Wordless Wednesday: Sunny Times in the Back Garden

Standard
Impatiens tinctoria with Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’.
Mona the Cat under her hammock shade canopy.
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’. Yes, we can grow it in the ground.
Adiantum peruvianum.
Some of my pole apples (Malus).
Begonia boliviensis.
Clematis heracleifolia. 
Acquired as Graptopetalum paraguayense.
Coleus and Begonia in planters. I grew the Begonia plants from seed I bought last fall on sale.

My Garden (An Exercise in Garden Writing)

Standard
Back of the house as seen from the back corner of my garden. The willow arbor is floating there to the left.

After having seen many residential gardens over the last few years I think it’s safe to say that mine is rather small, a regular city lot, with areas more or less here and there in strips along the north, south, and west sides of the home. The backyard is probably more of what would be traditionally called a garden, but even it is quite small when compared to larger gardens seen in this city. It is square, roughly 30′ x 30′, and in its heart is my 10′ x 10′ living willow arbor. For me, this is the shaggy, ragged and often messy heart of my garden. It’s my outdoor living room. It’s cozy and a bit wild—probably a bit like me.

This area looks sort of finished but if I’d pulled the camera out a bit the illusion of order would disappear. (That’s Cryptomeria japonica ‘Spiraliter Falcata‘ there on the right and an Impatiens tinctoria on the far left. Still cannot find the tag for the really hardy evergreen fern there but I’m working on it. The grassy bunch is a lovely Carex.)

Then there is the rest. The bits and pieces. I see swipes and swatches as I wander around watering in the heat. I see finished areas followed by piles of trash that I’ve not yet picked up from old ideas for projects. There are the overgrown run-on sentences of the garden—mostly vines. My garden is one that’s a work-in-progress, it’s an artist’s studio. This place really is my mad plant scientist’s laboratory. 

Antirrhinum majus ‘Oriental Lanterns (TM)’ grown from seed I bought from Park Seed. The color is amazing and the plant is a great plant.

My house faces west. The front yard is not really coherent. There is the tiny hell strip, cut up into three uneven pieces. There is a central area, with a privacy planting, meant to keep the eyes of those on the sidewalk away from my large front window. The parking area is there too but it’s currently filled with racks and pots and is more of a staging area this summer. An edible garden once ran along the southern side of the house. It is overgrown now and a mass of tangled plants. It was created initially to be the domain of my ex, but I’ve not yet fully reclaimed it. I hope to soon. 

Life in the hammock on a summer evening as I dream of better times ahead.

I see the memories of each and every plant and space. I see the ghosts of plants who’ve come before and which are gone now. I want to garden to build a future now more than to remember the past. This will be challenging for me, but I want to do so. So much about gardening requires time and patience. I’ve finally learned too that gardening can be exhilarating when you rip everything out and begin again. Just like a diseased plant, it’s best to rip it out. Some plants struggle in the wrong conditions, I have been one of those plants. 

The real garden here at home. The back boundary has been an eyesore for years. Here is Mona the Cat watching the apartment dwellers. Someday soon I’l have the fence I’ve been hoping for and planning for years.

The front garden runs along the fence and turns along with the walking path into what is my north garden. It is the access walkway and no one ever wants to go that way even when I encourage them to do so. Someday I’ll actually consult someone about how to make that entryway more enticing, but for now, I’ll just continue to gently encourage folks verbally. 

My engagement bike along the North Side of the house. (Yes, I’m engaged to be married.) The bike “La Dama” is now my mobile seed-collecting unit. I can bike to homes nearby and collect seeds from gardens locally to be sold in my online store. So far, the whole process has worked wonders for my health.

I like the small northern strip. I don’t like having to look directly at my neighbor’s house, but he’s a nice man. He just isn’t as into privacy as I am. He has landscaped with English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), and cedar (Cedrus)—all having grown randomly on his property from seeds dropped by birds or else they were blown in on the wind. He then plucked them and rearranged them into rows. Amazing in its own way I suppose as a lesson in patience and he has loads of that virtue. He’s a great neighbor and I like to harvest from his ever-growing army of Western Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum). (My first client has also been grateful for this too.) 

Sedum morganianum in my office. I’m taking care of my indoor babies before it gets too dark and cold outside to do so in the fall. I hate transplanting houseplants when the days get shorter. It’s best to care for them now. Their roots will appreciate it and they’ll be far less likely to fall prey to pests and disease.

