It’s the Unplanned, a Thing Called Life, in the Garden

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“One never reaches home, but wherever friendly paths intersect 
the whole world looks like home for a time.” Hermann Hesse

A great deal has recently grown in this garden—both intended and otherwise. Many of my new plants, sown this year from seeds sent to me in the mail only last winter, have borne great and rich floral beauties. I never know what to expect, so much so, that when things finally grow and bloom, they are always certain to cause me great surprise and excitement. That’s seriously how I garden!

The False Freesia below was a bit of a shock when I returned from Seattle. I had no idea what it was, but after checking my charts, I figured it out. I ordered these seeds from the American Horticultural Society last winter. Another member donated them to their annual seed sale and I am so glad! I’d never seen them before and I hope I can overwinter them outside. They are bulbs grown from seed, and I am thrilled they bloomed during their first season. I am seriously impressed.

False Freesia, Anomatheca laxa.

This Lobelia cardinalis had been sitting in its planter for two years. This past spring I finally planted it in the ground. It too is blessing me with its blooms right now, but this plant story is different than the last one.

My mother loves Fan Scarlet Lobelia and wanted tons of them so a few years ago I figured out what I needed to grow more for her. Since the plant is a F1 hybrid I had to purchase pelleted Fan Scarlet seeds from a reputable grower. After doing so, that year, the seeds all grew perfectly.

The effort was not quite enough though to soothe my mom’s curiosity. She still didn’t understand after that season why I couldn’t just collect the seeds from her new plants to make more of the Fan Scarlets. Instead of reexplaining hand pollination to her, I just told her I’d collect the seeds and then show her what would happen later.

As you’ve already guessed, this is what happened. A few of the seeds reverted back to the Lobelia cardinalis, while many of them stayed sterile. What was Mom’s response? She complained at first because several of the ones I gave her failed to thrive, but late last summer she told me that the handful that did might actually be prettier to her than the Fan Scarlet. Go figure!

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis.

My dependable old-timer has bloomed again and this loyal garden companion is going to have its seeds harvested this year finally. Life without it would be difficult for me and I must have more in the future.

A few years ago I visited the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles where I purchased hollyhock seeds in their Gift Shop. The package said it was a mix, and I grew them all, but most were sold at the Frank Lloyd Wright house museum where I used to work. (The funds were used to purchase additional plants for the Gordon House.) This was the last plant though, and I chose to plant it at our home. I am so happy it turned out so beautiful and that its parents were once hollyhocks at the Hollyhock House.

Heirloom Hollyhock, Alcea rosea.
After many months, I finally got the garden menagerie together for the foster kids. Last winter we assembled this motley crew up in Seattle at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. The weather has been so bad though this past spring and summer I only just recently let the gang out. I think they make quite a nice team, don’t you?

With much work to come, I am finally cleaning up the garden. Last week, an x-ray showed that last month I broke two bones on my right hand, and although they’ve both healed, they still are not well. I am trying not to think about all the lost time, but this summer has been rough. It’s the unplanned things that really determine what happens sometimes, and in my life, I must always expect the unexpected.

My little old lady cat Macavity has helped me through some rough spots recently. She is 15 years old now and is one of most intelligent cats I’ve ever known. Not long after I was diagnosed with primary immune issues, she developed health problems too. Just recently, she’s begged me to ignore all of her skin rashes, and to forget her hip problems because she just wants to be a cat during these last few weeks of summer. She’s now allowed to be outside whenever she wants to and she is very happy. I guess she’s earned it by being so nice to all the children, even when she shouldn’t be, yet she’s always willing to give them a chance.

Last Friday my cats enjoyed sitting beneath me as I crashed in our hammock for the first time this summer. It was great just to rest. So many things have been making me really tired and I just never have the time to sleep. At least in my hammock it looked and felt like summer if only to my eyes. It was enough, just what I needed, and it filled me with great joy for several hours.

Garden & Plant Memories from California

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Next week I will be leaving for California. In anticipation of this exciting trip to plant places like Annie’s Annuals and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, I have made a recap of some of my previous trips. A lot is missing—and it isn’t fair and balanced blogging—but it has some bits and pieces of the California I have come to know.
It all begins with me in a hammock. Sure, I’d been to California many times by the time this photo was taken, but looking through my old photo albums, it wasn’t until this trip that plant and garden photos begin appearing everywhere. (I had been surrounded by gardens all my life but I had completely taken them for granted.)
During this trip, I’d gone to Los Angeles for PhD program interviews at UCLA and UC Irvine, but upon my return home, everything had started to change, and my life’s direction changed too as so often occurs.
Somewhere near Altadena—I think. It was the home of my good friend David’s boss and the guy was a landscaper. Can you tell?

