Our Garden Home After 1 Month Away

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It’s always nice to come home. Normally I would have freaked out at the mess in the garden and all the work I needed to do but one month in Italy has performed its magic. My Italian side still has nothing but positive, wonderful, and charming things to say about the place.

“Look at all that green? Where did that come from? It’s fantastic!”

“It looks like a lovely cabin in the woods. Who lives there? I do! What fun!”

And lastly, “Let’s straighten things up and have friends over. We must have something to celebrate, right?”

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Home Sweet Home.

From the plane I’d been able to see roughly where I’d grown up just outside of the city, and then I saw one of the few Italian family farms left in the area. Not too long ago there were so many more and all of the large Italian families in the city had one of their own.

All of this was quite emotional for me. In the space of a generation or two so many had disappeared as Italian-Americans were able to become so many more things because we do have that ability here, or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure about the American Dream, but I know for many of the immigrants in my family, it was real.

Having just returned from Italy were there are so many small farms, it made me sad—but proud too. Oregon is a great place and I am so happy to live here. It’s not always comfortable for me, but overall, after this last trip to Italy, I feel like both of my feet are firmly on the ground now. Funny I find myself wanting to sell produce or plants or even food more and more, but I know exactly where that impulse comes from and I am proud of it.

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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon.

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Rossi Farms on NE 122nd Avenue. One of the few Italian family farms left in the area.

After passing out for a few days I was able to get up the energy to walk through my garden to see how things were going.

So many of my favorite plants were blooming, and thanks to friends, all of the seedlings were doing great too.

The plane rides had been really hard on me and my swelling was very bad initially but it got better and eventually I saw my doctor and we discussed where I was at concerning my health but I will get to that in another post. I just wanted to emphasize, it really took me several days to get out and walk around and when I did it was quite painful.

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Rosa “Sombreuil”.

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Clematis “Jackmanii”.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.

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Rosa rugosa.

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Billbergia nutans, Billbergia Bromeliad, Queen’s-Tears.

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Fave blooms.

The fava bean plants immediately excited me—even though I was in pain. As much as I’d loved being in Italy, I missed my kitchen and while there I’d wished I could have spent more time just hanging out in kitchens watching people cook. I have so much to learn and often feel like a pokey and useless creature but what comes out of my kitchen usually makes me proud. There was so much I didn’t see in one month. There were so many words I didn’t get to hear.

Back home I recommitted myself to cooking more difficult things and I’ve set out to learn more skills.

I also decided that my war on the edible garden is over now. My distaste for my former life is done and I’m ready to move on and I knew I badly need to do the garden renovation dance.

So, during the last week I’ve attacked the front yard with a great gusto, but I have a few big projects to get through before I can say the kitchen garden is up and running as it should be. I am renovating and clearing several areas at the same time with particular goals in mind. Yes, I want more food space, but I also need to dedicate my time and energy to plants which produce seeds I can sell. Maybe I can even get to some plant selection of my own in time. I hope so. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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LuLu gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. I hate to call her neurotic, but she has her issues. Overeating nervously is one of them. 

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Maurice wanted us to know we were missed. Many stern looks were tossed our way between naps.

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Mona was happy to see me and couldn’t sit still. Even at her age she’s still Miss Wigglesworth.

The cats were happy to see us—as you can see. At first LuLu was in shock and hid from us but she continued to look at us with a pinch-me-is-this-real? look. After a few days we all settled in again. I think that’s in part due to the fact we had a great house sitter who really cared about the cats. Additionally, I think that we have 3 cats now who like one another. Mona getting along with LuLu has been a welcome surprise.

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Sweet souvenir: my new Bialetti.

We brought back a few things from Italy. Since we had to carry everything, I wasn’t feeling quite as generous as I wanted to be but my back survived.

My first gift to myself was this lovely little coffeemaker. Now I can make a quick shot of espresso just for me. Or, I could make one for you, the garden visitor. It works perfectly and makes a great cup of espresso.

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Not sure yet where we will hang this up.

The second gift to ourselves were these terra-cotta pieces for the back garden. We had to have St. Mark’s lion, and for me, well, something more historic.

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I mentioned LuLu is a bit neurotic, right?

That first week after we returned this is what always greeted me when I left the house or when I returned home. She melted my heart all over again. We immediately went on diets together too and I’ve been enforcing strict activity goals for her. Ok, maybe not that strict, but both of us have lost some weight.

