The New Edible Garden Plot at Mt. Tabor Community Garden

Standard

I signed up for a plot at this Portland Community Garden site back when it was created in 2012. At that time I was placed on a waiting list and there I sat waiting year after year. Much to my surprise, just months ago, I was granted a spot and it was an exciting day when I heard the good news!

Since I’d had a plot at a different community garden location in the past I knew that it would be a lot of work. I was worried. Fresh produce is a wonderful thing to have on hand, and yet, here’s where I openly admit that the other plot ended up being abandoned by me.

I was worried I’d fail again.

Let me explain…

This blog began in December 2007,  not long after I’d started to recover from a fall I’d had down the basement stairs at my house. It’s kind of incredible for me to think that it’s 2017 and I’m still struggling with the effects from that accident, but it’s true.

For the last decade I’ve been dealing with nerve damage and chronic pain. I originally created this blog as a kind of pain relief and pain management therapy. The fact that I even attempt to garden is sort of goofy since I’ve sustained damage to both the cervical and lumbar regions of my spine. (If you don’t already know I had back surgery 3 years ago to correct damage done during a second fall.)

Yet, the trouble caused by my first fall has taken longer to correct. For the last two months I’ve been in physical therapy and soon I will be getting the first MRI to look more deeply into my lower back. Things have not improved. I’ve walked the long and painful plank to this point. In the coming weeks I will be told if additional surgical intervention will be necessary and I already know that I will be in physical therapy for a long time. (I’m also dealing with damage done to my hip from the impact sustained when I hit the wooden steps.)

So why oh why did I want to get another community garden plot!?! Shouldn’t I be taking it easy?

I said “yes” to the plot because I don’t believe in a magical future when everything will feel better. Deep down I believe in trying again, and again. I believe in living my life no matter what comes my way.

Nowadays I’m remarried and my husband lives and works here (and not in another state) so I have more help. I also have more friends and they’ve become an important and necessary network of support as I live with my chronic health issues. (Many of them I met through writing a blog and because I’m a garden blogger.) They’re my community now, my people, my group, and I’m devoted to helping them in any way that I’m able to do so. They aren’t out there actually toiling with me, but they support my efforts, and that helps me feel embraced and lifted up. We all need that in our lives. Just as we build supports for our vines, our veggies, and our blooms, we can do this with (and for) other people.

During my time working as a caregiver—before I “retired” recently—I often worked with hospice clients. I also said “yes” because of them. It will be messy, imperfect, crops will fail, and it might even get ugly at some point. I promise to share those failures with you—along with the successes! My Sicilian family took great pride in their perfect produce and I will try to do my best, but it will take work, experience, and time. I’m living my life though, making memories, taking chances, and I hope to reach out to even more folks.

Even if I need surgical intervention, this garden is going to grow.

 

 

HPSO and the Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour Preview (August 29)

Standard

This morning fellow garden bloggers and I were invited to visit 3 of the gardens that will be included in the HPSO and the Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour. The event will take place next weekend (Saturday, August 29th) and proceeds will be split between the HPSO and the GC.

Years ago I participated as a volunteer for the Garden Conservancy at one of these events and ever since then I’ve wanted to help out again so I was really excited to be given the opportunity to tour today so that I could share the event with you here.

Following are some photos and impressions of what visitors can expect to see. I hope you sign up and can help to make the event a big success! (Only 3 of the 5 gardens were open to us for this, so I’m not going to be able to describe them all to you, but this is what we did see.)

The Lead Garden: Winchester Place Garden

(Zachary Baker & Leon Livengood)

This is the garden with Southern charm and a focus on detail. I think it’s safe to say that the theme was carried well throughout and while fairly formal, it’s still very welcoming and cozy. I could easily have lounged around sipping on my preferred drink of gin & tonic all day if I’d been allowed to do so. I still cannot carry off Southern charm but I’m not going to stop trying. Just don’t let me get all Truman Capote if you know what I mean. This lady does have her limits.

