So, it's here, finally. That elusive balance I've struggled to achieve for the past few years. I feel I have arrived. I'm there!
I find myself singing The Who ...
don don don don don don ...
And freedom tastes of reality
I had the guts to leave the temple! I cannot explain the sense of release in letting the big house and garden go. Something I felt so entwined and entangled in, and have untangled, dropped, and walked away from. The first weeks full time at the cabin in the woods were bliss! A simple 12x12 foot space without electric power, septic, tv/internet ... and it was bliss! It was also a test run to see if my husband and I could spend at least four months living there next summer. We have come to the conclusion we CAN, and not only that, but look forward to it!
Off the grid living is pretty convenient, really, with solar panels for power to charge the phones and tool batteries, etc. We have a two burner propane cook top, a propane on-demand water heater, propane heater for chilly days/nights, and a compost toilet from Nature's Head. We have our laundry serviced as in drop off and pick up (thanks Nicole!) — nope, not terrible at all. We haul water in and store it in a 35 gallon holding tank for dishes and showers (outdoors) which, honestly, IS a chore and something we will work on changing next summer. A solar powered pump runs the water through the water heater. We converted our chest freezer into a solar-powered refrigerator with the use of a special thermostat regulator (whaaa?). The chest freezer is better insulated and opens from the top so is much more efficient than a refrigerator. It works quite well but we still buy ice for cocktails which is something we need to figure out because I am a ritual believer in happy hour and ice is a good 40 minutes away round trip. A bag of ice in a good cooler lasts a couple of days if it's not terribly hot.
Our solar "refrigerator" on the porch aka "The Green Room."
Our cabin kitchen as viewed from the bed in the "bedroom."
Our cabin was built to last by us with minimal maintenance in mind, a refreshing change from the 100 plus year old house we left behind. The garden will be a raised bed, standing height (see plans here), for veggies and a SMALL area of flowering perennials that will be easy to tend. If I'm repeating myself it's because I believe in what we say comes true!
I have so much time! Time to focus on myself, my health, painting, kayaking. Such change! I completed three paintings before we left for our winter digs AND completed one I began in 2017. Before, I would be lucky to complete three paintings in a year! Best of all, there aren't any onlookers! No one is there to watch or hear what I am doing aside from the deer, porcupines, raccoons, birds ... it is so liberating!
Fast forward travel South ... Now, we are at our little cabana, as I like to call it, in Florida's Nature Coast. It is a little larger than 144 square feet at a whopping 660. We will spend time here through May(!), and I'm getting good and settled in. There's been a lot of packing, moving, shuffling, sorting, storing these past couple years ... I'm ready for things to be in their place, a bit of routine and a little fun! We have neighbors, but it's a different, completely laid back pace. They don't give a hoot what I, nor anyone else, does. I walk everywhere because the weather, and folks, are usually pleasant.
The main living area of our little cabana - really it's all one needs. We actually have a separate bedroom off to the left.
The garden is a bit of work but fun ~ tropical vibes ~ believe me, I've learned not to over extend. It is manageable. Nature surrounds, after all it is the Nature Coast, so I don't feel the need to create a forest in my backyard which I think it what I was subconsciously attempting to do at the old house. The veggies are grown at the community garden and that helps. The fruit trees planted by the previous owner, which I intended to try to keep alive and thriving, are going to be replaced as they decline (from lack of special treatment) because I am a habitat/wildlife gardener and the trees are not natural in this environment. They require fertilizer and water and extra care. I've already replaced two, one already dead before me, with native trees to this environment; a live oak and a redbud. The live oak looks great! The redbud looks as if it is struggling a bit and I believe it is because our irrigation system was not working for much of the summer. Luckily there was ample rain. I will make sure to water it while I'm here until it gets established. I have other native trees in mind, too, such as Yaupon Holly and Wax Myrtle. Eventually I will replace the irrigation system with a soaker hose system like the one I placed in the back of our property from Gardeners Supply ~ so easy! Most importantly, did I mention that I am in no rush to "finish" the garden? It is a perpetual work in progress. Pictures to come!
So here I am, living the dream. The dream that took quite a few years to whittle down to, which sounds ironic because usually one builds up to a dream. I've downsized to a dream. Trading in the big house for two smaller ones, to live in only during the best of weather. It is like good design — pairing down to only the finer essentials.
I have an art show coming up in January at the local art center! I've already set up my work space so I can create some much needed new work for the show "Flora, Fauna, Fins & Feathers" which I've somewhat incorporated into my newly updated web site as you might have noticed.
