Backyard Inspiration

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Natural Perfection

I was walking through my backyard today and found this pink rose in full bloom, soaking up the sun and enjoying the spring weather. I couldn’t help but think how amazing nature is. This entire splendor comes from the Earth, a natural gift that doesn’t need any alterations or additives to bring out its beauty. The innate magnificence of this rose is all it took to remind me that Mother Nature sure knows what she is doing.

Pure and Effective

Taking a lesson from Mother Nature, HollyBeth’s products are made with 100% USDA Organic Certified ingredients, harnessing the natural powers of flowers, plants, and trees. Pure and effective, HollyBeth Organics’ skin care solutions deliver radiant skin while maintaining the integrity of the environment. There are no harsh chemicals or artificial ingredients, allowing for a non-toxic, eco-friendly approach to beauty.

Nature knows what it is doing, so why mess with a good thing? Keep it honest and keep it simple.

10 nature loving reads

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Summer Books
Summer’s hallmark lazy, hazy days and laid back schedules offer ample time to dig into a stack of books for some porch-rocking, hammock-swinging, beach-sitting, lake-floating, story-reading delight. This year, let nature provide inspiration for a summer reading list that showcases the original literary muse as the main character. We’ve picked out a few suggestions to set your mind a-bloom and grow your curiosity.

Anthill by Edward O. Wilson

When a Pulitzer-prize winning biologist decides to write a coming-of-age novel, a modern-day classic emerges. Wilson displays the relentless struggle between man and nature through the heroic actions of boy fighting for the land he loves.

Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

The subtitle — How The Largest Movement In The World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming — says it all to describe this thought-provoking work on the origins of modern initiatives for environmental awareness and social justice. Grassroots campaigns have successfully tapped into a collective consciousness with a magnificent ripple effect. Drop your pebble in the water…

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

A talented florist, who survives a lonely childhood in foster-care, becomes fascinated by the Victorian tradition of using flowers to express specific sentiments. As she learns more about the beautiful messages conveyed in the blossoms, she weeds out the nettles from her own painful past.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Establishing a strong connection with nature has always been a vital part of the human experience, yet our modern world increasingly parks us inside a technology bubble. Louv reports on the empirical need for children to enjoy regular exposure to the natural world and to enhance their education with significant time outdoors.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

A Harvard doctorate student finds herself engrossed in the pages of an Puritan woman’s journal, then following a trail of healing herbs and ancient ayurvedic-style recipes that leads her right into the madness of the Salem Witch Trials.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

The author that enraptured readers in The Girl with the Pearl Earring takes on the scientific discoveries of 19th century Britain and the classism creating a cultural “survival of the fittest”. Based on a true story of an uneducated British common woman whose fossil collections impressed the leading scientists of her time.

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

Escape to Nepal on this journey of spiritual discovery as the author accompanies a field biologist on a research climb. The extended trek leads to an emotional quest for both of them.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Born in the Age of Enlightenment and living through the Industrial Revolution, a botanist continues the research of her brilliant father even as her inherent need for questioning is challenged by her love affair with a captivating nature artist. Their relationship must weather the conflicts of Religion and Reason, Science and Spiritualism, Passion and Purpose.

The Thing with Feathers by Noah Strycker

From migration patterns to mating rituals, homing tendencies to nesting techniques, the distinctive behaviors of various bird species can teach us volumes about our own humanity. The truth about instinct and intelligence may be soaring right above us or perched on the limb of a favorite tree.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

With a signature wit and precise execution Bryson puts a hysterical twist on the basic travel guide as he attempts an ambitious hike along Appalachian Trail. Lace up your boots and prepare to giggle. (Hint: Read it quick before the new feature film hits the big screen later this year.)

Garden of Grace

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Garden of Grace

Our neighbors recently traveled to China to pick up their new baby. An extensive and exhausting adoption process culminated in a family journey across the world to a faraway orphanage. There, they were united with the 2-year-old girl waiting to officially become their daughter. They’ve named her Grace, after a revered grandmother and the hymn sung in church the day they’d made their decision to move forward with adoption proceedings.

