Sunday, November 3, 2013

Harvesting Grandpa

What do you do with a sexy senior citizen?
Harvest his seeds.

Grandpa Ott morning glories are so prolific they can't keep their seeds in their pods.  And even though they reseed themselves aggressively in our yard every year, and even though there's no need to save seeds intentionally, still I do it.

Why is that?

Because blooming Grandpa Ott morning glories, Convolvulus purpureus, are sox-knockingly, breathtakingly lovely: light-filled, fanlike spirals of rich glowing purple with deep magenta rays and incandescent white centers.

I'm not alone in my aesthetic opinion.  Here are  other gardeners holding forth on the plant, courtesy of the forum on the website Dave's Garden

"I love these vines and their almost psychedelic blooms..." said Nolabug " I have never experienced them as anything but a delight. They bloom early and often."

 "Beautiful blooms of electric violet purple!" said Alddesigns. 

"Rich purple, easy to grow, prolific bloomer" said Gardenbugde. 

Still, the detractors are many.

"Grandpa Ott:  Never Again," said aka Peggy on the website

"Very invasive pest to get rid of," said Themikeman on the Dave's Garden forum.

"Prolific bloomer" said the far more polite website Seeds & More, which has to be polite because it's selling Grandpa seeds.

Because this plant is so uncomplainingly easy to grow, and its blossoms so knockout gorgeous, I can still think of a couple of other places on my tiny 50 x 150 lot where I would like to try them.  So still a need to collect seeds.  Not only for myself, but for others, gardening friends who say they want to give Grandpa a try.

A little research showed me I'm not the only one who saves Grandpa seeds despite the apparent lack of need.  According to the blog Mr. Brown Thumb,  , the Ott family, which brought this seed to this country from Bavaria in the 1870s, saved them as an insurance measure for themselves, family, and friends.  In 1975, the seeds became the flagship offering of The Seed Savers Exchange, a  nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds:

Today, I set out to harvest some Grandpa seeds.  After all, the vines are looking pretty scraggly right now:

And they're full of seed pods.

Still, despite their seasonal desuetude, the vines continue to put out blooms, right into the teeth of November.  Look at this:

 These blooms glory forth while other parts of the plant are going to seed.  To me, that's a kind of immortality.

Those seeds are pretty easy to harvest.  You just, you should excuse the expression, take a cluster of them gently in your hand, and squeeze.

In fact, here's a video:

For my harvest, I began filling a bucket with the black, bulky seeds that fell from the papery pods, and as I worked, I found I'd also harvested this:

This is the seed case of a praying mantis, I believe.  I put it back among some other plants that were growing near the morning glories on the fence.

When the harvest was done, I had a bowl of seeds:

And still this plant blossoms, even as it leaves behind its seeds, reminding me of the lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

"He fathers forth whose beauty is past change"

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hating to Love, and Loving to Hate, Grandpa Ott

Hating to Love, and Loving to Hate, Grandpa Ott

See these morning glories?  The plant with the heart-shaped leaves?  Ladies and gentlemen, I did not plant those morning glory vines there where you see them.  They planted themselves.

These are Grandpa Ott morning glories, and they grow in my garden every year, even though I only planted them once.  Only once.  A decade ago.  They're among the most invasive and prolific plants there are.

But despite their invasive greed, they bring me real joy...and I guess my art quilt, Salute to Grandpa Ott, brought at least one person some joy, because it was stolen from the wall last March during a monthlong solo show  at a posh retirement community.

This is the original Salute to Grandpa Ott, which was...uh, removed without compensation from one of my solo shows.

Here he is, draped on a railing, waiting to be hung.

The retirement community compensated me for Grandpa's loss, so all is well. 
But I missed that quilt, and so this spring I set out to make another one.  Here I'm constructing new morning glory blossoms from wispy merino roving.
To represent the blossoms' elusive, light-filled shade of periwinkle and lavender, I combined several colors of merino roving,

Next I formed the roving into circular shapes, knowing that they would shrink by up to 40 percent in the felting process.

Then I added pink and magenta accents to simulate the centers and stripes of the blooms.

Once the blossoms went through the wet-felting process, which involves hot water, soap, and lots of rolling manipulation, they got beaded stamens.

These felted blossoms would grow on a sunprinted background of the actual morning glory leaves.

Here's the end result, this year's take on Salute to Grandpa Ott: Salute to Grandpa Ott II.
Salute to Grandpa Ott II, 2013

Salute to Grandpa Ott II, detail.  I'm really pleased with the degree of detail in the sunprints.
Meanwhile, back in my raised bed, the place where Grandpa first set his twining tendrils, way back when, it's now late October, and time to remove this year's invasive crop of Grandpas.  Until a couple of years ago, every spring and summer, I would uproot Grandpa's seedlings from that raise bed, every single time I saw them, which was almost every day.  They were the great-grand seeds of the original seedlings I bought from the West Hartford Farmers' Market and planted in the raised bed a decade ago.  And every year, in late summer, I always see that I missed one, because there he is, clambering out from wherever he was and exuberantly draping himself over everything around him.  Even then, I would pull him out, despite the beauty of his flower.

