Before returning to Italy, let’s review last winter…

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About last winter, well, it was divine. Between the fair weather, a class in horticulture, and time spent with friends over long meals, it was a time to indulge in additional personal growth and discovery while lingering to get to know those around me better.

What I mean to say here is that my new mast cell medication was working mightily well—as were all of the other therapies. This plant of mine felt like its backbone was strengthened and buds began to form. (Now months on, I can see the growth.)

When we left for Italy, my health was better than it had been in some ways for years, but I know now that the neuropathy medication I was just given upon my return should have been instituted before our departure. Years of swelling have definitely taken their toll on my nerves.

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Agapetes serpens.

This winter was about propagation. Much joy was had when these Agapetes serpens cuttings taken from my friend Kate’s plant continued to bloom and bloom under lights in my basement.

They’re still alive and have hardened off outdoors and I look forward to potting them up this week or the next. Bloom on little troopers!

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Not such a bad year on Instagram.

This winter I continued to socialize on Instagram with other garden and plant lovers. It was through this platform we ended up meeting my new friends in Venice.

For anyone who has a difficult time falling asleep it can be a tool that can successfully create thoughtless thoughts. You can count sheep, or scroll through plant pics. Take your pick!

Many of the people I chose to follow are in Europe and I look forward to seeing their mornings as I slowly let the weight of my head really force itself into the pillow. Ok, maybe seeing their delicious morning repasts may sometimes widen an eye and a growl may grow from somewhere deep inside of my stomach, but then I move on to the next photo and set aside that fleeting idea of a sunny morning in Greece.

This past winter Kate and I decided to take a little coastal garden tour in January. We met up with Flora our friend over at Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal. (If you follow the link, you can read more about the gardens we saw that day.) Surprisingly, the weather was decent for us and in the end I was able to eat my beloved oysters.

From there we travelled south to Yachats and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve.

If you’d like to read a great blog post about that location I suggest this post from my friend Evan over at the The Practical Plant Geek. (He wrote several posts about it and of course I’ve yet to post any photos at all.)

While preparing for departure, the garden grew and things bloomed while more botanical Latin was memorized and I worked to pass my plant ID course in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

Friends were made, I hosted a talk here in my house about rare ferns given by an expert in such things, and the anticipation of the impending journey grew in me, the deviation from my medical routine grew more exhilarating, and soon we crossed the big pond.

More on that next time…

San Francisco: Wine Deliveries, Lunch, and Flora Grubb Gardens (Again)

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 Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, at Flora Grubb Gardens.

On my first full day with my husband in Lake County, CA we had to get up early and head to San Francisco. Another long day in the car wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was worth it. He was going to attend a day-long industry-only wine tasting and I’d planned to take in some sights.

From the time he woke up he started feeling unwell so we adjusted our plan a bit. During harvest and crush, he really gets worn down so a rest day was in order and we were both kind of excited about visiting SF together.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’.
Other than an early dinner date with a new garden writer friend up in Marin, the city was very briefly our oyster that day. Our only serious task was to deliver some cases of wine, and while waiting in the car at one of those stops, I shot this picture of a typical street somewhere in SF.

Sorry for the dirty windshield but note that a weekday drive into San Francisco from Marin can be pretty painless during October just so long as you wait until after all the morning traffic.

During the drive, I discovered something funny about harvest. Once all the grapes are in their tanks fermenting, the whole valley in Sonoma actually smells of fermenting grapes. (Mr. B said Napa is even worse.) Coming from beer central, I should have realized this was possible but I just had never really thought about it. What an experience for the nose!

Entering the city you get to pay your $6 toll. I never get to take pictures of the tollbooths,  so I was happy this time with Mr B driving. They are designed to match the bridge and I think they’re the prettiest tollbooths I’ve ever had to go through.

After we paid our toll we had no plans and for me that was unusual—but welcome. Usually when I drive into SF I have some idea of where I am going since otherwise I’d still get lost very easily. In this case, I just sat back and enjoyed the view.

Alcatraz as seen from Hwy 101 just past the tollbooths.

