Q: Is it safe to use an old chiminea, and how do you properly use them?
A: These portable outdoor fireplaces can be made out of iron or terra cotta — so yes, it's safe, but you will definitely want to look for cracks. The worst thing to happen is that a crack would result in a fire falling onto the deck or surrounding area. Also, most come with a stand; make sure you set it on a piece of slate or something non-combustible so it's not sitting right on the deck.
It's for aesthetic purposes; you're not supposed to have a rip-roaring fire. To set a fire, start out with a fresh inside. (Clean it if any ashes remain.) Start it like a fire in a fireplace, using paper, and make a little teepee with twigs and kindling. It's nice to use aromatic woods like mesquite or cedar because they will help keep the mosquitoes away. You can even throw a stick of incense in there to give off a nice scent, but avoid pine. It has extra resins that can cause buildup on the inside of the chiminea.
Claudia C. Swanson, owner of Dirty Hands Gardening Center, Powhatan
Q: I own a pre-1950s pottery collection — is it safe to use in the microwave and dishwasher?
A: If it doesn't say microwave- or dishwasher-safe, don't do it. The pottery can blow up; it can crack. I've seen pottery crack in 10 pieces. Also, the heat of the microwave can cause the food to stain certain pottery pieces. The biggie is when the pottery has fine cracks in it: The food can leach down underneath and cause germs.
If you have pre-1950s pottery and the integrity of the glaze is still good, you can use it every day, just don't put it in the microwave or dishwasher. Don't subject it to extreme heat or expose it to extreme cold. It's common sense. A tip: When you're pouring a hot cup of coffee, put a spoon in the cup because it diffuses the heat and will help you avoid staining the mug.
Brenda Cummings, owner of The Glass Lady, Richmond
Q: What are the best ways to preserve outdoor wicker furniture, and are there any types of outdoor furniture that fare better when used in the garden and pool area?
A: You should have weatherproof resin-wicker furniture made by a company such as Summer Classics. It has a never-rust, hand-welded aluminum frame with a baked-on paint overcoat. (Mercedes, Audi and Volvo use the same factory for the baked-on paint overcoat applied to their cars.) The fabric on them, for the most part, is Sunbrella, which resists fading. The filling in the cushions is a Dacron that water just drains through. It takes very little time for it to dry off.
The best types of furniture in the garden or pool area are cast aluminum or wrought aluminum — not like the wrought-iron garden benches your grandmother used to have out in the garden because they had lead in them. The reason they were using them outside is because they didn't rust. But wrought iron today is guaranteed to rust. I suggest to everyone that you buy Rustoleum spray paint to paint over your furniture every couple of years, but the key is to use the Rustoleum matte sealer. To clean the furniture, use mild soap and water.
Amanda Cottrell, merchandiser for Sneed's Nursery, Richmond