Long before Martha Stewart's teenage modeling days, and long before she built a lifestyle empire, Stewart could be found digging up dirt in her family garden with her father at home in New Jersey. She's had a green thumb for flowers ever since—she now owns seven gardens and has accumulated a lifetime of botanical experience. Working with Kevin Sharkey, who oversees all of the Martha Stewart brand's creative content, she's compiled all of the that knowledge in a milestone title that marks her 90th full-length book, one she's been working on for "years and years and years."
Naturally, Stewart is quite excited about the recent publication of Martha's Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering, and Enjoying (Clarkson Potter), and a little upset that the recent nor'easters have interfered with the book's press roll-out. ("Please forgive us!!!!! " she wrote on Instagram, @-ing the Saint Louis Art Museum when she and Sharkey missed their appearance.) Not that the weather is entirely to blame for the delay: Stewart has lately been busy off in Antarctica, marveling at glaciers and icebergs that are thousands of years old from the freezing deck of an icebreaker boat.
Now safely back on dry land, Stewart, before stopping by Stephen Colbert to give something of an R-rated gardening lesson, took a break in her New York office to spill on everything from the "very attractive" man she dated after he sent her hundreds of roses to her niche love for Pennsylvania-based crime shows in her culture diet.
The Official Martha Stewart Holiday Handbook:
You just got back from Antarctica. Is there anything that remotely resembles flowers down there?
No, there’s nothing growing, except a little bit of moss which I took pictures of, and even that is unique and recent, because of global warming. There are no animals at all that eat the moss. There’s one invertebrate that lives there, but for the most part, it’s mostly sea mammals—seals and penguins, and a lot of birds, actually.
When you're back at home and have more to work with, what’s the most unexpected material you’ve ever used in an arrangement?
One of my signatures, which is now also Kevin’s, is to stick one giant, extraordinary leaf, like Solomon’s seal, or a colocasia, which are more commonly known as elephant ears, into the arrangement once it's complete. I grow a lot of large leaf perennials in my garden anyway, so I’ll use those; there’s a rhododendron arrangement which has Solomon’s seal in it that I especially like that's on page 63. But I rarely use filler—which is baby’s breath or sprays of other kind of greenery like fern—in my arrangements. I like the flowers to speak for themselves.
Can you tell me about the best floral arrangement you’ve ever received? Who was it from, and on what occasion?
I think it was quite a few years ago. It was so fantastic. I was having lunch in the old Four Seasons at the Grill Room, which is now called the Grill, in the olden days when Julian [Niccolini] was running the show there. A man noticed me and wanted a date, and so he had 400 white roses delivered to me. I was having lunch, and then it took three waiters to carry this gigantic arrangement of white roses with his phone number attached to it. That’s a pretty nice way to get a girl’s attention.
Had you known him at all?
Well, I knew who he was. He was very attractive, and I did date him a while after that. [Laughs.]
Besides roses, what are some of your favorite romantic flowers?
Well, there are so many beautiful flowers available now. A bouquet of fragrant pink peonies is so wonderful. Lilacs would be fantastic to receive. I think a little bit of fragrance is important.
For those of us who don’t have time to make arrangements, what’s the best way to spruce up a bouquet from somewhere like a deli or a bodega?
If you have a yard, it’s easy; you can go out and just clip a few pieces of greenery, or some strands of ivy or even some autumn leaves and add those to your arrangements.
Speaking of yards, I was wondering if your dogs ever get up to trouble with all the plant life in yours, since you have so many whom you seem to love so much.
Oh, my dogs are so absolutely respectful of my flower gardens. They never run in the beds. Chow Chows just don’t do anything bad. You’ll never see them digging up a garden of flowers, ever—they don’t bury their bones like the big hunting dogs, which is one of the reasons I have the kinds of dogs I have. They’re respectful and quite well behaved. For as long as I’ve had dogs, they’ve never, ever ruined anything.
Is there any way you treat the dogs when it comes to occasions where you'd normally give flowers to people?
No matter what the hour, at night when I come home, they’re all standing at attention waiting for their little doggy bone treat. They have to have them. They basically live in my kitchen, where the cookie jar is in full view for them, and then they all run right over to it and wait for their little cookie.
Getting into the culture questions, what’s the first thing you read in the morning?
I wake up early. This morning I was up at 4:54. [Laughs.] Even though I stayed up to watch the Academy Awards. But the first thing I do is go to the headlines of the New York Times and read straight down through the recent news. Then, before I go to the opinion pages, I do the mini crossword puzzle. I have to do that—I don’t know why I’m sort of addicted to that stupid little puzzle. Then I read the opinion pages and e-mail certain articles to certain people, because many of my younger friends aren’t big newspaper readers. Kevin Sharkey gets articles from me, and my daughter also gets them, even though she’s very well informed. Another friend of mine gets many, not because she’s lazy, but she doesn’t read as much as she should, so she appreciates it.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
I just very inappropriately finished Dead Wake [The Last Crossing of the Lusitania] by Erik Larson while on my icebreaker in Antarctica. [Laughs.] One of the major faults of that stupid boat, the Lusitania, is that the lifeboats didn’t really work—I think they only were able to launch six of them. So you know what I did? I went out to the deck of the icebreaker I was on and looked at the lifeboats, and the chains were completely corroded—they’d never been lowered or tested in the last 10 or 15 years. I was very upset. Not that even a lifeboat would save you in Antarctica. [Laughs.]
