Tagged Flowers and Plants

Use Your Newspaper to Make Flowers

Colorful paper blooms are easy to make and perfect for a spring table top.

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them,” Henri Matisse said. Even in this newspaper — just glue a skewer between two pieces of colored or painted newspaper and snip it into simple flower shapes.

Group the flowers together for an everlasting and inexpensive centerpiece for your spring table, or place one at each place setting. Mini versions can be used as place cards; they’d make even a tiny gathering feel special. If you leave the bottom of the skewers undecorated, you can poke the flowers into a cake or cupcakes for an instant decoration. Or cheer up someone’s work-from-home situation with a potted paper bouquet; they’ll thank you a bunch.

Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Supplies

  • Newspaper (find colorful spots or paint it)

  • Acrylic craft paint and paintbrush (if you want to paint the newspaper)

  • Pencil

  • Scissors

  • Wooden skewers

  • White glue

  • Small bowl and a paintbrush (optional, for the glue)

  • Glue stick (optional)

  • Small flowerpots, vases, recycled bottles or jars.

  • Fine gravel or sand (available in craft stores, optional)

Make the flowers

1. If you’d like to, paint a few sheets of newspaper.

2. Cut two pieces of paper to the height and width of your planned flower, leaf and stem or just the flower head.

Jodi Levine for The New York Times

3. Brush or squeeze a thin strip of glue down the center of the paper, place your dowel on top and apply some more glue over it. Apply a think layer of glue over the rest of the newspaper and place the other piece on top. Gently press it down. (If you want to use as cake toppers, leave the end of your dowel bare.)

Jodi Levine for The New York Times
Jodi Levine for The New York Times

4. Lightly pencil a design (you can use the ones here as a guide or make up your own) and cut out. Let Matisse’s flowers inspire you.

Jodi Levine for The New York Times

5. “Plant” the flowers in small flowerpots, vases or repurposed bottles or jars. Pour an inch or two of sand or fine gravel into the container to anchor the stems.

Learning to Love a Stepmother Through the Language of Flowers

I loved the strenuous labor, the smell of the upturned soil as I planted a seed, and learning from her how to shepherd a plant through its life cycle.

The day I met Carole, I was determined to hate her.

It’s hard to embrace a stepparent, harder still to keep adjusting if your father, like mine, married many times. Carole was his fifth wife; their marriage bestowed on her the thankless title of my fourth stepmother.

I was 22. My mother had been my father’s first wife. The opposite of Carole, Mom was a frail woman who locked herself in her room to write and never left the house without earrings and a hat. When I was 7, my parents divorced and Dad left us in New York to move to California. While Mom raised my sister and me, he became the founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum. He married and divorced three more times. When I graduated from high school — between wives No. 3 and No. 4 — he’d beckoned, “Come to college in California.”

It was not the father and daughter reunion I had imagined. A steady parade of his girlfriends streamed through our lives. By the time Carole arrived, I was sick of women moving into his house with their cats and cozy furniture, wanting to be my “friend.” As soon as their relationship with Dad fell apart, they’d disappear, along with any semblance of friendship.

Dad’s previous wives had revamped the kitchen. Carole focused on the rock-strewn front yard where Dad and I had attempted to grow agave and ice plant. “Ice plants attract slugs and snails,” she declared as she ripped out the neon pink flowers. “We can do better.”

Carole was all about renewal. She volunteered for Berkeley’s Parks and Recreation Commission. She ran a watershed project whose mission was to reopen streams and creeks that lay beneath Berkeley’s city streets. I did not want to be another restoration project.

I was used to running wild. My father had lax rules. Most weekends, before Dad married Carole, I drove the two hours north, with my troop of friends from the University of Santa Cruz, where I attended college, to his house in the Berkeley hills. We drank his wine and partied in his living room. As long as I didn’t interfere with his dating life, he didn’t care if I passed out on the couch. Carole didn’t like this arrangement. She wanted me to call before I arrived. She wanted me to “be safe” when I went out at night.

“You’re not my mother,” I snapped. The last thing I wanted was to be cared for by someone who I was certain would soon leave.

