Springtime garden dreaming

native withch havelJPG

Hello. It’s been a while.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been busy. I’ve been attending year end performances, cleaning out the garage, transporting children, filling out permission slips, trying to get a squeaky faucet fixed, and so on. And, of course, I’ve also been busy in my garden.

I started seeds, watched them grow, carried them in and out of the house to harden them off, and now, just this week, planted them outside.

I pruned a dozen inkberry bushes and then luxuriated in the resulting clippings and their glossy foliage and even made a wreath from the cuttings. Sadly, the wreath was a failure, as it turned brown about 24 hours after I hung it in my house, and before I took a photos of the final product, but the project was fun.

I’ve been Instagraming the flowers that have emerged in my garden and trying not to get too excited in anticipation of the ones I hope will bloom soon. (You never know when tragedy may stike in the form of a garden pest.)

I’ve been puttering, planting, and scheming about how to keep the rabbits from eating everything that’s not contained in the fenced enclosure around my vegetable patch. I’ve been thinking about moving some ferns and what to plant in their place.

may apple flower

I’ve been admiring my mayapple which came back five times bigger this year than last. In short, I’ve been happily caught up planning and dreaming in my garden, caught up in the spirit of spring. Happily, I am now caught up here on my blog as well. Happy spring my friends! I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

hot pink peony

The godmother of botanical needlework

Gerda Bentgesson from Danish stitchery book
Wall hanging by Gerda Bengtsson, from Gerda Bengtsson’s Book of Danish Stitchery

As some of you know, I studied botany as a graduate student. I spent hours pouring over plant specimens, flipping through dichotomous keys, and learning terms like “stipules.” There were nights when my dreams were filled with swirling leaf shapes, fragile rootlets, and constellations of flowers.

Now, I dream of others things, but I have retained a love of plant forms. These shapes sometimes inspire my creative projects, but for true, breathtaking, botanically inspired work, I consult the books of Gerda Bengtsson. Published in the 1970’s and 1980’s her books are mostly out of print, but still, easy to find.

Rosa Moyesii by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering Plants in counted cross-stitch.

Like 18th and 19th century botanical prints, Bengtsson’s designs show specific knowledge of plants and convey appreciation for the varieties of plant form. Yet, they are pretty and decorative.

Senna by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering branches in counted cross-stitch

Flowers and plants are often generic and stylized in needlework, however beautiful. In contrast, Bengtsson’s designs are botanically correct, but also balanced and artistic.

Mountain Ash by Gerda Bentgsson. From Dye PLants nad Fruits in Cross -stitch
Mountain Ash by Gerda Bengtsson. From Dye Plants and Fruits in Cross -stitch

Bengtsson worked mostly in cross-stitch, but much of her published work consists of charted designs that could also be used for needlepoint, and other mediums.

In my mind, Gerda Bengtsson is the godmother of all botanical needlework. When I tried to do a little online research, I didn’t find much. From her books I know she trained as a painter and later switched to textiles. She was also part of the Danish Handcraft guild.  My research did turn up a great pinterest board and many of her designs are available in cross stitch kits here.

Since I’m not much for cross-stitch, I mostly just pour over her books and swoon, but I did recently complete a Bentgesson-inspired embroidery piece. I’ll tell you about that in my next post.

Friday Photo: travel ahead


I’m packing today for a trip to warmer lands, specifically, Arizona.

I spent a week in Arizona last March, when I took this photo. Springtime is when Sonoran desert plants bloom – before the hot and dry summer. What a thrill it was to see so many blooms in the desert. I’m hoping to see more this trip.

I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging next week or not, but I’ll definitely be posting photos on instagram, and I would love have you join me there!

Also, I’m linking up with Martha at Weekend Doings for a picture… a moment and Catherine at Knotted Cotton for a mid-month Slow Bloggers Linky.

A summer screenprint and a giveaway!


Last summer, when my children were squared away in day camp for a few weeks, I decided to teach myself some printing techniques.  I had been admiring beautiful hand-printed tea towels on etsy and felt a persistent itch to try it myself.

I tried out a few different techniques and one of my successful projects was this wild oats print, made by screen print.

