Exploring the Botanist's Garden with artist Kate Poole
In this interview with Hunter Moon Homestead founder, Kate Poole, we explore the act of hospitality, and how building a safe, welcoming and inspiring environment gives life to the creative artist in all of us. She shares the inspiration for her art retreat and creative workshop, the Botanist's Garden.
Kate and her husband Rick moved to the homestead in 2019 and have been restoring its 100+ year old buildings as well as the surrounding 23 acre property. Always the Green Thumb, Kate’s gardens are a joy to be in. In the last year she’s been able to grow organic botanicals that are used in her organic, farm-to-bottle skincare line, Essential Apothecary Alchemist. We begin the interview sharing a few of our favorite products from her assortment. You can sign up for newsletters through essentialapothecaryshop.com for 15% off your first order.
Roses in the garden at Hunter Moon Homestead
I wanted to get started by telling everyone about my favorite EAA products. The first is KISS, it’s like a gateway drug. It’s your lip moisturizer. Can you tell us why it's so addictive and why everybody loves it so much?
Well, it's got the best ingredients in it, and I add peppermint and rose geranium essential oils so it feels really good and it tastes really good. I have a funny story...
I have a friend that when I first met her was constantly using a competitor’s lip balm. I said you “You should try my lip balm!,” and she goes “This is the only one I can use, I don't like anything else." I insisted that she let me give her one to try. [Now] she uses it, her girls use it. They totally love it. I’ve heard so many times that it heals like no other lip balm.
I love it too! I have to have one in every room. My other favorite is the HYDRATE spray. I love to throw on people when they're unfamiliar with your brand because the smell is so amazing that it will start conversation about the rest of the line. What’s so magical about that one?
When I initially started making my products, I decided I didn't want to use any throw away ingredients. So none of the ingredients in any of my products have water. Instead, I use plant hydrosols (that's the water portion of making essential oils, the water distilit from the plant materials).
Originally I bought the rose geranium hydrosol [used in HYDRATE] at $200 a gallon. It’s a very expensive product, and it was really good quality. Just last year I grew enough rose geranium here on the homestead to distill my own hydrosol. That’s been a really fun thing to add to the product line, to be able to grow botanicals and distill the plant waters that I use on site.
I also use lavender hydrosol in the LUSTER face wash [that we grow and distill here]. It’s very gentle, very mild and very lovely on the skin. Instead of just water it's actually the plant medicine that goes into the products. They’re really lovely and healing to the skin, and I believe, healing to the body too.
The Essential Apothecary lineup.
HMH has been a dream of yours for a long time, can you share when that vision started and how it's evolved?
Probably when I was in my early to mid-20s. Rick [my husband] and I were driving from North Idaho to South Idaho to visit family. You know how you just look out the window and you watch the things go by? I looked into the distance and I saw this little cabin tucked into the foothills. I got this really strong vision of having a Homestead where people could come and learn about things, and about themselves; to take a pause and be more self-reflective and just be nourished. I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't realize it would take 40 years! But all the steps along the way were learnings and wisdoms and bits and pieces of experience that came together so we could do this.
What kinds of learnings contributed to the building of HMH?
We had a bar restaurant in Seattle and we learned a lot about food and beverages, and just how to be gracious hosts. And to create! I think one of the things that I loved most about that place was watching people be just shocked when they walked in the door. They would say, “Oh my God what is this place? It's magical!” Because, I think, we have so many interests that we brought into that business.
Creative soul Kate Poole with her husband Rick outside of their bar E. Smith Mercantile.
I also took that time to fall in love with food and growing things. I’ve been a gardener for most of my life. Learning how to work the soil and tend to the land in a way that's respectful. I learned a lot along the way about plants, and how to use them medicinally. Being able to take care of yourself with plant medicines that you grow, there’s nothing better.
Art instructor, Kate Poole in the garden.
Botany and nature have always been a big part of your art experience. How did you develop the name for your art workshop, the Botanist's Garden?
Before we moved here [to the homestead], we had a home in Seattle on a greenbelt. We had pine trees that were several hundred years old. They were huge Monster trees. I felt really loved in that place. It was just a little rental house when we first moved there, but over the course of 30 years I turned it into a Botanist’s Garden.
I say “Botanist’s garden” because I got really really into plant collecting. I got really nerdy about it, and I kept track of all the plants. I had over 2,000 different plant varieties and I was really determined to learn all the Latin names of everything.
It was an ornamental garden, not a food garden. I’ve moved more into a food garden here on the Homestead. Now I really try to focus more on things that I can grow to eat or tincture and use medically. But it was really fun those years in Seattle because you could grow everything. It's a very moderate climate so I had plants from all over the world.
A retreat guest wanders the garden at Hunter Moon Homestead.
We've only been here for 4 years so the gardens are really just starting to evolve. On the property we have a 5-acre pond so we have lots of bird life and there's lots of native plants: Willow and Dogwood and Cattails, and big Cottonwood trees that the bees gather the propolis from.
We have lots of wild bee communities. That's how we ended up naming the Bee House Studio. When we first moved here there was a wild bee colony that had been here for a really long time that had built combs inside the walls of the house. We did have to move them, but they’re in a safe place now.