Now no more.  A couple of years ago, I brainstormed a safe place where these pushy plants could bustle their pods all they wanted.  One group grows along a fence, a place where little else will grow.

Another group grows in a flowerpot on my deck and drapes itself across a window frame.

Isn't he lovely?
Despite my efforts to contain this invasive vine, Grandpa Ott seedlings continue to pop up in the raised bed where I first planted them so long ago.  This year, he really got out of hand in September.  Look at him here trying to take over my Russian sage.  But isn't the color combination devastatingly beautiful?

A month later, look at how they've taken over.  I had to get those vines, loaded with seed pods, out of that space. 

Today I did the deed, and here's how that spot looks now:

And even though it's the end of October, the Grandpa Otts around the window are still putting out blossoms.

And I'm going to collect a handful of the know, just to make sure.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Buddhist Temple

When our middle daughter Leah graduated from college in 2007, she taught at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand for one year for a year.   That same year, 2007, our oldest daughter, Julia, moved to Jerusalem for one year, having been admitted to Hebrew Union College and begun the first of five years of education leading toward ordination as a cantor in the Jewish faith.  So there was our family in 2007, with one daughter in Thailand, the other in Israel, and the youngest, Lucia, at home here in West Hartford, in her sophomore year at Hall High School.

As Christmas school vacation approached, we knew what we had to do:  take advantage of the vacation to visit Israel and Thailand.

It was our most unusual Christmas ever.

When we visited Leah in Chiang Mai that December, we learned that on her walks around the city, she'd wandered into the precincts of a temple, Wat Sirisoda, where she met a friendly young monk, her own age, Ankhan Jirapornkanda, who called himself Tony.  We visited Tony at the temple where he lived, and there, he explained to the family the four noble truths and the eightfold path, which are principles underlying the Buddhist religion.  I'm still in touch with Tony via Facebook, if you can believe that.  Last time I heard from him, he said he was "deeply happy."  He calls me Mom.

Here's the family in Chiang Mai, Thailand, visiting our monk friend, Ankhan Jirapornkanda, who is of Karen descent, and goes by the name Tony.

In addition to visiting Tony at Wat Sirisoda in Chiang Mai, we also visited one of Chiang Mai's most revered sites, a hilltop temple called Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep is the name of the hill where the temple is located.  Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is the name of the temple itself, which dates back to 1383.  It's thought to enshrine a shoulder bone of the Buddha, and is therefore a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists.  It's reached by a 309-step staircase, bordered, on each side, where stair railings would otherwise be, by sculptural images of undulating dragons, worked in gold and enamel. These dragons, called naga, are thought to protect the site.  The stairs ascend through verdant vegetation to the sacred precincts of the temple itself.
Dragon staircase leading to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

There was a palpable sense of the sacred on that hilltop, created not only by the exquisite architecture itself, but also by the feeling of reverence in the pilgrims stepping unshod in its courtyards.  Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep caught my breath and captured my imagination.

That sense of the holy inspired the creation of not one, but two art quilts showing the temple, the staircase, and the verdant hillside.

Buddhist Temple I--2008.  The section at the bottom of this quilt states the Buddhist eightfold path:  right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Buddhist Temple II--2010.  The steps iterate the four noble truths, followed by the eightfold path.  The four noble truths are 1) that suffering or dissatisfaction are endemic to the human condition, 2). that suffering originates in craving, 3) that it is possible for suffering to cease, and 4) that the eightfold path forms a way out of suffering.
Both quilts were juried into Images 2012, a venue of the Lowell Quilt Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2012.  And now, as a way of advertising the 2013 festival, the Lowell Chamber of Commerce,  in its publication Lowell Today, has used the image of Buddhist Temple I, next to the caption, "World's Finest Quilts."

I'm humbly and gratefully awed.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tender Beginnings: Thoughts on the Construction of Nests

Tender Beginnings:  Thoughts on the Construction of Nests

Birds, tiny creatures with tiny brains, build their own homes.  This fact raises in me profound feelings of respect and admiration, not only for birds' construction abilities, but also for the nests themselves, so perfectly designed for their purpose.  As an art form, they are about as pure as they come--devoid of ego, arising only from need,  and woven with skills passed down from the dawn of time.

I've just finished constructing a bird's nest with my felting machine, using natural materials like seaweed and raffia, and it was so time-consuming and labor-intensive that I wish I could have approached it with more of birds' instinct-driven cheerful urgency.

When I see an unused one on the ground, I usually snag it, and as a result, I've collected a few over the years.  Once in a while, a family member gives me one or two.  I'm going to show you a few.