IMG_5164

Having added my own water feature this month, I was charmed by this one. They really can set the stage for your garden and for some are just the right element. This one gave off plenty of noise and it fit perfectly in its space. Being surrounded by Buxus was more than ok with me too. Since I enjoy Italian gardens so much, it will come as no surprise that I am a fan of boxwood and what it can accomplish in a garden setting. (There even had a mini hedge around a tree in a pot: brilliant.)

IMG_3401

A Tagetes and its friend.

All of the gardens were floriferous today. This one no more or no less than the others. Despite the heat we’ve had and the horrible smoke were experiencing from forest fires taking place in our region, the flowers were out and today they were smiling and for a time I was smiling along with them.

IMG_3399

Espaliered Camellia, Pachysandra ground cover, and statuary that’s on loan from a friend.

In addition to the spot-on brick walkway, there were many other fine details in this garden that transported me from where we were and I really think they did an excellent design job.
IMG_3415

The planters on pedestals really did the trick—and the iron fencing and gate too.IMG_3413

Plant combos everywhere were at their best today. IMG_3419

As we left my group paused at this unusual Japanese maple in the front yard. We were told by the owners that it happily grows out straight and flat with little training.

IMG_3395

Lastly, the lovely large maple tree in the front yard is something I overlooked in my intro. Although it’s not a mighty Southern Oak or Magnolia it does a great job of giving off a similar impression.

The Mitchell Garden

(Christine & James Mitchell)

IMG_3363

Our second stop is a lovely garden on a corner lot with a large grove of Doug firs at its back. When you drive up, the first thing you notice are the lovely conifers.

IMG_5156

But don’t let that first look fool you, there is color here—lots of color and blooms. They’re all very well choreographed as the mixed beds blend and grow together and as one area transitions into another. IMG_5160

Out back there is even an area for Agave and their friends. Surrounded by other lush foliage plants you won’t be fooled into believing that this is a desert. The transition is done well with a seating area and walkway. IMG_5154

This garden for me was lush and textural. Additionally, there was plenty of open space and seating areas for family. IMG_3392

I very much enjoyed the texture and color though with attractive plant combinations. IMG_3383

Simplicity was there too so your eyes could breathe. IMG_3371

And the Cleome in the front garden—it was my eye candy today.

The Prewitt Garden

(Nancy & Gordon Prewitt)

IMG_3353

The third garden has been lovingly tended to by a husband and wife for many years. As a matter of fact, they’ve been gardening together since their relationship began and I can think of nothing more romantic.

IMG_3355

Cornus sanguinea ‘Compressa’.

Like the house I grew up in, this family garden has been through many changes over the years. This is a hands-on place.

IMG_3331

The owner made this table after getting a piece of plate glass from a friend. IMG_3338

Along a fence I found this old succulent project. It’s clear that the owners are always adding new things and experiment with new ideas and plants. This place is crafty and I liked it a lot. IMG_5144

The edible area was large. Honestly, all of the gardens were large, but this lot had a very large area with raised beds dedicated almost exclusively to berries and vegetables.IMG_3340

My favorite bed was the asparagus bed. It’s the largest I’ve ever seen and it gave me asparagus envy.

IMG_3332

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’.

With a little of that here and a little of that there this garden was a pleasure to relax in and it too felt like a place where family could gather and where a gardener (or gardeners) could find pleasure in their gardening tasks no matter what the season.

•••••

I hope this was a decent introduction to what I hope will end up being a lovely day next weekend! If you go, come back and tell me about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and thanks again to the garden owners who let our group in a week early.

Cardoons: An Edible Ornamental

Standard

Joe, the Cardoon, and I
P1020320

Nearly 10 years ago I grew two lovely cardoon (Cynara cardunculusplants here at the house. An easy plant to grow from seed, I jokingly referred to it them as ‘Cardoonicus Maximus’ due to their imposing stature. Though clearly not at all the proper technical name for the plant, it stuck. If ever you’ve seen one of these in person, you’ll know they’re very dramatic. Many strangers would approach me when I was out front gardening to ask about them. I was proud.