Forgive me for not writing about my plants though. Major life transitions recently have made that painful. I’m healing. I’ve learned a lot. So many memories were tied up in every corner of green in my space. During the past few years I’ve really come to understand how unusual I am in that sense. My plantings have held such sentiments. But I know that I am not the only one. There are those who garden to decorate. Some re-create a time, or a place, or a feeling. Many just want symmetry and low-maintance. Some want that impression—a replication seen in a magazine. I planted to forget. I planted to create another kind of reality. I remember far too much and I’ve come to realize recently that I’ve never forgotten nearly as much in my garden as I’ve remembered. 

The garden of my mother.

My home is the home of a woman who up until recently didn’t really understand she had a moderately serious case of OCD. When I was highly stressed during the past decade—for the first time in my life—the negative effects of this affliction really showed themselves. Now I’m using my “old friend” to help me to organize, clean and make sense of the chaos I’d created during so many years of unhappiness and loneliness. I’ve taken my life back and I no longer see OCD really at all. I had no idea that such severe and extreme stress could do this to someone. In hindsight, I have been that woman. 

I’m very detail oriented. This can be a wonderful thing—especially for making pastries.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I have a light form of OCD but I want to use it for good. The kind I have appears to have helped me in the past with my academic achievements. I have an amazing memory and when I want to organize and categorize things, it’s like breathing for me and I find it extremely relaxing. It puts me in my happy place. When I’m stressed though, things fall apart. I’ve lived with a lot of stress for many years now and my garden shows that still. It’s the last frontier of my former life but I’m making sense of it now. I’m re-writing my garden as I’m re-writing my life. 

First harvest of the season from the Ficus carica ‘Petite Negra’.

For these reasons I do not see what others see. As I walk the circle around my home I see what never was, I hear the echos of arguments, there were the joyous moments after my divorce, conversations with friends and foster kids, and I see myself wandering, wondering what to do with myself. I see myself crying in pain during times of horrible illness and swelling. In my head the refrain, “I need help,” repeats over and over. It is far more difficult to ask for help than it is to prune a Japanese maple. When I walk in my garden, I see and feel the pleasure pruning the Japanese maples has given me during the worst of times. When I felt my worst emotionally, I always sought my pruners. 

The front of the house July 2013.

You’d think that this would make for an organized garden but mine is not. There are yet many unfinished projects. I’m slowly trashing them now and am making room for a new period in my life. I’m keeping the plants that grow well and which bring me happiness. If the memories are too painful, reminding me of when I fell and broke my fingers, or when I fell and hit my head, I’m trying not to let the plants die. Instead, I am either giving things away or moving them. The memories are dying instead and things are no longer falling apart. 

Maurice the Cat in his happy zone.

I should add more pictures but I’m still ashamed to do so. With a party coming up to welcome my fiancé into his new home I’m making strides. These things take time, energy, and money and I don’t have a lot of any of these right now.

I’m one of the many chronically ill divorced people who’ve filed for personal bankruptcy. I’m not a perfectly comfortable member of the middle class and I’m not ashamed to say so. That’s what I feel and see when I see my garden but I’ve been learning to see so much more.  

I feel that I’m lucky and gifted to be here—to be able to continue living here. I’m loved now too—a lot!—and I’m learning to be part of a team. We plan to buy the house and stay here. These things take time, but sometimes things work out for the best. I’m learning that too and being positive makes a huge difference. I adore all of the positive green people in my life and want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. We gardeners are ever the optimists and you’ve all helped me feel alive during a time when I really needed the lifeline. Thank you.

Gardens are for people and this garden is a big part of me. I really look forward to sharing it more with others in the future—and I guess that means you’ll get a bit more of me too.

(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.)

Xera Nursery Fall Fundraiser and Open House

Standard
Sometimes one feels like a kid in a candy store. This was one of those times.

The sale is over at Xera Plants but I made it at least. This isn’t meant in a snarky way, I’m just surprised I had the energy to go! (September was quite an active month for me and I was really drained from all the activities.)

Sorry to have not posted anything about this pre-sale, but so it goes. (This is a wholesale nursery that’s not frequently open to the public so whenever they open their doors it’s quite a treat!)

Yes, I am posting this after the fact but at least this was something I attended within the last week! (Oh, just wait until my backlog begins to appear soon!)

Crepe Myrtle ‘Wichita’, (Lagerstroemia ‘Wichita’).
For a bit of a change I took my landscaper friend with me and we both enjoyed the break even though we were exhausted before we’d even left.
Polka Dot Begonia, (Begonia maculata).

Introducing my friend to a few new contacts at the nursery was fun, and besides, who among us doesn’t really just enjoy looking at plants?

Buddleja colvilei ‘Kew Form’.

This form of Buddleja really surprised us both and the blooms were different. If it hadn’t been for its leaves I’m not sure we would have been able to identify the shrub. That’s what tags are for though…

An Arctostaphylos treated as a standard.

