Growing annuals from seed to fill in the space formerly filled by lawn.
If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know I’ve been working on a new garden in 2021. It all started in September of 2020 when we cleared my exisiting raised beds, all the remaining grass and a few ancient shrubs from the front of the house. (PJM Rhododendrons – anyone remember those?)
Our contractors then put in brick walkways, and a few mulched pathways to loosely structure the space. They also planted a few shrubs at the font of the house, and a shade garden of native ferns at the shady end of the yard. The wide open space in front was daunting in the spring of 2021.
But I had been planning and growing seedlings for weeks, so by mid-May, I was ready. Or so I thought. Like all gardens, this one was not without its heartbreaks – rabbits skirting the fence, a too hot June followed by a rainy July. I’ll spare you the photos of rabbit chewed plants, and a few stunted Dahlias (too close to the shade!) and just say, thankfully, by the late summer, my seed-sown plants started to come into their full glory.
I’m not showing the bare patch behind the zinnias, where the rabbits killed my delphiniums, but I am already planning and making lists and dreaming of next year’s garden. And to that end, I’ll share a few of my favorites from this season below and hope to inspire you in planning your 2022 garden!
First, for the uninitiated, here are a few basic facts about washi tape. Washi tape originated in Japan about 15 years ago when someone had the brilliant idea of creating printed masking tape. It gets its name because early designs resembled those that adorn Japanese washi, traditional handmade made paper. (More history here.) Washi tape is light, slightly transparent paper tape that’s versatile, removable, and kind of addicting.
Here are a few ways I’ve used, or plan to use washi tape since I got mine printed:
(1) Tiny flags for drink. Both celebratory and useful, tape a little flag on the end of a bamboo skewer and this flag will function as a stir, a decoration, and a way to tell people’s drinks apart. They also make a great cupcake topper if you use a tooth pick.
(2) Wrapping votive candles – a prefect way to keep things simple but pretty for your next outdoor gathering.
(4) Mark your devices. After adding the ivy tape to my computer charger, I’m no longer stooping to look closely to see whose charger is whose at my house.
For my notepads, I’m thrilled to have worked out plastic free packaging, in the form of a locally printed kraft paper “belly band” which allows me to include label infomation without having to sheath the entire notepad in plastic. A sticker on the back allows me to include plant identification infomation for plant enthusiasts – one of the details I would not want to give up!
(2) Streamlined card packaging
When packaging individual cards, plastic is hard to avoid. Go to any card display, in any store and you will see what I mean – all sheathed in plastic to protect them for a future buyer. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be working to improve my packging. This year, I’ve switched to a lighter, non-sealing sleeve for cards, and reconfigured my cards so there will be no sticker on the back. Small changes, but they add up – in just one year, that means over 4 lbs less plastic used in packaging single cards for Bottle Branch. Hooray! And, yes, card sleeves are still made of compostable PLA, not petroleum which means they’re (1) renewable and (2) biodegradable. I’ll keep watching industry trends to see if these too could be switched to paper labelling and I hope you, my friends will let me know if you think the time is right to switch.
(3) Re-using packing materials
This is not a recent change, but re-using materials is worth noting, as we all know that part of sustainability is re-using, in addition to recycling and reducing. So, every time I receive a shipment, I salvage all usable material for re-use. I have a box in the corner of my workshop that holds bubble wrap, air pillows, packing papers until I can re-use them. (My husband, a neat freak, can often be found eyeing the pile up suspiciously.) I’d share a picture of it, but honestly its pretty awful looking, so here’s an image of my box wall instead.
When packing larger orders and wholesale orders, I first try to pack them in a salvaged box before busting into my supply of fresh shipping materials. This effort undoubtedly requires a little extra time to organize materials, remove old labels, etc. but I consider it worth the effort. Now you’ll know why, if you place a larger order, and it arrives in a funky box.
(4) Phasing out tissue paper
Finally, I’m in the process of switching from using tissue paper (compostable, only rarely recyclable and not in my area) to kraft paper and newsprint (recyclable AND compostable) when wrapping items to ship. I have to admit I love the pretty patterns and colors of printed tissue, and they are hard to give up. But when a customer gently noted that tissue paper is commonly placed in recycling (or, wish-cycled) and ends up gumming up recycling facilities, I knew I had to make the change. For now, I’m using the last of my tissue paper sparingly and padding things as necessary with recylable paper, and looking for prettier, more sustainable options.