But few ever asked why I’d grown them…

You see, back then, one of Grandpa Sam’s cousins was still alive. Like my grandfather, Joe had been the son of Sicilian immigrants. While visiting him one day at a nearby nursing home, we started to talk about the Sicilian dishes my family used to make and the unusual vegetables they’d grow for special dishes. Joe told me that only the old guys grew these plants and that he’d always thought they tasted good.

He added that he’d noticed gardens in SE Portland where cardoons had been planted, but that the cardoons were clearly not being grown to be eaten. He thought that was really funny. I’d noticed them too, and thought the plants were pretty, so I asked him if he’d like for me to grow some for him. We were both really excited about the arrangement so it was off to the garden I went!

Sadly, Joe did not live long enough to share those first cardoons with our family, so now whenever I see them, it makes me kind of sad. Eating those first few batches was kind of emotional without him.

Growing  CardoonsP1020322

Growing cardoons is quite easy since they are technically thistles.

Need I say more? 

They like sun, can tolerate poor soil, and don’t need a lot of water. Their spines hurt though and in order to prepare them to be eaten their centers need to be blanched. This means tying the plants up and heaping soil around their base.

In my climate (zone 8) they are an edible perennial. (We ate ours for three seasons then tore out the plants due to their size.)

I’ve found that they are very easily grown from seed. If you can grow artichokes, you can grow cardoons.

Cooking the CardoonsIMG_8146

Last winter—while giving a talk about seed starting at Drake’s Garden Store—the co-host of a local garden-themed TV show was in the audience and asked me if I’d cook them on the show. (I was discussing growing them from seed—go figure.)

“Of course,” I blurted out!

So here we are today. Since I didn’t grow the plants this season I had to find a local purveyor and was lucky enough to find them courtesy of Viridian Farms. We’re blessed with great local growers and I can’t wait to cook up more of their produce. They have an amazing selection of hard-to-find items.

(If you’re interested in seeing me in the Garden Time episode you can find it by clicking here. I’m in the last segment with my friend William and I have to say the experience was wonderful.)

As for the recipe I used, here it is!

Cardoons in Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Angelo Pellegrini’s recipe in his book The Unprejudiced Palate)

Ingredients

• 1 head of fresh cardoons (remove the thickest outer stalks)

• 3-4 slices of bacon, 1/4 lb. lean salt pork, cut into pieces

• 1 large clove of garlic, minced

• 1 medium onion, minced

• 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped

• 1 sprig of marjoram, minced

• 1 cup of tomatoes, canned and diced

• 1 cup of stock, chicken or vegetable

• 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs

• salt and pepper to taste

• 2 lemons or 1/2 cup lemon juice

Remove the hardened outer stalks of the cardoon and use the inner portion of the plant for this recipe. Prepare the cardoon stalks one at a time with a knife and/or peeler and when finished, place each piece into a bowl of water acidified with lemon juice.

To prepare the cardoons, remove the tough outer ribs on each stalk with a knife or peeler. Then scape the inner portion to remove some of the fuzziness. (This can be done with a small knife.) Slice each stalk into 2- to 3-inch pieces and toss into the large bowl of lemon water. After the cardoons are all prepared, toss them into a large pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt to scald them. Boil for several minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a large pan cook the bacon or pork pieces for several minutes until browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Toss in the parsley and marjoram and cook slowly until the onions are done. Add the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 15 minutes. At this point add the drained cardoons and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes longer making sure to turn the cardoons often. They will be ready when the cardoons are tender.

A few minutes before serving, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese and stir.

If you’d like to make the dish more fancy drizzle lightly with truffle oil. The dish also goes very well with a roasted chicken or other simple main dish.

(If you’d like to learn more about pioneering food and garden writer Angelo Pellegrini find out more by clicking here.)

Footnote: Impressing your Friends with the Cardoon

IMG_7896

Walking through the farmer’s market with one of these slung over your shoulder will make other shoppers jealous. I can’t tell you how many men pointed and wanted whatever it was my husband had because it was big and looked cool.

IMG_7902

Leaving a ‘Great White’ Cardoon on your front porch will impress your dinner guests and gardening buddies.

