Snow, Beauty, and Grief in February 2018

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February of 2018 started out quietly. After months of renovating the kitchen I was trying to return to normal for all of us—including the cats.  It was cold and grey. I’d signed up for a few more classes in horticulture at Clackamas Community College. My hope was that I’d feel better and do more in the coming year but I honestly wasn’t sure yet what that would mean.

There were still a few more things to add. John picked this old chandelier for the dining room and a light for the entry too. The cats began to relax and LuLu took over the kitchen again. I started seeds, and some were soaked in hot water in my grandma’s vintage mugs. I enjoyed the winter light that now could come in all along the north side of the house thanks to having opened up the back room. For Valentine’s Day, I received a juniper bonsai. Life was really settling in.

On February 11th, I lost a good friend. George Hull and I didn’t know one another for very long but he was very supportive of my drive to propagate and to eventually breed some plants. He was a plantsman who saw me as a plantswoman. He encouraged me and mentored me. He understood my spinal issues because he too had sustained injuries from a serious fall. I miss having him around to talk to about the chronic pain. In his absence, I try to channel the qualities I miss most about him so that I can share with others what he shared with me. I do miss him though. I know a lot of us miss him.

So that’s when I really embraced my garden. Mourning is a long process when you care about someone, and losing George was difficult. My Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ bloomed longer last season than it ever had. The Camellia japonica ‘Black Magic’ bloomed before, during, and after we had snow. It was magnificent! My heart also opened to a new plant, the Camellia x ‘Yume’. With a name that translates as ‘Dream’, this former Surrealism was immediately smitten. The pink and white petals really did it for me. Wow!

At work, winter moved on. Hummingbirds sipped from the Arctostaphylos when it snowed, the Garrya were dressed in their winter best, and the Aristolochia californica started to bloom. Though I’ve not yet planted one of these amazing vines in my own garden, I plan to do so soon. It’s a favorite of mine at work. Additionally, the Cirsium diacanthus (aka Ptilostemon afer) seeds I sowed started to look great. In retail, I met Rhododendron ‘Snow Lady’ for the first time.

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Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Hiltingbury’.

Before class one night at Clackamas Community College I went back to the row of Hamamelis to find the one I’d really liked a year or two ago. It was Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Hiltingbury’ and I was happy to see it again. Yes, there are others that are more popular, but I really like this one. I don’t have room for it in my garden, but I look forward to seeing it again next month when I return to take another class.

There were two more unusual things that happened that month.

A designer up in Seattle wanted a tree that he’d seen at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show but the show was over, and his client hadn’t gotten back to him in time, so he contacted the grower while they were driving home. It just so happened they were near Portland so it was delivered to my house where he came to retrieve it a week or two later. I didn’t see it installed, but it’s likely a really beauty. It was a weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’.

The second fun event was a propagation workshop for the bloggers at Joy Creek Nursery. I felt right at home in the greenhouse taking cuttings although it’s not what I do primarily do at work.

Lastly, we had some snow. It seems like that happens from time to time around here. I don’t mind it at all. As a matter of fact, I kind of like the cold of winter. What was the most entertaining though was watching our part Norwegian forest cat Oliver, aka Ollie. That’s him with the wide eyes in that last photo. If you could zoom in you’d see that there were tiny snowflakes coming down. I was surprised at his excitement. He sat at the window all night watching it snow. While the snow was here, he ran out when I let him and he’d borrow and dig and jump around. His joy brought me much joy.

Last January: Ringing in 2018

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IMG_8655Last New Year’s Eve I was painting my living/dining rooms. I think it was that experience that led to me slowing down and not finishing the rest of the painting, but I must confess, I still have more to do.

 

My spinal pain and bad hip were really set off by the painting, but I used the experience to learn from it. I took all of the aches and cramps to my physical therapist and she taught me a great deal. In the last year I have continued to strengthen so many things.

Continued strengthening also helped prepare me for the gardening season. Hopefully I can continue the painting work though in the next few weeks, and if there’s a problem, I can go back in for PT. It will be very nice to have it wrapped up, and I am not concerned that I am entering year 3 now for PT. I am so grateful for my therapist. She’s a jewel.

 

Watching the kitchen come together last year was also a relief. That last year has been rough but at least I’ve been able to cook a lot of food. Being allergic to pepper, peppers, and a host of other odd things makes eating so challenging. The kitchen was a huge gift and I look forward to working in there more this year.

