Thursday, February 28, 2019

The 5 Decisions You Need to Make Before Buying the First Plant

Have you ever purchased a plant because you liked it in the garden center and then got home and walked around with the thing wondering where to plant it? I know. Me too.

The biggest mistake I made as a young gardener was just rushing off to the nursery with my wallet and absolutely no overall plan. I'd buy any plant I thought looked interesting or pretty with no thought to where it might go or if I had the right conditions for it. I must say the cottage style garden I had was more forgiving than other styles, but man, did I waste a lot of money. Now with a plan in hand, it's easier to make decisions and stick to my budget.

Let's save you tons of money and frustration and hours of labor. 

Here are the 5 things you need to decide before you buy your first plant. If you've made your vision board you'll find deciding these things much easier. If you missed the post on how to create your vision board read this. 

1. Layout of your garden.

Where will the garden go? How will it be shaped? It is sunny or wet? You'll need to do a bit of research to create the layout that you want. Thanks to Pinterest there are plenty of designs you can use or you can create your own. Once you know about the drainage and sun situation you can have your soil tested to see if it needs amending.

2 Pathways and materials.

Do you want a winding path that disappears behind a row of trees or a straightforward path to get wheelbarrows full of mulch down? Will the path be gravel, dirt, mulch, brick, or something else? This is worth spending a big part of your budget on since it is what you'll be looking at in winter when the garden is bare. It's also the most labor intensive part of the job and you want to get it right the first time. (voice of experience here.)

3. Your garden philosophy.

This is both what you want the garden for and how you wish to work in the garden. Is your garden for growing food or entertaining? Do you want to do the old fashioned double dig or go the no-till route? Do you want to create a habitat for wildlife? Are you concerned about pollinators? (I know you are!)

4. Kind of containers and garden furniture you like.

Nothing complicated here. For most people with a sense of style, you'll know what kind of accessories will best compliment your garden. If you aren't sure just keep referring to your vision board and look for the things most like the pictures you see there.

5. Plants you are going to plant and where will they go.

Do a little research. Sit down with a book of things that do well in your area. Ask older gardeners what they've had success with. Maybe you remember a plant from your mother or grandmother's garden. Make a list and do not go seed or plant shopping without it. I know. It's hard. But you'll thank me later.

We are entering March and on any sunny warm day, most people will head off to the nursery or big box store to buy their plants. But you are going to know better. First, in the mid-south, it's still too early to put things in the ground but also most of those folks don't have a plan. This is the time (while you are excited about your garden but can't safely plant anything yet) that is perfect for planning and research.

Let me know how it's going!

XOXO Y'all!

Monday, February 25, 2019

How to Create Your Garden Vision Board

A lot of you really liked this idea of a garden vision board to help you find your garden style. I wish I had done this 27 years ago when we moved to this house. Though my style did change over the years (read about it here) I feel like a vision board would have helped me notice the evolution of my preferences sooner and not keep marching on so long in the wrong direction.

Let's keep that from happening to you. Oh, what's that? You have a Pinterest board with all your garden ideas? Yeah, me too. It's got hundreds of images. In my computer and on my phone. A vision board is up in your house where you see it every day so you don't lose sight of your goals. Of course, you can do it for anything. Here's what the rest of my vision board looks like.

Here's the garden section.

Now! Let's make a vision board for your dream garden!

You can start with your Pinterest board if you want. But in that currently famous phrase, you are going to choose photos that spark JOY. Or make your mouth water, or make you want to throw your credit card at your nursery owner. You know what I mean. Pictures you cannot stop looking at. And honestly, that cuts it down a lot.

Now, this is important. PRINT THEM OUT. The exact photos you love the absolute most. Put them on your bulletin or poster board. You'll start to see themes emerge. You'll notice that some photos have things that are recurring. It seems obvious that you know what you like but when you do this exercise definite patterns appear.

Put your garden vision board in a prominent location so you have an overall goal. You probably aren't going to recreate a garden you have there exactly, but you will now be able to shop for things that feel like your vision board. If your dream garden is cool and contemporary you can avoid in one fell swoop all the red and yellow flowers on your shopping ventures. If you want romantic and rambly you'll know to leave the sleek square planter at the garden center. Again, seeing a version of your goal brings clarity. Anyone else just need some dang clarity in every area of life! 

This is going to help you along as you move toward the creation of the things you need to do before you even get to planting like choose path layouts and materials, garden containers, and furniture.

Now grab some coffee, make sure the printer is full of ink, and head over to Pinterest to look for your personal backyard paradise.