'The Bee House' art studio.
So you evolved your Botanists’ Garden into a workshop!
For a person with many varied interests, I feel like it always does come back to nature for you. Speaking of the Artist’s voice, I think all artists struggle with developing their own unique mark. Do you have any tips for other artists that are currently trying to develop that?
I’ve been trying to figure out what my creative language is or how I want to express myself. Because I have so many interests, and I find beauty in so many things, I found it hard to focus my pen, my pencil, my paintbrush… so I decided I'm really going to explore painting and capturing flowers, botanicals, the leaf structures, it’s an infinite subject, right? The colors are infinite, the shapes are infinite, the intricacies are infinite. It’s become a love. And also making dyes and pigments and taking impressions. There's nothing more creative than God's nature. To me it's just kind of re-interpreting it through my own eyes, my own love of it and the vision that I have.
Inspired by natural beauty, Kate's latest mixed media art work.
If flowers don't call do you, and who wouldn’t be called by them?... I would suggest spending time with what you enjoy or what you surround yourself with. Whether it's portraits - some people are really fascinated by faces, and or animals or just landscapes. You could keep yourself busy for an infinite amount of time just painting the same tree over and over again, especially through the season. I think just what is around you that’s easy to access.
Sample art work using linework and splatter technique from Kate's art workshop.
You can also just give yourself a little bit of time to sit down with a blank piece of paper and just scribble. Sit down with some crayons or a Stabilo pencil and just scribble! Maybe bring some water into it and play with shapes and textures. It doesn’t have to be “art.”
Just making time to create, even if it's 10 minutes. I say just give yourself 10 minutes, but you’ll find you end up walking away an hour later and it's been so much fun. When you're in the act of creativity your brain stops. You stop thinking and just enjoy the process of what’s coming up. It’s a beautiful thing.
This will be your second time teaching the Botanists Garden retreat. Do you have any new techniques you'll be sharing or are there any experiences from last season that you hope to expand on this year?
Yes of course. Last year the only complaint that I received was that I had too many projects for students to do. This year I'm going to slow my roll a little bit. We’ll do some paintings where we carve into plaster. Some techniques I’ll teach again.
The creative process comes to life in outdoor cyanotype printing.
We did some cyanotyping and then cutting and pasting and collaging with the cyanotypes. We also carved our own botanical stamps. This year we’ll have more time to just play with different colors and layers with our stamps. Also last year I taught really late in the season, so not much was blooming. This coming workshop will be in high flower season.
Part of the artistic process is a kind of therapeutic evolution of what you're going through. Like you said, creating turns your mind off so you can process thoughts you didn’t know were there. Can you tell us about a time when you went through your own catharsis in your creative work and how you would usher people through that experience?
I'm just creating a space where people don't have to feel like they're an artist to create. It really bothers me when people say “I'm not creative, I'm not an artist.” You are! We’re all creating all the time, we just don't think about it in those ways. I hope to offer a focused place with just a little bit of instruction and encouragement to get out of your box a little bit. I really want people to take the techniques that I give them here and go home and play and practice when they get home. Mainly I want to create a safe environment for for people to explore creativity, especially those who have never really let themselves do it before.
Kate gives instruction on the creative process to build texture using botanical inspiration.
It is one of your super powers to create a sense of home in your environment. Hospitality has always been a component of what you do at Hunter Moon Homestead. For those who haven't been before can walk them through how rest and restoration is part of the experience?
I am a really sensitive person. When I travel I pick up on vibes and everything, so I really thought about how this experience would feel for other people. I want it to be as easy as possible. This might sound really silly, but I want a really comfortable bed for everybody! It's really important to me because most of the time when I go somewhere the sheets smell weird, the bed’s hard or the bedding is crunchy. So we put a lot of attention into the bed so people have a cozy room space.
Inside a queen cabin at Hunter Moon Homestead.
Because I love food so much, and we grow a big garden, it's really really fun for me to be able to offer this beautiful food [that we’re growing] for people. The food is just another level of being able to nourish and love on people. All the senses! The visuals because this is really a beautiful place from the time you land at the airport to get to our house, it's a beautiful drive in the country. The sound: It's really quiet here, except for sometimes the birds get kind of loud on the pond. We create a place of peace so that it's really easy to let your guard down and just enjoy the class.
A farewell brunch spread at the close of an art retreat.
You touched on the food really briefly, but I remember last year almost everyone said it would have been worth coming for the meals alone!
Yeah you know we want to cover all the senses. Taste and touch and sound. we really do love to take care of people. They don’t call me Mama Kate for no reason.
Any new projects to share?
We bought a little tiny house in Troy, the town that's closest to us, that we're turning into an Airbnb Cottage. It's going to be so freaking cute. Guests can chose to stay there when they come for retreats, or if you just want to come and not do art but just visit and stay in the cottage that's fine too. We're also adding two really nice quality, heavy canvas tents to the property that were are big enough you can stand up in. Those can be booked online on the website.
You've also added an artists residency program!
Yep, if there are any artist's out there making art or working on a project and looking for some dedicated time just to do your work, you can apply to join online.
This interview has been edited for content. To listen to the original conversation, find it on our Instagram in the reels.