Born with Down Syndrome, Grace has spent her young life in the Jinan Children’s Welfare Center under the care of a devoted staff. She’s received regular medical attention for various physiological and developmental conditions associated with her trisomy, but she’s been ready to meet her true family. Ready to find her authentic place in the world. And find it she did, when our neighbors flew over — parents, grandparents, and two elated brothers (adorable sprites, barely school-age themselves).

While they were away, a group of families lining our same street, discussed ways to celebrate Grace’s arrival. Her delicate transition needs made the idea of a huge homecoming party impractical, and they’d already been thrown a baby shower. So, we decided to give them something that would grow along with their family. Something that would provide a tranquil, constant testament of our affectionate support. Something that could inspire them the way their beloved family continually inspires all of us.

A garden. A friendship garden of hope, love and grace … for Grace. A garden bursting with  RED, the Chinese color of luck and happiness, and filled with meaningful plants.

As an amateur hobby gardener, I volunteered as project manager and went into the planning phase quite blindly, having only envisioned an explosion of red flowers. I started by mapping out the different areas of the yard, considering what they’d all see most often — the front curb and mailbox greeting them as they drive in and out, the walkways, the entry steps, an area directly in view from their front family room window. I puttered around various nurseries, reading tags, and started to piece together ideas. The garden plan became a little pattern for a patchwork quilt of flowers and plants, giving visual warmth as well as sentimental comfort. As I found plants I liked, I researched them selecting items representing Grace’s personal history and illustrating this first chapter of her new story.

Once all the plants had been selected and delivered, our neighborhood team met together on a clear (thankfully) Saturday morning with both adults and children eager to dig. The kids chattered gleefully as they worked, so excited to be a part of the project and to one day show baby Grace which flowers they’d planted for her. We showed them how to read the plant tags and place them in the right light, which width to dig their holes, how to loosen the roots balls and how deep to sink each one into the ground. We watched them pat the soil down, tucking in their charges with doting concern. As we finished, they beamed with pride, standing out in the street to admire our collective handiwork.

The curb area, in partial shade, already boasted bountiful oak-leaf hydrangea to which we added Chinese Snowball viburnum, Lenten Rose and soft silver lamb’s ear — fuzzy to the touch of curious fingers and known for it’s antibacterial properties. The mailbox now blossoms with bright red Double Knock-Out roses which should provide almost constant flashes of color until winter. Finally, we lined the entire approach with bright red impatiens — after all, they’ve been waiting for this precious gift for a long time.

We lined the walkways with cheer and color from red hot poker plant spiking upward like a Chinese firecracker or dragon’s tongue, red Gerbera daisies, the ‘Celebration’ variety of blanket flower and the familiar golden zest of rudbeckia. Gumpo white azaleas filled in a bare spot near the edge of the garage, and on the opposite end, at the base of their front steps a gardenia infuses the warm air with the glorious fragrance that’s made it a treasured flower of China for over a thousand years.

Throughout the yard, we found spots for special accents that spoke to me during my shopping and research. The Chinese glossy abelia brings a symbol of fortitude, it’s western cultivation almost prevented by 19th-century Malaysian pirate attack on the British sea vessel carrying them back. Nearby we tucked a ‘Little Princess’ spirea to delight the newest princess in our neighborhood, and honoring her darling big brothers, we planted two ‘Red Prince’ weigelas, also a 19th-century import brought from Shanghai to Britain by Robert Fortune.

To attract some butterflies for Grace’s enjoyment, we included Lantana camara, red bee balm, and red autumn sage. ‘Little Angel’ Shasta daisies, ‘Frosty Fire’ dianthus and assorted red daylilies soak up the rays in a sunny section while red annuals such as verbena, penta, salvia, vinca and petunia accessorize the open spaces between young plantings.

