The Lightly Frosted Garden in January

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Tree textures: curly willow (Salix) and Doug fir (Pseudotsuga).
It is not a bad thing—at least in my mind—to wake up to a frozen world outside.
Just a few of my many houseplants in my office/plant room.
With the cold comes sunshine and I can embrace them both so long as the heater is working.
Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine’.
With a warm coat and several layers of clothing you’re likely to find me outside now looking around.
Spiderweb frozen in time on a Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’.
Ok, maybe this is a gentle time during the winter for us and I have to admit that I’m more inclined to giggle at the things I’m seeing rather than groaning about the wet muddiness of it all. (That is if I am not cursing the cold. I’m not perfect.)
Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’.
Seeing the blue sky all day warms my heart. I adore the color blue and all that it represents.
Even the ivy that’s considered an invasive plant seems somewhat more tame and delicate with a dusting of the cold frozen dampness.
An Epiphyllum I grew from seed.

Indoors the houseplants are still growing. I sit beside them working while I too bask in the warmth from the heater and I take advantage of the lights intended for their growth.

Some old homes don’t have a lot of windows to let the light in, but I make do.

Will Walk for Seeds

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A few weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon entitled “Seed Collecting: Where the Wild Things Grow with Steve Newall”. Reflecting on the experience—that of meeting and listening to the exploits of a real seed collector and seed grower—has been good for me.
Sitting down to talk with Steve was really centering for me since due to my current life situation I’ve been a bit uneasy in general. Everything in my life is still swirling around but my love and interest in seeds is always there in the middle of it all. (Imagine my comfort in knowing that seeds are immovable in this windy storm and I cling to them and they make me feel so good. It’s so silly but it’s all true.)
To talk to someone who truly understands me was really soothing during a time in life when there are so few healing balms other than self-inflicted silence and self-discovery. These things might sound great, but when it really matters, and a lot is on the line, there can be a frightening bleakness to the darkness as you sit watching and listening to it while your impatience grows. The seeds that germinate in this darkness are scary to me, but I am patient enough now to sit through the process even if it’s really hard for me to sit still sometimes.
How do you tell the people around you that you want to create a life where you’re able to run off and collect seeds when you feel like it? It’s not like I do this for science! I am an Amateur Bot-ann-ist after all. For me it’s just this compulsion that comes from deep inside that drives me to love seed propagation and I just cannot get enough.
I was told it was, like, a skill. How odd!?!
So seed spotting is now what I jokingly refer to as my super power. Too bad I’m not a super hero though…
Asclepias speciosa seeds I collected last year.

If I could I’d spend all day working and thinking about seeds. How I came to this, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s genetic so I’ll just thank my forefathers and foremothers.

Ricinus communis seeds from Loree over at Danger Garden.
But this past week I had another major HAE swelling attack from all the activity and emotional stuff going on in my life. I anticipated it though because I knew that driving 6 hours by myself was not a great idea—especially after walking over 20 miles last week.
It made me doubt I could be a seed hunter, but that doubt passed rather quickly and I redoubled my efforts by getting some advice from my chiropractor. I’m now targeting key muscles groups that are weaker than they should be and I’m hoping this will help me to overcome some of the exhaustion I’ve been experiencing. (Never underestimate the pain that can be caused when one group of muscles repeatedly overcompensates for another.)
Staircase at Mount Tabor Park. I trotted up these stairs for the first time last week at a pace I was almost proud of and it felt great.

So during this “rest” week I’ve been sorting and cleaning the house—including my workspace—and it’s obvious how strongly I’ve resisted dealing with a lot of my own personal things up until now. I’m grasping them though, both literally and figuratively, and am thinking more and more about seeds as summer has started and there will be more and more of them soon.

As a matter of fact, I’ve already asked one friend to accompany me on a seed collecting trip. I’ve always gone by myself because I haven’t ventured very far into the wild in awhile. I am going to dip my toe into that pool soon. I don’t expect much, but it’s the act itself that’s already beginning to change me.

Lunaria annua might be a weed, but its seedpods will always be a favorite of mine.

There are these little things that are popping up in the darkness inside of me that I’ve been staring into for awhile now. They are sprouting and seeking out the light. My eyes are so sore from starting into the abyss for this long, but I think it’s time for me to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief.

Some of the many stairs in Mount Tabor Park.

I walk now and it’s not about the past so much, it’s about my future. Funny how I see seeds everywhere I go and when I do I always think of hope.

More of the Mount Tabor stairway.
The silence that used to bother me so much is becoming more and more the memory of who I am and who I once was but had forgotten.
Calendula officinalis seeds.

