All along the roadside in Virginia the tall stalks of teasel are going to seed. This invasive European weed makes an excellent autumn decoration or even natural Christmas tree ornaments that can be gathered for free. Cut with long stems to create dried arrangements or just take the little seed heads to decorate and hang on the Christmas tree or to decorate a wreath. This is just one of the many remnants of summer growth that become our most affordable craft materials the rest of the year. Fuller’s teasel is Dipsacus fullonum heads are prickly, and came to America with the fuller’s trade, which is the creation of felt from wool. The unique spines shown above were first used to raise the nap on wool felt. It was also used to card wool by pioneer women but was later replaced by manufactured wool cards which are much like a cat hair brush designed to align fibers prior to spinning. It is so vigorous it escaped early into New England wildlands and then followed settlers westward. It is unwise to plant teasel in the garden because it self sows like wildfire and spiny stems make it more difficult to pull.
Just like politics, everybody talks about losing the lawn, but few propose practical and attractive alternatives. The best lawns to replace are at smaller homes, where the alternative must above all, take into consideration the needs of the resident user. That’s why this is the first of many examples I’ll be exploring in the coming months to help you better understand what to do in lieu of your lawn. Here’s a great example of how the lawn can be phased out to create a series of smaller planting spaces amidst a field of pea gravel. This food and flower garden uses simple wood edging and natural soil, which is a far more economical than raised beds. You can still walk through it just as you could across the old lawn, so the change doesn’t interfere with your site-wide circulation. That makes this a really practical choice. This kind of layout with geometric beds in an attractive pattern is an old French idea known as a parterre.
In older neighborhoods all over America the hollyhocks are in bloom. Their huge flowers begin low on their very tall stalk, then move upward as it ages. This is how you know to look low on the stalk to find the first capsules of seed maturing in the midsummer heat. These are the easiest seed to collect and just as simple to grow into stately plants next year. Whenever you walk the dog or just take a stroll, reuse an opened bill envelope as seed container. It folds nicely into the pocket, and if you find a plant with seed you can pick a few of the capsules off and drop them in the envelope. Seed gathered from many plants from different locations will yield fabulous flower color variation compared to store bought. Once at home separate the seed from all the other material to ensure there are no micro-seed eating bugs in there that could destroy it in storage. Then store in a clean envelope, RX bottle or mint tin in a cool, dry place. Hollyhock is a biennial that is best in its second year from seed. Sow it directly into the soil in spring after frost. One seed matures into a HUGE plant quickly, some of them eight feet tall! Hollyhocks from seed are a real old fashioned delight that yields an incredible free floral display.
Gardens are among the best places to remember lost loved ones. Each day I’m working out there, a glance at these tiles brings instant memories of my crazy cattle dogs Blue and Dot. My husband made the surreal mosaic of her and we found the little tile that looks like Blue that once served as a coaster beside my chair. Ceramics are weatherproof and make the best images for these little places of remembrance. Adding little things that help you remember people, places and things imbues your garden with more than mere beauty. It makes the space more contemplative and offers artistic accents that actually mean something. So whether it is a pet, a buried ash urn or an artifact of times past, make your garden more than just a pretty place so it becomes a real part of your authentic self.
Hand made and imperfect in the wabi sabi style has reached the American potter’s world. This odd philosophy derived from Japanese culture celebrates imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness. It can be considered a rebellion against the widespread perfection of mass market manufacturing. With so many excellent ceramics coming out of China, we are overwhelmed with them. So when a pot is created in wabi sabi rustic, it becomes a one of a kind, stand-out item. Match that with the perfect cactus or succulent and you have something truly unique that reflects your own personal style. In the past I might have passed up this pot but now its look, much like that of a child’s project or a beginner’s odd piece, makes it incredibly appealing. We’re not talking fancy glazes and symmetry here. This pot with its texture made by rope impressions offers a beautiful contrast to the symmetry of succulent plants. Those hand made pinch pots on the top row are now hot stuff in the pottery world and surprisingly expensive. Though they may seem easy to make, this is far more difficult than you think. However, for everyone new to making pottery, finally there is a demand for all your weird, funky early work that is far from perfect. And all those starter pots that show up at yard sales are suddenly Wabi Sabi cool. Learn more about wabi sabi at Wickipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi
Altoid mints are a small budget gardener’s two-for-one purchase. The boxes are ideal for storing seeds. This tin lasts a long time and it doesn’t crush easily. It seals with an audible click so I know they are securely stored. A blank address sticker or piece of tape makes a perfect label on the flat top with name and date of collection. Summer is the best time to gather seeds from your garden or those that fall onto common ground around town. Right now my orchid trees and palo verdes are so heavy with seed pods I’ve filled the Altoid tins with them. Come holiday time the seed makes great gifts in-you guessed it-decorated Altoid boxes!