Cecil & Molly Smith Garden (St. Paul, Oregon)

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Just days after our return home from Italy I decided to readjust to my life by taking the opportunity to visit a local garden I’d never seen before, and which I’d always wanted to visit.

Run by the Portland Chapter of The American Rhododendron Society, the Cecil & Molly Smith Garden is only open for limited visits during the months of April and May.

While resting my poor swollen feet and lower legs I cracked open the 2016 Open Gardens Guide from the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon aka HPSO. IMG_1717Plane rides may give this chronically ill woman horrible temporary edema, but I wasn’t going to let that keep me down—even if that had been my Doctor’s orders.

I needed some retail relief and good ole open American space in the form of my beloved Willamette Valley. Since the garden is located near Heirloom Roses, I knew this was the perfect plan. I could buy something and go for a drive in the country.

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The volunteer who greeted me was great. I spoke with him briefly when we entered and then at length before I left. He’d handed me a nice list of the plants, and I’d thought I could keep track of them, but I was not certain on many accounts.

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I took photos of the tags too but I had also just learned that my most recent caregiving client had entered hospice and I was more upset that day than I’d realized at the time. Looking back at the notes I took, they don’t make a lot of sense.

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Gardens are for healing and reflection. IMG_1755

That day I wandered around in a daze. I thought a lot about the client I’d been with for a year and I revisited the conversations and worked to draw meaning from it all.

Recently I’d read something about caregiving that had really hit home in relation to caring for the dying. The author wrote that we make promises to the patients, to our faith, or to ourselves.IMG_1768This was the first time I’d lost a client who wasn’t much older than me. IMG_1777The client was full of wonder with the world and saw beauty in our daily lives.

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The client wasn’t ready to leave this life, and even though I left for my trip knowing that they’d moved in with family, they’d repeatedly said it was only temporary and would return soon.

I believed the job would go on. IMG_3583

What would the client want for me now as my life moves on? What do I want for myself? What have I learned?

The client would want us all to live our lives to their fullest and to be giving and to push ourselves to learn and be more.

Additionally, the client would want us to bloom, and to create, and to make art or to enjoy art created by others. The client would want us to be active and to build community.

That day I barely saw all of these amazing flowers, and I know that we all have these days, and even now as I sit here writing this I mourn for the client as I have mourned other clients. I guess these photos are reminding me of how I felt that day, but I felt so much more, IMG_1784

In the garden I walked on lovely soft pathways through thousands of blooms and I was overcome by it all. I was transported seeing the wide swaths of thick Doug fir bark. Sometimes things that are so familiar to you look much more vivid when you return to them after a long absence.

Il Orto Botanico dell’Università di Genova

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Today we ventured out to find a garden—and although what we thought would be a 14 minute walk turned into a hilltop adventure, well, we’re in Italy, so it was all fine. 

Established in 1803, the collection is not as historic or as grand at the one in Padova, but it’s a bucolic place, not well cared after, and overall, still a lot of fun. Since this university is also the owner of a large botanical garden at an estate along the Italian Riviera I will cut them plenty of slack. I cannot imagine the expense of maintaining both this property as well as the other. It alone is 44 acres so kudos to them. 

Along our walk there was much to see.

  

“Love greetings”

  

Random Graptopetalum growing out of a wall.

  

Several levels of gardens. A common sight in many areas in Italy.

  

Fig tree growing out of a wall. Just random fruit.

  

Strelitzia (bird of paradise) grow well here.

  

Citrus aurantium ssp. Aurantium var. Myrtifolia (bitter orange).

  

  

Colletia spinosa.

  

Street trees—literally.

    
 

Tecomaria capensis (cape honeysuckle).

  

Dahlia imperialis (tree dahlia).

  

Unknown little yuccas.

 
   

Fremontodendron californium a long way from home.

  

Iris japonica.

  

Pinus nigra.

  

Pittosporum.

  

Not sure.

  

Wisteria.

  
  

White rose with Colletia cruciata.

  

Amorphophallus ‘Konjac’.

    

Arbutus andrachne (Greek strawberry tree).

    

Unknown Rhododendron.

  

Unknown Magnolia.

  
  

My favorite bulb: Leopoldia comosa aka Muscari comosum.

  

Magnolia tulipiflora.

  

Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya pine).

  

Weedy Oxalis.

  

Where they catalog and keep their plants. Many here are historically medicinal ones.

  

Tamarix gallica (French tamarix) with a bad haircut.

  

Vitis vinifera with a little green lizard. Can you see it?

  

Cercis siliquastrum (Judad tree).

 
  

Cycas revoluta (female).

  

Scilla peruviana.

 

Myrtus communis subsp. Tarentina.

  

Myrtus communis subsp. Tarentina.

  
  

Water plant collection.

  
   

And then we wandered back downhill to our apartment, encountering this lovely grotto in the courtyard of a palazzo along our way. 

Purge, Edit, and Delete

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Right now I should be outside moving more of the unit of rich, warm, and lovely compost mulch I ordered, but instead, I’m indoors recovering from moving a lot of it on Wednesday. Cars can technically move around it so I am not terribly ashamed I’m hogging a parking spot in the street.