XOXO Y'all! 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Finding Your Garden Style

During all this rethinking of the garden and what I wanted from it, I came to a conclusion about my gardening practices. I didn't have the garden I wanted. I wasn't even growing the things I wanted.

Remember this quote from Steel Magnolias? 

Ouiser: "Because I'm an old Southern woman and we're supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt.

This was my thinking as I tried to grow tomatoes year after year only to have the roots eaten by chipmunks or voles. I appreciated the beautiful Trionfo Violetta bean vines but cared little about harvesting or cooking the end result. 

What kind of Southern woman doesn't want to grow vegetables or "put up" beans? When I got real with myself and actually created a vision board of my dream garden guess what. No veggies were present except beautiful greens. Everything I really wanted to grow was either an herb, a fruit, or a flower. It was one of those things that I knew all along and didn't know at the same time. 

Here's a section of the 2019 Garden vision board. It isn't what I'm trying to create in exact form but the feeling is perfect.

Clarity is such an important part of life. How can we get what we want if we don't know what it is? 

So looking at the Pinterest photos I was most attracted to we can see some things. I like clearly defined paths. I love the mix of casual cottage sweetness and formal elements. I also like something trending toward a French feel. The biggest difference between the garden I started with and the one I dreamed of creating was order.  Also, there's not a tomato vine to be found. My dream garden as it turns out would be one that feeds my soul and not necessarily my stomach. 

See pictures and read about my original rambling cottage garden. 

In addition to figuring out the aesthetics of your garden style you also need to come to grips with what kind of actual gardening you want to do and what you have to work with. If you are a weekend gardener and want to use your garden for recovering at the end of the work week you can do that with containers on your balcony or a garden that takes up your whole backyard. Do you want to till and dig or layer and compost? Do you want to grow food? Have a cutting garden? Or do you prefer low maintenance landscaping that needs little from you at all but looks nice from the window? 

No matter what kind of garden you want you'll still have to choose a look you like. You can create the vibe you want by your choice of plants and style of containers and well as how you plant. Are you a wild and natural garden lover or do you want your plants to behave in neat rows? Doing some preliminary research can save you hours of toil later on if things have to be changed up. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Garden 2019: Where We Are in Mid-February

Here's how the garden stands now, I'm ready for a delivery of garden soil to top off the beds and then a load of crushed limestone to finish off the section closest to the house. February isn't exactly the prettiest garden month.

I plan to change to no-till gardening, a way of gardening that leaves the soil structure undisturbed but takes some planning and gathering of supplies. I'll be talking a lot more about this as the season goes on but basically digging in the soil disturbs the complex web of animals and microorganisms that make up healthy soil. (Dust Bowl anyone?) No-till gardening also known as lasagna gardening is a way of recycling, composting, and creating a healthy planting medium all one place. Yes, please. Sign me up for anything that saves me time and trips to the recycling center.

With all this in mind, February has been spent laying out beds and paths and cleaning up excess garden supplies, old fencing, and broken or rotten stakes and timbers. See the last post. I also thinned out some of the blueberries and created a blueberry hedge along the edge of the garden extending past the beehives. I'm trying to make it a bit safer for my husband to cut near the hives as well as define the garden and create a sense of mystery about what lies beyond what you can see.

I pruned all the roses and spent a lot of time leaning on my pitchfork dreaming of what it will all look like in June while a frigid wind whipped around me but feeling intensely joyful.

Read about the scientific reason gardening makes you happy. 

Here's where we are right now:  I'm still collecting boxes and newspapers, and I need to order 2 more tons of crushed limestone and 2 yards of compost. Only after that will I be ready for planting anything. The frost date here is April 15th but my goal to have all of the pre-planting work done is March 20th, the first day of spring.

In the next post, we'll cover garden design and finding your gardening style. Meanwhile here are pictures of how the garden looks right now. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ugly Pictures From My Garden: Transition is Messy

 Last Saturday when the high was 39 I spent 3 hours in the garden trying to catch up. The weather has been unusually rainy and I have had so few decent days to get anything done that if the sun is shining I must use the day even if I have to wear 3 layers of clothes. It was all so ugly I didn't even take any pictures because the whole thing literally looked like a trash pit from a construction site.

I probably need to write a post about garden clutter because, Y'all, it's a thing! Old fencing, rotten stakes, things that had served a purpose but are busted or no longer needed. Can I just say it's a hard clean up because as any gardener knows you always really do need a piece of wire or a stake.  The question becomes how much?

Here are some pictures from last August so you can see how ugly transition can be. August isn't a particularly pretty month for the garden anyway but dang, this was just sad!

