She Can’t Stop Planting

Connecticut-based master and super talented potter Frances Palmer spins handmade ceramics for everyday use. Perhaps best known for her whimsical take on dishware and vases, a lesser-known fact is her lustrous work as a flower gardener. She shares how powerful childhood memories surrounding flowers informs her work as an artisan today.

From early childhood, Frances connected the smell of flowers with her grandmother and the month of May, the birth month they shared. “My mom would plant tons of peonies, which my grandmother loved. We had bouquets of peonies in the house in the spring when my grandmother came from her home in New York City to stay with us. Those peonies and the smell of my grandmother instilled an incredibly positive memory that I still think of today.”

The family celebrated the birthdays with homegrown, stewed rhubarb over ice cream. “That combination wasn’t that widespread at that time,” Frances remembers. “I was taught about the connection between food about flowers early on.” They also frequently canned peaches and tomatoes.

She remembers another flower memory of note. “I would climb up our big magnolia tree and sing to myself, which was really funny because I sing out of key.” She didn’t realize the number of ways growing up around flowers—her mother also grew zinnias—affected her, until she was on her own.

Palmer Pottery, photos © Jane Beiles

“It instilled in me that one can grow one’s own things. We would never shop for flowers—we used what we could cut ourselves. It’s kind of what I do now.

I try to grow as many flowers as I can because what one buys in the store versus what own grows are radically different.”

Flowers were an essential piece of Ms. Palmer’s artful presentation from the get-go. “When I started making pots 31 years ago, I always documented the work from the very beginning. If you photograph pots with flowers, it gives people a sense of scale.” Yet when she searched for just the right blooms, she remembered why her family grew their own blooms. Store-bought flowers often lack the rich colors, shapes and fresh vibe she knew would best complement her work. When she and her husband moved into an old colonial with flat, open, sun-drenched grounds, something we call magic happened.

“I started planting dahlias,” she says. “At first I planted funky shapes and eclectic colors, combos that you can only find when you order from suppliers.” Her favorites? “I love the heirloom ones. If you store them over time in my studio or barn, they do morph a bit, so older dahlias sometimes come back as a bit of surprise.”

Yet another reason to love this potter slash gardener? As a general rule, she plants hundreds of dahlias. “I am…a little obsessed,” she tells us.

We approve. We think you will, too. Check out her work at http://francespalmerpottery.com.

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