Wordless Wednesday: Green Peeks from Sicily, Italy (Sicilia, Italia)

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Tassel Hyacinth aka Muscari comosa or Leopoldia comosa. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
Possibly date palm—let me know if you can identify it. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
One of many Cercis siliquastrum seen blooming in Sicily in April. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at the garden wall of Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Lovely Bougainvillea.  (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Please don’t prune your Asparagus to look like this. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Unknown tree. (Photo taken at the cimitero in Termini Imerese.)
More palm trees and lovely handmade pebble paving from the streets of Termini Imerese. (This was the home of my great-grandparents.)
Trees in the city park in Termini Imerese.
Lovely large Lantana along the street in Termini Imerese.
Caster bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow wild along the roads in Sicily.
Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) growing along the road.)
Borage (Borago officinalis) growing wild along the side of the road in Sicily.
Wild Sedum growing along the roadside near Termini Imerese.
Wild snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) growing in its native environs. My husband told me that in Italian they’re called  “mouth of the lion”. He played a lot with these flowers as a boy.
Not exactly sure of the plant, but I do recognize Sicilian ingenuity. If Dad gardened, this is how he’d stake his plants.
Convolvulus tricolor growing wild in Sicily.

My Garden (An Exercise in Garden Writing)

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Back of the house as seen from the back corner of my garden. The willow arbor is floating there to the left.

After having seen many residential gardens over the last few years I think it’s safe to say that mine is rather small, a regular city lot, with areas more or less here and there in strips along the north, south, and west sides of the home. The backyard is probably more of what would be traditionally called a garden, but even it is quite small when compared to larger gardens seen in this city. It is square, roughly 30′ x 30′, and in its heart is my 10′ x 10′ living willow arbor. For me, this is the shaggy, ragged and often messy heart of my garden. It’s my outdoor living room. It’s cozy and a bit wild—probably a bit like me.

This area looks sort of finished but if I’d pulled the camera out a bit the illusion of order would disappear. (That’s Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiraliter Falcata‘ there on the right and an Impatiens tinctoria on the far left. Still cannot find the tag for the really hardy evergreen fern there but I’m working on it. The grassy bunch is a lovely Carex.)

Then there is the rest. The bits and pieces. I see swipes and swatches as I wander around watering in the heat. I see finished areas followed by piles of trash that I’ve not yet picked up from old ideas for projects. There are the overgrown run-on sentences of the garden—mostly vines. My garden is one that’s a work-in-progress, it’s an artist’s studio. This place really is my mad plant scientist’s laboratory. 

Antirrhinum majus ‘Oriental Lanterns (TM)’ grown from seed I bought from Park Seed. The color is amazing and the plant is a great plant.

My house faces west. The front yard is not really coherent. There is the tiny hell strip, cut up into three uneven pieces. There is a central area, with a privacy planting, meant to keep the eyes of those on the sidewalk away from my large front window. The parking area is there too but it’s currently filled with racks and pots and is more of a staging area this summer. An edible garden once ran along the southern side of the house. It is overgrown now and a mass of tangled plants. It was created initially to be the domain of my ex, but I’ve not yet fully reclaimed it. I hope to soon. 

Life in the hammock on a summer evening as I dream of better times ahead.

I see the memories of each and every plant and space. I see the ghosts of plants who’ve come before and which are gone now. I want to garden to build a future now more than to remember the past. This will be challenging for me, but I want to do so. So much about gardening requires time and patience. I’ve finally learned too that gardening can be exhilarating when you rip everything out and begin again. Just like a diseased plant, it’s best to rip it out. Some plants struggle in the wrong conditions, I have been one of those plants. 

The real garden here at home. The back boundary has been an eyesore for years. Here is Mona the Cat watching the apartment dwellers. Someday soon I’l have the fence I’ve been hoping for and planning for years.

The front garden runs along the fence and turns along with the walking path into what is my north garden. It is the access walkway and no one ever wants to go that way even when I encourage them to do so. Someday I’ll actually consult someone about how to make that entryway more enticing, but for now, I’ll just continue to gently encourage folks verbally. 

My engagement bike along the North Side of the house. (Yes, I’m engaged to be married.) The bike “La Dama” is now my mobile seed-collecting unit. I can bike to homes nearby and collect seeds from gardens locally to be sold in my online store. So far, the whole process has worked wonders for my health.