And just look at the bark on this beautiful topiary! I could stare at it for days, months, years.

Parrot Plant, (Impatiens niamniamensis).

Ok, since I’m always bad about posting my purchases, I will do so this time. First up was a replacement Impatiens. Yes, I know it’s getting cold out and that this plant won’t be happy soon out in the cold but I should remind those of you who’re new to this blog that I have a lot of plant lights and I spend all winter in a house filled with lights and plants. It’s not such a horrible way to live and even people who don’t garden as much as I do love to visit.

I bought a Polka Dot Begonia and another Begonia luxurians too. The latter was also a replacement plant. (Yes, some plants were neglected during the separation and divorce process. I felt badly about this, but it has been worth it in the long run.)

Fig tree, (Ficus afghanistanica).

This little fig tree was a nice find. It’s a compact form and quite cold hardy so it may end up living in a container although I plan to plant it before winter sets in around here. (If I do chose to move, this one is going with me.)

My sad fig situation this year.

I was sad that my little fig tree wasn’t very productive this year but our weather has been so strange. It’s been sunny and warm for weeks now and we’ve had so little rain. It’s October and I still have to water! I should be baking with apples right now!

(Yes, I would have bought more if I could have, but not knowing where I will be this time next year means that I have to really curtail my plant purchases to those which can be transported easily to wherever I land. I do love Xera Plants a lot though and I hope that in the future when I am more settled I will be able to add more of their special plants to my garden.)

The studio/garage.

In other news, during my recent birthday party—while hanging out in the hammock—an old friend had a bright idea. Later that night he wrote to me and asked: “Have you ever thought about renting out your garage as an art studio?” I took a deep breath before writing back to let him know that when I first saw this house for sale online it was the detached semi-finished former garage space that excited me most. I very much wanted to make it into some kind of studio but we could never do so.

So, if my garden and I are going to grow on in time, it somehow seems quite fitting to let that initial thought I’d had so long ago—a little spark I’d sent out into the world—come full circle. I hope that allowing a gifted and very talented young artist to set fire to his own creativity back there with his brushes and imaginative energy will help to propel me forward. Besides, it means I get to add some plant life back into the space over the winter.

An artist needs inspiration, right? Let it be green…

Berries, Vines, Seeds, and a Giant Impatiens

Standard

This past Friday evening I went for a nice long walk. Once part of my weekly routine, I’ve been too busy recently to add another 6 miles onto my week—at least not on that day. So I was happy to wander around for several hours as the city came alive with its nightlife and the Blue Moon rose up over Portland.

Sambucus nigra.

Not far from home I ran into this gorgeous black elderberry shrub. It was all dressed up for the season.

Sambucus nigra.  

Seeing it reminded me that summer is really over. It’s too bad we didn’t have much heat at all, but I’m grateful I barely had to water this year. With all of the walking and activities too, I’ve barely taken care of my plants. For a long time I felt poorly about that, but the exercising has truly improved my health a great deal.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata.

Not far from the elderberry I saw the difficult-to-miss berries of a porcelain berry vine. An Asian plant, it’s considered invasive in much of the Eastern US though here in the NW it doesn’t seem to be taking anything over just yet.

I just love those candy-colored berries though.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata.

According to one site the vine was introduced from Asia in 1870 as an ornamental and landscaping plant. This must have been really pretty beside some lovely Victorian home.

Euphorbia lathyris.

Back at home I have a few plants that are blog worthy. First off is this caper spurge or mole plant. I’ve been meaning to write about it for some time.

Loree from over at Danger Garden noticed several of these popping up in my garden last spring and she knew what they were immediately. I had no idea at first, but then I remembered I’d ordered some special Euphorbia seeds at some point.

When things don’t germinate, I often just toss the seed starting soil out into the garden. Well, this is what happens when you do that.

It’s like Christmas to me. I won’t lie.

Impatiens tinctoria. 

Another great plant I have is the giant Impatiens tinctoria. Its blooms are amazing, but I have to admit I’ve neglected this African rainforest plant a bit by not mulching it enough this year. At least I still get the blooms though and it’s been hardy in my garden now for at least a year.

Impatiens tinctoria.

You can see that the leaves did get a bit scorched. It probably should be moved to a more protected spot.

Actaea pachypoda.

Lastly, there’s my doll’s eyes (or white baneberry) plant. The Actaea is native to the Eastern US and I have to say that the plant’s common name thrills me with its creepiness. It’s by far one of the best plants to get me in the mood for Halloween.

Probably not a bad thing to start thinking about as we shift gears and move indoors more and more.

