Plants Make Me Ill (Revisiting Chronic Illness in the Garden)

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With all of the recent changes it has been difficult for me to sit and think about being chronically ill. Mostly that’s because it’s what I thought about for so many years; the diagnosis robbed me of many things and it hurt deeply. Gardening kept me busy, but mostly I read about it. Actually being outside all of the time was another thing altogether and that became more and more difficult as I became more ill. But who out there amongst us isn’t an armchair gardener at one point or another?
Now I am feeling better, so I don’t have as much time to sit and think, but the avoidance is mostly due to my not wanting to accept or even acknowledge what I’ve seen as a roadblock and an obstacle for so long. So much of my current divorce has to do with the illness, but it is certainly not everything and I know that too.
Peony bloom I snapped from the sidewalk.

Currently, when I don’t have plans with friends on Friday nights, I take leisurely 6-mile walks to Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and then I walk back home through Mt Tabor Park. These are productive walks where I not only get the much needed exercise I’ve missed for the last decade or so, but I also get to feel the joy I used to feel at just looking at things—mostly plants.

Rockery overflowing with Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxatilis.
During these walks I am in awe of how thrilling it is to be able to breathe and to walk. And although plants do still make me a bit ill—at least their pollen that is—I am learning how to better manage my asthma and to feel the symptoms in my body. For so long I was unable to do so because I’d become so numb from all of the swelling but I can feel a lot now.

Walking past Portland Nursery still makes me giggle a little since it’s no longer an escapist refuge for me as it once was when I could barely get anything done all day.

Seeing the cherry blossom petals scattered on the sidewalk while standing amongst them has made me smile with pleasure this year. They won’t be here for long and this year I won’t have to see them solely from the car as I fly past them. I savored them the other night because they’ll be gone next week.

No one knows this yet but I have lived at the base of Mt Tabor Park for almost 8 years and it was only within the last few months that I’ve been able to visit all of its reservoirs.

False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum.

Finding native plants in the park has been a great boon too.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum.
Lastly, while up at the park, walking and thinking about chronic illness, I thought a lot about the native Vine Maple. It is so tiny among giants, stretching for the sunshine, doing its best as an understory resident. Thinking about how much I’ve always liked this tree, and how calm I’ve felt beneath them spring, summer, or fall, seeing them during my walk home in the woods of Mt. Tabor felt like coming across another old friend.
Somehow this comforting end to my walk on Friday helped me to find the courage to do some research into what to call the current stage of my chronic illness experience. From inside, I have felt so much certainty about so many things but I haven’t understood at all why. I have felt very isolated, but I just knew that if I looked hard enough I would find something—and I did!
Just as my disease is new and unknown, so too are the studies of people living as I do. We become chronically ill as adults, suffering for many years with uncertainty and change, there comes a moment when we face death, we get through it, and then with extra medical attention, we improve suddenly after something is changed or adjusted. We are the lucky ones. Many living with chronic illness will never get this opportunity and I think knowing this is part of the catalyst for what happens internally to some of us. I, like many others, have been rewarded with just the outcome we’d spent so much time trying to let go of so as not to create false hope within ourselves. We had to learn to live in that moment between enduring and suffering, committing to ourselves not to dream about being able to live in the reality I have just reentered—one with so much more freedom.
One study said that there may only be 5-10% who experience what they called self-reformation, but I think that further study will show a higher number of people who enter into this process. Medical science seems to improve daily and there will be more people like me. There must be others out there already too who, like me, simply don’t know what to call what they’re going through.
Here are the phases that have so far been identified, but I am putting them in my own order, as they occurred within myself: need for reciprocity (to help others who are suffering), value suffering, appreciate one’s abilities, a disregard for material things, maximizing today, reordering priorities and exiting from unsatisfying relationships.
This last one is the tricky one. It shows my part in the divorce, and I agree with what I read about other people in my situation. When I read the experience of one woman, I was shocked to see myself in her words. This list also points forward for me, and what I read also made me think so much about plants and gardening—funny how that always seems to happen. I am sure that many of you out there already understand this too in your own lives.
Plants might still make me a teeny tiny bit ill with allergy or an immune response but there is no way I am ever leaving the garden again. All roads seem to lead right back to plants in my life and that’s just the way it’s going to be…

