Rain delay: A few of my favorite gardening blogs

The rain continues here, making southeastern Wisconsin just one of many places with totally depressing weather this week. At least we're not experiencing the storms and flooding that so many other areas are.

Anyway, it's putting a major damper on my ability to take some pictures of what is happening in the yard, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some of my garden must-reads with you.

Here they are in no particular order:

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A Way to Garden

This is the blog and website of the esteemed Margaret Roach, who's memoir "And I shall have some peace there" I recently read (good read by the way). This is my go-to spot for information on all kinds of plants, trees and shrubs. She usually has very good photos of mature plants so you get a real-life idea of what they look like. She also has a great refrigerator dill pickle recipe on her site that I used last year and loved.



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North Coast Gardening

Genevieve's blog is one of the first I found and I've loved it from the beginning. Although some of her plant recommendations are specific to the north coast (California, Seattle, Portland, etc.), most of her posts are full of advice that applies regardless of where you garden. But what I really love NCG for is Gen's wonderful product reviews. She really gives things a thorough test (not the "I got this free so therefore you should love it" kind of reviews), often in a video, which is really helpful. I've purchased at least five things based on Gen's reviews and she's not led me astray yet.



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Dirt Simple

I love this blog. It is written by Deborah Silver who has an amazingly cute garden store and landscape design business in Detroit. If you look at some of my container posts, you'll see some of her images. I don't think I've ever seen anyone do containers better than she does. Her blog is full of great information, but it is also a great source of inspiration.


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Each Little World

Linda, who, with her husband Mark, writes Each Little World has become a friend and it turns out we have a lot in common beyond gardening, but I ELW is on my must-read list because it is wonderfully written and always interesting. And any picture of their garden has a calming influence on me. I'm serious about that; just looking at their garden is rejuvenating. I hope someday to see it in person.



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Our Little Acre

Kylee has won several awards for her blog and you can see why. She has nicely written posts and beautifully composed pictures. Plus, I recently met her at the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza and she's super sweet too! This week she's one of the lucky bloggers at P. Allen Smith's house for the Garden to Blog event and I've been enjoying her updates on Twitter.



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Dirt and Martinis

I actually found this blog via Twitter and I'm not ashamed to admit it was because of the name. Drinking while gardening is something I can proudly advocate for. This blog is part gardening, part recipes and a whole lot of fun.


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Life on the Balcony

I love this blog for it's great ideas even though it's really geared toward people gardening in apartments and condos. Even thought I have much more room to garden than some people, Fern's blog is still fertile ground for inventive ways to garden.


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Garden Rant

This is a group of four talented gardeners and writers ranting away about the gardening world. Sure, sometimes I get the feel they might be ranting for ranting's sake, but for the most part I like them because I share a lot of their philosophy: stop being so damn serious about gardening. Plus they get a ton of "guest ranters" who have some very interesting perspectives.


Of course I follow many more gardening blogs than I've mentioned here, but these are the ones I make sure not to miss a post on. What do you think? Am I missing something from my list. If you have a blog that I might have missed let me know about that too!

And for crying out loud, rain, go away!

The quest for free garden art continues

You know you have issues when you set out to just take the dogs to the beach for a walk and you end up 45 minutes later driving your lawn mower down the beach. But that's exactly what happened on Sunday.


This was the view from the lawn mower on Sunday. It's way too early for lawn mowing here, but who doesn't like to go for a relaxing ride on the beach? That's Mr. Much More Patient and Rita (Hudson is in the water off to the left) following. He got to drive the lawn mower down the beach and I drove it back.

You know I have a thing for driftwood. I love it for a lot of reasons, but I really do like it in the garden. Sunday was a good day to be on the lookout because last week we had a couple days of big storms, which had the good fortune (for me) of causing some rocking waves that pushed a lot of stuff up on the beach, followed by a big seiche to uncover a lot more of it.

If you're not familiar with seiches, and you didn't realize that the water level in the Great Lakes changes (and not just seasonally but sometimes hourly), think of it as sort of a tide, although some descriptions say it is better compared to a tsunami. Basically changes in air pressure, move the water in the lake around, and on Sunday, the high pressure that had come in dragged a whole lot of water eastward toward Michigan, meaning that my next piece of garden art had been unearthed.


