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.

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

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It has been at least a month since I’ve written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I’ve been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it’s safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I’m blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.

Much of what’s been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.

Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn’t have been possible either without all of the friends who’ve come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I’d been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now.
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year.

Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I’ve sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that’s because it’s been a day-to-day thing.

Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.

I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me.

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I’ve been feeling and sensing again.

May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA.

I also still see plants everywhere.

The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.

Even when I’m enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That’s why I haven’t been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.

I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.

Plants are still at my center.

I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them.

I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it’s just a snapshot.

Driftwood at the Washington Coast.

Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.

A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest.

I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.

My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau.

Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.

Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.

The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.

I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)

Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water.

I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that’s a whole other post.

Begonia boliviensis in my garden.

Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.

To say we’d grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.

And the cats are doing as they please…

Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won’t.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I’d planted that I’d purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.

He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time.

The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.

And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, “It’s ok.” As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I’ll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I’ve been through a lot, and it will be ok.

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.

Ending Garden Therapy

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Sunset from the front porch.
Gardens are therapeutic and gardening is admittedly a therapeutic activity. For almost 10 years I’ve been in treatment in the garden and that period of my life is now ending. We’ve all been there in one way or another, but in my case, I think it’s safe to say that the garden saved me and changed me.
From left to right: Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. Adams. Before the age of 22 I’d climbed 10 mountains in the Pacific Northwest and Mt. St. Helen’s was the last on that list.

When my world seemingly closed, and I had to retreat to lick my wounds, it was the natural world and learning about plants that kept me attached to life. Sometimes, when I’d fly to CA to see my ex I’d often hide a few errant tears if I saw the mountains of the Pacific Northwest knowing that I could no longer hike or backpack in the forests that skirted them. My garden had become a surrogate for these adventures, but I still very much missed the real thing.

To heal that pain, I studied plants in books, purchased seeds to grow, and I sought out a few plant folks. This was not a replacement for the joy I’d once found in the beauty and solitude of the forest and in nature, instead it became a symbolic bandage meant to hold back the deep weeping emotional wound I’d developed. While my peers were out exploring during the spring and summer, I was at home, often so swollen I was unable to walk, and I’d read about the plants that others were able to physically go out to view.

Sometimes I’d feel like a caged animal and in retrospect those sobs that came out of my loneliness now seem more like howls for the wild as much as they were my cries for help.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Nike of Samothrace is a piece I find very inspirational.
It was the first piece of garden statuary I ever purchased.
Creating a refuge or a sanctuary was very important to me, and now, as I am set to fly, with a little nudge out of the nest, I look around before me at what I’ve created while my mind was so overwrought with blocking out the reality I was living, and I’m still so surprised by what I find.
I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen to me that the past 10 years have been the ugliest in my life. Yet somehow I stuffed every blank space around me with beautiful and rare plants. My brain keeps trying to tell me that I shouldn’t have been so escapist though, and that I should have been trying harder to work and to learn how to survive in the real world. My heart says that I did what I had to do to survive though, and between the two, I have no idea yet what I will do now to support myself, but part of me wishes I could be a garden therapist for someone else experiencing what I’ve been through. Few seriously ill people can afford to own their own gardens though and I know in my case it has been such a gift to have been able to have my own. My garden was the best medicine of all.
This was the backyard before we’d removed all of the grass about 6 years ago.
But I’m not really qualified to be a therapist, though I am a writer. That’s why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to share my experiences and I wanted to inspire those who were down to try to find the physical strength to at least try something that seemed to me as simple as planting a packet with a few seeds. Taking that first step can be difficult though for some people—even healthy ones. It started like that for me and it led to an entire world I’ve been able to live in but now it has to end, or shift, or change, or grow.
My plant labor-atory.  
More of my plant labor-atory.  

Ending therapy means ending a relationship. For me that still means leaving my garden, and although I am ready to do this if I really have to do so, I still have my doubts that it’s the best idea.

What began for me as therapy has grown into something else. I cannot extricate the experience of plants from who I am anymore. How plants will now figure into my plan I don’t know, but plants are my future.

An undated photo of my three cats under the willow arbor. Yes, they think they are too good to sit on the ground.

