Posted by: Katie | September 27, 2012

Gardening and Health

In this post, we learn many things from Nancy: her love of flowers, crafts, and the importance natural products. She shares with us detailed information about flowers and gardening and provides many beautiful pictures. In addition, various useful links have been included in the discussion on natural products – go check it out!

How did you first get involved with gardening and crafts?

Gardening sprang up during my adult years from my love of art as a child.  When I was very young, I was encouraged to play with all hands-on art.  My father had enjoyed dabbling in several arts so when he noticed I enjoyed this as well, he encouraged me to try my hand at whatever he could find for me at the craft store. He’d stop by the art store on his way home from work and bring tools, paints, color pencils, home for me. I can remember painting, taking clay classes, doing macrome in the 70’s, making candles, paper mache, block printing, etc.

Not only did I enjoy this, I was told I was pretty good at it…it encouraged me to try whatever fine art form I was exposed to.  I took classes in stained glass, mosaic, enamel work, jewelry making, printmaking, drawing, painting.  After going to college at DePauwUniversity where I majored in fine art (printmaking), I knew my life long love would be to always continue learning new art forms.

My first exposure to gardening was only a little a bit by both my grandmothers who enjoyed their own gardens.  One loved to grow fruit trees, and berries of all kinds.  She made lovely canned jams and jellys. The other enjoyed growing roses.  The real seed for gardening was planted when I lived with my Aunt Ellen and Uncle Don in Pennington, New Jersey during my engagement to my now husband of 26 years.

Ellen and Don grew their plants from seeds, and had a small but bountiful acre lot where they amended their clay soil by adding organic materials.   During my stay with them, they let me join in growing plants/veggies, flowers.  My Aunt was involved with the local herb society, and helped contribute dried flower arrangements each year to the church fall harvest festival.  My Uncle spent much time out planting, and caring for their gardens. They got me totally hooked! That was in 1985.

Since my time with my Aunt and Uncle we’ve moved 3 times.  Each time I’ve experimented with designing gardens, and growing perennials from seed.  Combining textures, colors, bloom time, companion planting, learning all about soil conditions, sun exposure, oxygen and water needs all was fun for me.  It took my enjoyment of art to a new level.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “I may be an old man, but I am a young gardener”. I’ve found gardening is a life long hobby where one can continue to learn something new every day.

My gardening business began after my gardens were on a garden tour to benefit Hawks Inn Historical Society.  I was approached by people who wanted me to create gardens for them!

Designing, planting and maintaining perennials gardens became my business.  When you see my gardens, you will know that I enjoy most English cottage garden style.  It is a sort of organized kaos, with plants next to each other that compliment and blend well.  One might say this is not the typical American tidy garden as it does take a bit of work to keep it up.

More recently I have come to learn about the medicinal properties of many herbs and spices and how they can help with many illnesses and ailments.  Combining my enjoyment of growing plants, learning about herbs and my crafting has turned into making natural personal products – lotions, soaps, etc.

Do you have any favorite plant(s) or flowers(s)?

Picking one flower as a favorite is very difficult for me.  It’s like asking someone if they have a favorite child.  Each is special and has a unique personality as well as individual strengths.

I do have favorite colors and they are shades of purples, pinks and blues.

In spring I love bleeding heart and Virginia bluebells.

As the season progresses I enjoy yellow allium “Moly” with woodland phlox and crater lake blue veronica.

Later in the summer my favorites are mallow with delphium and various lychnis and dianthus.

I do enjoy campanula with yellow wild margurites as well.

In Wisconsin, what is best to plant for the Spring or Summer (both shade and non-shade plants)?

In south east Wisconsin (Waukesha county), we are in planting zone 4/5 which is important to consider when picking the perennials that will survive our winter and climate.  Just as important to consider when choosing plants for our gardens are site location conditions. Site location conditions include light conditions, water/drainage/dry or wet, and what type soil (sand, silt, clay).

Sand, silt and clay in equal amounts make loam the perfect soil.

Most perennials like being split as well as planted in spring.  So if you are dividing an existing plant, it’s best to divide in spring when transplanting has greatest chance for success. A good rule of thumb is to divide plants in the opposite season then when they bloom.  Also good to consider is when planting is that the roots have enough time to get established before winter comes so they have the best chance for survival. (generally more than 8 weeks before frost)

There are many perennials available to plant in the garden. Perennials bloom throughout the season but at different times. There are spring bloomers, summer bloomers and fall bloomers. Perennial plants have a specific bloom season which usually lasts 2 weeks (give or take). The ultimate goal of a perennial garden is a personally pleasing flow of plant material from season to season. This flow can consist of flower color, foliage color, plant texture, plant shape, plant size or any other desirable ornamental feature.