The Getty Center experience during that trip really opened my eyes and was transformative in terms of my development. Looking at plants as art was something that excited me after years of dark rooms and images of old paintings from the art history department’s slide library. It is difficult for me to explain even now, after all these years, what happened that day at the Getty, but in a way, the easiest thing to say is that I  think I woke up to something.

Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
*****

I went home after that trip and began dating my husband. Later that year, we travelled back to California to meet his family. I’d never really thought a lot about where the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank had lived and I was so excited when we visited his home and garden. My father-in-law has always supported my interest in pruning and grafting, and I like to talk about these old times like Burbank because he inspired many of the older folks who mentored me as a junior gardener. (More on him when I revisit the lilac lady’s house in a few weeks when I am back home.)

*****

A few years later our nieces went to California to see what was so exciting. We had a really fun trip and I cherish those memories now even if they teased me about all of the gardens. Maybe that was because our first garden stop was a bit odd and it challenged them to reconsider their own preconceived definition of the word GARDEN. Cornerstone, located near the town of Sonoma, is essentially a garden full of art galleries that just happen to be gardens. There is a café and shopping too, but my nieces had already come to expect those two things from public gardens. (How quickly they learn these things!)

The famous blue tree will be taken down this weekend on the first day of spring. I am so sad we will be missing the opportunity to take one of these little ornaments home with us, but oh well! (This is the cover of their first catalog.)
The experience of standing in this landscape was very awkward. We all felt like we should feel comfortable but the falseness and unnaturalness of these objects really heightened our awareness to the point we actually considered and recognized the importance of our perspective in the environment and how much this necessitated our interaction with it.   What is it without us?
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ and a teen who is not quite sure if she likes it much while her pre-teen sister looks on. They had so many puzzled faces while we were there that day.
I was still working at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House so of course we had to stop at the Marin County Civic Center. When I asked my husband if he’d ever been there, he told me that he had been inside once as a teen because he had to go to traffic court for a ticket. He described the courtroom as being like something our of Star Trek. My husband is funny.
The girls sitting on the patio on the top floor of the Marin County Civic Center. It was really hot and we were all getting so tired. I feel bad I didn’t take more pictures.
I love how nicely the inexpensive pavers blend in with the grass. This is a great way to get that modern look and it can still be family friendly without it being overtly so.

We also snuck over to Alcatraz during that vacation and I was so excited to show the gardens to all of them. I wish I could volunteer and help with their preservation, but for now, the gardens of Alcatraz are in safe hands.

We also took the bus to Golden Gate Park and we visited many different sites.
The moon bridge in the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park.
*****
The next trip was with our youngest niece and the girls’ neighbor friend who is like a sister to them both. Only we three ladies travelled home together along Highway 101 after dropping Uncle P off at the vineyard.
These are images of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens near Fort Bragg. These should be native plants, but I cannot identify them.
The little yellow flowers here should be a short form of a poppy but I am not sure which one this is.
Back at home, I unpacked these nice cones for front porch decor. We’d picked them up in Kelseyville, not far from the vineyard. These are from the Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana) a tree endemic to California. Though not the largest pinecone, their cones can grow up to 14 inches long and they contain edible pine nuts. The largest pinecones come from the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) and both of these trees coexist a bit together near the Sierras.
*****
During my last trip, we drove through Lake County on our way from the airport and I took in more of the plant life from the passenger’s seat in the car. There are plenty of Gray Pines everywhere in the hills intermixed with gorgeous mature Manzanita shrubs (Arctostaphylos). I have no idea what kind these are on this hillside—since there are around 90 or so different types in California alone—but they are a sight to see. They almost appear to resemble a tree’s root system floating in the air. (Be sure to click on the link to read about the rare Manzanitas in the San Francisco area. Amazing stuff!)
The first time I saw Lake County I was reminded of the photography of Ansel Adams. Much of the Sierra foothills looks similar too due to elevation.
Back at the vineyard, this is the olive orchard. The trees are much bigger now and they are producing well.
My father-in-law’s olive orchard in Kelseyville, California.

