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!

Cloudberries and a Kabocha Squash

Standard
Reproduction of a painting by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman taken from Bilder ur Nordens Flora (first edition published 1901–1905).
Recently a Finnish friend of mine asked me to pickup some Cloudberry Preserves for him from a local import store we have here in the Portland Metro area (Scandia Imports). Since he travels all the time for work, I didn’t mind. The shop happens to be just a few blocks away from another of my favorite haunts so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Learning more about the special orange berry much beloved in Scandinavia was kind of fun too. I like berries.

Have you ever heard of this berry? Well I sure hadn’t—other than from my friend. This kind of surprised me since the Pacific Northwest is known for its berries and we grow many different kinds from all over the world here.
Well, the cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is a special little plant and there are a few good reasons why many of us know very little about them.
Apparently, first off, the plants are dioecious, which is not common in the species. This means that the female plants need male pollination in order to produce fruit. (That limits the supply and spread a bit!) This, coupled with the arctic and alpine climate conditions where the plants tend to grow, and you’ve got a berry on your hands that grows best in a harsh climactic zone, producing limited numbers, and the demand for products made from them is fairly high so it’s safe to say that the berries don’t get around much.
This is why I had to drive across town to pickup a few jars. The store is only able to order the product once every 2 years depending upon availability. Leave it to me to go on a mission for hard-to-find berry preserves.
I did just fine though. I told you a favorite haunt of mine was nearby. There is nothing like a trip to Uwajimaya. I could get lost in there for days.

This precious little Kabocha squash had to come home with me too.

A happy Ann after a fine mission accomplished.

(Check back again soon for updates from the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.)

Taming the Beasts

Standard
Snow on a big leaf Rhododendron.
The snow beast roared its tiny little head this morning. Now it’s gone.
That was the easiest beast to tame this past week although the cold temps are still sticking around—unlike the snow.
Just about finished with the seed starting spreadsheet for 2013. I think I’ll be starting about 450 different types of seeds. The bowl of basmati rice pudding with almond milk, raisins and orange flower water really helped me get to the end of the project this year. It was a great reward for a difficult job.

My seed sheet is now complete and is accessible by clicking on the link above.

It was a difficult beast to put down because I’m challenged by the fact I still don’t know where my garden will be in the future. This beast is not yet purring but I will make it purr.

I know that I’m a woman who sorts seeds. It’s what I do. Last year I didn’t get to participate in this dull and slow process so doing it this year made me feel more like me.

Some people use Nyquil, others use Icelandic Schnapps.

The flu is everywhere right now and I hope with all of my heart that I’m able to escape it.

So far, so good. I’d much rather watch others deal with this creature. It’s not one I’m well equipped for, but I think with a bottle of this stuff, at least I wouldn’t care if I caught it.

I have a friend who chose to use this medicinal treatment involving Icelandic Moss Schnapps (http://www.fjallagrasa.is/en). The moss used is actually the lichen Cetraria islandica but it was hard to tell just by looking at the shriveled and dried up chunk of plant life inside of the bottle.

This is the little fur beast who inspired this post. Sometimes animals shock and surprise us. This is my partially feral garden cat who, after 7 years of hiding in the basement, now demands to sleep with me at night. With the other two geriatric cats currently restricted to the main floor she is able to hop the fence and run upstairs to jump onto the bed each evening.

Having seen her as a feral cat for the past 7 years it’s wonderful to see her change. Somehow she’s broken through a trust boundary and I’m thrilled to see the change.

I cannot help but believe too that my newfound calmness and focus has helped her feel safer around me. Before, I believe I was far too frantic for her. Life has really changed a lot since the divorce.

She has changed too.

 
19th century vase with thistle, Japan. Portland Art Museum.
I’ve been working diligently to feed the creative drawing and designing animal inside of me. It’s strange to feel the craving in my belly for this sort of thing, but it’s there and it’s starving.
As usual, I’m drawn more and more to Japanese designs. It fascinates me to no end to be so enamored of such simplicity when I’m such a complex and complicated person. As I enter into middle age I’m noticing that I crave simplicity more and more. I want to be at peace so I will feed the beast what it wants.
Discovering low-sodium dried sardine dashi has made me very happy. Making a hearty miso soup has been a great boon during wintertime.
Oh, and by the way, I simply cannot stop cooking. I guess I’m literally feeding the beast too!
2013 is going to involve more cooking and I hope to grow more produce. Of course I don’t expect to grow it all myself but I want to make a concerted effort with those around me and in my gardening life to learn more about food. As someone with severe sensitivities it’s now no longer such a chore and it has simply become more and more a way of being for me.
I might as well do it very, very well—for my wellness and for me.

