The Alaskan Honeymoon: Part One (Anchorage, AK)

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We knew we’d landed in Anchorage when we saw this at the airport.

Yes, it was thrilling, but it was sad at the same time.

Rhodochiton vine in a planter outside of a hotel in Anchorage.

We landed late on Friday night and stayed in Anchorage for two nights.

Most people wouldn’t recommend this, but we were exhausted! We stayed downtown at the Hilton and had a great time.

A closeup of the vine.

We had an open air market across the street to walk to and we ate breakfast at the Snow City Cafe.

Then we visited the Anchorage Visitor Information Center.

I can’t say enough about its original “green roof”.

It very much fueled and gave fire to the pioneer blood in my veins.

The Fuchsia baskets are obviously overwintered. Look at those woody stems!

This was the beginning of the floriferousness too.

With all those extra daylight hours, the blooms are a bit different up North. I don’t know how this happens exactly, but I saw it on several occasions and I’ll continue to show you images of these amazing plants.

(Yes, I’m sure that these are well fed too.)

Some Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).

The native plants were plentiful.

Fireweed is by far the most spectacular of all during September and you’ll be seeing a lot of it as these posts progress.

This amazing shrub was really enchanting. It is native to colder northern regions but I cannot recall what it is right now. Any thoughts? I picked seeds and I know it’s in the pea family.

The Sorbus were plentiful but I’m not completely certain which ones I was seeing.

This was my honeymoon after all so I tried not to go too crazy with the plant ID.

We saw a lot of lilacs but only a few with blooms.

This one is a smaller bush variety.

I’m ashamed that my evergreen tree ID is so shabby. I’ve chosen to show you this amazing tree even though I’m not certain what it is.

Please forgive me. I promise to study.

On the way back from one of the best Japanese dinners I’ve ever had, we found these rhubarb plants being grown in the lawn of a Catholic church. (They are the plants up near the fence. Others were planted in spots on the other side of the sign too—right in the middle of the lawn.)

Makes me happy that they’re thinking about the food or lawn question too.

There was more floriferousness nearby as we walked past the mall on our way back to the hotel.

When I saw the Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) I had to smile. It’s not at all a plant I think of when I think of Alaska but I was so happy to see such a fine specimen.

Then there were the rose hips on the Rugosa roses. I just couldn’t get enough of these plants. They are all over the place and they grow so much better up North than they do down here in Oregon.

It became so clear to me right away that Alaska is not the northernmost edge of our climate, but that we are the southernmost extreme of its climate. I felt a strong kinship with the region right out of the gate.

That last night I tried on my kind of bear fur hat in the hotel gift shop—the totally silly fake kind. I thought a bit about Ms. Palin and wondered what kind of mama bear I could be if I tried. Luckily I lost my taste for politics years ago, but I remain interested at least in what politicians are doing—or NOT doing.

A very large part of me felt at home in Alaska. It reminded me of the Oregon I grew up in and the people I knew as a girl.

This was just the beginning though and so rarely am I so comfortable right away in a new place.

More to come…

The Fruits of my Garden: Figs, Apples, Pomegranates, Asparagus and Berries

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The second fig crop is still ripening on my Ficus  ‘Petite Negra’.
Days are shortening and nighttime temperatures are cooling down. Yesterday was our first dreary and wet reminder that our days are numbered. It misted and rained. Clouds hung in the air all day—as did the smell of PNW dampness. The city of Portland felt autumn as the season sauntered just a little bit nearer.
Columnar Northpole apple (Malus) produced more fruit than ever! It tasted sweet, tart and crisp.

This was not much of a harvest year for me in terms of edible crops. I like to grow ornamental plants for their seeds so that I can harvest them for my online garden shop. I do harvest something, but it’s not what most people think of when they think of harvests. I’m a seed farmer, but I grow a few things to eat too.

Dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

My dwarf pomegranate was grown from seed and I collect seeds from it each year. Since the shrubs are young, each year they produce more and more fruit. This year is by far their best so far and I expect to have more ripe fruit than ever.

Flower on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.
Ripening fruit on the dwarf pomegranate, Punica granatum ‘Nana’.

