Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The sweet serendipity of the volunteer garden

I had a plan to get some cool-season vegetables started early this year, but right around the time I was getting ready to plant lettuce seeds, I noticed tiny seedlings of camomile in the raised bed. It has grown in this part of my garden the last few summers, and I decided to let them get a little bigger so I could transplant them to a spot next to the fence, thus delaying my salad planting.

When I transplanted a few of the camomile as I had planned, I noticed the distinctive gray-green leaves of poppies in the same bed. Poppies, with their delicate tap roots, do not care to be transplanted, so I just gave up on the early salad garden idea and let these volunteers have their chosen garden spot.

I did eventually clear space along one side of the box to plant a row of beans in June, which are coming along very nicely and don't seem to mind sharing their bed with these pretty companions. Camomile and other flowering herbs tend to attract beneficial insects, so having a few of them scattered around the garden is a good thing anyway. 

At the same time, I remembered that dill has grown in another of these boxed beds, so I waited for that to sprout, planting cucumbers and radishes at one end. And soon I noticed a few more poppies amid the dill. Now I have this cheery mix of volunteers in the cucumber bed, including a few small purple violas.

I planted the camomile and the dill a few years ago and haven't had to plant them again since. But the poppies have introduced themselves, I never planted them. My neighbor has some also, and she alerted me to their presence in both of our gardens a few years ago. But hers are frillier and a paler pink, which is funny, because I've had both the frilly pink ones and these deeper salmon colored ones, and I like the salmon ones better. I  had decided that when they bloom this year, I would pick the frilly pink ones to keep them from reseeding. But I'm getting only the kind I like this summer. Maybe I did that last year and forgot!

I did a little research online and have learned that these (both varieties) are bread seed poppies, so I'll save some of the seeds to use in cooking. 

By delaying planting in these beds, and staying alert when weeding, I've discovered a few more volunteers, like this pale pink petunia. I don't remember growing anything like this, so I have no idea where the seeds came from. (Unless my neighbor had them in a hanging basket, which is very possible.)

I have planted the sweet little blue-purple violas known as Johnny jump-ups, and now they show up around the patio and elsewhere, but this volunteer violet or small pansy in the midst of the sweet woodruff in my front yard is a little bit of a mystery. 

I'm enjoying all these volunteers; it's rather fun discovering them and just letting them grow. I'll thin them out from time to time, and I've been harvesting the camomile blossoms a few times, which seems to prolong their blooming period. If you just leave the camomile and let them all go to seed, the plant finishes its life cycle and dies back in a few short weeks and becomes rather unsightly. But this summer, I'm finding that the more I pick them, the more they bloom.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

On podcasts and a daily drawing practice

I once commented to an artist friend that when I dash off a quick sketch of something in order to do a more careful drawing later, I tend to prefer the sketch to the later drawing. “That’s because you’re overthinking it,” she said.

I have a pretty good feeling that is the reason why I have often struggled to maintain a daily drawing practice. Even though I have plenty of available time, I have trouble sitting down to just draw. It's not that I  think that drawing in itself isn't a worthwhile use of my time, it's just that drawing by itself isn’t quite enough to occupy my brain, to keep it from paying too much attention to the act of drawing. It’s like I end up micromanaging myself, if that can be a thing.

Politics podcast from FiveThirtyEight 

In a seemingly unrelated development, I recently discovered podcasts. It started with the website, which I became a little obsessed with during the election. I found their nerdy analytical take on polls and their other quantitative ways of looking at politics to be strangely calming. And I still do. (That’s not to say that their podcasts, or website articles, are dry or ponderous. Quite the contrary, it’s all quite lively and engaging, in a rational sort of way.)

So I started listening to their regular podcasts, including a topical chat about recent events in politics, which are aired every Monday, and a few others of a nonpolitical nature.

We the People podcast from the National Constitution Center

But, like most people, I don’t like to just sit and listen to a podcast, or the radio for that matter. I want to do something while I’m listening. I know that many people will listen to something when they go out for a walk or a jog, but when I go for a walk, I prefer to listen to the birds and other sounds all around me, so that doesn’t work for me. I do listen to MPR News when I’m running errands in the car, just not at home.

Can He Do That? by the Washington Post, and The Daily by the New York Times

You see where this is going, right? Here’s what I discovered: When I draw, paint, doodle, or engage in similar art activities while listening to podcasts, my overthinking brain gets out of the way and my artmaking flows more freely. Sometimes my sketches have random notes jotted all around them, as well, which you may have noticed.

It’s not really multitasking, it’s more like a happy melding of symbiotic activities. 

Listening to Politics and More, from the New Yorker, and The Global Politico, from Politico, while making mini notebook ledgers

I’ve named some other podcasts that I listen to in the captions to the photos I've included here (and in the notes jotted among my doodles and sketches). These are all ones that I find engaging and informative without hyperbole or partisan rancor—because teeth-gnashing is not compatible with artmaking, in my opinion. (You can find any of them by searching the name in your preferred podcast platform. I use a podcast app on my iPad.)

And I don’t abruptly stop whatever I’m working on when the podcasts end, whether it’s an actual project, like making a journal, or just idle drawing and doodling. At that point, I’ll usually switch to classical music until I’m ready to stop.

And my brain doesn’t seem to notice, so it stays out of the way.

. . . and Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day