I like the small northern strip. I don’t like having to look directly at my neighbor’s house, but he’s a nice man. He just isn’t as into privacy as I am. He has landscaped with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), and cedar (Cedrus)—all having grown randomly on his property from seeds dropped by birds or else they were blown in on the wind. He then plucked them and rearranged them into rows. Amazing in its own way I suppose as a lesson in patience and he has loads of that virtue. He’s a great neighbor and I like to harvest from his ever-growing army of Western Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum). (My first client has also been grateful for this too.) 

Sedum morganianum in my office. I’m taking care of my indoor babies before it gets too dark and cold outside to do so in the fall. I hate transplanting houseplants when the days get shorter. It’s best to care for them now. Their roots will appreciate it and they’ll be far less likely to fall prey to pests and disease.

Forgive me for not writing about my plants though. Major life transitions recently have made that painful. I’m healing. I’ve learned a lot. So many memories were tied up in every corner of green in my space. During the past few years I’ve really come to understand how unusual I am in that sense. My plantings have held such sentiments. But I know that I am not the only one. There are those who garden to decorate. Some re-create a time, or a place, or a feeling. Many just want symmetry and low-maintance. Some want that impression—a replication seen in a magazine. I planted to forget. I planted to create another kind of reality. I remember far too much and I’ve come to realize recently that I’ve never forgotten nearly as much in my garden as I’ve remembered. 

The garden of my mother.

My home is the home of a woman who up until recently didn’t really understand she had a moderately serious case of OCD. When I was highly stressed during the past decade—for the first time in my life—the negative effects of this affliction really showed themselves. Now I’m using my “old friend” to help me to organize, clean and make sense of the chaos I’d created during so many years of unhappiness and loneliness. I’ve taken my life back and I no longer see OCD really at all. I had no idea that such severe and extreme stress could do this to someone. In hindsight, I have been that woman. 

I’m very detail oriented. This can be a wonderful thing—especially for making pastries.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I have a light form of OCD but I want to use it for good. The kind I have appears to have helped me in the past with my academic achievements. I have an amazing memory and when I want to organize and categorize things, it’s like breathing for me and I find it extremely relaxing. It puts me in my happy place. When I’m stressed though, things fall apart. I’ve lived with a lot of stress for many years now and my garden shows that still. It’s the last frontier of my former life but I’m making sense of it now. I’m re-writing my garden as I’m re-writing my life. 

First harvest of the season from the Ficus carica ‘Petite Negra’.

For these reasons I do not see what others see. As I walk the circle around my home I see what never was, I hear the echos of arguments, there were the joyous moments after my divorce, conversations with friends and foster kids, and I see myself wandering, wondering what to do with myself. I see myself crying in pain during times of horrible illness and swelling. In my head the refrain, “I need help,” repeats over and over. It is far more difficult to ask for help than it is to prune a Japanese maple. When I walk in my garden, I see and feel the pleasure pruning the Japanese maples has given me during the worst of times. When I felt my worst emotionally, I always sought my pruners. 

The front of the house July 2013.

You’d think that this would make for an organized garden but mine is not. There are yet many unfinished projects. I’m slowly trashing them now and am making room for a new period in my life. I’m keeping the plants that grow well and which bring me happiness. If the memories are too painful, reminding me of when I fell and broke my fingers, or when I fell and hit my head, I’m trying not to let the plants die. Instead, I am either giving things away or moving them. The memories are dying instead and things are no longer falling apart. 

Maurice the Cat in his happy zone.

I should add more pictures but I’m still ashamed to do so. With a party coming up to welcome my fiancé into his new home I’m making strides. These things take time, energy, and money and I don’t have a lot of any of these right now.

I’m one of the many chronically ill divorced people who’ve filed for personal bankruptcy. I’m not a perfectly comfortable member of the middle class and I’m not ashamed to say so. That’s what I feel and see when I see my garden but I’ve been learning to see so much more.  

I feel that I’m lucky and gifted to be here—to be able to continue living here. I’m loved now too—a lot!—and I’m learning to be part of a team. We plan to buy the house and stay here. These things take time, but sometimes things work out for the best. I’m learning that too and being positive makes a huge difference. I adore all of the positive green people in my life and want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. We gardeners are ever the optimists and you’ve all helped me feel alive during a time when I really needed the lifeline. Thank you.

