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

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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.

Lithops. 

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!)

From Seeds to Seeds: Seed Harvesting and Happiness

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Happiness is not something I usually discuss publicly but today I am brimming with it. Sure, the world is currently a bit crazy—and I acknowledge and care about that—but right here at my house, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. I joke not, seriously, and I mean this both figuratively and literally.
For me, seed collecting currently feels like opening tiny gifts wrapped in crinkly sun-dried seed pod papers. Funny that after that is done, I wrap them up in cute little origami envelopes and store them until they are sold in my online store! As many of you know, Christmas shopping often begins early and as usual, I am seeing sales from early shoppers. When I hear that folks are buying seeds for someone for Christmas though it makes me so happy. These are gifts that will give back in return if properly cared for by a gardener—sometimes for years!
Milton’s Garden Menagerie (located on Etsy.com) has been a wonderful experience for a chronically ill woman who was terribly confused about how to take that next step in her life. At first I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with it and I doubted myself a great deal, but now that it has been almost 2 years and as it nears a viable business status, I think I can say I did it mostly—for the love of seeds! Saying that loud and proud makes me happy today too.
Each time I collect seeds it’s exciting no matter where I am. When I collect seeds from plants I’ve grown from seed it is even more exciting. This year, for the first time, my gardening friend down the street is letting me harvest from her garden too. Since she is 100% natural in her garden I have no problem collecting her seeds—especially when they are from plants I have sold to her at some point.
Here are plants I’ve grown from seed that I am collecting seeds from this year for my Milton’s Garden Menagerie harvest:
Tube Clematis, Clematis heracleifolia.
Variegated Honesty, Lunaria annua ‘Variegata’.
Heirloom White Single Hollyhock, Alcea rosea. 
Cardinalflower, Lobelia cardinalis.
Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
White Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ or Silene coronaria ‘Alba’. 
Maximilian’s Sunflower, Helianthus maximilianii.
Sticky Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis.
Bottlebrush Grass, Elymus hystrix.
Then there are the plants I did not grow, but from which I am able to harvest seeds from this year.
Sticky Phacelia, Phacelia viscida.
Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria.
Blue Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena.
Tall Alumroot, Heuchera chlorantha.
Lewis Flax, Linum lewisii.
Pale Corydalis, Corydalis sempervirens.
Adding to all the hectic seed collecting there are the other things too. On my most recent trip to the Seattle area I came home with this gem. It, along with many others, will be planted in the coming weeks.
Blechnum chilense.

The fern is native to China and can grow up to 6′ tall in some places. It is evergreen in my climate so I am very curious to see what it will do. It spreads by underground runners and I’ve read that it can be invasive but no word on this yet in my area. I guess I will have to see what happens and in the meantime I’ll enjoy it as much as I can while it is still docile and not a screeching teen.

And during my copious amounts of free time I will begin working with my many Douglas fir cones. I need to make some new wreaths and holiday decorations because if I continue only using wine corks, someone is seriously going to think we have a drinking problem in our home.

More happy news to come in the following week so stay tuned!

Here Comes the Rain Again

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It’s July in Oregon, and this year, we’ve had horrible weather. Typically this is our driest season and yet it continues to be anything but dry around here.

Even though the weather has not been rosy, I trekked out anyway to visit Heirloom Roses in Saint Paul, OR with a friend of mine and one of the foster kids.

Despite the horrible rain, we all had a really good time learning about roses by shopping for the ones with the characteristics we wanted the most. I looked for miniatures and super fragrant old roses for crafts and my ever-so-lovely rosewater. I just cannot get enough of the stuff for my iced tea. Last year I even made rose petal beads too and it was much easier than I ever would have imagined.

Other than the nursery visit, I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors in my chair, working on my shop on etsy. I have been collecting tons of seeds in the garden too, and when I rest up at night, I flip through old gardening books to unwind.