What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?
Oh God, I just finished one of the most extraordinary series ever, and no one’s seen it. I don’t know why people haven’t seen this crazy crime show. It’s called Banshee, and it has a New Zealand superstar actor [Antony Starr] in it. It takes place in Pennsylvania, where I now go pretty much every week now for QVC, and I’m terrified of certain areas of Pennsylvania now, because it takes place in the Amish Country. It's Ukrainian criminals, meat farms, and martial arts all mixed in one fantastic show, but nobody’s ever said anything about it. I can’t imagine why it hasn’t been more widely watched—maybe because it’s too true or something, I don’t know. But other than that, I’m avidly waiting for the next season of Billions. My friends write that, and I love those guys.
You're quite close with Snoop Dogg, and have even had Lil Yachty on your show. What’s the last song you had on repeat?
Oh, I don’t have such a thing. I get bored very easily, and I’d rather listen to new songs than old songs. I have a very good memory for sound and visuals so I generally don’t watch movies more than once, because I can tell you what the next scene is.
What’s the last movie that you saw?
I saw Red Sparrow, which I highly recommend. I don’t think it got the best reviews, but it is a really good movie, if you’re in the mood for a spy thriller.
What’s the last concert that you went to?
I went to that whole Radio City retrospective for Fleetwood Mac, which had a whole lot of artists leading up to the actual Fleetwood Mac. That was fun—I liked that.
What’s the last thing that you googled?
It was this morning—a laminated conference table because we’re moving offices around, and somebody broke a five-inch piece of one of my table's laminate, which now renders the table totally worthless. I’m not happy about. I’ve been trying to figure out how much it’s worth—it’s probably a $25,000 table or something—which is definitely worth fixing. But you have to put a whole new laminate on the top and they don’t make that laminate anymore. So the value has declined. [Laughs.]
You’re so great at social media. What are your favorite accounts to follow?
I try not to be totally interested in Instagram, but I do follow quite a few people on there, but very randomly. Just the other day, somebody followed me, and the name was ‘faux bois something or other.' I collect faux bois and I’m making beautiful faux bois pieces for QVC now, and this guy is really good, and he led me to a whole lot of other accounts. I basically use Instagram as a reference point, for research and finding sources—I learn a lot from it. For me, it’s better than Pinterest. I don’t like Pinterest so much.
Your personal Instagram account, which you seem to run yourself, is particularly amazing. Was there anyone who first taught you how to use it?
Well, no—it’s not very complicated. [Laughs.]
How do you choose between what to post on there and what to post on your blog?
My blog is an instructional tool that’s a very serious, well written, beautifully photographed, sort of like a magazine series that goes on and on and on and on. It’s a lot of stuff that we don’t put in the magazine because we don’t have enough pages to include what I put in my blog. A tremendous number of people read it, because they learn from it every day, and they’re inspired. So if you want to know about growing lettuce, you can look at my blog and learn a lot, and the same goes for my travels and my pets and new products we’re developing. It’s very instructional, and I’m very proud of it. I think we’re probably one of the best bloggers.
I was going to say that yours is actually the only blog I look at anymore. Do you feel alone in the sort of blogging field these days?
No, I don’t even think about it that way. I think about it as a way to teach people a tremendous amount of information. I have a lot of information that I’d like to share, and as the avenues for sharing decrease—and they really are decreasing, because everyone’s paying attention to what isn’t Kim Kardashian wearing today, or that kind of stuff that they really want to see—but they also need to learn. So that’s my idea of why I continue to blog and to show interesting pictures. I travel a lot, and I like to share all that, because it is interesting.
Last thing: What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Probably set my alarm—well, my two alarms. I’m not afraid of waking up; I’m just afraid of the clock not working or something. [Laughs.] So I set both my iPad, where I read my newspaper, and I set my regular little bronze battery-run clock. It’s very boring. That’s very boring.
No! But did you really set your alarm for 4:54 a.m. this morning?
No, I wake up way before my alarm—it’s set for the last minute before I have to be up for my driver. Today I had to leave my house by seven, so my alarm was set for six, but I always wake up beforehand.
What about the first thing you do in the morning? Do you have a routine?
The first thing I do is let the cats out. They’re waiting by the front door—whether it’s freezing or raining, they want to go outside. Then I go and let the dogs out into their yards out the kitchen door. Then I turn the lights on, and I go back upstairs to shower and wash my hair, whatever else you do, and pack. For a day’s work, like today, it took me a half an hour to pack, because we had a greeting breakfast in our new offices; then I had several meetings, and now I go to the Wine Expo at the Javits Center where I’m photographed and meet a lot of my buyers; and then I go and do Stephen Colbert, so I had to have three different outfits for today, which also means remembering the right shoes and the right underwear and the right this and the right that—that’s so boring. Then I put it all in appropriate bags. That’s what I’ve done today and it’s only one o’clock.
Wow, what time do you go to sleep?
When I get home. After Colbert, I'm going out to dinner—we’re trying the new La Goulue, which I haven’t been to and I’m sure it’s so fun. It used to be the hot spot on Madison Avenue, with delicious authentic French food. It was a very chic place to go, and now the same owner opened a new one, so I’m very anxious to see how he’s done. In general, though, I just go to sleep when I’m tired.