(To learn more about the pioneering food and edible gardening author Angelo M. Pellegrini, click this link for more information: Pellegrini Foundation )

A Dozen Garden Moments from the Summer of 2014

Standard

1) Two of my favorite pieces of concrete garden decor were stolen off of my front porch. Boo!

TakenFromPorch2) I watched Mona the Cat flourish after the fence went into the back garden.

MonaOnTheFence3) Yes, you heard me correctly, a fence went into the back garden.

IMG_69464) I learned on the 4th of July that the pink blossoms of the Feijoa sellowiana taste a lot like fruity marshmallows. Yum.

IMG_6966

5) Seeds I’d tossed out into the garden finally bloomed. I was elated to see this Meconopsis cambrica ‘Flore Pleno’. Well hello there gorgeous!IMG_73956) The Garden Bloggers Fling went down in Portland and it was great to spend time with old and new friends. Although I was still exhausted from back surgery, I had a wonderful time. (Seen here on the far left is Laura of Gravy Lessons and on the right is Jennifer of Rainy Day Gardener.

securedownload7) It was a blast to jump on my bike to attend the first annual Montavilla Gardens Tour in the next neighborhood over from mine.

IMG_76118) While attending a monthly meetup group for Italian language speakers my husband and I were pleased to discover this fantastic giardinetto.

IMG_75379) I also found a lot of peace and comfort is this slightly more formal edible garden designed by the garden designer and author Vanessa Gardner Nagel. (She blogs over at Garden Chirps.)

IMG_784310) Recently I’ve been acting as a caregiver to my eldest cat, Macavity. She’s had a rough time these past few weeks.

IMG_817011) Filming a brief segment on cooking cardoons for the local show Garden Time was a blast. I’d never dreamed of doing anything like that and there will be more on that experience here soon. (The piece is set to air on October 4th.)

IMG_814912) Best Espelette pepper harvest ever.

IMG_7973

Now bring on my Pacific Northwest rain! I’m ready for it to pour and my skin is dry, thirsty, and tired.

Hope you had a great summer too!

Happy Autumn!

Sicily: Part Two (Palermo and some of Ancient Sicily)

Standard
The chronology of our Sicily trip is a bit out of order in these two posts but I’m trying to remain focused on a few themes related to gardening and the green spirit. “Buon divertimento!”
Cucuzza squash in the Mercato di Capo in Palermo.

We’d planned to drive into Palermo twice during our time in Sicily but a food poisoning incident put an end to that plan two days before we were scheduled to fly to Rome. What’s worse is that I’d intended to spend that last day at the botanical garden but all I could do was vow to return. What’s a girl to do? Seriously.

This meant that we had to leave the island with only a few memories of the chaotic città di Palermo, but at least we saw the catacombs and il Mercato di Capo. My other hope all along had been to visit a market in Palermo and somehow we landed at one of the largest quite by accident.

Ok, maybe it was fate after all, a big hug from my Sicilian family from beyond the grave…

My great-grandpa Frank Amato with a cucuzza he grew in his garden in SE Portland. Since it’s much colder here in Oregon than in Sicily I know this was a triumph for him. I’m sure this photo was taken to always remember this accomplishment.

All I could think about that day in Palermo was my family. Everything I saw as I looked around brought color and life back into the black & white photos I’d grown up seeing. This awakening of snapshots invigorated me and although I walked beside my husband, I knew then as I know now that this experience was my own and I embraced every awkward moment of it. (Honestly, he’d bought a platter of pastries and was reliving his own Italian childhood as we walked through the market that day.) There we were walking together reliving our own memories yet his were real and mine were only the half-imagined stuff of stories, old photos, and dreams mixed with raw emotions. I wanted so badly to be a little girl walking beside my great-uncle Charlie (holding his hand), or to be with his best-friend, cousin Joe.

It felt strange to be in Sicily alone.

Il Mercato di Capo.

Yet, that was the beginning of an ongoing chain of epiphanies for me as I walked through the market.

