What a gift!

Last year I bought a bunch of tropical plants to grow indoors because another tenant made it very uncomfortable to plant in the raised beds we’re allotted here. I got jasmines, stephanotis, and some hoyas, a tropical vine that produces bunches of tiny, very sweet-smelling flowers. I have a special place in my heart for hoyas, as the very first plant I ever grew, given to me by my fifth-grade teacher, was a hoya, but I haven’t grown any for years and years, always so taken up by my outdoor garden that I had no indoor plants at all.

One of the hoyas I bought for its very wonderful variegated little leaves – Hoya khoniana “Eskimo.” It’s a kind of miniature plant with speckled leaves. I put it on top of a bookshelf next to my reading chair where it would get sufficient light and I could regularly admire its leaves. It has been very happy there, producing a couple of pretty long vines.

The other night I was sitting there reading and kept smelling something sweet. I thought it was something outside, although that window is not near any plants, just a bare alley. But this morning I checked, and the hoya has tiny little bunches of flowers that give off a strong, sweet smell. Such joy! I am so glad I got these plants.

New Project

I’ve been running Alchemy Works for 18 years, but the older I get, the more difficult it is for me. I do everything for the shop–I create all the formulas, source all the materials, make all the products, create the labels, pack and ship all the orders, maintain the site, do the taxes, everything. I’ve tried to get help in the past, but when people realize how much work the shop is, they bail. Understandable.

Thing is I am 65 this year, and because my Social Security benefits do not even cover the rent, I will need to work for the rest of my life. So I started looking around for things I can do that I could keep doing it even if I am not in the best of health.

After listening to a savvypainter podcast about how painters can create a “day job” for themselves that involves their art, I decided to try creating art to put on mugs and totes to sell on Etsy. I like painting botanical stuff and I’ve been growing and working with witching herbs for years, so I chose to make watercolors of plants like belladonna, henbane, and mandrake and have them printed on mugs.

The mugs come out beautifully, I have to say. The printing is very good and the mugs are nice and sturdy and big. It’s been a bit of a challenge to work out the best way to create the image–what kind of paper, paints, how to clean up the image to make a good digital file to send to the printer, and then a lot of persnickety stuff about getting the shop connected to the printer, which takes my files and prints and ships the mugs. But it’s done, and I have to say, I am enjoying it.

First, I have missed painting in watercolor. These mug designs are only 9 x 3.8″, which is quite small for me. I thought the smallness might be a problem, but instead, it’s really nice to get a painting done in a few hours instead of it taking days. I also splurged and bought myself some watercolors that are made specifically for reproduction. My godz the colors! They are so concentrated. And they are easier to handle and to clean up than the watercolors in tubes or even pans that I’ve been using for years.

Back in art school, I did a lot of work with pen and ink, and the mug designs bring me back to that. After trying a couple of different approaches, I went with a version of Rackham’s method of drawing the image with pencil, outlining it with real india ink, erasing the pencil lines, and then applying watercolors, which don’t lift the ink. I found out that plenty of inks that call themselves “india” (which means they contain shellac, which is what makes them waterproof) don’t actually contain shellac and aren’t waterproof. I didn’t want to have to go back to using acrylics (also waterproof and they do come in ink form) in even small amounts just because I could not find an honest india ink. But Bombay India Ink does contain shellac and is waterproof and comes in a bunch of colors–plus I already had a whole set put away. AND tons of nibs, although I have pretty much settled on the Nikko G nib, which has a pretty sharp point but doesn’t catch the paper much and which is flexible but not too much. Just about perfect for me.

So far I’ve come up with four designs–belladonna, mandrake, wolfsbane, and henbane (which I think came out the best). Right now I’m working on sacred datura. I have them up on an Etsy shop but I might end up switching over to Amazon because there is a lot more traffic there.

The other thing I really like about this is that most of my work is creative instead of clerical. I don’t have to hold stock, source it, pack it, label it, arrange for post office pickup, buy boxes, or any of that. The printer takes care of all of that and the ecommerce platform takes care of all the credit card stuff. It is so freeing. I look forward to creating many more images. I hope you enjoy them too!

Spring 2018

I got a late start on my seeds this year because I’ve been busy painting. But I do have black nightshade (or as I have referred to it in the past, The Black Toad) and black henbane sticking their heads up, plus a couple vervain (I’ve been out of vervain seeds for a bit and just ordered more from Europe). Some Nicotiana quadrivalvis, which is the type of wild tobacco that Native people of Western North America used instead of their Nicotiana rustica the Eastern tribes favored, has come up. I’ve grown it once in the past but neglected to collect seed, so I hope that I do get some seeds this year and can share them. Other things I tried to grow have done nothing, like Petunia axillaris, a wild white petunia that I have loved very much but the seeds of which are simply not available wholesale. I was afraid the few seeds I had left were not viable, but I tried again, and now they are coming up. I love the scent of these plants, and I love the way they are quite robust and trailing, unlike the wimpy modern hybrids. Hawkmoths and sphinxmoths love them too, and they are such magical critters. My toloache finally came up too.

I also chose some annuals to grow this year. I have always grown some zinnias and chose Red Sun, along with Empress of India nasturtium (crimson flowers are on darkish leaves) and some bright red marigolds, Disco Red (one of the first plants I ever grew). The older I get, the more I love the really vibrant colors. Especially orange and red!

Meanwhile, I ordered some transplants–some clary sage, rue, black sage (just to see what it’s like and to collect seeds), a BUNCH of dittany of Crete (and hope to have a small amount of herb available in the fall or at least some infused oil). Btw, I highly recommend Mountain Valley Growers, one of the ONLY sources for real Dittany of Crete plants, plus all their plants are consistently of the highest quality. Yes, their shipping is very high, but they pack those babies like they are diamonds; it’s worth it. I buy herbs from them every single year. Check them out.

Others I got for myself, a wormwood plant because I like their color and rosemary because I love the smell. And dried rosemary makes a great incense, great substitute for frankincense and way more sustainable–grow your own!

I managed to save a bunch of black mandrakes that were devastated by insect attack due to overfertilizing and hot blasts from the primitive heater in my loft. They were overwhelmed with aphids, whiteflies, fungus gnats, and even spider mites, for crying out loud, all results of lousy growing conditions. I don’t think I’ve EVER had mandrakes with spider mites. But those little bastards love hot blasts of heaters. So I dug up all the drakes and put them in a bowl of water in the fridge for a week or so to ensure all the insect critters drowned. I repotted them and now they are coming back from dormancy clean of bugs. I also had a couple of plants that never succumbed to the bug onslaught, and they are happy in a south window here. Thank the gods!

Meanwhile, my tropicals are doing fabulously. Various jasmines are climbing up the 14-foot walls in this place and a tiny hoya has made buds! A great source for tropicals, btw, is Kartuz Greenhouse. All my plants from there have done very well and bloomed well in advance of their time. I have a couple of myrtles that are doing very well also. The one thing doing poorly is the Tasmanian violet. I think I will just jettison that plant. It is NOT happy.

I’ve got two raised beds to work with this year, and instead of growing just a whole hell of a lot of peppers and annuals like last year, I hope to have a bunch of witching herbs, especially henbane. I’d love to have some dried henbane this year to sell. And frankly, I just love henbane. Mugwort volunteers are already up in the bed, and it looks like some rudbeckias wintered over.

Hope your spring growing is going well!