Interview and Giveaway with Author and Illustrator, Sharon Lovejoy

UPDATE 3/25/10:

Congratulations to Viola for winning a copy of Sharon’s newest publication Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars!

(Names were drawn utilizing a random online number generator)

Recently I received a blog comment from author and book illustrator, Sharon Lovejoy. I was so honored that Sharon reads my blog as I am a big fan of her books. A friend turned me on to her book Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots and it is just filled with such creative and inspiring ways to garden with children. Sharon agreed to do an interview with us here at Little Acorn Learning and offered to GIVE AWAY a copy of her new book, Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars

For the first seven years of her life, Sharon Lovejoy was introduced to the wonders of nature by her Quaker Grandmother Lovejoy, a botanist and an educator. As an adult, Sharon’s passion for the natural world guided her to become a naturalist, a watercolor illustrator, and an award winning garden and nature writer. Sharon’s home, business, and display gardens first captured national attention on the cover of the August 1990 issue of Country Living magazine. Since then, her home and garden creations have appeared in numerous books and magazines, and Sharon has been a guest on countless radio and television shows from coast to coast. In 1991, Interweave Press published her first book Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages­ a recollection of the influence from her Grandmother Lovejoy and the inspiration that has introduced tens of thousands of children to the wonders of nature through gardening. Since the first issue in 1993, Sharon has written and illustrated the regular feature column “Heart’s Ease” for Country Living GARDENER magazine. Her column has won four international awards from Garden Writers Association in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2004, and a First Place Award from Maine Media Women in 2002. Her other books include: The Little Green Island with a Little Red House (Down East Books, 2005), Country Living Gardener: A Blessing of Toads-A Gardener’s Guide to Living with Nature (Hearst Books, 2004); Trowel & Error: Over 700 Shortcuts, Tips & Remedies for the Gardener (Workman, 2003); A Day in the Garden (Galison, 2003), an illustrated journal; Sunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden (Workman, 2001), a reissue of the original Sunflower Houses; Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children (Workman, 1999); and Hollyhock Days: Garden Discoveries for the Young at Heart (Interweave Press, 1994).

Eileen: Your books are filled with so many beautiful ideas and projects that help instill a love of nature and gardening in our children at an early age. What was your own childhood like and how were you drawn to such purposeful work later in life?

Sharon: For the first 7 years of my life, I lived in what a child would think of as PARADISE. My parent’s home was built in the middle of my Grandmother Lovejoy’s bountiful cottage garden. Every day of my life was spent with her. I would run out the back door, jump off the porch, and skip through the hollyhock pathway to her back door. Heaven. She read to me (and I began reading aloud at about 3 1/2, taught me how to bake and make various foods, canned with me, taught me to garden, which to me was PLAY, and she filled my life with joy. Without her input I do not know where I would be today. I certainly see her reflected in everything I write and love.

Eileen: Can you tell us more about your day to day life and how you balance your writing, family and other responsibilities?

Sharon: Every morning my husband and I share a peaceful breakfast. In Maine, we sit out on our lovely porch and revel in the sea, the sky, and the nature in our garden. In California, the routine is the same minus the porch by the sea. Right after breakfast, I roam through my gardens (in my nightgown), tend my container plants (I have over a hundred), weed, etc. Then I run through my home chores, cut bouquets, answer e-mails, and make sure the house is smiling at me before I go out to my studio, which is a big blessing for me. It is in my studio that I sit down and lose myself in my writing or painting. I don’t answer the phone (unless it is a family emergency like my granddaughter’s school calling) because it breaks into what I need, which is about 5 to 6 hours of concentration and focus.

I receive many, many e-mails of a personal nature most days. I’ve tried to answer the questions about my life by starting a blog. In the blog, I share life with readers and actually seem to become emotionally involved with many of them. I love the intimacy of people who blog. I feel very connected to them, and I am amazed by their creativity.

I found that computer time was beginning to interfere with personal time. So, I do a blog entry only once a week. That helps.

My husband and I share work. He manages my speaking, travel, contracts, etc. He accompanies me on trips and knows how to set up my television interviews, lay out props, and keep everything running smoothly. He also reads my manuscripts, edits a bit, and runs interference. I couldn’t do what I do without him.