The Amateur Bot-ann-ist Marries John in Her Garden

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My wedding bouquet made for great photo opportunities.
Four weeks ago today I married an amazing man in the back garden. And now—as I sit here writing this—it’s great to publicly admit that we met online and immediately knew we would marry.
Just 6 months after we met, we were married. There, I said it.
This happened because maturity and experience are great things. Middle-aged love is nothing to scoff at either—especially when it brings such joy and happiness.
And in my case, I can’t say enough about the lessons learned from my divorce. I know now that it took a divorce in order for me to truly understand how much marriage and commitment mean to me. Marriage means working together and being a team and I have that now for the first time. It’s what I’ve always wanted and hoped for and it’s such a great feeling knowing now that someone truly has my back and I can count on him to be there. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way too.
Maurice helping to roll out the garden carpet.

Getting ready for our noontime wedding was a lot of fun. Up until the last minute we’d planned to get married that day in a government office but then I realized we could just do it at home. Why not?

Planted topiary ball with Bromeliad and Ficus. Made to come indoors over the winter. Will keep you updated on how it holds up indoors as a houseplant planting.

Of course I tried to clean up the back garden as much as possible. I added a few pretty things to make it look better too, but overall, we didn’t really intend for it to be a big affair so not much was added. I did make this topiary though.

Two of the fur balls thinking all of the hub-bub was about them—since it usually is all about them.

The night before the ceremony I packed for Alaska and straightened the house.

Since John didn’t move in with me until after our honeymoon, that night, we both had a lot of time to think about our new life together and what it would be like in the future.

My mind was so busy thinking about packing I knew I just had to be me no matter what.

Oh why did I wait until the last minute?

That’s when I rushed out and bought some flowers to arrange at 9pm. That’s just the kind of thing that I do.

Having fun with my own selfie.

The morning of the wedding I had my hair and makeup done. It felt amazing and I’m so happy I did so.

When you plan a noontime wedding, that doesn’t mean you have a ton of time to get ready. I know that now. But of course, I pulled it all together.

John and I are oddballs. If you don’t know that about me yet, then you must be new to my blog or else you haven’t been paying attention.

John and I only invited a handful of important people. We hadn’t really thought a lot about wedding photography so many of these pictures were just shot by iPhone by my nieces.

Look! My head is exploding with flowers!

My flowers were designed by a dear friend who has an amazing touch. (Quinn in the City Flowers).

I had asked Quinn to go “over the top” and I’m pretty sure she nailed it.

Yes, I really do laugh loudly. Am I channeling Phyllis Diller? Maybe…
On my wedding day, I was very happy and we had a little secret too.
The look on my face terrifies me. I look a lot like my paternal great-grandmother who I take after in so many ways. I guess it makes sense.
My eldest niece, seen here on the left, was the minister of our ceremony. We kept that a secret from my family until after the ceremony. It was such a great idea and it made the event so much more meaningful.
That’s not to say that her younger sister (on the right) wasn’t involved too. She made sure we had lots of photos and provided plenty of laughs.
I love my girls.
Probably one of my favorite pictures from our special day. I know. I’m weird. I already told you I was though…

Afterwards, our little group met both of our mothers for a special dessert at one of my favorite restaurants in Portland.

Yes, we didn’t invite our moms to our wedding. They’ve been through it all before so we did things differently and they didn’t mind at all.

Trust me, it worked very well and they both loved seeing us all dressed up while we ate Boccone Dolce.

John looking at me thinking, “We pulled it off, our moms are both stuffed, now let’s get the heck out of here and head to Alaska!!”

And with that, we were off to Alaska!

What’s Your Botanical Learning Style?