Changing packaging and processes while still managing inventory and orders feels a little like steering an ocean liner – my operation can’t exactly ‘turn on a dime.’ So, while these changes are small, I’ll take a moment to feel good about them, before I move on to figure what’s next as I strive to keep my business fresh and green.
At Bottle Branch, all my artwork is inspired by and created using real plants, and so I’ve made a commitment to give 15% of profits back to protect plants and the environments where they grow, and this past year was no exception.
At year end, I donated 15% of 2020 profits to support:
Native Plant Trust, which works to conserve and promote native plants as well as ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes.
Grow Native Mass, which helps spread awareness of the importance of growing native plants and promotes new attitudes towards landscaping.
I confess to being a little bit of a hoarder when it comes to dried flowers. Even with no particular plans to use them, I find the act of cutting and hanging flowers to dry brings much joy and satisfaction during the growing season.
But the truth of my flower drying habit was not always pretty. In fact, it was basically a haphazard mess – a vase of drying hydrangeas here, a bundle of tansy there, and a coat closet filled with little bunches of globe thistles, gomphrena, Joe Pye Weed and more.
Recently, I decided to up my dried flower game. Inspired by Bex Partridge of Botanical Tales, I fashioned a hanging rack for my dried flower bounty. Scrounging around my house, I gathered 3/4 inch dowels from an old project my children have long since outgrown, extra brass curtain rods supports, and a roll of bark covered wire. (Unfortunately, I have no advice on where to find these items, since I don’t remember buying them but they shouldn’t be hard to locate if you want to make your own.)
On a blank wall in my studio space, my husband kindly attached the curtain rods near the top, I rested one dowel on them, then wrapped the wire around the ends, let it hang down and then attached a second dowel about 18 inches below the top one.
Then, I hung the third dowel from a second set of wires. Luckily, dried flowers are lightweight, so everything can hang from just three brackets.
Then, the fun began as I attached bunches of flower held together by rubber bands to S hooks, and hung the bunches from the wooden bars. It felt like it came together in minutes. Voila! Dried flower wall!
To be honest, this method of storing dried flowers goes against most recommendations, as they are exposed to plenty of light in my sunny studio, as well as somewhat erratic temperatures.
But as some one who plans to turn over my stock of dried flower within a year, I’ve decided I’m just not going to worry about that. Who wants to see dried flowers sit around long enough to be dusty? Not me!
Instead, I’m planning to enjoy them this winter and early spring, whether attempting some of the projects in Everlastings, attaching a few sprigs to mid-winter presents, or simply enjoying the feast of soft colors and natural forms as I sit below, and sip tea on a winter day.
Like many people, I’ve taken up mask-making during the ‘pandemic pause’ time of home isolation, and surprisingly, I have LOVED re-acquainting myself with my (very basic) sewing machine.
I’ve also been so happy to use fabric samples I had from my collection on Spoonflower and I will confess the light and bright springiness may have also lifted my mood as I sewed.
When I posted my masks in my instagram stories, I received a lot of requests about possible sales of my masks, and I HAD hoped to make a few to sell for the benefit of charity. But in truth, my output is quite small. I’m just not a very speedy sewer, and the demands of keeping my business afloat amdist all the home cooking and dishes has sadly put a damper on my sewing time.
I also had a lot of questions about which pattern I used and I LOVED this pattern and tutorial SO much, I wanted to share it here. I set the video tutorial up on my laptop, next to my sewing machine so I could watch a step, pause the video, sew, watch the next step, pause the video, sew, etc. – then it was very easy! The elegant design even has a liner/ pocket for a filter and a channel to insert a wire so it fits well across your nose.
I will be occasionally carving out a little time to keep sewing. I’ve just started sewing a few masks for my boys – not in a floral fabric, but using an adorable orange tenugi I brought home from Japan – a memory that also picks up my mood as I work.
Finally, since I feel that no post on face masks would be complete without a photo of someone wearing one, here I am in a very unglamorous selfie, smiling at you, possibly a little unkempt, but ready for the pandemic. Be well, and happy sewing, my friends!
I’ve been known to develop obsessions with particular flowers. One year, it was strawflowers; another year, it was hellebores and lately, it has been Verbascums, also known as Mulleins, in all their varieties.
It started when I left the weedy Verbascum thapsis AKA Common Mullein in my cutting garden, just to watch it grow. And, did it grow! A 7 foot column of yellow flowers and beautiful leaves – a glorious sight that became a topic of conversation in my household and neighborhood.