There has also been a growing herb collection around the house. I’ve been cooking more recently and it’s something John and I very much enjoy doing together. This winter I intend to plan the garden better for these activities since we find ourselves buying so many herbs all of the time. Limiting salt in my diet due to my swelling disease has really made me appreciate the taste of herbs so much more. We barely use any salt now. If you cook your food right, paying close attention to flavors, it’s amazing how far herbs can go to replace sodium.

The overgrown asparagus bed. These were grown from seed.

When I originally planted edibles in the garden I wanted to plant things that were either difficult to find or else ornamental and unusual. The asparagus was neither. It reminded me of the fresh asparagus grown by Italian-American farmers in the PNW. Even though I can still buy it at the store, I really enjoy my own plants more. What’s nice is that even though they’ve been neglected, they’re still very productive.

Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum.

My native evergreen huckleberries are also wonders to behold this time of year. Usually they are packed full of fruit but I guess mine aren’t going to be this time around. Since last year I had an amazing crop I don’t mind at all. These are amazing ornamentals for shady corners so it’s simply a bonus if they produce for me too.

The image of edible gardening shame—an unused and overgrown raised bed.

This year I was hoping to use the raised bed for a large basil planting. I never quite made it but next year I’ll make it happen. Now that there’s a pesto- and polenta-loving Northern Italian in the family I can get past my Southern Italian culinary preferences. I always loved basil (and polenta) too. Next year will be the summer of basilico around here. (I can already smell it on the horizon.)

The first 2013 crop of figs.

I recently took an online poll of my fig-loving friends for recipe ideas. Since I was raised to just eat them fresh I thought it was time to do something different. (Besides, I can only eat so many with goat cheese and pistachios before I begin feeling a bit piglet-ish so I wanted to find something healthier.) A Parisian friend recommended Honey Roasted Figs and Rosemary (Figues rôties au miel au romarin) and I am so glad that he did. The figs tasted fantastic!

Honey Roasted Figs with Rosemary
• about 1 dozen fresh figs
• 1/3 cup honey (fresh and local if possible)
• 1 large sprig of rosemary broken into 4 pieces
• freshly cracked pepper
Heat oven to 375F. Wash and dry figs. Cut in half. Arrange open side up in a baking dish. Drizzle figs with honey. Arrange the pieces of rosemary between the figs. (If you want the rosemary taste to be stronger, I suggest adding more.) Crack pepper over the figs. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the honey begins to caramelize. Let cool. Can be served with a nice mild—yet tangy—goat cheese.
 
C’est magnifigue!

(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.)

Wordless Wednesday: My Garden Mythology as Seen by Examining My Roots (Home, on the Sandy River, and in the Gorge)

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Achillea ‘Moonshine’. 
Sicilian Honey Garlic, (Allium siculum aka Nectaroscordum).
Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) and an Armeria 
Dutch Iris, Iris x hollandica.
Miniature Climbing Rose, (Rosa ‘Clove Love and Kisses’).
Columbine, (Aquilegia ‘McKana’s Giant’.)
Clematis ‘Mrs. N. Thompson’. 
Growing up beside streams and rivers in the PNW this is how I learned to arrange rocks. Funny I still do this in my garden. (Note the fly fishing going on in the background. Fish are to my family as plants are to me.)
Great landscaping at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge. (I think those white flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota.)
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) with a delicate white bloom—such a great native plant.
Native rose growing along the Columbia River.
Native Sedum.
Oregon Iris, (Iris tenax) in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
Green Walls—PNW style.
My favorite little native Mimulus still clings to the wall at Multnomah Falls. This year the population looks a bit larger.  
Had to zoom into the falls to get a closer look at the exposed roots of this tree or shrub.

Growing On

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Japanese maple (Acer japonica) in my backyard.

I’m still feeling a lot like this seemingly vulnerable leaf on one of my Japanese maples, but as days have passed, and the leaves have all opened up, the leaf no longer sticks out. I’m taking this as a sign. As it lifted up its head to the sun it was enveloped by the support of other leaves around it.

In the garden I am comforted.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) growing above the Pacific Ocean.

My trip the the Pacific a few weeks ago also had me viewing an understory of nearly nothing by salmonberry bushes and their blooms. I tried for far too long to get a nice shot of their hot pink blossoms but the wind was simply too much. Instead, I did capture this berry.

Morning glory vine (Ipomoea) on a tombstone in Oysterville, WA.

