Fête de la Saint-Fiacre—and a prayer too

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This past weekend our gardening friends and counterparts in Ireland and France celebrated the Feast Day of St. Fiacre—the Patron Saint of gardening. Although celebrated by other Catholics in other countries, St. Fiacre was born in Ireland and lived his life in France so these two countries venerate him more than others.
I was quite tickled (to be completely honest) when a long drawn out conversation about the Saint appeared in my Facebook feed early on August 31st. Started by a French plant breeder, talk almost immediately centered on how everyone celebrated the feast (with food of course), and why the date of this feast has been shifting. Although the official day is now set on August 11th, those in Ireland and France still apparently celebrate it either on August 30 (France) or September 1 (Ireland).
St Fiacre with his shovel.
Yes, I have a statue of the Saint in my garden. I am rather fond of this guy.

I think he’s appeared here on the blog before, but I thought I’d write a little ode to him again now that it looks like I’ll be staying here for several more years. I didn’t pray to him to help me, but I guess I can quietly thank him. Time in the garden can be so lonely. It’s good to have friends.

No, I am not an active Catholic, but I am very much Catholic by culture. I enjoy having a few statues of Saints around me when I’m in the garden. When they are not there, it honestly doesn’t feel quite right to me.

St. Fiacre was a healer and worked with herbs. As I’m considering building my first herb garden, he’s a good friend to meditate upon. I also like to believe that he was a good and gentle soul determined to help others. We need people like that in our lives. I am all for healing and think about it often.

In his right hand he holds a rose.

In his left hand, he holds a shovel.

Heirloom Costoluto Genovese tomatoes from my future mother-in-law’s garden.

St. Fiacre is also the Patron Saint of Vegetable Gardeners, but that’s of course not what this prayer is about:

Prayer to St. Fiacre
O good St. Fiacre to whom God has given the power to heal
the bodies of men affected by ugly evils of all kinds,
deign to intercede for us with the Almighty Creator,
so that our body restored to health,
can attain eternal glory.
Amen.
As a good Catholic-educated woman I think that 12 years in their educational network allows me to finally write a prayer of my own. Let’s leave it as ann-onymous though since we all know that woman were not yet created as equals according to “the Church”.
Prayer to St Fiacre 
By Ann-onymous aka Amateur Bot-ann-ist
St Fiacre, I know you were good,
and you gardened, and grew herbs.
Today we celebrate you and your abilities to heal,
but I celebrate your blessings and I pray for my organic solutions.
I pray to an end to man messing with my foods.
I pray for the bees and the birds
—and that’s not just because I’m a naughty Catholic school girl and it is fun to write that now.
I pray that we can live in a world where the female is as respected as the male—because infertility can come from either side, and you’re the Patron Saint of that too.
Next year please bless our tomatoes, keep powdery mildew at bay, and try to protect our gardens from deep freezes and a Snowpocalypse.
Lastly, God bless the florists too and thank you for protecting them.
Stay fabulous St. Fiacre—eternally.
Thank you and God bless.

A Letter to Mr Palm (My First Gardening Mentor)