“No, but I’m your stepmother, and this is now my home,” Carole replied calmly.

It was her home and she transformed it. After graduating from college, I left for a year abroad. When I returned, the barren front yard was adorned with climbing vines of bougainvillea and princess flower trees, a subtropical evergreen with deep purple flowers as soft as velvet. Where once fluorescent ice plant had struggled to take root, spears of scented lavender, woolly thyme and trailing rosemary flourished. At dinner, Carole sent me outside with garden shears to cut chives for the salad. I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Three years into the marriage, long past the time when previous wives, frustrated with Dad’s philandering, had vanished, Carole stayed. When she got mad, she stormed off for a walk, but she always returned. Saddened, disheartened, but not defeated. As I watched her hold her ground no matter what chaos my dad threw her way, my resentment against her withered away. I recognized the anguish of being enticed and then ignored by my father.

One day she found me sitting on the front steps crying. I’d just broken up with an unfaithful boyfriend. “How can you stand it?” I sobbed, meaning infidelity.

“Sometimes I can’t,” Carole admitted. Then she handed me a trowel. “Dig. It will help.” She had a box of species tulips to plant. “They’re not as flashy as hybrid tulips,” she said, placing a bulb in the earth. “But they’re reliable. Every year, they return and multiply.”

By then, I was living in San Francisco, working as a receptionist. I hated answering a phone in a stuffy office. Gardening with Carole became my weekend release. I loved the strenuous labor, the smell of the upturned soil as I planted a seed, and learning from Carole how to shepherd a plant through its life cycle.

After Carole started a landscaping business and realized that I was immune to poison oak, I became her go-to person for clearing properties. She bought me pruning shears and a garden belt to wear around my waist with pouches for my tools. Up and down the slopes of Berkeley, I swaggered beside Carole in heavy boots as she recited the botanical names of every plant we encountered. Rosemary was of the genus Salvia. Lavender was the easy Latinate Lavandula, and the glorious princess flower tree was Tibouchina urvilleana. “It’s native to Brazil.” Carole said, “but it does well here.”

“Why do you care about knowing every name?” I asked.

She stopped beside a Helleborus bedecked in nodding burgundy flowers. “I was lonely,” she said. “But once I learned the names of plants, wherever I went, I recognized things I knew. I saw friends.”

Carole might have looked as sturdy as a tree trunk. In fact, she was riddled with the same insecurities that plagued me. In that new house, with a contentious stepdaughter and an impulsive husband, she was often angry. She was lonely and lost. Plants were her signposts in an alien landscape. They comforted her and helped her orient and navigate. The early blooming hellebores meant spring had arrived; a purple Tibouchina signaled the climate was mild; and even though a blooming Agave heralded the plant’s demise, it also meant the succulent had prepared for death by propagating “pups” at its base.

Unlike Carole, I never again chose a faithless partner like my dad, but I’m thankful that Carole’s commitment to us endured. She was the reliable Tulipa, the species tulip in our tumultuous home life. She was not just my fourth stepmother; she was my final stepmother, her marriage to Dad lasting 36 years. He is now dead, and Carole suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s — the same disease that ended my mother’s life in 2010. Yet Carole persists.

Separated for this last year because of Covid, I was finally able to visit her again. I wheeled her along the streets of Berkeley. Though Carole could no longer remember the names of her beloved plants, I could. Bending over, I held a sprig of rosemary to her nose.

Salvia rosmarinus,” I said.

Inhaling, she smiled in recognition.


Gabrielle Selz is a writer, art critic and the author of the memoir “Unstill Life” and the forthcoming biography “Light on Fire.”

How To Grow Seedlings With Newspaper

Start Your Seeds in Yesterday’s News

A simple roll of newspaper creates a biodegradable pot to get your spring planting season off the ground.