Don't you collect garden art with a set up like this all the time?


It's a lovely tree trunk portion, with a root that juts out to look a little bit like a whale vertebrae. It's got a lot of character.

The problem with these little finds, though, is that they are often water logged, which means they are really heavy. Fortunately Mr. Much More Patient knows that finding free garden art in front of our unsuspecting neighbors' houses means I won't be buying garden art and he's happy to help.


So that's how we ended up hooking up the garden cart to our decrepit freebie riding lawn mower, cutting through our neighbor's yard and driving that baby down the beach to collect our little find.

We'll see where it ends up, but I think one of the new gardens I have planned for the back yard would be a pretty great place for it.

P. Allen Smith: Gardening's secret funny man?

Far be it for me to tell the producers of a successful PBS show how to do their jobs, but I think the people who make "P. Allen Smith's Garden Home" are missing out on a golden opportunity. Turns out the guy is funny. Really funny. And trust me, after watching almost every episode of the show ever made (and several of them more than once—I can tell you every fact you want to know about Daffodil Hill and my single favorite thing on his farm are the moveable chicken coops), I was not expecting P. Diddy (my little pet name for him) to be funny. Charming, knowledgeable and perfectly coifed? Absolutely. Funny? Not so much.

Me and P. Allen Smith (aka P. Diddy). One of us is having a good hair day and the other one is not. Bet you can tell which is which.

I had the pleasure of listening to Allen (you know, as his friends call him, although I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who calls him P. Diddy, not that he's aware of that) at the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza in Milwaukee. First of all, you've got to love a garden that you need a helicopter to properly view. That's exactly how Allen's talk started: with helicopter footage of his stunning Arkansas garden home retreat, which is, by the way, completed, even though every time you turn on the television show it is in various stages of construction because PBS seems to play them randomly and without any concern as to chronological order.

Then Allen went into a little history and showed how he bought his first "city" home for $1 and moved it.

"People are always amazed at the difference between the before (a photo of a ramshackle house on a trailer) and the after (a charming little house on an amazingly landscaped lot)," he said. "I always say it's amazing what a coat of paint and $300,000 will do."

Bah, dump, bump.

Allen also told us that he "comes from a long line of mediocre artists," which I loved, because, I just like people who tell it as it is, and whether it be about his hobbies, how he discovered gardening or advice on how you should be gardening, Allen tells it like it is.

Take small-space gardening, for instance. It's a hot topic these days because so many people are living in spaces that are smaller than they'd like. In fact, Melinda Myers, Milwaukee's most famous gardener and a speaker at the event earlier in the day, said that the definition of a small space is any place where you don't have enough room to grow every plant you want to. Allen showed a picture of 12 foot square back patio that the owner was at a loss as to what to do with.

"Well, you're going to leave and leave me a blank check and when you come back you're going to love it," is Allen's answer to the problem.

Bah, dump, bump.

People who whine about not having any place to do a little gardening are just lazy, Allen said. "Just grow something," he admonished.

Allen's biggest gardening lesson isn't something new that any of the 200 gardeners in the audience hadn't heard before, but it's one that an awful lot of us forget pretty routinely.

"Dare to be dull," he said. "You don't need of everything. Next thing you know you have a botanical jungle. What the hell is that?"

Instead repeat. Repeat the same group of plantings. Repeat the color ("color echoes" is the fancy name for it). Repeat the same structures in your garden.

"Do that, and they'll think you're a genius," he said.

Speaking of genius, here's what I'm going to repeat:

Dear PBS/P. Allen Smith television show people,

Please let Allen be Allen. He's just about the funniest gardener I've ever heard. Let him break out of the slightly stuffy PBS mold and throw just a little bit of that humor into the show. Your viewers can handle it. Heck, they probably love that show with the fat ladies on a motorcycle breaking into kitchens and cooking all over England.

Thank you,

Now, onto a few other highlights from the Outdoor Living Extravaganza:

• Kerry Meyer, who also spoke at last year's event in Chicago, filled us in on some of the exciting new plant introductions on the horizon. If you have gardens in sun or part sun, there was nothing here you wouldn't want. She admitted that PW is always on the lookout for more shade tolerant annuals and perennials, but they are a little sun-heavy in their offerings. Still, some of these are so wonderful you might be tempted to cut down a tree or two just to be able to grow them.