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Mr. & Mrs. Palm’s home and garden.
Mr. Milton Palm: my childhood horticultural mentor.
Dear Mr. Palm,
I miss you a lot and it’s good that we can talk again like this even if you’ve been gone for many years. If you don’t know it already, I think about you a lot. The conversations we had about soil physics and the lives of plants really stuck with me. I guess our meandering conversations about history, observation, and nature really meant a lot to my growing mind. Those are still a residue in my world and they will always be there. I return to our conversations often but you’re not there anymore.
Did you know that I named my retail seed shop after you? I thought for a long time that I should name it after Grandma Virginia but then I realized she wasn’t the seed person. She always bought her annuals in flats.
You taught me about the germination process and how to get seeds to sing and dance for me. (I mean germinate. You know that’s what I mean though, don’t you?) For some reason I still have your seed flats and cold frames in my mind. Maybe next year I’ll finally build a few simple flats and a basic cold frame like the one you had at the base of the rock wall near the stairs from the upper gardens. You’d like to see that, wouldn’t you? I don’t think I can make that seventeenth-century Buddhist temple you had there living amongst the grapes on your arbor though. I still cannot believe you made that for fun one winter. You were tickled by the idea that no one your age was building those things in Milwaukie.
You were a trailblazer.
I remember you telling me again and again about the importance of native grasses. You dreamed of a time when people would plant grass gardens and the grass could grow freely with wildflowers. Whenever I see amazing meadow designs I always think of you. How sad it is that you’re not around to see them, but I am here, and they will always remind me of you—as do the pollinators.
The pollinators are struggling now, but you told me that would happen. I remember it’s why you were so concerned about suburban gardens and the overuse of chemicals. It’s why we spent so much time together in your gardens just looking at insects. I was amazed at how many there were, and that I’d never noticed them before, but that’s because your garden was a safe place for them.
The chair at my desk in my office is your old oak chair. It once held a dictionary you so loved and other books you were reading at that time. I have one of your favorite dictionaries too. Yes, I use the Internet a lot now, but I still need to look randomly at words for fun. The chair is paired with Grandma’s old kitchen table. Do you remember it? She used it as her storage bench in the garage. It was beside the back door. Whenever she was working on something it’s where she’d stage the things she needed to get the job done. For some reason I felt that pairing it with your chair would bring me good luck. The business is growing, but it’s not easy. I suppose life is painful and sometimes we struggle. You taught me that too. While I work and sort seeds I think of you and smile. I know how much you’d like what I’m doing.
You were an amazing neighbor to Grandma. Thank you for bringing the beautiful widow roses and for talking to her about documentaries and National Geographic articles. She was a woman ahead of her time, and you always knew how much I took after her. I might be crusty and grumpy at times, but I still have her heart, the heart of a poet. She liked you too because you respected her and treated her as an intellectual equal. I know that was important to her.
As I think now of gardening I wish you could be here. There are so many things I’d like to ask you. I would ask you about your muses and inspirations and I think that you’d just look at me and say something like, “Annie, now why would I fuss with that sort of thinking? I’ve got plenty of other things to think about and do.” I can close my eyes and see your grin, it was nice and broad, and then you’d show me your pretty teeth as your grin morphed into a big smile. I used to love how much you’d tease me about thinking too much when you were cursed by the same thing.
When you got sick I was so upset that I couldn’t come over to see you. During your funeral and afterwards I cried a lot because I was devastated that I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. I still remember when I saw you last though. It wasn’t like my last conversation with Grandma Virginia, but it wasn’t bad. I think the cancer must have been starting then because you didn’t look well. We still made the most of it though—talking about plants and books.
At your funeral I remember your minister told us about how you were an agnostic but you went to his church just in case. Then he told us about when you’d telephoned him late at night, waking he and his wife up, because your night-blooming cactus was in bloom. I tried growing a Selenicereus grandiflorus from seed this year and it worked. I think I neglected it though so I may need to begin again. You know I will make it eventually. I want to call and wake people up too when it blooms but I’m probably more likely to post pictures of the occurrence on Facebook. Oh, how you would hate Facebook!
My mind is still all over the place and my garden shows a vast array of my green interests. Someday I will have another herb garden too—just like the one you made for me when I was a girl. I was too young to understand all of those plants well, but you gave them to me and that was a gift I’ll never forget. You were the first man to give me a garden of my own—albeit a portable one. It was quite glamourous that summer up on the deck in my treehouse overlooking the creek. That herb garden you gave me changed me and opened up something really important inside of me.
I have new mentors now and I hope you don’t mind—maybe you brought them to me? I think you’d like them a lot. We’re all plant nerds and many are word nerds too. We talk of plant exploration and seed collection. Sometimes—with others—we just go around on nursery tours testing out our botanical Latin. I was doing ok with that but a lot of stress threw me off my game. I hope to get back on that ball again soon so that I can be more comfortable with my green people again. I like that song and dance a lot. You know how often I wanted to get lost in your garden with you. I’m an adult now and I still seek out that exact same kind of pleasure. I am not alone though—not at all.
When it comes to my design style I’m inspired by art and nature. You would probably tell me that’s impractical, but I think it’s because I live in the city and it’s different here. (You’d have to agree with me on that front.) I learned a lot from you though about nature, recreating it, and then embellishing it a bit. Your soil lectures taught me how that was all possible. I remember you taught me about the movement of the sun too. Maybe I’m not that impractical after all. I know that you would have liked to see more food here in my garden. I do have a fig tree at least and I’m not finished yet. (Your dried fruits during our long discussions were the best. Maybe someday I’ll finally get around to making my own dehydrated fruit but I probably won’t make my own industrial-sized dryer with an old engine. I do live in the city. I doubt my neighbors would care for that kind of ingenuity.)
I’m so grateful to have known you Mr. Palm. You made my youth a happier place and you helped me to better understand that I was passionate about something my parents didn’t quite understand. I needed that and you were a good friend to me. Long before I knew about other weird kids with elderly best friends, you were my BFF.
Thank you.
It was sad watching as the developments encroached more and more upon your privacy and garden. 
The hardy Fuchsia and the gate to Grandma Virginia’s are all gone now. I have only this photo and the many happy memories. Thank you again.
(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)




My 9 Silly Things I Couldn’t Garden Without

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1.) Lemonade. But it must be sweetened with honey and I insist that it have a splash of rose water (or orange blossom water). This is not for everyone, but for this gardener, it’s key to my overall happiness. (Oh, and if you’re wondering, yes, it might smell like to soap.)