In my photos I also found this lovely rendition of a morning glory vine on a gravestone. I don’t believe I’ve shared it yet. Eternal blooms fascinate me more and more as I age. What flower would I want on my headstone? Why? I am such a plant nerd it’s impossible to choose just one. Besides, in the technological world we live in I’m much more likely to desire something akin to a slideshow. Oh! I am so ashamed at times to be so spoiled by the world around me. We’re lucky I think.

Dudlyea brittonii seedlings.

Many of the seeds I was unable to plant last year made it into production this year. Above you’ll see one of my favorites. I cannot wait to see these grow up. They are such beautiful plants.

Unknown Agave I grew from seed.
I guess these little “friends” area telling me that it’s time for the plant to be moved to a larger pot.

It is time to repot older plants I’ve grown from seed. This is a plant that really spoke volumes to me when I looked closely at what it was saying to me. “Plant me. I need more space. If you don’t, I promise to break this planter. It is weak. I am not.” Ok, maybe I’m totally exaggerating.

Me last month pruning the willow arbor while waiting to be picked up to go out for the evening. I can prune in a linen dress. Wow, the things we learn when we wait impatiently…

Being able to climb up onto a ladder to prune was a huge undertaking for me. In the past I would have been too dizzy to do this but not anymore!

Hellebore plant (Helleborus orientalis) pregnant with seeds.

Collecting seeds for my Etsy shop Milton’s Garden Menagerie has started all over too. Even though I am still not 100% about where I’ll be going next in my life, I do know with complete certainty that I want seeds to remain—and plants too!

Cuttings from my Begonia boliviensis I grew from seed. The propagation goes on and on…

Emerging Anew: Budding and Reblooming (The cycle never seems to end.)

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The blog has been largely quiet for the last few months as I’ve been reentering and reshaping my life. What’s nice to know, at least for my own sake, is that this blog is not going to go away anytime soon. As hokey as it sounds—like me, or even you—it’s just going to continue to grow and change.

Rhododendron hybrid at the Espy House in Oysterville, WA.

I want to grow and change. I want to be like my formerly feral cat who’s grown to trust me more and more. For this love she’s shown me, I fixed her fence again about a month ago. I’m not going to say that she does the dishes now, but she’s quite happy with the respect I’ve shown her.

Currently I’m seeing so many things again as if for the first time and part of what’s kept me away from my typically long and meandering posts has been a reticence to describe my new life because it is taking time for me to watch it as it unfurls.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).

I’m emerging too and with the amount of restorative exercise I’ve been doing I’m looking like myself again. One cannot describe how much illness changes you inside as you suffer through the pain. In my case, I struggled for years on my own.

Though I’m better now, and so much stronger physically, for the last few months I’ve had to continue battling Hereditary Angiodema while at the same time accepting the fact that two falls down staircases have caused some serious damage to my back and neck. It is difficult to accept that I didn’t seek the help I needed at the time I needed it. Daily I’m reminded of this, and daily I’m learning to think about it differently while acknowledging I did the best that I could at that time. I needed help though in my daily life, and I needed a lot of support. Accepting that I still do, and that I need to ask for it from now on, is something I see now as an immediate need as I better define what living with dignity means to me.

With allergies and food intolerances it’s been difficult for years to eat but I’ve taken charge of that too. Having spent a lot of time with a Scandinavian friend with similar issues helped me a lot last year. Sometimes we cooked for one another too. It really helped me to rebuild my confidence and as my health has improved I’ve had more endurance in that arena too. Cooking is a big part of who I am.

A shrimp and basil casserole I made with a recipe from the island of Elba. It has tomatoes and potatoes too and that’s just about it.
Handmade cannoli I made for my boyfriend’s birthday. Yes, I even made my own shells too.

My online seed shop has recently been remodeled and cleaned up a bit too. I’ve been working on many other responsibilities as well. Highlights of my days include moments when I can sneak outside to discover new blooms on my old garden friends.

Slowly, I’m weeding the garden back into shape. Last year I didn’t work outside much at all. It was simply too painful. This year, I am trying really hard to take my garden back.

Iris fiorentina. 

There are the new-to-me flowers too. Even if I’ve seen them a million times in print or online, seeing them up close and in person makes such a difference. I’ve been visiting friends’ gardens more and more and I love it when I’m surprised by what I can only call “new material”.

