Before returning to Italy, let’s review last winter…

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About last winter, well, it was divine. Between the fair weather, a class in horticulture, and time spent with friends over long meals, it was a time to indulge in additional personal growth and discovery while lingering to get to know those around me better.

What I mean to say here is that my new mast cell medication was working mightily well—as were all of the other therapies. This plant of mine felt like its backbone was strengthened and buds began to form. (Now months on, I can see the growth.)

When we left for Italy, my health was better than it had been in some ways for years, but I know now that the neuropathy medication I was just given upon my return should have been instituted before our departure. Years of swelling have definitely taken their toll on my nerves.

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Agapetes serpens.

This winter was about propagation. Much joy was had when these Agapetes serpens cuttings taken from my friend Kate’s plant continued to bloom and bloom under lights in my basement.

They’re still alive and have hardened off outdoors and I look forward to potting them up this week or the next. Bloom on little troopers!

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Not such a bad year on Instagram.

This winter I continued to socialize on Instagram with other garden and plant lovers. It was through this platform we ended up meeting my new friends in Venice.

For anyone who has a difficult time falling asleep it can be a tool that can successfully create thoughtless thoughts. You can count sheep, or scroll through plant pics. Take your pick!

Many of the people I chose to follow are in Europe and I look forward to seeing their mornings as I slowly let the weight of my head really force itself into the pillow. Ok, maybe seeing their delicious morning repasts may sometimes widen an eye and a growl may grow from somewhere deep inside of my stomach, but then I move on to the next photo and set aside that fleeting idea of a sunny morning in Greece.

This past winter Kate and I decided to take a little coastal garden tour in January. We met up with Flora our friend over at Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal. (If you follow the link, you can read more about the gardens we saw that day.) Surprisingly, the weather was decent for us and in the end I was able to eat my beloved oysters.

From there we travelled south to Yachats and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve.

If you’d like to read a great blog post about that location I suggest this post from my friend Evan over at the The Practical Plant Geek. (He wrote several posts about it and of course I’ve yet to post any photos at all.)

While preparing for departure, the garden grew and things bloomed while more botanical Latin was memorized and I worked to pass my plant ID course in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

Friends were made, I hosted a talk here in my house about rare ferns given by an expert in such things, and the anticipation of the impending journey grew in me, the deviation from my medical routine grew more exhilarating, and soon we crossed the big pond.

More on that next time…

Valdobbiadene and Villa Barbaro

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During the last week we took two trips to Valdobbiadene and San Vito di Valdobbiadene to see family and family friends. It’s the hometown of my mother-in-law and where my husband would spend time each summer for 3 months as a boy.  This post is from our first trip there, a day trip.

Sitting at the base of the foothills of the Dolomites this is an incredibly beautiful area.

 

Can you find the Italian word for smoothie?

 

Posters showing local college graduates.

After a brief visit to make plans to return in a few days we headed over towards Maser and Villa Barbaro. We’d failed to visit this Palladian villa during our last visit and I’d really wanted to see its nymphaeum. Sadly, I couldn’t take photos of it, but I took exterior images. (You can look up the interior online. It’s really quite impressive considering its age.)

The chapel was built later and is the last building designed by Palladio.

Not sure if this is a maple used as hedging, but it looked like it to me.

The courtyard where we entered had lovely wisteria in bloom.

Workers were tending to the grass.

A single potted plant graced the covered walkway to the main entrance. Since this is a working vineyard, a grape vine makes sense.

A working cat.

After our visit we drove down the road a few kilometers to the hilltop town of Asolo.

Wild snapdragon or bocca di leone.

  The views there truly were quite incredible. 

This hotel (we think) had a patio full of potted Agave.

The King of his Castle watched me as I took photos through a fence. This guy clearly is in charge on this small street.

We returned to Vencie, took a nice slow walk back to the apartment, and then I tended to the needs of this poor sage plant. Left for us by our hosts, the last thing I want to do is kill it.