Any American with a strong tie to another culture can make choices—either cut their ties and let the past remain the past or inject new life into it. I’ve always straddled my Italian-American identity and dealing with being bi-cultural in Oregon in the 1980s was not easy. Countless times Americans have told me I wasn’t Italian enough to be Italian and they were wrong. Children should never have to grow up defending their identity. They have no idea how painful and damaging those words were to me.

Besides, Italians don’t quantify their identity, they qualify it. That’s why I have a blood right (jus sanguinis) entitling me to Italian citizenship. I’ve been given that choice by my bloodline. In Italy it doesn’t matter how much Italian blood you possess, what matters is what you do with the heritage that’s been passed on to you through birth.

As a girl I’d looked at photos with family members and I’d been told that these were a part of who I was and of my identity but I know now the damage that can do over time. I was always confused because those photos weren’t of my life in the 1980s with a mother who wasn’t in the least bit Sicilian and with two brothers who in no way cared about any of this.

We’re the American generation that really is able to choose to be called American but I’m the only one of my siblings who’s chosen to remain hyphenated. This is what happens in bi-cultural and bi-racial families. Individuals must be allowed to decide who and what they’re going to be and the family fabric will change.

I wish I had siblings like me, but I don’t, and honestly, we’re not that close. For me it’s always felt like a cultural rift or divide but it’s difficult to say.

Instead of dwelling, I’ve lived my own independent life and have chosen to remain Italian through my marriages and I’m pleased now to have an Italian mother-in-law. It’s the way my life is, has been, and will be. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I love to cook and garden. I have an undying love for produce and fresh food. And when I wake up I drink my coffee and spend a lot of time everyday thinking of making new dishes for the many friends I invite to eat at my table.

Seeing a market in Sicily one day can make all of this happen if you’re the right kind of person in need of that kind of emotional catharsis. I’ve been crying out for that experience for so long and it’s sad I had to wait for so long and travel so far but I’m a better person now.

Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

This mosaic floor depicts the bountiful harvests available on the island during the era of the Roman Empire.  Many of the orchards had been planted by the Greeks centuries before so there was already an agricultural system in place.

Leading up to that epiphany in the market we’d spent the day before driving from Termini to the Villa Romana del Casale in the interior of the island. The villa contains the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The “bikini girls” is by far the most famous mosaic work in the complex. Seeing it in person was a highlight of the trip for me. It was absolutely nothing like I had imagined. The figures are quite large and they’re more real when seeing them in person. The shading on the leg muscles was much better than I’d remembered seeing in books.

I also noticed all of the botanical bits and pieces as we walked through the entire complex. Recounting what I knew about the meaning of each plant as we looked at the mosaics was interesting to John. Although he has a Master’s degree in history, with an empasis on the Italian Renaissance, he’d never read much about ancient Rome and Italy. It was fun sharing with him.

Nowhere in Rome will you see anything quite like the Villa Romana del Casele. It’s huge and very well preserved. Walking on walkways overlooking all of the rooms and floors was a brilliant design plan too. You see so much!

It really made me long to return to my days as a student of art and landscape history. I’d once worked hard to specialize in ancient art, philosophy, and history. Using my knowledge while there though really enriched the experience for me. John left knowing a lot more about Italy’s flora and the history of it too although we both still have so much more we want to learn.

Driving several hours though the countryside, stopping in the road for a shepherd and his flock of sheep, and chatting all day with John about his impressions of the place made for a dream-like day. We still had one more stop though.

