You go back, Jack, do it again, wheels turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again ...
Well, life is a gamble and so far I feel I'm on a losing streak but at the same time a jackpot winner. This year is about turning inward. It is about staying low and keeping my nose to the grindstone, sharpening my skills and developing new ones. It is about exploring the universe within me and plotting a course for a journey that may actually take me somewhere.
I love being here in this new place that I call home because it is where I feel at home and where I feel in rhythm with the universe, the earth, the tides. It moves and I move with it. It's that feeling I had in Maine (and lost when I moved). Honestly, I don't want to leave, ever. I feel like I have stride again and I don't want to lose that by heading North but there is the lake and that is another special place where I "move with the earth." (See what I mean about that jackpot?) But the village house, yes the one where the Violet Fern Garden is located, will be on the market this summer and I hope to let it go and that it doesn't break my stride.
In this mode of skill development and exploration, I ironically find myself right back where I started and doing it again ... passionate about making a garden and creating art. So again, the garden and art path lies before me and I am going to take it again right here to Cedar Kottage Gardens. I want to be that quirky artist with the funky garden that the townspeople talk about. I think I can/will be.
After all, I've done it before — created a garden, created art — and well, this time I think I will do things a bit differently. I'm really taking my time for one with some unfounded level of patience I never knew I had. I have mentors this time around, too. Mentors I've discovered like Marcia Donahue and Keeyla Meadows. I'm reading my way through Keeyla Meadows' book "Making Gardens Works of Art." Kaylee has me looking at colors and shapes differently and thinking in themes — which I love. Marcia is really stretching my artistic eye and has me thinking how I can reuse materials in an appealing way. I'm also reading Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You." He has given me new perspective on pursuing passions as a career choice. Things are beginning, finally, to fit together in my head. Whereas before I concerned myself with outcomes, I am now concerning myself with processes and development. It's a much better place to be in.
Don't get me wrong thinking that I am oh so in tune — my source of income is still incredibly uncertain and so far zilch, but yet, I feel certain that it will come. I just need to keep on keeping on. I need to stay on this path. I have my momentary break downs, as I think we all do. So there is my deep, philosophical reveal about where I've been on my internal journey the past few weeks. Now let's move on to Cedar Kottage Gardens which is proving to be a challenge.
I am having a difficult time learning about native plants and sourcing them here in Florida. After all, Florida is the land of invasives. I have recently joined the Florida Native Plant Society with the hope of learning more about the plants and where to source them.
Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, grows on the rails of our back deck. It is one of the few native plants I've managed to find. Here it is blooming in February for the first time. You have to love a plant that blooms in February. It's been fun watching the bees fly in and out of its flowers and oh, it also smells divine!
There aren't any nearby nurseries or landscaping stores when I am in fervor on a whim but this may actually be a good thing. I bring pavers in a few at a time whenever we (husband and I), find ourselves in Gainesville which is a good hour and half away. I've managed to plant approximately 5-8 native plants and the rest are either "rescues" or my enamor with all things tropical being stuck in the North my entire life up to now. I need to be extraordinarily organized for a trip to Gainesville with materials listed and latin plant names memorized so that I come back to the island with something positive. Yesterday I managed to find a native cultivar Yaupon Holly cvs Schillings dwarf at Lowe's, but much to my dismay I discovered that this cultivar is strictly male so no berries — poopy! However, even though male it will still flower and the flowers are beneficial to pollinators in the spring, so there's that.
I also have this bias called "I don't want anything that resembles the North" in my new garden - which includes hostas, day lilies, Maple trees and heck yes, even echinacea. Rustic branch structures are out - driftwood structures are in. Tree trunk pedestals are out but palm tree trunks are a-okay. There aren't many stones in FL, but limestone, brick and pavers are permitted and there are shells — many, many oyster and clam shells. Whereas I have decoy fish swimming in my garden up North, I have Palm bark fish swimming here in Cedar Kottage Gardens.
Palm bark fish that will swim in a school along our fence. Apparently many artists make these guys into reindeer but reindeer are much to "Northern" for me.
I love that I can have pots of all sizes and shapes here and leave them in place, year round! I love placing them in group arrangements. Some of the pots will become works of art (especially in the new lizard garden — stay tuned). My (Northern) love of muted, subtle colors and textures doesn't work for me here. I love the bright colors of our newly screened-in front porch: turquoise, coral, sea green, burnt orange and deep sea blue.
Palm tree trunks and an arrangement of pots just in front of the newly screened-in porch in my new love of bright colors. Sadly, none of these potted plants are native but the orange of that Kalanchoe and the just opened Clivia make them winners. A native Passion Vine, Incense, is planted beneath the trellis and will host, hopefully, Zebra Longwing Butterflies — Florida's state butterfly. A Nepenthes, a carnivorous plant, is planted in the hanging pot and suffered from our cold spell but is making a comeback. It is still very young.