I think of the silence often now that surrounds the life of seeds since the lives of plants are so quiet compared to ours.

So often I meet gardeners who tell me they’re afraid to grow plants from seed because seedlings are so delicate and weak they’re afraid they’ll hurt or kill them.

This always makes me chuckle a little bit.

Aurinia saxatilis seeds.

Yes, the activity might require some patience and careful observation but never underestimate the power of any living plant or animal that wants to survive—and this might also be applicable to some of the people you know in your own life.

Someday it might even apply to you.

Crown Lifting: The Key to Being Queen Custodian to a Doug Fir in the City

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There is nothing like lifting the crown of a huge evergreen tree when you live in the city.
After.
Before.

There are two Doug firs on this property and admittedly, they’ve not been tended to until recently. (This is the post from last spring about the Medusa-headed specimen on the south side of the house.)

After.
Before.

Now that the light is flooding in, I can reexamine what to do with what’s underneath the tree. I had been planning on doing a big makeover anyway to really tidy up the design so wish me luck! There will be many more posts to come…

After.
Before.

From Seeds to Seeds: Seed Harvesting and Happiness

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Happiness is not something I usually discuss publicly but today I am brimming with it. Sure, the world is currently a bit crazy—and I acknowledge and care about that—but right here at my house, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. I joke not, seriously, and I mean this both figuratively and literally.
For me, seed collecting currently feels like opening tiny gifts wrapped in crinkly sun-dried seed pod papers. Funny that after that is done, I wrap them up in cute little origami envelopes and store them until they are sold in my online store! As many of you know, Christmas shopping often begins early and as usual, I am seeing sales from early shoppers. When I hear that folks are buying seeds for someone for Christmas though it makes me so happy. These are gifts that will give back in return if properly cared for by a gardener—sometimes for years!
Milton’s Garden Menagerie (located on Etsy.com) has been a wonderful experience for a chronically ill woman who was terribly confused about how to take that next step in her life. At first I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with it and I doubted myself a great deal, but now that it has been almost 2 years and as it nears a viable business status, I think I can say I did it mostly—for the love of seeds! Saying that loud and proud makes me happy today too.
Each time I collect seeds it’s exciting no matter where I am. When I collect seeds from plants I’ve grown from seed it is even more exciting. This year, for the first time, my gardening friend down the street is letting me harvest from her garden too. Since she is 100% natural in her garden I have no problem collecting her seeds—especially when they are from plants I have sold to her at some point.
Here are plants I’ve grown from seed that I am collecting seeds from this year for my Milton’s Garden Menagerie harvest:
Tube Clematis, Clematis heracleifolia.
Variegated Honesty, Lunaria annua ‘Variegata’.
Heirloom White Single Hollyhock, Alcea rosea. 
Cardinalflower, Lobelia cardinalis.
Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.
White Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ or Silene coronaria ‘Alba’. 
Maximilian’s Sunflower, Helianthus maximilianii.
Sticky Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis.
Bottlebrush Grass, Elymus hystrix.
Then there are the plants I did not grow, but from which I am able to harvest seeds from this year.
Sticky Phacelia, Phacelia viscida.
Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria.
Blue Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena.
Tall Alumroot, Heuchera chlorantha.
Lewis Flax, Linum lewisii.
Pale Corydalis, Corydalis sempervirens.
Adding to all the hectic seed collecting there are the other things too. On my most recent trip to the Seattle area I came home with this gem. It, along with many others, will be planted in the coming weeks.
Blechnum chilense.

The fern is native to China and can grow up to 6′ tall in some places. It is evergreen in my climate so I am very curious to see what it will do. It spreads by underground runners and I’ve read that it can be invasive but no word on this yet in my area. I guess I will have to see what happens and in the meantime I’ll enjoy it as much as I can while it is still docile and not a screeching teen.

And during my copious amounts of free time I will begin working with my many Douglas fir cones. I need to make some new wreaths and holiday decorations because if I continue only using wine corks, someone is seriously going to think we have a drinking problem in our home.

More happy news to come in the following week so stay tuned!

The Many Headed Medusa Tree (How NOT to Prune a Doug Fir Tree)

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Before we left for Seattle, we hired a landscaper friend to trim the large Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga mensiesii) between our house and the neighbors’. Years ago it was headed improperly so it has far too many heads. As you can see in the image below, one of these many heads was bending and growing dangerously near our house’s roof. With wind storms being rather common in the NW, this branch has been causing me a great deal of grief.

