Posts in garden
The End of the Season in the Garden -- Reviewing and Planning for Next Year

We’ve been having cold nights for a while now. We’ve even had snow.

Autumn Snow on My Garden

Except for a few hardy growers, my garden is finished for the year.

The Last Rose from My Garden for the Year

At the end of the season (and in truth, even during the season) I’m looking forward to next year’s garden. I am terrible at record keeping, although I’ve tried. I have notebooks where in the past I glued in plant tags and descriptions from catalogs. Sometimes I’ll write down when I plant what and where, but I’m inconsistent. This year I started a garden sketchbook journal thinking it would be a perfect combination of my art and garden record-keeping, but I only filled up a few pages.

My Attempt at Keeping a Garden Sketchbook Journal Didn't Last Very Long

A garden journal of some kind can very helpful (using your garden photographs as a record is another option). But even if you’re like me and try to commit things to memory (not always successfully), it’s good to spend time thinking about how things did in the garden and what you’d like to do differently next year.

Try asking questions like: What new varieties did I grow this year and how did they compare to what I’ve grown in the past? What changes did I make in garden layout or design and how do I like them? What did I wish I had grown more of? What did I have too much of?

Every season has its experiments and disappointments. There are happy surprises. There are bugs and diseases. Each year brings new lessons and insights. Some things are within your control, others aren’t.

My tomatoes were terrible this year. All my plants got blight and then late in the season (usually when my tomatoes are really getting going) the wet weather made the fruit start to rot on the vine.

Weather is something I certainly don’t have any control over!

I’ve had a string of bad cucumber years and this one was no exception. Anyone know of a super disease resistant variety that can withstand cucumber beetles?

Purple Snap Peas Were Colorful and Fun in My Garden

My purple snap peas were beautiful and fun, but not as prolific or tasty as other varieties. And my sweet peas? Didn’t bloom at all.

My herbs were wonderful (I’m still harvesting cilantro, fennel, parsley and thyme) and after this year’s black swallowtails I’m definitely never going to be without parsley and fennel. The kale is still going strong (another plant I’ll be sure to always grow).

The nasturtium varieties I grew were all so beautiful (though I didn’t keep track of which ones I planted where — oops! But have I ever met a nasturtium I didn’t like?).

Lots of Nasturtium Flowers From My Garden

The Cut and Come Again zinnias were gorgeous and prolific, even if the flowers were a bit smaller than other varieties.

Cut and Come Again Zinnias from My Garden

Zinnias are one of my go-to flowers for cutting. They hold up so well and keep blooming and blooming.

Dahlias are another one that provides me with armloads of arrangements. I’m hoping to be able to overwinter my dahlia tubers this year.

Dahlias from My Garden

So many flowers!

Of course, once the seed catalogs start arriving I’ll begin garden planning in earnest.

But until then I’ll keep this year’s garden assessments in mind.

What about you? Do you garden? How did it go? What are you thinking about next year?

Allowing The Change (And New Calendars)

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. In part with the changing of the seasons as I wrote last week, but also because change seems to be all around.

Giant Sunflower Seed Heads from My Garden

Isn’t it always?

The other day on her blog Flora Bowley shared her only painting “rule” and it’s simply “Allow the change”. Such a good rule not only for art-making, but for life in general. Change is always happening and it’s better to step back and let it come than to constantly fight it.

Marigolds and Purple Basil Hanging on in My Autumn Garden

I do feel a coming change in my art (and my business), or maybe just the need for change. In truth, I’m already constantly changing and making changes. Sometimes the changes are tiny, things that only I would notice. There are changes on my website and this blog. There are ebbs and flows in my creativity and in my focus. Some changes are seasonal — and it finally makes sense to me that as a botanical artist it should be this way — and some are not. Learning new skills helps to shape some changes. And others come as a sort of trial and error as I navigate my way through art and business.

Sometimes changes come easily and sometimes I really stress over them.

