And I’d thought this gardener hadn’t been busy during December…

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Japanese White Pine in training since 1950. Country of Origin: Japan. Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

I am still a gardener in search of a garden of sorts. Much uncertainty remains in 2013 but I don’t mind it at all anymore. Every single day is a huge opportunity for me now and my health continues to improve as do my spirits. Whenever I plant a seed something grows. So I’m tossing them everywhere right now and I’m sitting back to see what germinates.

I am a guerilla gardener of the heart.
This is my time
—to live a bit as a wildflower.
Finally.

Palm Leaf, Sabalites species, around 50 million years ago Chuckanut Formation, Whatcom Co. Washington. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

A large part of this seed planting campaign of mine has involved seeing and speaking with very old friends of mine. Doing so really helps me to remember more of who I used to be and who I want to be again now. Illness broke me down but it didn’t kill me. I lost a lot of momentum but if you know me you also know that I can be a tiny force of nature when I am at my best.

My high school friend Elise Krohn, herbalist and native foods specialist. Wild Foods & Medicines Blog 

Recently I made a brief overnight trip to Seattle to see two of these old friends. I attended the book re-release party for a publication an old friend of mine had contributed to, and additionally I spent time in the other friend’s home getting to know her husband and small son. Since the three of us attended the same high school together it was an über supportive trip. My sudden wellness after so many years brings them much happiness too and I like to be that in their lives right now. It helps my healing too. Dare I say that it helps us grow much stronger together.

I have grown a lot during the past two months and it will be showing more and more in the months to come.

Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Of course I had to stop by the library dedicated to nothing but horticulture at the University of Washington too. Luckily it wasn’t open long enough for me to go crazy making lists of things.

Center for Urban Horticulture
Seeing the Center for Urban Horticulture in winter was a beautiful treat too since I’ve only ever been there during the warmer months.

Sometime before Christmas I tidied up out front. I guess I was tired of the Doug fir debris in the house.

Oh and the seeds, the lovely, lovely piles I was unable to get to last year. They are very much on my mind now.

There were those dark and lonely moments too. So I took pictures to remember them by in the future. Then I quickly forgot about them.

Something about spending my first Christmas alone after a decade-long relationship was exhilarating and it allowed me to really toss out more emotional baggage. I can do this on my own now if I choose to and that feels really good to me. I don’t feel I was ever really given that choice.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot. Maurice is old.

The neighbors had their old cherry tree cut down. That was exciting for a day.

Visions of children playing in gardens appeared to me on a walk. I love this city.

I started a wide scarf for myself using organic cotton yarn on one of my knitting looms. Most materials bother my skin a lot so it was fun to go to the yardage store to pick the yarn myself. I felt so empowered—for lack of a better word.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot with his little buddy Mona too. December is when the part-ferral cat is not very ferrel. It is always a cute process to watch as she becomes needier and needier. Before you know it she’s wrapped up at your feet while you type a blog post at 1am.

Somehow I sewed a few Christmas tree ornaments. This one looks a bit like my interests of cooking and gardening slammed together. A green ravioli. I was clearly not thinking.
I also tried to rescue my old Christmas tree houseplant but it was neglected so much this past year I will need to nurse it back to the fine specimen it used to be so that wherever I am next Christmas it will be ready to shine again.

Luckily a friend gave me some forced Daffodil bulbs just before he went home to Scandinavia for the holidays. Normally I would have had a huge floral arrangement but times are tough and I was working solo on the annual Christmas Eve dinner so this worked out well. It was perfect and so much better than nothing. (It smells great too even if it makes me sneeze. Yes, those of us with allergies must choose our battles.)

Then there was that goose I stuffed and roasted. It was amazing and I was so proud I made it through the whole experience on my own.

I also made a really simple cabbage dish with apples and spices. It went perfectly with the sausage and cornbread stuffed goose. Overall the more simple the food the happier my body is when I eat it. I am still in awe of my ability to consume goat milk products in moderation.

