Been a long time in the garden: Wine, Women and Song

Standard
IMG_0487-1

Was taken to a few wineries in September for my 41st birthday. Here I am shoveling some very delicious Willamette Valley grapes in my face. Thank goodness for friends and their cameras.

A few months have passed since I last blogged. With a blogoversary on the horizon I think it’s time for me to begin again. This time of year is always very busy for me with all of my indoor gardening and seed work. I have plenty to share so stay tuned.IMG_5477

Cooking has continued to play an important role in my life. As a gift, my combined wedding anniversary and birthday gift from my husband was an amazing meal at Castagna.

I could write a book about that incredible meal but instead I’ll recommend that you read about the chef and go there yourself. It was an incredible dining experience and one I’ll never forget.

IMG_5516

LuLu and Quincy loved to chase one another in the willow arbor.

Mid September our little buddy Quincy went missing one Friday night. He wasn’t with us for long, and we miss him dearly. I refuse to give up hope and continue to search for him. Luckily our county has a wonderful system for lost animals and I receive daily notifications.

IMG_5611

Gardener, garden writer and designer Kate Bryant enjoying a bit of salmon fishing.

Dad took two of my friends and I salmon fishing back in September. It was a quick trip but we all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and great food. We may not have caught anything, but a boat of fishermen did offer us a free fish to take home.

IMG_5730

During September I also visited Sarracenia Northwest for their Open House. This is a beautifully fun story and I promise to write more about it in an upcoming post.  IMG_5814

The tomatoes kept coming this year and they kept me busy. As a matter of fact I finished up eating them just a few days ago. I was a bit shocked to have ripe tomatoes from the garden on November 1.

IMG_6048

With a tromboncino squash I was gifted I made homemade gnocchi with butter and sage sauce. It was a great idea for a little garden writing group that I’ve helped to start just to get me to write more. I want to write more. I really do.
IMG_6362

I decided to purchase my first fancy apron after catering for a small party. This was a lovely reward after having succeeded with all of those fundraiser dinners this summer. As difficult as that work was, I do miss entertaining and making menus. Am taking the holidays off too because I cannot afford to feed as many people as I used to so taking a holiday will be a nice break.IMG_6783

To thank friends who offered to help me this summer after my last surgery I hosted a pizza party. I avoided making Italian-style pizza for a very long time, but I feel comfortable with it now. IMG_6057

As I stated a few months ago, I was yearning to return to school. I did. I am taking one class right now and am loving plant ID in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

IMG_6111

There have been the garden visits to friends’ green realms with more meals and laughs. I am a big fan of Felony Flats Botanical Garden and its head gardeners Eric and Robert.

IMG_6128

Petunia exserta.

In addition to school and a new part-time job (more on that in my next post), I’m beginning to take care of my seed shop again and have been collecting, accepting by mail from friends, and shopping online again for things I’d like to grow. As I rip out the garden, I am looking for new growing spaces while considering the possibilities.

IMG_6639

White alpine strawberry.

IMG_6367

Pelargonium peltatum, the species from Cistus Nursery.

IMG_6162

Lastly, I also hosted the Fall Garden Blogger Plant Swap. It’s kind of like Fight Club so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you’re a blogger and you live nearby, let me know. The primarily requirement is that you be a blogger. IMG_6183

LuLu has been my new little furry rock since Quincy disappeared. She’s taken up as my stalker where my little old lady Macavity left off when she passed away last year.

Here she is loving up Maurice but we all know she’s just letting him know who’s in charge. She’s a bossy pants, piglet. In addition to climbing the walls and my pant legs, she’s almost always underfoot. I adore her and her youthful kitten energy.IMG_6246 Luckily LuLu goes out a little bit, but she’s not going to be allowed to be an outdoor cat. Here she is helping me to collect tomatoes. IMG_6264She also helps me with my botanical studies. Here she is letting me know that DOGWOODS bore her.
IMG_6859So welcome back! Welcome to indoor gardening and there’s more to come. I promise!

Book Review: Into the Garden with Charles (by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger)

Standard
9780374175719

Into the Garden with Charles by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger, 2012, First Farrar, Straus and Giroux Edition, 209 pages.