Cedar Key recently stopped recycling glass so I am putting all that "glass" to use. Up North I painstakingly scraped all the labels off the wine bottles in my wine bottle border but here the bottles are my edging and the labels stay on. They will disintegrate over time, anyway. (See what I mean about my newfound patience level?) Originally I did this out of desperation for fear of the lawn mowing guy mowing down anything I planted over the summer but now, well, I am recycling!
The back corner of the "yard" when we moved in.
The back corner of the lawn now. The small tree, upper mid-left, I grew from seed. It is not native but a Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica, that flowers beautifully and is usually covered in Monarchs when I walk around the neighborhood which is what attracted me to it in the first place. The fruit is edible and sweet if you're lucky. Apparently it is a crap shoot when growing from seed. It will grow 10-20 ft high. Native Muhly grasses, both pink and white are also planted in this bed. There is also a native beauty berry cut off in the photo. I am so excited to grow this because those purple berries are stunning and not hardy enough to grow in Z4. The patch of Spiderwort, looks like tall grass, is native and I added a Shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeeana, behind that for its tropical blooms. It is not native and not quite in flower yet. There is also a very young key lime tree because who doesn't want to pick their own key limes? Alas, not native. As you can see the lawn looks horrid in the winter and I plan to pave it over with cement tiles and stone and add a little bistro table with chairs over time. That huge "fountain of foliage" is a rescued Sago Palm that was kicked to the curb and will be part of a future kidney-shaped bed in the center.
It is spring here and as such there are some good road finds as people clean up their lawns. My husband and I have scored on two large Sago Palms and what I believe is a Cook Pine (vs. Norfolk Pine) — only because it survived our cold spell — all kicked to the curb. I'm not sure if they'll make it but we brought all of them home anyway and lovingly placed them back into the ground. Hopefully with a little nurturing they'll happily grow again. Sigh, neither are native but they sure have that tropical flair I love.
The view when we moved in. That may be an apricot tree on the left. There were ten fruit trees planted before us including peach, plum, apricot, and apple.
The view now. Another rescued Sago Palm and the beginning of a garden path. I have been mulching the fruit trees but need to weed and add more mulch. I simply placed cardboard around them and used some lumber that was left under the deck to build a frame for around the tree and mulched over it. It held up pretty well over the course of a year. I'll continue mulching and weeding out the grass and over time it should hold its own. I plan to plant a white bird of paradise in the new bed where the bottle edge is. It is not native but oh what tropical flair! I can't resist. I want to sit on the deck and be surrounded by tropical foliage.
These cactus bracts were laying in the road, fallen off the mother plant, in early winter so I scooped them up thinking they were fair game and placed them in a pot — obviously they have rooted with the onset of spring. I'm hoping the same for the century plant (another curb outcast that was too mangled to grab whole so I cut off a few leaves that I also hope will root). I don't know if either of these is native to this area but I do know they grow well here in spite of cold spells.
These roadside "rescued" cactus bracts are beginning to grow. I am hoping the same for the blue-grey century spikes behind them.
Another roadside rescue, Captain Cook. A cook's pine I believe as a Norfolk Pine wouldn't have faired well in our cold spell this winter.
I can't begin to fathom how I am going to learn about the many, many succulents and which may possibly be native? All I know is that succulents are the name of the game. They grow fantastically in pots year round with minimal care. I pick up 2" pots at Lowes or Home Depot and arrange them in my pots. They remind me of corals, the ocean, the sea. I have one started in a Whelk Lightning shell, too — fun!
Also at the front entrance of the screened-in porch, various succulents in a collection of pots. Indigenous clam shells fill a little drainage area.
This pot border marks the line of the new Lizard Garden. I am going to paint all sorts of colorful lizards on the pots and plant them with succulents. I still need a couple more larger pots (next trip to Gainesville?). This rectangular area will be mulched by the time we leave for summer and there's a native cabbage palm tree start, Sabal palmetto, on the other side of our house in a not so convenient spot I am going to move here as well so I can view it from the porch. The cactus will be planted here as well. There are many lizards that roam here during the day and they, too, are mostly invasive although I did see a native ground skink one day on our porch! The little lizard guys love to sun themselves and the pots will be great for sunbathing.
Another native that visits the garden so far, the Florida Box Turtle. Larger ones pass through and I find many babies in the backyard when I'm digging. I want to research them more and see what I can do to create habitat for them. They are really cool!
There you have it, the humble beginnings of a "do it again garden." I'll be busy painting, planting, and cooking over here.
