Wordless Wednesday: Sunny Times in the Back Garden

Impatiens tinctoria with Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’.
Mona the Cat under her hammock shade canopy.
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’. Yes, we can grow it in the ground.
Adiantum peruvianum.
Some of my pole apples (Malus).
Begonia boliviensis.
Clematis heracleifolia. 
Acquired as Graptopetalum paraguayense.
Coleus and Begonia in planters. I grew the Begonia plants from seed I bought last fall on sale.

Behold! An Artist’s Studio has Grown in the Garden


For the last month I’ve been working very hard to make this studio possible for a good friend of mine. Years ago when I first moved into this house I’d wanted this space very badly to be a writing studio. After I went through that phase, I’d hoped to clean it out and use it for my Etsy businesses, but like many things in life, it just didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped.

I can say now (with complete certainty) that cleaning out that space taught me a great deal about myself and my divorce. In each and every object I could see and feel a memory or two and I’d find myself taking mental steps backwards, revisiting these memories, going deeper into my former life, and this allowed me to review repeatedly both my own unhappiness and the many arguments which had occurred.
This was an incredible experience to say the least, and in a strange way, I’m very happy it took place.
Mona—the youngest of the 3 black cats—trying her hardest to remain as feral as possible until she can no longer take the wet cold. At that point she’ll move into the basement to remain toasty warm all winter.
The garage/studio is now free of all of those objects and I’m free of their bad memories. The process truly had me working through some intense emotions and for weeks I was physically exhausted by that process. I’m finished with that for now—except for some ongoing trash removal—but otherwise, I’ve found a great deal of closure.

Begonia hemsleyana from Cistus Nursery.

For the first time in months, I finally feel like I’m getting closer to my new life and this is an exciting time for me. I’ve turned the corner and have finally moved past the chaos and am back outside again in the garden.

Rhododendron sinogrande amongst little friends.
I enter there and find that my garden sanctuary is now covered in mysterious autumn mists with a sprinkling of yellow and red leaves that are lifted and spun around by the crisp, sharp winds that punctuate the rays of tilted October sunbeams.

.Aspidistra elatior.

Often these brisk breezes take me completely by surprise—especially when I am somewhere in the shade.

Great creeping Coleus that I hope to overwinter indoors as a houseplant. Why not!

It has always amazed me how differently I feel about the shade at this time of the year. Whereas it was my friend just a few weeks ago, now it’s become the dark alley I don’t want to be caught in for fear of some unknown impending danger. (OK, for me that might just be some foot cramps and purple fingers but those can be at least a tiny bit irritating.)

Hardy Cylamen.

During the last few weeks of summer I allowed myself to fully enjoy my back garden with many friends—both new and old. I’d never done this before and will always remember the late night conversations drinking wine beneath the stars. Like many other gardeners I’d made the space to be lived in, to be enjoyed, to laugh in, and to grow in—that finally happened for me, so now, as I move on (and possibly away from here), I can do so knowing I grew in this place.

That is what is important to me. I grew. They grew. My friends and I all grew together. It may take a village to raise a child, but I think that growing together as a group of individuals makes something much more vibrant and alive—much like a natural ecosystem. We all have our part to play and are necessary to one another.
I grew as a woman and as a person in my garden this year and it’s thanks to the plants I planted which supported us all as people searching out in the dark for meaning and substance.


Soon I will be posting more about the houseplants as they move indoors again.

As always, I’m returning more and more to my peacock sense of fashion.

Virginia Creeper, (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

And this peacock gardener is enjoying the riot of autumn colors before they’re gone. Sure, not everyone is a huge fan of Virginia Creeper but it does provide the most amazing fireworks-like finale in the garden.

I often sit out in the cold now with the little cat and she takes it all in with me.

The hummingbirds talk to us, and I am happy to have them since they also look at me through the back window in my music/plant/writing room on the mornings when I sit down to write.

More on my own creative indoor studio next time…

(And yes, more to come on indoor plant labor-i-tories soon!)

Preparing the Annuals for Fall and Winter

As the nights continue to cool, I know that the garden will have to adapt soon to its fall and winter movements. The willow arbor will lose its leaves, and like many of the other tree and shrubs, I will admire its bones for awhile. It is also time to begin considering the fates of many of my annuals. This is a job I never like much.
Unknown Begonia.

The Begonia cuttings I received last year in the mail from another gardener will either be repotted or I will make cuttings from them again. If I am able to save some of their seeds, I will do that too. I will miss them though, so I will also try to keep them indoors under lights if possible. This year for me really has been the year of the Begonia. (This is only one of the five different types I was sent and they all grew so beautifully.)

