Fall With Flair

From designer, decorator and gardener Carolyne Roehm, a bounty of seasonal thoughts and ideas.

Focus On Autumn

September 19, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Carolyne Roehm, who wrote the just-published "Fall Notebook" (HarperCollins, 1999), loves fall.

Melissa Davis, her co-author, hates it. Roehm says she always enjoyed the beginning of school, and has wonderful memories of the season's holidays and fall foods like apples and pumpkin pie.

She loves to be in the garden this time of year. "As one gardens," she says, "more and more you realize what you do in the fall is just as important as the spring."

On the other hand, "I truly hate fall," says Davis. "It means death. It means I can't garden."

Which could be a problem, except that working with Roehm on her new book has given Davis another slant on the season. "It takes away some of the gloom and doom," she says.

Just about everyone feels equally strongly -- one way or the other -- about autumn. And just about everyone can take something away from "Fall Notebook," either to reinforce their celebration of the season or to make themselves feel better about it.

Roehm is the name behind the book, which is part journal, part wishbook and part hands-on workbook. (She plans to publish one of the spiral-bound volumes for each season.)

Known as a celebrity fashion designer in the late '80s and early '90s, Roehm shifted gears with her first book, "A Passion for Flowers." Since then she's left the fashion world behind and concentrated on Weatherstone, her Connecticut home. She writes and lectures extensively on gardening and decorating.

Davis, a former newspaper reporter, is a neighbor who heard about the project and wrote Roehm a letter saying she would like to work on it. She got a reply immediately.

"She told me she could use me because she hates the actual writing," says Davis with a laugh. "I didn't tell her everyone hates the actual writing!"

Like Martha Stewart, Roehm lives the impossibly good life, a life most of us can only admire (or resent). The difference, she says, is "I don't have the luxury of time that Martha seems to. Nothing in my book is labor-intensive. You don't need a glue gun or chicken wire."

Here, for instance, are the book's directions for making place cards for Thanksgiving (or any autumn dinner party):

Using blank ecru place cards, I embossed each card with a rubber leaf stamp, one of dozens I have been collecting, and brown ink. Each guest's name was written with a matching brown felt marker

End of directions.

Each page of "Fall Notebook" is glossier and more beautiful than the last. But not all of us have a collection of Chinese export porcelain to hold bouquets of dahlias and fall-hued roses.

"My mom is always on my back about having such pretty things," Roehm says with a laugh. "But what's really beautiful are things from nature. People should focus on what they can find in their garden."

Anyone can go to Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn and buy good-looking containers, she adds. "A wonderful bouquet doesn't need 18th-century Wedgwood."

In spite of its beauty, "Fall Notebook" is meant to be practical, Roehm insists. The Halloween party in the book, for instance, was a real party she gave last year. The preparations included spray painting 150 round paper lanterns orange, which might be more than most of us would undertake. But most of her ideas are imaginative and very doable.

This was her menu:

Halloween buffet

Beef short ribs with spiced lemon caper sauce

Ragout of chicken

Potatoes mashed and celeriac

Brussels sprouts with pancetta

Pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie

Stilton and grapes

In her chapter on Halloween, Roehm includes tips that could apply to any entertaining:

Party tips

* After the party theme has been decided, book the entertainment.

* Look to local restaurants if you need to hire serving staff.

* Test and edit the menu weeks before the party.

* For convenience, keep paperwork of party details such as guest-list status, rental agreements, ... etc. bound in a loose-leaf notebook.

* Keep decorations simple. Go for volume rather than fussiness.

* Designate one room of your house as Party Headquarters, where all accessories ... can be laid out and organized.

Although Roehm has plenty of ideas for the two major holidays of autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving, most of "Fall Notebook" is taken up with advice on gardening and flower arranging, her two passions.

"She showed me that you can try to hold on to the gardening season as long as possible," says Davis. "I just put my last lettuces in. I never would have done that before."

The book includes a list of fall cleanup chores and, for those who need something to look forward to in spring:

Bulb-planting points

* Plant bulbs as soon as you can after receiving them.

* Plant bulbs where they will get full winter sunlight.

* Plant bulbs in wide swaths of color for impact.

* Large bulbs should be covered with about 8 inches of soil. Small bulbs need a blanket of about 5 inches of soil.

* Loosen the soil at the bottom of the planting hole for better root growth. Add bulb booster, composted manure or bone meal to the hole.

* Remember to plant pointed side up.

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