I am such a lucky woman now.

Oh, and then there were those funny faces I made with my eldest niece Chelsea when I spent some quality time with her, her younger sister Lindsey, and their childhood friend Emily. How quickly my little women have grown up!

I am still making faces apparently today too. Not sure what this expression is about but I think it has something to do with my hair being in pigtails. At what age are pigtails inappropriate on a woman? I have no clue. Maybe I don’t want to know. Believe it or not but I was actually thinking about how the wear my hair when I get back out there in the dirt soon. It’s growing and I am so happy to have it long again.

See, I do think about a lot of other things.

December was one hell of a month but I tossed out so many seeds in so many places—here, there, everywhere. I’m surrounded by good fertile opportunities and I’m really excited about so many new things happening in my life. Best of all, the soil in my heart no longer feels so barren. I am happily growing again and am feeling more at peace than I have in many years.

This gardener had a beautiful Christmas and I hope you did too! 
Here’s to watching it all grow again in 2013! 
 
Let’s bring back our heirlooms, the all-time favorites and producers,
 but let’s not forget we should always be open to the new stuff too. 
 
Like maybe this blogger might finally release another book. 
Booyeah!

Dragon Arum aka Dracunculus vulgaris

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Last week the big stink around here was briefly in the backyard. Each year I watch and wait as this lovely bloom emerges. Sadly this past week it was trashed by heavy rains so it’s not looking nearly so nice right now.  (Oh, the ephemeral beauties of the garden that we plant weirdos cherish!)

I tried to get up close and personal with the bloom to show where the many different bugs were busy working. The reason these gorgeous flowers stink like month-old garbage is to attract the right pollinators. This bloom may have been short-lived, but it did its job well. I saw at least a dozen bugs in there while I was leaning over inspecting their activities.

Standing this close to the bloom was not pleasant so please forgive me for not having zoomed in more.

I also suggest that you never attempt to use this bloom in any kind of floral arrangement unless it is displayed behind thick glass.

Do you have these where you live?

Merry Christmas: Here’s to Planting the Seeds of Celebration

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Several years ago my husband and I pruned off the old Christmas Eve celebration I’d participated in annually with my family. To some this may seem harsh, but I’m a gardener and am optimistic about such things, because change is good, and it almost always means growth and renewal in a garden.

An unfinished felt cactus ornament on one of the many houseplant holiday trees with our first real Christmas tree behind it.

Gardening has taught me that you can use many of its lessons in your own life and that the values found in each and every one of these lessons can add a rich hue to your life that is as enriching as any organic fertilizer.

Our first vintage Christmas has added immensely to the holiday feeling on our urban street.

Good pruning is about learning how a plant grows, knowing its needs, anticipating them, and then creating a plan to foster the best growth based upon this knowledge.

Playing with more materials.
We can use this system for people too, and performing these tasks on our own lives is commonplace whenever we hit a wall, but I want to posit that you should do it seasonally—just as you would do for your garden plants.

For we also have our own seasons for growth, and traditionally, many of us have grown during the dark winter months in unexpected ways as we plant the seeds of celebration with those we appreciate having in our lives.
The table was set for 14 this Christmas Eve and much merriment was made.

It is for these people we give thanks, and as we celebrate, we support one another. At this time of year we are allowed to close our eyes and let go knowing that we have people in our lives who will catch us if we fall, and they will feed us if we are hungry, or they will give us water if our soil is dry, and best of all, they give us the light we need to survive and to keep going—but we must provide light for them too and you cannot do so if you are not at your best.

First Amaryllis to rebloom. I did it! Whew!

The most difficult part though is that we must reexamine our own lives as the new year is upon us, and we must measure our growth, take stock in our stores, and we must rejuvenate ourselves with a light pruning.

The Amaryllis was much taller this year than last year. 

This is how many of us are able to avoid that gnawing depression which can eat at our roots and rot us to our innermost core. If we do not prune, taking into consideration what is best for ourselves, what will give us the greatest integrity to grow our strongest, we will weaken over time.