Zinnias in My Autumn Garden

This is the 6th year I’ve designed a calendar with my art but it’s the first time I’m having someone else print it. I really dragged my feet about this decision and kept putting off making it. I probably should have done it last year, but I was so reluctant to give up control of the process and the moniker of “handmade” (even though I was using a computer and machine to make them!). Printing and trimming them myself was so labor and time intensive. The paper and ink were expensive, too, and at times the paper I was using was hard to find. Financially it didn’t make sense for me to print them myself. And then last year I had printer problems which made things even worse. Wasted time. Wasted materials. I know it was the universe telling me it’s time to move on. Even so, when I started working on my new calendars this summer, I put off looking into printing options.

Now that they’re printed I look back and wonder why it took me so long to take action on a change I knew was necessary.

Recently Amy Butler announced that she is leaving the quilting industry and her new collection out this month will be her last. When I first started making quilts and learning about fabrics (and their designers), I became smitten with Amy’s designs and her “midwest modern” aesthetic. Getting glimpses into her studio in books and magazines (and online) was both magical and inspiring to me. Although I was a bit shocked by her announcement, seeing an icon in a creative field change direction like this is also inspiring to me.

Dahlias Still Looking Glorious in My Autumn Garden

Change is an inevitable part of life. There’s no way around it. Even when we drag our feet about decisions for change, we know it will eventually happen. I’m going to work on being more open to change. To let go of preconceptions. To allow the change.

I know it won’t always be easy, but I’m working on it.

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

Are you with me?

Joy List Monday

It's been ages since I've done a Joy List Monday post  (I've never done one in this space), but this morning I am overflowing with joy and wanted to share it with you (and encourage you to discover some joy at the start of a week, too).

Sunflowers Blooming in My September Garden

We have been having the most perfect weather and once again I'm struck by how easily the weather affects my mood. But more than that, our area was hit with devastating storms and record flooding. We made it through fine, but many people around us lost so much.* The sunshine and clear skies feel hopeful.

We spent as much time outdoors this weekend as we could, soaking up the sunshine and savoring these perfect days. I had other projects I could have been working on, but this late in the season I didn't want to be inside.

A Jumble in My September Garden

My garden is a jumble right now. Plants flopping over from the weight of flowers or fruits or seeds. Many things past their prime and plagued with powdery mildew or rot. BUT there is still so much beauty. Flowers are still blooming everywhere I look.

September Roses Blooming in My Garden

We're still eating daily from the garden. The bees and hummingbirds are enjoying the flowers and the chickadees and goldfinches are eating the seeds of spent sunflowers and coneflowers. So much beauty.

I've been working on letting go of summer (and not beating myself up over all the things I didn't get to do this year). I've been working on taking things slowly. Not rushing myself and not letting myself feel rushed. It makes a big difference, even when things are busy.

And Joy Lists always help, too.

Here's today's:

  • sunshine, blue skies and perfect weather
  • garden salsa on repeat
  • sunshine coming in the windows, again, as the sun shifts its seasonal position in the sky
  • my nasturtiums on the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine
  • my sweet JoyLetter subscribers (I'm giving away a copy of the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine to one subscriber... I'll be choosing a name on Wednesday, so if you want a chance to win, sign up before then!)
  • a walk through my parents' meadow with grasshoppers leaping at each step
  • visits with extended family last week
  • my 2019 Tea Towel Calendar design (you can vote for it in Spoonflower's contest here)
  • upcoming time off
  • eating apples picked from my parents' trees
  • projects, plans and ideas

I hope you are finding joy and beauty surrounding you today, too. I'd love to hear what's on your list.


*I'll be donating 10% of my sales from the month of September to flood relief.



Magic in the Garden, Part 2: Black Swallowtails

Back in July I spotted some black swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley in my garden. I was thrilled to see them. I think butterflies are some of the most magical creatures in the garden.

These caterpillars were pretty small and I didn't recognize them at first. Their early phase doesn't look at all like their later ones*. In fact, at this point they looked kind of like bird droppings, a natural defense as protection from predators.

