Wordless Wednesday

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Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’.
Unknown Abutilon.
Allium christophii.
Unknown lettuce leaf in a lettuce mix I grew from seed (Lactuca).
Dragon Arum aka Dracunculus vulgaris.
Fresh store-bought chickpeas (Cicer arietinum).
Father’s Day Dinner ikebana with Beech, Asparagus, Feverfew, and Dianthus. 
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea).
Lilium columbianum. 
Tradescantia pallida with a friendly Heuchera bloom.
Unknown Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria).

"Go Seed Hunting!" said that little voice inside of me…

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Just over a year ago, it was at this place (and nearly to the moment), when I knew my life was going to change in a big way. It was as if there was such beauty during that precise moment, in that place and time, that something opened up deep inside of me and I heard that little voice screeching loud and clear as it went in for the kill.

The Bloedel Reserve.
I see now that for many of us—especially for those who design landscapes and even our own gardens—these are the sacred moments we want to experience. We live and breathe to hear these little things inside of ourselves, to feel out gut instincts. We use them to help guide us forward whether we’re ready to go or not.
Two Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant) at The Blodel Reserve in Washington.

I want my next garden to have soul and at this point I will stop at nothing less. But until then, there is still a lot yet to do in my current situation.

This is a Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) woven pillow by artist Sue Skelly that was for sale at The Blodel Reserve gift shop last summer.

Some of these photos here are ones that I’ve not yet posted. Then again, maybe I have but I just don’t remember. I have a lot that was swept up into my iPhoto box during the past year. I hope to finally start to break these out now. Let’s all just pretend and ignore that they’re so “last season”.

Acapulco Salmon & Pink Hyssop (Agastache) at Dragonfly Farms Nursery. 
Fantastic garden structure at Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

There will be more and more of these in the coming weeks and I will try my best to recall what was going on at the time. A lot changed for me though at the Garden Bloggers Fling up in Seattle last summer and I regret not having posted many posts but I was going numb in preparation for the marital amputation.

That’s something which has become clear now, and there’s no turning back…

Random chance encounter I found between a plant and some pavement while walking home from the grocery store not long ago.

Then there are those beautiful moments I’m having now,

My precious Hollyhock (Alcea) grown from seed from seeds purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, CA.

as I mix them in with my past,

I love the color of Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) almost as much as I love their taste.

and I remember the simple pleasures too.

Coastal Goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. simplex var. spathulata).

Recently I began to think about my precious seeds, and the seed hunting, and the plant IDing.

This summer I’ve not yet had a road trip to look for seeds. Planning one for later has been in the back of my mind, on that perpetual back burner with the pile of other things, back behind all of the practical things I need to do right now—or else I should have done months ago.

The lovely annual Alternanthera.

This week I will begin collecting some seeds around here at home. I’m working again too on adding items to my Etsy store and am thinking about what kind of job will potentially work for me—though deep down I just want to play with plants and write. This should probably come as no big surprise to anyone who knows me! I have some options now though and am working on scenarios that will help me to live with the dignity I’d like as someone with a chronic illness.

“Somewhere” in Mendocino County, CA.

So I’m mentally ready to prepare for such a journey back out into the woods and wherever else I land and I hope to hit the road this October. These trips are fun for me to plan.

Yes there is the ocean to see too as I go into California, but there are also friends in San Francisco, Los Angeles (I’ve not yet seen Lotusland) and (fingers crossed) the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium in Tucson, AZ. (Come to think of it, I’ve never been to one of those either.) The drive home from there could be all new to me and that would be nice to venture more into the Rockies a bit.
Something says to me that arriving in Tucson by car might be just what I need.
And somewhere out in the desert I hope to hear from somewhere deep inside of myself, “Thank you for listening. Thank you.”

Alcatraz: The Garden Tour, Part One

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If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit the Rock, I hope that you gardeners out there will want to see it soon. Its many restored gardens are unlike any others you’ve ever seen and the atmosphere is incredible. Free docent led garden tours are offered at 9:30am on Fridays and Sundays, but you have to be on the first boat out to the island. Purchase tickets in advance online though because they almost always sell out ahead of time.