And I’d thought this gardener hadn’t been busy during December…

Standard
Japanese White Pine in training since 1950. Country of Origin: Japan. Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

I am still a gardener in search of a garden of sorts. Much uncertainty remains in 2013 but I don’t mind it at all anymore. Every single day is a huge opportunity for me now and my health continues to improve as do my spirits. Whenever I plant a seed something grows. So I’m tossing them everywhere right now and I’m sitting back to see what germinates.

I am a guerilla gardener of the heart.
This is my time
—to live a bit as a wildflower.
Finally.

Palm Leaf, Sabalites species, around 50 million years ago Chuckanut Formation, Whatcom Co. Washington. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

A large part of this seed planting campaign of mine has involved seeing and speaking with very old friends of mine. Doing so really helps me to remember more of who I used to be and who I want to be again now. Illness broke me down but it didn’t kill me. I lost a lot of momentum but if you know me you also know that I can be a tiny force of nature when I am at my best.

My high school friend Elise Krohn, herbalist and native foods specialist. Wild Foods & Medicines Blog 

Recently I made a brief overnight trip to Seattle to see two of these old friends. I attended the book re-release party for a publication an old friend of mine had contributed to, and additionally I spent time in the other friend’s home getting to know her husband and small son. Since the three of us attended the same high school together it was an über supportive trip. My sudden wellness after so many years brings them much happiness too and I like to be that in their lives right now. It helps my healing too. Dare I say that it helps us grow much stronger together.

I have grown a lot during the past two months and it will be showing more and more in the months to come.

Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Of course I had to stop by the library dedicated to nothing but horticulture at the University of Washington too. Luckily it wasn’t open long enough for me to go crazy making lists of things.

Center for Urban Horticulture
Seeing the Center for Urban Horticulture in winter was a beautiful treat too since I’ve only ever been there during the warmer months.

Sometime before Christmas I tidied up out front. I guess I was tired of the Doug fir debris in the house.

Oh and the seeds, the lovely, lovely piles I was unable to get to last year. They are very much on my mind now.

There were those dark and lonely moments too. So I took pictures to remember them by in the future. Then I quickly forgot about them.

Something about spending my first Christmas alone after a decade-long relationship was exhilarating and it allowed me to really toss out more emotional baggage. I can do this on my own now if I choose to and that feels really good to me. I don’t feel I was ever really given that choice.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot. Maurice is old.

The neighbors had their old cherry tree cut down. That was exciting for a day.

Visions of children playing in gardens appeared to me on a walk. I love this city.

I started a wide scarf for myself using organic cotton yarn on one of my knitting looms. Most materials bother my skin a lot so it was fun to go to the yardage store to pick the yarn myself. I felt so empowered—for lack of a better word.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot with his little buddy Mona too. December is when the part-ferral cat is not very ferrel. It is always a cute process to watch as she becomes needier and needier. Before you know it she’s wrapped up at your feet while you type a blog post at 1am.

Somehow I sewed a few Christmas tree ornaments. This one looks a bit like my interests of cooking and gardening slammed together. A green ravioli. I was clearly not thinking.
I also tried to rescue my old Christmas tree houseplant but it was neglected so much this past year I will need to nurse it back to the fine specimen it used to be so that wherever I am next Christmas it will be ready to shine again.

Luckily a friend gave me some forced Daffodil bulbs just before he went home to Scandinavia for the holidays. Normally I would have had a huge floral arrangement but times are tough and I was working solo on the annual Christmas Eve dinner so this worked out well. It was perfect and so much better than nothing. (It smells great too even if it makes me sneeze. Yes, those of us with allergies must choose our battles.)

Then there was that goose I stuffed and roasted. It was amazing and I was so proud I made it through the whole experience on my own.

I also made a really simple cabbage dish with apples and spices. It went perfectly with the sausage and cornbread stuffed goose. Overall the more simple the food the happier my body is when I eat it. I am still in awe of my ability to consume goat milk products in moderation.

I am such a lucky woman now.

Oh, and then there were those funny faces I made with my eldest niece Chelsea when I spent some quality time with her, her younger sister Lindsey, and their childhood friend Emily. How quickly my little women have grown up!

I am still making faces apparently today too. Not sure what this expression is about but I think it has something to do with my hair being in pigtails. At what age are pigtails inappropriate on a woman? I have no clue. Maybe I don’t want to know. Believe it or not but I was actually thinking about how the wear my hair when I get back out there in the dirt soon. It’s growing and I am so happy to have it long again.

See, I do think about a lot of other things.

December was one hell of a month but I tossed out so many seeds in so many places—here, there, everywhere. I’m surrounded by good fertile opportunities and I’m really excited about so many new things happening in my life. Best of all, the soil in my heart no longer feels so barren. I am happily growing again and am feeling more at peace than I have in many years.

