Wordless Wednesday: My Garden and Life through the Eyes of a Therapeutic Foster Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.
Japanese Snowbell Tree, Styrax japonicus.
Pacific or Western Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa.
Multnomah Falls.
Trees in the Columbia River Gorge.
Rosa rugosa.
Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.
Clematis “Josephine”.
Leopard’s Bane, Doronicum orientale.
Living wreath.
Entrance shade garden near the street and sidewalk.
Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris.
Me with box.
Macavity—the old lady black cat.
Peace Lily, Spathiphyllum.

The Little Foster Boy Who Loved Seeds

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Last weekend I was surprised by a 9-year-old foster respite boy—but it was a pleasant surprise.
False Yucca Seeds, Hesperaloe parviflora.

Usually on Friday nights kids don’t want to watch me sitting at the table sifting through seeds. Our kids are usually fairly emotional and like to have us right there with them, watching a program with them, or participating in their play.

Cardinal Flower Seeds, Lobelia cardinalis.

Last weekend I was left alone in the evening. It felt kind of odd and a twinge of guilt crept up, but then I squashed it because I liked being able to work quietly after dinner without any major interruptions.

False Freesia, Anomatheca laxa.

I was sorting and sorting and didn’t notice when the room became silent.

My little helper hiding behind the lamp to preserve his anonymity.

Then I felt his eyes on me and he drew nearer. There were a few questions about how to do it, and why I do it, and then he sat his toys down. He was mesmerized by the process and before I knew it he was sitting beside me sorting too.

And that was Friday night! Ahhhhh…..

Elms in the Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon.

Due to his anxiety issues, running errands for my upcoming trip required some planning, but all that really meant was that he needed park breaks in the city so that he could forget about all the people. Near Powell’s he as able to run around in this playground in the park blocks. I admired the elm trees while he let it all out.

Licorice Ferns, Polypodium glycyrrhiza.

Before we left to go to the store I showed him how the epiphytic Licorice Fern grows on trees whenever possible in our area. He stood there on the sidewalk staring up at that tree for much longer than I’d expected.

This lily at a flower stall captivated my little weekend visitor.

At the market in NW Portland we stopped to buy flowers for my daily Ikebana.

Pumpkin Stick Tree, Solanum integrifolium.

I let him pick what he wanted for a Halloween theme and we talked about the flowers he really liked.

Monkshood, possibly Aconitum carmichaelii.

This was the first Monkshood he’d ever seen and he couldn’t stop looking at it. He wanted to call it a Hoodie Flower and that made me laugh.

Once we were back home he posed with our purchases and then we started working on Halloween cookies. Until he left on Monday he continued to sort seeds with me and he asked me many questions. He opened up a lot during this time and when he left it was hard for me to say goodbye. Part of me felt ashamed though to have been so biased in my feelings for him just because he loved seeds but I totally fell for him.

I am currently still sorting outdoor plants before I take off for my next plant and seed hunting trip in California.

I wanted to post that I have many winners and losers and these are examples of each. Both are hard to find plants, but only one made it. The Dicentra would have made it if I hadn’t neglected it, but so it goes…

Stopping to Smell the Roses

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Sometimes it is difficult to write about gardening when you are chronically unwell or injured. After suffering my third serious fall in four months, I am in this position right now. Two of the falls occurred here at home, in my own garden, and the other happened when I was walking beside a river in the California Redwoods.
The most noble red Hollyhock at Al’s Garden Center in Gresham, OR.
I have been spending a lot of time reflecting and I won’t lie, it is kind of strange to realize I somehow ended up being more worried about my plants outside than for myself. My husband had to get back to the vineyard in California, and I was here on my own with a seriously sprained ankle, two sprained fingers on my right hand, and a wounded elbow.

After nine days, the two fingers on my right hand can still barely bend and my ankle is swollen but the bruising has gone away—mostly. I am so tired of all of this resting and waiting for things to heal or improve. My last fall, the one in California, gave me whiplash, and now this! I have spent weeks resting this spring and summer. I have not felt well and it is hard to see beauty sometimes when you don’t feel well. Pain and its management has to be your priority but deep inside I have felt so bad. It’s as if I’ve been ditching my best friend.

This past weekend my respite child was the garden girl. She’s the kind young woman who left a teddy bear on my bed too. I am supposed to care for him until she comes back in a few weeks, but I know she left him here to look after me.
She honestly did help me with my plants, and we fed them and she asked me lots of questions about how to do everything. It brought back so many memories of when I was a young girl.
Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii.
We ran some garden errands, but we took our time because of my foot. I have a “boot” for it, but that is no way to get around quickly.
We talked a bit about garden styles, and garden plants, but she has a hard time with categories beyond her own experience. We talked about that too. Sometimes it’s amazing when a mind opens a door to you and you are really able to help someone over a hurdle. I think for a time, she forgot her worries, and I forgot my own.
Mimulus cardinalis.

On the way home on Saturday, I pulled the car over to show her this stand of Fireweed. I told her how much I looked forward to its blooming every year. I am not sure she’s ever been in a car with anyone who stops to look at flowers beside the road. I am happy to have been that person for her.

Fireweed or Epilobium angustiolium.

After I dropped my visitor off with her full-time foster parent last night, I finally got around to cleaning up the porch. I finally planted this beautiful succulent but I am afraid I’ve misplaced its label. I know that it is hardy down to zone 9 and that its flowers are fragrant. The blooms are reminiscent of an ice plant, but the stems are very different. They look like chubby little dinosaur limbs. I must find the name soon so that when I collect its seeds I can label it properly.

