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Gardening Gracefully

Our guest author today is Pano Savvidis. Pano is an MSc Marketing graduate working in the digital marketing industry for over 5 years and specializing in content marketing new media strategies for mid-sized and large companies. His passions include travelling, swimming and listening to good music:

tools Gardening Gracefully
Working in the garden

When we moved from the family home to our retirement bungalow, I was thrilled for two reasons: I now had the dining kitchen I’d always wanted but more importantly, I finally had a proper garden. What I hadn’t considered was that a larger garden equals more maintenance. Although loathe to admit it, my joints are arthritic and my back….well, that’s another story. I refused to give in and hire a gardener, so I did some research into what could make the maintenance easier.


The first thing that started to go were my knees, which made getting down to weed or sow seeds a nightmare. I solved this by getting a padded ‘kneeler’.

List Price: $49.99 USD
New From: $27.31 USD In Stock
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Not only does it keep damp soil away from my knees, the handles help me to stand up again.

Long-handled Tools

Of course if you are even less mobile, you may wish to use the variety of long-handled garden tools that are available. You can get everything from a trowel to a fork, where little or no bending is required. My particular favorite are the long handled weeders you can get. There are those where you push the prongs over the weed and twist the handle, but my personal favorite is something called Grandpa’s Weeder. With this, no twisting is required; you simply center the prongs over the weed, push down and lean. An old concept but it works. My back was very grateful.

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Grandpa Weeder

Mobility Aids

I’m also finding the strength in my wrists is decreasing and that my grip is pretty pathetic. To help with this, I invested in some easy grip add-on handles, which fitted over my regular garden tool handles.

List Price: $16.94 USD
New From: $10.59 USD In Stock
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buyamzon button Gardening Gracefully
It’s more like holding a joystick, which I find easier. You can also get an arm support that can be used in conjunction with the easy grip. This gives you even more stability.


I have a plethora of plants in pots: herbs, lilies, even an olive tree. They break up the garden beautifully but watering was a nightmare. I solved this by investing in several water butts with gravity fed watering systems to dot round the garden. No more lifting heavy watering cans for me. I also use bark chips as a mulch, which not only keep the moisture in, they help to keep weeds out.

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Watering the garden


So where do I put all my new tools and equipment? Gone are the days of climbing into lofts or navigating the assault course otherwise known as the garage, so they had to be stored somewhere easily accessible. My solution is unobtrusive and all mine!

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Storage in the garden

Raising Your Beds

Raised beds make my life easier too. We used old railway sleepers but even a couple of old tires stacked on top of each other can suffice. I keep my raised beds narrow, with access on both sides. If this is impractical for your garden, you can lay planks every so often, to minimize stretching.

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These boxes work as raised beds

If you’re as keen on gardening as I am, you shouldn’t let age or strength keep you from it. There are plenty of ideas and products out there to help you carry on gardening.

Winterthur Museum and Gardens

We visited Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Winterthur, Delaware in mid September. We started with a tour of the Downton Abbey costumes exhibit in the museum. Then we visited the Quarry Garden via their Garden Tram. Last year we visited the Enchanted Forest and shared photos of it. And finally, we took the basic tour of the house, visiting Henry F. Du Pont’s mansion public rooms, the dining room, various living rooms, and one of the beautiful stairwells. The latter was pretty overwhelming because I couldn’t balance a notebook while I took photos. The docent on the family mansion tour had to move us through pretty fast, and there were enormous amounts of American decorative arts to inhale. How about a whole set of Paul Revere silver tankards just casually sitting on a dining buffet?

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Henry Francis du Pont acquired the original collection for the museum and added to it until his death in 1969.

The duPonts and Their Properties, Museums, and Gardens

Few American families have dominated a geographic area as much as the du Ponts of Delaware. They were French immigrants arriving in America in 1800, and founding the highly profitable DuPont Company. They were a family of entrepreneurs, engineers, horticulturists, and collectors. The family pursued many passions, resulting in the exquisite art collections, botanical gardens, and books now enjoyed by the American public as museums, public gardens and libraries.

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This cabinet is said to be Henry’s inspiration for collecting American decorative arts rather than those from Europe.

du Pont wrote:

A visit to Mrs. Watson Webb’s house in Shelburne, Vermont, in 1923, was…a revelation. This was the first early all American interior I had ever seen and it captivated me. I still remember in detail the contrasting colours there of pink Staffordshire against a lovely pine dresser.