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

  • March 6, 2021

For those dreaming of spring, starting seeds indoors allows you to begin the growing season earlier than planting them outdoors (where you have to wait until after the final frost). And some plants, like certain tender vegetables, just do better starting indoors. With so many seeds in those little packets, finding enough containers can be a task. Instead of buying containers (or even using recycled plastic ones), try a simple technique to turn this newspaper into biodegradable pots that you can plant directly into your garden (therefore not disturbing your seedlings’ roots) when conditions are suitable. Until then, enjoy the up-close seed-sprouting show, which every year feels like a mini-miracle.

Tips:

  • Read the seed packet or do a little research to see if your seeds should be started indoors or outdoors, or even if they need any special treatment like soaking, chilling or scratching.

  • These pots do not retain water as long as plastic pots, so check on them at least once a day to make sure they haven’t dried out.

  • Open or rip off the bottoms of the pots right before you plant them outside or in a larger container to allow for root growth.

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Materials

  • Newspaper

  • Scissors

  • Small can (from tomato paste, for example) or straight-sided jar

  • Spray bottle or small bowl of water

  • Pencil or permanent marker (optional)

  • Seeds

  • Sterile potting mix

  • Tray or baking sheet with a lip (optional)

Step 1

Cut the newspaper into strips so that they wrap around your can at least one and a half times and are at least 1 inch taller than the can. (For a tomato-paste can use a strip that is four and a half inches wide and 12 inches long.)

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 2

Roll the strip around the can, just loosely enough that you will be able to slide it out.

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 3

While holding the rolled newspaper at the seam so it doesn’t unroll, push the newspaper overhang down over the edge, creating four or five flaps to form a flat bottom.

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 4

Mist or dab drops of water on the flaps to mold them to the bottom of the can. Once the paper pot starts to hold its shape, slide the can out and allow it to dry for a couple of hours.

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 5

Label the pots in pencil or permanent marker (or add a plant marker after planting).

Credit…Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 6

Fill the pots with moistened potting mix and sow the seeds according to the seed packet. Keep them on a tray or baking sheet with a lip to catch the draining water.

How to Make a Dried Flower Bouquet

Show Your Love With Dried Flowers

With lush textures and a smaller carbon footprint than their fresh counterparts, dried floral bouquets have been making a comeback the past few years.

A bouquet called the Scarlet Botanist, from The Quiet Botanist flower shop, includes a combination of dried banksia, globe amaranth and caspia flowers.
A bouquet called the Scarlet Botanist, from The Quiet Botanist flower shop, includes a combination of dried banksia, globe amaranth and caspia flowers.Credit…Rebecca O’Donnell
Morrigan McCarthy

  • Feb. 6, 2021, 10:57 p.m. ET

When you think of Valentine’s Day traditions, red roses probably top the list, along with a box of chocolates or a meal at a cozy restaurant. But no one needs to be reminded that this year has been anything but traditional. Maybe this Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to lean into the untraditional and try something fresh. Er, not fresh, as the case may be.

Dried florals have been making a comeback the past few years, thanks in part to their typically smaller carbon footprint than their fresh counterparts, which are often shipped long distances in refrigerated trucks or planes.

“A lot of people have a preconceived notion of what dried florals are,” said Rebecca O’Donnell, owner of The Quiet Botanist, a botanical apothecary and dried flower shop in Hudson, N.Y. But today’s dried bouquets are not the dusty, dull arrangements of the past. Instead, they are all about showing off the lush textures that result from the drying process.

If you’re interested in making your own bouquet, you can purchase dried flowers at many local floral shops, online from specialty companies or direct from small growers like Sarah Haven of Catkin Flowers in Brunswick, Maine. Ms. Haven’s flowers go straight to a dark barn to dry after harvest, which keeps the colors as vibrant as possible without dyeing them. She got into the business after two friends asked her to do their wedding flowers. “They wanted something that would last longer than their wedding day,” Ms. Haven said.

The romantic longevity of a dried bouquet is just one bonus. Ms. O’Donnell points out that the flowers can also change over time. “You can be creative and experiment,” she said. “When it comes to spring, you can add in some fresh flowers. You can add a little bit of water and then let them decay a bit.” And to combat the inevitable dust, she said, “just use a hair dryer on a really low speed or take them outside and shake them up a bit.”