My first giant floral installation.

Sometimes you’re the seed that fell upon foreign ground, growing up in an environment that couldn’t allow you to be your best. Often, you weren’t in your best light and you never bloomed much, kind of like a lot of houseplants I know who struggle to do what they can in far off foreign places.

My Christmas Day reading arrived in the mail on Christmas Eve.

Unlike houseplants we can get up though, dragging our weakened roots behind us, and we can wander until we’re able to find the home where we’re meant to grow, blooming repeatedly, living in an environment that no longer threatens our growth.

So this season, if you are feeling a bit alone in the Wilderness, I want to wish you the best and let you know you’re not the only one. I also want to encourage you to dust off your shovel and pruners a bit and revisit what it means to be you. If you’re not ready yet to move on, at least trim off what you’re able to let go of and take a good hard look at your roots. Make the adjustments needed and just like a plant in your garden, return to the problem in a few months time to reconsider your options.

I did it and survived and this Christmas was one of the best I’ve ever had simply because I felt free to be who I really am.

Happy Holidays!

Birds & Blooms

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Birds are our friends—right? Sometimes though, it is hard for me to describe my feelings about birds. I am married to a bird lover, who has a mother who is a bird lover, and I only discovered in my 20s how much I enjoyed birds too. (My mother never let me keep any pet birds because of their noise and their mess making.) But I am talking about pet birds now, and not wild ones, and that opens up a whole different set of feelings.
The Dude, our old bald Senegalese parrot from the Oregon Humane Society. We adopted him with a female Senegalese we named Pretty Bird. She is now living with my mother-in-law and The Dude moved to a home with an indoor aviary. They were our first therapeutic foster kids since they were older birds who had been neglected and did not like people much. Their anxiety levels were the worst I have ever seen and our cats were traumatized by the whole experience. Parrots falling into this state just breaks my heart. I am happy though that we helped them both by praising their individual talents. The Dude loved to dance and we loved to watch him listen to music. Pretty Bird is much more complicated though. To put it simply, she would make a great old school nun at my Catholic grade school.
We live in the Great Northwest and it is fairly well known that our access to wild birds is really quite incredible. I have travelled and camped in many of the greatest bird watching areas in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and yet I have not done so to watch the birds. Since I am chronically ill, and can sit and watch virtually anything for long lengths of time, none of this makes a great deal of sense. My New Year’s resolution is to work on this and to include more bird watching outings with some of the kids who come to our home as Therapeutic Respite Foster kids. Not all of them will enjoy this activity, so for their enjoyment, and for ours too, we are going to begin close to home with our bird watching.
Last weekend we visited one of the Backyard Bird Shop stores in the Portland Metro Area. I love these stores, and my husband had never been to one, so we took one of our animal loving kids.

If I’d had more money, I would have bought a lot, but instead I chose some basic items: new suet cakes with mealworms embedded in them, gourmet food for the winter birdies, and a bird ID pamphlet for anyone who wants to use it.

I think that  all of these should be interesting for the winter birds, and I plan to let you all know what is popular in the neighborhood. Since we have two very large Douglas firs on our property, and a large park full of adult trees up above us on the extinct volcano, there are plenty of birds hanging out year round. I only want to keep the occupants happy so that they will keep my garden in order.

Lastly, this is my first Amaryllis bulb ever and my first bloom. Enjoy it as you have enjoyed your own!

Hippeastrum “Picotee” aka Amaryllis

PS: For those of you who wanted to see the French King Cake, I was too ill to make one this year, but I have heard that my favorite local French bakery is making them throughout the month of January so I am going to check into this.

A Break in the Storm

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This past week has been a brutal storm but I kept afloat during what seemed like a tempest. My novel progressed, without a real plot, but the plodding upon the land is everywhere upon it. (That was what I’d wanted most of all and I am having a lot of fun with it.) Then on Monday an emergency foster child arrived and this pre-teen was with me until Thursday afternoon. Demanding, energetic, and busy does not do justice to describe those days.

Maurice watches as Macavity takes a break on the roof. They had a difficult week
too and often needed to unwind and escape whenever possible.

Somehow I was able to write, but I ended up with a headache that still has not gone away. It was not the child per se, since it has more to do with my inability to communicate the needs of my health condition while enlivening the necessary empathy in this particular child. Conquering this hurdle is often impossible with most of these kids, yet I need to work at how to do so in the future. The children in state custody have the most difficult time with it, and as much as I understand, I cannot chose to suffer through this again.

Wouldn’t you know it though, on the last day I discovered how much she loved to garden so that really helped up both to calm down before her departure. We went on a trip to the nursery down the street when the wind storm finally let up and we bought some bulbs and pansies to plant.

Native Silk-Tassel Bush or Garrya elliptica at Portland Nursery on SE Stark. Notice my car’s bumper in the left-hand bottom corner. This shrub is in the nursery parking lot!
Many of the plant racks are empty for the season, but the native licorice fern Polypodium glycyrrhiza still persists. I love these things and have reintroduced them into my garden. Mine is on a Doug fir tree.

Lastly, I am spending my last week alone as a single part-time foster parent. The husband returns home for the winter next weekend, hopefully after the olives are harvested, but that is a whole other story. Needless to say, having him home will be wonderful and we will have a lot more fun, but it can also be stressful because I am daily reminded both verbally and non-verbally of how difficult it can be for a spouse to live with their partner when they are seriously chronically ill. The burden and the sacrifice is heavy, and I don’t know if I could do what he is able to do. My goal for this winter is to work harder at moving forward together, but this needs to be his goal too and I hope we are ready for it.

Using my interest in gardening, with a bit more of the purpose of my past, has helped me to tie my many lives together. Plants are so much a part of who I am, and of where I have come from, they have helped me to overcome a great deal of personal suffering as well as the self-pity I have experienced. Somehow I feel as though gardening has really helped me to reintegrate everything I have gone through and much like a garden design, I’ve just needed the plants to grow in. The picture has revealed itself to me, and I am at peace now. Whatever internal struggle was at play, seems to have seriously subsided.

Vaccinium ovatum with berries. This is our native NW evergreen huckleberry. I have fond memories of picking these once in the woods surrounding Mt St Helen’s. I love the berries so much, I had to plant them in my garden so that I wouldn’t have to drive too far to pick them. This is an excellent and easy to grow shrub.
Vaccinium ovatum.

Cutting some people from my life, and having little contact with others, has helped me to feel so much safer too with a sense of being protected. (I imagine my growing hedges have helped to concretely remind me of this action as well. Maybe I will name these hedges accordingly in the future.) Editing or trimming can clean so many things up, making things clearer, and for me, I have really had to come to terms with the fact that I come from a family that cannot cope with chronic illness, and that is just the way it is for them, but it no longer had to be that way for me.

You see, when you have been ill for almost 10 years, and your family still cannot pronounce what you’ve been diagnosed with, nor have they taken the time to understand what it is, or how it functions, you know it is time to step back and stop trying to reach them.

I feel much like any plant in a garden now. I am complicated, but I have very basic needs. I need my food and water to survive. Sunshine will help me stand up. Sometimes I may flower and bare fruit, but sometimes I may grow weak and need help. The list goes on and on, but what matters most is that no cure or magical fertilizer will make the plant perfect forever—just like me—and we are both in flux. It is a day to day thing, and I am happy in the moment, just as I imagine my plants are sometimes when they put on their show, even it it might be their final one of the year…

The last of my summer roses. This is a Damask rose from Heirloom Roses. This summer I finally harvested petals and made rosary beads. Not sure yet what to make with them, but the rose water was delicious too! I used it in my Syrian lemonade. I will have to share those recipes next season.