Into the Garden with Charles is a love story written by a man who finds love during the middle of his life after having given up his decades-long search. Resigned to spend his life alone, he purchases a small three-hundred-year-old house in Orient, Long Island after having fallen in love with the area and the community he finds there. He continues to commute between his apartment in New York City (where he still works) and his small country home on 1/3 of an acre until he gives up the apartment and moves permanently to Orient.

He begins to grow the garden he’d dreamed of having since he was a boy and works as a landscaper. He’s clearly happy to have reached this point, but he still longs to share his life with someone and is lonely.

“I began to grow around my loneliness the way a tree limb can grow through a chain-link fence, incorporating the sharp metal into its fiber without showing any outward signs of distress. I gardened my way into middle age, dog-earing nursery catalogues, circling seed packets I wanted to order, lusting after rare plants.” 

Then—as if by chance—he meets Charles. He’s a dining room captain and assistant maître d’ at the Carlyle Hotel who also just so happens to be an art collector with an interest in horticulture. Their touching story most certainly does not end there though, and as they grow together, their garden flourishes.

Wachsberger’s writing draws the reader in and you’re left feeling as if you’re part of his life as you watch anecdotes and their actions unfold into the overall narrative. He is a generous writer and it’s clear that he tenderly cared for every word in his memoir as I can only imagine he must have cared for every plant in his garden.

The story is also made brighter by how he tends to those he loves in his own life, but the memoir also hinges on his own self-care.

“…if I’d been going for regular checkups. I had never wanted to disappoint Charles. I had never wanted to bring any sadness into his life. My fear of doctors had resulted in this.”

I know that I for one felt as if I was right there during all of the life events he recounts. I rarely feel that way unless I’m experiencing the effects of a well-written memoir. When this book was over I put it down and felt an immense sense of loss. It wasn’t just because the story was over, but let’s just say that Wachsberger skillfully puts the garden to bed for us and as I shut the cover I felt as though the garden gate was permanently closed to me too.

“This moment: these tiny bits of white tossed this way and that by fate, or defying it; Charles’s rapt attention; his profile in shadow against sun-drenched salvia and verbenas; his lips parted in amazement; Rover curled sleeping at his feet—that will forever be the garden for me.”

Throughout the book we meet many characters in his life: family members, an opera singer, a varied cast of other fun people I wish I could have known, small town folks, NYC folks, and Rover the Dog. There is a long list of plants too, but I’ve left them out of this because in the end what the garden is about is people. That’s what Wachsberger so beautifully captures in Into the Garden with Charles. Gardens contain the unseen networks of memory we create over time between our relationships to the past, the present, and the future, but most of all, they’re very often an expression of our love for the lifecycle and beauty of the plant world, and for our own shared human experience.

This is a book I will recommend for many years with the hope that it will inspire others to live as Clyde lived and loved.

Clyde Phillip Wachsberger was an artist, gardener, writer, and retired professional set-designer (later becoming a landscaper in his retirement), but he was more importantly a man who clearly loved life and beauty a great deal and hoped to communicate this to us as humorously and as lovingly as he could in his memoir Into the Garden with Charles.

(A free copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux not long after it was first published.)

Becoming ‘That’ Neighbor

Standard
P1050887

(Photo taken by me in Chinese Camp, CA.)

I jokingly tell myself nowadays, “I’ve taken to Scooby Doo styled landscapes.” If you visit my garden, I’ll even say it out loud and it will be followed up by one of those half-hearted self-effacing nervous laughs one’s prone to when they’re ashamed of their mess.

Yeah, life happens. I know. I know.

And I’m overwhelmed by the mess—daily. But unlike other messes this one grows—and then grows some more—and it just keeps on growing.

You see houses like mine if you walk around enough and get to know your neighborhood. I can only speculate as to the causes of this kind of decline but clearly it can be anything from old age or an injury, to the addition of a small child or two, maybe even a divorce or depression.

Gardening clearly takes time, energy, and money. We don’t all have these luxuries and I’m afraid I took them for granted when they were more readily available to me. When I first began blogging and was very ill with autoimmune disfunction I was receiving financial support from my family and my days were my own. I read and ordered seeds. I tended to new plants. I worked when I could, but best of all, I was not a stressed out underemployed woman with chronic health issues using all of her energy to pay her own way in the world.