Venice: You’re So Lovely You Broke the Camera

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Let’s just get to the point. Not long after arriving in Venezia my iPhone went a bit nuts and ended up imploding which led to a photo dump. (I suspect it was from taking videos and far too many photo. The phone really seems to hate the videos most of all.) I’d thought the photos would be saved on the iPad we brought, but well, I was wrong. The photos will be missed, but the greatest regret is that I won’t be able to post images from our visit to the Giardini Botanici Hanbury near Ventimiglia, Italy. Much planning went into that day trip, and the photos somehow made it all worth the effort. We awoke early, took the train from Genova to Ventimiglia, bought our bus tickets, waited for the bus, and then we experienced the best of the Italian Riviera for the rest of the day. While waiting at the bus stop after our garden visit, we met a British couple who’d walked there from the French town just over the border and were taking the train back to their hotel that night, while we were leaving from the same station to return to our apartment. While chatting, a woman in a car that had exited a garage across the street asked if we needed a ride back into town. Turns out a Hanbury family member is still there—although the garden is now part of the University of Genova. She was a wonderful guide during our short ride and once again I am reminded that true plant people are a small lot of people and we love crossing paths with other plant people. 

Well, rather than cry over spilled milk, I’ll move on to the next course. 

I Giardini Reali (The Royal Gardens) as seen from one of the restored rooms in the former Royal Palace, now part of the Museo Correr.

 

During our last trip here we’d stumbled upon this little patch of green near the water at St. Mark’s Square and it immediately reminded me of Paris. Turns out that Napoleaon had his hand in the development of this spot while in power here and while he lived in the Royal Palace. Only a few of the rooms remain, but from this window, it’s clear to see how the garden must have served its purpose. 

Our apartment door is to the right. This is our little deadend street at night.

  

We’re staying near the Rialto Bridge just steps away from the Rialto Market. This is what the view can be like just walking to the supermarket in the evening.

   
Italians feel much differently about plants and gardening than many other cultures and I am not going to begin a big discussion on the matter other than to back them up. I hear time and again the remark that things could look better if they just tidied things up but then this wouldn’t be Italy and its people would no longer be the quirky Italians that foreigners so admire.

Balconies full of wild messy ivy are quite commonplace all over Italy—especially so in Vencie. With low light coming in between the buildings in the narrow canals and streets it makes sense and is very low maintenance. 

The other common combination you’ll see up higher on rooftop terraces will be something along these lines: screen plants (optional), tomato plants (not optional), marigolds or calendula, geraniums, herbs, maybe a rose or jasmine vine if their rooftop has something for it to climb on, agave (optional), other foliage plants (optional).

They really do keep it simple around here.

“Here on the night of November 26, 1944 Amerigo Perini died by a fascist bullet hastening the hour of liberation of Italy from tyranny both inside and out.”

In addition to being used as an herb, bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is still used culturally to connote victory just as it has for many centuries. Memorial signs such as this are given large frames or wreaths covered in laurel leaves, and newly graduated college students still walk the streets of Venice this time of year wearing their laurel crowns and singing together. It is nice to see plant symbolism and tradition at work.  Since I am ever the traveler wandering about while managing my own chronic health problems, it is nice to see such fine seats.  Seeing these near La Fenice made me realize I really should get some portable comfortable furniture for the garden this summer. I think that our elderly cat will approve of the idea too.  Piazza San Marco has nothing to do with gardening, and there are no plants, but it is magnificent in its design. This trip we visited the interior of the church and the mosaic work was truly stunning. When I return home, I want to begin making mosaics again. 

  

This is the view from the roof of St. Mark’s Basilica. 