It’s been a few months since I’ve taken on such physical work in the garden. It didn’t take long before it was clear why.

Luckily, I had some anabolic steroids to take for my uncommon swelling issues. They’ve helped.

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Working so hard on Wednesday made me realize why the garden has gotten so wild. It’s been a frustrating time for me because I love plants, I really love to garden, and yet I just don’t do it.

Just working out there briefly led to a whole long list of physical issues. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that by the end of the day, various parts of my body were swollen, covered in rashes, and were peeling where the skin had dried out. I had no idea how much damage gloves could do to my knuckles. I’d never seen such an epic purple rash all the way across my abdomen. That’s when you know you look swollen.

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Unknown rose. We’d thought it was a ‘Dublin Bay’ but now I’m not so sure.

The garden looks like it does because I’m afraid of the pain. After a day of it, I remember that now. I guess when I was at my worst, it didn’t hurt as much looking at the spectrum of what I was experiencing but now that I’m living nearly pain free, I see things differently.

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The asparagus that we didn’t eat and overgrown chard. Can’t wait to get to this area this weekend.

My husband has committed to helping me more but he’s not a gardener and he has very little experience with the tasks so I will need more patience. I also need to continue to purge, edit, and delete.

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The potting area where I have no room to pot anything up right now.

These parts of the garden have been shown off before and I am doing it again. Even in their overgrown state, I see them as beautiful.

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Some of the seeds I’ve been able to plant this year. I cannot believe how much junk I’ve crammed into this space. Must. Clean. Up.

All of these little corners and spots are safe and fun to me. I’m still really enjoying seeing the garden as it reemerges. Everything I’m doing now is easing the anxiety of the pain gardening can cause, but it’s still really difficult to accept. I’ve become old before my time and I don’t like it. Now I need to find the balance between all of the things I want to have in my life. I also need to embrace and care carefully for my health concerns.

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Working to convert this area into a gravel path and seating area under the tree. Little by little. We’re getting there.

The garden has plans and I am 100% committed to holding a few fundraiser dinners out back in the garden this summer. It’s all a lot of work but it’s how I’ve always wanted to use the back garden.

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The walkway I wish people would use to enter the garden by walking along the north side of the house.

Ripping plants out is the most difficult thing for me. I should practice doing so more carefully. I’d wanted to divide and sell more of it but I just don’t have the energy to do it all. Potting things up really hurts my wrists and fingers too. My fingers were so stiff yesterday with such swollen joints. Luckily the caregiving client I spent time with is incredibly understanding.

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This Rhododendron falconer is one of my favorite plants.

The garden is helping me again, but this time it’s therapeutic in a different way. As I transition once again—to building a life where I’m able to use my mind more again for work and my body less—I hope that I can continue to build the garden into the refuge I need for it to be.

Oh how I want to work from home again but first I must purge, edit, and delete.

Wordless Wednesday: The gardener is here, there—everywhere!!!

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Rhododendron sinogrande.
What plant for the cat this year?
I’m currently finding homes for all of this poor babies. No. I am NOT a plant hoarder.
Dear St. Fiacre, please grant me garden sanity and grace before I lose my mind. This garden is out of control and I cannot just “let it go”. I did that already and it didn’t work.
So I’m still only showing you the same old view of the backyard.
Roses and cherries as seen during a neighborhood walk. I do love this time of year.

Emerging Anew: Budding and Reblooming (The cycle never seems to end.)

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The blog has been largely quiet for the last few months as I’ve been reentering and reshaping my life. What’s nice to know, at least for my own sake, is that this blog is not going to go away anytime soon. As hokey as it sounds—like me, or even you—it’s just going to continue to grow and change.

Rhododendron hybrid at the Espy House in Oysterville, WA.

I want to grow and change. I want to be like my formerly feral cat who’s grown to trust me more and more. For this love she’s shown me, I fixed her fence again about a month ago. I’m not going to say that she does the dishes now, but she’s quite happy with the respect I’ve shown her.

Currently I’m seeing so many things again as if for the first time and part of what’s kept me away from my typically long and meandering posts has been a reticence to describe my new life because it is taking time for me to watch it as it unfurls.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).

I’m emerging too and with the amount of restorative exercise I’ve been doing I’m looking like myself again. One cannot describe how much illness changes you inside as you suffer through the pain. In my case, I struggled for years on my own.

Though I’m better now, and so much stronger physically, for the last few months I’ve had to continue battling Hereditary Angiodema while at the same time accepting the fact that two falls down staircases have caused some serious damage to my back and neck. It is difficult to accept that I didn’t seek the help I needed at the time I needed it. Daily I’m reminded of this, and daily I’m learning to think about it differently while acknowledging I did the best that I could at that time. I needed help though in my daily life, and I needed a lot of support. Accepting that I still do, and that I need to ask for it from now on, is something I see now as an immediate need as I better define what living with dignity means to me.

With allergies and food intolerances it’s been difficult for years to eat but I’ve taken charge of that too. Having spent a lot of time with a Scandinavian friend with similar issues helped me a lot last year. Sometimes we cooked for one another too. It really helped me to rebuild my confidence and as my health has improved I’ve had more endurance in that arena too. Cooking is a big part of who I am.

