Before returning to Italy, let’s review last winter…

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About last winter, well, it was divine. Between the fair weather, a class in horticulture, and time spent with friends over long meals, it was a time to indulge in additional personal growth and discovery while lingering to get to know those around me better.

What I mean to say here is that my new mast cell medication was working mightily well—as were all of the other therapies. This plant of mine felt like its backbone was strengthened and buds began to form. (Now months on, I can see the growth.)

When we left for Italy, my health was better than it had been in some ways for years, but I know now that the neuropathy medication I was just given upon my return should have been instituted before our departure. Years of swelling have definitely taken their toll on my nerves.

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Agapetes serpens.

This winter was about propagation. Much joy was had when these Agapetes serpens cuttings taken from my friend Kate’s plant continued to bloom and bloom under lights in my basement.

They’re still alive and have hardened off outdoors and I look forward to potting them up this week or the next. Bloom on little troopers!

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Not such a bad year on Instagram.

This winter I continued to socialize on Instagram with other garden and plant lovers. It was through this platform we ended up meeting my new friends in Venice.

For anyone who has a difficult time falling asleep it can be a tool that can successfully create thoughtless thoughts. You can count sheep, or scroll through plant pics. Take your pick!

Many of the people I chose to follow are in Europe and I look forward to seeing their mornings as I slowly let the weight of my head really force itself into the pillow. Ok, maybe seeing their delicious morning repasts may sometimes widen an eye and a growl may grow from somewhere deep inside of my stomach, but then I move on to the next photo and set aside that fleeting idea of a sunny morning in Greece.

This past winter Kate and I decided to take a little coastal garden tour in January. We met up with Flora our friend over at Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal. (If you follow the link, you can read more about the gardens we saw that day.) Surprisingly, the weather was decent for us and in the end I was able to eat my beloved oysters.

From there we travelled south to Yachats and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve.

If you’d like to read a great blog post about that location I suggest this post from my friend Evan over at the The Practical Plant Geek. (He wrote several posts about it and of course I’ve yet to post any photos at all.)

While preparing for departure, the garden grew and things bloomed while more botanical Latin was memorized and I worked to pass my plant ID course in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

Friends were made, I hosted a talk here in my house about rare ferns given by an expert in such things, and the anticipation of the impending journey grew in me, the deviation from my medical routine grew more exhilarating, and soon we crossed the big pond.

More on that next time…

Genova: You’re My Kind of Town

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Detail from a palazzo ceiling fresco.


We arrived in Genoa on Saturday and have spent a few days walking around and spending time with John’s family. He was born here 50 years ago and this trip is an extended celebration of that event. I am more than happy to celebrate with him. This is a once in a lifetime experience for me.  

Seen here in a photo, that’s my husband with the little chubby knees and his parents are on either side of the woman in blue.

 
Genova isn’t known as a garden city, it’s a port town, and above all, it’s most famous for being the home of both pesto and focaccia—as well as some guy named Christopher Columbus. In the short time that we’ve been here, I’ve had plenty of fantastic food, and I can say with certainty that I very much enjoy the Ligurian region and its people. There is an underground subversiveness to this town and I admire that deeply. But my husband is not Ligurian, his late father was Croatian, and his mother is Venetian from the Veneto.  

The walls of the historic area of town are famous for their subversive graffiti. This one doesn’t mince words. “A single cry. An alarm. Milan in flames.” It is safe to say that the two towns are quite different.

 

Here are just a few images I took from walking around these past few days. I don’t want to sit on these photos for too long because they’ll overwhelm me and then I’ll never get around to posting them.

Phoenix dactylifera down by the water.

  
  

Part of a botanical display in a museum in a beautiful atrium.

  

Some churches place mirrors on the floor so that you don’t have to hurt your neck while admiring their ceilings.

  

The historic district is known for its many narrow alleys.

  

To say this place is a bit controversial is an understatement.

  

Years ago guilds in the city built these niches for saints and at night they lit the alleyways. Nowadays, you might find a prank such as this one where the saint has been replaced by a cardboard witch and the A for anarchy.

  

You never know what you’re going to find at a flea market.

  

Homemade gnocci and pesto from our family meal.

  
    

Medieval gate marking the edge of the neighborhood.