Passiflora ‘Blue Crown’ as it makes a run for it.

Sexy Wild Wildflower Moments (The Touch-Me-Not)

Standard
Common Jewelweed a kind of Touch-Me-Not, (Impatiens capensis).
This is a post about something that’s a common experience, and it’s probably happened to you too.
Gardeners and plant people see the world differently, but we’re human after all, and many of us can also be sentimental in how we see the world around us. Sometimes this can help us when we’re not feeling so comfortable. It’s through these stories we often find our own release and can be set free again.
Here’s my story.
Anthropomorphizing isn’t just for poets, or maybe it is…
Sometimes we just see wildflowers, but at other times, we grab them and want to hold onto them and own them. So often they are ephemeral and delicate and once picked they droop and fade quickly. They’re not often as sturdy as other plants. And yet, that’s what makes them so special to us.
Our human desire to capture that brief momentary beauty can be a rush that evokes in us a kind of lust for something we can never truly possess.
And wildflowers are necessary to us because they are not the shrubs or trees in our lives. They are something far more special and their beauty touches us much differently.

If I were a wildflower, I’d be a Touch-Me-Not. In my moment I don’t just droop over and let my seeds trickle out, or worse yet, blow away in the wind. This is not the showiest of seed heads, but it’s energetic and active.

I am a seed collector and I’ve grabbed many wildflower seed heads—but only after their blooms had faded and the plants were near gone.

This summer I reached out and grabbed a wildflower and it faded quickly and when I went back to look inside for seeds, there were none.

Someone had been there long ago to drain the plant of its seeds. So now I’m walking away empty handed—but with the memory of the momentary pleasure of the bloom.

È arrivato l’autunno! And darkness is falling…

Standard
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) from the bedroom window.

Due to my seed collecting and my husband’s grape harvesting, bottling, and pressing, for us autumn is when we return to our roots. It’s when I begin to feel like cooking again and it’s when I return to my Catholic past. From now until Easter we’ll cover all of the holidays with food and friends. Once Easter hits though it’s back to the “fields” for both of us. (I still have 4 weeks though before Mr B returns home for winter from California. That’s when the kitchen really gets going!)

Burst of gold from the bedroom window. That’s our old garage behind the house and beside it is our overgrown willow  arbor. (This is what happens when you break your pruning fingers.)

This year I will be making one last road trip to the San Francisco Bay area and I will be taking everyone along with me again. Believe it or not blogging along the way makes the traveling a bit less lonely. And trust me, the Redwoods in the rain and fog can be very scary even for this girl from the heavily forested Pacific Northwest.

Looking into the heart of the Cyclamen.

Before I leave I still have so much work to do and that’s why my blogging has been a bit slow. At least the Ikebana work has been picking up thanks to my enrollment in a course. My teacher is a wonderful woman I met over 20 years ago when I worked with her husband as an ESL helper for Japanese exchange students. He is also a much loved Buddhist minister and it was such an honor to me that he came to our class solely to say “Hello” to me on my first day. I am still smiling about that! Glowing really.

Perennial Impatiens arguta.

Autumn has had a few surprised for me in the garden too. With the onslaught of a lot of rain, my perennial Impatiens has gone crazy with bloom after bloom. It is so beautiful to see such delicate jewels just before it’s the end of the season. The lilac is so unlike so many of the other fall colors but I don’t mind a bit.

I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit when this box arrived on my doorstep. It’s full of dried plant material for crafts, as well as heat sealable teabags and dried kelp for making compost teabags.

There are all of the last minute craft projects too that I have been planning for my shop. Some are things I have always wanted to sew, like sachet bags, and some are new ideas, like bath time teabags with fresh local dried hops and honeycomb extract from France. Sounds tasty too, right?

Dried Praying mantis.

Autumn is also the time we have to say goodbye to things we find beautiful until the next season, and when I found this amazing specimen dried between my exterior and interior window today, it saddened me and I felt a little tear well up in my eye, but there will be more Praying mantis bugs in my garden next year. Until then, it’s a little bit of feasting around these parts…

Ogghiu di ‘n summa, vinu di ‘mmenzu e meli di ‘n funnu.
“The choice oil is from the surface, the best wine is from the middle,
and the best honey is from the bottom.”—Sicilian saying

(I tend to practice my Italian this time of year too by singing a lot out of boredom so here’s a little Italian pop music courtesy of my favorite Italian singer Jovanotti. The first one is a corny love song, the second is a classic funny song about love, and then the last one is s new “magic happy” song I am kind of really into right now and the foster kids seem to love it because it’s bouncy: Baciami Ancora, Bella & La notte dei desideri).