Like many other Americans I am living with a chronic illness that makes many forms of employment difficult. I too want to live with my dignity and this is challenging when daily you feel as though you are partially unreliable due to your condition and its symptoms. Finding flexible employment is not easy, but we all must make our way in life.

I’ve had to grow into accepting this as my life, and I am more than grateful for the reprieve that a new medication has given me. My life is almost normal now and the difficulties are far more manageable than ever.

But I cannot afford to own the garden that healed me and that is what I am faced with right now. To think of selling something that did so much for me is really difficult. It has been not only where I’ve enjoyed hiding, but over time—especially during the last year—it has been able to reintroduce me to the world and to more and more people, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting and speaking to all of the amazing plant-loving people I’ve met both here and in person.

Funny too that as much as I’d hoped for this post to be about not really knowing how to remake my life right now all I really want to say here now is that I hope this post inspires you to reach out to someone in your own life who might need your help right now. I am giving back to someone who almost lost her husband in a cycling accident recently and I know if you think hard enough you too can think of a friend, family member, or neighbor who might benefit from some garden help.

We really are all garden therapists when we reach out and get dirty for someone else.

Vive le jardin!

Plants Make Me Ill (Revisiting Chronic Illness in the Garden)

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With all of the recent changes it has been difficult for me to sit and think about being chronically ill. Mostly that’s because it’s what I thought about for so many years; the diagnosis robbed me of many things and it hurt deeply. Gardening kept me busy, but mostly I read about it. Actually being outside all of the time was another thing altogether and that became more and more difficult as I became more ill. But who out there amongst us isn’t an armchair gardener at one point or another?
Now I am feeling better, so I don’t have as much time to sit and think, but the avoidance is mostly due to my not wanting to accept or even acknowledge what I’ve seen as a roadblock and an obstacle for so long. So much of my current divorce has to do with the illness, but it is certainly not everything and I know that too.
Peony bloom I snapped from the sidewalk.

Currently, when I don’t have plans with friends on Friday nights, I take leisurely 6-mile walks to Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and then I walk back home through Mt Tabor Park. These are productive walks where I not only get the much needed exercise I’ve missed for the last decade or so, but I also get to feel the joy I used to feel at just looking at things—mostly plants.

Rockery overflowing with Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis.
During these walks I am in awe of how thrilling it is to be able to breathe and to walk. And although plants do still make me a bit ill—at least their pollen that is—I am learning how to better manage my asthma and to feel the symptoms in my body. For so long I was unable to do so because I’d become so numb from all of the swelling but I can feel a lot now.

Walking past Portland Nursery still makes me giggle a little since it’s no longer an escapist refuge for me as it once was when I could barely get anything done all day.

Seeing the cherry blossom petals scattered on the sidewalk while standing amongst them has made me smile with pleasure this year. They won’t be here for long and this year I won’t have to see them solely from the car as I fly past them. I savored them the other night because they’ll be gone next week.

No one knows this yet but I have lived at the base of Mt Tabor Park for almost 8 years and it was only within the last few months that I’ve been able to visit all of its reservoirs.

False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum.

Finding native plants in the park has been a great boon too.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum.
Lastly, while up at the park, walking and thinking about chronic illness, I thought a lot about the native Vine Maple. It is so tiny among giants, stretching for the sunshine, doing its best as an understory resident. Thinking about how much I’ve always liked this tree, and how calm I’ve felt beneath them spring, summer, or fall, seeing them during my walk home in the woods of Mt. Tabor felt like coming across another old friend.
Somehow this comforting end to my walk on Friday helped me to find the courage to do some research into what to call the current stage of my chronic illness experience. From inside, I have felt so much certainty about so many things but I haven’t understood at all why. I have felt very isolated, but I just knew that if I looked hard enough I would find something—and I did!
Just as my disease is new and unknown, so too are the studies of people living as I do. We become chronically ill as adults, suffering for many years with uncertainty and change, there comes a moment when we face death, we get through it, and then with extra medical attention, we improve suddenly after something is changed or adjusted. We are the lucky ones. Many living with chronic illness will never get this opportunity and I think knowing this is part of the catalyst for what happens internally to some of us. I, like many others, have been rewarded with just the outcome we’d spent so much time trying to let go of so as not to create false hope within ourselves. We had to learn to live in that moment between enduring and suffering, committing to ourselves not to dream about being able to live in the reality I have just reentered—one with so much more freedom.
One study said that there may only be 5-10% who experience what they called self-reformation, but I think that further study will show a higher number of people who enter into this process. Medical science seems to improve daily and there will be more people like me. There must be others out there already too who, like me, simply don’t know what to call what they’re going through.
Here are the phases that have so far been identified, but I am putting them in my own order, as they occurred within myself: need for reciprocity (to help others who are suffering), value suffering, appreciate one’s abilities, a disregard for material things, maximizing today, reordering priorities and exiting from unsatisfying relationships.
This last one is the tricky one. It shows my part in the divorce, and I agree with what I read about other people in my situation. When I read the experience of one woman, I was shocked to see myself in her words. This list also points forward for me, and what I read also made me think so much about plants and gardening—funny how that always seems to happen. I am sure that many of you out there already understand this too in your own lives.
Plants might still make me a teeny tiny bit ill with allergy or an immune response but there is no way I am ever leaving the garden again. All roads seem to lead right back to plants in my life and that’s just the way it’s going to be…