We drove for a few more hours to Agrigento, on the southern coast of Sicily. This is where you’ll find the Valle dei Templi. In addition to being a national monument in Italy, it’s also one of the best places in the world for Ancient Greek architecture.
The temples are above the valley, along a ridge. As we drove into town they were difficult to miss. The view from the road below was truly breathtaking and I was left speechless. I’ve had few spiritual moments in my life, but that afternoon was truly a spiritual pilgrimage for me.
Yes, there was an attached garden too but its gate was closed.
And it was so lovely that in the middle of the ancient Greek temples, catacombs, and necropolis you’ll find this humble home built by an Englishman by the name of Hardcastle who came to “save” the temples. I will not get onto the topic of what other Europeans have done in Italy in regards to preserving the history of the ancient and artistic heritage we all seemingly share, but I’m certainly of the opinion that this lovely eyesore should have been built somewhere else—oh, and that England should hand back the Elgin Marbles to Athens.
(I also highly recommend the novel Nike: A Romance by Nicholas Flokos. It’s a love story like no other concerning the repatriation of the Winged Victory statue in the Louvre.)
This should probably make my sentiments and opinion quite clear.
Here I am standing in front of the Temple of Concordia.
It is sad to me that John does not share my interest in the ancient world, but he has other things to buoy his interest up north and happily we ended up learning a lot from one another.
Life is a funny thing and we all need our own raison d’être as the French like to say. I think it’s important that we each find our own and respect others’.  There truly are so many options out there that make life truly worth living.

As we walked back to the car, I spotted this sign and glimpsed over to the area it was describing.

Only exhaustion at this point kept me away.

I wanted the signs to tell me more—so much more.

But my body was in no mood to make the descent.

I definitely need to study more and return refreshed and prepared to Sicily.

We drifted from that ancient universe to Palermo and then to Cefelù after several trips into Termini. The days truly all blend together now.
That evening in Cefalù I purchased seeds at this shop for my mother-in-law and myself and it was a bit like a candy store for me. All the necessary new Italian vocabulary I needed to communicate with other gardeners was there on the shelves.
(This is not vocabulary you learn in your regular Italian language course.)
Then I ate something that gave me food poisoning and the trip took a turn.

John and I after a day of bed rest due to food poisoning. Our nausea made walking difficult but we made it down to the common area at least.

Our last full day in Sicily was spent recovering from the food poisoning. John only had three bites of the aranchi rice ball that made me so sick so at least he empathized. We were both unable to move much that day so we just processed what we’d seen so far and John and I talked about what was yet to come.

Wild native Gladiolus italicus growing in the olive orchard.

I wandered around where we’d been staying to take more plant pics and after John returned to our room, I sat with the Sicilian tourists at the restaurant below our lodgings and soaked up their noise as I wrote to friends back home using the Wifi connection.

The day-trip tourists ate daily at the restaurant and then danced to loud music and talked to one another. (Yes, Sicilians love agroturismo too and they’d all paid to take a bus to artichoke country to spend time basking in the harvest.) We were largely ignored as outsiders, but that last day it changed for me.

The day before I’d heard an old man on the patio playing traditional Sicilian music with his mandolin. My heart had seriously skipped a beat. That day he was back. The tourists piled onto the buses and only he and I were on the patio. He hobbled over to me and sat down speaking Sicilian dialect as he slowly crossed the distance. Looking right into his eyes, I pieced my words together carefully.

I told him in broken Italian I understood him but did not speak well. He shifted to Italian.

I pointed at his mandolin and said to him (in broken Italian), “the music of my great-grandparents”.

He asked me if I was Sicilian. I said yes. He asked me my name. I said Amato because that’s what a Sicilian means if he’s asking about your name. He wants to know the name of your family. He asked where my family was from and I said Termini.

Cha-ching!

And that’s the key to opening up a Sicilian. He smiled a wide smile and his eyes lit up. Then he asked what my mother was and I said “American”. As is usual, he told me that was ok and then he played music for me and sang. He apologized for his playing and blamed his age. He told me he lived nearby and was widowed and alone. He walked to the restaurant when he could for the exercise.

Then we talked about Oregon. He was shocked that Sicilians so long ago had moved so far away. This was not the first time I’d heard this either. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they’d avoided other Sicilians in the United States intentionally. At least that’s what I’d been told by a relative not long before he died. We never had spoken much about it when I was a kid, but he told me because by that point it no longer mattered. What’s done is done.

The view from our bed. The doors to the room are glass but then there is a second lockable set with louvers. It’s a great way to manage the Sicilian sun and heat.

This is part of my American story and I’m proud of it. My Sicilian family thought differently and I’m happy they landed in Portland.