We still have to pay to have the trim wrapped up, but redoing a kitchen in an old home is not cheap. I am so glad it’s over though.

 

LuLu spent most of last year hiding in a closet. The crew all gets along great though and I am happy to have them around. That’s Felix (on the top stair), LuLu, and Oliver. LuLu is clearly the one who’s annoyed by the boys. She really hated all of the noise too.

 

On the 6th of January I hosted a little Epiphany/Kitchen Warming party. I love 3 King’s Day and have always found it sad that many folks don’t celebrate through the entire Christmas season. I’m no longer a practicing Catholic but I do still enjoy the Catholic calendar. Besides, what’s the big rush to be done with December and the holidays? I’m in no rush and just want to spend time with friends for as long as possible. IMG_8836At work it was business as usual with work in the greenhouses. Nigella was extra sweet last year and this pic of her is one of my favorites. She used to live in a greenhouse all winter but now she’s retired and stays at the house since Sean moved in there. It was perfect timing for her. She’s worked hard over the years.

 

In the garden last January not a lot happened. I was able to get my lollipop Garrya in and I purchased this amazing Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Bridget’. Sadly it’s not looking as nice as this now but I’m hoping it will come back soon.

So that’s the quick wrap-up for last January! We can move on to February next week. Woohoo!

It’s been a long time…and now it’s wreath season again!

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Rather than fill in the gaps all at once, I’ll just post an entry of what’s been happening since I last wrote. I’ll try to share many of the highlights that occurred in 2018 over the next few weeks. (Since I have the photos, I might as well share them, right?) It’s been a great year of development and I’m eager to share what I’ve been learning and doing.

The photos above show a few of the many wreaths we made last year during a wreath-making party with friends and a few family members. If you’ve never hosted one, you should! Just be sure to do so when there’s still plenty of daylight. I attended one yesterday and it was a blast.

This year I’ve been working on wreaths too and I promise to share images of them soon. I only just started making them yesterday and am not quite finished yet. Good quality greens make good wreaths though and that’s the most important advice that I can give.

Next month, on December 5th, 2019 this blog will turn 11 and it seems fitting that I should begin to write again. I’m wanting nothing more than to return to regular casual posts but I’ve been busy and tired. This is not uncommon for folks like me. I’m still chronically ill and am currently in the second year of physical therapy for the damage I sustained from the two falls that were not properly cared for years ago. I still take too many medications and writing can be challenging for me but it’s worth the anxiety of getting something wrong on here.

This time last year we were redoing the kitchen. It’s mostly finished now, but we still need trim. We kind of ran out of funds but it was worth it. Being allergic to so many foods I need to cook a lot so last November/December I was really focussed on helping our contractor with decisions. One of the roughest spots was running into fire damage. We had so much of it from various fires but it’s all better now and the floor and walls are back in working order. The space wasn’t completely gutted, but it came close. There was so much in there that had to go.

(Oh, and I also painted most of the walls downstairs. I needed them to blend with the new kitchen color and that took a lot of time to figure out. I’m so glad I put the time and effort into it though because I have spent the last year enjoying the house a lot.)

Around the garden I had blooms from the gorgeous Camellia sasanqua ‘Silver Dollar’. I mention it because it’s one of the first plants I purchased at Cistus Nursery back when I began to garden here at home and it’s still a favorite.

Also in December a kind botanical friend sent me cuttings and seeds for Christmas, and then of course, it snowed. That happens sometimes.

At work, well, I continued to learn and flourish (at least I think so). By that point I’d continued posting these pretty photos for the nursery on Instagram and I’ve obviously excelled at getting dirty.

The cold can be rough when you have hereditary angioedema. It can make us swell, but I now take the anabolic steroids I’m prescribed whenever I work hard and it does seem to help overall. I hate having to take them, but they’re all I have for now.

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Closeup of a Ludisia discolor or jewel orchid bloom.

2018 was also the year of the houseplant for me. I’ve always had them and have loved them to pieces but this year I dove into them like never before and I guess that’s because I hope to sell more of them. We shall see. All I can say is that in the last 12 months I’ve propagated more of them than I ever have before and it’s fun.

 

 

 

 

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.