiques shops. As usual, I saw lots of pretty vintage quilts. This pink and white beauty was calling my name but it did not come home with me. I seriously pondered it, though, as it would have looked great in my pink-and-green dining room.

I also spotted this darling vintage doll bed but didn't buy that either due to its high price tag. I wonder when it was made?

I was tempted by this vintage pink phone but did not get that either as the shop had no land line to test it on to make sure it actually worked. I was surprised they did not have a land line. In my line of work, I can't use cell phones because they just don't have reliable enough reception to conduct phone interviews for my magazine articles, so I'll be sticking with my land line! I think I may be the only person who doesn't have a smartphone. I just don't like to be tethered to technology.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of vintage clothing shops in both Kansas City and Omaha. Some of the shops sold new clothing that was inspired by vintage ones like this colorful boutique. Aren't their pink hangers cute?

As soon as I got home, I ordered a box of them. I plan to replace all my plastic hangers with these pretties!

I spotted the cutest pink cat dress at the boutique with pink hangers, but unfortunately they did not have it available in my size. Luckily, I was able to find it on the internet, only in a halter style. So here's one more find to add to my collection of cat dresses (if you can call it a collection—I only have three).

One of my favorite vintage clothing boutiques is Paperdoll in Omaha. It has a great selection of dresses, tops, and other pieces of the past. If their window filled with vintage frocks isn't enough to draw you in, I don't know what will!

The inside of the shop is just as enticing with vintage treasures. I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

This dress from Paperdoll ended up going home with me. I loved the print and its colors. They just don't make them like they used to!

I also enjoyed my visit to Wallflower, a fun vintage artisan collective featuring both vintage clothing and home goods as well as wares from local artisans. They group their vintage clothes by style. The Shari & Sally collection pictured here features boho and free-spirited pieces. 

Everything was organized so beautifully, including this dreamy vignette that greets you when you enter.

The architecture of the building is truly amazing. I love how they accented the windows with this green paint color. And what a cool ceiling!

I found a vintage yellow dress, something I've been wanting for a long time, at this shop but ran out of time to photograph it for this post. My other stop was Atomic Bombshells, a shop that sells both vintage and vintage-inspired clothes. Among my finds from there is this sweet 1960s pink gingham dress and 1960s yellow and green dress. I especially loved the built-in green belt in the latter dress. 

While not vintage, this pair of colorful vintage-style boots caught my eye at one of the vintage stores in Kansas City but I didn't think I would use them enough to justify the price.

I did, however, come home with these vintage-style wedges. They have the cutest flocked berries on top of transparent bows, but the best part is that they are so comfortable that I can literally wear them all day. After badly spraining my ankle 10 years ago, I'm not able to wear heels any taller than a couple inches because they are too difficult for me to walk in, so wedges are a nice and more stable alternative for me.

While not vintage either, Lilly Pulitzer dresses are definitely vintage in spirit. I can remember my aunts wearing these colorful dresses when I was a kid, so they bring back pleasant memories. While I was in Minneapolis and Kansas City, I stopped by the area Lilly Pulitzer signature stores. Kansas City's is called Under the Palm Tree.

Lilly Pulitzer is known for a bright, cheerful palette of prints. I am especially fond of the shift dresses. When you're in them, you can't but feel happy. 

I found these fun Lilly Pulitzer dresses to add to my wardrobe (the leftmost one is not a LP dress but from another company sold in the store). They are all shift dresses, which are nice and comfy since they are designed to fit loosely. 

I'll be back early next week to share the last installment of my May trips—a post on some of the breathtaking violets I saw at the National African Violet Convention. Until then, I'll leave you with this fun pic of some darling pig garden accents that I spotted at the Iowa Welcome Center as we returned to Iowa from Kansas City.