It’s also been said they came here for the soil. They wanted nothing more than to be able to grow vegetables in peace and to prosper beyond poverty. Unlike many other Italian emigrants, they saw success early on and their sacrifice paid off.

Last photo before leaving.

Driving through Palermo in the dark on our way to the airport I recalled having seen the bleak monument near the waterfront only days earlier dedicated to AI CADUTI NELLA LOTTA CONTRO LA MAFIA (those who’d fallen in the fight against the mafia). I thought of the judges who’d been blown up along that same road. I thought too of the brave Sicilians participating in addiopizzo. Many of them are of my generation and I know that if I lived there I too would be in their ranks.

I abhor the glorification of organized crime in any way, shape, or form. The commodification of this way of life feeds on the glorification of interpersonal violence and it’s not what Sicilian culture is about and I’m ashamed of the ignorance of those who play into these stereotypes.

Leaving Sicily that Friday morning was very difficult for me. I’d only just started watching as something inside of me had germinated and began to grow. At least whatever it was was going with me.

When the wheels of the plane lifted off, I felt an emotional tug in my gut. I did not want to leave but I left with my eyes wide open for what felt like the first time in my life.

My Garden To Do List: 2014

Standard

Happy 2014!

I hope you, your family, your pets and your plants are all thriving, alive, and well.

As for me, I’m recovering from a busy holiday season and am relaxing in bed with my two loyal felines. I can see a few trees from my back garden out the bedroom window and the weather is cool and crisp in Portland. There is sunshine mixed with some hazy fog and it’s beautiful out right now.

What a great time to be thinking about gardening.

It’s still seed shopping season so I’m continuing to dream today about the months ahead. I’m making plans for the garden.

The list so far isn’t a long list, but that’s because it’s 2014 now and I’m planning on working and traveling a lot more this year. The list must be manageable.

There will be plenty to post about and to follow again. I’m dedicated to being a garden blogger and communicator. My only hope is to expand my writing a bit more beyond the blog.

So, here’s what’s on the menu for 2014.

1: Edit. Edit. Edit. Then edit some more.
There cannot be enough said about editing. I don’t plan to make this place picture perfect—and definitely not matchy-matchy—but it will be edited. I’m eternally nothing more than a wild Bohemian at heart and my garden needs to better reflect that back to the world. Gardens are, after all, somewhat a reflection of what’s going on inside of us in a deeply aesthetic and often personally spiritual realm. That is when they’re personal gardens, and not simply designed to function as low-maintenance or move-in ready. Mine is not yet as intimate as it will be, but I’ll get there.

I also want to better define a Bohemian Garden, or maybe you might already call it an Artist’s Garden. A whole thesis could be written on this and maybe that’s what I’ll be starting this year. Who know!?!

Gardens need more categories and words. I’m beginning to realize how limiting many of the definitions can be so it will be fun to use my art criticism and aesthetic theory for some good. I honestly cannot wait.

2: Finalize a design for a fence along the back of the the garden. 
This is of the utmost importance. Anyone who knows me knows that this has been a thorn in my side for many years—pretty much ever since I moved into this house. The design challenge is upon us and I am so excited about it finally happening. Sure, I would love an 8-foot stone wall, but since that’s not going to happen, what other options are there?

3: Plant lots and lots of seeds again this winter and spring. 
Seeds have stories and a provenance. A Bohemian Garden is a Collector’s Garden, but instead of having scientifically collected data and facts, there are stories too.

4: Expand the herb garden and redevelop the kitchen garden. (We’re looking to rent community garden space again too. We have a lot of heirloom and Italian veggies we’re looking forward to growing.) 
Well, a girl has to eat right?

In all seriousness, for me, eating foods I’ve grown matters because I’m an Oregonian and an Italian-American. It is traditional for my family to eat what it grows, or else to purchase fresh produce. It’s respectable and honorable. This is my heritage and a part of who I am and where I come from. Self-sufficiency was important to my pioneering relatives. It is important to me too. I am looking forward to writing more kitchen garden and cooking posts here too now. I’ve got some skillz in that realm that I’ve seriously underemployed for many years.

