The Art of Darkness

Plant a Goth Vegetable Garden

April 26th, 2016 by Cobwebs

CarrotsI’ve talked about plants that would work in a dark-and-spooky garden in the past (such as here), but have tended to focus on non-edible plants. Goth Shopaholic just did a great post about gothy vegetables, including purple potatoes and the carrots pictured above.

A few others worth mentioning are:

Scarlet Kale

Black Carrots

Purple String Beans

Black Hungarian Peppers

Purple Basil

Black Currant

Black Winter Melon (the non-black bitter melon family are neat too, since they all look weird and pissed off)

Black Tomatoes (she mentions Indigo Rose, but there are several other dark varieties)

Japanese Black Pumpkin (there’s also a warty variety)

Black Turtle Beans

After your garden is planted, you can let loose a few black chickens to patrol for bugs and then wait for your spooky harvest.

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 3 Comments »

Making Moist Potpourri

April 21st, 2016 by Cobwebs

Antique Cricket CageSpring is sproinging (at least in this hemisphere), which means that flowers will soon be blooming. If you grow roses, consider using some for moist potpourri: What it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in scent.

The method is easy: Partially dry the rose petals (they should feel sort of leathery, but not be fully dried). In a large nonreactive crock or bucket, layer 3 C petals with 2 Tbsp coarse or kosher salt. Mix thoroughly, then weight with a plate. Let sit in a place that’s not too warm for a month or so, stirring every few days then replacing the plate on top. If you gather more petals, you can add them (along with more salt) to the already-started mixture; just age for a month after you’ve finished adding petals.

You’ll wind up with a crockful of caked, brown petals. Crumble them into a bowl and either use as-is or add other fragrant dried ingredients: Powdered spices, dried citrus peel, or dried herbs are common. To maximize the longevity of the fragrance, you can also add a fixative such as powdered orris root; about 1/4 C per quart of potpourri. After adding other ingredients, the final mixture should continue to be cured for another two weeks so the fragrances blend and mellow.

Here’s a sample potpourri mixture to get you started:

1 1/2 gallons cured rose petals
6 oz dried orange peel
1 oz powdered orris root
1 oz powdered cinnamon
1 oz powdered allspice
1 1/2 oz powdered cloves

The main drawback of moist potpourri is that it ain’t attractive: The finished product is a mass of brown muck. Instead of displaying it in a glass jar, keep it in an opaque container with a perforated lid (like the antique cricket cage pictured above). Historically, this kind of potpourri was put in a ceramic jar with a perforated inner cover and a solid outer cover; the outer cover was removed to let out the fragrance when it was wanted, then replaced to keep the contents fresh. If you can get your hands on some small sachet holders (like this wicker one, they make attractive Christmas tree ornaments.

The salt-cure method can also be used with lavender, or a mixture of lavender and rose.

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Birdbath Table

December 10th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Birdbath TableThis is one of those neat no-skill-required projects that can be put together in just a few minutes, but can also be embellished to your heart’s content. It’s nothing but a birdbath topped with a glass round, in which you display stuff. (The sand and seashells in this particular version aren’t goth, but that’s easy to fix.)

If you don’t already have an old birdbath handy–everybody’s grandma used to have one–they can often be found cheap at nursery and hardware stores’ end-of-season clearance sales. You can also ask if there are any cracked or chipped ones available at a reduced price; it doesn’t have to hold water, and an old, worn appearance is spookier anyway. Leave it in its natural state or spray-paint it black.

Round glass tabletops can be found at hardware stores and various dealers online. You can also check thrift stores for glass-topped end tables and discard the rest of the table (or use it for storage).

You don’t have to line the basin with anything, but it might give your display a more finished appearance. Decorative sand and gravel comes in a wide variety of colors, including black. You won’t need a whole lot just to cover the bottom, so a bag of the stuff they sell at pet stores for aquariums should be adequate. You could also try Spanish moss or even something like crumpled velvet.

And there are, of course, all kinds of creepy things to display within. Small animal skulls (plastic props are fine) would look good, as would a smaller-scale version of this exhumation cocktail table. You could also use dollhouse miniatures to create a teensy cemetery under glass.

If the glass fits on top of the birdbath without much overhang you probably won’t need to secure it (although you may want to get some of those little rubber feet to keep it from slipping). However, if you’re afraid of someone leaning on the edge and upending the whole thing, you may want to run a line of a glass adhesive around the lip of the birdbath; make sure you carefully center the glass, because you don’t want to move it around and smear it with adhesive.

Projects don’t come much easier than this, and if you’ve got a collection of small treasures you want to display this is a unique way to do it.

Note: The original photo for this seems to come from a hardware site called Jones Paint & Glass, but I’m not linking it here because my virus software reported a Javascript injection attack.

