My First HPSO (Hardy Plant Society of Oregon) Open Garden

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It’s been 2 months since my garden was open to a limited number of gardeners I didn’t know from Adam. I think I’ve almost recovered from the experience, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure. 2017 has been the year of renovation around here and we’re far from done.

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The front yard as it was that weekend. Hopefully next year the master plan for the Hell Strip from Hell will have been masterfully completed.

The whole endeavor is not for the faint of heart. Yet for me, it had to be done. If I don’t have a goal to achieve, I don’t get things done. This Virgo child may be down to earth, but I sure do get distracted by shiny/beautiful and/or delicious things quite easily. So yes, this garden and home have been so wrapped up in my emotional and physical lives for so long I just wanted to be rid of that extra baggage.

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The first renovation to take place was of the front garden. We widened the parking space and hired John Crain of Opal Gardens to build a custom fence. Made of Oregon juniper, you’ll find many fences that look like it in the far reaches of Northern Italy.

I learned a lot during the process and I continue to discover new things about myself as I rid the property of both objects and memories. If gardening is life (and it is for some of us), and if life is about adapting to change and problem solving, then my garden and I had not really been alive or even living for quite some time. There had been no big changes for too long and I still had a lot of spots with unresolved problems. Not so much now thank-you-very-much!

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To add to the more laid back feel a bored, sleepy lion was added to my concrete garden menagerie.

Last spring both my garden and I began a bit of transformation, and while my garden no longer looks and feels like the hot mess that it once was, I’m still waiting for my makeover. Sigh. I suppose it too is on its way.

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My garden throne. This hammock was found dumped by the side of the road years ago and I am so grateful for the comfort it’s given to my aching back over the years. To reward it, I finally gave it its own space.

Last winter my back went out, and while I was in physical therapy strengthening the damaged and weakened area of my lower spine I decided to think about happier things. I couldn’t bend over or lift much so why not force myself to improve? What else was going on while I was resting? Not much. I figured that opening my garden would mean that I’d be sure to follow through with my daily PT exercises—and it did! It worked!!!

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One of my favorite spots in the garden to rest my eyes. I’m happy with how it looked this year and with the new items. I think next year it will finally go over the top.

It was my coming out party as a gardener. After over a decade it was finally time for me to put my best foot forward. This meant facing unrealistic goals, dreaming up things I never could get finished (or afford) in time, and then accepting help from others when I really needed it, but hey, this is me we’re talking about now! Yes, of course I needed help. (Thank you Paul, Gail, Vanessa, Mary, Mi Yong, Evan, Kate, and John. If I forgot someone, please kick me and tell me to edit this ASAP. Oops. I have to kick myself. Alex and Elizabeth helped me with the lights and Julie and Bob let me borrow their orchard ladder. Thank you!)

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Grandpa Sam’s chair was given a new look and I purchased two more vintage chairs to give it company. Vanessa Gardner Nagel came up with this fancy use of a planter I’d purchased and never used. I love how it all came together.

Overall, the experience was outstanding and I recommend it to everyone mostly because of the comradely. Sure, we all have friends with amazingly perfect gardens who’ve earned national horticultural and design acclaim and they tell you it’s ok to open up your place before you’re all finished. Yeah. Uh-huh. I’m sure no one will criticize this or that since we all know we’ve been there at some point. Have we not?  Don’t listen to them and just plug along and do your best. In my case that meant staying up until 1am under lights on a warm summer evening making kokedama arrangements but by then I was both slightly relieved and more delirious than usual. It was almost over and it felt so good.

The forest fire smoke was finally lifting too so that was a relief. That smoke really slowed down progress this past summer.

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The living willow arbor where I spread some of Maurice the cat’s ashes. The garden is named after him: Campiello Maurizio.

Luckily for those of us who find this flavor of stress hilarious and just need to laugh it all off or else we’d explode there are these fancy things called cocktails that can help us relax. Since I can’t drink wine or beer any more they’re kind of my new thing. (My personal favorite is an Amaretto Sour if you’re wondering. Please hand me one if you ever meet me at an event. I’ll need it. Trust me. Ms. Nerves over here.)

Until you’ve opened up your garden to a group of discerning visitors, let me tell you, you won’t quite know what you’re in for—but the pain and suffering is all worth it.

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Ah yes… Let’s all thank that young man again for setting the Columbia River Gorge on fire just before I opened my garden. Talk about a hurdle. My severe asthma was incredibly uncomfortable.

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The smoke was so bad this summer that for many days I couldn’t leave the house.