After San Diego and Yosemite we visited Sacramento on our way back to Oregon for the winter. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are living near there now and it is always nice to see them. We arrived a bit early and we parked by this incredibly mature palm tree in the historic downtown area. Imagine my surprise when I saw these dandelions growing ON the trunk of the tree! California is a crazy fun plant place.

At my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home they had a Buddha’s hand lemon tree growing in this wine barrel. At the time, they were still working on the new landscaping and pool and it had not yet been planted. I cannot wait to see next week how the tree looks now!

I’ve never understood why lemons get such a bad rap. Making lemonade out of lemons? Bitter and sour are important and yummy if you know what to do with them both.
Have a great weekend and go play in the garden if you can!!!

Random Arts & Crafts Progress

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It is getting late and my husband is in the kitchen making preparations for our street’s first block party tomorrow. He is the trained chef, I am not, and I am grateful that he is here for a visit from the vineyard in CA because I have needed his help dearly in the last few weeks. As much as I love the summer, and I love my garden, this time of the year is always very hard for me physically here in the NW, especially with little physical help available to me, but this has been the best summer I’ve had in many years so I am not complaining.

In the garden there are a few special blooms to share right now. One is the first bloom I’ve seen on an unusual plant in our collection while the other is purely a sentimental bloom from a pass-along I purchased seeds for at a museum in Los Angeles.
This is the only bloom on the Crinodendron hookerianum (aka Chilean Lantern Tree) in the backyard and it is our first. This is a shrub I planted 2 or 3 years ago and I’d forgotten about since it nearly dies every winter but then it springs back to life just in time for winter to slam it down hard again so it’s easy to miss in the mess. Maybe we’ve turned the corner on those days though since there are more blooms to come; they just haven’t reached maturity yet. I like what I see though.
The other bloom I wanted to post is on a hollyhock in my garden, single and white, planted from seeds I purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. The plant itself is pretty roughed up with rust, but I just couldn’t yank it out. It is one of those sentimental things for me, reminding me of a time not that long ago when I was well enough to work, albeit briefly, doing something I’d studied for, and which I loved a great deal.
Back when I worked at The Gordon House I applied for one of the small scholarships offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy in Chicago to attend an annual Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy Conference and I was granted that dream. It is a city I have visited many times now, both before and after, but that visit was very special since I attended many events and I saw the interiors of homes that very few members of the public are ever allowed to see. I also met Dion Neutra in his home in Silver Lake—the son of the architect Richard Neutra—and he was a really kind man who inspired me with his humility and kindness.
At night, after the conference tours, I’d wander off by myself to Pasadena for their annual Craftsmen Weekend with events organized around the designs of Greene & Greene. I was experiencing the best of both worlds in my mind, and I even skipped a party with Hollywood producer Joel Silver so that I could spend an evening dining at the Gamble House. I have never regretted that choice and I will always remember that event as well as the smashing party at the home once owned by Ernest Batchelder, a leading tile designer during the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
At that party I stayed late, wandering in circles around the property, between the house and the old artisan’s studio, lingering near the tiled fountain grotto at the far edge of the property in the back corner of the garden, and then finally in the kitchen, dining room, and living room with the magnificent fireplace. Eventually I spoke with the homeowner, a retired professor who’d spoken that day at my conference, and he was overjoyed that I was such a turncoat. I’d left Frank, and his cult, to spend an evening with someone else’s designs, and we both knew that I would live to tell about it.
This beaten up hollyhock is there to remind me now of my past and of my future, but mostly of my past and I am sad about that. Gardens are so often designed with such sentimental tales attached to their owner’s plant choices and this often drives those among us “nuts” when nothing makes sense in the design or is too disorganized for us to understand what the person was thinking or saying. There is often order to such gardens, but is is not often apparent, or it is written in a language that we do not understand, or were never intended to understand. These gardens are the most private, since they do not communicate to us, and are written in code. They are the gardens meant for only a few, sometimes only one, and I am beginning to think that we are folk gardeners creating outsider art as we call it in the art world. This just may not be what I want to communicate though and I have been spending a lot of time thinking over this recently.
Sometimes I really struggle with what my garden is saying, if it is saying anything at all to others. Writing this has elucidated a great deal to me though and I look forward now to thinking about it some more. All of this was also stirred up by my still not having spun together a name for the place, because this  kind of a vision is really required and necessary at this point.
I guess it’s back to the midnight drawing board with the smoking panda up at the park above my house. That is unless they have banned graffiti from smoking too. Life is simply too short to make gardens so serious and staid.

