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Blue Thistle Arts

Places for Plant Lovers

I am starting a regular feature for you plant lovers, highlighting places around the world you might enjoy visiting or reading about in my blog. Today, I would like to tell you about two special spots in Atlanta, where my mom resides. Although it is a major city, Atlanta is exceptionally green, full of beautiful parks, lush gardens and a subtropical climate. It is a haven for gardeners, who plant colorful foliage and flowers year-round. 

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is nestled on  30 acres in urban Midtown. It features the country's largest collection of species orchids, which live in a 16,000-square-foot conservatory, the Fuqua Orchid Center. Visit between February and April for the Orchid Daze exhibit, when thousands of orchids from around the globe are in bloom.

Visit anytime to see the Garden's beautiful grounds, including rose, edible, Japanese and children's gardens, as well as a High Elevation Greenhouse. Over the past year, large glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly were featured for a special exhibit. Don't miss the Canopy Walk, a 45-foot-high elevated walkway through a historic hardwood forest.


Atlanta Botanical Garden
1345 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta GA

Just north of the Garden, tucked into the exclusive neighborhood of Buckhead, is a hidden treasure for gardeners, interior designers and lovers of beautiful things. Boxwoods is located in an old, charming, rambling house filled with handsome, curated spaces, an antique greenhouse, boutique and courtyard garden. It is fun to wander through interesting collections of garden ornaments, antique furnishings, unusual containers and plants, as well as artful floral arrangements. Trust me, this place will inspire you to redesign your own home and garden, or at least add some lovely, unique touches.  



100 E. Andrews Drive, Atlanta GA

Photos: From top to bottom: Earth Goddess, 25-foot-high living sculpture, Atlanta Botanical Garden; Fuqua Orchid House; Canopy Walk, Atlanta Botanical Garden; Rainforest Conservatory, Atlanta Botanical Garden; all remaining photos are of Boxwoods, Atlanta. All photos by Melanie Birk.

Behind the Scenes

Hi Friends: I've decided to begin a regular feature showing life behind the scenes at Blue Thistle Arts. Today, I am sharing a few photos of my home in Santa Fe, which illustrates my love of color, art and pattern! And I have a few suggestions about how to design a joyful and distinctive space of your own.

My goal is always to create a happy, uplifting atmosphere for my family, because our environment helps shape our feelings, thoughts, imagination and who we are as individuals - not that a home needs to be filled with expensive items - just with things that are meaningful to us personally, like a painting that makes us smile, a hue that represents a favorite place, an object made by a loved one, or a book that holds treasured ideas. Many functional items are also attractive such as plates, platters and glassware, for example, and can be displayed, rather than stored away.


My home is casual and somewhat rustic. I dislike formal rooms, because I think comfort and joy trump propriety! We transformed our formal living room into a billiard/game room, because that way, the space is used more frequently and playfully. I don't like rules either - who says you can't mix periods or patterns? Eclectic rooms are interesting and usually evolve from life stories, not from show rooms. I think our homes are for our own enjoyment, rather than for pleasing or impressing others. And they should be practical - with 3 kids and 2 dogs, slip covers are the best!


Figure out what inspires you and feature it in a favorite space. I once read about an entrepreneur who decorated his office with photos of famous inventors. He drew energy from these images, and to provide an extra visual spark, he reproduced the inventors' sketches in brilliant colors. As a result, his office could be appreciated both aesthetically and intellectually. I keep books in every room because I love to read, and because many volumes are beautiful in and of themselves. Plants are important, too, because they bring nature indoors and emit oxygen for good health.


Studies have proven that color and imagery influence our moods. Because I suffer from chronic fatigue, I fill my home with bright, energizing colors and vibrant patterns. They simply make me feel better! My family and many friends love this palette, while others prefer neutral or pale, soothing shades that reduce stress. Experiment and see what works for you.