    
    

My Plant Lust bag and I returning from grocery shopping.

    

I added this to show that there is a heavy French influence here. It can be seen and heard in the local dialect as well.

   And before I begin my next post on the Orto Botanico di Genova, a few more plants…  
 

At the market.

 

An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.

The Other Grey Gardens

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When I think of “grey” gardens I tend to think of cemeteries—not so much Big Edie and Little Edie.
I’m one of those people who was raised visiting such bucolic settings, and with the grey rainy days we relish so much here in the Pacific Northwest, visiting certain old cemeteries once spring has sprung can be kind of fun. I especially enjoy the drive down through the Willamette Valley to visit my pioneer ancestors’ graves in the town of Jefferson, Oregon. I like to do this at least once a year, stopping at other old cemeteries and historic sites along the way.
View from the Wells family pioneer cemetery in Jefferson, OR. Wouldn’t you know it the patriarch made it all the way here during the 1850s only to die from diphtheria.
This past weekend I made the trek with my boyfriend John.
What a great way to get away from the city for a bit and talk with one another while pointing out my favorite plant shopping spots.
Now he knows where to shop for me, right?
Of course I told him about other things too like the job I had in Silverton at the Gordon House and my family history too.
Erythronium found in the cemetery.
Although I’d gone out to get cuttings from cemetery roses planted in the small cemetery with about 10 burials, I was thrilled when I found a small colony of native trout lilies growing amongst the graves.
Finding these little beauties was a big highlight that day. The view was really nice too.
(Yes, I know it’s also a horrible time to take rose cuttings, but I figured, “Why not?”)
Later, at the city cemetery, I found a name on a gravestone that was kind of interesting. I wonder if one of her parents liked plants?
Then there are the truly grey gardens…

We found roses with primroses.

Then there were the ever-present roses.

I think this might be a Camellia.

Of course there were Lilies-of-the-Valley too.

On the stone of the pioneer patriarch of the Terhune family I really enjoyed this rose. (This is another of my ancestors and the Terhune family line goes back to New Amsterdam.)

But I did not understand the willow nearby that I’d seen on another stone at the Champoeg Pioneer Cemetery earlier in the day. Does anyone know what a willow on a gravestone signifies? I’m guessing it might be from the Bible, but I’m really curious since we saw it twice.

Lastly, there was a really interesting design on another Terhune gravestone. We’d thought the leaf looked maple-like, but after giving it some more thought, I now think it is meant to by a leaf of ivy. The stylized elements below it are quite pretty too, don’t you agree?

Wordless Wednesday: Welcome to Spring 2013

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Camellia ‘Bob Hope’.
Sedum obtusatum boreale.
Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’.
Sedum cockerelli grown from seed.
Helleborus. 
Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus.
Mukdenia rossii. 
Camellia ‘Black Magic’.
Japanese Spurge, Pachysandra terminalis.
Yellow Stream Violet, Viola glabella.
Spurge ‘Blackbird’, Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.
Helleborus.
Helleborus with Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’.
Aquilegia with Clematis heracleifolia.
Sulphur Heart Persian Ivy, Hedera colchica ‘Sulpher Heart’.

The Lightly Frosted Garden in January

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Tree textures: curly willow (Salix) and Doug fir (Pseudotsuga).
It is not a bad thing—at least in my mind—to wake up to a frozen world outside.
Just a few of my many houseplants in my office/plant room.
With the cold comes sunshine and I can embrace them both so long as the heater is working.
Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine’.
With a warm coat and several layers of clothing you’re likely to find me outside now looking around.
Spiderweb frozen in time on a Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’.
Ok, maybe this is a gentle time during the winter for us and I have to admit that I’m more inclined to giggle at the things I’m seeing rather than groaning about the wet muddiness of it all. (That is if I am not cursing the cold. I’m not perfect.)
Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’.
Seeing the blue sky all day warms my heart. I adore the color blue and all that it represents.
Even the ivy that’s considered an invasive plant seems somewhat more tame and delicate with a dusting of the cold frozen dampness.
An Epiphyllum I grew from seed.

Indoors the houseplants are still growing. I sit beside them working while I too bask in the warmth from the heater and I take advantage of the lights intended for their growth.

Some old homes don’t have a lot of windows to let the light in, but I make do.