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I’d wanted to have a nice long post for today, but my brain is really, seriously, quite tired. Right now I should be sleeping, but instead, I am up and exhausted from staying up late to read more and more about plants. You see, I have a long drive home now, and there are more plants to come, in different kinds of places, that have different kinds of ecosystems, and already, my brain and eyes are spinning because of plants—but not really. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this post.
Looking at the wine grapes took work since I wish I could identify the different kinds just by looking at them, but I am not that talented. This shouldn’t stress me out, but it does. Right now I don’t have the energy to begin learning about any other plants since I am still being overwhelmed with the native plants of California!
Here’s a good example. Entering into this native ancient oak grove truly blew me away. The side effect though is that I have a lot more to read now. I love to go on vacation but it is so odd to return home with homework. (This was near the top when I climbed Mt. Konocti with our friend Tom.)
After that shock to the botanical senses, before we reached the peak, we were able to look out and see Mt. St. Helena in Napa. (It’s the flat-headed mountain out there near the center of the picture.) It was hard for me to believe we could see it, but we could.
Identifying plants along the way became more complicated that day, but I was really happy to have found this Cirsium occidentale. I knew what it was immediately, but I have so many more plants to memorize before I walk through the chaparral of Lake County, CA again. Everything is simply too new to me here still.
While I went off to explore each day my husband had to work. The grapes need to be harvested and processed quickly so that nothing sits around in the heat for long. It is strange to come back to your spouse as they work at a job you’ve never actually seen them do. I’ve heard about the whole process for years, but seeing it was like seeing someone new who I didn’t totally know. When he works the field, pruning and planting new vines, I understand that, but this part was new to me even though it’s similar to a popular activity in the NW called, “beer brewing.”
Right now you may be wondering about my relationship to our famous Oregon Pinot Noir, but I have never been interested in the whole lifestyle it entails in my state due to the cult of the grape that began in the 1970s when I was a girl. It has always seemed somewhat foreign to our region, and yes, Californian. Oddly enough, we don’t have a native grape vine the way California does and I think that’s telling in a way. Wine really fits into the landscape here in a way that it doesn’t in Oregon. That’s just my opinion, and I know it tastes great, but it has altered Oregon in a funny way. (I know, hops aren’t native either, but at least they seem to fit in well and they grow so well in the Willamette Valley.)
So, back to plants, on another day I drove about 80 miles into a very remote area of Lake County by myself. (You can see the road along the ridge in the picture. It’s the wavy line and it was amazing to drive along!) This may not have been the wisest decision, but it made me feel brave.
From that remote area I could look over at Mt. Konocti again and ponder how I could have ever climbed to the top! Oddly enough though I felt safe-ish as I ventured deeper into the wilderness since I could hear a lot of traffic in the air flying over the Mendocino National Forest. This is harvest season after all and I think many of you know exactly what the Feds were looking for at this time of the year.
A few days ago I landed back in San Francisco before heading south to the burbs. Seeing 1/8 or so of the San Francisco Botanical Garden was another amazing and yet visually confusing mess. I am still recovering from that walk but maybe after I visit it again once or twice a year for 10 years I’ll know all of the plants! (Bromeliads grow there “wherever”.)
I wish I could wander the streets of San Francisco just looking for these amazing little gardens. I had never seen a  Standard Fuchsia tree quite like this one before and it truly surprised me too. The streets of San Francisco are so rich with flora year-round.

So as I drive home, I will endeavor to keep my eyeballs straight and not to tire myself out with all of this seeing and looking but that’s truly how I memorize plants and I put a lot of energy into it. Today’s Halloween though, and it’s the day I head north again, so wish me luck as I enter back into the sphere of plant life I am familiar with already. I have a lifetime to learn about Californian plants and I will just have to accept that it will take that long to learn them.

Those Last Minute Fall Plant Sales!!

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I am such a sucker for the Fall Plant Sale, and by that I mean the plant sales with deep discounts, the ones that often have the sad plants that look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees. Maybe it’s the foster parent in me, the girl who has always been on the side of the downtrodden, sad, and neglected in life, or maybe it’s the fact that I have an incredible amount of patience that is backed by this drive in me to study things over a long period of time. Who knows but at least I am not alone.
I already have a Monstera deliciosa thriving in my entry, so I knew I could resist this amazing Monstera deliciosa ‘Albo Varietgata’ but I won’t lie, I wanted it! That frosted, glazed donut look gets me every time!

This year I limited myself to two sales and the first one I went to was at Al’s Garden Center in Woodburn. When I saw that they had Woolly Pockets at a deep discount, I had to go! I’d wanted one ever since I first saw them in an amazing glossy ad, but then I promised myself I would resist all the other stuff!

One more way to stuff African Violets into your home.
A frilly edged Asplenium nidus, or Bird’s Nest Fern.
Crocodile Fern, Microsorum musifolium.
Mounted Staghorn Ferns aka Platycerium.
I was so proud to have made it past all the ferns, but then it was this display of Bromeliads that ruined me. I saw all of them and thought, “Maybe I should keep working on this group. I bought one last winter and didn’t kill it so maybe I could expand on that success!” (For such a cynic, I truly can sound ridiculously positive.)
From left to right: Phlebodium aureum ‘Mandaianum’, Vriesea ‘Splenriet’, Dracaena ‘Green Stripe’, Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’.