Art is a key ingredient in any room. Choose something that resonates with you emotionally and will not become tiring to look at daily. I love vibrant art that is expressive and often nature-inspired. Are you drawn to humorous folk art, graphic abstracts or serene seascapes? Or maybe you prefer charcoal drawings and modern sculpture? Buy what you can afford, whether it is a calendar page, a print, a child's sketch, or an original painting. They all add dimension and vitality to a home. Objects are great, too - hang an old bike on the wall or repurpose a ladder for displaying textiles and linens. Salvaged architectural elements make wonderful art and can be found in flea markets or on curbs!


I hope my photos will inspire you to try new things in your own house - hang a piece of quirky art, buy a bold throw pillow (so easy to change), or mix up items you already own into fresh groups. A few changes can make a big difference in how we see and feel about our environment. If we never alter anything, we stop noticing our surroundings, and life at home becomes bland and routine.


Design legend Van Day Truex once said," Interiors speak! Rooms emphasize whether one exists or lives, and there is a great difference between the two." Use your place as a studio where you can test ideas and express your creativity. This is a great way to discover or hone your personal style, and make your house a true haven for you and your family. We all need an environment where we can relax, be ourselves, recharge, and laugh OUT LOUD! So, have fun, throw out the rules, and give your abode some personality! 


Photos Top: studio bookcase with crazy collections; Emil Gorky handcrafted plates from beloved Mexico. Row 2: Game room was formal living room; hand painted Talevera jar. Row 3: favorite book on Monet's garden, ceramic/glass platter made by son Erik; top painting gift from my mom, lower painting one of my originals. Row 4: studio day bed with pillows (most from Blue Thistle Arts) Mexican blanket, chevron storage ottoman, plants. Row 5: family room showing mix of patterns, periods and paintings (those on left by artist Phyllis Kapp); antique cabinet from mom's house, painting by Flora Bowley, purchased on one of her art retreats to San Miguel d'Allende. Row 6: dining and family room with our Corgi, Jake, by slip-covered sofa. Row 6: Pastel drawing by George Colin, a coal miner who took up art at 65; Chippendale chair with Blue Thistle Arts pillow, remnant fabric and embroidered sash from Thailand.  


Fashion Trends in Italy

Hi Friends: I thought I would share some observations from my recent trip to Italy. I spent several days in the fashion districts of Milan and Rome - so many artistic displays, colorful apparel and floral patterns - everywhere! Among the most popular colors were lemon yellow - which graced items from shoes and lacy socks to fishnet sweaters - often paired with black, kelly green or fuchsia. Graphic, geometric patterns (even camo!) were often layered under florals to give feminine gowns an urban edge. Some designers are now digitally printing their own images on fabrics, giving them a modern, photographic quality or, like me, printing art directly onto fabric. Nice to know my own products are on the cutting edge of runway fashion!


I always enjoy seeing the amazing men's boutiques in Italy - full of color and eye-popping detail, just like Italian men themselves. The Giorgio Armani flagship store in Milan is beautifully designed, includes a bookstore and cafe, and caters to both men and women with reasonably priced casual apparel and accessories. Following the trend of fashionable activewear, a huge department of athletic gear and apparel dominates the second floor. Despite the high price of creations from top designers, the Milan fashion district, concentrated in a roughly 20-block area of historic villas, was crowded and busy. Both Italian men and women were decked out as usual in gorgeous leathers and silks. Even school children were wearing faux fur jackets and designer jeans. We spotted many unusual shoes - not only made from leather, but from recycled plastic bottles and paper - as well as hand painted boots like those from Chanel (see my Pinterest Accessories board). Floral patterned sandals were especially prominent for spring. No such thing as too many flowers! Enjoy these photos from my trip!


Inspiration & Inner Gardens - III

I hope that my products will make a difference in your life, no matter how small. Try them out and see if they:

  • Make you or a friend smile, brightening your day.
  • Inspire a newfound appreciation of nature, causing you to notice the pattern in a tree’s bark, or a garden tucked behind a city wall.


