September in New England…

Many of you know my long time friend Claudia Altemus, from Berea College. She was my maid of honor in my wedding and we have reconnected. Sometimes, we  feel as if we were connected at the hip because we share so many things in common. Claudia is an avid gardener, both by necessity and also, just because she loves it and feels that more of us should be making the effort to make ourselves more sustainable and use our own resources rather than rely so heavily on mass production of foods and products. I share these views and asked Claudia if she would contribute a segment to my blog. She agreed, but only if she could write it as if she were writing me a letter. What a lovely idea, don’t you think? So I dressed the wording up to make it even more special and am happy to share the first in a series of posts by Claudia for you to read today. We want to make this a regular sharing of ideas about nature, environmental issues and homesteading but, today her letter is about the asters and the butterflies in her garden as Fall is arriving in New England.

Enjoy and Thank You, Claudia, for a wonderful addition to the blog.

Do You Save Your Seeds?

Last week I received my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds for the winter greens that I have planted in my cold frames for the past 2 years. I only spent about $20 for the seeds that I purchased for this year. With money a bit tight, I ordered a few of the varieties that I have gotten in the past, but I have also learned that I only really need a few packs to get the frames planted for the winter season so I probably had been wasting money in the past.

A few weeks ago, I started prepping the cold frame beds. Herb turned our compost bin and we put our sifter, which is a stand we built out of scrap wood that has carpenter’s cloth wire screen on top of it, and sifted compost into the empty beds. I turned to soil in each bed and mixed in the fresh compost. This added some fresh nutrients and red worms to the beds so that the plants will have a good start with soft soil.

The zinnias that I used for the flower arrangements at John and Erin’s wedding in July were in these garden beds and were just beautiful but I needed the space for my winter greens. I decided to save those zinnia seeds so that next year I don’t have to purchase those seeds. I pulled out the plants and cut the blossoms and put them in a box to allow them to dry out for a week or two. In the past, when I have saved seeds, I use an office sized envelope, lick and seal the flap and then cut it in half. This gives you a packet for your seeds. Often, a charity will send me a “free gift” of address labels to get me to send a donation to them and I save those labels and found those to be a perfect way to seal the envelopes filled with the seeds and then I use a sharpie and label the pack with the seed name and the date. The seeds are then stored in a cool place ready for next year.

Some additional great resources for you to get info from:

Fairy Garden Redo

dead plant in back

 

Being extremely busy with trying to get ready to the Ol Time Edinburg Festival and being away for a week in Seattle, I didn’t give my fairy garden the water that it needed and so one of the larger plants died. I also think there may have been an air pocket in that back corner of the planter where the plant wasn’t getting the water that it needed when I did water it.

SO, I wanted to get it ready to take to the Festival in Edinburg this past weekend and I didn’t really have the funds to go and purchase a new plant so I thought I would share how I went about redoing the planter, at least from the planting perspective so that you can see my approach to a new look and a refresh of items in the planter.

removed all plant materials

I took out all the ceramic decorative items first and put them aside. Then I took out all the plant material.

So now, with a fresh canvas to work on and I can decide the new direction for the planter using plant materials that I still have and add some from my yard. My first thought is to take the boxwood and make it the feature plant and center it in the planter with the smaller plants on either side. At this point I haven’t scouted out the yard for something to add.

Scouting out plant material is something that I do often for many projects and you can certainly do the same. For this project, I was looking for something that would look forest like, would fill some of the space and would scale to the planter. I came across my sedum,

Boxwood centered

Autumn Joy, and thought that would give me some forest like stems but would also add some color for the festival. I have several planters of this in the yard in addition to having them in some of the flower beds so I had plenty to spare.

I divided the sedum and took some and put in the planter. At this point, the boxwood needed to move to the right of center and the sedum goes on the left. The smaller cypress that I still had could then become a small tree in the yard area between the houses.

 

 

sedum "Autumn Joy"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedum and Cypress in place

 

 

Then I put all the elements in place and stepped back to take a look. I didn’t like it. It looked too much like the old version. I wanted it to have a different flavor, the sedum just wasn’t working for me and it was a bit too floppy in the back. So I took it all out and started again.

 

 

 

 

artemisia as trees

 

Hens, chick, pumpkins and curly que vines

 

Instead of trying to add a new plant, I decided to showcase some miniature pumpkins that I had made for Fall and thought it would be fun to add a small pumpkin patch between the houses.  This also meant that I needed to move the smaller cypress toward the back to allow for the garden space. I also found that I had some artemisia in a concrete planter in the front of the house that I could use as filler behind the small house to cover that back wall, give it a better scale than the sedum and add a new feel to the small house. 

 

finished redo of the Fairy Garden for Fall

This now works for me and I could add a few of the ghosts that I made to compliment the fall Halloween theme. I moved some of the hens and chicks both from this planter and from some in the backyard to plant with the pumpkins and they look like mini cabbages or heads of lettuces. I tried to plant them in rows, much like a garden would look. The mini pumpkins have small curly pieces of clay to mimic the vines that they grow on so that added the look and the hens and chicks filled in the space. I like this!

Now to just put everything else in to finish it up.

If you look closely, you can see that I put a fairy garden sign in the seam that is in the lower front of the planter. The blue butterfly chair is just a leftover that will go away, and I took some stepping stones to add to the seams on the left to add some interest where my hens and chicks haven’t filled in yet.