Some great spring bloomers are rock cress, bleeding heart, woodland phlox and Ajuga.

Rock cress likes a hot sunny spot and is great in the rock garden.  Bleeding heart does well in shade as well as sun.  Woodland phlox likes a rich soil and likes shade as does Ajuga.

Nice summer bloomers are Russian sage, Rudbeckia and Purple coneflowers.

All of these enjoy sun.   For shade, nice summer bloomers are the campanulas. The campanula family is large and flowers come in all sizes and colors but most have bell shaped flowers.

Rock cress/spring

Purple Coneflower/summer  (birds love the seed heads in winter)

Do you have any gardening tips for beginners?

I have several tips for getting started in gardening. One is to visit a great garden center in spring. Usually the selection in spring is fantastic with the greenhouses brimming with fresh healthy plants.

My second tip is to get a seedling from a good friend’s garden.  Years later, when that plant is blooming you will remember who gave it to you and that always gives that plant special meaning.

I can remember my first perennial:  dianthus tiny rubies.

I visited a garden center and the salesperson said I’d love it.  I do, and now I collect seeds and take them with me whenever we move to make sure I still have that special plant.  That was over 25 years ago.

What are some of your favorite crafty items to make?

I’ve enjoyed making all sorts of crafts.  As mentioned, I began trying crafts from a young age and find still it’s fun to try a new craft whenever I can find something interesting.  Lately I’ve gotten into knitting mittens and socks.  Each sock takes 18 hours to knit so it’s a labor of love. In the winter it’s fun to wear unique colorful socks that also keep your feet warm!

I’ve also been enjoying making soaps and lotions from great recipes.  There are so many great oils that are good for your skin and when you steep plants/flowers in that oil it gives the oil special healing properties for skin ailments.  Oils are used for making lotions as well as soaps.

I enjoy making things that make great gifts as well as are useful in some way…..not just something that sits on a shelf.  I’ve enjoyed making and giving countless quantities of shaving soap – I put it in handcrafted mugs and give them to many men in my family.

Can you breifly explain the importance of using natural products?

Your skin is your largest organ.  What you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body.

It’s been found that many chemical preservatives may give products a longer shelf life, but are not healthful containing  hormone interupting, or endocrine disrupting ingredients that may even cause cancer.  There are tons of websites and articles on health and the benefits of using natural products.  Here’s one:

If you want to find out about the safety of a specific ingredient:

(stands for environmental working group. Org)  They have a  cosmetic data base call Skin Deep where you can check your cosmetics, etc. for safety concerns.

Do you have any other favorite natural products or any websites you’d like to share?

I worked in a health food store for 2 years in the holistic department so I was fortunate to find many companies who are into making safe products. There seems to be a new wave of consumer consciousness as businesses are springing up all the time.

“Natural and organic personal care is one of the fastest-growing segments of the health and wellness marketplace. Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) shows sales of natural and organic personal care products totaled $10 billion in 2009, representing an 8-percent growth from the previous year. This dynamic growth has continued over the past year, driven in part by the 755 new natural and/or organic personal care products, which according to Mintel, were introduced in the United States since January 2010.”  To read more:

I am a believer in buying local if possible and many small companies put much effort in making great personal products. They may cost a bit more, but I feel good health is worth it.

One in Wisconsin is “Trillium Organics”.   It’s a Wisconsin based company founded by a woman who says:  “OUR FORMULATION PHILOSOPHY
Our Formulation Philosophy is twofold: First we use exclusively ingredients which have an evolutionarily significant history of safe and beneficial use by humans.  Second, we source Certified Organic and meticulously selected cold pressed oils, masterfully distilled and therapeutic grade essential oils and certified organic botanicals.  In the world where downright dangerous, cancerous, hormone interupting, or endocrine disrupting ingredients are in so many modern conventional personal care products, we strive to offer an oasis of wellness and safety for you and your family.”


Craft/knitting photo:



  1. That is the great thing about gardening: the variety of colors and smells:)

  2. I agree with buying local. There is a very small nursery down the road from me and I will go to them more times than not and the flowers are just as nice as the larger brand companies.

  3. Thanks for the plug! Ellen & Don

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