This year my neighbor friend is letting me collect seeds at her house so I can add to my online inventory. Like me, she just lets things grow and it’s all natural and I’ve had a great time collecting seeds from the plants I grew from seed a year or two ago. I kind of feel like a parent almost!
Bottlebrush Grass, Elymus hystrix.
It bothers me that there are still piles of completely neglected plants around our house, but I am finally getting back to them. Some of the plants have been sorted to sell on Craigslist, and others have been sorted to plant asap. Many of them are super lovely wildflowers from California and other Western places. So many of them are so breathtaking I feel awful about overdoing it to the extent I may have jeopardized their well being and perpetuity. I need to keep their seed strains alive, right? Somebody other than myself has to care about this.
Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata.

Lastly, I suppose I should explain the neglect since up until now I believe I’ve been pretty sheepish about my little incident. I am sad to have to show you my foot amongst all of the blooms but let this be a reminder to all of you gardeners out there with weak ankles. I fell twice before I hit the jackpot with my last big tumble and this ensuing swollen ankle has been with me now for a few weeks. With a husband working hard at the vineyard in California, and a swelling disease that worsens when an injury occurs, life has been really wonderful around here.

Continually re-injuring an ankle is not that uncommon and I should have prevented this by doing better aftercare after I stumbled over a bag of potting soil and fell and hit my face on a rock just after twisting my left ankle for the first time. Little more than one month later I fell again walking on some river rocks but that time I only gave myself whiplash after hurting the same ankle again. This past time I really did it.  Walking down concrete stairs in the dark and missing a step ended up with me being completely unable to walk on the foot for a week.
Tomorrow I am off to see the doctor though and I am seriously hoping that I will be more comfortable for the upcoming Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle next weekend. It should be a ton of fun, swollen ankle or not.

How My Garden Grew into a Jungle

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When we left for California on May 31st the garden needed to be weeded, but it wasn’t really growing much yet. Funny how that can all change in a week if you add just a tiny bit of heat and rain! When I drove into the driveway late on Wednesday night I was a bit overcome by all of the flowers. When did that happen?

Clematis ‘Josephine’.

After my father-in-law picked up my husband in Ukiah, I headed back to Oregon along Highway 101. I’d wanted to get in some more time with nature, but due to a tumble I took beside the Smith River, I chose to come home one day earlier than I’d originally planned. Glad I did too since the house may have been eaten by green if I’d waited any longer.

Clematis ‘Josephine’ climbing up one side of the living willow arbor.
Clematis ‘Lincoln Star’.

Yesterday I had a lot to do, but first, I took my morning coffee out back to the garden and took in the sights while watching the youngest cat, Mona, rejoice in my return. The two Clematis vines in bloom really made my day because the neck pain from the whip last was really excruciating. (Yes, you can get whip lash from falling and I recommend that all gardeners be careful when doing wobbly tasks.) I am so happy to see my garden smiling as it were again. It really made me smile a bit myself too.

Night Blooming Phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis) with pollenating friend.
Later in the day I went back out to catch the Night Blooming Phlox when it opened. I was happy to see that an insect was happily doing its job. Adding back some night bloomers should really work wonders this year for insects and I am excited to see how that works out.
Night Blooming Mona the Cat enjoying new boxes brought home from my most recent road trip to California. Along the route back I purchased a lot of vintage items for my Etsy shops and I suppose she thinks this was her souvenir.

Now if I can only fix the mess I have to clean up outside. Luckily, my favorite garden worker bee will be here this weekend and I know she will be ready to get to work.

A Welcome Guest in my Seedy Garden

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These are my babies—this year. I am rather proud of them, but I am not always the best mother to my seedlings. With so much going on, and with more kids coming through than ever, it is difficult to keep track of them all. I just hope that many of these can survive their time with me. I really mean to be a good plant mom, but sometimes, it’s so hard when you have so many. Ugh!
The grassy looking seedlings right above this caption are Freesia alba. I cannot wait for these guys to pull through and bloom for me.
My single Espelette Pepper from last winter produced spice and plenty of fertile seeds!
Recently I discovered my secondary asthma has worsened and this frustrates me daily but I am feeling better. Gardening has kept me so happy during the last 6 or 7 years though so I am using it as my secondary medicine and even if the seedlings mean more work, they are so cheerful I just cannot help myself. They need me as I need them.
Seeds: The ORIGINAL Earthmovers. 