Worried it won’t look right? That’s OK. “If it’s a little bit undone and not perfect, it’s more interesting,” Ms. O’Donnell said.

What to buy and from where:

Your local floral shop may stock dried flowers, but there are also several online shops with great variety. (If you don’t feel like trying your own hand at a bouquet, many local and online shops sell lovely premade bouquets and can ship as well.)

Start with five different elements, and several stems of each. Aim for at least one from each of these four categories: tall, full or fluffy pieces; delicate, textured stems; a bold statement flower; and grasses or greenery as fillers. Gypsophila, or baby’s breath is a favorite, or try caspia for a slightly more structured look. Bunny tail grass or globe amaranth will lend interesting shapes, and protea and banksia make nice statement options. Grocery stores often carry eucalyptus stems, which are popular in dried arrangements and smell great, or Ms. O’Donnell suggests that you can even forage for fillers like cattails or wild grasses that grow in your region.

As a guide, your tallest pieces should be roughly one to one and a half times the height of your vase.

What you need:

Your selection of dried flowers and grasses

A pair of very sharp scissors

Clear tape

A vase

Create your own:

1. Use the tape to create a grid on the top of the vase. You’ll place the stems inside the grid, helping your arrangement to stay in place.

2. Start with some of your tall, fuller stems to roughly define the shape you want your bouquet to take. If you find your stems are really brittle, Ms. Haven suggests misting them with a spray bottle while you work to give them a bit more flexibility.

3. Add in some greenery that is of similar height or slightly shorter than your tall, full stems.

4. Place a few stems of your statement flowers. Try putting the first one fairly low in the vase and avoid perfect symmetry to keep things looking natural and modern. Play around and see what you think looks good.

5. Look for empty spaces and add stems as needed.

The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Name That Plant!

Photo

Credit KJ Dell’Antonia

Challenge No. 5: Name a flower, plant or tree.

This week, as part of the Well Family Intentional Summer, we’re inviting you to renew a skill your grandparents (and maybe even your parents) probably had: putting a name to the flowers, bushes and trees that surround even urban dwellers daily.

The names — and what’s more, the uses — of the plants that grow around us were once common knowledge. But for most of us, the need to brew dandelion tea or pop dandelion leaves into a salad evaporated the moment one of our recent ancestors walked into a supermarket. A generation or so later, many of us can’t even identify a dandelion.

British researchers have found that few people can identify five common wildflowers or trees, and the younger we are, the less likely we are to be able to name names. Even biology teachers in Britain did poorly on similar questions — a third couldn’t name three or more wildflowers.

That lack of knowledge reflects our increasing disconnect from the natural world. The more time we spend in nature, the more we want to know it and name it. Identifying a single plant is an invitation to connect with the green spaces around us.

“There are lots of benefits to spending time in green surroundings,” whether it’s a local park or a national forest, says Jessica de Bloom, the author of many research studies on vacation and happiness. A little nature can reduce recent stress and improve our mood. Even if the plant in question is growing out of a crack in a city sidewalk, taking a moment to really look at it and find out more about its place in the world can offer a memorable break in our day (and maybe lead to more outdoor exploration).

How to identify your plant of choice? Technology can make that easier. My kids and I chose a blue wildflower we hadn’t noticed before, and posted its picture on Facebook to test the hive mind. Meanwhile, I found mywildflowers.com and chose a few simple characteristics of our flower from the menu of options offered there: It had seven or more petals, was blue, appeared individually rather than in clusters and bloomed in July. (Similar sites and apps exist for other plants and trees: Try Leafsnap, iPflanzen or NatureGate.)

We had an answer via the internet in three minutes, and from Facebook in four: Chicory, the root of which can be blended into coffee. In fact, it’s in the coffee I’m drinking as I write. The search led to a conversation about chicory and to a real desire to know more about the “weeds” that grow by the side of the road.

If you’d like to test your knowledge of some common North American plants, try our quiz.

This week’s challenge: Name something in nature, and tell us how it goes by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, July 26. You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 28. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.