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These are said to be the original china displayed in this cabinet.

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Closeup of cabinet said to have started it all at Winterthur

The Winterthur story is one part of the du Pont family in the Brandywine Valley. Numerous cousins of Henry Francis du Pont, the founder of Winterthur, have also made their names known in the world of horticulture and preservation.

In 1909 Pierre Samuel du Pont began the development of his wooded property, Longwood, just a few miles from Winterthur. That same year, Alfred I. du Pont embarked on the construction of Nemours, his enormous Wilmington mansion and formal gardens. A few years later, Lammot du Pont Copeland purchased the land for his house and extensive garden at Mt. Cuba. And in 1967 George A. (Frolic) Weymouth spearheaded the formation of the Brandywine Conservancy and its Brandywine River Museum. These together with Eleutherian Mills, the original family home at Hagley that was restored by H. F. du Pont’s sister, Louise, are all maintained for the enjoyment of the public.

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Winterthur mansion

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Winterthur mansion 2

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Winterthur mansion 3

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Winterthur mansion 4

The du Pont Fortune and the Henry F. Du Pont Line

Henry F. du Pont’s great great grandfather, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, immigrated from post-Revolutionary France to America in 1800.

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The original du Pont

In 1802, Pierre Samuel’s younger son, Eleuthère Irénée, founded E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a gunpowder manufactory along the banks of the Brandywine Creek. In addition to being a chemist, Irénée was a farmer and botanist. He built the first du Pont family home in the Brandywine Valley, Eleutherian Mills, on a tract of land known as Hagley, adjacent to the powder mills.

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Another ancestor in the dining room at Winterthur

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I couldn’t run through the exhibit, take photos, and keep notes, so I lost who this ancestor is

He planted an orchard and extensive garden, farmed, and increased the size of the estate, leaving behind not only an industrial company that bears his name but also a family tradition of agriculture, horticulture, and preservation that influenced du Pont family activities to this day.

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In a front window at Winterthur — the mansion is shrouded in green being renovated in windows, shutters, chimneys, ironwork, etc.

In 1816 Irénée’s daughter Evelina married Jacques Antoine Bidermann, an investor in E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. In 1837 the couple purchased 450 acres from her father’s estate, built a 12-room Greek Revival house, and named the property Winterthur

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The Lloyd family by Charles Willson Peale

in honor of Antoine’s ancestral home in Switzerland. Over the years they developed flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens. In 1867 their son James sold Winterthur to Evelina’s brother General Henry du Pont.

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The dining table at Winterthur

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Some of the flowers are artificial and some are real. The docent said it would be unrealistic today to keep up with how the original house was kept full of fresh flowers.

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Place setting at Winterthur

Henry gave the property to his son Colonel Henry Algernon du Pont, who married Pauline Foster in 1874. Henry Algernon inherited the estate in 1889, increased the size of the house considerably, and continued the family farm and garden tradition.  A soldier, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and U.S. Senator, his most enduring legacy was the deep sense of civic responsibility he instilled in his children.

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Those silver tankards are ALL Paul Revere’s work — and there are three more on the other side of the sideboard!

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Sideboard in dining room at Winterthur showing the famous Benjamin West painting of the Treaty at Paris (commemorating the peace agreement at the end of the American Revolutionary War).

The painting by Benjamin West, of the signing of the Treaty of Paris (formally ending the American Revolution) in 1783 is in the dining room. The Americans are in the portrait, but it’s empty where the British should be. West thought that the British were amenable to sitting for the portrait. He thought wrong. Of course, this has brought on a number of fanciful stories: that the fight for peace and freedom is never really finished. Cool story; something much more human is the real story.

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Knife holder at Winterthur

Henry Francis and his sister, Louise, were the only surviving children of Henry Algernon and Pauline. H. F. studied horticulture at Bussey Institution, Harvard’s college of practical agriculture and horticulture, and in 1903 assumed the duties of household management at Winterthur and began his lifelong work in the garden. In 1916 he married Ruth Wales, and they had two daughters, Pauline Louise and Ruth Ellen.