We created a small bed, centered prominently in front of their main window. As the family goes through the daily routine and the children play, they’ll all look out onto a white dwarf ornamental dogwood (Cornus florida) which will bloom each year at around the anniversary of Grace’s arrival. Red Hino-Crimson azaleas gather around the base of that dogwood, playing around in the dappled light and offering a special message — my research revealing that azaleas are a Chinese symbol of womanhood and referred to as “the flower of home” by some ancient poets. The flower of home… we’d planted over a dozen. Yes, sweet girl, you are home now and you will grow into womanhood in nurturing love, a blessing to us all.

Huānyíng huí jiā, Grace. Welcome home!

 

Are you dirty?

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I spent the weekend dirty. Filthy, actually. Sweaty and smelly. Covered in bruises and bites, scratches and scrapes. My legs now resemble those of a kid just bounding off the bus home from summer camp. Not sure if I’ll be able to squeeze in a manicure this week, so I might have a little explaining to do when clients and colleagues catch a glimpse of my thorn-pricked palms and ragged nails. An irritating throb between my ring finger and pinky marks the path of angry ants while red dots at my ankles either reveal the appetites of nibbling chiggers or an unwelcome poison ivy slap. Despite my battle wounds, I wish I could push away from my desk, skip the rest of my work week and dig right back into that dirt.  

My gardening projects never fully reach completion, instead rambling on and on like the vines I’m constantly pulling out of my way. This time, I managed to plant an entire new corner in a couple of days, but surveying it again this morning, I thought of possible changes. Then, I noticed the weeding and pruning needed on the opposite corner and, toward the back, eyed the perfect spot for some summer bulbs, a wide morning ray spotlighting an empty altar ready for the joyful choir of sun-worshippers — gladiolus, cannas, dahlias, perhaps more daylilies along the fence… definitely rudbeckia to smile up at everyone, proud of their signature black-eyes. The shady spots whimper for extra attention, too; under distant trees, a few hostas and ferns await companions in quiet repose hoping to see friendly foliage rooted before the neighbor’s English ivy encroaches on their mellow territory.

Such the grand and ubiquitous metaphor, isn’t it? From Eden to almanacs to everafter we cultivate our notions of life and love from the parables of the dirt. Technology, politics, even concepts of art, all change. Dirt remains constant. Century to century, through culture and custom, we dig and we plant. We marvel at what we are able to produce, whether for sustenance, sale or ornamentation. We battle invasive weeds, fret over failed crops and surrender to pests. We venerate the connection between bountiful gardens, healthy bodies and nurtured souls — celebrating the sunny spots that boast the brightest blossoms, resting in the calm shade requiring our mindful regard, watching carefully for threatening invaders and attempting to monitor our growth. We bandage our cuts and wipe away the perspiration. Then we crawl right back into the soil and we get dirty. Gloriously dirty.

Who else needs to dig?

Bumble Bees

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Bumble bees, native to the United States, not like the humble honey bee that was imported in the 1600s from Europe are in danger. As with all 250 species of bees, they are in dire trouble and dying off. That is why I delight when my backyard is a bevy of buzz with all types of bees. I try and plant as many bee friendly plants as possible.

A bumble bee is differentiated from the carpenter bee by having a fuzzy, hairy body. They live in underground colonies, and die in the winter, except the queen. The wings beat 130 times a second. They pollinate plants that are eaten by humans, birds and insects, like cotton, apples, cherries and tomatoes. Unlike the aggressive yellow jackets, they will not attract and sting you. While I took the photo, they were all oblivious to me, intent on the lavender.

Plant native plants in your backyard and leave empty underground nests that have been vacated by rodents free for them. And of course plant more bee friendly plants in your yard. And please don’t use chemicals, your plants love coffee grounds and your roses will flourish with them.