(ASTHMA NOTE: You need neither wheezing nor a cough to have asthma though they are the most frequently listed symptoms. You can have a version similar to mine, where slowly, over time, your lungs swell.)

Yes, I grow grass for our cats. Once you rip out the lawn you need to keep them from wandering over to the neighbors’ yards, right?
With my health improving, I am finding that things are returning to normal, but I am significantly more tired from all of the recent garden and house activity. I just hope that my lack of energy and feeling better don’t combine to hurt the plants.

Pregnant Hellebore bloom. I am waiting to harvest the seeds for my ETSY store. They seem to take forever. 

Tonight, after walking the garden circle around the house—just as I was about to enter back into the house by way of the side door—I noticed Mona the cat acting strangely. Staring down at a moving object walking quickly along the ground, she didn’t even notice me as I hurried over to watch with her. I was amazed to find this rather large ground beetle. Mona was surprised too to say the least!

Sometimes we have to wonder where these things come from, but then we need to accept that we don’t need to know everything, and we must let these thoughts go. With my New American Garden design, I am not surprised I am attracting wildlife. When things are left to be part wild, and part planned, and you have plants everywhere, it really becomes a different place. And that different place, well, it takes ALL kinds and I mean all kinds.

In my own life and garden, I will accept that I am not always in control of anything, and that I cannot always do my best in either, and when the unexpected guest or surprise appears, I will stand near these things, watch their multiplicity, and I will take a deep breath to remind me how happy I am to be alive.

I will be the reed of grass humbly dancing in the wind—rather than the mighty oak that cannot withstand the barrage, falling to pieces.

So dance little seedlings and show me that you won’t break in the wind! How else will you begin to thrive if you cannot dance in the wind?

TO BE CONTINUED…

Wow! An Early Spring? Let’s Get Moving!!!

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This past week I purchased a few more houseplants to add to the other 100 or so. I wanted some foliage shock for some of the pictures I post with my vintage planters I sell online in my Etsy store. I think these two are perfect for that job. Don’t you? No one has asked me yet what they are, but I am sure someone will eventually. I am happy to promote houseplants in my store since so many people seem to be rediscovering what fun they can be!
Fittonia argyroneura ‘Red Vein’.
Begonia rex












Last fall when I attended one of the African Violet Society plant sales I bought some leaves too. The first time I bought some, I felt rather silly just purchasing a leaf in a baggie, but now that I have seen how easily they can take root and grow, I feel far less goofy about it. (They do take some time to grow though. This is about 3 or 4 months old.) I plugged in a light with a timer in the basement the the heater has kept them warm all winter. Doing this in a windowsill might not have been as successful in a 100-year-old house.
African Violet ‘Emerald Love’.
Episcia ‘La Soledad Bronze’.

Here is one of the terrarium plants I purchased last fall too. I used a large apple juice glass jug since it seems really difficult to find a big terrarium anywhere that can withstand an accident. With the foster kids running around I needed for it to be as safe as possible. This is an affordable terrarium too. I like it when I can show the kids things they can do with plants that don’t cost a lot.

Begonia partita.
Outside the garden is beginning to grow. I am afraid that if I don’t pay attention right now though, my house will be overrun. Last year I never got around to pruning what needed to be pruned and by the time I did, it was too late to do so. This year, I am going to get on it quickly, nipping it in the bud, so that our house will not be eaten. Since I plan to have more parties this summer, and I’d like to watch some movies out back, I will prune responsibly. Oh, how I cannot wait for warm summer nights!
Dianthus amurensis ‘Siberian Blues’.

This is my precious evergreen Himalayan maidenhair fern. They are difficult to find because they can only be reproduced through division. In zone 8 the make an amazing evergreen ground cover. I cannot wait for the plants I have to spread more.

Adiantum venustum.

