how to preserve boxwood

Iris Abbey’s All-Star Posts

Happy New Year!

Looking at the activities we’ve undertaken this year and the projects we’ve completed — well, it just takes my breath away. We continue to learn about estate sales and thrift stores, cleaning, appraising, painting, stenciing, gilding and becoming vendors at  Avonlea Antique Mall.  I am so grateful for the encouragement you’ve provided along the way.

I started my blog posts in November 2013 but summer ushered in a gap because of family medical crises. So, I’ve decided to share Iris Abbey’s 10 All Star Posts, the most popular ones, since I began my blog. Just click the title to go to any post.

1. How to Preserve Boxwood, Parts 1 and 2

My finished product looked a bit wilder than the carefully manicured store-bought kind, but I like it here with my dad’s photo and my handblown glass ball from our trip to Venice.

Staged Boxwood 1

2. French Empire Commode

We transformed this Baker Beauty by hand painting her with Annie Sloan’s Paris Grey and Graphite on the exterior and stenciling a gold medallion in each drawer.

French commode original stateFrench commode

3. Aunt Marie’s 1953 Lane Cedar Chest

I was thrilled to honor my Aunt Marie’s memory by updating her cedar chest with chalk paint and a Royal Design stencil.

Lane chest without contact paper


4. Serpentine Chest

This 1940s Serpentine Chest, formerly a banged up mahogany piece from someone’s storage unit, is gorgeous. David devoted months on this because it was his first piece that we intended to sell. Of course, this was a pre-retirement project and it needed a lot of work. I painted the exterior Annie Sloan Paris Grey with Old White trim, and the interior doors Louis Blue with surprise stencils inside.


Serpentine Chest 2

5. Victorian Chairs

We stumbled upon 2 Victorian chairs at an estate sale and promptly grabbed them. They’re in above-average shape for their age — they were originally built in the 1860s. Our cat, Boston, seems satisfied, and I still intend to paint that functioning Grandmother Clock in the background.

Victorian Renaissance Revival Chair 3

6. Verdigris Cherubs

My first attempt at creating the illusion of verdigris with the cherubs David bought for $5 (total) at an estate sale: I used a combination of Annie Sloan’s Louis Blue, Antibes Green, and Old White. David made sure they sat on the table for Christmas dinner.

Metal Cherubs

My Grandmother and Grandfather in their 1913 wedding portrait. Painted cherub candles sit on Grandma's tray, along with some of her jewelry. She was a dressmaker, and the ribbon belonged to her. The teddy bear is made from a suit belonging to their deceased son, Joe.
My Grandmother and Grandfather in their 1913 wedding portrait. Painted cherub candles sit on Grandma’s tray, along with some of her jewelry. She was a dressmaker, and the ribbon belonged to her. The teddy bear is made from a suit belonging to their deceased son, Joe.

 7. DIY Holiday Decorations

In November I went a little craft crazy and whipped up a variety of items that. I now love Paper Cone Wreaths.

DIY Paper Cone Wreath and Autumn Banner


DIY Christmas Decoration Candleholder

8. Old Ochre Pet Bed

We made 2 pet beds and both made this list. We removed the doors off one and I painted it with Annie Sloan Old Ochre. David upholstered the interior and laid down faux tacks. Then, as the pièce de résistance, I stenciled a gold peacock in the center and feather tips at each corner.

Pet Bed 1.1

Pet Bed 1.9

9. A Chance to Paint Fabric and Cane

I found this chair at an estate sale after David went off on his own. I sat down to wait and ahhhhh! Quite comfortable, especially with a lumbar pillow. How could I walk away? It gave me practice painting fabric and cane. I used Annie Sloan’s Arles on the cushions and a combo of Versailles and Olive on the wood so it matched our living room rug. Did I mention? We have 4 cats. Boston and Pepper appear here.

Accent Chair with Boston and Pepper

Accent Chair with Boston

10. Emperor’s Silk Pet Bed

This second pet bed sold in a flash. We kept the doors on and painted it Annie Sloan’s Emperor’s Silk after running into trouble with Old White and the dark wood. David and I struggled with the interior fabric after the flannel proved particularly floppy to work  with. He took care of the faux tacking and our son, Michael, shined up the hardware, while Starbuck struck a pose.

Red Pet Bed Unpainted

Luxurious Red Pet Bed SOLDWe hope you enjoyed this year’s journey. We certainly did. Thanks again to all who visit. An even bigger thank-you bouquet goes to those of you who leave comments. We love comments. So many lovely people welcomed us in this, our first, year. We look forward to the 2015 and wish you a heartfelt, joyous New Year.

Ann Marie and David

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Preserving Boxwood, Part 2

Staged Boxwood 1

To recap, I put cut stems from the boxwood bushes in front of our house into a solution of glycerin, water, citric acid and green floral dye. You can read about that process here.

After a couple of weeks I removed the stems from the solution at the sink. I wasn’t interested in taking a chance on drips from the dye accidently staining our furniture. I rinsed each stem completely, paying extra attention to the wet dye at the base.

I gently shook off the water, blotted the stems dry and bundled them into two bunches. I grabbed a spool of red ribbon and tied each bunch, leaving a long tail to hang it. The next stop: out to our screened-in porch where I hung them from immobile fan blades.

Boxwood on Porch

They stayed on the porch a bit over a week, until we had a few days of rain. I didn’t want them to soak up the moisture again so I brought them into the house and strung them up for another several days.

I took both my painted containers to Michaels to make sure I bought the right sized foam bricks. The choices almost paralyzed me: shelves on both sides brimming with rectangular bricks, spheres, half spheres, narrow ones, wide, flat, thick, wet foam, dry foam, styrofoam, green, white. I went with the package of 6 dry foam bricks and headed for the cashier with my coupon in hand. It came to less than $3.

