Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A poppy pops up most unexpectedly, and other reports from the late summer garden

I went outside to bring out some trash this morning and was surprised by this sweet little poppy growing amongst the daisies and thistles next to the sidewalk. It's at the edge of the area that is slated to become our kitchen garden, and I am planning a mixed border, including self-sowing annuals, to run along the outside of the as-yet-to-be-installed picket fence, to attract beneficial insects and serve as a cutting garden for bouquets, as well as to simply look pretty. And here's a cheerful reminder to include poppies in that mix!

I have no idea how it got here, of course. I am pretty certain there were no poppies in any part of the garden last year (though it is possible I overlooked them or forgot). At first I thought the seeds may have come from the compost—mine or someone else's—but I don't think it's breadseed poppy (P. somniferum), that's usually taller and most likely a "single" blossom, not a flouncy double like this one. Perhaps it came from someone's wildflower mix, but how it got here remains a mystery. Birds? A squirrel or chipmunk? One of our many nonhuman gardeners of happenstance, surely.

The abundance of rain during this heat wave has certainly taken the edge off, at least for the plants. The lavender seems to be thriving, as you can see here. I envisioned something of a mini hedge of lavender when I planted these four earlier this summer. Even the most hardy lavender is only marginally so in Minnesota, though, so it remains to be seen if it will come back in the spring. It is currently on the west side of the garage, but I am thinking of moving it once I have some of the other gardens prepared. But digging new garden beds is not a project for 90-degree days!

The black-eyed susan and garden phlox are just coming into bloom. They, too, are slated to be moved, probably to the south side of the house. My current "plan" (more like an idea than anything so organized as a plan, really) is to have a wide strip of tall sun-loving perennials, both native and cultivated, all along the south side, except where the faucet and air conditioner are. I need to build up the soil a bit there, to get that gentle slope away from the house, and then plant deep-rooted plants that won't require supplemental watering most of the time, but will seek the moisture way below the surface. I'm envisioning something of a cottage/prairie garden hybrid, with some of those taller prairie forbs and grasses to the back, and the not-quite-so-tall cultivated perennials in front of them. Or something like that. That's a September project, though, when it's safe to move the peonies, which are the only plants (other than weeds) growing there now.

It definitely helps to be in no big hurry to get these various gardens installed, because my ideas have evolved over the past year as I've observed what's going on all around the property, where the sun shines most, where the rain water tends to puddle, and so on.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let's Put on a Show

A note card featuring my drawing
This post is, eventually, about a craft show I'm in this Saturday. But first, a little context.

So I have this Etsy shop, for which I chose the rather obscure name Arty Didact, trying to convey the marriage of art and information that appeals to me and characterizes some of my work, and playing off the meaning of autodidact, a self-educating person.

Informative back of the lily note card

Quite frankly, I haven't sold very much at all on Etsy. I tried reading the forums for advice, and joining a couple of teams, and adding more and more items to my shop, because everyone says that's what you're supposed to do (that is, those participating in the forums on Etsy say this, repeatedly and emphatically). And when you don't have something new to add, you're supposed to "renew" listings, which means that you re-list them as if they were new, because when someone is searching for a category of items on Etsy, the most recently listed ones generally show up at the top. So it's like keeping something in the front window at all times.

A paper mache bowl
But when I was being as obsessive as I could about promoting my shop, I wasn't spending as much time making stuff. And I found that spending time each day listing and re-listing and promoting my shop isn't really very interesting, and the people who say it pays off to do that appear to be even more obsessive about it than I was. There are websites and blogs where you can offer give-aways, for example, and some people offer discounts and deals through their Facebook page and blogs, and, well, really, I'm just not into all that. I don't go for promotional offers and hype as a consumer, and it's really against my nature to try to promote my shop in that way, too.

So I've eased up on the re-listings, and I haven't added anything new to my shop in a while because I've been kind of busy with other things (house, garden, freelance work, family...). But, the one thing that I have found to be helpful and fun is the local network of Etsy shopkeepers, called the HandmadeMN Etsy Team. They are a great group of creative people, and through the group forum, I learn about a wide variety of show opportunities, including the smaller ones that fit my budget and level of commitment.

Most notably, this Saturday is the HandmadeMN Summer Market, and the way it came about was kind of cool. First, it started back in March with Erika Herker posting an announcement that she learned that she could reserve a large pavilion in Roseville for free, and maybe it would be cool to put on a mini art fair there consisting of members of our team. From there, an enthusiastic series of messages followed, and eventually, the summer market was organized. It made me think of Spanky and Our Gang: Let's put on a show!
Photo by Erica Herker

I'm looking forward to it, despite the forecast of 90-degree heat that day—and am so glad we will not only be in the shade, but also will only be operating from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. No getting up early on a Saturday and no lingering in the late-afternoon heat! I am grateful to the ladies who chose that time frame!

If you're in the Twin Cities area, it would be really swell if you'd pay a visit. Sorry I'm not offering any coupons or specials or snazzy promos like that, but I will have some cooling peppermint candies on my table to share. I guess that's a give-away, isn't it?

HandmadeMN Summer Market
Saturday, July 16, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Rainbow Community Pavilion
1201 Larpenteur Ave. West
Saint Paul, MN 55113

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A little harvesting, here and there, despite the chaos

Even though the chaotic transitional state of our landscape means I haven't done much planting of my own yet, I have been able to gather what I may from the existing gardens, as well as from the little bit of planting I've done so far myself, in pots or baskets.

Harvesting bouquets is easy, of course, with the abundance of flowers and greens; sometimes I use a few leaves of the plain green lance-leaved hostas in bouquets. I find this particular hosta rather ordinary as a garden plant, but its medium-to-dark glossy leaves do complement flowers and showier foliage nicely. I also have two kinds of ferns: the common ostrich fern and a more lacy one, probably a type of lady fern (athyrium).

I used the lady fern in a bouquet recently, with a speckled orange Asiatic lily that started blooming about a week or so ago, combined with several of the wild oxeye daisies that are growing everywhere.

Edible plants include the rhubarb, which I have neglected to pick so far (I think of it, and then I forget! Or, when I remember, it's too hot to cook anyway). I should really pick some to freeze, at least. Conventional wisdom has it that you don't harvest rhubarb after the first of July, but my sister-in-law once gathered several stalks in late summer, shortly after moving and discovering that the garden boasted a robust rhubarb plant. It ended up none the worse for the late harvest, and the rhubarb tasted fine, so I don't think it really matters much. Perhaps plants that are only a few years old need a longer period to recover from early summer harvesting, but that old, established plants can take a season-long harvest. 

I planted a large pot with a tomato, which is just doing so-so, and some basil and marigolds and thyme, and next to it another pot with some more thyme and marigolds, and a dill. I also included a couple of parsley plants in my kitchen window baskets, which I can harvest through the window when I want a sprig.

I especially like to use the fresh herbs to make my favorite summer salad dressing—a large dollop of plain yogurt with enough olive oil to thin it to a just-pourable consistency, then chopped fresh herbs and a bit of salt and pepper (I also include some cilantro from the farmers market, but since they sell it in a rather large bunch, I froze most of it and use the frozen herb just like fresh ones). It's delicious on sliced cucumbers, too!