  • Infuse your hectic life with images that relieve stress and connect you to the natural world.
  • Help you internalize the vitality and joy a garden exudes, improving your health and mental outlook. 
  • Inspire you to plant a tree on your own or through our partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • Enable you to share with others a joyful, lighthearted interpretation of nature that is uplifting.
  • Spark a child's curiosity about flowers and the role they play in ecology.   
  • Catch a stranger's eye, leading to a friendly exchange.

All of these are steps in a process I call “Cultivating Your Inner Garden.” They are joined and intertwined like the tendrils of a vine, one leading to the other. The process begins with a simple smile, a reaction to a crazy color, improved awareness of our natural surroundings, maybe a hike or walk in a park, eventually followed by gratitude and a sense of being connected to the earth. This sense alone can enhance our moods and interactions with others.


 If we choose, this sense also can enable us to enter a meditative state, or become more perceptive and empathetic as humans, to experience life more deeply and fully, to better know ourselves. At this point, I like to think we are becoming gardens ourselves, tending to long neglected soil, strengthening our foundations, expanding the reach of our root systems to embrace new horizons and resources.


Experiencing the wonder of nature in any form, by touching a smooth stone or admiring the pattern of a leaf in a painting, can help us clear a path to our own gardens. We can all find places inside ourselves that are sanctuaries, secret alcoves that protect our souls, or reflecting pools like those we find in tranquil gardens. When nurtured and cared for, these are the places from which we grow, blossom and thrive, sharing our inner radiance with the world.  -Melanie

Inspiration & Inner Gardens - II

Now for the inspiration: What more do you need than the beauty and wonder of nature, in all its verdant, blossoming abundance, where every leaf boasts its own pattern, every branch its own journey, and every bloom its own palette? I am blessed to live in a place where the sky is intensely blue, and I can touch wildflowers and wilderness every day. I have often wondered about those who live in crowded cities, full of hot concrete, stifling air, stress, and infinite swaths of gray. Where is their inspiration? How often do they get to touch a flowering vine, wade into a stream, or sit in the shade of a willow tree?

About three years ago, this question led me to begin making large-scale botanical paintings that are colorful and dreamlike. My desire was to transport the viewer to another place - a tropical oasis, a lily pond, a rainforest - any natural setting that might help the viewer relax, escape, recharge, heal. Several clients told me it worked. By looking at their painting intently and quietly, they reported feeling serene, uplifted, unburdened, inspired. Some lived in urban areas where they valued this effect immensely.


Then, one day I looked at a painting hanging on the wall and thought: what if I could wear the painting or wrap myself in its inspiration like a blanket? Or carry it around with me, sharing my passion for nature with others? I believe nature - whether it is real or depicted in a piece of art - can transport us, not only physically, but mentally, to an interior space or "inner garden," where our truest self resides.

The Action: That’s when I began photographing details from my work and having them printed onto fabric. I know, this is not a completely original idea - pattern designers everywhere have been using nature as a source of inspiration for ages - but they don’t typically manufacture the end product, such as a piece of clothing. I liked the notion of someone literally wearing my art. Printing my art on beautiful, high quality fabric provided a comfortable middle ground between fine art that hangs in a gallery and mass-produced tea towels sporting roosters. (I apologize if I have offended any artists, tea-towel owners or rooster enthusiasts.)

You have an opportunity to act too: with a single purchase of $150 on my site, I will plant a tree on your behalf by partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation. Together, with many small steps and donations, we can do our part to reforest the planet. I believe that we, as female nurturing spirits, are destined to help protect our fragile environment. 


Products derived from painting, Lily Pond, by Melanie Birk, pictured top left.

La Fuente Reversible Wrap, left. Lily Scarf, right.

Please credit Melanie Birk, Blue Thistle Arts, when sharing images or blog passages. Thank you!


Beyond Beautiful Things

"An inner garden is a place, deep within each of us, that is a haven for our soul, a mirror for our reflection, and our source of inner light. If we nurture and care for it, our inner garden will gift us with abundance and radiance, like an open blossom facing the sun." - Melanie Birk

Hello and welcome to my first blog post! I am enthusiastic about sharing the colorful collections from my studio, Blue Thistle Arts. This also seems like a great time to share my mission with you. 