We share wonderful times with our grandchildren. They have their own spaces in our home and space in the studio for arts and crafts. They also have a vast selection of books here (even in the bathroom) and a basket full of musical instruments. I think my new book Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars really shares all of our ideas with readers, and luckily, they featured my grandchildren in the photographs.

We take our children to local parks, events for children, child appropriate movies, concerts, and to grown-up art openings and events to broaden their base of art knowledge.

Mockingbird Studio

Sharon’s Studio in Maine

Eileen: What are some of the biggest challenges you face with regard to your work in both writing and gardening? How do you overcome those obstacles?

Sharon: TIME. I don’t think there is ever enough time. Sometimes I find myself racing through the garden to the studio and that is not good. Some nights, very late, I realize that I have been working for hours and hours and not looking up to enjoy the beauty. Now my husband and I try to always take a “star walk” to enjoy the majesty of the night.

Honestly, I haven’t figured out how to overcome not having enough time. I just try to take small bites at certain projects, like gardening. Right now I spend about an hour or two a day in the garden. I always feel I need to do more, but I just can’t.

Eileen: I understand you also illustrate your book titles. Have you always been drawn to art and how did this come about in your life? Do you take time to create art separate from your book illustrations?

Sharon: My Grandmother Lovejoy and I did art projects together (she was a retired elementary teacher, and they are the jewels of the educational system laying the foundation for our children). In middle school, I drew quite a bit and actually started a school newspaper, which I wrote and illustrated. It was mimeographed, there, now that ages me doesn’t it?

In college, I was an art major. I graduated with distinction in the field of art, although it was tough. Many of my professors felt my art was too small, too old fashioned, too corny, but hey, I’m making a living with my art now. So I say, follow your heart ALWAYS and create what feels right to YOU.

In my spare time, I do art in my journals, but I think of myself as an illustrator of books. Many pieces of journal art have been published.

I do LOVE to write and do that for the sheer joy of it. I am currently writing a historic middle grade novel about an escaped slave girl and her unlikely friend. I’m also developing a series of board books.

I also believe that I create art in whatever I do–whether it is making a lovely floral salad, canning, planting a spiral of lettuce and chard, making a bouquet for the table, etc. All the daily activities should be infused with art and creativity. Do simple things that give you joy and make the world more beautiful.

Eileen: One of the activities I include in my monthly guides is creating a simple family compost with children. What are some easy ways that busy parents and caregivers can incorporate composting into their daily life? Can you talk more about why composting is so important to our environment?

Sharon: I’ve never had a garbage disposal in my home. They are so wasteful and why pour great future compost and clean water down the drain?

I keep an adorable mini-compost bucket under our kitchen sink. My grands know that we don’t waste anything. Everything goes into it except meat, corn cobs, and avocado pits. Meat attracts flies, and the corn cobs and avo pits just don’t break down.

I keep compost in big barrels, but you can just as easily keep it in big squares made with hay bales or big boxes made out of pallets. I don’t do anything fancy; if it’s organic, it WILL break down. Another fun thing to do with compost is to put it into a barrel that has holes drilled all over it. Wet the contents a bit, secure the lid with a bungee cord, and let the kids roll it around daily. Heck, why use electricity when the kids can roll the garbage can instead of a fancy drum?

What I love to do most is to use worms. I vermicompost and have done so for about 26 years. Our wonderful worms break down garbage quickly during spring, summer, and fall, and we return the lovely dark soil and castings to our gardens. Children LOVE the worms and love the process of the worms eating their garbage.

Eileen: Do you have any advice for parents who want to garden with their children but live in urban environments or do not have much outdoor space to work with?

Sharon: Yes, use containers or do hay bale gardens as I’ve illustrated in Toad Cottages. Also, see my chapter on “Garbage Gardens,” which can be grown indoors and teach children about the spark of life in often overlooked produce. Start seeds indoors in paper cups and fill window boxes with mini vegetables or brilliant flowers. Where there’s a will…you know the drill.