This gardener had a beautiful Christmas and I hope you did too! 
Here’s to watching it all grow again in 2013! 
 
Let’s bring back our heirlooms, the all-time favorites and producers,
 but let’s not forget we should always be open to the new stuff too. 
 
Like maybe this blogger might finally release another book. 
Booyeah!

Happy Blogoversary! Amateur Bot-ann-ist Turns 5 and Ficurinia Celebrates with Some Prickly Pears

Standard

Usually I’d post a Wordless Wednesday post here but today is special so I will forgo that formality.

Today my blog turns 5 and I wanted to celebrate. The cheesecake is not yet complete, but the prickly pear sauce for it is, and now you can all hear about my relationship with the prickly pear…

First off, that’s not Pepto-Bismol pink. This is no shy fruit color. It will stain you and stain you well. It’s Barbie pink, hot pink, not understated pink, and it’s loud and proud.

Tasting of apple and watermelon, it’s really a strange fruit. Not sure if these were unripe or older fruits though since they happened to taste more of Aloe vera to me, but they tasted of prickly pear and that’s all that matters. Tasting subtly of prickly pear is the way to go. (Yes, I eat Aloe vera too.)

I will have pics of the chèvre cheesecake that will be drizzled with this stuff up here tomorrow and I’ll include a recipe with it.

So for now, just enjoy the warmth your computer screen is giving off because you’ve stopped to look at my blog. I am happy you’re here and grateful too.

Here’s to the next 5 years!!!

*****
Ficurinia is Sicilian dialect for prickly pear and I chose it as an online name years ago because of a story my father used to tell me about my Sicilian-American grandfather.
As a boy, his family had driven to CA to visit my Grandma Virginia’s brothers. Once over the Oregon/California border my grandfather was looking for every opportunity to stop and eat prickly pear cactus fruits. My father told me that as he sat in the car, pulled over next to the highway, he watched as his dad chowed down and other cars passed them. It embarrassed him that his father was acting like such an “immigrant” and he was ashamed. Later in life, after he’d lost his father, he regretted having felt that way.
I never knew my grandfather since I was born after he died. This story about him always fascinated me though and I wanted to eat the fruit myself to see what it was that drew him to it. During my 20s when I had the opportunity I fell in love with them too. Though I don’t eat them often, when I do, I think of my Grandpa. I think of him eating them while stationed in Italy during WWII and I imagine him eating them along the highways of CA whenever I go in search of seeds.
Through the prickly pear I am firmly connected to what I can only call the most mysterious and special part of myself. I am a gardener and I love plants and it is a gift that comes from somewhere deep inside of me. When I close my eyes to look into the still darkness it is the prickly pear I see and it is the image connected to the tie that binds me to the earth. I should add that it connects me to the kitchen too. But more on those activities later…
Salvatore Amato, soldier (October 31, 1944).
My Sicilian great-grandfather Frank Amato, my Grandma Virginia, my father as a baby, my Grandpa Sam. (Looks to me like someone might have been working in his garden that day.

Weekend Parties and Their Gardens

Standard

This last weekend I attended two parties. One was a 60th birthday for my former employer, and as you can see, he has a thing for pink flamingos.

Both of the homeowners are colorful people so it’s been fun helping them out in their garden during the past few years.

Then on Sunday I attended a “meat” party hosted by an old friend at his house in inner industrial SE Portland. Not too long ago I’d lived near this area and it was great to hear the trains going by all day. I also was able to see a few people I haven’t seen in about 15 years.

There were other dishes too but this is Portland after all and I’d be acting deceptively if I didn’t admit to there being bacon cupcakes and PBR.

Like my old rental house in the area, these two houses are also boxed in by warehouse walls. During the weekend the place is empty so band practice next door was not an issue. The two houses are occupied by friends so the garden is a bit of a shared area though I think Jerrod is the one who takes care of it.

I’d hoped these were edible old roses but they were scentless and that was rather disappointing.

Jerrod has planted vegetables here and there for his culinary needs.

It’s been very rainy again so these probably don’t look much like summertime in the city but here in Portland this is what it can be like sometimes.

After dinner several of us gorged ourselves on u-pick raspberries.

Oh, and if you’re counting this post for cool Portland references, I should add that Jerrod’s roommate John works at Renovo Bikes. Yes, that’s wood you see there on that bike frame.

Welcome to my little slice of Portlandia.

Ok, Jerrod also made a fresh salad too with homemade Cesar dressing, so it wasn’t all about meat… (He also made a horseradish sauce too with fresh horseradish. Yes, this guy is a foodie.)