Tiny Black Swallowtail Caterpillars in the Parsley in My Garden

I found five caterpillars in all and I watched them obsessively, checking the herb bed multiple times each day to see their progress.

Black swallowtail caterpillars feed on parsley, dill and fennel as well as things like carrots and queen anne's lace. Some people consider them a nuisance and other people plant their favorite foods to attract them to their gardens. Although "my" caterpillars ate a lot, they left plenty of parsley for me.

As they grew their colors changed quite a bit and they became more recognizable.

A Developing Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Parsley in My Garden

Slowly their numbers dwindled. I don't know if they were just hidden in the foliage or if they left or were eaten. One day after we had a big storm I couldn't find a single caterpillar, but I never stopped looking.

A couple days later one appeared on the opposite end of the herb bed where it had crawled up a fennel stem.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Getting Ready to Pupate

It didn't seem to be eating much or moving around. It was so chubby! I figured it was getting ready to pupate.

I looked for information about the process, wondering how long it would take for the caterpillar to pupate and how long it would spend in the chrysalis. As I mentioned last week, I learned that black swallowtail caterpillars form a silken thread to hold them in place while they're in the chrysalis.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Attached to a Stem of Fennel with a Silk Thread and Getting Ready to Pupate

I learned something else, too. They don't form a chrysalis to enclose their bodies the way a moth spins a cocoon. When they shed their exoskeleton for the last time as a caterpillar it reveals the chrysalis beneath.

I was fortunate enough to catch it happening.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Beginning to Shed its Skin and Reveal its Chrysalis

The caterpillar wiggled and wiggled and the outer layer peeled back, almost the way you or I would peel off a sock.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Shedding its Skin and Revealing its Chrysalis

Once it began the process was finished quickly.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Almost Finished Shedding Its Skin to Reveal its Chrysalis

And by the end the transforming butterfly was still attached to the fennel stem with the silken strand. It continued to wiggle around for a while before settling down to rest.

A Black Swallowtail Chrysalis Attached to a Stem of Fennel in My Garden

I wasn't sure if the butterfly would emerge this year or not. If it's late in the summer, black swallowtail butterflies will remain in the chrysalis overwinter.

How late is late? I couldn't find a definitive answer. With our August weather feeling more like September I wondered if this would be considered late. 

I checked the chrysalis every day. Not much changed. But then about two weeks later I noticed it had gotten darker and I could just about make out the patterning of the wings beginning to show through. I knew it wouldn't be long before the butterfly emerged.

Tuesday morning was cold and wet and dark. I worked in my studio a bit before going out to check on the chrysalis. 16 days after the caterpillar shed its skin to reveal the chrysalis , it was empty.

The Empty Black Swallowtail Chrysalis

Why had it chosen such a bleak day to emerge? 

At first I didn't see the butterfly anywhere. I was looking too high. Matthias spotted it nearly on the soil at the bottom of the plants in the herb bed.

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly Emerged from Its Chrysalis

The day remained wet and dark and cold. I kept running outside to check on the butterfly. It stayed where it was, perhaps waiting for the sun or a rise in temperature. When I left for my job at the library it was still there, but by the time I came home it was gone. 

I keep hoping that I'll be in the garden and see a black swallowtail fluttering around my flowers, but so far, I haven't. And that's the funny thing. I haven't seen them in the garden at all this summer, though the presence of the caterpillars proves there had to be at least one. I'm grateful I was able to witness the life cycle in all its magic. Perhaps next year I'll raise some caterpillars indoors.

What about you? What magic have you witnessed lately? 


*Each phase of a caterpillar's development is called an instar and is measured by the shedding of the caterpillar's exoskeleton.

Magic in the Garden, Part 1

I am constantly amazed by the magic occuring just outside my back door. When I I step into the garden it's with a sense of childlike wonder. There's no need to conjure giant strawberries. I just need to look

A tiny seed grows into a plant that will feed me all summer long. A flower unfurls to reveal a spiral of petals. Dew drops gild the intricate weaving of a spider's web.