A buttercup relative, this springtime harlot will be bursting forth with some waxy yellow blooms soon. After it blooms, all of the plant dies back until next spring but it is really quite shocking while it is up.

Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’.

Oh, what would I do without my Hellebores! They cheer everyone up at this time of the year.

Helleborus with Sword Fern Volunteer.
Helleborus.

This is the absolute best Sedum I have ever found for shade. It is great for covering up bulb foliage too as it dies back just so long as it is not Narcissus foliage.

Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’.
Helleborus.
Yellow Helleborus.

Maurice the Cat says it all. Currently we have three cats in crisis. They think it is spring because of all of the sunshine we’ve had, and yet the cold outside is telling them otherwise. Having three cats nipping at your heels to go outside with them—like dogs!!—sounds strange, but so it is at this time of the year during a year like this. I am glad that I have them around to nudge me out though since I still am not feeling great.

Red-twigged alpine maple with Camellia ‘Yuletide’ bloom, Maurice the Cat in ecstasy believing spring is springing, and a great clump of Aspidistra.

Ah Swell, Seed Starting is Upon Us

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Our Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ is here with its annual flush of color and we have several Hellebores blooming too. This means that is time to get ready for our annual pilgrimage to Seattle in February for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I am hoping this year my husband and I will have more fun than ever, but we just never know since my chronic illness—a mysterious malady—can make me miserable quite quickly.

As I sit and drink my special tea, the one I only drink when I need to feel the warm embrace of my Parisian friends and the happiness of what brought my husband and I together, I only do so as if to hold a warm security blanket. I say this because January has been a really difficult month of me, oh, and if you’d like to know the tea, its Mariage Frères “Pleine Lune.”

Despite the ongoing pain from continual swelling, and the fear of having a swollen neck that can make it difficult to swallow, and sometimes breathe, I have continued to keep my hands and my mind occupied with garden-like crafts. Sales of my online boutique shops have continued, and the kids have kept coming. What I have learned from being sick like this off and on now for 10 years is that you have to simply keep going. Doing this is so hard at times because on the other hand you must learn to let other things slide. For a Virgo perfectionist like me, this has been heartbreaking and it is my real daily struggle.

I’d wanted to have had these finished a few months ago, but they are finished now and I am really happy to have made them. This is the only complete accordion seed book so far, but I learned a great deal from making it. It looks really nice too and I am so pleased with it.

These origami boxes are for seed collections too. I made these while watching a 007 movie marathon a few weeks ago. I’d wanted to roll up seed tapes in them but when the seeds were applied to the paper strips, they were simply too big. Guess I need larger origami paper!

Lastly, these are large stakes I’ve painted with chalkboard paint. I am not sure if I would use them outside since the chalk comes off with water so easily, but nevertheless, they look really cute. I highly recommend making some of these if you have any kind of garden themed party this upcoming season. You can get the paint at craft stores in all kinds of crazy colors. Folks also plant planters with the stuff, and I have some I’ve been making too, but for some reason I am thinking that the pots will chip off. We’ll see and I’ll let you know.

So January has been a rough time, but I have completed some goals, despite having to neglect some others. Never giving in, and never giving up can really wear a person down and I am so concerned that this year my seed starting will end up like last year’s. Many of the seedlings didn’t make it because I was too wrapped up in being a new foster respite provider. This year I will really need to find the balance between my needs and those of the kids.

The last year has taught me much about empathy. I empathize too much with everyone and it is really draining. Some of us are just very empathetic and although it is a skill set, it must be used responsibly.

The kids in therapeutic foster care often have little empathy for others because of what they have experienced in their lives. This is a huge challenge for many of them. Some will learn to trust others enough again in the future to really open up and feel what others feel, but others will not. My job is to be a good role model, and not to over empathize with them. I need to teach them skills and help their confidence. This is how gardening fits into the big picture and this is truly my New Year’s Resolution.

With that, we begin the seed starting season: Gardening Skills 101.

If you would like to see the list of seeds I’m starting this year, please visit the tab that reads Seed Starting 2001 to the right of the HOME button above this post.