Two bricks fit the rectangular container perfectly.

Foam in Container

Now the arranging began in earnest — and it wasn’t pretty. I tried three times before I was satisfied. These are issues I encountered:

1. I had waited for the solutions in the glass vase and plastic container to evaporate but that never happened. I bit the bullet and stopped waiting. I’d read stories about fuzzy moss beginning to grow and wanted to avoid that experience.

2. Some of the stems were more like branches and the dye just didn’t make it all the way up to the tips. This resulted in the robust leaves on the bottom  half of the branch being dark green while the yellowing upper leaves curled dryly. I learned to be more careful in performing the cuttings on the bush, selecting stems and not branches.

Don't cut your stems as thick as these. The solution won't reach the leaves.
Don’t cut your stems as thick as these. The solution won’t reach the leaves.

3. I must not have placed a couple of stems properly in the solution. I could have blamed the quick evaporation of the liquid, but since that never happened, I believe I failed to immerse them — make contact with — the solution when I shoved them in. The result was predictable: yellowing, dry leaves.

4. My stems were wildly uneven. This can be advantageous when arranging flowers but it was a mess with boxwood. I had to snip and prune the the jumble into a quasi-uniform height. That meant aggressively pruning the tall, thick branches and then stripping leaves off the bases so I could easily place them in the foam.

Boxwood Yellowing leaves

5. My four cats loved the dyed boxwood. They jumped onto my  work table and gnawed the stems. Or they knocked them to the floor and tried to drag them off. That made me crazy. I worried the dye would poison them. David asked me to look up the answer on Google but I only got as far as discovering the Cat Fanciers’ Association lists boxwood as toxic to felines. So, I didn’t need to worry about their eating the dyed  boxwood because just plain boxwood could  potentially be lethal or, at least, cause diarrhea and vomiting. I rounded our cats up, put them in the bedroom and closed the door.

I finished my arrangement on my third attempt, at which time I decided I could live with it. High praise, indeed. The stems don’t look uniform like the ones in magazine photos or shown below in an advertisement. My arrangement has a hint of wildness that works for me.

11.5" Preserved Boxwood available at Silks Are Forever
11.5″ Preserved Boxwood available at Silks Are Forever

I put my arrangement up on the refrigerator, hoping the cats would forget about it. After few weeks I reintroduced it. So far, they ignore it. If they decide to munch on the leaves, my preserved boxwood will make a lovely gift.

And what of my second container? I used up the preserved boxwood in my first attempt. I still plan to craft the foam from those remaining bricks into a semicircle, but the second one sits empty as an attractively painted bowl.

I’ll need to buy another 8 oz. bottle of glycerin but I have plenty of floral dye and citric acid left. To say nothing of my boxwood bushes. Further efforts, however, will depend on our cats: Boston, Heidi, Starbuck and Pepper Popcorn.

I’ll leave you with an image of our boxwood bushes all dolled up for Christmas.

Boxwood With Xmas Lights

How To Preserve Boxwood – Part 1

Serendipity occurs when you discover something you weren’t looking for. Follow me here and I’ll lead you through a tale not too far from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

I bought a metal plant container at an estate sale because I wanted to practice my two-color painting technique. I covered it in Annie Sloan Paris Grey and then covered that in Old White. I distressed it by sanding parts of the raised design on the container. I finished it off with wax.


It looked good to me but I needed something to put in it. So I started looking at blogs and Facebook pages. Preserved boxwood offered me the answer. Because it’s preserved, I won’t have to water it and it’ll last a good while. It’s green. It’s popular. It’s perfect. Here’s Restoration Hardware’s photo of some of their preserved boxwoods:


Wait a minute. Preserved boxwood is not inexpensive. But — and this is where serendipity comes in — I had six boxwood bushes in need of pruning just steps from my front door. I returned to studying online tutorials, this time focusing on preserving boxwood. I combined the instructions provided by Crafting Rebellion and WikiHow.

I bought three random items suitable for a scavenger hunt. Hobby Lobby had an 8-oz. bottle of glycerin in their soap-making section. Over at my grocery store, I gave a stockboy an assignment. Now, I regularly shop at Publix and have no qualms dispatching enthusiastic young men to find obscure items. The mission this time: find citric acid. He had to ask a few people but returned with Ball’s Fruit-Fresh Produce Protector. “My manager says this is citric acid,” he announced. Well done. The most problematic item was Absorbit green floral dye. Not fabric dye. Floral dye. I called around with no success and decided to order it online from Direct Floral.

On to the process: Mix the items with water and pour the solution into a couple of containers. I used a glass vase a a shorter plastic container. Insert the stems that my son had clipped and smashed with a hammer, and we’re ready to wait a week or so until the liquid is absorbed. Wait another week or more until they’re dried. I’m less certain about these steps because I only have reached the absorption stage. Once they’re dry I’ll get a brick of floral foam and pop in my boxwood.


My enthusiasm led me to buy another container — all brass — the day I mixed the solution. It came from a Thrift Store by way of India. I tried to get a discount because of the heavy spotting and tarnish. No deal. But I took it home and scrubbed it with lemon juice and salt, over and over. Next I switched to a paste of vinegar, flour and salt and let that sit. After rinsing off the smelly stuff I decided that was enough polishing. I’d paint it using my two-paint distressed technique. Yes, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint adheres to metal. I put Paris Grey on the inside, with the outside a combo on Antibes, Old White, and Louis Blue. I plan to make a ball or a semi-circle of boxwood for this container, either with the remaining batch now soaking or another batch.


I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you have any experience preserving boxwoods, let me know your secrets.

Preserving Boxwood, Part 2 is here.

Elizabeth and Co.Wonderful at Home

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