Meet the Artist Behind Our New Wildflower Seed Shakers!

by Isabel Vinton

The trend towards pollinator gardens and planting pollinator-friendly flowers isn't just a fad. Without pollinators, it's not just the flowers that would wither. The animals and insects that help move pollen and seeds from one place and one year to the next hold up our ecosystems, food systems, and so much more. We wanted to do our part to help people give back to pollinators. That's why this fall we released something brand new for the Hudson Valley Seed Company: Wildflower Seed Shakers. Each box can bloom into one hundred square feet of pollinator paradise. And many contain perennial varieties, which, if sown this fall, can establish themselves and come back year after year.

The four mixes in our Wildflower Seed Shakers Collection

But of course we couldn't celebrate pollinators without also celebrating the art of seed, and for this honored task, we chose to work with artist Cynthia Cliff. Based near Washington D.C., Cynthia worked for years as a graphic designer before coming back to what really mattered to her: drawing. Using this passion, she created not one but four original works of art for our four new meadow mixes. We spoke to Cynthia about her return to art later in life, her love of gardening, and the links between the two.

Tell us a bit about your art and why you make it. I am a self-taught artist who is greatly influenced by my childhood growing up in a tiny historic village where I spent most of my days outside—surrounded by farms, extended family and homemade things. I was always making art when I was young, but as I got older I felt that making a living as an artist would be impossible, so I decided to become a graphic designer instead. After many years of building a successful design business in Washington DC, the urge to make art again became very powerful and undeniable. In 2016, after not drawing for over 30 years, I started to teach myself how to draw again, and to explore materials and styles. I now make art almost every single day. It has become an obsession and I cannot imagine life without it.

Cynthia Cliff begins her drawings with paper and colored pencil.

What are your favorite elements of these artworks? What do you want people to notice about them? I have such a strong connection to gardens like these. As a child my parents encouraged me to create my own gardens and I had several different kinds at one time. I prepared the soil myself and planted the gardens using seeds. Waiting for the seeds to grow was like waiting for Christmas. It was exciting to see how the tiny plants developed and anticipate what treasures they’d produce. In making the art for the boxes, I wanted to capture some of that same excitement. I also really enjoyed adding the animals—they are so fun to draw! As a gardener you feel great pleasure in seeing creatures benefit from a flower garden—and come on, seeing a box turtle lumbering along in your flowerbed is pretty cool, right?

 

Tell us a bit about your choices for the color scheme on each pack, and your thoughts about the human elements included in each scene. I knew that I wanted each mix to have its own distinct coloring and personality, so I needed to “manage” the color to ensure four different color families. I did this by making color charts to see which flower colors were most prevalent in each mix. It took a bit of planning and working out before I even started drawing. Deciding which human elements to include was also driven by the content of the mix. I just needed to make sure that they were interesting to look at but didn’t steal the “show” away from the flowers.

After the drawing is complete, Cynthia perfects the details and colors digitally.

What do you hope these works of art say about you as an artist, and about the seeds they adorn? I hope that people can see how much joy I experienced while making this artwork and can feel some of that for themselves. I also wanted the artwork to help people visualize what would be possible with their own gardens and understand a bit about how beneficial gardens are to themselves and to the environment.

How do you think about the role of art in how we perceive nature, gardens, and food? Planting is just another way to be a creative person in this world. Much like making art, you are
combining different elements and building something entirely new that didn’t exist before, and whether you are creating artwork or a garden, you make choices that reveal a bit about yourself—that express your priorities and values. When I start making a piece of art I generally have no idea what it will look like in the end, but there is a certain amount of trust and optimism that it’s going to work out—that the effort and hard work will yield something greater than the sum of the parts and will be worth it. This is just another way that art and gardening are entirely the same.

So go forth and garden! Bolstered by the vibrant animal characters in Cynthia's work, you can enjoy the rewards of helping the animals in your backyard keep making their art everywhere they go.

See more of Cynthia's work at www.cynthiacliff.com and on Instagram @ceecliff_art.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow:

Sow your wildflower patch in early to mid-spring. Mixes containing perennials can also be sown in late fall. Prepare the soil as you would for any bed. Clean out the weeds. Aerate with a garden fork if compact, then rake flat. Lift open the box spout and shake the seeds out evenly over an area no bigger than 100 square feet. Then press seeds into the soil by walking over the planted area or using a board to pat them down. If soil is dry, water seeds in. In fall, soils are usually moist enough without. Continue watering in spring for a few weeks; again, fall sowings usually don't need it. Weed fastidiously until plants reach 12-18" in height. Be patient; the perennial blooms will get better every year!

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