Berries, Vines, Seeds, and a Giant Impatiens

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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.

In the Weeds

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This has never been a how-to garden blog, but maybe in this case, I’ll make a grand sweeping exception. If there is one thing I can teach all of you to do, it’s how to be in the weeds in your garden. With the grace of my rough and rebellious American hand we’ll brush off the argument that my garden is a mess, and I’ll show you how to do so from the zero gravity chair I pretty much live in for the majority of the gardening year. So yes, today, I am playing as the armchair garden philosopher.
Our passion vine (Passiflora caerula ‘Blue Crown’) is a bit wild. I blame all of those young adult mystery books I read as a child. I think this might be called Scooby Doo Chic.

If there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s been taking on far too much. As a kid, I’d often have to give up an activity or two, but up until the last decade, I’d usually toss everything up into the air and over time, it would all work out.

When I was in college this nasty little habit of mine helped me to get my work done. Integrating unrelated information worked for me, but in the art history department I pushed beyond its unstaid envelope everyday and not all of the other students enjoyed or understood my work, and a few of the professors tended to think of my presentations more as mental acrobatics than as real academic work. And to this day, I will never understand why not a single art history professor ever assigned a philosophy book. Since the entire field has its origin in aesthetics, this was always very sad to me, but the same thing goes for garden design. Yup, it too is based on aesthetic theory and philosophy too. (Don’t groan. I can hear you and the chorus of other groaners out there.)

I am in the weeds.
And here we go, I’m at it again. I’m about to wrap this egg roll right up though so hold on tight.
I realize now that stasis (in a Greek philosophical sense) has always been important to me, but I didn’t know what to call it until I was introduced to Giovanni Bellini’s St Francis in Ecstasy and the study of ontology in high school. I could write a tome about this painting, but I will attempt to resist in this post, and save that for later.
I was able to go on a little pilgrimage to The Frick Collection to see this painting with an art history classmate while she was still living in New Jersey. She’d moved to the NYC area to pursue her graduate studies and I am so proud of how far she’s gone in her career. (I am also happy she’s now a gardener.)

I find that I now tire of the same thing in garden design that I used to find dull and problematic when I studied art history and that it’s not just illness and broken fingers which has led me to being in the weeds. Instead, what’s been holding me back is my inner battle with mimesis.

Internally, yes, I struggle, and with this post, as well as a few others, I’ve exposed myself as a bit of a navel gazer who prefers to build her castles in the sky rather than on dry land, but that’s because of my struggle with beauty, representation, design, art and reason.

Like that overwhelmed server in a busy restaurant, I am so far behind in my garden that our green customers have overwhelmed me and are attacking. Well, so what if I’m in the weeds in my garden? Maybe I want to be the oldest kind of garden designer of all, not a farmer, but the kind of person who let’s nature grow up against her. It just so happens I’m in a city though, but I’m not afraid of the chaos of nature and you shouldn’t be either. We’ve been mimicking her since to dawn of man and I’d rather mimic her than the newest garden design fads.

So that’s enough for now. We’ll flog this not yet dead horse again soon.

San Francisco: Wine Deliveries, Lunch, and Flora Grubb Gardens (Again)

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 Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, at Flora Grubb Gardens.

On my first full day with my husband in Lake County, CA we had to get up early and head to San Francisco. Another long day in the car wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was worth it. He was going to attend a day-long industry-only wine tasting and I’d planned to take in some sights.

From the time he woke up he started feeling unwell so we adjusted our plan a bit. During harvest and crush, he really gets worn down so a rest day was in order and we were both kind of excited about visiting SF together.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’.
Other than an early dinner date with a new garden writer friend up in Marin, the city was very briefly our oyster that day. Our only serious task was to deliver some cases of wine, and while waiting in the car at one of those stops, I shot this picture of a typical street somewhere in SF.

Sorry for the dirty windshield but note that a weekday drive into San Francisco from Marin can be pretty painless during October just so long as you wait until after all the morning traffic.

During the drive, I discovered something funny about harvest. Once all the grapes are in their tanks fermenting, the whole valley in Sonoma actually smells of fermenting grapes. (Mr. B said Napa is even worse.) Coming from beer central, I should have realized this was possible but I just had never really thought about it. What an experience for the nose!

Entering the city you get to pay your $6 toll. I never get to take pictures of the tollbooths,  so I was happy this time with Mr B driving. They are designed to match the bridge and I think they’re the prettiest tollbooths I’ve ever had to go through.

After we paid our toll we had no plans and for me that was unusual—but welcome. Usually when I drive into SF I have some idea of where I am going since otherwise I’d still get lost very easily. In this case, I just sat back and enjoyed the view.

Alcatraz as seen from Hwy 101 just past the tollbooths.

The first thing I saw, of course, was Alcatraz in the distance. It’s now such a large part of my Ikebana project it made me smile. Finding my own metaphorical escape from the imprisonment of chronic illness has become such a game for me and gardening and plants are such an integral part of my strategy. I think for some of us, making the battle less personal is key to our survival. We need that distance to feel more comfort and less fearful. We need that space to heal. In a way, I’ve tried to leave a lot of my troubles on that island and I think it’s been working.

For lunch Mr. B decided to take me to the Ferry Building Marketplace. What a great little shopping area they have there! (I now know what Portland wants to have in its plan to create our James Beard Public Market. Shopping before your ride home is a such a great idea!)

So the first business that truly caught my eye because of its regionally accurate “shop locally” distinction was McEvoy Ranch. Could you have a store dedicated to olive oil and its many products anywhere else? I think not! That’s what they do. They’re olive ranchers.

To say that I felt envious is an understatement. I want to be an olive rancher too. (When he met me he was shocked that I cooked everything in olive oil. That still includes things like fried eggs and pancakes.)