One of the plants I was most excited about is Leucanthemum 'Daisy May' (Shasta daisy). It offers four to six weeks of bloom without deadheading (impossible with any other shasta daisy that I'm aware of) and even longer with deadheading.


• The incomparable Tim Wood (who I'm not stalking) also spoke about his search for new plants. This year he really got into the people behind the plants and I have to say, I think plant breeders sound like some of the most interesting people in the world. So many of them have or had careers outside of the plant business but breed some of the best plants in the world as a hobby gone crazy.

• I got to see 'Little Lime' in the flesh for the first time. She was totally dreamy. I am all over this plant! (I apologize for the fuzzy iPhone photos. I was Tweeting during the event so I was taking everything with my phone so that I could Tweet it right away).


• There were tons of great drawings for fantastic products but even the unlucky ones (like me) who didn't win anything went home with Superbells 'Coralberry Punch' (love it!) and a nice gift bag filled with all kinds of goodies including a Corona trowel.


• I got to meet the vivacious Kylee from the great blog Our Little Acre. (Check out her post from the event here).

• I got to see the cutest little ape baby. That's unrelated, but since the event was held at the Milwaukee County Zoo, during one of the bathroom breaks I walked down the hall to the ape house and saw this adorable little baby hanging on its mom while she swung all over the place. Very cute.

• Many of the new varieties of Proven Winners plants were on display (and available for purchase if you were quick enough) and they were just droolworthy.



Other fun P. Allen Smith facts I know you were dying to know:

• No, he doesn't manage the vast estate at the Garden Home Retreat by himself. His brother and sister-in-law manage the farm and the gardens with a staff of four.

• The Garden Home Retreat is open to the public. Can't say I've ever wanted to go to Arkansas before, but I do now!

• He was not wearing tan pants and a chambray shirt. If you've ever seen his show you know that's all he wears on the show and I half expected him to show up to the event wearing his uniform, but he was looking sharp with a blue blazer and checked shirt (see above photo). I didn't have the guts to ask him what the deal with the gardening uniform was, but I've read before that dressing properly for television can be very difficult and because his show is filmed in segments, I'm guessing he wears the same thing so that the shows appear more seamless even if the segments were filmed at different times.

• He eats his livestock. And he says they are tasty.

• Apparently he's quite the cook too, but you can find out for yourself when his new show "Garden to Table" premieres (later this month, I think).

Pruned! (Hacked?)

Pruning is one of the most difficult thing for some gardeners to do. I think deep down inside we know it's a good thing for our plants, but it's still hard to cut away growth that we've worked so hard for.

Last year I pruned my Hydrangea 'Limelight' down to about 4 feet tall for the first time. It loved it. It still got about 7 feet tall and full of blooms (it grows in a fair amount of sun and I think it really likes that). I'd prefer to keep the height down just a tad on this particular plant (which I didn't plant in the best spot design-wise) so I pruned it back to about 30 inches this year. I also cleaned up some crossing branches.

I pulled out the awesome Fiskars PowerGear loppers that I won from Genevieve at North Coast Gardening and went after that bad boy. Gen does an awesome review on these loppers, so I won't repeat that here, but I will say that they are so incredibly light (but sturdy) that it makes pruning a much more pleasurable experience. By the way, check out the rest of Gen's tool reviews at NCG and then hang on to your credit card. She hasn't steered me wrong yet!

The garden, which was graced by the dried Limelight blooms all winter, looks a bit bare now, but I suspect Limelight will like me giving it a good haircut. We'll keep and eye on it and see how it's looking in a month or so.

Limelight Before


Limeilght After


By the way, my informal Gardening 101 series over at The Design Confidential continued the other day with a little post on how to start a new garden. You can check it out here.

The flower that wouldn't be stopped

Four gorgeous flowers on this 'Red Peacock' amaryllis.

Zoom out a little and you see the bulb did this all on her own. It's still in the paper bag it came in!

For several years I've purchased amaryllis bulbs from the yahoo plant co-op I'm a member of, potted them up and given them away as holiday gifts. They are really wonderful because they are some unusual varieties that people can't get at a big box store. Unfortunately, the holidays were a bit of a fire drill this year. You might recall that we were mid-construction (well, mostly we were just irritated because we had planned on being finished in November but were no where close) and didn't even put up a Christmas tree and well, the box of amaryllis bulbs was forgotten in the basement.

