My First HPSO (Hardy Plant Society of Oregon) Open Garden

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It’s been 2 months since my garden was open to a limited number of gardeners I didn’t know from Adam. I think I’ve almost recovered from the experience, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure. 2017 has been the year of renovation around here and we’re far from done.

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The front yard as it was that weekend. Hopefully next year the master plan for the Hell Strip from Hell will have been masterfully completed.

The whole endeavor is not for the faint of heart. Yet for me, it had to be done. If I don’t have a goal to achieve, I don’t get things done. This Virgo child may be down to earth, but I sure do get distracted by shiny/beautiful and/or delicious things quite easily. So yes, this garden and home have been so wrapped up in my emotional and physical lives for so long I just wanted to be rid of that extra baggage.

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The first renovation to take place was of the front garden. We widened the parking space and hired John Crain of Opal Gardens to build a custom fence. Made of Oregon juniper, you’ll find many fences that look like it in the far reaches of Northern Italy.

I learned a lot during the process and I continue to discover new things about myself as I rid the property of both objects and memories. If gardening is life (and it is for some of us), and if life is about adapting to change and problem solving, then my garden and I had not really been alive or even living for quite some time. There had been no big changes for too long and I still had a lot of spots with unresolved problems. Not so much now thank-you-very-much!

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To add to the more laid back feel a bored, sleepy lion was added to my concrete garden menagerie.

Last spring both my garden and I began a bit of transformation, and while my garden no longer looks and feels like the hot mess that it once was, I’m still waiting for my makeover. Sigh. I suppose it too is on its way.

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My garden throne. This hammock was found dumped by the side of the road years ago and I am so grateful for the comfort it’s given to my aching back over the years. To reward it, I finally gave it its own space.

Last winter my back went out, and while I was in physical therapy strengthening the damaged and weakened area of my lower spine I decided to think about happier things. I couldn’t bend over or lift much so why not force myself to improve? What else was going on while I was resting? Not much. I figured that opening my garden would mean that I’d be sure to follow through with my daily PT exercises—and it did! It worked!!!

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One of my favorite spots in the garden to rest my eyes. I’m happy with how it looked this year and with the new items. I think next year it will finally go over the top.

It was my coming out party as a gardener. After over a decade it was finally time for me to put my best foot forward. This meant facing unrealistic goals, dreaming up things I never could get finished (or afford) in time, and then accepting help from others when I really needed it, but hey, this is me we’re talking about now! Yes, of course I needed help. (Thank you Paul, Gail, Vanessa, Mary, Mi Yong, Evan, Kate, and John. If I forgot someone, please kick me and tell me to edit this ASAP. Oops. I have to kick myself. Alex and Elizabeth helped me with the lights and Julie and Bob let me borrow their orchard ladder. Thank you!)

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Grandpa Sam’s chair was given a new look and I purchased two more vintage chairs to give it company. Vanessa Gardner Nagel came up with this fancy use of a planter I’d purchased and never used. I love how it all came together.

Overall, the experience was outstanding and I recommend it to everyone mostly because of the comradely. Sure, we all have friends with amazingly perfect gardens who’ve earned national horticultural and design acclaim and they tell you it’s ok to open up your place before you’re all finished. Yeah. Uh-huh. I’m sure no one will criticize this or that since we all know we’ve been there at some point. Have we not?  Don’t listen to them and just plug along and do your best. In my case that meant staying up until 1am under lights on a warm summer evening making kokedama arrangements but by then I was both slightly relieved and more delirious than usual. It was almost over and it felt so good.

The forest fire smoke was finally lifting too so that was a relief. That smoke really slowed down progress this past summer.

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The living willow arbor where I spread some of Maurice the cat’s ashes. The garden is named after him: Campiello Maurizio.

Luckily for those of us who find this flavor of stress hilarious and just need to laugh it all off or else we’d explode there are these fancy things called cocktails that can help us relax. Since I can’t drink wine or beer any more they’re kind of my new thing. (My personal favorite is an Amaretto Sour if you’re wondering. Please hand me one if you ever meet me at an event. I’ll need it. Trust me. Ms. Nerves over here.)

Until you’ve opened up your garden to a group of discerning visitors, let me tell you, you won’t quite know what you’re in for—but the pain and suffering is all worth it.

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Ah yes… Let’s all thank that young man again for setting the Columbia River Gorge on fire just before I opened my garden. Talk about a hurdle. My severe asthma was incredibly uncomfortable.

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The smoke was so bad this summer that for many days I couldn’t leave the house.

I’ll try to post more anecdotes later about my experience. Clearly I’m a plantswoman and I wish that I’d been able to better highlight some of the rare and unusual plants I care about around here but many are still small, others don’t look great, and a few more have yet to germinate.

More on that soon too… I’m finally organized enough after all of this to begin selling more online again and to expand my business. I’m always looking for more seeds so please look at the page here on my blog of things that I’m looking for currently. If you have something for me I can trade seeds with you or send you some homemade Italian cookies of your choice.

CIAO for now!

Cecil & Molly Smith Garden (St. Paul, Oregon)

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Just days after our return home from Italy I decided to readjust to my life by taking the opportunity to visit a local garden I’d never seen before, and which I’d always wanted to visit.

Run by the Portland Chapter of The American Rhododendron Society, the Cecil & Molly Smith Garden is only open for limited visits during the months of April and May.

While resting my poor swollen feet and lower legs I cracked open the 2016 Open Gardens Guide from the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon aka HPSO. IMG_1717Plane rides may give this chronically ill woman horrible temporary edema, but I wasn’t going to let that keep me down—even if that had been my Doctor’s orders.

I needed some retail relief and good ole open American space in the form of my beloved Willamette Valley. Since the garden is located near Heirloom Roses, I knew this was the perfect plan. I could buy something and go for a drive in the country.

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The volunteer who greeted me was great. I spoke with him briefly when we entered and then at length before I left. He’d handed me a nice list of the plants, and I’d thought I could keep track of them, but I was not certain on many accounts.

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I took photos of the tags too but I had also just learned that my most recent caregiving client had entered hospice and I was more upset that day than I’d realized at the time. Looking back at the notes I took, they don’t make a lot of sense.

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Gardens are for healing and reflection. IMG_1755

That day I wandered around in a daze. I thought a lot about the client I’d been with for a year and I revisited the conversations and worked to draw meaning from it all.

Recently I’d read something about caregiving that had really hit home in relation to caring for the dying. The author wrote that we make promises to the patients, to our faith, or to ourselves.IMG_1768This was the first time I’d lost a client who wasn’t much older than me. IMG_1777The client was full of wonder with the world and saw beauty in our daily lives.

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The client wasn’t ready to leave this life, and even though I left for my trip knowing that they’d moved in with family, they’d repeatedly said it was only temporary and would return soon.

I believed the job would go on. IMG_3583

What would the client want for me now as my life moves on? What do I want for myself? What have I learned?

The client would want us all to live our lives to their fullest and to be giving and to push ourselves to learn and be more.

Additionally, the client would want us to bloom, and to create, and to make art or to enjoy art created by others. The client would want us to be active and to build community.

That day I barely saw all of these amazing flowers, and I know that we all have these days, and even now as I sit here writing this I mourn for the client as I have mourned other clients. I guess these photos are reminding me of how I felt that day, but I felt so much more, IMG_1784

In the garden I walked on lovely soft pathways through thousands of blooms and I was overcome by it all. I was transported seeing the wide swaths of thick Doug fir bark. Sometimes things that are so familiar to you look much more vivid when you return to them after a long absence.