Visits to the Rock are not always quite this warm and sunny but when they are, it makes the trip even more enjoyable. Don’t forget to pack some extra clothing too because the area can become windy.

The first plants you’ll see while you are still on the boat are the Century Plants, or Agave parryi.

During the garden tour our guide told us these were planted as a barrier by the early military posted on the island.
The trail that grants access to this area of the island is closed during most of the tourist season because of nesting birds. If you’d like to get up close and personal with these gentle giants you’ll have to plan a visit during the fall or winter months. That’s the only time during the year when the trail is open.
Aeonium species and hybrids as well as Jade Plants (Crassula argentea) can be seen all over the island.
This Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is most likely the oldest tree on the island. There are also several Dragon Trees (Dracaena draco) that were also planted by members of the military that were stationed here between 1850-1934.)


As you leave the dock and begin to walk up the Rock you are passing through the area with the oldest gardens on the island.

 Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia).
The oldest Fuchsia on the Rock, this specimen is 70 years old.
A Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) near the cellhouse.

One of the advantages of the garden tour is that you are taken off the beaten path to admire all of the hard work volunteers have done over the last decade or so as they’ve improved gardening conditions. An extra added plus is that you get to see this! It’s the official compost area on Alcatraz!

This compost has even won some ribbons at the Marin County Fair! What’s not to love about that right?

With the help of the The Garden Conservancy the program here has truly flourished.

Limited to using historically accurate plant materials what’s wonderful is that after all of the overgrowth was removed from many of the gardens long overshadowed plants and bulbs started to return. With each new discovery we’re all learning more and more about how the island’s occupants once gardened. It is also a testament to the hardiness of many of these plants.

This rose was one of the amazing plants to be rediscovered on the island. Actually, it is probably the most important rediscovery. It is what’s called the Welsh Rose and up until 2003 it was thought extinct. That’s when this specimen was discovered on the island! Since then propagation work has been done and work has continued.

Aeonium arboreum gone wild.

Just above the compost and greenhouse level on the east side of the island are the last rows of gardens that were created around and in between the houses that once stood above the citadel. During my last trip I’d wanted so badly to wander down to them but due to the narrowness of the stairways and the unevenness of the paving they are too unsafe for the general public to walk around so be sure to take a tour! That’s the only way to gain access to these areas.

The plants in these little alcoves are very much the plants of gardeners who wanted to cheer up their isolated little spot in the bay. They were the first gardens of Alcatraz, but certainly not the last.

Just beyond the terraced area is the last portion of the earliest gardens and it is a bit more windswept and wild since it is at the top. Like the area below it, the housing structure has lost its wood to fire of uncertain cause and all that remains is the concrete skeleton.

I was left with some great pictures from the top of the Rock.
Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) hugging the warm wall.
The spent flower stalks of Century Plants (Agave americana).
Note how the Jade plant (Crassula ovata) has its trunk partially in the shade. This adaptation also allows the plant to remain protected from the wind.
The hummingbirds of Alcatraz.

I should add that many of these areas were maintained by the prisoners of the Federal Penitentiary era but I will say more about that tomorrow.

