Verona, Italy: Giardino Giusti (Part One)

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After our photo storage debacle—and the loss of almost all of my images of the Giardini Botanici Hanbury—I was determined to go to another of Italy’s great gardens so as to provide at least one great series of photos on this blog. Little did I know that I would soon be seeing one of Italy’s greatest gardens, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. IMG_1144

By this point in our trip I was not feeling well. My chronic health issues were causing a great deal of distress but I was determined to drive there. (I should add here that my husband doesn’t drive in Italy and cannot drive a manual shift car.) Luckily, we still had a FIAT Abarth, so getting to where we needed to go was not an issue.

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Note the heavy wood ceiling. Veneto is full of thick heavy wood. This is very different from many of the other regions of Italy. 

The garden is considered one of the finest examples of an Italian garden.IMG_1153 Created in the sixteenth-century, this is an Italian Renaissance garden. There are many styles of gardens in Europe—and I’m still far from an expert on this subject—but seeing this garden really inspired me to learn more. (I think my next trip will most certainly be a more in-depth exploration of great gardens.)

As a life-long tree hugger, I had to hug this “trunk of an old existing cypress in the garden in the fifteenth century.” It’s not quite a Californian redwood, but I was impressed and had nothing more than thoughts of the many people who’d been here before me.

The traditional plant palette of an Italian garden is quite limited and involves a lot of mass plantings of evergreen plants for an astonishing effect that simply must be seen in person.

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A Parthenocissus vine covers the wall and makes a fine green drape. 

Like any great garden, it transports you to another place, another level of existence, and it leaves you in awe. It also left me wanting to never leave. IMG_1159

For me, what started as a spiritual feeling left me that day with a sense of splendor and ecstatic sensation.

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If you look closely at the top of the hill you’ll see Il mascherone or a gargoyle. It is a man’s face and was originally designed to have flames coming out of his mouth. The entryway you see is an entrance to a grotto but sadly there is no more water inside. (You will see a photo of it in an upcoming post.) By the way, all the classical elements are represented in the garden. 

As I told my husband, any great garden should leave you with a feeling of hysteric pleasure—for some this might be a restrained thing, but for me, a girl raised on the Left Coast of the United States, I just wanted to party. (I will leave you with that without going into further detail.) IMG_1171

The garden is known for its terraces and its labyrinth. A traditional Italian garden is very green. This is in such sharp opposition to the usual colors of towns, and you’ll see this in upcoming images. IMG_1172It truly is a feast for your eyes and why not send your husband off into the labyrinth? I was fairly certain that Minos was still in Greece and that John would not encounter a minotaur here although I thought about it. That’s what these gardens were intended for, and so I let my mind be transported back to the ancient classical stories of Italy and Greece. (I should also add that all references to Catholicism have been removed. I will get to that in later posts as well.)IMG_1175It should come as no great surprise to you that food is important in Italy and all great Italian gardens will have citrus. The lemon is known to have arrived in Italy during the time of classical Rome.IMG_1177In the next two posts we’ll walk to the top of the garden. This is a garden seen in layers, with so many beautifully designed angles. Everywhere you look, you see beauty.

An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.

Behold! An Artist’s Studio has Grown in the Garden

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For the last month I’ve been working very hard to make this studio possible for a good friend of mine. Years ago when I first moved into this house I’d wanted this space very badly to be a writing studio. After I went through that phase, I’d hoped to clean it out and use it for my Etsy businesses, but like many things in life, it just didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped.

I can say now (with complete certainty) that cleaning out that space taught me a great deal about myself and my divorce. In each and every object I could see and feel a memory or two and I’d find myself taking mental steps backwards, revisiting these memories, going deeper into my former life, and this allowed me to review repeatedly both my own unhappiness and the many arguments which had occurred.
This was an incredible experience to say the least, and in a strange way, I’m very happy it took place.
Mona—the youngest of the 3 black cats—trying her hardest to remain as feral as possible until she can no longer take the wet cold. At that point she’ll move into the basement to remain toasty warm all winter.
The garage/studio is now free of all of those objects and I’m free of their bad memories. The process truly had me working through some intense emotions and for weeks I was physically exhausted by that process. I’m finished with that for now—except for some ongoing trash removal—but otherwise, I’ve found a great deal of closure.

Begonia hemsleyana from Cistus Nursery.

For the first time in months, I finally feel like I’m getting closer to my new life and this is an exciting time for me. I’ve turned the corner and have finally moved past the chaos and am back outside again in the garden.

Rhododendron sinogrande amongst little friends.
I enter there and find that my garden sanctuary is now covered in mysterious autumn mists with a sprinkling of yellow and red leaves that are lifted and spun around by the crisp, sharp winds that punctuate the rays of tilted October sunbeams.

.Aspidistra elatior.

Often these brisk breezes take me completely by surprise—especially when I am somewhere in the shade.

Great creeping Coleus that I hope to overwinter indoors as a houseplant. Why not!

It has always amazed me how differently I feel about the shade at this time of the year. Whereas it was my friend just a few weeks ago, now it’s become the dark alley I don’t want to be caught in for fear of some unknown impending danger. (OK, for me that might just be some foot cramps and purple fingers but those can be at least a tiny bit irritating.)