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Fireplace at Winterthur

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One of the many portraits of George Washington at Winterthur

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Beautiful pastel at Winterthur

Henry du Pont’s Museum

Between 1928 and 1931, du Pont expanded the house to 175 rooms, not only purchasing antique American furniture, china, silver, crystal, chandeliers, paintings, and embroideries to fill it, but also installing entire interiors from early American houses such as the wood paneling, interior shutters, fireplaces, curtains, floors and wall paper. Designed by Albert Ives, the building is a notable example of that era’s architecture. Yet, because of its size, it no longer looks like a home. It looks like a museum. By 1925 the estate included farms, extensive flower gardens with greenhouses, a golf course, railroad station, and post office. H. F. inherited the property in 1926 and during the next 43 years further developed the farmland, raised a prizewinning dairy herd of Holstein-Friesians, collaborated with landscape architect Marian Coffin to blend the garden into the 2,600-acre landscape, and added a wing to the house to display his collection of American antiques. At some point his vision was to build a museum, not just a home. He opened his home to others starting around 1941 when they sent a written request to him.

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du Pont even had some of the state china of George Washington as well as china of Martha Washington’s

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Closeup 2 of china at Winterthur

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Closeup 3 of china at Winterthur

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Closeup 4 of china at Winterthur

When Winterthur opened to the public in 1951, the du Ponts moved to a smaller 57 room house nearby, which is now the Museum Store on the property. We’ll add more to our story of Winterthur in another post.

Have any of you visited Winterthur? What did you like, the house? The garden? The decorative arts museum?

More Costumes from Downton Abbey

This is our third post about the Downton Abbey costume exhibit at Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Pennsylvania.

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A Maggie Smith lace coat from Downton Abbey

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Closeup of Maggie Smith lace coat from Downton Abbey

The first post introduced the downstairs staff costumes, the maids and footmen, and the second showed many of the upstairs gentry outfits, with closeups of the antique details, embroidery, lace, and fabric.

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The beautiful fabrics of these costumes must be seen in person

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Closeup of last costume

Today, we’ll continue highlighting the beautiful dresses worn by the ladies and outfits worn by the gentlemen too. There are some Pinterest boards that you might be interested in too that you might want to consult or just to study of scenes and portraits of the actors in costume.

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Dowager countess’ hat from Downton Abbey

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Lady Cora’s coat and hat in front of Downton Abbey scene

We were surprised to see the museum so crowded (but not uncomfortably so) when we visited on Tuesday. They report that the number of visitors has shot up because of this exhibit alone because of the popularity of the BBC series in America.

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Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley’s outfits from Downton Abbey

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Matthew Crawley’s pinstripe suit from Downton Abbey

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Closeup of Matthew Crawley’s pinstripe suit from Downton Abbey

Susannah Buxton, the former fashion designer for Downton, received an Emmy for costume design. The current fashion designer is Caroline McCall.

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Another outdoor costume for Lady Mary from Downton Abbey

According to Buxton, Downton Abbey clothes don’t strictly adhere to the period, but use the same aesthetic while trying to make Downton style attractive to modern audiences. She says it’s more a translation than historically accurate. Her effort was to have each costume support the personality of the character, rather than make a statement on its own. So many of the costumes cry out who wore each piece that I look at the photos and rarely ask myself which character wore what.

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Lady Mary’s outdoor hunting tweeds from Downton Abbey

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Lord Grantham’s outdoor wear from Downton Abbey

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Matthew Crawley’s tweeds from Downton Abbey

She has also said that it would be too expensive to make all the clothing required for each season entirely new, so the series management rents much of the clothing, or uses period pieces of material around which the rest of the costume is constructed.

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Lady Edith costume from Downton Abbey

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Closeup 1 of Lady Edith costume from Downton Abbey

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Closeup 2 of Lady Edith costume from Downton Abbey

I have clothing in my basement that once belonged to family members in the 1900’s, teens, 20’s, and 30’s. The detail of these fashions is similar to the antique parts of these costumes. Such amazing handwork long before machines took over lace making, knitting, embroidery, and similar textile decorations deserves to be preserved, if only in digital form from movie and TV cameras.

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Countess’ evening dress from Downton Abbey

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Lady Cora’s gown

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Closeup 1 from Lady Cora’s gown

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Closeup 2 from Lady Cora’s gown

Or would it be better to give them to museums to better preserve what is left? Do you know of any archivists trying to save this stuff for the future?

Next post on this subject will be my favorite costumes, one of them an extraordinary original dress from the 1920’s.

An Ancient Gardener Aging in Place

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