Spring en Pointe

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Spring en Pointe… Spring seems to taunt us in the South, doesn’t she? She waves about warm breezes and flickers sunshine, then flips a switch back to chill. She sputters to life in fits and starts, finally blossoming out a full display in dramatic fashion, waiting for us to swoon and gasp before giving a coquettish wink that says “Oh, THIS old thing, it’s been in the back of the closet for years!” Her annual promenade feels wistfully brief, sometimes merely weeks until her sultry sister, Summer, takes the stage. Yet, that short stay only enhances her mystique and encourages us to develop ways of savoring our fleeting dance with Les Printemps

We’ve grown accustomed to this performance, gearing up for the first few steps at Easter and Passover time and then striking up the band for Mother Nature herself with Earth Day revels. We’re eager to stretch out on sun-warmed grass or stroll through fragrant gardens. We’re ready to see her en pointe… watching the pas de deux as the withered Winter bows before the Ingenue. She’s nurtured us through the bitter cold months and now, without further adieu, she’s SPRUNG!  Each open flower gives an added flourish, and, of course, we’re harnessing the best of those natural talents in our ingredients.

How do you celebrate the glorious Rites of Spring? What are some of your favorite signs of the season? Tell us about them … we’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Azaleas

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Azaleas, in the same family as rhododendrons, can live for hundreds of years. Native to Japan, they can reach a height of 12 feet. With over 10,000 different varieties, one is at a loss to choose between them.  This one is golden azalea or native azalea and is blooming in my backyard. Folklore remedies properties include hypertension and cough. Azaleas symbolize modern, forbearance and temperance.

columbine flower

columbine1Columbine is a native wildflower to North America and is in the same family as the buttercup.  Its name comes from Latin meaning dove like (Columba) and eagle (Aquilegia its scientific name). Symbolism of the flower ranges from foolishness to seduction. It is that state flower of Colorado. There it is actually illegal to uproot the flowers on public land and you are limited to picking 25 flowers. Medicinally the petals have been used an astringent, soothing sore throats and Native America used the petals in tea to treat heart ailments. The flowers are edible and are quite sweet. They are pollinated by bumblebees and hawk moths and are dined upon by hummingbirds. The photo is my columbine in my window box that just bloomed.

 

 

Apricot Seed Oil

We asked Rebecca Bessert to enlighten us on our newest ingredient, apricot seed oil, in our new body oil.

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This wonderful summer fruit brings back memories of my grandmother’s trail mix, which was primarily composed of dried apricots. The fresh fruit is great because it’s sweet but not messy like peaches can be. I also remember the time last summer when I got to the pit of the apricot, and it was split open. I had never seen an apricot seed before! It looked a little like an almond, and felt a little softer. I thought it should be fine to eat, just like other seed nuts…Man, that was bitter! I did a little research after that incident, and learned that the flavor is literally the only bad thing about it! I was actually doing myself a favor by eating it:
Apricot seeds (or kernels) are high in many nutrients, including vitamin B17, oleic and lineolic fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, and E. It’s also high in antioxidants. The best way to get those is through the apricot seed oil. It tastes better than the seed, I can assure you. You can ingest the oil through capsules or use it for high temperature cooking, since it has a high smoke point. It’s great in a salad dressing, too.
But–it’s also an amazing addition to your skincare! The fatty acids help your skin retain moisture and help fight signs of aging. This is essential for dry skin, cracked skin, and thin skin. It also adds a subtle sweet, nutty aroma that’s not overpowering. It’s also easily absorbed into the skin, so you won’t have to worry about waiting around before getting dressed while you let it sink in. (Take that, olive oil!)
Apricot seed oil is one of the main ingredients in HollyBeth’s new body oil! I can’t wait for you to try it! It’s also safe to use on your face.

swallowtail butterfly

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This swallowtail butterfly greeted me this a.m. in my backyard. There are over 550 species of swallowtail globally and roughly 30 in the US. They are the largest butterfly species in North America. Their name comes from the forked wings that resemble swallows. Their wings are transparent, reflecting light through the scales of proteins that fall of while aging. It appears as 2 wings but there are actually four. The average life span of butterflies is 2-4 week. Swallowtail are solitary beauties and do not normally migrate. They communicate, as do all butterflies, through scent and sight. During mating males will do a dance of sort and pheromones to attract the female.  Among others, they substitute on zinnias, oregano, purple coneflower, butterfly bush, overripe fruits, mud and some manure. Fill your yard with native plants that invite bees and butterflies. The Eastern tiger swallowtail (yellow one) is Georgia’s state butterfly.