Jo Drysdall may be familiar to many in the Felt community as Felt’s support desk operator, but she also has a horticultural alter-ego which manifests as Big Bunny, the long-eared proprietor of a Felt shop specialising in organic seeds and gardening goods, grown in her suburban Christchurch garden.
What do you make?
Gardens! I guess you could say my craft is gardening. I grow open-pollinated heirloom varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers and save their seeds to sell in my Felt shop Big Bunny.
How did you get into your craft?
I’ve always been a gardener and a wanna-be smallholder, I think. I blame my Mum, school garden clubs (wonderful things!) and over-exposure to The Good Life as a child.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Most of my qualifications are of the more academic variety, but I also have a Level Four Certificate in Horticulture from the BHU Organic Training Centre at Lincoln, which is sited on one of New Zealand’s oldest organic farms. I studied there for two years and really got to grips with the science of the way I gardened, as well as learning how to run an organic business – it was a privilege to learn and grow things there.
Big Bunny is not certified organic because I’m too small scale for it to really be a viable option yet, but my garden has been run on organic and permaculture principles for eight years, ever since my partner and I bought the property.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Materials? Soil. Good, healthy, living soil is the basis of everything – and digging in the dirt makes me happy. Tools? Oh, so many! But oddly enough the one that springs to mind is my dibbling stick, that I use every summer to plant out my leeks. It’s just a gently sharpened piece of broken broom handle, but my partner made it for me in a few minutes when I expressed a need for such a thing so it has nice handmade, recycled, smile-inducing vibes.
There are fun processes at every part of the year – sowing, growing and harvesting. I’ve just finished processing all the dried seeds – podding, winnowing etc – which is a nice restful winter task, often done in front of the telly.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by taking a bit of ground and leaving it in a better state than I found it, whether that’s my own garden, an empty lot I’ve scattered wildflower seeds on, or the gardens of friends and family. I see Big Bunny as a way of spreading things further – not just selling seeds, but propagating gardening knowledge and distributing true heritage seeds, not hybrids, enabling people to save their own seeds and grasp a bit of garden power and independence.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I’m passionate about showing people that a garden doesn’t have to be an expensive designer thing. A garden can start by turning some soil and scattering some seeds, and can be sustained by a bit of know-how and a bit of work, not piles of cash.
Describe your workspace:
I have a tiny garden on a subdivided section in Christchurch. It’s packed full of plants, all planned out on a very careful rotation schedule that takes into account disease management, minimising cross-pollination, and a chicken tractor. (That might throw up a really interesting mental image, but a chicken tractor is a movable run that fits your garden beds, allowing the chooks to do a lot of the garden clearance, fertilising and mulching work for you.)
We’ve just put in macrocarpa beds that I’m in love with, after our recycled pallet beds finally rotted away (eight years wasn’t bad for scrounged untreated pine!) and I have a gorgeous glasshouse kindly donated by friends who didn’t need it at their place. I grow all my seedlings in the sunny front bedroom, which does triple duty as a seed-raising facility, sewing/wearable arts workroom and guest room. Y’know the threat about sleeping with the fishes? I tell my guests to go sleep with the tomatoes…
This summer my partner has promised to build me a garden shed of my very own (in part so we’re not competing for space in the garage!) – I’m sooo excited!
Five words that describe your mind:
Constantly plotting and planning plots.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
My favourite thing is seeing people’s pride and delight when they harvest and eat produce that they’ve grown themselves. Can’t beat it!
What are you currently listening to?
The chickens. They are always watching and commenting on what I’m doing in the garden. It’s very Gary Larson-esque.
Recommend an album:
Headless Chickens‘ Body Blow. Not because I have it in for the chooks or anything, I hasten to say – I’m just on a nostalgia kick right now and Fiona McDonald did awesome vocals on that album.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Watership Down. I think Richard Adams can take a lot of the credit for my knowledge of wildflowers – and my love of bunnies of course!
What are you reading now?
Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education. Re-reading it, actually. It’s one of his earlier books about the philosophy that gardens (and gardeners) are a part of nature – they do not stand outside and apart from it.
Who is your hero/heroine?
In garden terms, I can probably limit it to four on a good day, but there are so many! My Mum, Monty Don and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are pretty major influences on my garden style, and both Mum and Dad for bringing me up to see that a good education is about gaining knowledge and understanding, not just job training.
A favourite quote:
Well on that note it would have to be “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Do you have any pets?
One very elderly, huge Maine Coon cat called Mr Pushkin, three chickens (Bu and Dee, araucanas who lay beautiful blue eggs, and a very silly-looking but imposing black frizzle called Eva) and of course big bunnies – two of ‘em actually. They’re Flemish Giants called Holly and Denny. They are denied access to the vegetable beds, much to their sadness (apart from one glorious night when they escaped and ate all my brassica seedlings down to stubs!) but they do get spoiled with a steady diet of super-fresh carrot tops and outer leaves.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
I’m actually going to take off my garden sunhat for a minute and put on my Felt admin hat to answer this one, and my answer is take good photos! Good images are so important if you’re selling your work online. It breaks my little admin heart when I see beautiful creations, that have had so much time, love, effort and skill put into them, being let down by poor photography.
Try putting your work on a tidy plain background, in good indirect natural light, and take the time to experiment and get some really good sharp images. It doesn’t have to be high-tech: my Big Bunny seed packet images are taken with a hand-held, autofocus camera on an A4 sheet of paper, usually outside on a cloudy day. I then just crop them and do a bit of light correction using basic photo editing software. There’s lots of really good online advice and tips on photography, and there are a number of good free photo editing sites out there too, with great instructions. Your work is worth presenting well, so take some time over it.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Some of Aporah‘s lovely irritable skin balm, which I buy regularly. It’s great for chapped gardening hands, and I love that she makes her products from scratch.
What’s in store for the rest of 2015?
At this stage, making sure I’m prepared for the spring and Christmas traffic. I’ve just finished processing and listing all my fresh new-season’s seeds for the shop, so I’m feeling quite ridiculously accomplished right now!
Check out more of Big Bunny’s range of seeds and garden gifts in Jo’s Felt shop.
Jo has offered a prize of one of Big Bunny’s Super Nifty Gifty Gardener’s gift packs worth $28 (below) for one lucky Felt blog reader. To win this sweet wee prize, leave a comment telling us what you like about Big Bunny’s philosophy and products. The draw will be made on Friday 25 September and is open to New Zealand residents only.