Things Fall Apart, Rereading the Garden

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Our willow arbor is beginning to fall apart.
I was introduced to the book Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe many years ago when I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College. Surprisingly, the book was not assigned, but instead, it was recommended to me by my boyfriend at the time, my first serious boyfriend, someone who’d lived in Nigeria for several years with his family and had greatly admired the book. Believe it or not, I often think of this book when I consider my garden.
In summary, the book examines the life of one African man as his traditional tribal culture rubs up against the culture of white Europeans and Christianity in his realm. The events that occur become increasingly more painful for the reader to read as the story progresses, and in the end, you are there, on the stage with them, confronted. Few books have ever left me so radically changed.
Things Fall Apart has stuck with me for many years, and I return to it often, especially whenever I feel stuck between conflicting realities. Let’s say radically so. Often, nowadays, I stand between the world of the healthy and the world of the ill and as much as you may believe these two places are the same, they are not. If you are healthy you can physically work and earn money or else take care of things like your health and possessions. If you are currently unemployed, that is not even close to being the same as unemployable. If you are ill you struggle with money, time, personal expectations you’ve placed on yourself, schedules and then there is always that nagging responsibility you feel to lessen the stress for those who care for you.
We all have to put on a productive happy mask, but what lies beneath it is always what matters most because beneath the mask and its design is what we call its integrity. That’s what makes some books great, while others miss the mark. It’s the unseen emotive element in design—and it exists even in garden design. Not surprisingly the designs with the most integrity are also those which inspire us the most, that’s why we say great works have soul. They live and breathe apart from us. It’s for this reason Dr. Frankenstein, like so may others, created his monster. Unlike them, I am not a literalist, or for that matter, a copyist.
When it comes to our garden, I am often asked what style it is, and up until right now, I haven’t really had an answer. It wears no mask, at least not one that fits into any traditional category—and we like it that way. When we get around to affixing a mask to it, I will let you know, but until then, I think I may begin to tell inquisitors that it is in the Style of Illness.

Thoughts on My Own Personal Garden Therapy Program and Treatment Plan During Crisis

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Warning: This is a post about a crisis—not an emergency—and its subject matter concerns living with an illness more than living with plants; but the conclusion will be that no matter what, if you live with an ongoing illness that causes crises (or whatever it is in your case), even when you are a wreck, and you don’t really care as much about your plants as you usually do (or whatever it is for you), that’s ok. So don’t let me—or this post of mine—get you down…I am doing just fine.
Mt. Konocti as seen from Walker Ridge Road in Lake County, CA. If I hadn’t walked up that peak on the left, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this post right now. Do I regret the steep walk uphill? Uhm, HELL NO! I already want to do it again, but with better attention paid to the additional necessary precautions in order to prevent more heath scares.
For some time I’ve been trying to locate and define the line I cross when illness makes my life so difficult that the subjects of gardening and plants cannot immediately resuscitate me. Then, suddenly last week—but maybe it wasn’t that unexpected–I found that line again, and Thud! I was knocked out fair and square by the indwelling opponent I hadn’t really been keeping an eye on recently.
Last week my larynx nearly closed and it was terrifying. Since it had happened in the past I knew what it was and what to do, but I was home alone and terrified. For many with Hereditary Angioedema, this is our worst nightmare and up until only recently, this is how many people died from this disease. What many physicians still do not understand is that this is not an allergic swelling and that what we actually need is not corticosteroids or antihistimines but instead, fresh frozen plasma, or sometimes even more expensive treatments.
That night I faced a difficult decision and worse still was that I was alone. I could stay home and use the old treatment of anabolic steroids, hoping that it would help my body produce more of the C1 complement factor I needed in my blood, or else I could run the risk that my own hospital might actually deny my treatment in the emergency room. Being without my handy advocate, I chose not to attempt to fight the system that evening, and overall, that made me really angry. No one should have to put off potentially lifesaving treatment because they don’t want to argue with an emergency room doctor. You heard me correctly, and yes, this probably does not make sense.
Luckily, the old anabolic treatment kind of worked. I stayed up all night just in case, making sure that the swelling didn’t worsen or spread. If it had, I was committed to calling 911, so I wasn’t being too unreasonable.
Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Garden booty from my recent road trip to California.