Verbascum thapsis (the weed) typically grows on rocky, open spots, like train tracks, parking lot edges, etc. and since its not native to North America, some sources list Verbascum thapsis as invasive. Others sources consider it ‘naturalized’ and celebrate its many medicinal uses. I just loved its fuzzy leaves and cheerful flowers buzzing with bees.
The individual flowers open sequentially along the flower spike, from bottom to top: as the flowers below fade and drop off, new ones open above – a lovely metaphor for life and its many opportunities, don’t you think?!
Then, I encountered this ‘nettled-leaved mullein’ when visiting a garden in Maine – Verbascum Chaxii ‘album’ Isn’t it a beauty?I have been seaching for a domestic seed souce for this variety (unsuccessful so far – ideas most welcome!) but in the mean time I’ve planted a few Verbascum ‘Southern Charm” which are coming along nicely and promising to flower soon.
Once it does flower, it will surely appear in my still life and other instagram photos, because I just can’t get enough of all the Verbascums these days. Can you spot the Verbascum in the photo below?
Did you know that February is American Heart Month? I didn’t, but when I found out, my own family’s experience with congenital heart defects (a form of heart disease) came flooding back to me.
One of my sons was born with a congenital heart defect, a very large VSD, or ventricular septal defect; a hole between the two bottom chambers of his heart. Though the VSD is the most common type of congenital heart defect, and often heals on its own, his was exceptionally large, and his VSD didn’t heal.
By the time he was 2 months old, his breathing was labored, and he stopped growing. At three months old, he had his first open heart surgery. He bounced right back, growing and thriving in the following year. But still, he developed a “thrill” or, a heart murmur so significant, it was visible as a small shudder on his tiny chest. Within a year, it was clear he would need another open-heart surgery to repair the structure of his heart, so he was back in the operating room at 16 months.
He’s now 16 years old, grown tall, healthy, and too old to want his current photo on his mother’s blog. Its easy now to forget that he had a rocky start in life, though he carries a long scar down the center of his chest, and two Dacron patches have become part of the structure of his heart.
Reflecting on that time of hospitals, medications, and anxiety, I’m flooded by so many emotions, but mostly gratitude. I’m grateful for the care he received, that we were able to afford it, and to live in a time and place where saving babies born with congenital heart defects is not only possible, but routine.
I’ve written about how my training as a botanist influences the way I see plants, but I haven’t shared much about how my work in environmental science influences my decisions at Bottle Branch. As someone who once studied carbon dynamics in forests and taught environmental science, I can’t ignore issues of sustainability.
So, here are four ways I try to reduce the environmental impacts of Bottle Branch:
(1) Biodegradable card wrappers
In packaging my cards, sticky notes, stickers, gift tags and notepads, I use clear wrappers that are made from compostable material. They work like plastic and look like plastic, but the clear wrappers I use are made from PLA (polylactic acid) which is derived from plants, not petroleum. They’re a bit more brittle that petroleum-derived plastic, and far from perfect, but they’re biodegradable and renewable. You can read more pros and cons of PLA here and about the biodegradability of PLA here.
(2) Recycled Card Stock
All my cards are printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified card stock with between 30% and 100% recycled content. What does FSC certification mean? In short, it means the pulp used to make these papers comes from responsibly managed forests. You can read more about Forest Stewardship Council ceritfication here. In choosing these card stocks, I hope to support both responsible foresty practices and the market for recycled products.
(3) Home grown, pesticide free plant material.
Its no secret that I like to garden and to use those homegrown plants and flowers for my art work, because, well, it’s fun! But homegrown plants are also a more sustainable choice – no pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers or long distance transport. When I do buy flowers, I prefer to buy from local, sustainable flower farms like Five Fork Farms.
(4) Recycled Paper bags, mailers, and tissue paper.
Every order I pack is wrapped in tissue paper made from 100% recycled fibers and shipped in a recycled kraft paper mailer that is made in the USA. Or, if its a local purchase, its delivered in a recycled paper bag. It helps that they’re appealling to the touch and the tissue paper is pretty!
I wish I could write more. I wish I could say all the printing was done using wind or solar power. Or deliveries would be done only in electric vehicles. But in trying not to dwell on all of the other things I could/should be doing to be greener, I’ll remind myself “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and keep on finding little things to do to keep my business fresh and green.