I’ll try to post more anecdotes later about my experience. Clearly I’m a plantswoman and I wish that I’d been able to better highlight some of the rare and unusual plants I care about around here but many are still small, others don’t look great, and a few more have yet to germinate.

More on that soon too… I’m finally organized enough after all of this to begin selling more online again and to expand my business. I’m always looking for more seeds so please look at the page here on my blog of things that I’m looking for currently. If you have something for me I can trade seeds with you or send you some homemade Italian cookies of your choice.

CIAO for now!

Working at Cistus Nursery—An Introduction

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IMG_5295My job at Cistus Nursery started on September 26 of last year. Since then I’ve worked there one day per week (every single week) and I’m genuinely excited to see my 1-year anniversary up ahead. Owner (and friend) Sean Hogan asked me to join the team last August to work solely with seeds and I was more than happy to join as a propagator. In all honesty, it’s my first nursery gig, and for the most part, I knew what I was doing going into this but I’ve also learned so much and am grateful for this unique opportunity I’ve been given. IMG_6045One thing that’s remained constant over the years has been my love of and interest in seeds and their importance in our world. For many years I ignored the urge to embrace them fully (having swapped biology for art history in college because of a boy) but collecting and sowing seeds creates a kind of diversity in our natural world which can’t be beat. Obviously I dropped the boy (ok, he dropped me) but eventually I got back on track and have ended up right where I needed to be in the first place. IMG_5373Nowadays I’m transplanting seeds I sowed in the fall and winter while propagating annuals and succulents around the nursery. The other member of the propagation crew (other than Sean) is in charge of the more serious cuttings and he’s also the one who deals with collections Sean has made himself in the wild or otherwise.

If you’re unaware of what the nursery is known for, Arctostphylos are kind of our thing but we also have thousands of other rare and unusual plants along with some comfortable familiar ones.

Personally, I’m rather fond of the Pelergonium collection so have been learning to take cuttings of them by selecting ones we should make more of and watching over them as they grow.

IMG_3789In addition to the propagation I’ve been taking photos around the place to share on Instagram. This is one of the Arctostaphylos plants we have but I cannot recall which one. I’m horrible when it comes to their ID. I just cannot wrap my brain around them all.

But I’ve now germinated them from seed and my babies are growing well. Not everyone can say that and I have to say I’m proud of that accomplishment. Germinating seeds makes me so happy. Have I gotten that across yet?

IMG_4217Sometimes I see the most amazing combinations as I go from one spot to another in the nursery. We have more than a handful of greenhouses.

Seen here is a Corokia x virgata ‘Orangerie’ intertwining with Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’. Aren’t they just lovely together?IMG_3787Other times I find things that are just a mystery to me. Since this one is rare even in its native range I didn’t beat myself up too much because of my ignorance. Seen it before? Maybe? Well, if not, and if you’re like me, you might need help. This is Neviusia alabamensis or Alabama snow-wreath.

IMG_5730.jpgIt’s a lot of hard working at a nursery but if you love plants it’s worth the effort. Cistus Nursery is a fun place to spend my time and it’s truly a place to learn about plants. It feels like a plant library most days—and I’m just talking about the back greenhouses! Just walking through our retail area is enough for most folks.

That’s one of the reasons I kept this first post about my job as Cistus “Seedstress” rather simple. I don’t want to overwhelm and bore you with the details. I will try very hard to post more about the joys of working there as time goes on but for now, this is just a little introduction.

If you haven’t been there before, come check the place out. If you have been there, come see us again—over and over. I can assure you that there is always something different to see.

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Each week I’ve been returning home after work, being dropped off by my friend and co-worker Alex, and these two are waiting for me in the front window. I do what I can to bring home some kibble.

Thanks for dropping in and reading my post!

The New Edible Garden Plot at Mt. Tabor Community Garden

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I signed up for a plot at this Portland Community Garden site back when it was created in 2012. At that time I was placed on a waiting list and there I sat waiting year after year. Much to my surprise, just months ago, I was granted a spot and it was an exciting day when I heard the good news!

Since I’d had a plot at a different community garden location in the past I knew that it would be a lot of work. I was worried. Fresh produce is a wonderful thing to have on hand, and yet, here’s where I openly admit that the other plot ended up being abandoned by me.

I was worried I’d fail again.

Let me explain…

This blog began in December 2007,  not long after I’d started to recover from a fall I’d had down the basement stairs at my house. It’s kind of incredible for me to think that it’s 2017 and I’m still struggling with the effects from that accident, but it’s true.