Sparaxis tricolor.

The classics have been comforting me this spring. After years of living with great stress and uncertainty I’m finally calm enough to really soak up and appreciate their beauty.

Tulip hybrid in the company of a peony.

The return of my green rose has brought me great comfort and gardener pride. With the high temperatures we’ve been having it’s blooming early this year.

Their black pepper scent was much missed.

Rosa viridiflora.

With a return to the kitchen, I’ve become interested again in cooking with herbs and other plants. I’ve been wanting to raid my neighbor’s calendula for years and this is finally the year for me to do it. Have you cooked with Calendula before? Just curious.

Calendula officinalis.

Lastly, I’ve been returning to my roots and have been enjoying the natural beauty of the region I live in once more. There is so much meaning in everything I see and do now after so many years of struggling personally, professionally, and in my private life. Sometimes I wish that this process could speed up and end but in order to grow, I see clearly now that this takes time and care. I must tend to myself first and then to my garden. In the end, we’ll all be much stronger and more disease and pest resistant.

Oh, and I’m getting really excited now about being part of a presentation—along with some other garden blogging friends—on June 8th out at Joy Creek Nursery. Should be fun to really think about the topic of garden blogging over the next few weeks.

The Other Grey Gardens

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When I think of “grey” gardens I tend to think of cemeteries—not so much Big Edie and Little Edie.
I’m one of those people who was raised visiting such bucolic settings, and with the grey rainy days we relish so much here in the Pacific Northwest, visiting certain old cemeteries once spring has sprung can be kind of fun. I especially enjoy the drive down through the Willamette Valley to visit my pioneer ancestors’ graves in the town of Jefferson, Oregon. I like to do this at least once a year, stopping at other old cemeteries and historic sites along the way.
View from the Wells family pioneer cemetery in Jefferson, OR. Wouldn’t you know it the patriarch made it all the way here during the 1850s only to die from diphtheria.
This past weekend I made the trek with my boyfriend John.
What a great way to get away from the city for a bit and talk with one another while pointing out my favorite plant shopping spots.
Now he knows where to shop for me, right?
Of course I told him about other things too like the job I had in Silverton at the Gordon House and my family history too.
Erythronium found in the cemetery.
Although I’d gone out to get cuttings from cemetery roses planted in the small cemetery with about 10 burials, I was thrilled when I found a small colony of native trout lilies growing amongst the graves.
Finding these little beauties was a big highlight that day. The view was really nice too.
(Yes, I know it’s also a horrible time to take rose cuttings, but I figured, “Why not?”)
Later, at the city cemetery, I found a name on a gravestone that was kind of interesting. I wonder if one of her parents liked plants?
Then there are the truly grey gardens…

We found roses with primroses.

Then there were the ever-present roses.

I think this might be a Camellia.

Of course there were Lilies-of-the-Valley too.

On the stone of the pioneer patriarch of the Terhune family I really enjoyed this rose. (This is another of my ancestors and the Terhune family line goes back to New Amsterdam.)

But I did not understand the willow nearby that I’d seen on another stone at the Champoeg Pioneer Cemetery earlier in the day. Does anyone know what a willow on a gravestone signifies? I’m guessing it might be from the Bible, but I’m really curious since we saw it twice.

Lastly, there was a really interesting design on another Terhune gravestone. We’d thought the leaf looked maple-like, but after giving it some more thought, I now think it is meant to by a leaf of ivy. The stylized elements below it are quite pretty too, don’t you agree?

And I’d thought this gardener hadn’t been busy during December…

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Japanese White Pine in training since 1950. Country of Origin: Japan. Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

I am still a gardener in search of a garden of sorts. Much uncertainty remains in 2013 but I don’t mind it at all anymore. Every single day is a huge opportunity for me now and my health continues to improve as do my spirits. Whenever I plant a seed something grows. So I’m tossing them everywhere right now and I’m sitting back to see what germinates.

I am a guerilla gardener of the heart.
This is my time
—to live a bit as a wildflower.
Finally.

Palm Leaf, Sabalites species, around 50 million years ago Chuckanut Formation, Whatcom Co. Washington. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

A large part of this seed planting campaign of mine has involved seeing and speaking with very old friends of mine. Doing so really helps me to remember more of who I used to be and who I want to be again now. Illness broke me down but it didn’t kill me. I lost a lot of momentum but if you know me you also know that I can be a tiny force of nature when I am at my best.

