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Former Baltimorean gets down in the 'Dirt'You...


Former Baltimorean gets down in the 'Dirt'

You can get away with calling your first gardening book "Dirt" if you're Dianne Benson. You can have a cover that looks like a burlap bag tied with twine -- all browns and blacks -- instead of gorgeous photos of lush gardens. Because whatever the former owner of the chic Dianne B. boutiques does, she does with style.

Six years ago, when the disillusioned fashion entrepreneur and former Baltimorean started gardening, she didn't know a thing about it. After she and her husband had bought a house with a "verdant, overgrown property," she took a good look at her life and decided to stay home and garden instead.

"Mine is the fast-lane, quick-gratification approach to creating something of your own," she says in the introduction to "Dirt," "with a lot of tips and hints about how to begin, where to go for the best of what you need, what to avoid and what to expect." This is a book, in other words, that tells you how to garden with ease and style.

"Dirt" (Dell; $18.95) is quirky and filled with Ms. Benson's vibrant (and sometimes outrageous) personality. But it's also a practical, fun-to-read guide to creating a unique garden that reflects your personal style.

This season's upholstery fabrics have a new kind of flower power.

Chintzes and English florals -- traditional flower patterns -- are being modified in interesting ways. Lillian August, who designs upholstery for Frederick Edward, mixes them with geometric patterns, stripes and architectural or neo-classical motifs.

"There are fewer traditional center bouquet motifs," says Carl Rothbaum, president of Robert Allen Fabrics, "and more random scatterings of flowers across fields of fabrics."

xTC Not everything is coming up roses: rare hothouse blooms, French poppies, bluebells, sunflowers and hydrangeas are popular choices this season.

The new florals are often bold, bright and bigger than they have been in the past -- like the dramatic sunflower print on Lineage Home Furnishings' new club chair.

This year's Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Showhouse is a mysterious stone mansion in Guilford -- mysterious because it's been abandoned for over 20 years. After their son died in an auto accident, the previous owners left and never returned. It was recently bought by Thomas Behrle Jr. and his wife, Colleen Barrett.

The Baltimore Symphony Associates are holding an EmptHouse Tour before the interior designers start working. It will be easier to appreciate the stunning architectural features of the mansion -- like the walnut staircase, octagonal observatory and third floor ballroom -- while it's empty. In each room designers will post preliminary sketches of how they plan to decorate. The finished show house will be open from April 24 to May 22.

The house, known as the Callis-Kennedy mansion, is on the corner of St. Paul Street and Millbrook Road. The address is 4300 St. Paul.

The Empty House Tour will take place next Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets for $3 will be available at the door. Proceeds benefit the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. For more information, call Cathy Baldwin at (410) 825-5380.

David Esposito likes to tell his customers his work isn't authentic in two ways: There are electric lights in his shop and he uses a motorized lathe. Otherwise he makes his Windsor chairs using pre-Industrial Revolution materials and techniques.

Seats are carved from 2-inch-thick pine slabs; other parts are split out from premium quality logs and hand-shaped. Pieces are joined in such a way that the chair gets stronger when you sit on it. (Authentically reproduced Windsor chairs are very long-lasting.)

The craftsman fell in love with the enduringly popular 18th-century style when he bought a chair for $5 at a flea market. He did extensive research on both English and American designs, and since then he's made Windsor chairs exclusively.

Mr. Esposito can turn out about 80 chairs a year. "I'm not exactly competing with Ikea," he says with a laugh. He has seven different Windsor styles, priced in the same range ($350-$850) as good-quality factory-made chairs.

For more information, call Mr. Esposito at (410) 583-9052.

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