This experience reminded me that I’ve not yet won the recognition of a diagnosis I’ve lived with for almost 10 years from my own medical insurer, and that’s solely due to the fact of its potential expense. I live knowing that I cannot get the help I need because the quality of my life does not matter as much as their Bottom Line. To say that this is a heavy weight to carry on my back is an understatement. Unbelievable still is that my interest in plants and gardens could paper over the indignity of the healthcare nightmare I am so sick of living.

Many other patients already qualify for brand new expensive treatments that our large advocacy group fought hard for, but as of right now, I still do not qualify. There are several Types of HAE and I have now fallen into the Type III category that’s not only a catchall, but it’s also the least understood group and is currently still more theoretical. So, I wait, and if a study comes up and they need me, I will go, but until then, on paper, my own insurer will not accept the diagnosis. Scientifically, statistically, mathematically, symptomatically, they will only treat me in an emergency room based upon the symptoms as they are observed. To treat me with plasma would open up the door to my petitioning and potentially suing them in order to get special new treatments. This is sick. It is a sick system.
Each year my doctor writes a new letter describing why I need a treatment and why her diagnosis does not fit their criteria. Going to your insurance company repeatedly to ask for help, while being repeatedly denied, is really quite humbling. Even though I am basically too sick to work full-time, I am not ill enough. If I could get treatment, I could actually have some kind of life again. Instead, I am told no, and then am instructed to stick with the old treatment until more research has been completed. I think this round I will dig deeper. I might even fight back.
At least last week I knew exactly what I have, and although it is mysterious, I was informed enough to understand what it was and I can now see how I’d created the perfect storm for a health crisis during my trip to California. When I returned home and noticed I was physically shaking a lot, I knew something was going to happen but I was hoping it wasn’t going to involve my throat.
In the past my doctors and I had discussed a way to try again with the committee and had created a plan to re-petition but it was a long shot. At that time, I gave up because I couldn’t take any more, but I am ready now—even if it means having to make myself sick again.
Last week’s experience was a tipping point in my life. Seeing massive old growth native Californian oak trees has inspired me to want to see more and I cannot do so unless I seek the medical attention I need to prevent attacks like the one I had. Walking around staring at plants in the wilderness felt more normal to me than anything I’ve felt in ages. For a time, I felt free.
Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius. One of the blooms used in some arrangements I’ve been making this past week.
Luckily, while everything else has recently been a struggle, I have somehow successfully kept up with a daily Ikebana post on the other blog. After weeks of arrangements, I am really satisfied with the piece “Trapped” because it beautifully showed how I was feeling. What it made me realize too was that I needed to write this post. What’s important right now is my own personal growth and rebuilding, the plants that have papered over my frustration can rest a bit, and I will tend to that garden I have inside, just as we all do, and what’s left of the garden and plants I’ve neglected this year can come along with me and we’ll go at it again. Differently.
I don’t want the plants to be papering over anything anymore.
The tide has turned. My weight has shifted. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe.
“My blog will always be primarily about gardening, and my love of seeds and growing 
oddball ornamental plants from seed, but today, I wanted to write an illness post because 
if if weren’t for my rare hereditary blood disease, I doubt I ever would have ended up 
here and I would have been doing something else.” 
One of our hummingbirds striking its best Ikebana pose…