Oh how times have changed…

Yeah. That’s my house right now. I went through the illness, depression, divorce, depression and injury phases. [Sigh.] Sometimes I feel badly that my gardening ‘issues’ don’t appear in the glossy magazines with lust-worthy photos of beautiful gardens that I will never be able to afford. Clearly, I’m a great target audience—and I’ve done my fair share of feeling envious—but I’m a realist.

Despite having wanted to fix things up there’s neither been the available labor nor the money to pay for additional labor. Medical issues (aka life) really can put an end to gardening efforts in a flash.

I’ve been in denial about how bad it’s gotten around here, but I’m finally feeling a bit less overwhelmed. I can manage my physical energy better between work and home. My back is getting better post-surgery and I appear to be building more muscle. I’m committing to a second round of allergy shots to decrease swelling. Discovering I’m allergic to black pepper and all peppers has dramatically improved my breathing. (I had no idea how bad my breathing was before a few weeks ago and am relieved now.) To relieve stress—with the time I have—I either read, write, exercise, or cook. There’s still not a lot left over for gardening, but I’m committed to started seeds again this year.

I’m also committed to making improvements in my own life when I see areas that need help. If this round in the garden doesn’t work out in 2015, I’m likely going to need to focus more time on managing my health and this blog will end. Though this makes me kind of sad, on the other hand, I very much like to watch things grow.

Fête de la Saint-Fiacre—and a prayer too

Standard
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 Gardener Spends an Hour or Two at Powell’s Books

Standard
Last Friday the sun was out in the City of Roses and I was running around getting ready for my nieces’s 21st birthday party.
Why not stop for a bit at Powell’s? Right?

I have been visiting the nationally-known and locally-loved store since I was a girl and to say that it’s part of my routine and my life is an understatement. Long before the Internet existed I was using this book lovers’ destination as a much needed resource—along with the local library system of course!

Walking the two blocks from where I’d parked my car I enjoyed the familiar sights.
There were the usual humorous things to see too—even if I was the only one laughing.
No folks, this is no longer a trash can once it’s painted and planted!
As for the Italian cypress, it reminded me a bit of the old drunk men I used to see in this area as a girl. They too leaned up against the walls of building just like this poor thing.
Portland looked much different during the 1970s. I suppose to outsiders, we still look different, but in a much more friendly way.

For instance, we have our urban windmills atop buildings. Everyone does that right?

Since I hadn’t been to the downtown location for several months I’d not yet noticed that the gardening section had been expanded a bit.

There was a great display of new books and I was happy to see they’ve included a cheap section again with older titles that don’t cost as much as the newbies.

Yes, it’s harder now to find great deals on books here but that’s happening everywhere.

My favorite section was still very much intact.

Beside it is my other favorite section in the store. As someone with a background in critical theory and philosophy relating to art history and visual analysis this section has been nice to transition into over the years. At least with gardens you can actually talk about something.

Upstairs in the arts area I was excited to see vintage typewriters on display with houseplants. This is a nice Ficus elastica.

Some of the other houseplants didn’t look as nice but this is a bookstore after all. I felt like turning this Sansevieria but then I decided that I might look like one of those obsessive characters in that popular tv show you’ve probably heard about that’s filmed here.

Before I left I was looking at hiking books because I plan to go on more plant and nature adventures this year. It was strange to me that an older edition of one of the used books seemed familiar. I looked on the back and suddenly remembered that my dad had resold the remainders he’d purchased from the original publisher when they’d gone out of business. I may have actually put this sticker on the back of this book because I used to do things like that when I was younger.  As the daughter of a publisher, I was lucky to grow up surrounded by books. I always could earn some extra money too.

When I was a young girl my Saturday mornings downtown at Powell’s with my dad were often the highlight of my week. We’d often spend several hours there together reading quietly and watching people.

It was really nice to remember those memories just before leaving and I also found some great books for my niece.

10 Reasons Why I Garden Therapeutically

Standard
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.