A couple weeks ago I found it and was shocked to find a stem sticking out of the box. I brought the optimistic bulb upstairs and planned to plant it, where it was forgotten again. Well, this bulb was not happy about being forgotten and apparently was determined to shout, "Hey, look at me!"

So that's how I got this beautiful stalk of flowers, growing out of nothing but a paper bag.

Q&A with garden designer Jack Barnwell

I'm very excited to share a little Q&A session with talented garden designer Jack Barnwell. I found out who Jack was last summer after spending years admiring one of his designs without knowing who was behind it. I make it a point to visit the garden at the Hotel Iroquois on the island every year and it continues to be one of my favorites. His designs—lush, colorful, well-structured creations—are impressive in and of themselves, but imagine trying to create these kinds of spaces without any kind of vehicle involved once it got to you.

Picture yourself having to create a new garden by towing everything to the site by bicycle. That's what Barnwell is faced with every day. His company Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services is based on Mackinac Island, Michigan, where motorized vehicles of any kind are outlawed. So everything moves by foot or by bike. How'd you like to move soil that way?

Here's a little more information about Barnwell:

Jack Barnwell taking plants to a garden. Jack Barnwell photo

Jack Barnwell is the owner of Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services on Mackinac Island, Michigan, which designs, installs and maintains Mackinac Island’s most outstanding resort and residential properties. Jack has been designing and planting the gardens at the luxurious Hotel Iroquois for 10 years and expanded his business to include many other hotels and homes three years ago. His  plantings won Best of Show at the Cincinnati Flower Show and have been featured in many publications including Horticulture Magazine,  Lawn and Garden Retailer and Landscape Management magazine. Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services plants thousands of flats of annual flowers every spring to give Mackinac Island its renowned splash of color. They specialize in innovative annual installations including incredible hanging baskets, pots, and window boxes, but also do complete landscape contracting, hardscape and heirloom quality perennial gardens.


The Impatient Gardener: What are some of the gardening and design challenges unique to working on Mackinac Island?
Jack Barnwell: The most obvious challenge to landscaping and gardening on Mackinac Island is the fact that we are a motor vehicle-free resort community. We do not even have golf carts or similar electric utility carts that many other resort like communities have. We use horses, bikes, and old-fashioned ingenuity to overcome the challenges we face. It is important to understand and respect the fact that adhering to this code of law is in many ways what has made Mackinac such a unique destination. That, combined with geological wonders, grand Victorian architecture, and of course, stunning gardens, has created an experience that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each summer.

Logistically, running a fast paced gardening company on an island without vehicles certainly gets my head spinning at times. All of our materials have to be shipped up, usually from growers and distributors 4-7 hours away. Then they cross the Mackinac Bridge and are unloaded onto freight barges. The barges are then unloaded when they reach the island onto horse drays (flatbed wagons with a two horse team), or our fleet of bike carts. Once the materials arrive to the job site, they are unloaded by hand and installed ... by hand. There are many people that I rely on to make all of this happen day after day, from delivery drivers, boat crews, dray horse crews, to my courageous crew, we are all working together to blanket Mackinac in color each Spring. During the spring annual flower planting season, my crew and I plant 10,000 flats of flowers, hang hundreds of hanging baskets, and transform the island in just a few weeks. All by horse and bike.
When Jack Barnwell talks about a boatload of plants, he's speaking literally. Here's a shipment of trees on its way to Mackinac Island for fall planting. Jack Barnwell photo

Loaded up  and using bicycle power, one of two main modes of  transportation on Mackinac Island. Jack Barnwell photo

TIG: The gardens at the Hotel Iroquois rely heavily on hardscaping and stonework, without them becoming an overwhelming element. How important do you feel that kind of structure is to a garden?

