UpS Deep Ecology Artist Fellowship

This online journal of my work as a  United Plant Savers  Deep Ecology Fellow at the UpS Botanical Sanctuary explores through writing and art the Sanctuary ecosystem, its medicinal plants, and my own learning.

The UpS Sanctuary is located in Rutland, Ohio about a half hour’s drive away from Athens, Ohio where I am a clinical mental health counselor, writer, and exhibiting artist.

Ziff photo for ArtBreak
Standing in front of the Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees that I tend with my husband Matthew at our home in Athens.

I am the author of Asylum on the Hill: History of a Healing Landscape (2012) and ArtBreak: A Creative Guide to Joyful and Productive Classrooms (2016).


The UpS barn, which serves many functions at the Sanctuary including dormitory space for interns and the United Plant Savers site office.





Art in the Library: Albany,Ohio

Drawings from my deep ecology artist fellowship at the UpS Sanctuary are up in the display cabinets at the Wells (Albany, Ohio) public library. Albany is just up the road from the UpS Botanical Sanctuary in Rutland.

Reception announcement
Exhibit of UpS Artist Fellowship work at the Albany, Ohio public library.

Making flower essences with the Interns

To wrap up my UpS Deep Ecology Artist Fellowship, today at the Sanctuary I gave a workshop on flower essences for the Spring 2018 Interns. White Yarrow and Elderberry were in full bloom, and after days of clouds and rain we had a sunny day perfect for making flower essences.

I brought Laird’s Applejack from Virginia for our preservative. And we were lucky to have UpS Executive Director Susan Leopold, a Virginian, with us.  This prompted a discussion on the significant  botanical and other resources of Virginia, including Michelle Wright’s Perelandra Center for Nature Research.

Susan brought copies of the Spring 2018 UpS Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation. The cover features a “Forest Caretaker” from my work over the past year at the UpS Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary. You can read the journal here: 18027-UpS-Journal-2018-FINAL-web

A written report on my personal response to the Fellowship is on p. 30 of the Journal. I hope all who read the Journal will become a UpS member or renew membership and spread the word to others! Membership includes the privilege of visiting the Sanctuary to walk the trails and stay at overnight lodging there.


making White Yarrow flower essences at UpS
UpS Interns preparing bottles of White Yarrow flower essence for each to take home. 


Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation
Cover, Spring 2018 UpS Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation,


Beaufort County Open Land Trust: Executive Director position open

The Beaufort County Open Land Trust, the oldest land trust in South Carolina (1971), is searching for an executive director. The Trust’s mission is to “protect significant ecological and cultural places that define the natural landscape while contributing to the health and spirit of the extraordinary Lowcountry region.”

One of the valuable things they do is to acquire and protect natural viewscapes – from tiny pockets to large tracts – so that anyone and everyone can enjoy seeing  and walking alongside  the marshes and waters that make up half the county.

Dopson panorama
Burris panorama

Star jasmine in the Lowcountry

Down in Beaufort, South Carolina for a couple of weeks. It has been raining off and on, with stormy weather approaching up from Florida. Last week we had sun and I was able to make a flower essence with Trachelospermum jasminoides, also known as star jasmine, confederate jasmine, southern jasmine, and Chinese star jasmine.

star jasmine flower essence
Star Jasmine flower essence preparation.

Star jasmine is a non-native plant with a beautiful fragrance that grows abundantly here on fences and in hedges. It is an “in research” flower essence with the Flower Essence Society and thought to provide mental clarity and  practical direction. 

star jasmine
Star Jasmine flowers are about an inch in diameter with a sweet fragrance sometimes described as intoxicating.

While here I am attending Jennifer Bradley’s art classes at Coastal Art Supply in Beaufort. She is helping me develop these blind contour Star Jasmine scribbles with watercolors.

star jasmine painting
Working on a Star Jasmine painting.

Spring at the Sanctuary

February, March and April brought snow, sleet and floods to Southeast Ohio. Today, though, the doors of my studio are open and the sun is shining.

Sunday April 22 was the last meeting of clinical herbalist Caty Crabb’s seven month herbal medicine class at the Sanctuary, and at our break she took us for an herb walk. The Spring Ephemerals are out!

Caty’s summer calendar will also soon be out, and all of us in the class are looking forward to her herb walks and other offerings.

Yellow Trillium
Trillium luteum, also known as yellow wakerobin, blooming right outside the door to the yurt where our class is held.
Wild Ginger
Asarum canadense, Wild Ginger, growing on a rock wall by the yurt at the UpS Sanctuary. Ginger’s flowers hug the ground, and those unfurling leaves are (the only word I can think of) delightful.
Hydrastis canadensis is unfurling. Goldenseal is an at-risk medicinal plant that flourishes at the UpS Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary.
Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf, has an especially short blooming period,  and we were lucky to be there for it. 








Snow in the Lowcountry

Today we were present for the biggest snow event in the South Carolina Lowcountry since 1989: three inches. Tomorrow we return home to Athens.

Yesterday evening, walking through Beaufort coming home from a watercolor class, I heard an owl very close by up in the tall trees. I haven’t heard an owl since we were  down here a year ago.

snow in the lowcountry
Snowfall on the salt marsh of the Beaufort River.

December in the Lowcountry

 It is late December, a few days before the New Year. I am in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 600 miles SSE of the United Plant Savers Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary. Here on the tidal salt marsh of the Beaufort River the morning is brisk and small craft warnings are up.  

Two and a half centuries ago, forests of the Lowcountry were cleared for rice cultivation, and the skills of enslaved Africans and African Americans were exploited to build great wealth for the American rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton industries. A century and a half ago the coastal rivers and their banks were mined for phosphates. With the invention of air conditioning has come massive development of the Sea Islands here, which affects the survival of medicinal plants as well as availability of Sweetgrass (Muhlenbergia filipes) traditionally used for Gullah basket artistry.