Gardens are for people and this garden is a big part of me. I really look forward to sharing it more with others in the future—and I guess that means you’ll get a bit more of me too.

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

A Few Blooms of Summer and the Plant Path Ahead

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As summer begins to wind down here in the Pacific Northwest (and we enter into my favorite time of year), I thought it might be a nice time to review a few beautiful blooms of summer.

Many of these images are older ones—so forgive me if you’ve seen them before somewhere on here.

Love-in-a-mist after it’s finished blooming (Nigella damascena).

The traditional school year begins soon. Maybe you’ve noticed all of the back-to-school fanfare and hoopla whenever you go shopping? I know I walk into stores wondering what back-to-school plants look like but I’m still not sure.

(Let me know if you have a clue. Somebody must have marketed something for just this occasion. I just know it.)

California Poppy, (Eschscholzia californica).

So, maybe this might be a good time to mention that I’ve finally taken into consideration how many folks I’ve been chatting with recently who’ve mentioned that I should stop acting like such an amateur and admit to the fact that maybe I could grow beyond where I’ve been making circles in the dirt with my fingers. (This is how I perceive their thoughts on the subject. I may have filtered their comments through some rather large tumblers of gin and tonic this past weekend so I’m a bit fuzzy on exactly what they said, but I got the gist of it.)

Large-leaved Lupine, (Lupinus polyphyllus).

Ok, darling friends of mine, you win (and I know at least one of you regularly reads my posts so thank you C).

Western Columbine, (Aquilegia formosa) along the Smith River in CA.

I’m going to admit to having an aptitude for the sport, but with some reservations. As I write this, straddling my words loosely between images of an Aquilegia and Mimulus I shot while visiting the Smith River in Northern California last year, I should mention that right after I took these pictures I fell and gave myself severe whiplash.

Just sayin’.

Common Monkey-flower, (Mimulus guttatus) along the Smith River in CA.
But let’s get back to some of those summer blooms [insert awkward transition here].
There are so many amazing little plants and blooms for our sentimental green souls to treasure and like so many others, I have that insanely nerdy desire to know how, where, and why they grow. That’s why many of the plants you see here I’ve grown from seed at some point, or else I had plans to play with that process this past year, but it had to be postponed until now.
Yes, I can “announce” too that I will be back to my old routine soon and the basement will be filled with light and life this winter and I will stratify outside and I will be so happy about it.
Yes, it’s these subtle little touches in the natural world which matter and are important. It’s these blooms that often have idiots like me coming back over and over.

Calico Monkey-flower, (Mimulus pictus) at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.

Some of them are just amazing and you know of few other sights quite like them.

Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida) at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.

I don’t think I even need to mention what blue blooms do for a lot of people—myself included.

Rose Snapdragon, (Antirrhinum multiflorum) at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.

Some flowers you just want to touch and caress, and you wonder if you should purchase a whole new wardrobe based upon their merits—or at least a new pair of boots or some nail polish. (OK, maybe it’s just me who thinks like this but I am becoming more and more convinced by messages I receive that a lot more oddballs are out there. Raise your hands! I know you’re reading this right now.)

Sticky Monkey-flower, (Mimulus aurantiacus) at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

But then there are the glowing blooms that brighten your way and shine a light down that plant path we must all wander down.

Mexican Prickly Poppy, (Argemone mexicana) at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

I remember visiting the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley for the first time and remembering how funny I used to think it was that my friend Sean Hogan worked as a curator there. As someone who’d studied art history, I’d never thought of curation taking place outside of an art museum or gallery. So I looked around and thought about how much visual literacy mattered in both of these arenas.

