Michelle Slatalla is a former columnist at The New York Times and the editor of Gardenista. Gardenista makes gardening accessible, the way Remodelista demystified — while celebrating — interior design. Here are a few of her favorite things for gardening, the outdoors and a living a cultivated life.
This summer I moved into a house with a wonderful garden, planted and tended for many decades by a woman who coincidentally was once known as Sunset magazine’s “Betty Crocker of the West.” Her holly trees, overgrown and eyeing me warily, need extensive pruning; I fantasize about doing the job from the top step of this sturdy telescoping ladder. (Niwaki, $275 and up)
Since I was old enough to attend school, fall has meant one thing to me: a new pair of sneakers. Preferably navy blue. This year I already got these — in navy, with navy laces — after Julie Carlson of Remodelista spotted them online and made me covet them by saying, "Don’t they look just like the pair Michelle Obama wore in photographs for the White House garden book?" (J.Crew, $68)
I am a great believer in developing new hobbies as a form of continuing education. When I was living next to Central Park in New York, I decided bird watching would be my next frontier. Nearly every morning, I saw burly men picking twigs from their beards as they emerged from the bushes, carrying binoculars and notebooks to record their finds. It can take more than a year to train your voice to imitate a single (simple) bird call, so I’m instead coveting this set of six carved wooden calls to jump-start the process. (Canoeonline.net, $148)
Normally I try not to divulge personal grooming secrets, but I have been addicted to this deodorant for years — ever since an opponent in a doubles tennis match said to me during a changeover, "Are you wearing French perfume?" — and I am concerned that it’s getting harder to find it in stores. I’m going public in the hopes that if more people discover its charms, I won’t have to lie awake at night and worry about whether I should stockpile a case of 50 against the day Estee Lauder discontinues it. (Estee Lauder, $18)
Did I mention that in addition to the overgrown hollies, I have inherited a recalcitrant bougainvillea? For many years, this thorny fellow has been allowed to cover the electrical breaker box on the side of the house and will need severe pruning. Given the thorn situation, long handled loppers are my best hope for survival. I once had a pair of these — which is how I know they’re great — but somehow during one of the 57,000 moves I've made back and forth across the country, they've been misplaced. They could possibly be in my garage, but I would have to cut back a holly to get access at this point; it’s kind of a Catch 22. (Felco, $78.64)
My husband is kind of like a canary in the coal mine when it comes to books; if he loves one, so will I. Right now he's reading this WWII espionage novel and says it’s Furst’s best so far. I’m on deck, as soon as I finish his last pick: Kingsley Amis' The Folks That Live on the Hill. I’d put in a plug here for that one, but you don’t need me to remind you that Kingsley Amis was one of the funniest writers of the 20th century. (Amazon.com, $14.97)
A version of this article also appears in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of SAY Magazine.