I think I may have been an olive oil life-stylist long before we discussed and marketed things called “lifestyles” to consumers. My dad used to crack up when I was a girl because I’d use our jugs of olive oil to concoct rosemary and olive oil leave-in conditioners for my thick dry hair. (I still use olive oil soap but it’s usually the kind made in the Middle East.)

But oh how I now want to be an olive rancher…

Speaking of lifestyles, the gardening lifestyle is not an uncommon one to find in San Francisco either. Kingdom of Herbs was actually kind of nice to visit because it had upscale fun stuff mixed in with other odds and ends that all related to a love of all things plant material.

As someone who’s known for picking seeds wherever I go my husband and I giggled quite a bit about how I’d fit a few of these into my pockets. Not likely.

They had a lot of nice hats too.

And then there were plants…

and preserved plants and wood products. (Next year I really hope to preserve my boxwood cuttings. I really love these wreaths but they’re a bit pricey.)

After we grabbed some take-out from a deli, we wandered outside to watch the foot ferries while we ate. (This ferry takes commuters back and forth across the bay to Marin County.)

On our way out we stopped by The Gardener. It is a small local chain in the Bay Area and I was a bit less enthused by what it had to offer since it had far less to do with gardening.

I liked their display though of Japanese gardening tools. Reminded me a bit of a little piece of art I could hang on my own wall.

Mexican Flame Vine, Senecio confusus. This is a plant I’ve tried to grow from seed once or twice with little success.

Later, after the deliveries we went to Flora Grubb Gardens. I was embarrassed that I’d already been there four times this year, but since it was going to be my husband’s first visit, it somehow seemed necessary.

I was not disappointed. He was truly blown away by the displays and by the plants. As usual, I obsessively noted every change I could and thought about plants I may want in the future. (If only I could have that second garden in California.)

Queensland Silver Wattle or Pearl Acacia, Acacia podalyriifolia.
Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos ‘Bush Dawn’.
Hibiscus ‘Haight Ashbury’.
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. It’s endemic to California and is the largest of the North American Oaks. Some mature specimens can be nearly 600 years old, and can reach almost 100 feet in height.
Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha ‘Midnight’.

I love all the colors and you may have noticed that incredible blue sky?

Groundsel, Senecio mandraliscae and Sedum ‘Ogon’ behind it.
 Aloe ‘Pink Blush’. What an incredible hybrid!

Then there are the exterior/interior design ideas that Flora Grubb is so famous for. I still haven’t made my Sedum masterpiece, but that’s probably because I am still stuck on that Jackson Pollock flowerbed idea. (More on that next season. I’ve made some progress with this idea this year.)

I am not sure if the wire baskets are oyster baskets, but they sure look like they could be. These little decorative wall items are kinds cute and I hope to make some this winter. I so love anything with gilding.

Last time I don’t think I added a picture of their suspended Woollypocket display.

This geometric bear head is great too. After all it is California and they do have that silly bear on their flag, so why not!

Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’.

Just before we left I discovered these two Begonias. Glad I did too because one of them I can grow from seed. It is really amazing how much leaf variation exists in this group. I truly am in love with all of them, but the Grape Leaf Begonia might just be my new favorite.

Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.
Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia.

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Four, The Fern House

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The Fern House in the Volunteer Park Conservatory is probably my favorite House, but that is first and foremost due to the fact I am such a plant nerd and this area holds a super special plant right now. It is probably the rarest plant I have ever seen. Now I will share it with you too. It is a coffee relative from Chiapas, Mexico and it has the kind of story I swoon over.

Hard to believe, but a chance encounter between a population of Deppea splendens, and a man named Dennis Breedlove, led to the plant’s survival. In 1981 Breedlove collected seeds of this plant in the mountains of Chiapas where the only known population lived. He sent out seeds to different botanical gardens, and the seeds were grown. In 1986, he returned to the same place in Mexico only to discover the entire area had been tilled under and the plants were gone. It is now considered extinct in the wild but you can find specimens in botanical gardens.

I dug around for the name tag for this draping Coleus, but I could not find one. It reminded me though how not long ago I’d sought some out. Draping Coleus could make a great houseplant in the right place. I’d better get back on that so that next summer I can have amazing drapers.

Chinese Glory Bower, or Clerodendrum chinense, is new to me, but it sure made a great impression with its large leaves and tissue-like multi-peteled blooms.

Angel’s Trumpets scare me because I know they are poisonous to cats, but I love them when my cats are not around. Cats and plants are a funny thing though because I know for a fact I have other poisonous plants but I truly have found that if you offer the felines plenty of the plants they like, they tend to turn their noses up at the others. (This is Brugmansia versicolor ‘Ecuador Pink’.)

Ah, the rest of the Fern House was amazing too. So many of these plants are often offered as houseplants and so often I fall for them.

The laminated placard below explains how ariel roots function. Makes you feel bad for stuffing all of that into a pot and not allowing it to take over an entire bathroom.

At this point in the Fern House I let go of my fact checking.

I knew this was a Passion Vine though.

The ant plant is nice, but I wonder how it survives next to its flashy neighbor. Nepenthes is never a plant you want to be near—especially if you’re an insect who cannot resist it. BEWARE.

This sundew lives by the little pool seen earlier with the ariel roots. It’s a Drosera dichotoma ‘Giant’. I would love to see these in the wild someday. Until then I will rest here beside the pool.

Of course the collection had to contain an Australian tree fern!
An Aristolochia had to be here too.
Feast your eyes as I did!
The view from the final room, looking back at where we just toured, is really verdant. Hey, I like green and I bet if you’re reading this, so do you!