Then there is the extra added value of being able to have produce you can’t buy at any grocery store or farmers’ market. That feels good. It’s like going on a major expedition to bring back something very special to share with others. I am getting hungry just thinking about the cooking plans I already have for the garden harvest of 2014.

5: Creatively redesigning some space for outdoor dining. 
Sharing a meal with a spouse, family, and/or friends is what good living is all about—especially when you grew some of it yourself. (Or caught. More on fishing some other time…)

I sound kind of Italian, but I am kind of Italian. Food is very important to me, and so is the community of sharing built around food. It is what makes a good life a great life.

6: Add a lovely European-style flower box to the front of the house and dress the place up a bit. 
The uncertainty of my time spent in this house is coming to an end. It’s going to become my home in 2014, and I’m looking forward to making it a place that brings comfort and calm, peace and pleasure to my family, friends, and most of all, to me.

2014: The Year of the Bohemian Garden.
Hope you’re looking forward to this as much as I am.
Happy 2014!

The Alaskan Honeymoon: Part One (Anchorage, AK)

Standard

We knew we’d landed in Anchorage when we saw this at the airport.

Yes, it was thrilling, but it was sad at the same time.

Rhodochiton vine in a planter outside of a hotel in Anchorage.

We landed late on Friday night and stayed in Anchorage for two nights.

Most people wouldn’t recommend this, but we were exhausted! We stayed downtown at the Hilton and had a great time.

A closeup of the vine.

We had an open air market across the street to walk to and we ate breakfast at the Snow City Cafe.

Then we visited the Anchorage Visitor Information Center.

I can’t say enough about its original “green roof”.

It very much fueled and gave fire to the pioneer blood in my veins.

The Fuchsia baskets are obviously overwintered. Look at those woody stems!

This was the beginning of the floriferousness too.

With all those extra daylight hours, the blooms are a bit different up North. I don’t know how this happens exactly, but I saw it on several occasions and I’ll continue to show you images of these amazing plants.

(Yes, I’m sure that these are well fed too.)

Some Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).

The native plants were plentiful.

Fireweed is by far the most spectacular of all during September and you’ll be seeing a lot of it as these posts progress.

This amazing shrub was really enchanting. It is native to colder northern regions but I cannot recall what it is right now. Any thoughts? I picked seeds and I know it’s in the pea family.

The Sorbus were plentiful but I’m not completely certain which ones I was seeing.

This was my honeymoon after all so I tried not to go too crazy with the plant ID.

We saw a lot of lilacs but only a few with blooms.

This one is a smaller bush variety.

I’m ashamed that my evergreen tree ID is so shabby. I’ve chosen to show you this amazing tree even though I’m not certain what it is.

Please forgive me. I promise to study.

On the way back from one of the best Japanese dinners I’ve ever had, we found these rhubarb plants being grown in the lawn of a Catholic church. (They are the plants up near the fence. Others were planted in spots on the other side of the sign too—right in the middle of the lawn.)

Makes me happy that they’re thinking about the food or lawn question too.

There was more floriferousness nearby as we walked past the mall on our way back to the hotel.

When I saw the Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) I had to smile. It’s not at all a plant I think of when I think of Alaska but I was so happy to see such a fine specimen.

Then there were the rose hips on the Rugosa roses. I just couldn’t get enough of these plants. They are all over the place and they grow so much better up North than they do down here in Oregon.

It became so clear to me right away that Alaska is not the northernmost edge of our climate, but that we are the southernmost extreme of its climate. I felt a strong kinship with the region right out of the gate.

That last night I tried on my kind of bear fur hat in the hotel gift shop—the totally silly fake kind. I thought a bit about Ms. Palin and wondered what kind of mama bear I could be if I tried. Luckily I lost my taste for politics years ago, but I remain interested at least in what politicians are doing—or NOT doing.

A very large part of me felt at home in Alaska. It reminded me of the Oregon I grew up in and the people I knew as a girl.

This was just the beginning though and so rarely am I so comfortable right away in a new place.

More to come…