My little corner studio space. Not the luxurious dedicated whole room, but quite comfortable and efficient.
I'll be painting and gardening as usual but with much more presence and focus. I'll have time to play creatively, truly enjoy the earth, er, sand, and being outdoors. I'll have time to work on my health and wellth. I try my best to eat and live Vegan. I enjoy preparing and cooking plant-based foods. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about a Vegan lifestyle or plant-based eating ( ; by the way unless, of course, if you ask where I get my protein from.
Lunch! Spiralized carrot and purple cabbage salad with hemp seeds, golden raisins, cashews and tahini lemon dressing with a side of olive bread with sunflower artichoke spread purchased from the Hendersonville co-op on our travels.
The last time I wrote to "ya'll" was at the end of February! (Practicing my Florida there.) The last coloring page I offered was in May (although I do have a new one in the works). The last time I painted? I'm not even sure because it's been so long! All I can say is this is my new norm because I got my JOMO working. No, that is not a typo (Muddy). JOMO is not particularly a new coin of phrase but for those of you unfamiliar, JOMO is the Joy Of Missing Out. There's the Fear Of Missing Out — FOMO — and then there's JOMO. I hope to step back from all social hype (because I don't suffer from FOMO), and retreat to the woods to find my JOMO.
What do I hope to find? Freedom. A new, lighter tread. Creativity without walls or judgement. My inner world. Inspiration in nature. New perspective. Vision. New connections to the astral plane ...
My paints are packed in a box, more of a tote. They usually are and I bring this tote with me back and forth, North and South, and each time I used to plein air paint. The tote sits at camp at the ready. I am waiting on a new, portable easel that weighs in at 4 something pounds but that can fold flat so I can work in watercolor, but I also want to experiment more with acrylics and oil pastels. The easel will provide me with a surface to paint on that can be moved out of the way which is very much a component of small space living.
The catalyst spurring my retreat is selling the house and along with it, the Violet Fern Garden. If you're local and you visited me over Memorial Day weekend you may have heard me exclaim that the house/garden were sold already. And it was right up to when the financial details fell apart. But here we are again and it looks like the financial details, and all other details, are staying together until mid August when the whole lot of it becomes officially "no longer mine." When that happens I hand over the keys and move into the woods never to be seen again ... well, almost. Internet is limited. Charging phones and computers will use precious solar resources. A good book, "nature sitting", meditating with mind and brush will be much less taxing. And the only thing I want to connect to is my paint brush and yoga mat for at least four weeks time. I relish the idea of retreating for awhile and finding my way.
This is where I will retreat to, to paint and find my way back into art and yoga.
I will miss the (fancy) house with its beautifully carved staircase and of course, the Violet Fern Garden. The house, I didn't bring to potential, in fact often neglected, and it needs a few things that her new owner will give to her including warmth in winter and a new roof.
But I take comfort in the fact that the garden is in her glory. She is all grown up and wild and in her very own radiating element without any meddling on my part. She doesn't need — to be divided, thinned, weeded, poked, prodded, reshingled, stripped, painted, cleaned — she just is.
All the critters who live among her agree, the garden isn't in need of anything. I disappear for days at a time and you know what? I don't matter. Everything grows and carries on and then a few of the critters say wait a minute, where have you been, you are the peanut dispenser! Peanuts now, please!? Yes, it might be nice to weed a pathway or prune a few things here and there to please the human illusion of control ... My neighbors think so, as evidenced by discarded grapevines thrown at me over the fence, but you know what? I won't have neighbors for very much longer. Besides, any amount of control excised will be inevitably swallowed up by growth.
Yes, the Violet Fern may creep out of bounds a bit and not look very suburban or kept, but neither do I, and regardlessly she still teaches me. It is this wild side I always appreciate and embrace because that's who I am and what makes me feel connected in the universe. I don't mind giving up control and allowing a few rough edges to fray here and there. I rather enjoy watching the fray with curiosity to see where it goes and what I may learn. I almost feel badly I rooted the Violet Fern here in the center of conformity and confinement. But in her being here, she offers a special respite to those who seek abandonment.
Maybe her new keeper will box her in or even mow her down but it's comforting for me to know the Violet Fern grows freely to her wildest potential before I leave. And it's comforting to know that the new owner will tend to the beautiful house. And it's especially comforting to know that I can walk away and totally miss out.
You go back, Jack, do it again, wheels turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again ...
Well, life is a gamble and so far I feel I'm on a losing streak but at the same time a jackpot winner. This year is about turning inward. It is about staying low and keeping my nose to the grindstone, sharpening my skills and developing new ones. It is about exploring the universe within me and plotting a course for a journey that may actually take me somewhere.