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The Face in the Woods

March 5th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Face in the WoodsImagine, if you will, hiking through the woods, miles from anyone. You round a corner and there, in a clearing, is this giant gawping face (click for larger). If you are anything like me, your first thought will be that you’ve stumbled onto some secret Wicker Man-esque cult and are about to be messily slaughtered. It’d certainly get your heart rate up.

This is an sculpture made of woven willow in Bradwell Wood in Staffordshire, England. It was built by a group called Willow Arts; you can see additional photos in their portfolio. It’s described as a “tribal mask,” but I prefer to think of it as a Spirit of the Woods. A really pissed-off one.

Weaving willow withies (say that five times fast) is a very old handicraft. If woven when green and then stuck back into the ground, they’ll root and continue to grow. If you’re interested in adding a little sculptural interest to your garden (or making smaller projects like baskets), you can find classes in willow weaving or search for tutorials online. Other bendy materials can be substituted if willow doesn’t grow well in your area.

There are some lovely examples of willow sculptures at Inspiration Green. One of the sculptors they mention, Trevor Leat, also makes willow coffins which would be neat for a green burial.

You could start small, learning to weave simple items, then eventually work your way up to larger, spookier pieces. Two or three of these howly faces dotted around the garden would certainly add…atmosphere.

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Skull Planters

May 21st, 2014 by Cobwebs

Skull Planters

Hey, look! It’s one of those smack-your-forehead-for-not-thinking-of-this-yourself ideas. I saw these neat planters online and tracked down a couple of secondhand sources which mention them as being sold by One Teaspoon. I unfortunately can’t find any mention of them on the site, so it’s possible they’re either discontinued or only sold at brick-and-mortar locations. (How quaint.)

A more general search for “skull planter” turns up a few entries on sites like Etsy and Amazon, but they lack the deep eyesockets which are such an interesting additional planting area.

No matter; with a cheap plastic skull and a little bit of paint, something reasonably similar should be a piece of cake. Make sure that the skull is one of the two-piece jobs where the skullcap pops off and, um, pop it off. You can also remove the lower jaw if desired; it’s often attached with metal hardware that will rust (although you may view that as more of a feature than a bug). The eyesockets in the planter appear to be larger than in most real skulls, and also seem to angle downward a bit. If you aren’t sure whether your model skull’s eyes will hold enough packed soil to support a plant, you may want to cheat a bit and break out the backs so they connect with the brainpan; it’s all going to be covered with dirt anyway, so the holes won’t be noticeable.

Add a little shading and detail with plastic-friendly paint, then fill with potting soil. Choose plants that are relatively shallow-rooted and slow-growing: The succulents in the picture are an excellent choice, as would be a specimen cactus. You might also fill the skull with miniature-leaved ivy, letting it slowly twine around make the skull look overgrown and mysterious.

If you can find an appropriately-sized glass bulb it might also be fun to fit it over the top of the skull, not only turning it into a terrarium but also creating one of those strange exposed-brain aliens so beloved of 50s science fiction: The monster with plants for brains!

A leafy skull or two would be lovely perched in a sunny windowsill or as a focal point in a flower bed.

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 4 Comments »

Host a Spider Safari

November 14th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Jumping SpiderI found this a little late for those of us headed into “real” winter, but folks with mild winters and people in the other hemisphere can use it now; the rest of us can tuck it away as an idea for next spring.

I’ve mentioned Atlas Obscura, an online guide to “the world’s wondrous and curious places,” previously; but I didn’t know until recently that they also have a real-world arm called the Obscura Society. They host regional events to seek out, “secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us,” and one of their recent excursions was a spider safari in a California nature preserve.

We started the day with a little learning: Spider anatomy, spider sounds, spider molting, and finally spider sex. We also got to see an amazing video of the tiny jumping spider’s throaty mating song. After our lesson we headed into the hills and valleys of the preserve to see what we could find.

I think this is simply a brilliant idea, either as an activity for children or as an adult outing. It’s inexpensive (or free, if you go no further than your back yard or a local park), educational, and fun. Look online for field guides to spiders commonly found in your region, pack a lunch, and go spider-hunting. Once you start really looking for them, it’s surprising how abundant they are.

Admire their colors, watch them scurry around their webs, and marvel at their complex behavior. It’s a lovely excuse for a stroll, and a great way to spark an appreciation for arachnids in children (or in adults who are unenthusiastic about spiders).

Incidentally, I suspect that the video mentioned by the Obscura Society might have been this one. So adorable:

Posted in Bittens, Unhallowed Ground | 2 Comments »

Garden Spiderweb Frame

July 10th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Garden Spider FrameHere’s an interesting addition to a garden or yard: A wooden frame that encourages spiders to build their web in its center.

They’re reasonably inexpensive (available at Amazon and Newegg, amongst others), but if you’re handy with a hammer you could make one from scrap wood even cheaper.

