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!
This is an article I wrote for our Cornell NY Jefferson County Extension Horticulture Newsletter.
Merriam-Webster defines a garden as:
1. 1a: a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated
b: a rich well-cultivated region
c: a container (such as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants
... but maybe the definition of garden should be updated.
The new garden:
1. 1a: a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, vegetables and native flora and fauna are encouraged to grow in harmony, organically
b: a network of rich, life-sustaining regions
c: a container (such as a sustainable grow bag) planted with beneficial plants to humans and wildlife
Habitat loss is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or World Conservation Union) Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").
The new garden is perhaps a result of the increasing loss of habitat due to destruction (direct destruction of habitat), fragmentation (habitat fragmented by roads, development, damns and/or water diversions), or degradation (pollution, invasive species) as described by the National Wildlife Federation.
Our inherent way of thinking is that "nature is out there" in our wild, state and national parks, in the country, in the woods. This is not necessarily so as development increases and habits decrease. Nature is becoming more frequently forced to live right beside us. The new garden is important. It enables us to do something to help sustain life on our planet. Our new gardens offer a network of habitats that defragment habit loss.
Consider the Pollinator Pathway Project, a collaboration between Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy through YardMap.org, an online citizen science community whereby gardeners can map their gardens including information such as location, specific plantings, green practices, aiding in the study of backyard sustainable habitat. The site also offers tips and advice on creating habitat. A stop along this pathway created by our local master gardeners, can be seen in the front yard of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Watertown, NY. My own garden, in addition to my fellow master gardeners' gardens, is also registered on the pathway.
Consider national, not-for-profit environmental education and advocacy organization Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes, whose mission is to promote environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. Learn more at WildOnes.org.
"If you were to visit ecosystems all over the world and count the number of species in each, an unmistakable pattern would soon emerge from your efforts: ecosystems built from indigenous organisms would contain more species than ecosystems infused by non-native organisms." — Douglas Tallamy, The Living Landscape
While native plants play an important role in the new garden, it isn't wrong to mix them among your favorites or establish a planting that grows well together or rather "design a plant community" as author Thomas Rainer might put it.
"A designed plant community is a translation of a wild plant community into a cultural language. Why do plant communities need translating? ... The process of urbanization has entirely altered the environmental conditions. So a designed plant community may reflect these changes by incorporating a narrower selection of the most adaptive species." — Thomas Rainer, Planting in a Post-Wild World
What can you do to untame your garden and make it "new?"
1. Incorporate some native plants into your landscape. Native plants can be sourced online. PrairieMoonNursery.com and PrairieNursery.com are two great places to start. Amanda's Garden in Danville, NY outside of Rochester, and White Oak Nursery in Geneva, NY also offer mail order plants if you cannot make the drive.
2. Remove any invasive species from your landscape such as Barberry and Burning Bush. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden offers a guide, Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants as does Cornell, nysipm.cornell.edu.
3. Incorporate sustainable gardening practices: composting, leaving your leaves, water conservation, living mulches (groundcovers that replace mulch).
4. Learn to garden organically; do not use pesticides.
5. Design plant communities that are closely planted together. This reduces weeds and invasive plants taking hold, and also offers cover for wildlife. Imagine your yard as a series of islands for wildlife and connect those islands with safe "tunnels" of plants.
6. Plan for blooms spring through fall. Early spring daffodils will not feed newly emerging bees but the flowers of a native Serviceberry tree or shrub will. Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod feed pollinators in late summer and fall.
7. Plant host plants (plants that feed the caterpillars of certain species, i.e. Milkweeds for Monarchs, Dill or Parsley for Black Swallowtail Butterflies). Learn more about host plants: nativeplantherald.prairienursery.com.
8. Garden in layers: tree, shrub/vine, perennial/woody plants, ground cover. This will create an overall rich, biodiverse landscape.
9. Save clean up for Spring. Many living organisms overwinter in leaf cover and in the stems of plants. Want fireflies next summer? Leave your leaves and woody stems! Many of our native solitary bees use plant stem nurseries.
10. Observe and learn. Taking note of the bees, butterflies, and birds in your landscape can be a wonderful learning experience. Begin a nature journal or join any of the citizen science projects out there such as Project Feeder Watch, Nest Watch, or The Great Sunflower Project.
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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.