I love being here in this new place that I call home because it is where I feel at home and where I feel in rhythm with the universe, the earth, the tides. It moves and I move with it. It's that feeling I had in Maine (and lost when I moved). Honestly, I don't want to leave, ever. I feel like I have stride again and I don't want to lose that by heading North but there is the lake and that is another special place where I "move with the earth." (See what I mean about that jackpot?) But the village house, yes the one where the Violet Fern Garden is located, will be on the market this summer and I hope to let it go and that it doesn't break my stride.
In this mode of skill development and exploration, I ironically find myself right back where I started and doing it again ... passionate about making a garden and creating art. So again, the garden and art path lies before me and I am going to take it again right here to Cedar Kottage Gardens. I want to be that quirky artist with the funky garden that the townspeople talk about. I think I can/will be.
After all, I've done it before — created a garden, created art — and well, this time I think I will do things a bit differently. I'm really taking my time for one with some unfounded level of patience I never knew I had. I have mentors this time around, too. Mentors I've discovered like Marcia Donahue and Keeyla Meadows. I'm reading my way through Keeyla Meadows' book "Making Gardens Works of Art." Kaylee has me looking at colors and shapes differently and thinking in themes — which I love. Marcia is really stretching my artistic eye and has me thinking how I can reuse materials in an appealing way. I'm also reading Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You." He has given me new perspective on pursuing passions as a career choice. Things are beginning, finally, to fit together in my head. Whereas before I concerned myself with outcomes, I am now concerning myself with processes and development. It's a much better place to be in.
Don't get me wrong thinking that I am oh so in tune — my source of income is still incredibly uncertain and so far zilch, but yet, I feel certain that it will come. I just need to keep on keeping on. I need to stay on this path. I have my momentary break downs, as I think we all do. So there is my deep, philosophical reveal about where I've been on my internal journey the past few weeks. Now let's move on to Cedar Kottage Gardens which is proving to be a challenge.
I am having a difficult time learning about native plants and sourcing them here in Florida. After all, Florida is the land of invasives. I have recently joined the Florida Native Plant Society with the hope of learning more about the plants and where to source them.
Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, grows on the rails of our back deck. It is one of the few native plants I've managed to find. Here it is blooming in February for the first time. You have to love a plant that blooms in February. It's been fun watching the bees fly in and out of its flowers and oh, it also smells divine!
There aren't any nearby nurseries or landscaping stores when I am in fervor on a whim but this may actually be a good thing. I bring pavers in a few at a time whenever we (husband and I), find ourselves in Gainesville which is a good hour and half away. I've managed to plant approximately 5-8 native plants and the rest are either "rescues" or my enamor with all things tropical being stuck in the North my entire life up to now. I need to be extraordinarily organized for a trip to Gainesville with materials listed and latin plant names memorized so that I come back to the island with something positive. Yesterday I managed to find a native cultivar Yaupon Holly cvs Schillings dwarf at Lowe's, but much to my dismay I discovered that this cultivar is strictly male so no berries — poopy! However, even though male it will still flower and the flowers are beneficial to pollinators in the spring, so there's that.
I also have this bias called "I don't want anything that resembles the North" in my new garden - which includes hostas, day lilies, Maple trees and heck yes, even echinacea. Rustic branch structures are out - driftwood structures are in. Tree trunk pedestals are out but palm tree trunks are a-okay. There aren't many stones in FL, but limestone, brick and pavers are permitted and there are shells — many, many oyster and clam shells. Whereas I have decoy fish swimming in my garden up North, I have Palm bark fish swimming here in Cedar Kottage Gardens.
Palm bark fish that will swim in a school along our fence. Apparently many artists make these guys into reindeer but reindeer are much to "Northern" for me.
I love that I can have pots of all sizes and shapes here and leave them in place, year round! I love placing them in group arrangements. Some of the pots will become works of art (especially in the new lizard garden — stay tuned). My (Northern) love of muted, subtle colors and textures doesn't work for me here. I love the bright colors of our newly screened-in front porch: turquoise, coral, sea green, burnt orange and deep sea blue.
Palm tree trunks and an arrangement of pots just in front of the newly screened-in porch in my new love of bright colors. Sadly, none of these potted plants are native but the orange of that Kalanchoe and the just opened Clivia make them winners. A native Passion Vine, Incense, is planted beneath the trellis and will host, hopefully, Zebra Longwing Butterflies — Florida's state butterfly. A Nepenthes, a carnivorous plant, is planted in the hanging pot and suffered from our cold spell but is making a comeback. It is still very young.