Hardy Cylamen.

During the last few weeks of summer I allowed myself to fully enjoy my back garden with many friends—both new and old. I’d never done this before and will always remember the late night conversations drinking wine beneath the stars. Like many other gardeners I’d made the space to be lived in, to be enjoyed, to laugh in, and to grow in—that finally happened for me, so now, as I move on (and possibly away from here), I can do so knowing I grew in this place.

That is what is important to me. I grew. They grew. My friends and I all grew together. It may take a village to raise a child, but I think that growing together as a group of individuals makes something much more vibrant and alive—much like a natural ecosystem. We all have our part to play and are necessary to one another.
I grew as a woman and as a person in my garden this year and it’s thanks to the plants I planted which supported us all as people searching out in the dark for meaning and substance.

Lithops. 

Soon I will be posting more about the houseplants as they move indoors again.

As always, I’m returning more and more to my peacock sense of fashion.

Virginia Creeper, (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

And this peacock gardener is enjoying the riot of autumn colors before they’re gone. Sure, not everyone is a huge fan of Virginia Creeper but it does provide the most amazing fireworks-like finale in the garden.

I often sit out in the cold now with the little cat and she takes it all in with me.

The hummingbirds talk to us, and I am happy to have them since they also look at me through the back window in my music/plant/writing room on the mornings when I sit down to write.

More on my own creative indoor studio next time…

(And yes, more to come on indoor plant labor-i-tories soon!)

Garden Variety in September

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With the help of my landscaper friend (and his helper), last week I was able to prepare the back garden for my birthday party and a small open garden event.
A brief swelling event interrupted my ability to get things completely finished in time, but it was simply a minor setback considering what my life used to be like not that long ago.
Now I will be able to continue enjoying this space until it’s too cold outside to do so and in the meantime I can keep working on other projects that need to be done around the house.
Finally sitting back to enjoy the garden is a lot of fun for me now after 8 years of working on it. Like many novices or amateurs I made plenty of mistakes, and eventually they’ll be corrected I suppose, but I don’t see them nearly as often since there truly are so many other things to sit and marvel over.
One big project right now is to take back the studio/garage space and to empty out its contents once and for all. A dear friend of mine I’ve known since he was born asked me after the birthday party if he could rent the space for an art studio and I was so excited to say, “Yes! Let’s do it!”
I’d always wanted that space to be used for creativity and I’m thrilled since this friend is such an amazingly talented artist. I cannot wait to be inspired by his work.
In the meantime, as I work, I’ll keep looking at the many layers and textures in the garden and I will start coming up with funny names for all the different shades of green I see. This seems like a fun activity to me.
And as the days continue to be dry and warm around here, I keep thinking of the salmon stacking up in the coastal rivers and streams waiting to spawn. More will be on their way soon—once we have rain—but until then I will look up at my salmon knowing they will come.
The Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on the back of the house changes to a bright red just as the salmon spawn and die. I find this touching just as the cold begins to set in around here.
The Green Rose, (Rosa chinensis ‘Viridiflora’).
Neglect sadly hurt several of the best of my plants this year, and I was unable to enjoy as many green roses as I was able to last year, but at least I’ve been able to share the experience of their scent with others. There is nothing quite like a rose that smells of black pepper.

Spotted Bellflower, (Campanula punctata). 
Here is my Spotted Bellflower, near death, holding on and giving me the best blooms that it can muster. It’s these moments that I’m cherishing now too as I wander around the garden unearthing plants that have fallen by the wayside in the aftermath of separation and divorce. Their struggle to survive is truly making me smile more and more and I’m doing my best now to have a new plant ICU back up and running.
Yes, and then there are those designer-like touches that were added for the party which make me smile too. I am such a plant-driven gardener and I just have to accept that as my lot in life.
Persian Ivy, (Hedera colchica ‘Sulpher Heart’).
Speaking of plants, here is what I believe to be the largest of the large-leaved ivies. I love this vine and I should add that it is NOT an English ivy which is considered invasive here in Oregon.
Dwarf Morning Glory, (Convolvulus tricolor ‘Blue Ensign’).
OK, so I posted a photo of this little blue gem a few weeks ago and here’s another one. No, the plant itself it not a great performer, but given more sun, I think these little guys would have faired better. Overall, their color is worth giving them a shot and I plan to plant more of them next year.
Ponytail Palm, (Beaucarnea recurvata).
Then there are the “other”plants. This poor Ponytail Palm was chewed on a few too many times by a certain elderly cat I know. Luckily the one I grew from seed is inside in a protect spot far from any of my feline housemates.
My little pomegranate fruit was something I took great pride in up until this evening when I noticed it had taken on a little green friend. My hopes for a perfect fruit were dashed, but life will go one. I accept that this kind of thing happens and it naturally a given in any garden. We can’t really control what happens out there but we can struggle with the concept both in our gardens and in our own lives.
Oh well! Better luck next year I guess. This happened and now what do I do? Life goes on…
(Like all gardeners I have faith and hope, and because of this I always believe that next season will be better.)

È arrivato l’autunno! And darkness is falling…

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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 AncoraBella & La notte dei desideri).