It's been some time since I've written and here we are in a brand new year. Welcome to 2018 in which my mantra is "PAINT, PLANT, COOK." My real goal is to make some kind of personal income but in order to achieve that goal I must paint, plant cook, repeat. This is what I know. This is how. It's the how I am wrestling with.
I didn't spend the new year in my usual in bed by ten, quiet, reflective mode over some home cooked black-eyed peas for good luck — a tradition which I actually do enjoy. This year things were shaken up a bit and impassable opportunities were seized. Those opportunities were 8th row seats to Jimmy Buffett in Nashville! Who turns that down?! Not me! It was marvelously fun, if a bit cold. I'd say an unusual, possible record-breaking 8°F in Nashville. However, it seems the entire nation was in a state of deep freeze this New Year. I really wish the term "global warming" was put to death and corrected to a consistent use of "climate change" or "global wrecking." As a gardener I am sure glad I didn't heed our new zone status up North and stuck to the old tried and true zone 4. I digress.
So, things started off with a bang with travel, and good friends and family, and I actually was awake up until and after midnight! This tells me 2018 is going to be a year of "shake ups" and I welcome that!
Painting is not new to me BUT opening an Etsy store is! My Etsy store is a baby but will grow up through the course of the year. For now I am only selling original artwork.
Something else that's new? Taking a course with Lila Rogers! — something I have quietly dreamed of doing for the past two, three years. I am taking MATS A (Making Art That Sells) and exploring five popular markets for licensed art in which my watercolor painting can be applied. It is eye and brain opening and I am learning lots and most importantly, gaining courage. Some of you may have already seen this work if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram or if you received a Christmas card from me this year.
Planting is not new to me, either. And although I don't have any immediate "shake ups," I would say this shake up happened last year by purchasing our cottage in FL in balmy Z9. I am learning to garden five zones higher/lower. So, planting is where I started first in my mantra but I want to put painting first and thus the order PAINT, PLANT, COOK. I love to cook with my own home grown ingredients and so cooking naturally follows planting. I am enjoying using fresh produce from my "second season" at the Cedar Key Community Garden — lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, and herbs.
Cooking is not new to me either since adopting a plant-based eating lifestyle five? six? years ago. BUT I am taking it to the ultimate level by becoming a certified plant-based chef! I am enrolled in Rouxbe cooking school for the next 6 or so months. When I graduate I hope to design and write a cookbook for a new business adventure, Plant Radical. My husband and I are pretty forward thinkers and we are looking ahead at how and where we want to work in our future since official retirement is not really part of our plan. Plant Radical is a baby that we hope to nuture and see grow into our mature years. It is based on ... you guessed it, plants and a plant-based lifestyle. It's what we know.
So yeah, things are moving and shaking once again. My little burn out and rest period are over. Happy 2018!
Finally I reveal the lake! I've been taunting and teasing you for months, I know. I feel like my last few posts have been nothing but complaints, and I absolutely have nothing to complain about! Hello, struggling human here trying to be better, bigger (but not in a physical way, please), complete-er, grateful, accomplished, healthy, wellthy ... it IS a struggle, for me, anyway. However, this summer I've come to realize a few things.
(BTW this is a long post BUT there'll be lots of nice pictures. Get your cup of coffee, or wine, or both ...)
One is that I just totally needed a break. This past decade I have moved from Maine to NY, lived in an apartment, bought a house, moved again, started a garden from scratch, worked in a library, worked with my husband, quit working the library, quit working with my husband, joined in the start up of a co-op, worked in the co-op, quit the co-op, joined a community garden, left the community garden, made more of my own garden, traveled to Florida six times, bought a house in Florida, moved the contents of a parents' condo to the house in Florida, installed floors, ripped out carpet, painted walls, painted more walls, bought raw land property, built a tiny 12x12 "fort," built a 12x12 shed, bought a kayak, learned to kayak, sold a boat, said goodbye to two wonderful dogs, said goodbye to an uncle and my in-laws, painted over a 100 paintings large and small, entered approximately 15-20 art shows, joined a plein air painting group, created the NNY Art Trail, built five websites, started a blog, became a master gardener, stayed a master gardener, started a gardening business, worked as a gardener, joined a gallery, joined a gardening club, became president of the gardening club, left the gallery, started my own gallery left the gardening club, left the gardening job and found myself back in my own garden in my own backyard totally ... burned ... out.
I've been beating myself up for not putting any effort into the gallery this summer but really, I just needed a break. Forgiven. I have learned to breathe again these past few months!