Cedar Key recently stopped recycling glass so I am putting all that "glass" to use. Up North I painstakingly scraped all the labels off the wine bottles in my wine bottle border but here the bottles are my edging and the labels stay on. They will disintegrate over time, anyway. (See what I mean about my newfound patience level?) Originally I did this out of desperation for fear of the lawn mowing guy mowing down anything I planted over the summer but now, well, I am recycling!
The back corner of the "yard" when we moved in.
The back corner of the lawn now. The small tree, upper mid-left, I grew from seed. It is not native but a Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica, that flowers beautifully and is usually covered in Monarchs when I walk around the neighborhood which is what attracted me to it in the first place. The fruit is edible and sweet if you're lucky. Apparently it is a crap shoot when growing from seed. It will grow 10-20 ft high. Native Muhly grasses, both pink and white are also planted in this bed. There is also a native beauty berry cut off in the photo. I am so excited to grow this because those purple berries are stunning and not hardy enough to grow in Z4. The patch of Spiderwort, looks like tall grass, is native and I added a Shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeeana, behind that for its tropical blooms. It is not native and not quite in flower yet. There is also a very young key lime tree because who doesn't want to pick their own key limes? Alas, not native. As you can see the lawn looks horrid in the winter and I plan to pave it over with cement tiles and stone and add a little bistro table with chairs over time. That huge "fountain of foliage" is a rescued Sago Palm that was kicked to the curb and will be part of a future kidney-shaped bed in the center.
It is spring here and as such there are some good road finds as people clean up their lawns. My husband and I have scored on two large Sago Palms and what I believe is a Cook Pine (vs. Norfolk Pine) — only because it survived our cold spell — all kicked to the curb. I'm not sure if they'll make it but we brought all of them home anyway and lovingly placed them back into the ground. Hopefully with a little nurturing they'll happily grow again. Sigh, neither are native but they sure have that tropical flair I love.
The view when we moved in. That may be an apricot tree on the left. There were ten fruit trees planted before us including peach, plum, apricot, and apple.
The view now. Another rescued Sago Palm and the beginning of a garden path. I have been mulching the fruit trees but need to weed and add more mulch. I simply placed cardboard around them and used some lumber that was left under the deck to build a frame for around the tree and mulched over it. It held up pretty well over the course of a year. I'll continue mulching and weeding out the grass and over time it should hold its own. I plan to plant a white bird of paradise in the new bed where the bottle edge is. It is not native but oh what tropical flair! I can't resist. I want to sit on the deck and be surrounded by tropical foliage.
These cactus bracts were laying in the road, fallen off the mother plant, in early winter so I scooped them up thinking they were fair game and placed them in a pot — obviously they have rooted with the onset of spring. I'm hoping the same for the century plant (another curb outcast that was too mangled to grab whole so I cut off a few leaves that I also hope will root). I don't know if either of these is native to this area but I do know they grow well here in spite of cold spells.
These roadside "rescued" cactus bracts are beginning to grow. I am hoping the same for the blue-grey century spikes behind them.
Another roadside rescue, Captain Cook. A cook's pine I believe as a Norfolk Pine wouldn't have faired well in our cold spell this winter.
I can't begin to fathom how I am going to learn about the many, many succulents and which may possibly be native? All I know is that succulents are the name of the game. They grow fantastically in pots year round with minimal care. I pick up 2" pots at Lowes or Home Depot and arrange them in my pots. They remind me of corals, the ocean, the sea. I have one started in a Whelk Lightning shell, too — fun!
Also at the front entrance of the screened-in porch, various succulents in a collection of pots. Indigenous clam shells fill a little drainage area.
This pot border marks the line of the new Lizard Garden. I am going to paint all sorts of colorful lizards on the pots and plant them with succulents. I still need a couple more larger pots (next trip to Gainesville?). This rectangular area will be mulched by the time we leave for summer and there's a native cabbage palm tree start, Sabal palmetto, on the other side of our house in a not so convenient spot I am going to move here as well so I can view it from the porch. The cactus will be planted here as well. There are many lizards that roam here during the day and they, too, are mostly invasive although I did see a native ground skink one day on our porch! The little lizard guys love to sun themselves and the pots will be great for sunbathing.
Another native that visits the garden so far, the Florida Box Turtle. Larger ones pass through and I find many babies in the backyard when I'm digging. I want to research them more and see what I can do to create habitat for them. They are really cool!
There you have it, the humble beginnings of a "do it again garden." I'll be busy painting, planting, and cooking over here.
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