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.)

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.)

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

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It has been at least a month since I’ve written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I’ve been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it’s safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I’m blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.

Much of what’s been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.

Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn’t have been possible either without all of the friends who’ve come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I’d been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now.
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year.

Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I’ve sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that’s because it’s been a day-to-day thing.

Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.

I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me.

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I’ve been feeling and sensing again.

May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA.

I also still see plants everywhere.

The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.

Even when I’m enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That’s why I haven’t been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.

I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.

Plants are still at my center.

I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them.

I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it’s just a snapshot.

Driftwood at the Washington Coast.

Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.

A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest.

I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.

My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau.

Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.

Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.

The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.

I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)

Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water.

I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that’s a whole other post.

Begonia boliviensis in my garden.

Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.

To say we’d grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.

And the cats are doing as they please…

Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won’t.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I’d planted that I’d purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.

He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time.

The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.

And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, “It’s ok.” As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I’ll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I’ve been through a lot, and it will be ok.

My First Citrus Lesson—and a bunch of other stuff from California

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Wintersweet aka Chimonanthus in bloom.
Yesterday our friend—and host during a portion of our trip—took me to visit his friend’s tree nursery in the city of Napa: Main Street Trees. One of the first things we saw was this amazing Wintersweet shrub in bloom and immediately I knew I wanted to use some of it for an ikebana arrangement.
Even on the dashboard I loved its angularity.

Later, after driving north to the vineyard in Kelseyville, I assembled this ikebana with some pine and pretty dried out roses that had overwintered near the winery.

But I’d mentioned in the title of this post that I’d had my first Citrus lesson, right?

The candied pieces at the bottom of this image are from a Buddha’s Hand.
It was amazing to try so many fruits I’d only seen pictures of in books.

This was a lime that my friend rolled around in his hands to release its oils. The scent was heavenly but we didn’t eat it. I was more than content just to stare at it.

As you can see, our hostess was incredibly generous, and best of all, she served a blood orange—one of my favorites.

Beforehand, we’d walk through the labyrinth of trees at the nursery with their Bengal cat. I’d never seen one in person before and I have to admit that I was probably a bit more into the cat than I needed to be but I do miss my own herd back home.

This is Willow, their German Shepard. Oh!, plant people and their pets. I get it and I imagine you do too.

This is not the best image, but I had to add it. I found the juxtaposition of an olive tree and a Sequoia to be a bit like the famous surrealist quote taken from the Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror: “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”

It reminded me to always think over plant associations.

There were bees—lots of bees, and I heard hens, but unfortunately, we had to run so I didn’t get to visit with them.

Just as we were about to leave, I snapped an image of this timber bamboo. That stuff really is incredibly beautiful.

During my drive I kept thinking about this picture I’d snapped while visiting. It was my eldest niece’s 20th birthday yesterday and she has a tattoo of a California poppy. Seeing the roses only reminded me of home: Portland, aka the City of Roses. I didn’t drink any of the wine, but I liked the label, and besides, wine is the connection now between the two states we go back and forth between.

Hours later, I made this ikebana for my niece’s 20th birthday. Like myself, she loves dark and mysterious things that are a bit quirky and I knew she’d love this slightly dark olive and pomegranate arrangement.

Ciao from Lake County, California…

Greetings from an Amateur Botanist in CA

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Leading up to this trip I didn’t say much. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and additionally, my broken finger recovering took a slide due to my swelling disease. Coaxing them both back into splints was all we could do and it really slowed me down again.
The Rogue River in Southern Oregon.

Just a few days ago I drove down to California alone, to see my husband and to witness the wine harvest and crush for the first time. It’s the least I could do as his wife and it was my birthday gift to him. I had to be brave to drive I-5 alone and to stay in a yurt right off the highway when virtually few others were doing so. Driving the whole 10 hours in a day—by myself—was just not possible. The two-day drive was amazing!

Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, in a rest stop near Lake Shasta.
Arctostaphylos in a rest stop near Mt. Shasta.

As for botanizing, my main goal during this trip is to more deeply familiarize myself with the native flora in the chaparral of California. I will be doing some coastal exploration too, but most of my activities will be centered around Lake County where my husband is during the growing season.

While stopping in Redding to visit McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Garden I caught some folks fishing for salmon in the Sacramento River. The flyfisherman who’d waded all the way out in the riffles was fun to watch but I was disappointed that he didn’t know how to cast. (Sometime I will have my husband take a picture of me casting. It’s the only fishing skill I retained from my upbringing.)

After Redding I drove south toward Sacramento and San Francisco before heading west on Hwy 20 into Lake County, CA. From the point on, I was far happier with the gorgeous scenery.

When I arrived, he hopped up the ladder and began to punch down the fermenting grapes in the tank. I have to say, it was impressive and the smell was incredible. It was both good and bad at the same time!

I looked at the color of the grapes, took the picture, and then as I was on the ladder I laughed when I noticed the labels on the tank.

When he finished we walked through the olive orchard.

We were both surprised that the pomegranate tree had actually produced this year despite the funny weather.

Then he showed me what the weather had done to some of the grapes. With the heavy rains and low temperatures we’ve had this season all along the West Coast, you’re going to get some rotten grapes. This is what they can look like and you just have to let them go.

And this is what grapes in a vineyard look like when they’re not pruned. This row was going to be grafted with something else but when the time to do so passed because the weather wasn’t right, they just let the grapes go. It’s only one row, but it really shows you how much pruning is necessary to make all the vineyards look so pretty. They really prune to improve the air and sun exposure for the grapes and to ensure that they have consistency in overall quality and quantity. The whole process is really interesting to me.

While we perambulated, we were being watched. I shot this picture and admired Mt Konocti behind the mighty raptor. That’s because at that moment, I had not yet climbed to its top. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how that went because right now, I’m off to collect some more plant materials just north of here…