  There are museums and art all over the city. Since Medusa is one of my favorite mytholical creatures, I snapped a photo of her on Athena’s aegis. This is from a sculpture that’s a Roman copy of a Greek original.   Ceramics are also a favorite and this dish depicts one of my favorite stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Cannot remember the date, but this is likely from the Renaissance.
  Yet another view from the top of St. Mark’s Basilica looking out toward the lagoon with the Doge’s Palace on the left.  The classical Venetian interior has a lot of dark, heavy wood. I doubt that was done to showcase fine Murano glass chandeliers, but it sure does work don’t you think? This museum room contained an incredible historic library with books on exploration. 

  This wouldn’t be Italy, and I wouldn’t be an Italian-American, if I didn’t share a basket of fake fruit with you. John and I both laughed when we saw it. We had to admit this one was quite stylish.  The cafes in Piazza San Marco are well known and can be a lot of fun if you’re there when the crowds are too much. We picked Caffè Florian since it was founded in 1720. For the price you pay to remain in the square to relax, it was worth it with this atmosphere. Outside our window the musicians played and we watched people walk by us.    The details in Italy are what boggle my mind and fill my heart with smiles. This incredible concrete work filled my imagination and simultaneously made me hungry. Not everyone has that reaction to tentacles, but I do. 

  This little patio is around the corner from our apartment.
  Some of my favorite spots in Venice are passageways such as this one. It too is nearby. From the kitchen porch we have a nice few of the bell tower. 
   But I must see the plants as I wander the streets. Wisteria is in bloom everywhere. It’s a very popular ornamental plant in Italy. I think their buildings are strong enough to maintain these floral beasts. 
  Everywhere you will find Sedum. This is by far the most common plant. I’ve yet to see it for sale so it must be passed along from balcony to balcony.   
   As you walk you find more and more of the usual low-maintenance suspects. Since there are so few plants here, when you do see them, their impact is strongly felt. 
   
  Then you find the little collections of potted plants and you know a gardener lives there. This little collection (in both pictures) was being cared for by an old man.   Leaving to pick up a rental car other morning I saw these boxes and thought it was strange I hadn’t seen a Dwarf Alberta spruce in several weeks. 
We also noticed this on a building. Reminds me a bit of Napoleon’s bee, but I’m not sure if this building was connected to him. He did loot the place and rearranged a few things before passing it along to the next ruler. So glad Venice is free now.   Last time we were here I really wanted to get something for the garden. This time, I am returning to this shop to pick up a few pieces. 
 Wish I could get a matching earring a necklace combo while we’re here but I can’t afford them—maybe next time. Being able to stay in Italy for a month was really the greatest treasure I get to take home. 

More from Veneto soon! 

Il Orto Botanico dell’Università di Genova

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Today we ventured out to find a garden—and although what we thought would be a 14 minute walk turned into a hilltop adventure, well, we’re in Italy, so it was all fine. 

Established in 1803, the collection is not as historic or as grand at the one in Padova, but it’s a bucolic place, not well cared after, and overall, still a lot of fun. Since this university is also the owner of a large botanical garden at an estate along the Italian Riviera I will cut them plenty of slack. I cannot imagine the expense of maintaining both this property as well as the other. It alone is 44 acres so kudos to them. 

Along our walk there was much to see.

  

“Love greetings”

  

Random Graptopetalum growing out of a wall.

  

Several levels of gardens. A common sight in many areas in Italy.

  

Fig tree growing out of a wall. Just random fruit.

  

Strelitzia (bird of paradise) grow well here.

  

Citrus aurantium ssp. Aurantium var. Myrtifolia (bitter orange).

  

  

Colletia spinosa.

  

Street trees—literally.

    
 

Tecomaria capensis (cape honeysuckle).

  

Dahlia imperialis (tree dahlia).

  

Unknown little yuccas.

 
   

Fremontodendron californium a long way from home.

  

Iris japonica.

  

Pinus nigra.

  

Pittosporum.

  

Not sure.

  

Wisteria.

  
  

White rose with Colletia cruciata.

  

Amorphophallus ‘Konjac’.

