Sunday, June 14, 2015


Since moving to Richmond, VA six years ago, I've never successfully maintained a compost pile. The first time, I kept it in a big garbage pail that my landlord had okay'ed, but after several months when I was ready to use the compost he came and dumped it in the garbage. This happened to me twice! In my second apartment in Richmond, I had a composter out back, but then the chimneys of the apartment caught on fire and I had to move out so my landlords could repair the building. In the rush of having to find a new place to live in the middle of February, I didn't bother bringing my composter over, and I think my landlords threw it away. 

I thought I was done with trying to compost in an apartment, especially because now I live on the second floor. But I had a big pot on my balcony that I started throwing vegetable scraps into over the past winter. In the spring I bought a little shovel so I could turn my compost, and I decided to keep it up. 

Look what grew out of my compost last month!

At first I thought it was zucchini or maybe cucumbers. Then as I was weeding through the compost and pulling up the dozens of plants that had sprouted, I saw the baby leaves of one sprout still stuck inside of a seed... a PUMPKIN SEED!!! So it turns out I am growing pumpkins. My next door neighbor gave me a pie pumpkin when she moved out, and it just sat there until it started rotting, so I threw it in the compost pot. I've never grown pumpkins before, and I think it will be really fun. I transplanted a couple of the pumpkin plants to another pot, and kept a couple in the compost. I learned that pumpkins like very rich, well-fed soil, which makes sense since they grew out of my compost.

Here's my mint plant that started sprouting a bunch of babies after I harvested some of the sprigs for mint tea. I also bought a bunch of herb plant starters because I want to create a medicinal herb garden. Nothing too crazy, since I'm just an amateur gardener. I'm studying up on the medicinal benefits of herbs, like lemon balm, chamomile, mint, and thyme. I highly recommend the book "Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide" by Rosemary Gladstar. It focuses on 33 herbs (many of which are common kitchen herbs) and recipes for using them for healthful benefits. I welcome any other book suggestions on herbalism for the beginner if you want to leave a comment below!

By the way, here's my recipe:


- Pick a couple sprigs of fresh mint from your garden (mint is a thug, so plant it in pots if you don't want it to take over. It's easy to grow!)
- Clean the mint by placing it in a bowl of water for about ten minutes and let the debris sift away. 
- Put a small pot of water on boil.
- Turn off the heat and place mint leaves in water and let steep, covered, for at least 20 minutes - the longer the stronger the tea. (I like it strong!) I'm not sure if you HAVE to remove the leaves from the stems, but I do because I'm afraid the stems might make it bitter. I will have to test this theory and see if there's a difference.
- Pour in some honey to sweeten and place the concoction in your fridge.
- Drink cold glasses of tea whenever you feel sluggish in this summer heat. It's so refreshing and it really helps!

I've always loved plants, but I know relatively little about them. Learning about their benefits makes me happy and I feel more connected with the plant. 

I think the reason I love plants is because they are quiet and it's easy to see how they work with outside nature (the seasons and weather conditions) and their own natures. Ever since my aunt helped me transform my parents' yard into a garden about eight years ago, I learned that plants can be like humans. Some plants (like mint) are thugs and will take over if you don't reign them in! I felt bad pulling out all the mint to make way for other plants, until I saw how their root systems send runners all across the soil, even under our porch steps. Then I wasn't afraid to pull them. Some plants thrive in poor conditions, showing that they have an inner strength - they're survivors. Some plants are fussy and need a lot of care. Some plants like a lot of sun shining on them, and some wither under all that light and prefer the shade. Some take a long time to bloom. 

Purslane, one of those plants that thrives with little care.

I think if I was a plant, I'd be one of those plants that doesn't like too much sun, is a slow bloomer, and is somewhat delicate yet also stubborn, refusing to die.

As I was looking up websites on herbalism and on growing pumpkins, I stumbled across the information that plants that have been recently transplanted often just "sit there" for awhile without appearing to grow because they are sending energy to their root systems instead of to their leaves or flowers. For edible plants like basil, you're supposed to pinch off the flowers so the plant focuses its growth on the leaves (so you can eat them!) I like the metaphor of directing energy in a plant, and I think it applies to humans, too. 

In my recent post about my artist's rut, I said that my creativity had returned. It's true that I no longer feel paralyzed with fear about art-making, yet I still feel like I'm moving very slowly. I realized I must be focusing my energy on my roots - the system inside me that anchors and nourishes myself so I can be stronger. Last year I focused so much on the fruits of my labor (making money, particularly with wholesaling my notecards) that I burned out. This year, I knew I needed a break but thought I would probably have to do another big wholesale push at some point in order to help my income. I felt so wishy-washy about the whole thing. I went to the National Stationery Show last month as a looker (not vendor), which I'm sure I'll blog about soon, hoping it would inspire me to make card new designs and get back into wholesale.

But after reading about plant transplants, I decided I'm going to let go of wholesale this year. It's a big relief. I may try to find a few more stockists and I'll supply cards to stores that already order from me, but I don't want that to be my main focus. It's too much for me right now. Now I can focus the energy from "solving the wholesale problem" to healing and strengthening the other things I do. I can always return to wholesale if or when I feel ready to. 

I am moving to slowly these days in everything I do, and I need to just embrace that. I have to remember that I am re-establishing that subtle internal infrastructure before I can "flower" again.

What about you, Readers? Where are you directing your energy at the moment - to the roots, leaves, flowers, or fruits? Actually, I'm not totally sure what leaves would represent in this metaphor. Leaves take in the sun and photosynthesize, providing food to the plant. Okay, this metaphor is getting complicated and I really do need to learn more about plants.


  1. Hooray plants! Plants are so important to me and I also often think about the metaphors that they suggest. I don't know a whole lot about herbalism either but one thing that really helps me is using raspberry leaves as a tea to help with menstrual cramps--and then you get to eat the berries! (Raspberries are also garden bullies--with thorns!!--so watch out).

    I actually think leaves are the best metaphor for me right now. I recently packed up all of my belongings and stored them so I could go to the opposite side of the country for the summer and do an internship. Then in the fall I will move again to ANOTHER corner of the country (still 900 miles from "home") to start graduate school. This is a strange time for me where I am definitely investing a lot of energy into my own development, but roots don't seem like the right thing because I keep moving around. Maybe I am making thick waxy leaves that will be around for a while, that will allow me to be fed and support root growth once I am in one place long enough to allow it. Or, maybe I am a potted plant!

    Take care Aijung.

    1. Hi Michelle!

      I've heard that about raspberry leaf, but haven't tried it yet. Also, I don't know where any wild raspberries are - you're lucky to have some around! I recently discovered Black Cohosh root which I bought dried and boil into tea. It's supposed to be good for lady time, too, but I've found it works great for me if I drink it before bed - I fall asleep faster and have more restful sleep.

      Wow, your life sounds exciting right now! Leaves do seem to match the best metaphorically. I like the idea of you being a potted plant! I wonder if there are plants that move around a lot. I know air plants don't have roots... hmm. Either way, I hope that you have a great time with your internship and grad school. I'd love to know more about both (you can email me if you want).