For the last decade I’ve been dealing with nerve damage and chronic pain. I originally created this blog as a kind of pain relief and pain management therapy. The fact that I even attempt to garden is sort of goofy since I’ve sustained damage to both the cervical and lumbar regions of my spine. (If you don’t already know I had back surgery 3 years ago to correct damage done during a second fall.)

Yet, the trouble caused by my first fall has taken longer to correct. For the last two months I’ve been in physical therapy and soon I will be getting the first MRI to look more deeply into my lower back. Things have not improved. I’ve walked the long and painful plank to this point. In the coming weeks I will be told if additional surgical intervention will be necessary and I already know that I will be in physical therapy for a long time. (I’m also dealing with damage done to my hip from the impact sustained when I hit the wooden steps.)

So why oh why did I want to get another community garden plot!?! Shouldn’t I be taking it easy?

I said “yes” to the plot because I don’t believe in a magical future when everything will feel better. Deep down I believe in trying again, and again. I believe in living my life no matter what comes my way.

Nowadays I’m remarried and my husband lives and works here (and not in another state) so I have more help. I also have more friends and they’ve become an important and necessary network of support as I live with my chronic health issues. (Many of them I met through writing a blog and because I’m a garden blogger.) They’re my community now, my people, my group, and I’m devoted to helping them in any way that I’m able to do so. They aren’t out there actually toiling with me, but they support my efforts, and that helps me feel embraced and lifted up. We all need that in our lives. Just as we build supports for our vines, our veggies, and our blooms, we can do this with (and for) other people.

During my time working as a caregiver—before I “retired” recently—I often worked with hospice clients. I also said “yes” because of them. It will be messy, imperfect, crops will fail, and it might even get ugly at some point. I promise to share those failures with you—along with the successes! My Sicilian family took great pride in their perfect produce and I will try to do my best, but it will take work, experience, and time. I’m living my life though, making memories, taking chances, and I hope to reach out to even more folks.

Even if I need surgical intervention, this garden is going to grow.

 

 

January 2017: Amateur Bot-Ann-Ist is Back!!!

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img_1108It seems only fair to write a post after a week-long snow event. This will be short though—much like my patience after being snowed-in for so long. Last year I felt that I needed a break but I didn’t know why and now I feel better about a return to regular posts. So much has happened. It is sad to think that there were many things I didn’t post about but I will try to add them when I can in the future.

img_3249This fall we lost Maurice the Cat. He was an old guy who sadly passed away from cancer on his jaw. Luckily he’s been immortalized because the back garden was named after him so we will forever think of him. He spent many summers in Campiello Maurizio sunbathing on his favorite bench beneath the living willow arbor. He will be sorely missed. img_4266Last spring this little guy made his appearance. Felix has been quite a handful ever since he arrived here. He was abandoned by his mom the day he was born and sadly outlived his sister. With no mama cat and no siblings to play with I have had to do a lot of work. We received him when he was about 3 weeks old and I will forever be grateful to his foster mama.

He will certainly be showing up here a bit more now although both he and LuLu are primarily indoor cats since we lost Quincy just over a year ago to an urban coyote. They do get to go outside but both are doing well with supervised trips.

Felix is an alleycat of the highest degree and there is NEVER a dull moment when he’s around. Never have I owned a cat who enjoyed knocking over garbage cans and breaking glass so much. Lucky for him he’s a love bug. We look forward to those moments. He is a tiny terror, but he was also very sweet to Maurice in his final days. He’s not all bad. img_5674

At the end of 2016, thanks to my underground dinners, I was finally able to pay off the debt incurred by my back surgery several years ago. In 2017 the goal is to work on paying down the debt owed to my ex-husband from the divorce. If you’re in the Portland area and are interested in attending, please find the page somewhere here on my blog and add your name to the list. That’s the best way to find out what I’m up to and what menus will be coming up next. img_8126The other big news in 2016 was my first official job in the horticulture industry. It’s something I’ve longed to do for years and thanks to my friend and mentor Sean Hogan (of Cistus Design Nursery) it happened. I’m only a part-time employee, and this works well because of my health limitations, but the best part is that I’m a “Seedstress”. Only Sean could manufacture a name that great.

In 2017 it would be wonderful to be working more and more in the horticulture field but I’m not yet sure how much I can handle physically. Luckily, my health has been fairly stable since I started new treatments, and I guess that’s another reason I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been living my life and have been having a wonderful time getting up and around and developing and strengthening friendships. I was more active in 2016 than I’ve been in many years. It was great! img_9818Clearly I’m doing just fine! Obviously! So send me some new clothes. The ones I’ve been wearing are old (tight budget) but I DID get a new hat. (Roars with laugher.)

