Natural world inspires Plantasia vendors

Among the Plantasia vendors is Ribbonry, which makes wildflowers out of ribbon. Among them are Michaux’s lily (left), named for French royal botanist Andre Michaux, who set up his garden in the 1700s on what is now part of the Charleston Air Force Base. At right is a handmade floral collection representing wildflowers of the Carolinas.

In Camela Nitschke’s mind, wildflowers are underappreciated because most people don’t know enough about them. She is passionate about conserving wildflowers, gifts from nature often found unexpectedly in fields.

Nitschke, who owns a shop called Ribbonry, passes along her passion through “wildflowers” she creates with ribbon.

Nitschke will share her knowledge of wildflowers and how to make them with antique French ribbon during Plantasia, the annual Charleston Horticultural Society plant extravaganza on April 12-13.

She hopes her workshop will inspire people to care about and to conserve wildflowers.

“Plantasia: A Green Market for Plant Lovers,” builds on the Lowcountry’s history as a gardening mecca.

The two-day event in Wragg Square, which includes workshops designed to help attendees become better gardeners and opportunities for gardeners to connect, maintains its roots as a place to purchase some of the best plants available.

Nitschke also will be a vendor, selling kits for making wearable wildflower pins that will continue to inspire conversations about them and educate others.

As for the workshop, it’s “so much more than an exercise in learning to make pretty flowers,” says Nitschke. “The whole voyage shows how to make an authentic copy of a wildflower. I teach the Latin names, educate those taking the class as to where to find the wildflowers, their dimensions and the soil they grow in.”

Those who take the class can see step-by-step how the flowers are made, she says. They also will get an easy-to-follow set of directions to use later.

While she will have kits with antique ribbon for sale at Plantasia, the techniques learned in her session can be adapted for use with ribbons found elsewhere, she says.

“I consider these real works of art, something to proudly put on their hat,” Nitschke says. “The bottom line is, I want people to learn about the wildflowers.”

Larry Smith, another Plantasia vendor, always has loved history and old buildings. Once a traveling chemical salesman, Smith made time fly on the road by taking pictures of historic places. After retiring, he looked for an interesting hobby.

So Smith set up a studio, It’s for the Birds, that turns out birdhouse reproductions of historic structures.

“It has just turned my whole life around,” says Smith, who makes church, tavern and barn birdhouses. “I have so many (subjects) to choose from. You never run out. There is enough in Charleston alone to keep me working for 100 years.”

Smith builds the birdhouses to replicate the structures that inspire them, he says. The knowledge he acquired selling chemicals helped him to develop a chemical-aging process to keep his creations looking authentic.

The craftsman, who prefers Colonial-era buildings, makes the birdhouses out of reclaimed old-growth cypress logs that sank while traveling a waterway to a sawmill, he says. “It’s good wood, and when it’s been under water for a couple of hundred years, it’s even better.”

His birdhouses, which have sheet-metal roofs, are one-of-a-kind, he says.

“I am doing this to have fun,” Smith says, who builds 35 to 40 birdhouses a year. “If you do the same things over and over, it’s not fun.”

A tiny Pennsylvania sewing shop with linens bearing vibrant images of Monet paintings also will be at Plantasia, says John Mitchell, whose wife, Nancy, owns La Cigale.

The business has its roots in relationships that stem from the couple hosting exchange students from Europe.

The pieces, which have licensed designs, were made because they whet a gardener’s appetite, says Mitchell. Some of the pieces, made of coated cotton, also bear images by artists Cezanne and Van Gogh, he says.

“The designs have a history that go back to the late 1500s and early 1600,” Mitchell says.

“We are very small,” says Mitchell, who also makes tapestry weave and jacquard table linens. “We are a cottage industry.”

The pieces are sewn by a handful of women, either in Pennsylvania or Europe, who work part time or from their homes.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.