JB: The gardens at the Hotel Iroquois do have a lot of hardscaping involved because it is important when designing a garden to have in mind traffic patterns and usage. The hotel has a very popular restaurant that receives many patrons every day, and the gardens themselves draw quite a crowd so it is important to allow for space and comfortable access so that people do not feel crowded or overwhelmed when visiting the restaurant, lounging around the hotel, or simply enjoying the gardens.
In the gardens themselves, I like to incorporate small rock walls and boulders for several reasons. First, adding that mineral element gives good balance to a garden, it also creates structure and changes in height within a garden. Stones, especially dry stacked in a wall add an element of timeless beauty to a garden, they create intimate pockets and add a verticle surface that can be climbed up or trailed down with different plants that otherwise would not be utilized in a simple sloped garden.

A dry stacked wall raises the bed to bring a weeping shrub to eye level in Barnwell's Hotel Iroquois garden. The Impatient Gardner photo

TIG: How do you keep designs, be they large-scale gardens or containers, fresh and exciting from year to year?
JB: I keep designs fresh by keeping up on new and exciting varieties. There are so many new plants coming out with wild colors, textures and smells, especially in the annual flower world. It is fun to experiment with those every year. I also keep designs interesting by sharply focusing on developing my sense of place. Gardens on Mackinac Island are unique in that they are on Mackinac Island, but there are many sub-realms to consider when designing here too. The property, and where it is located, where it will be viewed from, usage, the interior design of the home or hotel, and the feeling the garden is intended to present are all very important factors to consider and make every landscape unique with its own signature.

TIG: Do you have a favorite garden that you've designed?
JB: I have designed many gardens on Mackinac Island, as well as many other locations around the country. It would be so hard to say I have a favorite, as they all have their own personalities. There is one garden on the island that comes to mind though. A couple years ago, we did a Japanese-inspired peaceful garden that is quite a sight to behold. There are mossy paths, beautiful boulders and bluestone walls and tea table areas. We planted a 70-year-old Japanese Maple in there that had to be shipped over on a custom trailer built just for that tree so that it could be moved into position without disturbing the tree or the established lawn. In that garden, spring is welcomed by hundreds of delicate bulbs planted under the architectural branching of the different Japanese maples, drifts of Trilliums give it that classic Northern Michigan look, and bouquets of pure white daffodils dotted with a surounding of blue anemone pop up through ground cover areas of Pachysandra and Myrtle. I have a certain affection for that garden, but I still couldn't say it is my favorite. Gardens are constantly evolving, changing, and hopefully improving. My next favorite garden is reborn everyday.

TIG: You mix a lot of annuals in with perennials, shrubs and bulbs in your design, creating a truly mixed garden. With so much going on, how do you keep it from being too much?
JB: I usually design gardens with a very diverse mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and bulbs because they all have their place spacially as well as within the contraints of bloom time. For example, I love the origami like blooms of a white siberian iris, but as they fade, their foliage can still be appreciated for the mass of spikes left over once the flowers are cut back. Better yet though, why not use a couple of those spikey pillows to hold up the stems of ornamental lillies, with some vista supertunias climbing around and through the spikey fronds still holding strong from that mid-spring bloom of the siberian iris, then at their foot, and under the supertunia structure, try bacopa, allysum, or dichondra as a groundcover.

This is how my mind works as I look at designing, that is why many of my gardens are so diverse and constantly changing through the seasons.

At the water's edge, roses mingle with annuals and herbs. The Impatient Gardener photo

TIG: What are some of your favorite plants right now?
JB: My favorite plants right now... hmmm... that is a tough one. I am constantly amazed at the innovative stuff coming out of Proven Winners. They have incredible annuals that thrive, but their Colorchoice Flowering Shrubs are outstanding as well.

Barnwell uses many Proven Winners plants in the Hotel Iroquois garden including Papyrus 'King Tut', multiple varieties of Supertunias, Argyranthemum frutescens 'Butterfly' and more. The Impatient Gardener photo

TIG: Is there a plant of any kind that you feel a garden just isn't complete without?
JB: In zones 4-6 which I work in most often, I would say there is no garden complete without some kind of hydrangea. They are such a classic that can be used as a great cut flower, dried, or appreciated as big lush foundation plantings and hedges even.