Every project looks terrible in the middle and you might wonder why you even started it.

On this particular day last summer I was feeling overwhelmed and wondering if I shouldn't just rip it all out and put in sod.

When you are in the middle of a project and start to feel like maybe you've made a mistake, do not give up!

Keep going and doing the next logical thing. I feel like every project has that moment of despair. I have sat down on the floor many times in the middle of something and cried because I couldn't go back and I wasn't sure what to do next to move forward. In the end, I'm always so happy I didn't quit. I mean look at these photos. I had to keep going just to clean up the ginormous mess I'd made.

In the next post, I'll be sharing about how far I've come since this depressing day but I wanted to show you that things don't magically happen no matter how pretty the Instagram photo is. Don't be discouraged if you have a big vision.

Just keep taking baby steps to work toward your goal!

In the next post, I'll cover what I've gotten done since these photos were taken and what I've been working on in the cold weather. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

How to Change Your Garden Style: Beginnings and Inspiration

When I first started gardening I adored English cottage gardens. When my children were small I created a Peter Rabbit garden and planted all the plants mentioned in the story. Over time that grew into a rambling colorful and a somewhat chaotic and often weedy jumble of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

It had a messy natural charm but I would panic any time we had visitors because it always felt so untidy. There were always just so many weeds. 

Wild even...

But man, did it have its moments.

Usually in the early morning and in the evening.

Or rainy afternoons...

Still, in the mid-south on a lot next to a creek where every few years I do see a snake, it wasn't the kind of garden I walked in easily. I was always quite wary. It was weedy. I was always tripping over something when I was in a hurry. I often jumped when I mistook a mislaid garden hose for something slithery.

The magnitude of the job of reworking it helped me continue enjoying it the way it was. Ten years ago we added chickens and a couple of years later, bees. In the morning light, it really was just the most beautiful and comforting thing. I loved the rustic tendencies and how it all worked together.

But a couple of years ago I was sitting on the back porch and noticed that the garden kept encroaching as did the amount of work and that I was suddenly feeling a bit claustrophobic. Out of the blue, I craved order but still took no action. Then over the course of the past year, all of our chickens died off one by one and the day the last one went to that great coop in the sky I pulled up the fencing around the coop and was instantly filled with a sense of what could be.

Sometimes inspiration smashes in like a wave.

I spent the next month in the heat of a steamy southern July digging, transplanting, and hauling 2 tons of crushed limestone.

By the time I was finished I had revamped a third of the garden. The two thirds closer to the hives had to wait for winter so I could easily work around the hives without being buzzed by guard bees. I do regular maintenance around the hives in summer but major digging, scraping and possibly bumping the hives is not appreciated by the girls.

It's super tempting to want to go straight to planting, but hardscapes must be done first.

In the first part of the garden makeover hardly anything was planted except at the edges or in containers. I tended the herbs that were in the undisturbed herb bed and longed for cold weather so I could finish the garden. But life competes with big projects and after a month of travel, the holidays, and bronchitis I'm far behind where I planned to be at this point.

In the next post, I'll be sharing what I'm up to now, and what the current state of the garden is. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Value of a Creative Life

Intrinsic Value: 

The first reason is that it makes your life richer. The creative process, whether it's painting, knitting, gardening or decorating, brings joy. You feel in the "flow" where you lose all sense of time. There's a tactile joy in the feel of the needle going in and out of the quilt and that heightened sense of accomplishment when you have created something. There's the physical exhaustion and giddiness as the garden begins to take shape. There's an indescribable feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else while putting brush to canvas.

Social Connection: 

It also brings new people into your circle of friends as you meet up with others who share your passion. Every activity imaginable has social media pages and meetups where you can get to know fellow artists, quilters, or photographers. Once you find your creative passion it's super easy to find "your people"

Making Money: 

Now there's something that often happens when you are happily creating along minding your own business and maybe giving things away as gifts here and there. People will start to say "You should really start a business." And maybe you should! Certainly, if you have an entrepreneurial bent you may well want to sell your items to make a profit. This is the age of the side hustle and handcrafted items, photography skills, and artwork are all perfect things to organically grow into a business. If you think that's the path you are on then I recommend the book The $100 Start-Up  to see if turning your side hustle into your real hustle is for you. If that's your dream don't let anyone stop you!

I actually wrestled with this decision for a year. No, Y'all. Literally every day for a year. I can't tell you how many entrepreneurial podcasts I listened to or how many books and articles I read about starting a business. But after thinking about it for 365 days I woke up on December 31st and said: "You know what, God, I want an answer about this TODAY."