    

Arbutus andrachne (Greek strawberry tree).

    

Unknown Rhododendron.

  

Unknown Magnolia.

  
  

My favorite bulb: Leopoldia comosa aka Muscari comosum.

  

Magnolia tulipiflora.

  

Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya pine).

  

Weedy Oxalis.

  

Where they catalog and keep their plants. Many here are historically medicinal ones.

  

Tamarix gallica (French tamarix) with a bad haircut.

  

Vitis vinifera with a little green lizard. Can you see it?

  

Cercis siliquastrum (Judad tree).

 
  

Cycas revoluta (female).

  

Scilla peruviana.

 

Myrtus communis subsp. Tarentina.

  

Myrtus communis subsp. Tarentina.

  
  

Water plant collection.

  
   

And then we wandered back downhill to our apartment, encountering this lovely grotto in the courtyard of a palazzo along our way. 

Genova: You’re My Kind of Town

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Detail from a palazzo ceiling fresco.


We arrived in Genoa on Saturday and have spent a few days walking around and spending time with John’s family. He was born here 50 years ago and this trip is an extended celebration of that event. I am more than happy to celebrate with him. This is a once in a lifetime experience for me.  

Seen here in a photo, that’s my husband with the little chubby knees and his parents are on either side of the woman in blue.

 
Genova isn’t known as a garden city, it’s a port town, and above all, it’s most famous for being the home of both pesto and focaccia—as well as some guy named Christopher Columbus. In the short time that we’ve been here, I’ve had plenty of fantastic food, and I can say with certainty that I very much enjoy the Ligurian region and its people. There is an underground subversiveness to this town and I admire that deeply. But my husband is not Ligurian, his late father was Croatian, and his mother is Venetian from the Veneto.  

The walls of the historic area of town are famous for their subversive graffiti. This one doesn’t mince words. “A single cry. An alarm. Milan in flames.” It is safe to say that the two towns are quite different.

 

Here are just a few images I took from walking around these past few days. I don’t want to sit on these photos for too long because they’ll overwhelm me and then I’ll never get around to posting them.

Phoenix dactylifera down by the water.

  
  

Part of a botanical display in a museum in a beautiful atrium.

  

Some churches place mirrors on the floor so that you don’t have to hurt your neck while admiring their ceilings.

  

The historic district is known for its many narrow alleys.

  

To say this place is a bit controversial is an understatement.

  

Years ago guilds in the city built these niches for saints and at night they lit the alleyways. Nowadays, you might find a prank such as this one where the saint has been replaced by a cardboard witch and the A for anarchy.

  

You never know what you’re going to find at a flea market.

  

Homemade gnocci and pesto from our family meal.

  
    

Medieval gate marking the edge of the neighborhood.

    
    

My Plant Lust bag and I returning from grocery shopping.

    

I added this to show that there is a heavy French influence here. It can be seen and heard in the local dialect as well.

   And before I begin my next post on the Orto Botanico di Genova, a few more plants…  
 

At the market.

 

Milan: Our Month in Italy Begins

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After months of preparation, we’re back in Italy again. This time around we’re celebrating my husband’s 50th so we’re spending more time here and we’ll be visiting his hometown of Genoa this time.

We’ve only been in Milano for a two days but the first one was spent catching up on sleep. Today was our only day to see the sights, and as usual, I was looking for signs of plant life, gardening, and Sicily. Tomorrow we leave for Genoa so here are a few fun things I’ve seen today.

By far, the most unusual thing we found today was fashion inspired by a variety of Sicilian planter. I am not joking. Thank you Dolce & Gabbana. The shoes are clearly in the front, and the heads you see behind them are the planters.

