Native Plants in My Garden and Work

Iris versicolor in my garden, summer 2022

As someone who spent time studying wild plant communities and habitats, I can’t help but think about plants and their origins. When I’m considering a garden, these questions come to mind – Where was found before it before it became a common garden plant? What other plants might it have grown near? And, of course, is it a native plant?

So, I’ve always chosen native plants for the main structure of my garden, especially in areas I hope to naturalize. Over the years, I’ve added trees, shrubs, groundcovers like may-apple, Aronia arbutifolia, Christmas fern, inkberry, tulip tree, oak leaf hydrangeas and more to the beds and perimeters of our small property.

In the more cultivated areas of my garden, however, North American naitve plants like Mondara, Rudbeckia and Echinacea mix with “classic” garden flowers like tulips (central Asia), Dahlias (Central America) and strawflowers (Australia). These beds for perennials and annuals remain a glorious riot of plants of all kinds, and as such, they bring me great joy. But in the quieter sections of my garden, the native plants have their moment.

So with this mix of plants outside my door, its no surprise that both native and non-native plants appear in the images I make for Bottle Branch. Today, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite spring native plants that have appeared in some of my card and other paper goods. (Tip: Any plant labelled in the photos below is a north american native plant.)

Pictured in the card above and in the opening image, Blue Flag Iris typically grows in wet conditions, and so in my garden I planted it next to a gutter downspout, where the delicate blooms arch over and among a sea of maiden hair and sensitive ferns. Blue flag iris and lupins also appear in this mini card and this mini card.

Iris crista is another delightful garden plant, pictured in the card below, and in my garden at the bottom of this post. These tiny flowers are so reliable, cheerful and easy to propagate, it’s hard to resist adding them all over the garden. Their bloom time is short, but by having them in multiple places in my garden, I’ve managed to extend the bloom time by a couple of weeks – they may bloom and be gone in once place, just as the buds are getting ready to pop open in another spot. I think they appear in my instagram feed every spring because they are just so cute!!

Native ferns are also among my favorite plants to use in the garden, especially the evergreen Christmas fern. Christmas ferns have been a mainstay of the mixed shade area near my garden shed, and they’ve proven to be a favorite for designing images, from the card pictured above, to my logo, to sticky notes, note pads, washi tape, and more. See if you can spot the Christmas ferns in all these different products.

Outside my studio, I also have a small patch of hay-scented ferns that predates our ownership of the house. Since they are so close to my studio, I enjoy watching them unfurl in the spring and turn gold in the fall. So, its no surprise that hay-scented ferns appear on so many items, including the card above, one of my most popular mini cards, this tray, and so many other items.

This spring, I hope you’ll look for these plants and other natives, in your garden or in the plant nursery. If this discussion of native plants in new to you, here is where you can find more information on WHY its important to plant native and here is a good place to learn about native plants in general, through classes, speakers, seminars and more. Stay tuned for a summer update, because, of course, some of my summer garden’s brightest stars also native plants!

Iris cristata in my garden, summer 2022

Welcome to my new front yard garden

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!

Ten ways to use washi tape

I’ve been having so much fun with my new Bottle Branch washi tape, and I’m excited to share what I’ve been doing.

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.

(4) Present wrapping

(5) Decorate a box for a special present and create a reuasbale gift wrapping option. Watch this video if you want to see it done!

(6) Seal an envelope in a pretty way.

(7) Decorate something mundane! I use this little easel for face-timing on my ipad. Even better with a few waving ferns cheering it up.

(8) Personalize a note book.

(9) Flag special sections of your note book.

(10) Finally, this is my FAVORITE way to use washi tape – instead of a paperclip. It holds papers together but slips easily into an envelope for mailing.

I hope you’ll give a few of these ideas a try – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! And if you’d like to try them with Bottle Branch washi tape, you can shop botanical washi here.

Four ways Bottle Branch is working to be greener in 2021

I’ve written before about my efforts to lessen the environmental impacts of my small business, but since sustainability efforts are ALWAYS a work in progress, here’s a quick update about a few more small environmentally-minded changes I’ve made in the past few months. 

(1) Notepad packaging has gone plastic free.

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.

Giving Back – 2020 year end

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.

Conservation efforts at the historic Houghton Garden, through Newton Conservators 

This charitable commitment helps give meaning to my work, along with your support and enthusiasm. Thank you!

P.S. If you want to learn more about native plants and ecosystems Native Plant Trust offers so many resources including classes, speaker events, and a Garden Plant Finder. Likewise, Grow Native Mass offers a free lecture series, and lots of online resources too.

Wall of Flowers, Dried Flower DIY project

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.

Pandemic pastime: Mask making

single face mask in floral pattern

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.

simple 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.

blue scilla flower pattern by elizabeth pyle

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.

four masks

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.

reverse side of face mask pandemic 2020

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.mask making orange

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!

Flower obsession: Verbascums

verbascum portrait

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.

verbascum thapsis flowers

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 leaves

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.

verbascum phoenecium in gardenI’ve also been smitten with the smaller, more delicate Verbascum phoenecium, which I’ve grown from seed. Since its a perennial, it took 2 years before flowering, but once it bolted, it was mesmerizing to watch.

purple verbascum phoenecium bottle branch blog 2.jpg 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?!

nettle leaved mulleinThen, 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.

verbascum 'southern charm' budsOnce 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?

stilll life with irises and verbascum.JPG

Paper Hearts for People’s Hearts

two heart tags bottle branchDid 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.

baby after heart surgery
post surgery, post intubation, just before leaving the ICU

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.

In gratitude for all these gifts and hopes of helping others experience such positive outcomes, I want to use paper hearts to help people’s heart. For the entire month of February, Bottle Branch will donate 20% retail sales to support Congenital Heart Defect Research though the American Heart Association and the Children’s Heart Network. There are still harder cases, new techniques to be developed, babies, children and adults in need of life-saving surgeries.

As a thank you to those supporting this donation with your purchases, I’ll be giving a free (free!) set of heart gift tags (pictured at the top) to the first 10 orders over $20, starting today.

You can read more about congenital heart defects here.

You can read more about American Heart Month here.

Shop Bottle Branch here.

heart papergoods bottle branch