That morning I had to go to an attorney's office and while I sat waiting I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen one of whom could have been mistaken for Morgan Freeman. He and his wife had started a few years back flying to New York a few times and year and coming back to Memphis and selling them on Friday and Saturday. It was such a hit and they were having so much fun doing it that before he knew it, he said it was a seven day a week business. The fun went out of it and he and his wife became stressed out and unhappy.

The other man told a tale of a similar experience in real estate, collecting and fixing up rental properties. Fun at first, but in the end causing nothing but stress and woe. Both men were recounting how they'd sold their businesses and learned a lesson. Then Morgan Freeman looked right at me and said: "Everything doesn't need to be a business."

So there, from a stranger after asking everyone one I knew all year long whether I should make Pen and Hive a legit business, was my answer from a stranger. On the last day of the year when I'd worn myself out thinking about it for months. I know a brick wall when I see one. You know, usually. 

In this age of the side hustle, Shark Tank, fake it til you make it social media rampage it's easy to think that anything you are doing from blogging to making great salsa needs to be monetized. It doesn't. Even if everyone thinks you are missing a great opportunity, you have to know whether or not you would really be happy getting up every day and making 50 or 100 of the same thing. For me the idea of doing that makes me feel sick. I'm self-aware enough to know that while I love creating things and I'm thrilled that anyone would ever want to buy anything I create I know that I'm just not in it for the day in day out commitment a real business would take. I make the things I want to make and when it's gone it's gone. Plus, as a beekeeper, I'm hardly in charge of production. I work for the queen.

Do a little self-inventory to know if you have the personality to be your own boss.


What's funny is that I turn right around and do this to people all the time! I mean, I don't know what I should be doing but I definitely know what everyone else should be doing. I have a friend who does magical things with quilts. Seriously, after she explains how some of her stuff is made I'm still just so confused. I'm constantly telling her "You should sell these! You could make so much money!" But she doesn't want to do that. She tells me that she's making them for her daughter and grandchildren or friends. Each stitch contains both her love for her craft and also any recipient.

Which brings me to the last part of why living a creative life is important: You are creating a legacy. If you paint a picture or write a book or make a quilt that thing will exist long after you are gone. You will be creating a piece of, what I call, tangible joy. A physical item that contains and represents all the joy that you, the creator experienced while making it. If you have an heirloom made by a family member that has passed away then you know what I mean. It's a treasure and the effort and care of the person who made it is treasured.

Foster your creativity and see where it takes you. It may grow into a business that allows you to quit your day job or you may only make things that you share with friends or family. Either way, you are breathing joy into your life and creating a bit of tangible joy that will live on in the future as a gift to the world.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Value of Living a Creative Life: Resurrecting Your Childlike Creative Self

This post is from a talk I gave over the weekend at the Fancy Little Flea on The Value of Living a Creative Life.

Close your eyes and think back to when you were creating something as a child. Maybe it was the first day of kindergarten when you opened your new box of crayons and colored with them. Smell the new crayon smell. Perhaps it was using finger paints or squishing Play Dough in your little fingers. Or was it digging in the dirt to make roads for your toy cars? Whatever it was remember the joy that you felt in that moment. Now let me ask you...

When was the last time you felt that way? 

Something happens to our creativity on the way to adulthood. Usually, some well-meaning adult convinces us that doodling on our math paper or daydreaming about characters in a story we're making up are wastes of time and we should be doing something more important. This is how we end up as adults believing that some people are just creative and others are not.

I would like to dispell that notion and challenge you to breathe life into your creative heart of hearts even if it's been wounded or asleep for a very long time. The best way to do that is to give yourself permission to try something new. Now if you are a regular reader you know that every year I challenge myself to learn one new thing.

Read My One New Thing a Year Challenge

Now while I understand that might be daunting for some of you, you should give yourself a safe and easy task, because I think if your creative mojo has been neglected for a long time you should be gentle with yourself. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and sit in your favorite spot in your house and breathe. Don't think that you are wasting time because it is a thing of great value to breathe in and out and appreciate being alive. Feel grateful for this time alone, give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life.

Now think about something you've always wanted to do but were afraid. It can be anything. Braiding a rug, taking a trip alone, painting your dining room a color that you love but that isn't trendy. (Which as we all know right now is white. Or maybe gray if you feel all crazy.) Would the world end if you painted a room pink, or yellow, or plum?

Now, what feeling comes up when you imagine doing this thing you would like to do? You don't even have to tell me because I already know.

It's fear. 