Yesterday I saw this fun planter outside of a hotel. I want to call it “giardino di casalinga” or housewife’s garden. Sure, Milan is full of fashion, but this is Italy after all, and Italians have a sense of humor too.
While out shopping today I bought these great gardening magazines and am looking forward to reading them to learn more gardening and horticultural vocabulary. While glancing over them after dinner, I found that one contained an article about Abutilon megapotamicum by a garden blogger named Renato Ronco. You can find his blog here: http://rennybus.blogspot.it/

Upon leaving the hotel this morning to take a short walk to the center of town I found this window box and I think it’s the perfect low maintance look. Let’s face it. Italian gardening is not fussy. Simple and green with a tad of color thrown in here and there with plants that don’t get much water is the way to go. So, in this case, ivy and two kinds of asparagus ferns. There may be a lime Cypress of some kind in there too.

While walking to the statue erected for a famous jurist who helped to abolish the death penalty in Italy, I was having more trouble trying to correctly pronounce his first name without it sounding Spanish. Then I noticed the Italian buckthorn in these gigantic planters. I’ve seen them often in magazines, but this was the first time I’d seen them in situ and they looked really nice around the monument.  At the rear of Il Duomo there are two magnolia trees planted near the corners. Probably not my first tree choice for this building, but someone had to pick something and these were it.

To balance them out, or else to confuse folks like me, they have matching little clouds of ivy growing in the grass areas with them and very nice metal edging. Upon our return to the hotel I noted a small elderly man perched on the edge of one of these boarders and I had to admit to myself that I was impressed. He seemed restful. Not sure I could have pulled that off.

  The usual suspects inhabited most windowsills but this one reminded me of the south a bit more with its Agaves and cycads.

 Long rows of standardized Lonicera with ivy at their base grow in these pretty planters not far from our hotel.

One more example of how simple plantings can be in this town. This seemed oddly simple and elegant as we walked past it. Wild blooms are somehow more controlled on this Forsythia.


Courtyard plantings amaze me here and this one at The Duomo Museum was interesting seeing as it was filled with things I like in a combination that may make many of my friends cringe a little. Yet to me, it works quite well.

Little Ophiopogon is marched into little tight lines inside of a rectangle made with pumice bricks, mulches in small pumice stone, that’s then surrounded by tumbled white marble. Above, the courtyard wall is covered in star jasmine. I couldn’t have loved this combo more.

So these are just a few random thoughts from Milan! More to come!

Sarracenia Northwest: Open House September 13, 2015

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Hope no one minds that this is being posted several months after the fact, but this is a special post and it’s taken me some time to consider it and gather the courage to post it. This post is not just about the amazing jewel of a nursery Sarracenia Northwest, it’s about family—and finding it.

Years ago I met its owner Jeff Dallas when he contacted me about some Dracunculus vulgaris bulbs I was selling on Craigslist. He arrived, we visited a bit, and then he asked me about my family because he’d seen my name when I’d responded to his message.

The moment he asked me, I knew exactly who he was and I was both stunned and joyful. I’d just recently been told that I had cousins who’d been put up for adoption when they were born—and here was one of them!

Time passed.

After that first encounter, we’d not planned to speak again, and I’m sure it was just as awkward for him as it was for me. In the back of my mind though, I’d kept a mental note to get back in touch with him—and I did!

If you have the chance to sign up for one of their Open Houses I absolutely recommend it! You pay a small fee per car and in addition to being fed a picnic lunch you get to take home one free plant.

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This is the free plant I took home and I just checked on it tonight. It’s very much alive and happy outside. So far, so good!

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Jeff and I at the Open House.

After our initial chat was over that day, I was able to walk around the nursery and take it all in without feeling quite as awkward.

I walk through a lot of nurseries and I see a lot of plants but this was even more fun knowing he’s my cousin. I’m proud of his work, the business, well, and that he lives for plants. (Have I stressed that enough yet?)

Sarracenia Northwest is a gift. Having it nearby is a wonderful thing. They are also a mail-order nursery.

I can’t lie and say that I know nearly as much about these plants as Jeff.  Please check out there Website and see for yourself! You’ll be happy you did.