Floral arrangements, as a rule, are fleeting beauties. But not the ones from District Harvests founder Amanda Starr Bean.
Her bouquets of fresh flowers and herbs can be dried and brewed into tea. Her dried floral creations, some preserved under glass, are made to last.
Bean sells her creations at districtharvests.com. (And you’ll have a couple of opportunities this month to view and purchase Bean’s work in person. District Harvests will be exhibiting at Art All Night on both nights: Friday, September 24th in Van Ness; Saturday, September 25th in Tenleytown.)
We asked Bean to tell us more about herself because we were intrigued by her craft, and because we wanted to get to know our neighbor. Most of the materials for her creations are grown in Bean’s own Forest Hills garden.
She and her family have lived in the neighborhood for four years. And she was no stranger to the area before that. Bean grew up in DC and from the age of 11 years old on, she lived just a few blocks to the north. Of her current home, she says, “It’s perfectly situated between the park and Connecticut Avenue.”
Here’s more from our email conversation:
When did you found District Harvests?
This spring! I officially launched on April 16, 2021.
It’s obvious you’ve spent some years learning and practicing your craft (or maybe you’re just that good!). How did you get started down this path, and then, how did you decide to launch District Harvests?
The natural world has always been part of my life. My father is a prominent environmentalist so as a kids we spent a lot of time outdoors learning about animals and plants. My childhood summers were spent at nature camp, further ingraining those teachings.
In some ways I guess I have always been on this path. Family and old friends have repeatedly commented that this is a natural culmination of my interests and talents. But truthfully it wasn’t really one I saw coming. In January of 2021, I enrolled in an herbalism mini course through Wild Roots Apothecary in Sperryville. Herbalism is something I have wanted to explore for years, and this was a very manageable way to explore it in terms of time and cost. I was inspired from that to create tea bouquets, which led to the whole idea behind District Harvests.
She has taken on a bit of a life of her own and has morphed considerably from my original inspiration, but the desire behind it remains the same – to fully appreciate the value of plants and make them a little less fleeting.
You marry natural beauty and function in a wholly unique way, such as your “tea bouquets” of fresh flowers and herbs. Who or what inspires you?
Well, plants, honestly! Plants can be very powerful medicinally, but they can also bring us great joy (or annoyance in some cases)! We, as a culture, have come to view flowers as disposable. In creating District Harvests, I wanted to explore ways we can make flowers more lasting, more useful, and frankly less traditional. I wanted to move beyond the vase in all ways.
In what way, if any, has the pandemic influenced your work?
I’m not sure this venture would ever have happened were it not for the pandemic, so I guess there is a silver lining. I taught yoga for the last decade, and that ended abruptly on March 13, 2020. Were it not for the pandemic I would likely have kept on doing what I was doing. Instead I found myself at home with two young kids battling our way through virtual learning. I suppose a challenging year of frustration and pent up creativity can lead to new and exciting things!
Depending on the season, what kinds of plants do you find yourself drawn to, or most enjoy working with?
All of them! It’s so hard to choose! I love flowers the most, obviously, but I pick up twigs, leaves, branches, vines, seed pods, moss, etc. They all get used in different ways. I don’t have a favorite flower. And working with flowers changes how I feel about them! Ones that might be really beautiful (like lilies) are really terrible to work with, so I love them a little less. And ones that I don’t naturally love as much, like celosia, are amazing to work with, so I love them a lot more. The best flowers to work with dry are strawflower, gomphrena, hydrangea, celosia, larkspur and roses.
What would we find in your garden now?
A little bit of everything. I tend to get carried away. The flowers that are still blooming include dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, strawflower, gomphrena, lavender, calendula, marigolds, roses and celosia. Pansies will go in this week. My herb garden is still going strong, as are most of the vegetables. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers will produce for a while longer. This year we also have four good-sized pumpkins from a volunteer vine.
And finally, what can we expect to see from you at Art All Night?
I specialize in dried flowers under glass. I have some large cloches, a few boxes and several small flower bottle options. I do some pressed flower art. I also make sculptural pieces using other natural materials that I find or have on hand. I have a series of dried arrangements in whelk shells that I have collected over the years, as well as some housed in egg shells.
You can learn more about Amanda Starr Bean and District Harvests at districtharvests.com.