Driving to Silverton

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The drive from Portland to Silverton has always been beautiful, but during this time of the year, it is especially lovely. One of the reasons why I was so excited to drive down there today to deliver a case of wine for a fundraiser at the Gordon House was because I suspected that the flower fields would be in bloom. I was so happy that my hunch was correct!

This was the first field we saw before our visit with my former boss. It is just before you enter Silverton if you are entering the town by way of State Highway 213 from Interstate-205. (This road passes through Molalla and a few other small towns. The most unusual of which is the tiny town of Liberal, Oregon.)

These two fields were ones my foster respite and I saw on the way home by way of State Highway 214. They are just outside of the town of Mt Angel if you are headed back west toward the town of Woodburn or Interstate-5. The poppies were not fully blooming, but it was still a sight to see.
Silver Falls Seed grows these flowers for seed. Each year I order from them online and I can assure you that they have quality seed. It is one of the few ways that I do truly buy local when I am able. You can see why I support their business, as do others in their community.
Once we were in Silverton, after a quick stop at Roth’s Grocery Store, we drove over to meet with Molly at the Gordon House in The Oregon Garden. The house museum is separate from the garden and the resort but it works as an additional attraction to the area. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was saved from destruction almost a decade ago when the property and home were purchased by homeowners who’d intended for it to become a teardown. It is the only structure Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Oregon and I used to work there part-time.
During this trip I didn’t take many pictures of the house, but this is one view of it. It is the most amazing thing to photograph though and every angle is different. It really is amazing.
This is a remnant of one of the many plants I planted there. It it a lovely Penstemon.
My foster weekender took this photo of the red-twig dogwoods berries.
Mimulus cardinalis is one of my favorites and I believe I may have planted this one.
Here is the view from the entrance as we left. It was a lovely day to deliver a case of wine, and it was fun to introduce a part-time foster child to beautiful architecture. The place was calming for both of us, and we really enjoyed the drive.
If you would like more information about the Gordon House, you can visit their Web site:

Hollyhock House Hollyhock

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A few years ago I attended a conference in Los Angeles hosted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. While there, we visited all of the cement block homes in the LA area, including the Hollyhock House. Although not my favorite structure due to the confusion of the architecture—too many hands in any project can do that—I still enjoyed it. Their gift shop at the time had only one small object I could afford. Seeds are always just the right price in my book. After some delay, I finally planted some at home, and this is a bloom from one of them. I’d show you more, but due to some neglect, they are not exactly upright citizens in my garden and tend to nap a bit too much. Hollyhocks are, for some strange reason, a favorite of mine. A traditional cottage garden plant, they can be difficult, but I’d rather have them any day over fussy hybrid tea roses.

Winter Color

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Sedum spathulifolium.


This Sedum is native to the Pacific NW and is typically found in areas which tend to be higher, drier and sunnier than our valleys usually are during the winter. I took this photo at the Gordon House last winter, but I have several at my home too. The red color in the winter is quite striking, and obviously, this plant can survive in the valley if planted with care.

The Gordon House (1)

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My Christmas wishes have already been posted, but I thought that I would include this one too on Christmas Day. As I am trying to look forward to the coming year, I would like to wish for better health, and for my part-time job at the Gordon House to be re-instated.
A year ago my job was cut after a very special board member/president passed away and a new president chose to take the house/museum in a different direction by moving the budget around a bit. I have no malice about any of that, my health was in decline at the time, but even now, as I sit here still ill, with a better understanding and a plan of attack in terms of my health upheaval, I would love to look forward to returning to work in Silverton this spring.
Before I was first hired, I didn’t know very much about Frank Lloyd Wright and his Usonian designs though I had majored in art history at the university. After working there for almost two years though I learned a great deal more about so many different things and I met some of the most wonderful people.
More is to come about all of that, and I have many stories that I plan to share too in this blog about my experiences out there. I just wanted to throw this wish out with the others because I have started seeds in my basement for plants which will eventually be planted in the Gordon House landscape.
Please wish all of us luck in the coming months!