Le Monde Végétal and the Green Embrace

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Pardon my French, but it’s simply the way things have to be for me nowadays. As I enter into a new phase of life, one post-illness (aka in remission), post-marriage as I knew it, and during which I must pick and choose what really matters to me now, and ever-will-be it seems, I have to explore things a bit more, things from my past and my present. From my past, I will always embrace and hold near and dear to my heart a love of language, culture, and the natural world around me. This is now being roughly sutured with my love of gardening since the gap between the two is the painful part that’s hurt me the most, making my marriage into something it never should have been in the first place, and causing me great distress. I have to suture these things to help the healing.
My language replacement during the rough years was Botanical Latin, with its many linguistic textures and tones. Yes, my pronunciation in this green world is terrible, but I’ve been told that’s not uncommon by multilingual friends—especially in my situation with a memory that was often on the fritz. As long as I can see the name in my head, and spell it, I seem to be able to survive, and by that, I mean I can communicate. Speaking and being heard means the world to anyone who feels cut off from the rest of the society by the experience of illness. The isolation you feel is really quite incredible and it is more powerful than even I knew while in the midst of it. It changes you.
So with all of this in mind, as I sit here eating leftover Cadbury Mini Eggs from Easter, I will get to the point of my post.
Last week I participated in a little informal nursery tour with some plant friends. For them, it’s become an annual little get-together before the craziness of the Hardy Plant Society Spring Sale. I was not sure how I’d feel about le monde végétal since my life is still very much up in the air, and sometimes I do want to sell the house and garden, but I gave it my all anyway, and it was worth the effort.
Xera Plants
Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’. 
Garrya topiary.
Ercilla volubile.
Primula auricula ‘Dijon Blush’.
Potting gurney.
Moss garden.
McMenamins: Kennedy School Garden Tour
Cistus Design Nursery
Aristolochia californica (red form).
Aristolochia californica (green or yellow form).
Loree aka Danger Garden (blogger friend) with an Agave—shocking!
Sean Hogan’s feet, his dog, my feet, and the feet of one of our green friends on our little tour but I am not sure who they belong to still. 
I think this is a Podophyllum. 
Overall, the tours went very well, and I had a great time meeting new people.
Adding to the excitement that day was the fact that just the day before, I’d sold the chair I’d been sitting immobile in for years, and it left this funny blank spot in the living room. Having space now to freely move around is making me wonder about all the space I’d filled in while I was still ill. While looking at plants, I started to think about throwing so many old plants out so that I could finally create a more clear design. Things seemed open and possible now, where they simply didn’t before this.

Buying a new iPhone has opened up more photography opportunities too, and I am seeing the natural world in all of its spacious glory. Editing and cleaning things out both internally and externally is opening up my world, but it is such a slow process. I feel like I can breathe now though, both in my own world, as well as out in the world I share with all of you.

Cherry trees in bloom on Mt. Tabor.

I think I can say now that Sean Hogan was correct weeks ago when he told me to accept and be embraced by the green world. It’s just the medicine I needed for my transitional malady, and if ever you need to take this treatment too, I recommend it.

10 Reasons Why I Garden Therapeutically

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1) Creative Outlet: I am a creative person, but I am not creative. This is what I used to think, but I am beginning to change my mind. Gardening has been the activity that has helped me to better understand this and it has helped me haul my obstinate mind and kicking spirit over this hurdle.

2) Relaxation: I know there are folks out there who consider a week by the pool relaxing—and I am sure that works for some of you—but I have found that kind of relaxation dull. Gardening is my form of moving meditation.
3) Sharing: Gardeners are wonderful givers. They always have plant divisions on hand for others and they are always open to sharing their knowledge with gardening neophytes.
4) Connections: Through plants I am connected to both my past and my future. One of my white lilacs is from a cutting of a lilac once grown by my great-great-grandmother in Baker City, Oregon. Additionally, seeds from around the world have allowed me to travel to places I would never have been able to experience otherwise.
5) Curiosity: Not every gardener really gets into the fine details, but for me, our garden is a laboratory where I perform plant experiments. Collecting seeds that I then germinate is what makes gardening even more rewarding. I am simply in awe of seeds and the potential they hold.
6) Love of Nature: Whenever you’re unable to camp or hike, you always have your garden. Bringing birds to it, and providing room for all of the other little creatures is the least we can do to give back. When I need a quiet sanctuary, I go to my garden.
7) Preserve Dignity: Until you have to tell someone you are unable to work due to a disease, and that you are unable to have children, you may not understand how painful this encounter can be. My garden helps to preserve that last scrap of dignity in that it is a way for me to contribute something. In time I have discovered it is the best answer too when I am asked what I do for a living. I make and care for living things.