My high school friend Elise Krohn, herbalist and native foods specialist. Wild Foods & Medicines Blog 

Recently I made a brief overnight trip to Seattle to see two of these old friends. I attended the book re-release party for a publication an old friend of mine had contributed to, and additionally I spent time in the other friend’s home getting to know her husband and small son. Since the three of us attended the same high school together it was an über supportive trip. My sudden wellness after so many years brings them much happiness too and I like to be that in their lives right now. It helps my healing too. Dare I say that it helps us grow much stronger together.

I have grown a lot during the past two months and it will be showing more and more in the months to come.

Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Of course I had to stop by the library dedicated to nothing but horticulture at the University of Washington too. Luckily it wasn’t open long enough for me to go crazy making lists of things.

Center for Urban Horticulture
Seeing the Center for Urban Horticulture in winter was a beautiful treat too since I’ve only ever been there during the warmer months.

Sometime before Christmas I tidied up out front. I guess I was tired of the Doug fir debris in the house.

Oh and the seeds, the lovely, lovely piles I was unable to get to last year. They are very much on my mind now.

There were those dark and lonely moments too. So I took pictures to remember them by in the future. Then I quickly forgot about them.

Something about spending my first Christmas alone after a decade-long relationship was exhilarating and it allowed me to really toss out more emotional baggage. I can do this on my own now if I choose to and that feels really good to me. I don’t feel I was ever really given that choice.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot. Maurice is old.

The neighbors had their old cherry tree cut down. That was exciting for a day.

Visions of children playing in gardens appeared to me on a walk. I love this city.

I started a wide scarf for myself using organic cotton yarn on one of my knitting looms. Most materials bother my skin a lot so it was fun to go to the yardage store to pick the yarn myself. I felt so empowered—for lack of a better word.

I watched the fat cat sleep a lot with his little buddy Mona too. December is when the part-ferral cat is not very ferrel. It is always a cute process to watch as she becomes needier and needier. Before you know it she’s wrapped up at your feet while you type a blog post at 1am.

Somehow I sewed a few Christmas tree ornaments. This one looks a bit like my interests of cooking and gardening slammed together. A green ravioli. I was clearly not thinking.
I also tried to rescue my old Christmas tree houseplant but it was neglected so much this past year I will need to nurse it back to the fine specimen it used to be so that wherever I am next Christmas it will be ready to shine again.

Luckily a friend gave me some forced Daffodil bulbs just before he went home to Scandinavia for the holidays. Normally I would have had a huge floral arrangement but times are tough and I was working solo on the annual Christmas Eve dinner so this worked out well. It was perfect and so much better than nothing. (It smells great too even if it makes me sneeze. Yes, those of us with allergies must choose our battles.)

Then there was that goose I stuffed and roasted. It was amazing and I was so proud I made it through the whole experience on my own.

I also made a really simple cabbage dish with apples and spices. It went perfectly with the sausage and cornbread stuffed goose. Overall the more simple the food the happier my body is when I eat it. I am still in awe of my ability to consume goat milk products in moderation.

I am such a lucky woman now.

Oh, and then there were those funny faces I made with my eldest niece Chelsea when I spent some quality time with her, her younger sister Lindsey, and their childhood friend Emily. How quickly my little women have grown up!

I am still making faces apparently today too. Not sure what this expression is about but I think it has something to do with my hair being in pigtails. At what age are pigtails inappropriate on a woman? I have no clue. Maybe I don’t want to know. Believe it or not but I was actually thinking about how the wear my hair when I get back out there in the dirt soon. It’s growing and I am so happy to have it long again.

See, I do think about a lot of other things.

December was one hell of a month but I tossed out so many seeds in so many places—here, there, everywhere. I’m surrounded by good fertile opportunities and I’m really excited about so many new things happening in my life. Best of all, the soil in my heart no longer feels so barren. I am happily growing again and am feeling more at peace than I have in many years.

This gardener had a beautiful Christmas and I hope you did too! 
Here’s to watching it all grow again in 2013! 
 
Let’s bring back our heirlooms, the all-time favorites and producers,
 but let’s not forget we should always be open to the new stuff too. 
 
Like maybe this blogger might finally release another book. 
Booyeah!