Le Monde Végétal and the Green Embrace

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Pardon my French, but it’s simply the way things have to be for me nowadays. As I enter into a new phase of life, one post-illness (aka in remission), post-marriage as I knew it, and during which I must pick and choose what really matters to me now, and ever-will-be it seems, I have to explore things a bit more, things from my past and my present. From my past, I will always embrace and hold near and dear to my heart a love of language, culture, and the natural world around me. This is now being roughly sutured with my love of gardening since the gap between the two is the painful part that’s hurt me the most, making my marriage into something it never should have been in the first place, and causing me great distress. I have to suture these things to help the healing.
My language replacement during the rough years was Botanical Latin, with its many linguistic textures and tones. Yes, my pronunciation in this green world is terrible, but I’ve been told that’s not uncommon by multilingual friends—especially in my situation with a memory that was often on the fritz. As long as I can see the name in my head, and spell it, I seem to be able to survive, and by that, I mean I can communicate. Speaking and being heard means the world to anyone who feels cut off from the rest of the society by the experience of illness. The isolation you feel is really quite incredible and it is more powerful than even I knew while in the midst of it. It changes you.
So with all of this in mind, as I sit here eating leftover Cadbury Mini Eggs from Easter, I will get to the point of my post.
Last week I participated in a little informal nursery tour with some plant friends. For them, it’s become an annual little get-together before the craziness of the Hardy Plant Society Spring Sale. I was not sure how I’d feel about le monde végétal since my life is still very much up in the air, and sometimes I do want to sell the house and garden, but I gave it my all anyway, and it was worth the effort.
Xera Plants
Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’. 
Garrya topiary.
Ercilla volubile.
Primula auricula ‘Dijon Blush’.
Potting gurney.
Moss garden.
McMenamins: Kennedy School Garden Tour
Cistus Design Nursery
Aristolochia californica (red form).
Aristolochia californica (green or yellow form).
Loree aka Danger Garden (blogger friend) with an Agave—shocking!
Sean Hogan’s feet, his dog, my feet, and the feet of one of our green friends on our little tour but I am not sure who they belong to still. 
I think this is a Podophyllum. 
Overall, the tours went very well, and I had a great time meeting new people.
Adding to the excitement that day was the fact that just the day before, I’d sold the chair I’d been sitting immobile in for years, and it left this funny blank spot in the living room. Having space now to freely move around is making me wonder about all the space I’d filled in while I was still ill. While looking at plants, I started to think about throwing so many old plants out so that I could finally create a more clear design. Things seemed open and possible now, where they simply didn’t before this.

Buying a new iPhone has opened up more photography opportunities too, and I am seeing the natural world in all of its spacious glory. Editing and cleaning things out both internally and externally is opening up my world, but it is such a slow process. I feel like I can breathe now though, both in my own world, as well as out in the world I share with all of you.

Cherry trees in bloom on Mt. Tabor.

I think I can say now that Sean Hogan was correct weeks ago when he told me to accept and be embraced by the green world. It’s just the medicine I needed for my transitional malady, and if ever you need to take this treatment too, I recommend it.

Golf Course Garden Inspiration

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OK, so if you didn’t know this, we live and garden at the base of an extinct volcano (Mt Tabor) in the city of Portland, Oregon. This volcano of ours is a cinder cone, and at its top we have trails, a park, and picnic areas—among a variety of other cool things. From the swings, for instance, on a clear day, you can see Mt St Helen’s.

Mt St Helen’s as seen from the street above our house.

The foster kids love to be on the volcano, looking at the other volcano, but as cool as it is, when I need to walk now, I actually drive a few miles away from my home to an amazing exercise trail that encircles what I would consider to be a well-designed golf course—though I am far from an expert! Call me crazy, since I have this amazing neighborhood of bungalows to wander around, but something tells me I like the trail not only because I was a runner in my youth—and I enjoy being around others who can still do this activity—but it is due to something else. Big surprise that the main impetuses for me are the non-stop native plants and amazing vistas!! (Oh, and this trail is heavily used so I feel far more safe—sort of…)

If every golf course looked as good as Glendoveer, I might consider taking up golfing, but for me, gardening will always be my sport and I cannot afford another. In the meantime, I will simply enjoy what this fine course has to offer from my trail on the outside of its splendor.

View of the East Course.
Though not native, this is a highlight of the walk all summer long. They have a very long fence covered with hardy Passion Vines.
I admit it! I snag these for seed saving and seed germination experimentation.
Our native shrub Oceanspray or Holodiscus discolor.

On the Web site it says that John Stenzel redesigned the East Course in 1928 when the West Course was added. I couldn’t find any information about this man, but I would like to know more about him since he did such an amazing job as not only a golf course designer, but as a landscape architect as well.

Native Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) under the mostly Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) canopy.
Native Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus).
Native Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). I love to collect these inedible berries too.  I always remember for some reason that this plant was written about by Lewis and Clark in their journals. Maybe it was because specimens collected and propagated ended up at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and he wrote that he thought the berries were some of the most beautiful he had ever seen. He then forwarded cuttings to his friend Madame Noailles de Tessé in Paris. This may explain why I love the plant since the history of its propagation can be traced, and in my world, all roads lead back to France for some reason.
To the left of this is the golf course. Well designed, isn’t it?

Happy trails to you, and just out of curiosity, where do you find gardening inspiration in your daily routine that takes you to places away from your garden? I am so spoiled with parks and recreational and/or natural areas that I truly take for granted the beautiful scenery I live in! Do you feel like you do that too?

Here is a link to the nature trail provided by our elected regional government METRO,
http://www.metro-region.org/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=158

Here is a link to the Glendoveer Golf Course, est. 1927,
http://www.golfglendoveer.com/rkonly.asp?HID=591

Amazing slug and snail hunters out for a walk too.

The Block Party & The Garden

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This is not the most important of garden blogging posts, but I had to add these pictures since they involve our garden. I promised myself on that day I would not be giving garden tours, and I didn’t! Instead, we spent hours and hours directly across the street, and in the street, spending quality time with one another. It was a great party and we will certainly do it again next year!

So who knew that you could invite the fire station around the corner and they’d ride a truck on over for the kids? I had no idea, but a neighbor knew, and she invited them. We were not disappointed, especially when it parked in front of our house! (Red really does go with green doesn’t it?)

Also, later on in the evening, the two most daring cats crawled out to stake their claim to our feline friendly pad. This was quite shocking seeing as there were several large dogs off leash roaming around directly across from them. Out in front is my old lady, Macavity, and Meng, the neighbor cat with two homes, is in the back. They made me so proud.