2.) Gluten-free snack with Oregon marionberry seedless preserves. It is a type of blackberry but it tastes about 1000x better.

3.) Inexpensive headphones and my loud Indie music. This is so that I don’t have to listen to the sounds of the city: public buses, barking dogs, ambulances, police flying by on their way to some other part of Portland, and the random drunk walking down Burnside. (I live one house in from this very busy street and it is sadly still quite loud.)

4.) Heart. Yes, I like to garden with heart. (Since my mother is going to read this, yes, “Happy Mother’s Day Mom,” I am just going to remind her that I garden with a lot of heart. (It’s not intended to be an inside joke, but I guess it might be…)

5.) A place to crash. For years I’d avoided using this amazing vintage chaise but as a converted chronically ill gardener—who is currently in much better health—I plan to use it more now than ever because I’d like to continue being happy and healthy.

6.) Bling. This goes in my hair so that if no one hears from me for a day or two they’ll find me in the garden more easily. (I suppose the same goes too if I’m just ignoring your phone calls or email messages.)

7.) Nail polish. I simply cannot say enough about how much better I feel when I’m a complete and total dirtball, with crisp and dry hands, and then I look down and I think, “Damn, those look nice at least.”

8.) Furry companions. For Mother’s Day they posed for this group picture. Trust me, this is not something they like to do everyday.

9.) iPhone. I love it because it plays music while I Google plants. Need I say more? (Note the MacBook in the reflection. I love it too but I did hate bringing it outside so often.)

2012: The Year of Entering the Garden with my Grandma Virginia

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A statue of St Francis in Grandma Virginia’s backyard circa the early 1980s. I have no idea what happened to him, but he stood beside a little water feature that never worked during my lifetime. I imagine Grandma and Grandpa made it when they built their midcentury ranch house together, long before Grandpa Amato passed away on March 3, 1973.
(This photo and the next were both taken with my second camera, a Kodak Instamatic X15. My first was a Brownie—but it never worked.)

It’s another day—a new day in the garden. As usual, I’ve not made any resolutions for the new year but that’s simply because I annually resolve to change things during the autumn, after the harvest, and I did so again in 2011—in preparation for the winter.

My grandmother’s death in September added the resolve that I needed in my life. It was a kind of closure too, but it opened a door for me, and added additional meaning and direction to my life. She was my guiding figure, the person who best reflected and understood my thoughts and feelings. She was my rock. If she’d not heard me, and responded to my metaphorical cries in the dark, I cannot imagine who I would be today. She was the beacon of light in what can only be called the fog of family. If I’d never known her, I would never have understood who I was.

Grandma’s front lawn looking across her street near Lake Road at the Asti family farm circa the early 1980s. Back when I was a child there were still many small farms in Milwaukie owned by Italian-American truck farmers. Only one or two of these farms are left now, and there are a few not far from where we live in Portland, but my guess is that their days are numbered too. Maybe 2012 will be the year of the traditional produce farm though, and I would like that a lot.

It was our last conversation though that changed me the most and for the last time. She was very weak, and couldn’t talk much, but she wanted me to stay with her. She asked me to give her a tour of my garden in words, with pauses, describing the plants, and flowers. For 20 minutes she held on to my words and my hand, struggling to do so, following me through the garden, and at the end, she only had one question to ask. “Do you have a fountain?” She’d shot right to the one thing I wanted most last year for my garden, but so many other things happened and got in the way—mostly the disorganization caused by chronic illness.

Her ability to follow me, to hear me, to trust my narration, only showed how deeply she loved me and it was a powerful thing that moved me to the core that afternoon. She knew me because I’d already inherited so much from her. She’d read me like a book, but that’s because so many of my thoughts had already been hers before I was even born. Knowing this was always very magical to me and it’s why I sought her advice so often. She was an older slightly different version of me and we both knew it.

My Grandma Virginia at 18.

After that conversation, I started to make changes. I resolved then to become the person she always knew, and to grow more in the ways she’d always encouraged me to grow. In some ways I now feel like the plant growing without its gardener, in a garden that is a bit overgrown since she passed, but I must trust myself more, both in the garden and in life, and as always, prune and train as needed.

I enter the garden in 2012 without my Grandma Virginia for the first time, but in a way, I enter as a new person, a new woman, one with more strength and purpose.

La vita é bella.
La vita é bella.
I will carry her with me always.

Happy New Year!

A Few of My Favorite Things

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If I could have five very special things for Christmas, for my garden that is, this is what I would like:
1) An extra acre would be wonderful.
2) More help from my loving husband, because he could never lift enough.
3) A few more cats from wherever they come from and more stray dogs.
4) An endless supply of rocks and bricks.
5) Free water all summer long and daily yard debris service.