A Dew Gilded Spider's Web

You can't tell me that's not magical.

There's magic at an even more basic level: color, taste, fragrance... Each is amazing when you stop and think about it, when you pay attention.

A Mug Filled with a Colorful Bunch of Nasturtium Flowers

I am constantly surprised and delighted in the garden and reminded how much there still is to learn. Observing the black swallowtail caterpillars this year has been such a joy, and a learning experience! Did you know that before they pupate these caterpillars create a silk thread harness to keep them attached to the branch? Can you spot it in this photo?

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Fennel in My Garden Preparing to Pupate

I'll share more about the caterpillars once the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. (Fingers crossed that I'll be able to witness it).

Magic happens in the garden in other ways, too, like an anemone flower suddenly appearing in a pot of (summer-killed) ranunculus.

A Surprise Anemone Blooming in My Garden

No doubt a mistake at the garden center, but magical nonetheless.

One year I had a squirrel plant a peanut in one of my houseplant pots. It sprouted inside at the end of winter. I repotted the peanut and ended up harvesting and roasting the nuts at the end of the season. Not something I would have ever thought of doing! Another year had potatoes sprout in my compost pile, one more gift from the universe.

I think when we're open to these bits of magic they occur more frequently. Or maybe we're just better at noticing them. This summer I was dumping kitchen scraps on our compost pile when I saw something green and growing in the corner of the pile. It was a begonia.

Begonia Boliviensis Survived Dormant all Winter and Then Burst Back to Life

Some of the plants were purchased as annuals for the garden and brought inside at the end of the summer. Last autumn I brought in a few varieties of Begonia boliviensis. Very quickly they began to languish and then each of them collapsed into nothing in the way of children's thumb puppet toys. I left them on the windowsill for a while in case they might sprout back up, but nothing. They were very clearly dead. Because everything was frozen outside I emptied the pots into a tub in the basement, waiting to add the soil and roots to the compost pile come spring.

Begonia Boliviensis Plants on My Potting Table

But apparently they weren't dead after all. The tubers were dormant and waiting for warmth and sun and rain to begin growing and blooming again.

These little plants could be a good lesson. Definitely a reminder to be open to grace, to joy, to magic. But also, as an encouragement not to give up. Don't give up, even when things look darkest. Sometimes we just need to wait for the next season to bloom again.

How I use My Garden Part 1: Creating a Portable Studio

A friend recently mentioned she was curious about how I use my garden and the things I grow in it. Her question got me thinking.

She's right, it's interesting to learn how other people use their outdoor spaces. And I love seeing garden bouquets that combine unusual plants and flowers and reading garden-fresh recipes.

I talk a lot about the fact that my garden inspires my art, but I don't really explain how that happens. So I'm planning a series of posts along those lines. If there's anything in particular that you're interested about, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Morning View in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Oh, and while I'm mentioning comments, have you had any trouble leaving one? I had an email last weekend from someone who did. I tried to troubleshoot it and I did a lot of tests, but couldn't recreate her problem. I'd love to know if it's an isolated event or if others are having trouble, too. If you've had trouble leaving a comment can you let me know?

Now back to the garden!

A Gardenia Flower Unfurling in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Today I want to talk about using my garden as an extension of my studio and specifically, how I've created a portable studio I can take with me when I want to make art outside.

In truth I don't usually paint outdoors -- I find it difficult -- but I do work in my sketchbooks, write and read in the garden. And I'm often photographing plants, flowers or wildlife as possible reference for future paintings, too.

Simply being present in the garden gives me a chance to slow down, to pay attention and to observe what's going on around me. It's the only way to notice things like the caterpillars growing in the parsley, the hummingbirds visiting the runner bean flowers, the toad hiding beneath the fence or the hummingbird moth hovering around the scented geraniums.