The first thing I saw, of course, was Alcatraz in the distance. It’s now such a large part of my Ikebana project it made me smile. Finding my own metaphorical escape from the imprisonment of chronic illness has become such a game for me and gardening and plants are such an integral part of my strategy. I think for some of us, making the battle less personal is key to our survival. We need that distance to feel more comfort and less fearful. We need that space to heal. In a way, I’ve tried to leave a lot of my troubles on that island and I think it’s been working.

For lunch Mr. B decided to take me to the Ferry Building Marketplace. What a great little shopping area they have there! (I now know what Portland wants to have in its plan to create our James Beard Public Market. Shopping before your ride home is a such a great idea!)

So the first business that truly caught my eye because of its regionally accurate “shop locally” distinction was McEvoy Ranch. Could you have a store dedicated to olive oil and its many products anywhere else? I think not! That’s what they do. They’re olive ranchers.

To say that I felt envious is an understatement. I want to be an olive rancher too. (When he met me he was shocked that I cooked everything in olive oil. That still includes things like fried eggs and pancakes.)

I think I may have been an olive oil life-stylist long before we discussed and marketed things called “lifestyles” to consumers. My dad used to crack up when I was a girl because I’d use our jugs of olive oil to concoct rosemary and olive oil leave-in conditioners for my thick dry hair. (I still use olive oil soap but it’s usually the kind made in the Middle East.)

But oh how I now want to be an olive rancher…

Speaking of lifestyles, the gardening lifestyle is not an uncommon one to find in San Francisco either. Kingdom of Herbs was actually kind of nice to visit because it had upscale fun stuff mixed in with other odds and ends that all related to a love of all things plant material.

As someone who’s known for picking seeds wherever I go my husband and I giggled quite a bit about how I’d fit a few of these into my pockets. Not likely.

They had a lot of nice hats too.

And then there were plants…

and preserved plants and wood products. (Next year I really hope to preserve my boxwood cuttings. I really love these wreaths but they’re a bit pricey.)

After we grabbed some take-out from a deli, we wandered outside to watch the foot ferries while we ate. (This ferry takes commuters back and forth across the bay to Marin County.)

On our way out we stopped by The Gardener. It is a small local chain in the Bay Area and I was a bit less enthused by what it had to offer since it had far less to do with gardening.

I liked their display though of Japanese gardening tools. Reminded me a bit of a little piece of art I could hang on my own wall.

Mexican Flame Vine, Senecio confusus. This is a plant I’ve tried to grow from seed once or twice with little success.

Later, after the deliveries we went to Flora Grubb Gardens. I was embarrassed that I’d already been there four times this year, but since it was going to be my husband’s first visit, it somehow seemed necessary.

I was not disappointed. He was truly blown away by the displays and by the plants. As usual, I obsessively noted every change I could and thought about plants I may want in the future. (If only I could have that second garden in California.)

Queensland Silver Wattle or Pearl Acacia, Acacia podalyriifolia.
Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos ‘Bush Dawn’.
Hibiscus ‘Haight Ashbury’.
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. It’s endemic to California and is the largest of the North American Oaks. Some mature specimens can be nearly 600 years old, and can reach almost 100 feet in height.
Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha ‘Midnight’.

I love all the colors and you may have noticed that incredible blue sky?

Groundsel, Senecio mandraliscae and Sedum ‘Ogon’ behind it.
 Aloe ‘Pink Blush’. What an incredible hybrid!

Then there are the exterior/interior design ideas that Flora Grubb is so famous for. I still haven’t made my Sedum masterpiece, but that’s probably because I am still stuck on that Jackson Pollock flowerbed idea. (More on that next season. I’ve made some progress with this idea this year.)

I am not sure if the wire baskets are oyster baskets, but they sure look like they could be. These little decorative wall items are kinds cute and I hope to make some this winter. I so love anything with gilding.

Last time I don’t think I added a picture of their suspended Woollypocket display.

This geometric bear head is great too. After all it is California and they do have that silly bear on their flag, so why not!

Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’.

Just before we left I discovered these two Begonias. Glad I did too because one of them I can grow from seed. It is really amazing how much leaf variation exists in this group. I truly am in love with all of them, but the Grape Leaf Begonia might just be my new favorite.

Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.
Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.

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.