This one, for example, sent to me by my brother-in-law, Deepak Mazumdar, is centered on a smoothly-constructed cup of mud, covered with soft fiber on the inside and rougher grasses and twigs on the outside.  It's fragile but surprisingly durable.  And how the heck to birds work with mud?  Do they carry it up there in little buckets?

The next two reflect genius in the use of available materials.  In the first one, the bird has clearly made use of at least one cigarette filter.  In the bottom one, the bird has used what looks like shreds of a dirty plastic bag.

See the cigarette filter?

Shreds of plastic bag?
My absolute favorite, in the genius of its use of available materials, is the tiny nest below, picked up off the ground in Cape Cod, and consisting of fishing line monofilament and dryer lint.
So maybe you can't tell, but this creation consists mainly of fishing line and dryer lint.

Just today I added a new nest to my collection, but I wish the nest hadn't been available.  The story is this.
In our yard, Joe and I have a house-shaped birdhouse on a post, and in that birdhouse there have lived many generations of house wrens, the adults of which are always tireless in the building and protection of their nest and the feeding of their babies.  Their bubbly sound, both cheerful and nervous (you can hear it at this link-- twittered forth about once every other minute.  But if one of us was ever near their house, instead of twittering volubly, one parent bird would patrol the hemlock hedge next to the birdhouse, scolding and chattering and trying to get us to go away.  I did explain that I was sharing my yard with it, and not vice versa, but it didn't help.

Last Sunday I found the birdhouse on the grass and the wrens gone.  My theory is that a cat climbed into the hemlock and jumped over to the birdhouse.  The house toppled to the ground and the cat ate its contents.  This theory was confirmed when I saw a gray cat climbing in the hemlocks, and after neighbors told me that a new neighbor's cat was a mighty hunter.

I'm sorry the birds were gone, but I was anxious to see that nest into which they poured their all, week after week.  I unscrewed the back of the birdhouse and found this:
Because I so admire nests and their creators, I recently used my new felting machine to make a nest out of seaweed, wool roving, water-retted flax, and raffia.  This creation, Tender Beginnings, was made in response to an invitation extended to me and a few other American quilters to send entries to the Kagoshima Friendship Quilt Festival in Kagoshima, Japan.  The theme of the show is My Favorite Season.  Mine is spring, with its deliciously fulfilled expectancies.  Thus, an image of a nest for the quilt festival.

Would you believe that I keep a bag of dried seaweed on hand, just in case?  It's a natural material, super-lightweight and flexible, so I thought it would work well if I felted it onto a disc of wool batting.

The seaweed won't hold to the wool batting base unless it's held on with wool roving.  Here's a look at that process, involving a layer of seaweed held down with wisps of roving.  The needles of the felting machine felt the roving to the batting, holding the seaweed down. 
When I was done, I had this:
So you know what I did?  I flipped this creation over and sewed a piece of muslin to the back, outlining both the outer and inner edges of the nest.  With the muslin thus sewn down, I was able to slit it in several places beneath the nest outline and insert fiberfill between it and the cloth, thus producing a three-dimensional effect.  I sewed the result onto a sunprinted background that had been embellished with hand embroidery, applique, and felted leaves.  I filled the nest with felted eggs.

And voila:  Tender Beginnings.
It's an homage to birds and their homes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


 When a group of quilting friends formed the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective two years ago, we made exhibitions our primary goal.

The Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective:  L-R, Antonia Torres, Mary Lachman, Carol Vinick, Diane Cadrain, Carol Eaton, Karen Loprete, Rosalind Spann.  Photo by Dominic Scaramuzzino.
Two years and many shows later, we're now opening Botanical Inspirations at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, Connecticut.

We were lucky to be able to show our work at the Arboretum's striking new Silver Education Center, with its dramatic clerestory windows:

The center regularly throws open its doors for community events, and in fact there was a group of school children in there, learning about flowers and butterflies, as we hung the show.  The Arboretum is a lovely facility, well worth a visit.  Take a look:

People traveling from points north in Connecticut have the additional advantage of the option to travel there  via the Merritt Parkway, an old-style roadway known for its scenic layout and use of trees to create a garden-like setting.  Never mind that the road is somewhat too narrow and sinuous to accommodate 2013 high-speed traffic. 

Botanical Inspirations celebrates the beauty and variety of nature, from mushrooms to birches.  Here's a peek:

L-R Raised Beds, Harvest Moon, and Flower Garden by Mary Lachman
Autumn Trees by Rosalind Spann
Standing Tall by Mary Lachman and Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms by Diane Cadrain
We members of the Fiber Arts Collective threw open the doors of our show on Sunday, June 9, 2013, with a well-attended reception in conjunction with the Arboretum's annual garden tour.

The show will hang for the month of June, 2013.  Plan a visit, maybe in conjunction with one of these events:

Because we love it when people look at us when we're exhibiting!
And check out our blog:
L-R Mary Lachman, Antonia Torres, Carol Vinick Carol Eaton, Rosalind Spann, Diane Cadrain, Karen Loprete.  Photo by Dominic Scaramuzzino.