While I love making beautiful things, the long-term goal of my studio is bigger and broader. My mission is to encourage women to celebrate, conserve and care for Mother Nature - actually, I want to help women nurture the environment and themselves - to “cultivate their inner garden.”


You are probably thinking: How does she plan to do all this with a few scarves and pillows? You may be wondering: What, exactly, is an inner garden? And you may think I sound like a hippy activist or a naive dreamer. But, honestly, I am neither of these things.

Sure, I like to hug a tree now and then, but I do not believe in speeches, demonstrations or wishful thinking. I believe in two powerful elements that will help us along our path: the energy sparked by genuine inspiration; and the amazing influence of many small actions directed toward a common goal.

Before I say more, let me run (sprint, really) through a few important facts that you probably already know - but let's remind ourselves - whether you are a nature-lover, a suburbanite or a city girl, keep reading!

I am sure you have read that time spent in nature is good for us. Studies have shown that walking through a meadow or just gazing at a flower can lower our blood pressure, ground our perspective and create a sense of wellbeing. Even more dramatic is the effect of trees on our bodies. As they absorb CO2 and emit oxygen, trees and other green plants literally clean our air, helping us breathe. Even indoor plants filter the air, making us feel better.

Our planet is losing trees and plants at an alarming rate - about 90 million acres of forest in the past five years. I find that number shocking, don't you? Even if we all drove electric cars, lived in solar homes, and demolished dirty factories, the earth would still be sitting in a haze of pollution, unless we stop chopping down trees and start planting them. 


But - no lectures. I'm here to celebrate our planet and the power we have as women. We are the nurturers of the human race. We nurture our children, our families, our communities - but what about our mother? THE MOTHER? We can take our cues from her - she is radiant, wise, protective, miraculous - but let's not forget, in the wake of many natural disasters, she is powerful beyond words. And, together, so our we. 

I have no problem starting small. Saving the planet can start with a smile at the sky , or a stroll through a park: with a hand in the dirt, or a foot in a field of wildflowers. It can start in a city, in a high-rise building, in a tiny apartment, with one window, with a view of a brick wall, and maybe a pigeon. It can start with a garden book, a sketch, an orchid on the counter, lavender soap, and a floral pillow. It doesn't take much to kindle that first spark of inspiration. Nature speaks for its glorious self, and through many mediums - from cave drawings and weaving to fine art and film. Nature has inspired human creativity for thousands of years.


Even though many of us are captivated by the outdoors, it can be challenging to jump into "conservation." The word sounds serious and expensive, and there are too many solicitations, acronyms, locations and causes. After a while, the whole world sounds endangered and I can't decide what is most urgent! The environment is a complicated and daunting topic, it's true. But a few small actions go a long way.

Consider this: if half the women in Manhattan bought just one house plant each, helping it flourish, beautify their space and improve their mood - then gave their neighbor a plant, explaining its benefits in the elevator while the building owner or manager happened to be present (I know, not that likely, but let's go with it) - which then led a number of managers to fill their lobbies with plants, and owners to build rooftop gardens for themselves - motivating several adjacent owners to build yet bigger rooftop gardens - well, you get the idea. A small gesture can blossom and grow into a movement - a veritable forest, in fact - making all of us exponentially healthier - especially Mother Earth.

So start small. Give a friend a scarf that reminds her how much she loves tulips - which causes her to buy a bouquet, admired on the train by a neighbor - who plants bulbs that fall for her husband, who smiles happily after a Spring business trip, because the snow is melting and his yard is covered in flowers  - so he cuts a few for his assistant, who is inspired to plant a tulip tree - well, you get the idea.


By the way, if you spend $150 in my online boutique, I will plant a tree on your behalf or mail you a gift tree by partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation. If you spend $250 in my boutique, I will partner with the Arbor Day Foundation to conserve 250 square meters of rainforest on your behalf. What could be better than shopping AND conserving at the same time? Let's start now, and together, care for Mother Earth.

Next Posting: More about Inner Gardens