So, enjoy the redo of my fairy garden and don’t forget to water yours or you will be doing yours over too. I think it is fun to remake it for the different times of the year, but I don’t really want to kill the plants to do that. Changing the elements is certainly easier than a replant to get a new look, but you may still need to trim the plants or take them out if they get too big. The key to them getting too big though is to add water, which I seem to forget to do. Maybe I need to hire a new fairy to take care of that for me.

 

finding my voice, literally…

On Monday of this week, I attended and participated in my first gallery show since college. The show is part of a process that I am going through in order to be juried into the Artisan Center of Virginia. As a way to bring the jurors to the show and allow them the freedom to view the work on their own schedule, the ACV put the show together. The artists in the show consist of those artists that are already considered a “professional artisan” with the ACV and a few of us who are trying to become “professional artisan”.

I arrived a bit late to the reception and the room was full of students of Mary Baldwin College, the school that is hosting the show. The show is called Artisans & Agroecology:The Cultural Connection Between Craft and Rural Life and is in the Hunt Gallery. I wasn’t expecting the room to be full and just expected to mingle around with the artists and whoever might be stopping by. In the back of the room, I hear the ACV director, Sherri Smith talking, explaining to the students how they are important to the ACV as the next generation of artists and craftsmen. Part of the discussion at the conference back in August was how to get the younger generation involved and this was the perfect audience for her to address with this plea.

When Sherri finished and had had all the participating artists to raise their hands so the students could recognize us, a woman asked if the artists would each come forward and tell a little about our work. It was at this moment that I realized I wasn’t sure what I would/should say.

As we worked our way to the front of the room, I had lots of things going through my mind but wanted to be brief. I am very self conscious about my North Carolina accent and that always is in the back of my mind but now I was going to have to say something about why I was there and what I do. Luckily, I didn’t have to go first so I was able to get an idea of how to do this by listening to a couple of artists that went before me.

So, basically, I said, “I am Susie Wilburn and I live in Toms Brook, just north of here. I am not considered a “professional artisan” yet but hopefully after this show that I will be. I have been in the printing industry for the past 26 years and after losing my job, just over a year ago, I have reverted back to my college love and trying to reinvent myself as a potter. I am experimenting with different clays and glazes and forms and am still trying to find my voice”. I didn’t discuss the fossils, frogs, how I come up with my ideas, a philosophy of why I do the images or my processes. I could have discussed the work in more detail but I am see myself as a newbie and don’t really see myself as having much to share. I think I need to rethink that.

I felt that I did okay, but the more I think about it, I am probably going to have to work on this some. I had one of the students approach me, not because of my work, but because she is originally from Strasburg so she want to just bond with someone from home. In talking to her, I realized the impact that I probably could’ve had on the students with my words. She was taking a ceramics class and they had just done pinch pots so I was able to talk craft with her some. For the most part though, I think that the students were there as a requirement and really not interested in me or my work. I didn’t see that many students really approach the artists to pick their brains for inspiration.

I have to also put a plug in here for the school that I went to 30+ years ago. In talking to the student, I was asking her about the art program at Mary Baldwin. When she told me about her ceramics class, I asked if they had a pottery and were they teaching the students how to throw a pot. Basically, it sounded like a very simple class and they didn’t have the extensive program that I came from. In explaining Berea College to this student and listening to my words, I realized just how lucky that I was to have had the experience to have a college that not only provided such diversity but to require that the students work and how inexpensive my four years actually was. I explained Berea’s goal to help the poor students of the Appalachian region attain a college education and that they didn’t charge tuition but only charged for room and board. She then volunteered that Mary Baldwin College costs $34,000 per year. However, the ranking page with US News lists the college tuition costs at $28K. Room and Board is an additional $8K. WHOA! I know that at current rates that Berea is only about $980 tuition per year and the room and board about $6K putting the yearly costs at about $7K.  What is this student really getting for that $34K? Have her parents taken on that debt or is she? If she is going to major in art, how is she going to pay that amount of money back and what kind of program does Mary Baldwin offer to help those students become employed after college to help relieve that debt? This would be a totally new post that involves lots of questions, not answers, I’m afraid.

So, as I go forward and see myself in more situations where I will be asked about my work and my processes, I need to work on this. Many times, I feel like I just do what I do and don’t really think about explaining it to someone else. I need to start thinking about breaking down the process better, thinking more about explaining where my ideas come from, why I use the images that I use and share more about why I love my new life as an artist. Hopefully, a “professional artisan” soon.

 

Cold Frame Gardening

Visiting the Pacific Northwest and seeing how Seattle is such a wonderful place for fresh vegetables and organic foods and composting and recycling and rain

Grapefruit sized Onions at Ballard Market, Seattle

gardens, (it has been sunny all week, BTW) I thought I would put a new link to my old “how-to” for building a cold frame so that you can grow winter greens and veggies. I have changed the host of my blog since the first posting of it and I think it lost some of the information that had been on there the first time around. Anyway, here is the link for the cold frame guide when I built my frames… I’ll go back next week and try and get my own replanted and the winter greens started in my own backyard. In the meantime, from Seattle, here is a little gardening inspiration for you.