When we first moved into this house, a decade ago, there wasn't much landscaping: a barberry bush, a dogwood shrub, a few hostas and other random perennials. I had just come from the woods of Maine and I craved nature. Secondly, I have come to realize I am so a nature girl. My garden here, the Violet Fern Garden, is my manifestation of the nature I craved and needed. It is not a mistake. It is not a too big garden for one person to manage in a reasonable amount of time. It is a manifestation of nature and it lives! There are birds, bees, beetles, weeds, spiders, snails, slugs, dragonflies, weeds, vegetables, frogs, crickets, mice, flowers, weeds, berries, trees, weeds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, and recently a possum! It seems all the neighborhood cats come to hunt here, unfortunately, and a rant for another day. In my second blog post on October 9, 2009, I wrote this:
"Before moving here we lived in Maine where I left behind “a garden in the making” of three years and was just beginning to enjoy. We were blessed with lots of wildlife and scenic views. Oh, what I could have done with those two acres given more time! But, we made the choice to move to Northern NY to be closer to family and friends and a good choice it was. I now live in a village with a much smaller lot (as pictured in previous post) – oh, and a chain link fence – great, but consider it the best challenge – if I can create a garden here that attracts wildlife it will be quite an accomplishment!"
I can confidently say I have created a garden here that attracts wildlife. Mission accomplished. And so why the feeling of my loss of connection with my garden? I have come to realize that, too. The lake now feeds my craving for nature more fully than the Violet Fern Garden for it is nature — land, wild land where poison ivy and warblers and wild creatures roam. And although the Violet Fern Garden really is an incredible thing and still holds a prominent place in my heart, the lake has become my true love. My flame now burns there. The third thing I've come to realize is that the village is no place for a nature girl no matter how much work she puts into it. So let's get onto it and introduce the lake.
We (my husband and I), first started out just camping at the lake — yes, like in a tent. Then we built a platform 12x12 because that is the size limit before you need a permit to build, that would become our "permanent tent" or what we fondly refer to as the shack. (Oh, there's my dog Mojo now passed. It still hurts.)
We chose a relatively flat area to build the shack that happens to be in the middle of a Hemlock grove, a little ways away from the poured piers that came with the land and where we will eventually build a house with permits, of course. The plan is that the shack becomes our guest quarters once we have the house built. We are now trying to refer to our shack as our adult fort because, well, it's a little nicer than a shack.
The piers that will eventually hold up our modest but dream lake house. Perfectly set into the land for optimal solar power!
(Above) The beginning platform and frame work for the shack.
(Below) We just finished "siding" the shack, er, fort this summer. Next year we plan to screen in the little deck area.
Come on in. The inside is lavishly sided in white cedar. The floors are pine. I love the moth blanket I purchased from Society 6 — how I wish I could credit the artist, but no longer have my receipt. We are "testing" things with this small model. Solar will, hopefully, power a small refrigerator next year. Currently we have candles and led lights for lighting. We have a small on demand water heater for doing dishes and showering — both are located outside. The pump is run on battery. Propane is used for cooking and heating both the water and interior. We have a compost toilet from Nature's Head.
I was told by my master gardener instructor that a Hemlock with a trunk diameter of over 18 inches may be around 200 years old. I have yet to measure some of these Hemlocks but my guess is they are quite old. I plan to paint a large picture of these beauties, "My People."
Our fort sits atop a hill and overlooks what I call the "moss forest" and then the lake.
Last year we invested in having a dock built so it's easy to store and jump in our kayaks and go. When we first get to the lake we run down to the dock and put up our flag — let freedom ring.
And so this is to where my life is slowly transitioning. Here (below), is where I hope to have a small studio space — just up from the dock. We plan to side all our outbuildings just like our fort so there is some sense of cohesiveness. I envision holding artist retreats here someday, perhaps a workshop or two ...
Here is a peek at my new garden along our "driveway" complete with two ponds and vernal pools. I have been scattering seeds from the Violet Fern Garden: Rudbeckia Laciniata, Joe-Pye, Summer Nights Daisies, Purple Coneflower, Cup Plant. I have planted some starts of Lupine, Wild Bergamot and Milkweeds I grew from seed. I have transplanted Cranberry Viburnum and Trumpet Vine along the future paths from the house to the fort, from the fort to the dock. I hope to start Button Bush, Swamp Milkweeds, Cardinal Flowers along the shore. Add Dogwoods, Willows, Chokeberries, spring ephemerals, woodland plants. There is no edging, weeding, mulching here. I want it to very much remain wild and feed my nature crave. I want to very much let go of control.
I hope you have enjoyed this not-so-brief introduction. I now leave you with some views of the lake — enjoy!
Stay up to date with what's happening with the Violet Fern Art Studio & Garden. Sign up for my newsletter below.
Author Kathy Sturr
In this blog I may write about the garden, flowers, plants, and the garden ... mostly the garden, but also new art and inspiration.