A shrimp and basil casserole I made with a recipe from the island of Elba. It has tomatoes and potatoes too and that’s just about it.
Handmade cannoli I made for my boyfriend’s birthday. Yes, I even made my own shells too.

My online seed shop has recently been remodeled and cleaned up a bit too. I’ve been working on many other responsibilities as well. Highlights of my days include moments when I can sneak outside to discover new blooms on my old garden friends.

Slowly, I’m weeding the garden back into shape. Last year I didn’t work outside much at all. It was simply too painful. This year, I am trying really hard to take my garden back.

Iris fiorentina. 

There are the new-to-me flowers too. Even if I’ve seen them a million times in print or online, seeing them up close and in person makes such a difference. I’ve been visiting friends’ gardens more and more and I love it when I’m surprised by what I can only call “new material”.

Sparaxis tricolor.

The classics have been comforting me this spring. After years of living with great stress and uncertainty I’m finally calm enough to really soak up and appreciate their beauty.

Tulip hybrid in the company of a peony.

The return of my green rose has brought me great comfort and gardener pride. With the high temperatures we’ve been having it’s blooming early this year.

Their black pepper scent was much missed.

Rosa viridiflora.

With a return to the kitchen, I’ve become interested again in cooking with herbs and other plants. I’ve been wanting to raid my neighbor’s calendula for years and this is finally the year for me to do it. Have you cooked with Calendula before? Just curious.

Calendula officinalis.

Lastly, I’ve been returning to my roots and have been enjoying the natural beauty of the region I live in once more. There is so much meaning in everything I see and do now after so many years of struggling personally, professionally, and in my private life. Sometimes I wish that this process could speed up and end but in order to grow, I see clearly now that this takes time and care. I must tend to myself first and then to my garden. In the end, we’ll all be much stronger and more disease and pest resistant.

Oh, and I’m getting really excited now about being part of a presentation—along with some other garden blogging friends—on June 8th out at Joy Creek Nursery. Should be fun to really think about the topic of garden blogging over the next few weeks.

Taming the Beasts

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Snow on a big leaf Rhododendron.
The snow beast roared its tiny little head this morning. Now it’s gone.
That was the easiest beast to tame this past week although the cold temps are still sticking around—unlike the snow.
Just about finished with the seed starting spreadsheet for 2013. I think I’ll be starting about 450 different types of seeds. The bowl of basmati rice pudding with almond milk, raisins and orange flower water really helped me get to the end of the project this year. It was a great reward for a difficult job.

My seed sheet is now complete and is accessible by clicking on the link above.

It was a difficult beast to put down because I’m challenged by the fact I still don’t know where my garden will be in the future. This beast is not yet purring but I will make it purr.

I know that I’m a woman who sorts seeds. It’s what I do. Last year I didn’t get to participate in this dull and slow process so doing it this year made me feel more like me.

Some people use Nyquil, others use Icelandic Schnapps.

The flu is everywhere right now and I hope with all of my heart that I’m able to escape it.

So far, so good. I’d much rather watch others deal with this creature. It’s not one I’m well equipped for, but I think with a bottle of this stuff, at least I wouldn’t care if I caught it.

I have a friend who chose to use this medicinal treatment involving Icelandic Moss Schnapps (http://www.fjallagrasa.is/en). The moss used is actually the lichen Cetraria islandica but it was hard to tell just by looking at the shriveled and dried up chunk of plant life inside of the bottle.

This is the little fur beast who inspired this post. Sometimes animals shock and surprise us. This is my partially feral garden cat who, after 7 years of hiding in the basement, now demands to sleep with me at night. With the other two geriatric cats currently restricted to the main floor she is able to hop the fence and run upstairs to jump onto the bed each evening.

Having seen her as a feral cat for the past 7 years it’s wonderful to see her change. Somehow she’s broken through a trust boundary and I’m thrilled to see the change.

I cannot help but believe too that my newfound calmness and focus has helped her feel safer around me. Before, I believe I was far too frantic for her. Life has really changed a lot since the divorce.

She has changed too.

 
19th century vase with thistle, Japan. Portland Art Museum.
I’ve been working diligently to feed the creative drawing and designing animal inside of me. It’s strange to feel the craving in my belly for this sort of thing, but it’s there and it’s starving.
As usual, I’m drawn more and more to Japanese designs. It fascinates me to no end to be so enamored of such simplicity when I’m such a complex and complicated person. As I enter into middle age I’m noticing that I crave simplicity more and more. I want to be at peace so I will feed the beast what it wants.
Discovering low-sodium dried sardine dashi has made me very happy. Making a hearty miso soup has been a great boon during wintertime.
Oh, and by the way, I simply cannot stop cooking. I guess I’m literally feeding the beast too!
2013 is going to involve more cooking and I hope to grow more produce. Of course I don’t expect to grow it all myself but I want to make a concerted effort with those around me and in my gardening life to learn more about food. As someone with severe sensitivities it’s now no longer such a chore and it has simply become more and more a way of being for me.
I might as well do it very, very well—for my wellness and for me.