Eileen: One thing I find challenging is finding the time to care for my garden when there are so many other household and work-related tasks and responsibilities I have to tend to each day. Do you have any advice on how busy parents and caregivers can balance gardening with their busy lives and schedules?

Sharon: I try to set aside one area in the garden that needs attention and devote only 10 minutes each morning to that area, which adds up to 70 minutes a week. Small steps, slowly done work miracles. I wanted a pond at my old house and couldn’t afford help, so EVERY morning I went outdoors and dug for 10 minutes. It took almost two months, but I ended up with a hole 4 feet deep and 15 feet long. It became a wonderful pond. Luckily, I got a great assignment from my old magazine, Country Living GARDENER, and I was able to hire someone to finish the pond with lovely (heavy) boulders. So you see, I believe that if you just plod on you’ll accomplish something.

Eileen: What books, magazines and other publications do you turn to for your own inspiration?

Sharon: I love Farming Magazine and write for it. Talk about no frills and no obscene advertisements. I write a little column called “Small Blessings,” which is geared for people with children in their lives. Some months it is about gardening; other months, like this one, it is about cooking with children.

I have subscribed to the British Country Living magazine since the 1980s. They get it. They emphasize the environment, cooking, history, handcrafts, farming, small holdings, all the things that make this world unique and mindful. It is an expensive subscription, but to afford it, I’ve cut down on other magazines.

I subscribe to several cooking magazines (I miss Gourmet), and a few publications on writing, but I find myself reading blogs more and enjoying it so much. People’s lives are fascinating.

Eileen: As a mother and a childcare provider, I am already looking forward to sharing my life with my grandchildren one day. Can you tell me more about your experience with becoming a grandmother and the ways in which you spend your time with your own family and the children in your life?

Sharon: Nothing I’ve ever experienced has been as profound as grandmothering. Children always open our eyes to small things we may overlook, but I’ve never been as sensitive to life as I am now. And, that is thanks to Sara May, Moses, Ilyahna, and Asher. I think I show in Toad Cottages how we interact and how much fun we have. We’re crazy about each other, and I enjoy every moment with them.

Eileen: What can we expect to see from you in the future? Can you share with us any upcoming projects, workshops or other ideas you have in the works?

Sharon: I did answer a portion of this in one of the above questions, but I didn’t give some specifics, which are all listed on my web site under “Upcoming Appearances.” I will be all over the country, so there is a good chance I may meet some of your readers. In the past month, I did 23 live and recorded radio interviews for major stations, Sirius, and NPR. Many of these shows will be aired in the upcoming months, but I don’t know the schedule. I usually find out about the broadcast when I start receiving e-mails.

I’ve just been hired by one of my favorite companies, Land’s End, to go on a four city tour to inspire children and families to create art, write, and garden. I’ll be working in schools, and on Saturdays, I’ll be in-store doing gardening demonstrations. This will be fun, and luckily, my husband will be one of my assistants.

I have been considering doing some sort of creativity workshop, but I need to get through my book tour, my work for Land’s End, and the work on the new Lowe’s “Garden Grow Along” blog. A group of dedicated gardeners have joined forces and now write a weekly posting about the goings on in their gardens. It is fun and personal and covers the entire U.S.

I am also leaving on a book and lecture tour, which will cover about 15 cities and many states. Jeff will be right beside me all the way. Thank goodness.

Jeff and I are redoing the top floor of an 1800’s apothecary building in Damariscotta, Maine, just a few steps from the back bay and the Damariscotta River. We are turning it into a “Literary Lodging,” and it is going to be stuffed with books and outfitted with antiques and comfortable furniture. I think it is going to be wonderful for visitors traveling the coast of Maine. It is something we’ve always wanted to do, and now we’re doing it!

The old apothecary building in Damariscotta, Maine. The top floor is going to be the “literary lodging” mini hotel.

I am so very grateful to Sharon for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to give my readers a glimpse into her inspiring life. My hope is that we can look to people like Sharon as inspiration to follow our own dreams in life. I know I will. I encourage you to visit Sharon’s blog and also take a look at some of her wonderful publications.

For a chance to win a copy of Sharon’s book Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars please leave a comment below and a winner will be drawn randomly on or before Friday, March 26th. Be sure to check back for results.

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