There’s also a different square design which would be even easier to DIY: It’s pretty much just a wooden picture frame stuck on a post.

Both types say they feature a “spider shelter” to give the spider a place to hide: I assume it’s the triangular bit on the right of the square frame and at the top of the hexagon. All you would need for that is a couple of pieces of thin wood that the spider could get between.

In addition to encouraging spiders to build their webs where you can admire them, the frame would make it much easier to preserve and save them as decorations.

(Incidentally, the manufacturer’s ad copy tries to suggest that the frames are useful for keeping your environment bug-free; I would say that’s just a teensy bit of an overstatement unless you had several dozen of these in the yard. On the other hand, having several dozen of these in the yard would be sort of awesome.)

Spiders, like bats and snakes, are wonderfully helpful and terribly misunderstood creatures. Encouraging them to hang around where they’re welcome seems like an excellent idea.

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 6 Comments »

Make a Miniature Stonehenge

January 9th, 2013 by Cobwebs

Mini Stonehenge

I’ve mentioned terrarium cemeteries before, and here’s a similar, equally splendid idea: A miniature meadow featuring a teensy Stonehenge.

This garden is by Two Green Thumbs, a site devoted to miniature gardens. There’s no information on the materials used, but the greenery looks like Irish moss and I suspect that the stones might be made from polymer clay. This would be super-simple to create–you could even go to a hardware store and get flagstones cut to shape if you felt like being particularly authentic–and would be a striking addition to a patio (or even a windowsill if you made it small enough).

The Two Green Thumbs site and accompanying blog are also a wealth of ideas for other miniature gardens, including “fairy gardens:” Full miniature landscapes with tiny furnishings (benches, paved pathways, etc.) and real plants. They’re an interesting cross between dollhouses and gardening, and there’s plenty of ways to make them spooky; indeed, a number of the ideas on the blog are Halloweenish in nature.

This would be a fun, easy project and would also make an interesting gift.

Bonus Link: When I was looking for the source of the original photo I ran across Clonehenge, a site devoted to Stonehenge replicas.

(Hat tip to WitchArachne)

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 6 Comments »

Listen to the Pumpkins

August 30th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Here’s something I wish I’d known about last spring:

Etched Pumpkin

According to Seeds of Change, if you carve a message or design (about 1/8″ deep) in a pumpkin whilst it’s still growing, the message will grow along with the pumpkin. Hello, party centerpiece idea. (Or individual place cards, if you use mini-pumpkins and don’t mind planning your parties six months in advance.)

I would assume that the same idea would probably work for things like watermelons and other smooth-skinned squashes and gourds, too. (Provided that the rind is fairly thick; I doubt it would work on zucchini or summer squash.)

Folks in the other hemisphere who might be thinking about planting some pumpkins in a couple of months, start planning your designs now. The rest of us can tuck this away for next year.

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 1 Comment »

Tea Time

August 22nd, 2012 by Cobwebs

Now that the summer in this hemisphere is heading toward a close, it’s time to start collecting the last remnants from your herb garden and drying them for use over the winter. Drying herbs is easy; there’s a good overview of various methods here, although I would lean toward air-drying as the best way to preserve the maximum flavor.

Once dry, store them airtight in a cool, dark place. You can use them in cooking as you would fresh herbs–use about one-third as much, since the favor is more concentrated, and you can also use them for herbal projects such as custom tea blends. These are easy to make in bulk and are a great gift idea, so be sure to dry plenty of herbs.

(If you don’t have room for a garden or don’t grow herbs in quantity, it’s easy to buy pre-dried herbs online. I like Monterey Bay Spice Co.’s selection.)

Here are a few blends to get you started. To make tea with these, use 1 C boiling water and about 2 tsp of tea blend for each cup (plus an extra 2 tsp “for the pot” if brewing several cups in a teapot). Let steep 5-10 minutes.

To give as a gift, pack in a tea tin or other airtight container, labeled with contents instructions. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, include a tea infuser and a ceramic mug.

Sweet Meadow Tea
(Chamomile and catnip are both calming, so this is a nice sleepytime blend.)

1 1/4 C chamomile flowers
3/4 C catnip
1 C sweet marjoram
1/2 C peppermint

Spicy Mint Tea

1 1/2 C spearmint
1 C dried orange peel, cut into small pieces
1 C cinnamon chips
1 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise and finely chopped
1/4 Tbsp whole cloves

Tummy Tea
(Especially good for an upset stomach)

1 C peppermint
1 C spearmint
1/2 C lemongrass

Winter Warming Tea

1 C spearmint
1 C peppermint
1/2 C dried orange peel, cut into small pieces
1 C dried rose hips
2 Tbsp candied ginger, diced
1/2 C cinnamon chips
1 Tbsp whole anise seeds
2 Tbsp whole cloves

Posted in Unhallowed Ground | 1 Comment »

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