TIG: What sort of combinations are working on for the containers in downtown Mackinac Island this year?
JB: The containers downtown Mackinac that will hang from the light posts will be all Proven Winners annuals again this year. Most of them are Supertunia based, with three or four other varieties in there including a grass on some kind in the center. I like using spikey grasses like blue mohawk because things can climb up the sturdy reeds. I am excited about the combinations I have designed for this year and can't wait to see them when they all arrive on the dock. That day, when the city baskets arrive, we have 350 hanging baskets all arriving at once this year. Wahoo...
The combination I am most excited about though has climbing black-eyed Susan vine in it. It will trail down throughout the combination as well as climb up the hanger and onto the lamp post!

Some of Barnwell's container designs hanging on Main Street in Mackinac Island. The Impatient Gardener photo

Containers with grass in the middle or a vine that will go up the hanger and trail down will feature into Barnwell's designs this year as well. Jack Barnwell photo


The big bathroom reveal

First of all, sorry for the radio silence last week. Deadlines at my real job got crazy and when I’m writing fast and furiously for work, it’s so hard to come home and put together a couple sentences for the blog. The good news is that I have some exciting posts planned for this week, starting with this one, which is the first official reveal from the big renovation.

And it’s a big one. Adding a bathroom to our house is something we’ve wanted to do since we bought it nine years ago. I definitely got “into” the design of this room more than anything else in the renovation. It’s probably the only bathroom I’ll ever build from scratch, so I wanted to really go for it.

The room is only 8 feet square but I can’t think of anything else we would need in there. At 5 feet by 40 inches, the shower is probably bigger than it needs to be but it really is luxurious. A little bonus is that there is a perfect bird’s eye view of the bird feeders from the shower. I know it sounds corny but I love watching the birds during one of their prime feeding times.

Anyway, on to the photos (which aren’t great because I don’t own a wide angle lens).

This is what the space looked like before. It was nothing but a useless dormer area with a low ceiling that few normal-sized people could even walk into.


And here it is now. Welcome to the new bathroom.


The door was actually salvaged from my grandmother's house before it was torn down. It was her bedroom door. Originally I grabbed it because I figured we'd save some money reusing a door, but as I started refinishing it, stripping and sanding off layers of tan, coral, mint green and white paint, I became very connected to the history of it. I loved imagining all those colors in a house I loved so much. The door ended up being too short and our contractor had to add a couple inches to the top and bottom. We also had to buy a whole new lock set for it (which was difficult because modern doors have different back sets). In the end, I'm sure we didn't save any money over buying a new door, but it was money well spent to have a piece of my family's history as a permanent fixture in our home. We used Wallpaper for Windows frosted film to cover the windows to allow light to still enter the hallway but still allow for privacy.

The teak floor was a splurge, but I love it. We bartered for it to keep the price down and the feel under your feet can't be beat.

I’m very happy with the decision to go with a handshower and slide bar instead of a fixed showerhead. First of all, I love the Kohler Flipside handshower. It has the most amazing “soft” spray that I liken to the spot-free rinse at the car wash and I love rinsing my hair with it. Secondly, Mr. Much More Patient is significantly taller than me (like more than a foot taller than me) so the slide bar helps us each have the water where we like it.

We used a scrap piece of teak that Mr. Much More Patient found at a hardware store in Miami. Fancy hardware stores down there, I guess.

The small window behind the toilet is a favorite touch. I’ll do anything for more natural light.

The towel warmer is another splurge and so worth it. I love that thing. Get one. It will change your life.






Here are a few specifics in case you’re interested.

Tile: Floors are light gray porcelain tile 24x6. They started out as 24x12 and my amazing tile guy split them all. They are laid in a 1/3 offset pattern. Walls (to the ceiling in the shower and halfway up elsewhere) are off-white polished porcelain with oval glass accent tiles.
Fixtures: Mostly Kohler. The sink (which I think is the very first thing I picked out for the room) is Archer. The faucet is Margeaux.
Toilet: Toto Carolina II. Love it, if it’s possible to love a toilet.
Vanity: You can read more about the saga of the vanity here, but it was custom built more or less to my design.
Lights: Ceiling light was purchased locally. Vanity pendants are Sonneman and purchased at Lumens.com.
 Counter: Hanstone Ruscello Aspen. These weren't without some drama either.
Mirror: Pottery Barn Kensington
Towel warmer: Runtal Neptune
Colors: Walls: BM Gray Mist; ceiling: BM Healing Aloe; trim: BM Cloud White

If you're interested in seeing how we got to this point, check out these posts on the remodel: