Emerging Anew: Budding and Reblooming (The cycle never seems to end.)

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The blog has been largely quiet for the last few months as I’ve been reentering and reshaping my life. What’s nice to know, at least for my own sake, is that this blog is not going to go away anytime soon. As hokey as it sounds—like me, or even you—it’s just going to continue to grow and change.

Rhododendron hybrid at the Espy House in Oysterville, WA.

I want to grow and change. I want to be like my formerly feral cat who’s grown to trust me more and more. For this love she’s shown me, I fixed her fence again about a month ago. I’m not going to say that she does the dishes now, but she’s quite happy with the respect I’ve shown her.

Currently I’m seeing so many things again as if for the first time and part of what’s kept me away from my typically long and meandering posts has been a reticence to describe my new life because it is taking time for me to watch it as it unfurls.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).

I’m emerging too and with the amount of restorative exercise I’ve been doing I’m looking like myself again. One cannot describe how much illness changes you inside as you suffer through the pain. In my case, I struggled for years on my own.

Though I’m better now, and so much stronger physically, for the last few months I’ve had to continue battling Hereditary Angiodema while at the same time accepting the fact that two falls down staircases have caused some serious damage to my back and neck. It is difficult to accept that I didn’t seek the help I needed at the time I needed it. Daily I’m reminded of this, and daily I’m learning to think about it differently while acknowledging I did the best that I could at that time. I needed help though in my daily life, and I needed a lot of support. Accepting that I still do, and that I need to ask for it from now on, is something I see now as an immediate need as I better define what living with dignity means to me.

With allergies and food intolerances it’s been difficult for years to eat but I’ve taken charge of that too. Having spent a lot of time with a Scandinavian friend with similar issues helped me a lot last year. Sometimes we cooked for one another too. It really helped me to rebuild my confidence and as my health has improved I’ve had more endurance in that arena too. Cooking is a big part of who I am.

A shrimp and basil casserole I made with a recipe from the island of Elba. It has tomatoes and potatoes too and that’s just about it.
Handmade cannoli I made for my boyfriend’s birthday. Yes, I even made my own shells too.

My online seed shop has recently been remodeled and cleaned up a bit too. I’ve been working on many other responsibilities as well. Highlights of my days include moments when I can sneak outside to discover new blooms on my old garden friends.

Slowly, I’m weeding the garden back into shape. Last year I didn’t work outside much at all. It was simply too painful. This year, I am trying really hard to take my garden back.

Iris fiorentina. 

There are the new-to-me flowers too. Even if I’ve seen them a million times in print or online, seeing them up close and in person makes such a difference. I’ve been visiting friends’ gardens more and more and I love it when I’m surprised by what I can only call “new material”.

Sparaxis tricolor.

The classics have been comforting me this spring. After years of living with great stress and uncertainty I’m finally calm enough to really soak up and appreciate their beauty.

Tulip hybrid in the company of a peony.

The return of my green rose has brought me great comfort and gardener pride. With the high temperatures we’ve been having it’s blooming early this year.

Their black pepper scent was much missed.

Rosa viridiflora.

With a return to the kitchen, I’ve become interested again in cooking with herbs and other plants. I’ve been wanting to raid my neighbor’s calendula for years and this is finally the year for me to do it. Have you cooked with Calendula before? Just curious.

Calendula officinalis.

Lastly, I’ve been returning to my roots and have been enjoying the natural beauty of the region I live in once more. There is so much meaning in everything I see and do now after so many years of struggling personally, professionally, and in my private life. Sometimes I wish that this process could speed up and end but in order to grow, I see clearly now that this takes time and care. I must tend to myself first and then to my garden. In the end, we’ll all be much stronger and more disease and pest resistant.

Oh, and I’m getting really excited now about being part of a presentation—along with some other garden blogging friends—on June 8th out at Joy Creek Nursery. Should be fun to really think about the topic of garden blogging over the next few weeks.

Will Walk for Seeds

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A few weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon entitled “Seed Collecting: Where the Wild Things Grow with Steve Newall”. Reflecting on the experience—that of meeting and listening to the exploits of a real seed collector and seed grower—has been good for me.
Sitting down to talk with Steve was really centering for me since due to my current life situation I’ve been a bit uneasy in general. Everything in my life is still swirling around but my love and interest in seeds is always there in the middle of it all. (Imagine my comfort in knowing that seeds are immovable in this windy storm and I cling to them and they make me feel so good. It’s so silly but it’s all true.)
To talk to someone who truly understands me was really soothing during a time in life when there are so few healing balms other than self-inflicted silence and self-discovery. These things might sound great, but when it really matters, and a lot is on the line, there can be a frightening bleakness to the darkness as you sit watching and listening to it while your impatience grows. The seeds that germinate in this darkness are scary to me, but I am patient enough now to sit through the process even if it’s really hard for me to sit still sometimes.
How do you tell the people around you that you want to create a life where you’re able to run off and collect seeds when you feel like it? It’s not like I do this for science! I am an Amateur Bot-ann-ist after all. For me it’s just this compulsion that comes from deep inside that drives me to love seed propagation and I just cannot get enough.
I was told it was, like, a skill. How odd!?!
So seed spotting is now what I jokingly refer to as my super power. Too bad I’m not a super hero though…
Asclepias speciosa seeds I collected last year.

If I could I’d spend all day working and thinking about seeds. How I came to this, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s genetic so I’ll just thank my forefathers and foremothers.

Ricinus communis seeds from Loree over at Danger Garden.
But this past week I had another major HAE swelling attack from all the activity and emotional stuff going on in my life. I anticipated it though because I knew that driving 6 hours by myself was not a great idea—especially after walking over 20 miles last week.
It made me doubt I could be a seed hunter, but that doubt passed rather quickly and I redoubled my efforts by getting some advice from my chiropractor. I’m now targeting key muscles groups that are weaker than they should be and I’m hoping this will help me to overcome some of the exhaustion I’ve been experiencing. (Never underestimate the pain that can be caused when one group of muscles repeatedly overcompensates for another.)
Staircase at Mount Tabor Park. I trotted up these stairs for the first time last week at a pace I was almost proud of and it felt great.

So during this “rest” week I’ve been sorting and cleaning the house—including my workspace—and it’s obvious how strongly I’ve resisted dealing with a lot of my own personal things up until now. I’m grasping them though, both literally and figuratively, and am thinking more and more about seeds as summer has started and there will be more and more of them soon.

As a matter of fact, I’ve already asked one friend to accompany me on a seed collecting trip. I’ve always gone by myself because I haven’t ventured very far into the wild in awhile. I am going to dip my toe into that pool soon. I don’t expect much, but it’s the act itself that’s already beginning to change me.

Lunaria annua might be a weed, but its seedpods will always be a favorite of mine.

There are these little things that are popping up in the darkness inside of me that I’ve been staring into for awhile now. They are sprouting and seeking out the light. My eyes are so sore from starting into the abyss for this long, but I think it’s time for me to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief.

Some of the many stairs in Mount Tabor Park.

I walk now and it’s not about the past so much, it’s about my future. Funny how I see seeds everywhere I go and when I do I always think of hope.

More of the Mount Tabor stairway.
The silence that used to bother me so much is becoming more and more the memory of who I am and who I once was but had forgotten.
Calendula officinalis seeds.

I think of the silence often now that surrounds the life of seeds since the lives of plants are so quiet compared to ours.

So often I meet gardeners who tell me they’re afraid to grow plants from seed because seedlings are so delicate and weak they’re afraid they’ll hurt or kill them.

This always makes me chuckle a little bit.

Aurinia saxatilis seeds.

Yes, the activity might require some patience and careful observation but never underestimate the power of any living plant or animal that wants to survive—and this might also be applicable to some of the people you know in your own life.

Someday it might even apply to 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…