I knew that I fit in when I thought about having compared hundreds of Christ images as an undergraduate and how that ability could easily overlap with a survey, say, of Agave—or any other group of plants. So similar to most, yet some of us just have a knack for discerning subtle differences—and these differences often matter a great deal and they tell us a lot.
I’m not great at that game but I can spot and identify seed heads at great distances in their natural environment—sometimes while driving a car. It’s a skill—a very strange one, but it’s part of this whole process.
Prickly Pear, or Opuntia bloom.
I remember walking around, looking at the students and employees, and I thought about how sad I was that I’d been unable to complete the plant path long ago. I had to turn around defeated before I’d even really gone very far.
My illness made physical activity and a lot of technical work too difficult. I had to slow down and at times I just didn’t make much progress at all. My mind didn’t work as well and I no longer had near perfect grades. It took years to discover I had swelling in my brain that was impeding me and inhibiting my growth as a person. I was trapped inside and I struggled for years to find the words to describe what I was experiencing.
I turned to art to soothe and stimulate my mind.
I moved indoors, inside of myself. Later I moved indoors because I had no choice. My immune reactions disallowed me from being outside. I had to look out the window and I started to play with seeds to keep the hope alive.
Life circumstances prevented me from being able to return to any of these green dreams until these last few months. Now they surround me again and I am surround by green friends too who’ve made me feel so welcome despite my typically stylish and late arrival. Just when I wanted to give up hope after nearly 18 years things started to unravel in very mysterious ways.
What matters is that I’ve arrived and I know why I’m here now and what I want to be doing. After a really long time, I feel like I’ve finally grown and that at long last I truly bloomed this summer. I’ve never felt like this before but I’m getting used to it.
Elegant Clarkia, (Clarkia unguiculata).
It’s one foot in front of the other once again but this time I get to laugh and walk because I want to do so—not because I have to or need to do so. My load is so much lighter now—literally too.
My mind is calm and silent now and I’m open to what’s ahead of me. I have the mental space again and have found my old quiet personal nature waiting there for me. It was there all along waiting for me to be well enough to come by and pick it up and wear it again as my second skin. It’s warmed me to the core to be myself again, and as time goes on, and I keep at this, I hope to better understand and explain my dormancy.
Until that time, I will revel in the simplest of things, the blooms of summer and the magic they bring to gardeners and plant lovers around the world. I’m a believer and if you’re here reading this, you probably are too.

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.

Our Pilgrimage to Annie’s Annuals in the Bay Area

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If you are a gardener, you already know about Annie’s Annuals, and like me, you regularly jump for joy whenever their catalog arrives in your mailbox. If you are new to gardening, you must order a catalog from them asap. Each edition is complete eye candy and the plant descriptions are really well written. It makes for amazing bedside reading, and it will fill you dreams with so many blooms you’ve not yet dreamt about, but you will…I promise.
If anything during this last trip made me want to move to California, it was this nursery, along with all of the other amazing gardens and native plants we met along the way. That day we drove in from camping along the Sonoma Coast and though we were dirty and tired, both my husband and I wandered around the nursery in some kind of a floral daze.
Many of the plants below are special native plants in California. Reading about them really blew me away and I hope that my husband can purchase some for the vineyard in the future.
Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’ or ‘Rubra with Sisyrinchium.
I don’t think I have ever seen Sweet Peas as sweet (Lathyrus odoratus).
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Senator’.
Grindelia hirsutula.
Mimulus aurantiacus ‘Point Molate’.
Lotus formossisimus ‘Western Trefoil’.
Lupinus succulentus ‘Rodeo Rose’.
Mimulus pictus ‘Calico Monkey Flower’.
Thistle Sage, Salvia carduacea.
Butterfly Mariposa Lily, Calochortus venustus.
Armeria.
Phacelia viscida.
Antirrhinum multiflorum ‘Rose Snapdragon’.
Lathyrus vestitus.
Tufted California Poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa.
I love the blue of this Anchusa azurea ‘Alkanet’.

It is safe to say that shopping that day at Annie’s Annuals was like visiting plant nerd paradise. Oh how I love that I can’t take plants into California, but I sure can bring them out of The Golden State!

