Orange and yellow cosmos, zinnias and marigolds blooms from Aranka Matolcsy’s garden in South Paris. Supplied photo

PARIS — Someone could write a pocket dictionary of phrases that have joined the American lexicon over the past year.

Probably not many would want to buy it. But a few nouveau clichés can be applied to our daily routines of the old, the present and certainly in the future.

Self-care, for example. One could argue it should be at the top of every daily “to-do” list until infinity. During a pandemic it has become especially crucial and it can materialize for different individuals in surprising ways.

Aranka Matolcsy (pronounced MA-toll-chee) of Paris is no stranger to putting others first and deflecting her own self-care. She is a single parent of a special needs child and runs two small businesses to make ends meet. She also was raised in a thoroughly creative world and pursued a career in arts organizations and graphic design that has kept her on that track.

Recently she took on a long-term but manageable project to create meaningful gifts for her friends and family. It has become a pursuit she plans to continue for the rest of her life.

“Art has always been a part of my life,” Matolcsy said. “I am a single mom, my little boy has Down syndrome and I don’t have much time for myself. I’d really missed being creative and doing things that fulfill my soul. And I wanted to collect seeds as gifts.”

Matolcsy’s sister-in-law, Jody, had undertaken a similar project about four years ago, harvesting seeds from both flowers and vegetables and distributing them as gifts.

“It was a lovey gift,” she said. “It obviously takes time to grow the plant, collect the pods and dry them out, carefully pluck the seeds and keep them separated from each other. I planted the last of them (Jody’s) this year. They’ve been viable all these years.”

Isolating at home since March, Matolcsy saw seed collection as something she could do with her son, Colby, at her side.

“It was an awesome process, to grow everything and collect the seeds,” she said. “It’s something I was able to do while tending to my son’s extremely high needs. It’s very difficult for me to do anything at all when I am one-on-one with him.

“But we can have a garden and I can collect the seeds when we’re outside,” she said. “It could all be done in little bits and pieces.”

Tending to her perennials and vegetables was already a part of Matolcsy’s daily rhythm, walking through her gardens, seeing the changes, noting how and when things grew, bloomed and went to seed. As she collected the pods and pulled and dried the seeds, her thoughts turned to how to package her gifts.

“As I thought about the packaging I was like, ‘I want to create the drawings for them,’” she said. “I was thinking about some of the beautiful seed packs that I’ve saved, with hand-drawn images instead of photographs. It was really fun to explore an artistic outlet and turn them into gifts for the people that I love.”

 

Aranka Matolcsy started harvesting seeds in her custom-designed packets in 2020 while isolating at home during the pandemic. Supplied photo

Creating original packaging was also something she could do alongside Colby. His Scooby-Doo movie routines gave her the time to focus on the design, writing and production of the seed packets.

As she began sketching blossoms of the seeds she had collected, Matolcsy discovered something completely new about herself. Picking up drawing tools many years after setting it aside, her artistic skills were far better than she remembered.

“My father, Lajos Matolcsy, was a fine artist,” she said. “He founded Western Maine Art Group … there is an art center named for him. I studied art with him as a child and I took my mother’s art classes. People assume that I draw or paint well because my father was a master painter. But it was always a struggle for me. I hadn’t attempted to draw really, anything, in 25 years.

“When I went to start sketching these flowers, I had technique that I had never had before,” she said. “It was remarkable to me. It showed me that throughout these years of studying, judging and experiencing thousands of pieces of art and directing numerous art events, my brain had analyzed what I was looking at. I had never been able to draw like this. It was a phenomenal experience and I’m really looking forward to doing more.”

An important contribution Colby made to the overall project was supplying his mother with the materials she needed for drawing.

“I ended up using his art supplies,” she said. “Just elementary school water colors and a #2 pencil and a Sharpie. I would have had more control of the medium using real materials” but her creations would not have included the same level of love.

Finding a template for seed packet construction, Matolcsy used it to create her own design on her computer. She drew, painted and photographed each bloom, imported the images and input her own basic instructions, like care in different zones and plant spacing. She borrowed her son’s glue sticks to fasten the packets for each set of seeds.

Matolcsy worked on her gifts through each season, completing about 100 packets as the 2020 calendar ticked into winter. She started sending them to her loved ones as Christmas gifts; the response and encouragement she received in return has cultivated new ideas.

“It will be an annual thing,” Matolcsy said. “I am obviously going to be collecting seeds every year for the rest of my life. I can’t believe I hadn’t done it already. It’s been a wonderful process, a soul-fulfilling thing for me. And I’m thinking about creating a line of seeds for sale to benefit Colby.

“I run a rental business called Colby’s Cabin,” she said. “One of the things I love about the cabin are the wildflowers that grow around it. It will be called ‘Colby’s Seeds.’ The sales and proceeds would be deposited into his trust fund for his future care.”

As others have learned about her project they have started lining up with requests to purchase seed packets and her watercolors of the flowers. It has sparked a whole new set of ideas. Matolcsy has now turned her attention to market research to see how it would work as a product and how she would get it to retail.

“It’s not a mass-manufactured seed package,” she said. “It’s hand-collected, organic, home-grown. I’m looking at similar products to make sure my expectations and price points are right. I am thinking about stores that sell locally produced goods.”

The packets contain the seeds of both wild and cultivated plants: milkweed, lupines, Queen Anne’s lace, cosmos, marigolds, zinnias and pumpkins. The wildflower seeds are from plants Matolcsy gathered to cultivate in her own gardens.

“I just wanted to give a heart-felt, lovely gift that was meaningful to me as well,” she said. “I’m thrilled it has gotten such a wonderful reception. I love how they are connecting Colby to their ideas of how I can develop it. Anyone who knows me knows that any endeavor that I take on has Colby at the core. It’s been really cool and fulfilling.”

Those wishing to learn more about Matolcsy’s budding Colby’s Seeds project may visit monarchconsultinganddesign.com and use the contact form to email her for more information.

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