Lucky for me I was able to find a Bromeliad on the clearance rack. At that point, after crumbling, I couldn’t buy just one plant from the sale rack, so I bought the group shown here and brought them home with me.

Moving out to the perennial sales area I came across this tulip blend and the idea of a ‘Wine and Cheese’ tulip mix really cracked me up. Maybe this loosened me up too much though because I continued to select a few more items to purchase.

Delphinium ‘Sweethearts’.

At least I was able to convince my friend to purchase this amazing Delphinium. I am not fond of pink, but I do love dusty rose. From afar, this plant really stood out too.

Doll’s Eyes or White Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda.

As if by fate, while standing there trying to convince my friend to buy something, I saw these Doll’s Eyes staring at me. This North American native is one I’ve wanted for a really long time. I bought one of them too and, of course, I quickly harvested its seeds.

The second sale I was able to commit to this year was the annual Cistus Nursery parking lot sale. Due to my rather challenging foster child that weekend we were a bit late, and many plants had already been purchased by people who’d shown up with trailers, but we had a good time anyway and found plenty of plants.

Our cart filled up quickly with plants that were very different from the plants we’d found last year! You just never know what you’ll find at this sale. That’s what makes it so much fun.

This year there were a number of Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) so I picked one up.
My husband and I were never really sure about planting palms, but after seeing them in Japanese gardens in photographs shown during a lecture last winter up in Seattle, we felt more comfortable about adding one to our berm area.

I picked this one after the tag tugged at my heartstrings. It was grown from Portland seeds. Awhhhhhh!

Myrtus communis ‘Ann McDonald’.

There was also a Myrtle so I bought it even though I already have a small one in the backyard. Myrtles fascinate me and the blooms were so pretty I couldn’t resist.

Spider Plant ‘Gold Nugget’ (Chlorophytum ‘Gold Nugget’).

I also bought two plants from the nursery that were not on sale. This Spider Plant ‘Gold Nugget’ is one I’ve been wanting for awhile, and since it looked like it had some seeds, I was even more sold on the idea of it. I am curious to see how those grow. I know this must sound funny, but I really am curious.

Spider Plant ‘Gold Nugget’, (Chlorophytum ‘Gold Nugget’) seed heads.
Jasminum parkeri.

This cute little Dwarf Flowering Jasmine also caught my eye. The smell was nice too.

Has anyone else been to any great sales? What deals did you find this fall?

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Five, The Bromeliad House

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This—the last room on this visit we’ve been having for about a week now—is the Bromeliad House.

Dischidia ‘Thailand Blush’.
I am sorry I don’t know as much about these plants as I’d like to, but in my home, they are simply too difficult to care for and that always complicates things. I’d love to take them on, but maybe I will have to let a few other plants die first. Yes, I said that.
Air plants are everywhere here, but there are other plants too.
There is a different kind of Staghorn Fern and…
more and more of the Tillandsia and other Bromeliads.
I found some lovely blooms though.
Aechmea warasii variegata.
This was a nice view but it reminded me of The Muppets for some reason. Maybe I’m tiring of calling everything Seussian?
There was a musical artwork made by an artist from Portland, Oregon installed overhead and it was really kind of nice in that it wasn’t really overdone or obtrusive. It complemented the whole atmosphere.

As the musical chimes played I admired blooms nearby and listened to the melodic tones.

Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’.
I like these plants more and more whenever I see them. They look like hand-painted China and are so stimulating to the eye.

Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’.

Before I left I walked around outside admiring the beds of annuals. It was such a nice way to relax and clear my mind before heading back home to Portland.
I don’t know much about this aspect of their work here at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, but when plants are confiscated from people trying to ship them in or out of the country illegally this is where they are sent. I was happy to know they didn’t necessarily just wind up in a garbage can somewhere. Not that I have thought about this a lot but…
Maybe the seeds I accidentally attempted to import legally that were on the DO NOT IMPORT list ended up here and are out back in their plant pokey? If so, I hope they’re doing well. I am just relieved that the only harm I caused myself was the worry about where my seeds had gone. I had no idea they were being held up because of my mistake. Note to self: Order more carefully next time.