To be continued…

From Seeds to Seeds: Seed Harvesting and Happiness

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Happiness is not something I usually discuss publicly but today I am brimming with it. Sure, the world is currently a bit crazy—and I acknowledge and care about that—but right here at my house, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. I joke not, seriously, and I mean this both figuratively and literally.
For me, seed collecting currently feels like opening tiny gifts wrapped in crinkly sun-dried seed pod papers. Funny that after that is done, I wrap them up in cute little origami envelopes and store them until they are sold in my online store! As many of you know, Christmas shopping often begins early and as usual, I am seeing sales from early shoppers. When I hear that folks are buying seeds for someone for Christmas though it makes me so happy. These are gifts that will give back in return if properly cared for by a gardener—sometimes for years!
Milton’s Garden Menagerie (located on Etsy.com) has been a wonderful experience for a chronically ill woman who was terribly confused about how to take that next step in her life. At first I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with it and I doubted myself a great deal, but now that it has been almost 2 years and as it nears a viable business status, I think I can say I did it mostly—for the love of seeds! Saying that loud and proud makes me happy today too.
Each time I collect seeds it’s exciting no matter where I am. When I collect seeds from plants I’ve grown from seed it is even more exciting. This year, for the first time, my gardening friend down the street is letting me harvest from her garden too. Since she is 100% natural in her garden I have no problem collecting her seeds—especially when they are from plants I have sold to her at some point.
Here are plants I’ve grown from seed that I am collecting seeds from this year for my Milton’s Garden Menagerie harvest:
Tube Clematis, Clematis heracleifolia.
Variegated Honesty, Lunaria annua ‘Variegata’.
Heirloom White Single Hollyhock, Alcea rosea. 
Cardinalflower, Lobelia cardinalis.
Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
White Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ or Silene coronaria ‘Alba’. 
Maximilian’s Sunflower, Helianthus maximilianii.
Sticky Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis.
Bottlebrush Grass, Elymus hystrix.
Then there are the plants I did not grow, but from which I am able to harvest seeds from this year.
Sticky Phacelia, Phacelia viscida.
Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria.
Blue Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena.
Tall Alumroot, Heuchera chlorantha.
Lewis Flax, Linum lewisii.
Pale Corydalis, Corydalis sempervirens.
Adding to all the hectic seed collecting there are the other things too. On my most recent trip to the Seattle area I came home with this gem. It, along with many others, will be planted in the coming weeks.
Blechnum chilense.

The fern is native to China and can grow up to 6′ tall in some places. It is evergreen in my climate so I am very curious to see what it will do. It spreads by underground runners and I’ve read that it can be invasive but no word on this yet in my area. I guess I will have to see what happens and in the meantime I’ll enjoy it as much as I can while it is still docile and not a screeching teen.

And during my copious amounts of free time I will begin working with my many Douglas fir cones. I need to make some new wreaths and holiday decorations because if I continue only using wine corks, someone is seriously going to think we have a drinking problem in our home.

More happy news to come in the following week so stay tuned!

It’s the Unplanned, a Thing Called Life, in the Garden

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“One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect 
the whole world looks like home for a time.” Hermann Hesse

A great deal has recently grown in this garden—both intended and otherwise. Many of my new plants, sown this year from seeds sent to me in the mail only last winter, have borne great and rich floral beauties. I never know what to expect, so much so, that when things finally grow and bloom, they are always certain to cause me great surprise and excitement. That’s seriously how I garden!

The False Freesia below was a bit of a shock when I returned from Seattle. I had no idea what it was, but after checking my charts, I figured it out. I ordered these seeds from the American Horticultural Society last winter. Another member donated them to their annual seed sale and I am so glad! I’d never seen them before and I hope I can overwinter them outside. They are bulbs grown from seed, and I am thrilled they bloomed during their first season. I am seriously impressed.

False Freesia, Anomatheca laxa.

This Lobelia cardinalis had been sitting in its planter for two years. This past spring I finally planted it in the ground. It too is blessing me with its blooms right now, but this plant story is different than the last one.

My mother loves Fan Scarlet Lobelia and wanted tons of them so a few years ago I figured out what I needed to grow more for her. Since the plant is a F1 hybrid I had to purchase pelleted Fan Scarlet seeds from a reputable grower. After doing so, that year, the seeds all grew perfectly.

The effort was not quite enough though to soothe my mom’s curiosity. She still didn’t understand after that season why I couldn’t just collect the seeds from her new plants to make more of the Fan Scarlets. Instead of reexplaining hand pollination to her, I just told her I’d collect the seeds and then show her what would happen later.

As you’ve already guessed, this is what happened. A few of the seeds reverted back to the Lobelia cardinalis, while many of them stayed sterile. What was Mom’s response? She complained at first because several of the ones I gave her failed to thrive, but late last summer she told me that the handful that did might actually be prettier to her than the Fan Scarlet. Go figure!

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

My dependable old-timer has bloomed again and this loyal garden companion is going to have its seeds harvested this year finally. Life without it would be difficult for me and I must have more in the future.