To teach myself, I watched what felt like a thousand youtube video tutorials. I wish I could point to one particularly helpful tutorial, but none stood out, though several were helpful. In the end, the clear, step-by-step instructions in the book Print Liberation helped the most.  Plus, the book is edgy enough that it made me feel just a tiny bit hip.

After creating my screen using a photo emulsion technique, I printed on newsprint, I printed on scraps of old sheets and finally, I printed on linen tea towels I had ordered online. None of my prints were perfect but most were satisfying to create.


I printed these wild oats in perky spring green and some in a beautiful fall golden yellow, which some how escaped my camera. I washed, dried, ironed, folded and packed them away to be presents.

Now that Christmas is over, I have officially given them all away… except for one, which I now offer to send to a randomly drawn winner. To enter to win this 100% linen, hand printed tea towel, please leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner next Friday, January 17th. On the off chance that I don’t actually know you in person or Facebook, please make sure you include your email address in the comment form so I can contact you. (It won’t appear online.) I’m pretty sure the competition will be sparse so give it a try! I can tell you from experience it’s a thrill to win a blog giveaway, no matter what the stakes. (Thanks, Kate at book nook!)

I’ll be posting a few more of my summer printing projects soon, though I can’t promise any more giveaways. In the meantime, my wild oats screen rests in the basement, waiting patiently until next summer.

P.S. I had to include this last photo too. In addition to printing, I was experimenting with staging photos a lot last summer. Those were peonies from my garden. I can hardly belive how dreamy they look! I can hardly wait to get back in the garden!


A tree blooms in Boston

styrax japonicus

Every spring, this small tree blooms in my yard, its branches covered in these dangling white blossoms. For the first 3 years I lived here, I fretted, trying to determine what kind of tree it was. I asked arborists, landscapers, pretty much everyone who came near it. I googled “carolina silver bells” and “amelanchier” knowing they weren’t quite right, but hoping to get a clue to this plant’s identity. I felt like a failure as a botanist.

Finally, I remembered botanical keys and consulted Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas, arriving at the genus Styrax, a close relative of Carolina silverbells. After some internet research, I decided it had to be Styrax japonicus.

One mystery solved.


My next question (How did it get here?) was answered by an older, plant-loving neighbor. When I told her about my Styrax, she said, “Oh, yes, I belive the arboretum [nearby Arnold arboretum] used to give out seedlings and one year they gave out Styrax. There are probably others in the neighborhood.”

I have yet to see one, but when I do, I will definitely know it.

How to press plants like a botanist

ready to press

In May, my yard has been filled with Lily of the Valley. Perhaps this is why I felt so cavelier about pulling these flowers up in bunches for my latest project.

As a botany graduate student, I used to go plant collecting, pressing and saving weeds and specimens to learn and remember. That’s when I acquired this plant press and filled the layers with wild collected specimens of  Gnapthalium, Lespezeda, and Verbascum.

Only recently did I think to use my plant press to preserve specimens from my garden. Since I hadn’t used the press in years, I ordered new supplies: cardboard ventilators to go in between specimens, white paper blotters to help absorb moisture as the plant dries out, and new straps to pull the flat layers of the plant press tight. (That’s why the blotters look so fresh and clean in the photo.)

plant press

Once my new plant press supplies arrived, I pulled up some lily of the valley and got started. To press them, each plant should go inside a few layers of newspaper, and any notes about the plant or collection date can be scrawled on the paper. I wanted these specimens to be decorative, so I tried to spread the leaves out a little before closing the newspaper and placing it between newspaper and blotter layers.


Each specimen, inside its folded newspaper gets stacked on top of a white blotter layer and then on a cardboard ventilator. These layers – cardboard, blotter, plant in newspaper then get stacked up like a layer cake and placed between the wooden ends of the plant press.


With my stack of plants and papers organized in my press, I put the straps around it, pressed down on the top board, and tightened the buckles. Admittedly, there was a crunching sound – not something I remember from my earlier days studying botany, and something that made me wince.

pressed lily of the valley

A week later, I opened the press up and found this, beautifully pressed specimen. Not sure why but it was a thrill. I’ll let these pressed plants dry a few more weeks and then mount them, maybe frame them. We’ll see….