Ok folks, I hope someone is still out there reading this blog! See you again very soon. Can’t wait to update the world on all of the dead plants that we’ll be seeing in the next few months thanks to this weather we’ve been having. We only ended up with about a foot of snow here at our house.

Brrrrrrrrrr.

VERONA, ITALY: GIARDINO GIUSTI (PART TWO)

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A few weeks ago I introduced the Giardino Giusti and began to describe our visit there. It’s been just a few months since we left Italy, but it feels like ages right now. As I said before, the garden is simply incredible and the plants found there are all part of what I’d consider the traditional Italian garden. Maybe the photo collage is too small, but above on the far left you’ll see Acanthus mollis, some jasmine, and a hellebore with an Italian terra-cotta planter on a classical Roman-style pedestal. In the middle image you’ll notice the Italian cypresses flanking the perfectly painted Italian building. These trees are used to the extreme in this garden, oh, and that last pic on the far right, the boxwood! Oh, the boxwood! There’s architectural remnants too—but course.

Up the stairs in the lower garden there is an orangerie, although I cannot remember what to call it in Italian. Beyond it there’s an area dedicated to Brugmansia, but they were only just beginning to grow again after having been planted out. (I assume they’re protected over the winter.) Above this area, you can see a lovely structure which you’re able to walk up to in order the sit and enjoy the view below of the garden and town itself.

The flowers in this area were mostly Iris. The many citrus plants were blooming and the scent of their blooms was intoxicating. Along a wall, for the second time during an Italian vacation, I saw caper plants growing.

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Looking back towards the entrance to the garden, I noted this row of statuary lined up above a roof’s edge. My husband recognized the style of dress and the symbols each held and they essentially represent the classes. There’s nobility, military, clergy, and a peasant.  What’s missing is the piece that was up above the other 4. If I had to guess, it may have been religious, but I’m not certain. (My guess at the 4 statues representing the classes is a guess as well, but it’s and educated one.)

Protected in this area is the lovely Citron fruit. These lovely structures are so simple. The fruits were so happy and snug growing against their wall.

Sadly I cannot remember right now what this area had been, but I do remember the little pockets in the walls.

Before heading up the lovely path I had a lesson in Italian. I made the mistake of goofily pronouncing belvedere as we would in English, as I had learned as a kid from watching Mr. Belvedere. My husband lost it. When he lost it, I lost it cracking up at him. Then I had to laugh at how to correctly pronounce the word in Italian—bell-va-dare-aye. I felt so stylish. Of course this led to me talking about Signore Bell-va-dare-aye! It doesn’t take much for me to have fun, now does it? Turns out that to my husband “Belvedere” is somehow sacred. Yes, it means “viewpoint” if you hadn’t figured that out already.

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I guess when you have a view like this, you might want to take it seriously.

Next post, you’ll be seeing a bit more of it.

 

ANLD: Designers’ Garden Tour 2016

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Next weekend the annual  ANLD Designers’ Garden Tour will take place in the Portland area. If you’re available to attend on Saturday June 18th, you’re in for a pleasant day full of lovely gardens with lots of beautiful ideas. Since this was the first pre-tour I’d ever attended I had no idea what to expect. I left feeling inspired and fully enjoyed each and every one of the gardens I visited with fellow bloggers and other attendees. (To learn more about the tour and how it works click on the link above.)

Garden #1: Wagner Garden

Located in the Clackamas area, this garden is a suburban retreat full of lush plant combos and serene seating areas.

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Garden #2: Langeliers Garden

Garden art and incredible plants tie this lovely landscape together with its home and evoke personality that’s consistent throughout the design.

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Garden #3: Hannan Garden

This is a garden that’s all business in the front and party in the back.

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Garden #4: King Garden

A midcentury ranch with a twist of lush landscaping and bold choices of metal, color, and stone.

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Garden #5: Olson Garden

A natural beauty with a mix of bold plant combinations and fine craftsmanship.

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Garden #6: Beberned-Gawf Garden

A garden with incredible bones, and a history of having been a neglected clean slate, this garden has been landscaped with personal touches, a few recycled items, and lots of stained glass art.

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Garden #7: Mauch Garden

Quietly holding down a city lot with large patches of green, several pockets for seating, and serene, beautiful ceramic art throughout.

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