San Luis Obispo author Sharon Lovejoy can trace everything back to her Quaker grandmother, Pasadena educator Abigail Lovejoy: her artistic eye, her love of literature, her passion for the natural world.
“Every good part of me stemmed from my Grandmother Lovejoy,” she said. “We can have an amazing influence on a child’s life.”
Now a grandmother herself, Lovejoy is the award-winning author and illustrator of nine books, including “A Blessing of Toads: A Gardener’s Guide to Living with Nature” and “Trowel and Error: Over 700 Shortcuts, Tips & Remedies for the Gardener.”
Her latest title is “My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder,” published by Workman Publishing in October.
Intended for ages 6 and up, the illustrated field guide to backyard birds is packaged with an easy-to clean bird feeder made of biodegradable blue plastic. Suction cups let bird watchers attach it to a window.
“Looking at a pansy is one thing, but for the kids, (a garden) comes to life when there are worms and bugs and butterflies and birds,” said Lovejoy, the former owner of Heart’s Ease Herb Shop & Gardens in Cambria. “When they get animals in the garden, it really wakes them up.”
Born and raised in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Lovejoy attended junior high and high school in Covina and earned a fine arts degree at San Diego State University. After seeing a postcard depicting the Cambria Pines Lodge, however, she decided to head north.
“I just said, ‘I’m going to live there someday.’ I fell in love with it,” recalled Lovejoy, who opened Heart’s Ease in 1982 and ran the shop for 15 years.
Her gift for gardening and gracious living first garnered national attention in 1990, when her Cambria cottage appeared on the cover of Country Living magazine. She received more than 5,000 letters in response to the article — titled “California Haven: A nature lover’s enclave” — and caught the eye of a few publishers as well.
In 1991, Interweave Press published her first book, “Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages,” which pairs whimsical watercolor illustrations with crafts, games and planting projects inspired by Lovejoy’s childhood. A second book, “Hollyhock Days: Garden Discoveries for the Young at Heart,” followed in 1994.
Although some of Lovejoy’s books are do-it-yourself guides aimed at adult gardeners, grownups interacting with children are the target audience of 1999’s “Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children” and 2009’s “Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars: Grandma’s Bag of Tricks.” The latter features 130 “wonder-filled activities” — from planting a “snack pot” of colorful carrots and radishes to baking “moon pizzas” in a solar oven — for families to try together.
The goal is to “get kids to realize that they have this magical world around them,” said Lovejoy, whose three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren are frequent visitors to her San Luis Obispo garden.
“I want kids to know what a miracle is happening around them all the time. I don’t want them to be jaded.”
The key to keeping kids engaged in outdoor activities, she said, is to avoid the word “work.”
“Don’t ever make it a chore,” she said.
That goes for bird-watching as well as gardening, added Lovejoy, who has worked as a docent at the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution. As long as steps are taken to make nature accessible, children will be transfixed.
“When my 5-year-old (grandson) is over here, his eyes are as big as saucers,” she said. “He’s just thrilled by everything.”
As much as Lovejoy loves the outdoors, she also spends plenty of time working in her home office, Mockingbird Studio.
Over the years, Lovejoy’s literary career has included a stint as a Land’s End catalog “personality” and a two-year stretch as the Southern California contributor to home improvement store Lowe’s Creative Ideas blog.
From 1993 to 2006, Lovejoy wrote and illustrated the column “Heart’s Ease” in Country Living Gardener magazine. Her work has appeared in publications including Fine Gardening, Ranger Rick and Woman’s Day.
Projects currently in the works include a butterfly book for children and “Trouble Girl,” a young adult novel about a girl who befriends an escaped slave in Virginia in 1858.
“I can’t imagine ever retiring,” said Lovejoy, who published her first children’s book, “The Little Green Island with a Little Red House,” in 2005. “As long as my brain functions and my hands function and my eyes function, I’ll continue drawing. I’ll continue writing. I’ll continue talking to groups.”
Between book tours and speaking engagements, however, Lovejoy and her husband, real estate agent Jeff Prostovich, visit the coast of Maine, where they own an island cottage — a converted 1923 bunkhouse that was once part of the Miles Fresh Air Camp — and a 1800s-era vacation rental, Comfort Found Literary Lodging.
Although she appreciates the changing seasons of the East Coast, “I could not give up gardening in California,” said Lovejoy, who moved to San Luis Obispo in 2006. “You forget your worries. Any trials of life just disappear when you’re out puttering around with plants.”