A few years ago I visited the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles where I purchased hollyhock seeds in their Gift Shop. The package said it was a mix, and I grew them all, but most were sold at the Frank Lloyd Wright house museum where I used to work. (The funds were used to purchase additional plants for the Gordon House.) This was the last plant though, and I chose to plant it at our home. I am so happy it turned out so beautiful and that its parents were once hollyhocks at the Hollyhock House.

Heirloom Hollyhock, Alcea rosea.
After many months, I finally got the garden menagerie together for the foster kids. Last winter we assembled this motley crew up in Seattle at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. The weather has been so bad though this past spring and summer I only just recently let the gang out. I think they make quite a nice team, don’t you?

With much work to come, I am finally cleaning up the garden. Last week, an x-ray showed that last month I broke two bones on my right hand, and although they’ve both healed, they still are not well. I am trying not to think about all the lost time, but this summer has been rough. It’s the unplanned things that really determine what happens sometimes, and in my life, I must always expect the unexpected.

My little old lady cat Macavity has helped me through some rough spots recently. She is 15 years old now and is one of most intelligent cats I’ve ever known. Not long after I was diagnosed with primary immune issues, she developed health problems too. Just recently, she’s begged me to ignore all of her skin rashes, and to forget her hip problems because she just wants to be a cat during these last few weeks of summer. She’s now allowed to be outside whenever she wants to and she is very happy. I guess she’s earned it by being so nice to all the children, even when she shouldn’t be, yet she’s always willing to give them a chance.

Last Friday my cats enjoyed sitting beneath me as I crashed in our hammock for the first time this summer. It was great just to rest. So many things have been making me really tired and I just never have the time to sleep. At least in my hammock it looked and felt like summer if only to my eyes. It was enough, just what I needed, and it filled me with great joy for several hours.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

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Sometimes it is difficult to write about gardening when you are chronically unwell or injured. After suffering my third serious fall in four months, I am in this position right now. Two of the falls occurred here at home, in my own garden, and the other happened when I was walking beside a river in the California Redwoods.
The most noble red Hollyhock at Al’s Garden Center in Gresham, OR.
I have been spending a lot of time reflecting and I won’t lie, it is kind of strange to realize I somehow ended up being more worried about my plants outside than for myself. My husband had to get back to the vineyard in California, and I was here on my own with a seriously sprained ankle, two sprained fingers on my right hand, and a wounded elbow.

After nine days, the two fingers on my right hand can still barely bend and my ankle is swollen but the bruising has gone away—mostly. I am so tired of all of this resting and waiting for things to heal or improve. My last fall, the one in California, gave me whiplash, and now this! I have spent weeks resting this spring and summer. I have not felt well and it is hard to see beauty sometimes when you don’t feel well. Pain and its management has to be your priority but deep inside I have felt so bad. It’s as if I’ve been ditching my best friend.

This past weekend my respite child was the garden girl. She’s the kind young woman who left a teddy bear on my bed too. I am supposed to care for him until she comes back in a few weeks, but I know she left him here to look after me.
She honestly did help me with my plants, and we fed them and she asked me lots of questions about how to do everything. It brought back so many memories of when I was a young girl.
Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii.
We ran some garden errands, but we took our time because of my foot. I have a “boot” for it, but that is no way to get around quickly.
We talked a bit about garden styles, and garden plants, but she has a hard time with categories beyond her own experience. We talked about that too. Sometimes it’s amazing when a mind opens a door to you and you are really able to help someone over a hurdle. I think for a time, she forgot her worries, and I forgot my own.
Mimulus cardinalis.

On the way home on Saturday, I pulled the car over to show her this stand of Fireweed. I told her how much I looked forward to its blooming every year. I am not sure she’s ever been in a car with anyone who stops to look at flowers beside the road. I am happy to have been that person for her.

Fireweed or Epilobium angustiolium.