Oscularia deltoides.

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.

Community Gardening—In the Beginning…

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Our long wait for the 200sf community garden plot is over! Late last week the letter finally arrived and with my number in hand, I called the volunteer Garden Manager. On Saturday, two foster girls and I dashed over to check the place out. We were excited to see we’d been given a plot near the street.
Two of my most frequent foster visitors were thrilled to be given the chance to make something of this space. They spent hours working on the walkway from the front gate to the other plots and they weeded too. I was completely shocked to be honest. This kind of freedom and space and ownership was something they leapt at in a way I’d never imagined.
Many of the kids we care for are often very isolated in almost every area of their lives. Often they are in special classes and are separated from other kids and family members, sometimes they are even in special separate schools, but most of all, they are isolated by an extreme lack of financial resources and family support. They often feel so left out of everything they develop fantasies about what their life should be like, and sometimes they just lie about it. Why shouldn’t they? When you’re an innocent child who is a victim of the circumstances typically brought about as a result of the choices made by the adults who should love you the most, being punished for lying is not even a blip on your radar.
Over time, I’ve noticed that many of them get anxious about all of this isolation and they turn to keeping their hands busy in order to keep the sad thoughts at bay. Sometimes busy hands can do good or beautiful things, but if you are isolated and have limited resources, busy hands can lead to trouble. I cannot tell you how often I have to pick up tiny random scraps of paper from kids who just rip things up because of their anxiousness.
Punishing these kids for lying or stealing just doesn’t work. Reversing the effects of their isolated feelings, teaching them coping skills, and helping them to understand that they are not alone DOES.
Saturday I had no idea what would happen, and overall, I was completely shocked. I have never seen the kids so calm and focused. They politely asked dog walkers who walked past the fence if they could pet their dogs, they bickered less and worked together more, but most of all, they worked really hard, asking tons of questions, and they were so positive about the rewards to come later in the summer.
In addition, the fact that the garden was not on our property, but instead, is part of a network in the community, made a difference that I’d never thought about before. When they discovered there are other troubled and at-risk youth all over the country in big cities participating in similar activities in similar environments, I think for the first time I witnessed both kids reflecting that they belonged to something bigger and better than their problems. That day what calmed them was a sense of pride that they so rarely are able to feel and that so many of us take for granted. They also realized that they now belonged to a great group, a group that can feed people, and that made them feel good—really good.

This success led them to the huge reward of dining out. Negotiating that often problematic situation led to another reward, so we drove up to a viewpoint and watched the city and identified mountains. Since I was so happy, and they continued to behave so well, they reached what I now call the ultimate level. Before returning home, we visited a Gelateria and they interacted with the strange setting with far more confidence than I’d ever seen before and they were so much more content and calm. I was so proud of them and I let them know that—repeatedly.

If you have any access to a community garden, I encourage you to participate in any program that helps troubled kids learn a skill that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. After only one day, I can tell you, you might just be blown away by the results. I know I was. It was a day I will never forget.

Top 12 To-Do List for the 2011 Growing Season

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There’s nothing I’d enjoy more than to complete the many tasks on any one of the lists floating around this house. As a recovered perfectionist, it has pained me greatly to become so physically unable to do so many simple things. But I’m not giving up—and neither should any of you—when swelling or any other kind of chronic malady shows up to bring dark clouds to an otherwise sunny day. I know that when you cannot work, you cannot hire help, but that doesn’t mean that you should let it all pile up as I so often do. Things need to be tackled, and when they are tackled, you beat that obstacle and are better prepared for whatever else is coming your way.

(If you are not a gardener struggling with chronic illness, I am pretty sure you have these lists too. If you are able-bodied, and willing to help, think about offering a hand to help another gardener in need. For you too may be there someday.)

  1. COVER. Add a larger covered area of some kind, any kind, to the backyard to encourage the cats to recreate outdoors more often. I’d like to have a place back there too. Kids might even figure out that’s it’s fun. We will see.
  2. SHELTER. Enclose the small shed attached to the garage/storage studio and throw out its contents. Consider using the large inherited kiln in this space. The pile of salvaged wood stored in the garage/studio is sure to come in handy for this task.
  3. DEFENSE. Get around to having a gorgeous fence made in the backyard and add a small deck platform to it. After all this time, I’d like to finally say goodbye to that apartment building once and for all.
  4. POWER. Add electrical outdoors outlets since there is not a single one in sight!
  5. GUIDANCE. Clean all paths in the garden from my many piles of debris. Get rid of broken pots. Throw away anything that is not vital to the completion of my goals. No empty planters. Sell them or give them away.
  6. STRUCTURE. Make things and things with happen. The fact that our cement stucco home terrifies me is a big hinderance to the completion of this task.
  7. EDIT. Be brave and remove plants that show little improvement. Others WILL take their place. I have a pile of those too.
  8. VIEW. Buy a projector so we can watch movies with the kids in the backyard this summer. They are so often denied such luxuries and it is such a perfect fit for all involved.
  9. DIRECTION. Better define how the garden functions with more hardscaping projects completed.
  10. SOLID. Finish up the back porch. It’s an eyesore in concrete and it needs to be pebble mosaic.
  11. HANG. That’s right. Hang all the items I need to hang, and get over my fear of masonry.
  12. COLOR. Color me concrete. Paint the architectural details on the front porch and garage/studio and consider repainting the front porch. Finally!

Hope you’re all making your lists too!

Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine.’

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.