A Garden Toad

I've read that for a gardener a bench in the garden is never really for sitting down because gardeners are always too busy. Perhaps I'm a lazy gardener, but I always make a point of having time to savor my space, not just work in it. The weeds aren't going anywhere, but the perfect days of blue skies and puffy clouds won't last.

I usually drag out piles of books, my computer, sketchbook and other "necessities" when I'm spending time in the garden, even if I don't end up using them. Sometimes I get more from simply sitting still and tuning all my senses to what's around me than from drawing or writing about it. 

An Impromptu Outdoor Workspace in the Garden of Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

But I do like to be prepared. For being able to capture the curve of a flower stem or the ruffles of a petal or the pattern made by overlapping leaves. I like to have books handy for inspiration or just for the joy of escaping into stories. If there's computer work I need to catch up on, like sending emails or writing blog posts, why do it inside if I can do it sitting on the patio with my laptop instead?

Over the years I've created and re-created portable studios. Bags or baskets to carry my stuff outside and in. Boxes of essentials at the ready so I don't have to keep running up to my second-floor studio for something I've forgotten.

I recently found a wicker picnic basket at the thrift store that is perfect as my portable studio.

A Wicker Picnic Basket Makes the Perfect Traveling Studio in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Here are some ideas of what you might want to include in your portable studio:

  • a sketchbook or sketchbooks
  • a journal or notebook
  • a pencil and pens for writing and drawing (Microns are my favorite to draw with)
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • a travel set of watercolors and a water brush
  • watercolor or Inktense pencils (these are NOT my favorite, but I've been playing and experimenting with them lately) and a water brush
  • books and/or magazines
  • a camera or smartphone*
  • a laptop*

*being outside is also a good time to unplug. If I don't bring these things with me, I won't be distracted by them. The choice is entirely up to you.

Of course, you don't need a basket to hold your traveling studio. A backpack, messenger bag, tote or suitcase would work just as well, or better, depending on how far you need to carry it.

Outdoor Marker Sketches in the Sketchbook of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Even if you don't plan on creating in your garden, a portable studio is useful for when you're traveling or if you don't have a dedicated art-making space in your home. It's also great to take with you on a hike or a visit to a nature center or botanical garden.

My Instagram friend and fellow artist (and gardener) Eva Shorey recently shared the bag she made for nature walks. I think I'll have to do some searching around the internet for other artists' portable studio ideas, too.

What about you? Do you take creative supplies with you when you're out and about? I'd love to hear about your version of the "portable studio". 


Hello, and welcome to this new blog space. My old blog served me well for almost 8 years, but now it's time for everything to live under one roof.

I'm delighted to have you here with me!

Basil and Zucchini Harvest

These summer days have been filled with so many little joys. And so much creativity. Somehow creativity comes more easily during these long, barefoot days.

I brought my colander filled with zucchini and basil into the kitchen for a quick and delicious dinner this wek. The ease with which summer harvests can be turned into meals is such a joy to me.

I sautéed garlic with olive oil added the chopped zucchini and just before it was finished (but still crunchy) I mixed in the basil, roughly cut in strips. Served over couscous topped with shavings of parmesan cheese it was delicious.

Snapdragons in the Dining Room

I have enough flowers blooming now that I'm trying to remember to cut them and bring them inside.

First of the Zinnias

The zinnias and snapdragons will reward me later as they get bushier and bushier with more and more flowers.

Preparing to Begin Painting Barn Quilts

I've been working on garden projects and projects in the garden. Painting a couple barn quilts has been on my creative to-do list for longer than I'd care to admit. I found the wood, discarded on the side of the road last year. Although the shed I was going to hang them on no longer exists, I have a couple ideas of where they'll go.

Petunia Watercolor Sketch and a Clean Palette

Inspiration for my work in my studio is everywhere. In fact, I can't keep up.

These small original paintings are now available for purchase in my shop

These small original paintings are now available for purchase in my shop

It's no wonder that summer is my favorite season, even with the heat and the bugs.

What's been inspiring you lately?