My Garden (An Exercise in Garden Writing)

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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 fiancĂ© 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.)

More Plant Adventures along the Columbia River

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Just about this time last week I was having a bit of a personal meltdown so I dashed out to the Columbia River Gorge to grab a burger and a piece of marionberry pie for dinner. The plan worked.

To say that the spontaneous retreat refreshed me is an understatement.

It recharged me and then some!

The whole escape made me feel significantly better and it gave me some much needed emotional energy.

There is still simply too much reorganization going on in my life. It is all finally coming to a close though and it is such a relief.

That evening I watched the sunset knowing I would be returning to the refuge of the Columbia River basin in just a few more days.

Here I am now, at the end of that trip. I’m writing this entry just before I return home to Portland.

The gas fireplace is lit after a long rainstorm and I can see nothing but green as I look out toward the river.

I’m sitting once again in my Dad’s fishing “cabin” near the Washington Coast just north of Astoria, OR.

The blog has been here before, but I do love to post new posts from here.

(Oh, and please forgive the plastic flowers. Mom has not yet been here to plant the annual marigolds.)

Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina. 

No matter how Italian the place appears, and despite the house’s awkwardness in the landscape, nature still intrudes upon the slumber here. Luckily, my parents think ferns growing randomly here and there don’t need eradication. I appreciate that attitude and I suppose I share it too.

A river runs behind the house.

Dad struggles with this painful-looking giant exclamation point in the landscape. Having given the tree to him, I’m not a big fan of this sad Italian cypress. Oh how I wish it could just be put it out of its misery! So many other native plants could joyfully take its place. Don’t you agree?

Piggyback Plant, (Tolmiea mensiesii).

Yesterday—for the first time in years—I wandered around the property in search of plant life.

Deep in my heart of hearts I aimed at trying to find the uncommon (or hard-to-find) terrestrial orchid Goodyera oblongifolia. No dice.

Deer Fern, (Blechnum spicant).

Though I did not find one, I found a lot of other plants.

Even so, I’ve decided that in the future I’ll continue to seek them out in the area. Something tells me that it’ll be fun to tell people I’m orchid hunting.

For the most part I just saw a lot of the usual while being cawed at by crows who didn’t recognize me. Nature can be so unpleasant sometimes.

Big Leaf Maple canopy, (Acer macrophyllum).

I enjoyed the pre-historic feel yesterday.

Sure there are neighbors around here, but I definitely didn’t see any of them.

Salmonberry, (Rubus spectabilis).
Too bad the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) wasn’t in bloom. There is honestly nothing quite like the smell of it in springtime.

I eventually meandered into the swampy area and it was here were my paper bag full of plants exploded at my feet while I was wading in the stream.

At least the local herd of elk didn’t come through and run me over.

(They travel through our property on a regular basis and when we used to camp here before the house was built they would come through while we were sleeping. It was terrifying to hear the thud of their hooves upon the ground and the branches crashing as they thundered down the hill above, through the canyon, and onward toward the river. Splashing salmon spawning nearby was a whole other experience as well. There is nothing quite like having wildlife just outside your door.)

After many years of playing in the woods of the PNW as a girl you’d think I would have known better. Paper bags do NOT like to be dragged along through tall wet grass during long walks.

After calmly extricating my little boots from the mud I emerged into the meadow on the other side of the house.

Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and White Inside-out Flowers (Vancouveria hexandra).

I left my messy bag and chose to go up above the stream to the upper portion of the property. By now I’d been futzing with nature for a few hours but I couldn’t get enough. I was in a very happy place.

Cow Parsnip, (Heracleum maximum).
Oxalis oregana growing through the thick carpet of moss.

I made it back down to the house in time for dinner. I was covered in debris from my expedition, but overall, I felt ready to face the world.

Oh groan.

Time to finish packing.

I wonder what happened in my garden while I was gone.

To be continued…

Wordless Wednesday: Woodland Dreamer in the City

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Himalayan Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum venustum) and Primrose ‘Gold Lace’ (Primula x polyantha ‘Gold Lace’).
Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum).
Dutchman’s Breeches, (Dicentra cucullaria).
Primrose ‘Sunset Shades’, (Primula veris ‘Sunset Shades’).
White Inside-Out Flower, (Vancouveria hexandra).
And because this is Oregon, we just have ferns pop up randomly…

Alcatraz: The Garden Tour, Part Two

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Once you reach the top, you’re at the cellhouse. If you’d continued following the garden tour, this is near where it ends, just beneath the Recreational Yard, where the fenced in prisoners’ garden once was and where it has been restored. (Note the Lobularia maritima in the foreground.)

In case you were wondering, this is the inside of the prison. To be honest, inside it is very small but it’s so interesting. (We had an amazing time watching the European tourists and we both loved hearing Italians speaking Italian.)

Back on the trail, these were the plants I was able to see as the tour went from the top of the Rock down along the westside towards the north with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that’s amazing.
Perennial Statice, Limonium perezii.
Seed heads of Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis.
The refurbished prisoners’ area greenhouse.
The prisoners’ greenhouse back in 1993 or 1994 during my first visit to Alcatraz.
Aeonium arboreum and Acanthus mollis.
Crassula, Aeonium, and Acanthus. I am not sure what the silvery one is but I am sure someone else will know.
This is another view of the same area.
And another view. I think there are some Aloe in there too.
This is about as close as you can get to the water on this side. There is a fence though so you cannot walk on the pavement. This area is protected. Birds nest there.
Kinda not sure about this one but it is a Mediterranean plant all right.
Fig Tree, Ficus in the prisoners’ garden.
Notice the fence. You can also see the skyline of downtown San Francisco.
From that area you can walk up the steep stairs to the Recreational Yard.
We started to make our way back down to the ferry at this point and believe it or not there were still plants to see that I’d missed on our way up.
Crocosmia.
Monstera deliciosa in a photo display in the Warden’s Office of what it looked like during the Kennedy administration.
If you were coming to visit someone on Alcatraz, you would have had to walk under this display. The cornucopias with their bountifulness is a bit odd.
The planter box along the road down to the boat was full of Geraniums.
Behind this row and down below are some of the areas we’d been granted access too earlier in the day.
Alcatraz is full of Fuchsia after Fuchsia.
A lone Hydrangea with a few Western sword ferns, Polystichum munitum.
Leathery Polypody Fern, Polypodium scouleri. This is a great native plant.
 Trailing Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi.
Where the Rock meets man.
This was a very tall red Geranium.
 Trailing Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi.
Nasturium have taken over and are growing wild on the island.
Unknown Geranium.
Unknown Geranium.
Back at the dock there is yet another Geranium.
An unknown Fuchsia tree.
Fuchia trying to get off the Rock.
A carpet of Aeonium.
This is a view of the Aeonium carpet as seen from the ferry.

If this did not whet your appetite for a trip to Alcatraz, I don’t know what will! I can’t wait to go back myself and I am so impressed with of all of the amazing work they’ve accomplished with the gardens.