In the image below, you can see that the south side of our home now has a lot more light and the tree looks much better. A few nights ago we had some strong wind gusts and for the first time in 6 years, I didn’t hear a peep from our tree dropping stuff on the roof.
We had the canopy lifted too and that is probably the greatest benefit. I cannot wait to watch things grow like crazy this season.
In this image from before the trim you can see how messy our multi-headed tree looked. The big thick branch/head on the far right is the one that was growing toward our house. It was really thick and growing so unnaturally. You can see why I was so stressed.
Afterwards, the tree clearly looked a lot better. I still hate its many heads, but for now, they are all healthy, so I will leave them alone.

A Gardener Visits the Oregon Zoo

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As I write this an East Wind is blowing out of the Columbia River Gorge and I can hear the Doug fir tree as it gently brushes the roof. This winter, those branches will finally be removed. It is late, and the emergency respite child is asleep in bed and I can now openly feel afraid of the dried vines scratching at my window. I wish I could be upset at the person who planted them, but I cannot do that to myself. I meant no harm at the time. The scratching noises they make though are really a bit terrifying. I must remember to trim them back.
Ah yes, this is really about the zoo. This past Saturday we were at the Oregon Zoo and before we’d left the house with our last foster respite guest, I’d already decided to see the zoo through the fresh eyes of a gardener, and not necessarily just the animal lover that I am.
This meant—of course—that the first photo was of a bear. I am horrible at these assignments but I was simply too excited since I have not seen the black bears in some time now.

Back on track, I noticed this along the pathway as we continued. These are what we call sheds or shed antlers and they are just sitting around to make the place look more natural in the Pacific Northwest Exhibit. This kind of thrilled me and brought back memories of a mostly horrible camping trip to British Columbia with my father for one month after I’d graduated from high school. I would have preferred a week in NYC to that month of misery, but at least I really did get to know the desolate feeling of true wilderness.

While I was there, I found all kinds of odd animal bones by wandering a bit into the woods but I stopped doing that the day I heard a grizzly for the first time. Back home in Oregon, even after all of these years, I still love to toss out artifacts into my garden for that surreal juxtaposition. This winter I hope to go to the coast to get some more great stuff—another bone or two would be kind of fun—but my mainstay are large oyster shells.

My husband was briefly home this past weekend. He brought home books and clothing from his seasonal wine sojourn in California, and is now wrapping up what loose ends he can before returning home for the next 5 months. The arranged respite for the weekend was very excited to see him again and I think that’s something he is beginning to enjoy more and more even if it is confusing or rough at times. He was happy to be back in what we lovingly call the Pacific Wonderland.

The lifecycle of the salmon is represented by art at the zoo. (You cannot really keep salmon in tanks so they have trout instead.) There is an amazing mosaic in the walkway near this sculpture that is a favorite of mine. Salmon fertilizer is one of our favorite fertilizers here at home, so adding salmon again to my blog I do with pride.

This is an owl I caught napping but I cannot imagine it sleeps much with all the kids around it all day.

Owls can be useful for rodent control, even in the city, so of course it gets a gardeners seal of approval. Living at the base of the extinct volcano that is now a forested park, we have some owls living amongst us. There are some bats too, but they don’t visit me down here at the base much. (We have them at the zoo too, but by the time we made it to the bat cave, I was too tired to take another picture.)

The native rose hips were really glistening and glowing. I didn’t get a full picture of this shrub rose, but it was lit up like a Christmas tree with all of its red hips. It made me crave my favorite black tea with rose petals for some strange reason.

Near the farm area, where they have the main petting zoo, this salvia was afire. I found it hard to believe that they were blooming away, but nearby there was a native Mimulus in bloom too. I mourned the fact that I was too late to harvest some of its seeds, but maybe next year.

I am not sure if this is the North American native Beauty Berry or not. It is planted between a viewing deck and either the hippo or giraffe and zebra area. This was a welcome sight since the colors are always so beautiful.

Temporarily the penguins have been moved into part of the polar bear exhibit. If you know any penguins, it should come as no great shock that their filter needs to be replaced at their house. This might take some time so they have made themselves at home.

They were sun worshipping while we were there and a few were swimming up to us as we looked through the glass. It was a great last stop and I am glad I pushed to see them and not the ice cream machine the foster respite was by that time obsessed with.

As we left on Saturday, this was the amazingly romantic weather we saw from the parking lot. Fog was settling in on the West hills, and down below, in the city, it was drizzly. Some folks feel that this kind of climate is heavy, or even depressing or sad, but I adore it. I might even want to add that it can inspire you to get some writing done that you’ve been meaning to get around to doing.

Today was mostly clear and sunny so we do have some good days around from time to time. I now have over 4,000 words written for this novel of mine, it was a great day, and a great weekend leading up to today as well.

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.