Unknown Coleus.
Capturing Coleus seeds can be tedious but I will make an attempt this year with all of the different ones I have and there will be many cuttings of them all winter in the windowsills in the kitchen. Some can also be kept as a houseplants, and I may do that again this year if I have the space.
Boston Fern, Nephrolepis exaltata.

When the houseplants all begin to move back indoors the house seems to get smaller and smaller. That’s when I really have to begin making decisions that are difficult. It’s a bit like being the queen in Alice in Wonderland and I feel like I have to say “Off with their heads!” ad infinitum.

Fuchsia ‘Swingtime’.

It will be off with their heads for a few of these gals this year, but at least they will go into the flower press. Up until now I have been pretty bad at saving Fuchsia plants over the winter, but I think this year I will make an attempt after pressing the blooms.

Unknown Petunia.

These fancy hybrid Petunias grown from seed will have to hit that big compost pile in the sky. You can’t save them since in this case there are no seeds to be saved.

Dark leaved white Begonia semperflorens and a Polka Dot Plant Hypoestes phyllostachya.

These two will survive the winter by having their seeds stored. I know for a fact that both are viable and I am happy to grow them again next year.

Impatiens glandulifera candida.

Impatiens have been a lot of fun too this year—even the dangerous ones. This is the white version of a very aggressive re-seeder that is no longer welcome in the Pacific Northwest. I am not sure if you’ve ever met one of these Touch-Me-Nots but if you have, you’ll know why they are so dangerous. When their seedheads are ripe, the pod holding them explodes and the seeds go flying in every direction. If you happen to be collecting them, you have to grab the pod quickly and let it unfurl in your hand. It kind of tickles so it is fun to do. I’ve been playing with these for the last few weeks. Saving their seeds is more sporting than others and I like the challenge.

So as summer begins to turn into fall, this year, I vow to appreciate my perennials more. I also vow to collect every single last seed from every annual I’m able to collect from…

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Four, The Fern House


The Fern House in the Volunteer Park Conservatory is probably my favorite House, but that is first and foremost due to the fact I am such a plant nerd and this area holds a super special plant right now. It is probably the rarest plant I have ever seen. Now I will share it with you too. It is a coffee relative from Chiapas, Mexico and it has the kind of story I swoon over.

Hard to believe, but a chance encounter between a population of Deppea splendens, and a man named Dennis Breedlove, led to the plant’s survival. In 1981 Breedlove collected seeds of this plant in the mountains of Chiapas where the only known population lived. He sent out seeds to different botanical gardens, and the seeds were grown. In 1986, he returned to the same place in Mexico only to discover the entire area had been tilled under and the plants were gone. It is now considered extinct in the wild but you can find specimens in botanical gardens.

I dug around for the name tag for this draping Coleus, but I could not find one. It reminded me though how not long ago I’d sought some out. Draping Coleus could make a great houseplant in the right place. I’d better get back on that so that next summer I can have amazing drapers.

Chinese Glory Bower, or Clerodendrum chinense, is new to me, but it sure made a great impression with its large leaves and tissue-like multi-peteled blooms.

Angel’s Trumpets scare me because I know they are poisonous to cats, but I love them when my cats are not around. Cats and plants are a funny thing though because I know for a fact I have other poisonous plants but I truly have found that if you offer the felines plenty of the plants they like, they tend to turn their noses up at the others. (This is Brugmansia versicolor ‘Ecuador Pink’.)

Ah, the rest of the Fern House was amazing too. So many of these plants are often offered as houseplants and so often I fall for them.

The laminated placard below explains how ariel roots function. Makes you feel bad for stuffing all of that into a pot and not allowing it to take over an entire bathroom.

At this point in the Fern House I let go of my fact checking.

I knew this was a Passion Vine though.

The ant plant is nice, but I wonder how it survives next to its flashy neighbor. Nepenthes is never a plant you want to be near—especially if you’re an insect who cannot resist it. BEWARE.

This sundew lives by the little pool seen earlier with the ariel roots. It’s a Drosera dichotoma ‘Giant’. I would love to see these in the wild someday. Until then I will rest here beside the pool.

Of course the collection had to contain an Australian tree fern!
An Aristolochia had to be here too.
Feast your eyes as I did!
The view from the final room, looking back at where we just toured, is really verdant. Hey, I like green and I bet if you’re reading this, so do you!