8) Sense of Perspective: Things are steady and the seasons dictate the rhythm of time. I hum whatever tune is needed and I can be inconsistent as the days pass. Nothing is lost, and nothing is truly gained. Every day is different and no plant is ever the same.

9) Sense of Pride: Yes, I do garden to grow things but I will not take part in any kind of foodie garden fad. I am an Italian-American and that means you grow your own food. I am also a descendant of pioneers, and in our family, if you couldn’t grow food, and save seed, you’d die in the wilderness. Better to be prepared, to grow well, providing for your family and sharing your knowledge with those who may need your help.

10) To Provide Relief for Grief and Loss: My words cannot yet fully describe the feeling of losing the sense of yourself once the process and experience of disease begins. Mourning the loss of what life was like before is something that never fully goes away. I can be the cloud on a sunny day in my garden, and I can pour my heart out while toiling with my hands. Best of all, I learn from the garden. My garden has taught me how to renew myself daily, weekly, annually, and like it, I continue to grow, and shed, and change.

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.

The Blues of Springtime, and Becoming a Therapeutic Foster Parent

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As we slowly liquidate the sprouted seedlings in the basement, moving them into larger pots, and then into the neighbor’s borrowed greenhouse across the street, I feel spread thinner and thinner. This is the happiest time of the year, it is the busiest time of the year, but it is the most painful time of the year too when my chronic illness and immune system just fall apart. Some part of me says that I am far from the only one using gardening and its many pleasures to alleviate the effects of chronic pain and, just generally, the blues that come with all of this baggage.

Garden therapy is probably the most important job I perform, though now, therapeutic foster care is probably becoming more important. Of course one always hopes that their own children will help them out in the garden, but we all know that it’s a lot to ask of a brief visitor in your home with their own troubles and issues. When I started a few months back, I was worried that the kids might hurt some of my plants, but that is far from true. The plants are either ignored, or the blooms are lightly pawed and stared at for rather long periods of time. Crafts for the garden have been far more popular, in general, or anything craft-like. Many of the girls have also loved flower fairies while some boys have actually liked flowers and the complicated process of how things grow.

As things grow, I will return to bartering some plants on craigslist for weeding to alleviate some of my physical stress from the hereditary angioedema. This is a strange lesson for the kiddos to learn, but it is one that they seem to understand far more than I’d thought since many of them already have needed the rules bent for themselves in some way. Needing to enter what I prefer to call an early retirement used to feel pretty horrible when it meant that I had to say NO to many of the career choices I had opening up to me. Now, there is the ability to teach again and to help them with things few adults know how to do for themselves when their own lives fall apart midstream. To live on the fringes, making a life for yourself with dignity and the ability to take pride in your own self-care and the activities you love is not such a horrible thing. I am just so happy that I am able to be a homeowner, with the ability to do the things that I am doing now, with these amazing kids.

Swelling Disease

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I really don’t like putting this photo up, even though it isn’t the worst swollen foot experience I have ever had, it’s just that I have to do this. Most people have no idea what hereditary angioedema even is, let alone what it can do, and this is just the tip of the iceberg that sank my battleship. Basically, any part of my body can swell for no real good reason other than it is being used too much. That’s because I am missing the protein in my blood that repairs swelling. My hands and feet are the worst, followed by my intestines. I also react as though I have allergies and for some unknown reason I am the only person I have ever met who can say that decongestants lower my blood pressure. In addition to those, I take twice the recommended daily allowance of antihistamines and then a whole lot of other things. Maybe this can explain some of the disability problems and why it’s strange I like to garden when it can actually hurt me a great deal.