Diggin' In: Windowsill art makes the outdoors come in 

November 24, 2014

Virginia gardener Nancy Ross Hugo has always been in the habit of putting little snippets of plants and ripening fruit on a windowsill at her home in Ashland, Va.

"I have a windowsill right above my kitchen sink, and I’ve always enjoyed looking at plant material backlit there," she says.

But, it really goes back further, to when she was six years old and her mother started her making little flower arrangements.

In 2011, she began creating windowsill arrangements daily.

"I just wanted to see what would happen if I practiced this activity the way other people do poetry or drawing or music," she says.

"It helped me pay much closer attention to what was going on outside. That’s the biggest payoff — making you a better observer and keeping you in closer touch with the seasons."

Now, Hugo hopes to pass on that passion through her new book, "Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons." In Virginia, she’s a well-known author, having earlier written "Remarkable Trees of Virginia." In Howardsville, Va., she also operates Flower Camp, a 50-acre retreat where she once offered flower-related programs but now rents it to nature lovers at .

The 177-page windowsill book takes you on the journey of choosing containers, finding plant material, combining and shuffling materials, playing with leaves and vines and breaking away from bottles as containers. She even shows how a blade of grass or a pile of apple peels can be arranged into art. A month-by-month photo gallery makes it easy to duplicate what you like for your own home. Her blog provides ongoing ideas.

"Windowsill Art" is $18.95; published by St. Lynn’s Press, it’s available at .

Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still enjoy vignettes from nature. On morning walks, Nancy looks for seasonal tidbits like a sweet gum leaf or a discarded bottle in a ditch. She brings home branches of colorful foliage in the fall or stems of roadside wildflowers in spring.

"Drop them into a bottle on the windowsill, and you have an instant arrangement," she says.

You can, however, practice this art form without a windowsill, she adds. Any spot will do.

"But, here’s what I like about windowsills — they are a bridge between the outdoors and indoors," she says.

"They provide gorgeous backlight and shadows, and they are usually narrow, so you can’t let your arrangement get too big, which is good."

For windowsill arrangements, containers make the difference, and a chapter in the book offers tips on choosing them. For instance, a vase with a broad base and a narrow neck is definitely easier to use because it requires no mechanics like floral foam to keep everything upright. A vanilla extract bottle or cruet is perfect, but Nancy’s daughter has a website at that offers some of the oddball, hard-to-find containers she uses, including a test tube container Nancy’s husband makes.

The book also stresses that no skills are needed to do windowsill arrangements.

"As a tree person, I’m particularly keen on getting people to observe, and celebrate, all sorts of tree parts — from the lowly, but gorgeous, gumball to the exfoliating bark of the sycamore," she says.

"There is always something worth celebrating in the woods, on the edge of the woods or even just under urban trees. If people would think of the things trees shed — including leaves, seed structures, and cones — as art objects as opposed to debris to be removed — they’d be much happier.

"I really hope the book appeals to anyone who loves nature, who wants to see more and who wants to play with plant material."



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services