After I dropped my visitor off with her full-time foster parent last night, I finally got around to cleaning up the porch. I finally planted this beautiful succulent but I am afraid I’ve misplaced its label. I know that it is hardy down to zone 9 and that its flowers are fragrant. The blooms are reminiscent of an ice plant, but the stems are very different. They look like chubby little dinosaur limbs. I must find the name soon so that when I collect its seeds I can label it properly.

Oscularia deltoides.

Random Arts & Crafts Progress

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It is getting late and my husband is in the kitchen making preparations for our street’s first block party tomorrow. He is the trained chef, I am not, and I am grateful that he is here for a visit from the vineyard in CA because I have needed his help dearly in the last few weeks. As much as I love the summer, and I love my garden, this time of the year is always very hard for me physically here in the NW, especially with little physical help available to me, but this has been the best summer I’ve had in many years so I am not complaining.

In the garden there are a few special blooms to share right now. One is the first bloom I’ve seen on an unusual plant in our collection while the other is purely a sentimental bloom from a pass-along I purchased seeds for at a museum in Los Angeles.
This is the only bloom on the Crinodendron hookerianum (aka Chilean Lantern Tree) in the backyard and it is our first. This is a shrub I planted 2 or 3 years ago and I’d forgotten about since it nearly dies every winter but then it springs back to life just in time for winter to slam it down hard again so it’s easy to miss in the mess. Maybe we’ve turned the corner on those days though since there are more blooms to come; they just haven’t reached maturity yet. I like what I see though.
The other bloom I wanted to post is on a hollyhock in my garden, single and white, planted from seeds I purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. The plant itself is pretty roughed up with rust, but I just couldn’t yank it out. It is one of those sentimental things for me, reminding me of a time not that long ago when I was well enough to work, albeit briefly, doing something I’d studied for, and which I loved a great deal.
Back when I worked at The Gordon House I applied for one of the small scholarships offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy in Chicago to attend an annual Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy Conference and I was granted that dream. It is a city I have visited many times now, both before and after, but that visit was very special since I attended many events and I saw the interiors of homes that very few members of the public are ever allowed to see. I also met Dion Neutra in his home in Silver Lake—the son of the architect Richard Neutra—and he was a really kind man who inspired me with his humility and kindness.
At night, after the conference tours, I’d wander off by myself to Pasadena for their annual Craftsmen Weekend with events organized around the designs of Greene & Greene. I was experiencing the best of both worlds in my mind, and I even skipped a party with Hollywood producer Joel Silver so that I could spend an evening dining at the Gamble House. I have never regretted that choice and I will always remember that event as well as the smashing party at the home once owned by Ernest Batchelder, a leading tile designer during the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
At that party I stayed late, wandering in circles around the property, between the house and the old artisan’s studio, lingering near the tiled fountain grotto at the far edge of the property in the back corner of the garden, and then finally in the kitchen, dining room, and living room with the magnificent fireplace. Eventually I spoke with the homeowner, a retired professor who’d spoken that day at my conference, and he was overjoyed that I was such a turncoat. I’d left Frank, and his cult, to spend an evening with someone else’s designs, and we both knew that I would live to tell about it.
This beaten up hollyhock is there to remind me now of my past and of my future, but mostly of my past and I am sad about that. Gardens are so often designed with such sentimental tales attached to their owner’s plant choices and this often drives those among us “nuts” when nothing makes sense in the design or is too disorganized for us to understand what the person was thinking or saying. There is often order to such gardens, but is is not often apparent, or it is written in a language that we do not understand, or were never intended to understand. These gardens are the most private, since they do not communicate to us, and are written in code. They are the gardens meant for only a few, sometimes only one, and I am beginning to think that we are folk gardeners creating outsider art as we call it in the art world. This just may not be what I want to communicate though and I have been spending a lot of time thinking over this recently.
Sometimes I really struggle with what my garden is saying, if it is saying anything at all to others. Writing this has elucidated a great deal to me though and I look forward now to thinking about it some more. All of this was also stirred up by my still not having spun together a name for the place, because this  kind of a vision is really required and necessary at this point.
I guess it’s back to the midnight drawing board with the smoking panda up at the park above my house. That is unless they have banned graffiti from smoking too. Life is simply too short to make gardens so serious and staid.