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part One, The Seasonal Display House

There is no denying that I had a wonderful time this past week up in Seattle. I could go on and on about all the reasons it was so wonderful, but I’d rather now right now. As wonderful as the whole experience was, it was not the kind of vacation that allowed me to rest and I am seriously paying heavily for that right now with my health. If it hadn’t been the fling, it would have been something else, so I am not complaining.
I did the drive back to Portland solo and this allowed me to see some other gardens before I left town. This may seem like a strange idea, but in this case, I’d planned to visit places I usually frequent. I just didn’t want to visit them with anyone who was paying attention to time.
The Volunteer Park Conservatory is a favorite place of mine to visit. Like the other two historic Victorian glasshouses open to the public on the West Coast, no matter what time of year you’re there visiting, it is always amazing. First considered in 1893, the main building was not completed until 1912. Inside there are five main houses: Bromelaid, Palm, Fern, Seasonal Display and Cactus. I am doing each separately so you can see all the pretty pictures.

The first house you actually enter into from the front door is the Palm House. This is a beautiful view from the Seasonal Display House looking back at it. During this trip I kind of rushed into this room first because a seniors group of Japanese-Americans came in for a walk and I wanted to be sure to give them enough space to get around me.

This house had a lot of annuals mixed in with sturdy perennials. The foundation plantings really consist of this large Yucca and a Sansevieria Collection.

The Yucca gigante is very impressive and while the group of senior citizens walked through the room one of the women remarked to a nurse, “Wow, that’s really old. Old like us!” The younger woman could then be heard giggling as the group walked off together. I thought it was kind of funny too.

Low at the bottom you can see a really nice Sansevieria with a lot of white stripes. I guess it’s a Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’. Time to put that on my fall/winter plant shopping list.

It’s an understatement to say that these groupings are impressive. They are overwhelmingly breathtaking and I felt honored to spend some quiet time with them as though we were attending plant church together.

So before I overwhelm you, I will leave you a taste for what beacons as you reach the Cactus House.

Awe! Those menacingly attractive little guys look a lot like buddies to me. Don’t you think so too?

Volunteer Park Conservatory

Entertaining from the Garden (and the Heart) with the Hands and the Head


Whenever my husband drives up from California, I make plans with as many people as I can because when he was a cook—and then a chef—this was entirely impossible. Now that we care for foster children, and he works out of state at a vineyard in California, this becomes even more of a challenge at times. It seems we are getting a feel for it though and yesterday we had a smashing success when I invited over an old Italian friend from college who I hadn’t seen in years!

The most difficult part for me is often just letting go of the menu completely. I want to do this, and I need to do this, and I can trust my husband completely, but it can be a difficult dance because it begins and ends quickly. This time, it went something like this, “Italian brunch to me means: frittata, leftover pasta from the night before, fruit and lots of veggies.” We planned to go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and that was the end of it. I turned to crafting with the foster respite and cleaning the house while additionally getting ready for our impending trip to California.

The Farmer’s Market was amazing and I just pointed at a few green items and I honestly had no idea what the plan was and I didn’t ask. The chef likes some mystery.

Yesterday, before our guest arrived, I looked around in the garden for some flowers to harvest for the table. I knew we had what I refer to as “bread and butter” Dutch irises in the Hell Strip by the street so I picked one of them first. It went swimmingly from there: long-spurred Aquilegia, Aucuba Gold Dust, and then some orange Buddleja globosa for some umph!

Then our foster respite asked me if I was going to use the other cool black Japanese vase and I thought about what to add to it. The Green Rose Rosa viridiflora immediately dove into the vase with a low wrap of Coleus and I didn’t even have to think about it.
Our guest arrived, and with his help, our table was lovingly set reminding me in so many ways of the rituals done almost without thought but with great reverence during the Mass. Again, I am not a seriously devout Catholic nowadays, but I will always be Catholic by culture and I am proud of that as an Italian-American.

We brunched upon a spring beet salad with fresh greens and a horseradish and walnut oil dressing, a spring asparagus frittata with a splash of white truffle oil, dragonfruit, honeydew melon, and mango, and lastly, there was a peanut soup with spring peas and a splash of whipped coconut cream. (This last course was added due to gluten and dairy intolerances and it was a perfect surprise!)

In addition to the fruit, our guest also brought carnations and I immediately thought of something I had read last week about the American singer Katy Perry. How could she demand that there be no carnations in her trailer? Sure we all have issues with some kind of flower for some kind of personal reason, but these little dolls were just so cute yesterday I just adored them. (These are for you Katy Perry XOXO.)
In less than a day, we will be departing for another whirlwind plant and garden tour from Portland, to the Bay Area of San Francisco, and then back again along the southern Oregon Coast. This time there will be more gardens, more plants, and who knows what kind of shenanigans!
Hopefully I will not be soaking wet and shivering like I was last time when I did this about two months ago. Our rain totals so far this year are seriously off the charts. ¡Gracias La Niña! Now pleeeeaaaaase go away!

Marin County Open Gardens 2011