Fear of what other people will think. Fear of failure. Fear that you won't like it. Maybe even fear that you are opening Pandora's Box of creativity if you succeed. Yes, fear of success is a real and very powerful thing. But what if you weren't afraid? Your childlike self wasn't afraid of trying and failing until an adult (most likely in the education system) made you terrified of being wrong. Before someone taught you that giving the right answer was the most important thing and if you didn't know it you should just keep quiet with your hand down. Too many of us have been keeping our hands down ever since.

Imagine taking your little kid self by the hand and telling her that it's okay now. That it's safe and she can try new things and experiment and create all she wants. Because now, you are the adult in charge. How does that feel? 

Now think of the first thing you'd like to do and take action. Sign up for that workshop or -if you're an introvert and creating in a group gives you the heebie-jeebies- find some Youtube videos or call a friend who is good at the thing you want to learn. Maybe you need to take a field trip to your local craft store to get a feel for creative supplies, or to a museum to spark your imagination. Whatever it is it's really important to take action in some way to show your inner creative that you are serious.

Reading some books about creativity or watching talks about it can be helpful as well.  I recommend these books in this order:

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

And these TED Talks:

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? 

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

Stop believing that the world is divided up into the creatives and non-creatives and begin to nurture and fan the flames of your own creative self.

Coming up in Part 2 I'll be talking about why any of this matters and why you should even care about your creative self.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

My One New Thing a Year Challenge

 It's the start of a new year which means that people are going to be asking me, "So, Michelle, what's the one new thing this year?" 

Many years ago I decided that I would learn to do one new thing every year. I don't even remember how or why this idea came into my head. I have always liked to learn things and try new things but felt somehow that I was a failure or a quitter because I kept flitting from thing to thing. The One New Thing concept made it possible for me to look like I was quitting on purpose.

Sometimes life is all about the story you are telling yourself.

I noticed that I did not have a bunch of unfinished projects lying around. So I wasn't just a quitter or failing when I looked at it in detail. In fact, I would work like mad to complete something I had started. If I was working on planting a garden or painting a room, I would skip workouts, neglect email, and forget to eat. So why couldn't I stick with one thing long enough to become a master of it? Why was it that I felt like I was always just dabbling around the edges of things?

When I got around to giving this some serious thought one day several years ago, I realized that I liked particular parts of projects and it kind of resembled being in love.

I would be smitten with something and not be able to stop thinking about it. 

I would want to know every single thing about my new love. 

I wouldn't be able to stop thinking or talking about this newly found passion. 

I would lose track of time.

Eventually, I would feel like I knew this awesome thing pretty well. 

The new thing became...less interesting. 

One day, after completing a project I would decide to break up. 

Oh, look at that handsome thing over there! 

I'd embark on a new creative relationship. 

What in the world is wrong with me? I know people who are experts and artisans in things that they are passionate about. My husband is like this about the Civil War in general and the Battle of Chickamauga in particular. I have always envied the person who had found that one true thing that they could do forever and never tire of. I was a little concerned about adult ADHD or just a short attention span. An adult should be able to stick with things, right?

Maybe. Some things. But here's what I like:


Research and learning new things. 

Finished projects. 

Adding things to my skill set.  

Sharing what I've learned. 

After years of being frustrated with myself, I realized that being an expert or gaining mastery in any one thing to the exclusion of everything else didn't interest me.  I wanted, most of all, to experience the world in a broad sense of the word and was afraid I'd miss something if I chose that one thing. That one terrifying thing.

Which brings us back to One New Thing. About 25 years ago I decided that every year I would learn how to do something new. It was a loose concept at first but became more concrete over time. Most years there was actually more than one thing but I did strive to have an official goal in mind. One year I baked bread every Saturday. One year I learned enough Italian to get me through my first trip to Italy. A couple of years ago it was singing in public--not karaoke. You can read about that experience here. I have quilted, gardened, kept bees, painted furniture, stripped furniture, cooked, decorated, composted, blogged, photographed, written, made motivational videos, and become a docent at the art museum and a master gardener.

That's not even a complete list but at some point, I just look like a crazy person.  

Along the way, I did find a few things that have come to stay forever like the passionate lover who remains a trusted friend.  Gardening is like that. So is beekeeping. And writing. Maybe because these are things that can never really be completed, but maintain a constant sense of mystery and a desire to improve. In my doing so many things I eventually ran across the things that I could stick with and love the most.

I'm sharing this with you because I have a feeling there are some of you out there who need to know that it's okay to be multi-passionate and there is nothing wrong with you. It's okay to keep learning, growing, and exploring.

Being a life long learner and discoverer might be, after all, a kind of expertise in itself. 

 What would you like to learn that you haven't yet?