By Sherry Smith
There are as many reasons to garden as there are gardeners. Sure, everyone knows food gardening. Flower gardening and herb gardening are the other most popular forms of gardening. I engage in all three. However, there are other types of gardens, as well. I like to grow small gardens to support my hobbies. In my bid to become more sustainable, I try to produce as much of the things we need as possible. It’s also a good way to use that Master’s degree I paid for so dearly! I realize that not everyone has unlimited gardening space, but oftentimes the plants we use in our arts and crafts are perfectly suitable to mingle with the flowers in your front yard or the vegetables in your kitchen garden. Plus, you don’t have to have a degree in horticulture to grow plants. Many of the plants that are used for crafts are easily grown.
Everyone in my family is an artist of some kind. My son writes. My daughter draws and paints and has done some floral arranging. My husband carves and builds. I draw, sew, embroider, press flowers and leaves, and engage in herbalism in various aspects. I sew dolls, both fancy and primitive, and clothes for the family. I’m that person who goes shopping and rarely buys anything because my standard reaction is “oh, I can make that myself”. In order to keep myself in craft supplies without emptying the bank account, I’ve learned to grow many of my supplies.
My daughter and I both have very sensitive skin, so I make soaps and lotions that are gentle enough for us to safely use. For that, I grow many herbs that condition the skin, such as rose, calendula, chamomile, aloe and elder. I also grow many flowers and herbs for their fragrance since we also avoid synthetic perfumes. Jasmine, rose, magnolia, and mint are just a few of the plants that provide wonderful fragrance for soaps and lotions. I have a small copper alembic still that I use to distill hydrosols (floral waters) from many of my plants. I’m working on distilling my own essential oils, but haven’t quite mastered that one, yet. I continue to persevere, though! The mint plant currently engulfing my back porch provides a great deal of material with which to experiment (If anybody needs mint plants, feel free to email me. I can hook you up!). It is to this end that I grow a great deal of aloe. With our brutal sun, burns are common occurrences. Soap enriched with aloe is just the thing to take away the burn.
We also prefer herbal medicines. Of course, here’s my disclaimer: ALWAYS seek professional medical help for serious ailments and injuries! For insect stings, abrasions, burns, coughs, etcetera, however, we stick to our herbal concoctions. My son likes to tease and refer to them as my “magic potions”. He says they work like magic, so it must be witchcraft. For my “potions”, I grow plants such as yarrow, aloe, comfrey, lavender, mint, the plantain from my vegetable garden (see my previous post on weeds), echinacea, fennel, and a host of others. Of course, many of my “hobby” plants are upstanding members of the vegetable garden or flower gardens, etc. My gardens are often intermingled and multi-purpose. Calendulas and yarrow are easy to slip in among the flowers in the front flower beds, as are purple coneflowers and lavender, leaving room in the herb garden for other plants.
My husband has recently developed an interest in brewing his own ale. I’m currently in the process of designing a new garden to support that hobby. That one will include hops (of course!), grains such as barley, and a variety of herbs like angelica, mint, and caraway. He likes Strega, an herbal liqueur, so I’m currently researching the herbs used to make it to see if I can incorporate them into his garden, as well. We already grow wheat in our vegetable garden, so he can use that for his brewing, too, as well as many of our fruits and vegetables.
I’ve begun looking into dyeing my own fabrics for some of my dolls. Yes, I use tea already, but I want to try dyeing some homespun and muslin for some of my old-fashioned dolls. I set aside a small little plot in our yard and did some research to decide which plants I wanted to try. One of the plants that I wanted for yellow dye was turmeric. It is a plant that I know will grow here and it was listed as one that was good for beginners in dyeing. I took a small section of turmeric root, cut it into sections and potted them up. I now have 6 healthy little turmeric plants waiting to be transplanted. The best part is that these plants will yield supplies for my dyeing experiments, but will also yield food for the kitchen. I have several packets of seeds for various dye plants, such as true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), hopi dye sunflowers, and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) waiting to be planted in the spring. Of course, the beets and purple carrots in my vegetable garden will work for dyeing fabric, as well.
My flower gardens provide many beautiful specimens for my daughter to use in her floral design, not to mention plenty of subjects for her drawing and painting, as well as my drawing and photography. They also provide plenty of material to fill my flower press.
These are just some of the gardens I grow to support our hobbies. There are so many hobbies that can be enjoyed with homegrown supplies. A weaver’s garden can include flax and cotton. Cotton actually grows in more than just white. We experimented with a pale green cotton this summer that was just lovely. Take it a bit further and include dye plants, such as indigo, goldenrod, turmeric, madder and sunflowers, to name only a few. For those who enjoy basket-weaving, a garden full of various ornamental grasses and reeds is a simple project that can yield a myriad of supplies and still provide a lovely addition to the landscape. Wheat would be a perfect example of a plant that can be grown for both crafts and food. For those who press and dry flowers, a garden is a place to grow all kinds of plants that will provide lovely colors and textures for your art. The list is endless.
The point is that there is no need to make gardening separate from your other hobbies. Yes, gardening can save money at the grocery store, but it can also save you quite a bit at the craft store, as well. It is also a nice way to try new plants for your gardens. Besides, the fragrance from herbs hung to dry is absolutely amazing! Another great reason is the satisfaction of knowing where your supplies come from and how they were grown. So, if gardening is a hobby you happen to enjoy, take a look at your other activities. Do any of them use plant materials? If so, think about growing your own. Many plants that seem difficult are actually quite easy to grow and can fit in nicely with any flower bed arrangement. It’s a great way to experiment, and you may find new garden plants that you absolutely love or discover new aspects of old favorites (who knew aloe vera flowers were so lovely?).
Aloe in full bloom
This is the hand cream I use after gardening. It works miracles and smells like my summer roses.
Gardener’s Hand Cream
Makes 3 oz.
• 1-1/2 tsp. cocoa butter
• 1 tsp. grated beeswax
• 1 tbsp. almond oil
• 3 tbsp. rose water
• 2 tsp. emulsifying wax
• 10 drops rose oil
Directions: Melt cocoa butter, beeswax, and almond oil in a double boiler. Remove from heat. Warm rose water and emulsifying wax slowly until wax has melted. Whisk rose water mixture into the cocoa butter mixture very slowly and continue whisking until the cream cools. Add rose oil and stir. Store in a sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator.
The Birds and the Bees
We rely on pollinators for our food. It’s easy to make sure they have food and shelter for the winter.
After The Storms
Amid the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey, pretty garden roses remind us that we will go on and we will bloom again.
Dedicating a small space in your garden to native plants can give you crops that require little to no effort.