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!