It is hard not to become discouraged at the histories of extractive exploitation of humans and landscapes. Smilax, though, keeps on. It grows everywhere in the Lowcountry with the same unstoppable exuberance that one sees in Smilax rotundifolia growing in the UpS Sanctuary.

It flourishes by the water amongst the shrubby growth under palmetto and live oak,  in the neighbors’ rambling camellia hedges, around the doorway of a house, in the trees along the highways, and on a tiny scrap of land next to a hamburger joint.

So far I have identified Smilax auriculata (Catbrier), bona nox (Saw Greenbrier), glauca (Wild Sarsaparilla), laurifolia (Laurel Greenbrier), rotundifolia (Roundleaf Greenbrier), and the fiercely thorned tamnoides (Bristly Greenbrier or Hogbrier).

And have had a go at a small watercolor of Smilax in the manner of Ellsworth Kelly’s botanical works of Grape and Briar.

Smilax watercolor
Smilax watercolor in notebook.


House with Smilax
Smilax growing on a house in Beaufort, SC.
Smilax 1
Smilax with Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides. Some evidence suggests that Spanish Moss can balance blood sugars. It used to be a folk remedy, put inside one’s shoes, to lower blood pressure.



Blackberry: Bringing the winter light

Here in Southeast Ohio the hills are gray, and sometimes russet or indigo depending on the light. Our Earth is now nearly half way in its year long revolution around the Sun, bringing us longer nights, shorter days. Day after tomorrow we reach the half way point in our journey. Winter, the return of the light here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) along with Smilax have been keeping me company this Fall. Not only Blackberry’s thorny canes – now dried – in the studio, but also Wolftree Winery’s blackberry mead in our pot roasts from Marjie Shew, blackberry jam (also from Marjie), and blackberry with its gorgeous indigo and magenta winter color growing at the Sanctuary and in my neighbor’s native plant garden.

At the approach of deep Winter, it makes sense that this intense little Blackberry nature spirit (below) would – to my imagination – fly into a Blackberry touch drawing I was making.

In Winter Blackberry brings the warmth of the Summer sun and the depth of the earth, sweetness and strength. Its molecular structure brings to humans, in the form of antioxidants, protection from stress and other toxins of the world. Its roots and leaves are used for medicines – teas, tinctures, decoctions, extracts, syrups.  And its fruit – pies and cobblers, preserves, wines and cordials. Truly Blackberry (sometimes called Bramble) is dedicated to nourishing and healing humankind. In my mind’s eye is a “Blackberry Preserve” of many acres devoted to Blackberry growing as it pleases, with paths throughout, and a space for preparing delicious Blackberry food and Blackberry plant medicines.

Blackberry nature sprite, touch drawing, water soluble oils on cotton vellum
Blackberry monotype (ghost image), water soluble oils on cotton vellum.


Blackberry monotype (ghost image), water soluble oils on cotton vellum.



Plant education a century ago: Observations of Nellie Maud Roseboom

Last week, while working in the collection of the Southeast Ohio History Center, I came across an astonishing (to my mind) artifact: the botanical journal of a high school student. Nellie Maud Roseboom, born in 1893, completed this work in 1907 as a course requirement at Frankfort High School (Frankfort, Ohio). It contains meticulously prepared plant matter and detailed botanical observations for fifty plants.

For a fourteen year old to search out fifty plants, prepare a sample of each for her journal, and complete detailed botanical analyses would seem a thrilling experiential immersion  in getting to know plants.

Nellie added personal observations for the plants. Trillium erectum (also known as Stinking Benjamin) she described as growing “in rich woods” and “this flower has a terrible smell. ‘Not good.’ ”

Of Taraxacum officinale Nellie wrote of its habitat “any old place” and under remarks added “This flower grows nearly everywhere.”  A few samples of Miss Roseboom’s work are below.

Herbarium and Plant Descriptions, designed by Edward T. Nelson, Professor of Biology, Ohio Wesleyan University, published 1888. From the Nellie M. Roseboom Collection of the Southeast Ohio History Center, Athens, Ohio.




Index for the plant journal.
Pressed Trillium erectum, prepared by Nellie Roseboom.
Description of Trillium erectum, by Nellie Roseboom.
Taraxacum officinale, prepared by Nellie Roseboom.
Description of Taraxacum officinale, by Nellie Roseboom.

Drawing Smilax rotundifolia, and plant medicine

Smilax rotundifolia has kept me company for a month now in the studio. It has accompanied me as I have added plant medicine to my routine and changed my professional day job to make space for new things.

Regarding plant medicine and my recent announcement over breakfast that I felt more permeated with plant substance, my husband Matthew correctly pointed out, “plants are in your body every day, you know” –  broccoli, salads, and these December days oatmeal, oranges and winter squash. Though plant medicine in the form of tinctures and teas seems more focused and more, well, green.

Herbalist Caty Crabb oversees my use of plant medicine. I have noticed two things: sounder sleep and a marked decrease in a desire for refined sugar (Kroger cupcakes (!), chocolates, cookies, whatever).  This from a girl who got up early as a teen so as to beat the rest of the family to the last piece of lemon meringue pie in the refrigerator.

It has taken a while to really see how Smilax grows. Below are the latest drawings, and it is only in that very last, bottom leaf, that I have at all begun to capture the 3D twisting turning spiral pattern of the vine. When Spring comes and the new vines green up I will try looking downward on the plant to capture its spiral in a drawing. Meanwhile, next up is making monotype prints from these drawings.

Smilax clipping in my studio for the last two weeks


Smilax drawing 2
Smilax, graphite on 18×24″ multimedia paper


smilax drawing
Detail, Smilax rotundifolia.