Garden Blogger Blooms on a Wordless Wednesday

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Bat Face Cuphea, Cuphea llavea.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.
Dainty Daisy, Daisy Fleabane, Oregon Fleabane, Erigeron speciosus ‘Grandiflorus’.
Dianthus plumarius ‘White Lace’.
Armeria pseudoarmeria.
Dianthus plumarius ‘White Lace’.
Kniphofia uvaria.
Kniphofia uvaria.
Yellow Onion, Golden Garlic, Allium moly.
Columbine ‘McKana’s Giant’, Aquilegia ‘McKana’s Giant’.
Dianthus.
Allium christophii.
Nectaroscordum siculum.
Allium cernuum.
Sedum kamtschaticum.
Rosa ‘Julia Child’.
Iris tenax.
Common Rue, Ruta gaveolens.
Rosa ‘Sweet Chariot’.
Aquilegia vulgaris.
Rosa ‘Sombreuil’.
Dicentra formosa.
Goat’s Beard, Aruncus dioicus.
Aquilegia atrata.
Dianthus superbus ‘Rainbow Loveliness’.
Spanish Snapdragon, Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii.
Western Labrador Tea, Ledum glandulosum.
Rosa viridiflora.
Rosa damascena.

Fall Round Up

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Our summer was a bit of a dud here in the NW due to El Niño. What’s funny is that I remember another summer like this during the 80s when I was a young girl. My family lived on a medium-sized creek and each summer I was able to purchase a new raft for my own use. Usually I just tied it up under some overarching bushes, and with my trusted radio by my side, I’d read all day. That summer, it was just too cold to hang out in the creek all day, and I feel the disappointed feelings of that memory creeping over me as I write this. I don’t think I like El Niño a lot.
Yesterday, while cleaning up my overgrown jungle with a weekender foster child, I saw these blooms and I knew what they meant. Ah, how I adore my Cyclamen, but they are the bellwether of autumn whether I like it or not.

Cyclamen hederifolium

This little darling popped up and I have no idea what it is, but I would love to find out if any of you have and idea. I am sure that I planted it, and that it is in my database, but I just need a hint to figure it out. There are at least 729 entries in my spreadsheet now. Yikes!

Sedums and the like are some of my favorite little garden friends. This is an image of Old Man’s Bones.
Sedum globosum

Another thing I have become more and more proud of are my ivy topiary items. Since ivy is considered the ultimate evil in these parts, even if you just have the completely non-agressive type, I keep it around just in case. The leaves on this are the tiniest I have ever seen.

Hedera helix ‘spetchley’
I only have one of these that’s made it through my neglectful care this past season. I purchased the seeds from Thompson and Morgan and I intend to grow more of these next season. I have never seen such amazing dark leaves on an annual snapdragon.
Antirrhinum majus nanum ‘bronze dragon’
The last single specimen plant in my garden that I am showing is my dwarf pomegranate shrub. I am really sad that it did not make it very far this year. We have tons of blooms, but nothing resembling a small fruit is anywhere near making it. It is a true perennial in this climate though, and I don’t regret planting it at all. Last year I had two small pomegranates so I can wait another year to try again. (I have harvested about 50 figs from my dwarf fig tree so I am quite happy with the fruits of my labors.)
Punica granatum var nana
Here is the pomegranate in context. It is to the bottom left in the corner of this picture. The grapes are escaping their supports in this picture and are about to reach out to strangle their neighbors. (These are Italian wine grapes. I planted them to remind me of all the hard work my husband does making wine down in California.)
This picture is meant to show how unremarkable our porch is this year. Typically, the porch would be lit up with late summer color. I have color, but it just didn’t really grow enough. Better luck next season. I WILL be back.
Here is the cleaned up front area. In my mind, it is the least attractive area in our garden. I think it is due to the heat during the summer. The Provence lavender was finally harvested at least for crafts and gifts. It had eaten the sidewalk and folks would walk around it to avoid it. Now I will be able to watch more neighbors walk by since they won’t avoid our side of the street anymore.
The backyard and I have a love/hate relationship. The greatest accomplishment back there this past season though was the additional growth of items that block our view of the small apartment building behind us. I have hated the view of this building for some time, and I really don’t like the walkway that is frequently used by the tenants and their continued curiosity, as well as their loud cell conversations. Maybe I should add that I would also like a sound buffer from the busy street a house away from me, and that maybe next summer, I might like to have an outdoor movie setup but I have to protect them from my noise then too so it is a two-way street, right? I want to be a good neighbor, really I do.
 

Oh, and this is my big boy Maurice. He has had a rough summer with the foster kids and has taken to living privately in the basement with his friend Mona. He has been mishandled by too many kids these past few months and today we spent several hours alone together in the garden. He was very happy.