Wordless Wednesday: Regrowing Backbone

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Dianthus superbus.
Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum.
Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum, as “whisk”.
Stylophorum lasiocarpum.
Campanula punctata.
The willow arbor gets a serious makeover.
Where’s the fire? Smoke tree, Cotinus, with Lychnis coronaria.
Centaurea montana.
Yucca filamentosa.
Still working on the backbone of the garden.

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 fiancé 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.)

The Other Grey Gardens

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When I think of “grey” gardens I tend to think of cemeteries—not so much Big Edie and Little Edie.
I’m one of those people who was raised visiting such bucolic settings, and with the grey rainy days we relish so much here in the Pacific Northwest, visiting certain old cemeteries once spring has sprung can be kind of fun. I especially enjoy the drive down through the Willamette Valley to visit my pioneer ancestors’ graves in the town of Jefferson, Oregon. I like to do this at least once a year, stopping at other old cemeteries and historic sites along the way.
View from the Wells family pioneer cemetery in Jefferson, OR. Wouldn’t you know it the patriarch made it all the way here during the 1850s only to die from diphtheria.
This past weekend I made the trek with my boyfriend John.
What a great way to get away from the city for a bit and talk with one another while pointing out my favorite plant shopping spots.
Now he knows where to shop for me, right?
Of course I told him about other things too like the job I had in Silverton at the Gordon House and my family history too.
Erythronium found in the cemetery.
Although I’d gone out to get cuttings from cemetery roses planted in the small cemetery with about 10 burials, I was thrilled when I found a small colony of native trout lilies growing amongst the graves.
Finding these little beauties was a big highlight that day. The view was really nice too.
(Yes, I know it’s also a horrible time to take rose cuttings, but I figured, “Why not?”)
Later, at the city cemetery, I found a name on a gravestone that was kind of interesting. I wonder if one of her parents liked plants?
Then there are the truly grey gardens…

We found roses with primroses.

Then there were the ever-present roses.

I think this might be a Camellia.

Of course there were Lilies-of-the-Valley too.

On the stone of the pioneer patriarch of the Terhune family I really enjoyed this rose. (This is another of my ancestors and the Terhune family line goes back to New Amsterdam.)

But I did not understand the willow nearby that I’d seen on another stone at the Champoeg Pioneer Cemetery earlier in the day. Does anyone know what a willow on a gravestone signifies? I’m guessing it might be from the Bible, but I’m really curious since we saw it twice.

Lastly, there was a really interesting design on another Terhune gravestone. We’d thought the leaf looked maple-like, but after giving it some more thought, I now think it is meant to by a leaf of ivy. The stylized elements below it are quite pretty too, don’t you agree?

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.

HPSO Hortlandia Plant Sale—Better late than never…

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Back at the start of the month I was a bit nervous about going to the rather large Hardy Plant Sale, but after a walk around the garden early that morning, I put aside my ongoing concerns, and marveled at this Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica in bloom. I’m not sure why I suddenly felt better about things, but after waiting years for this vine to bloom, I really felt happy. It was beautiful.

I’d purchased it back in 2008 when Chalk Hill Clematis shut its online plant store. It has slowly been growing year after year with little fanfare—that was until now. It’s technically called a winter-blooming Clematis, and it’s evergreen as well, so that makes it even better. I think it’s by far one of my favorite vines in the garden.

Purchased as Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica. Not sure, but this could be ‘Freckles’.

Walking past the garden art vendors at the show I was drawn to the table of special new additions to the plant world from local growers. I’m not sure if they’ve placed this table out front before, but it was interesting. I’ve always wanted to hybridize something and the process does interest me. These were really pretty too.

Sign under these read: 5 New Split Corona Daffodils Hybridized By: Steve Vinisky of Cherry Creek Daffodils.

There was also this most amazing blue Primula.

Primula acaulis x hybrid ‘Blueberry Swirl submitted by Steve Vinisky, Red’s Rhodies/Cherry Creek Daffodils.

There is no bog garden here at home, but this Sarracenia made me want to make one. It was gigantic.

Sarracenia purpurea purpurea. (Courting Frogs Nursery)

Some part of me now wishes I had this Magnolia laevifolia out back instead of the the others I planted. I guess they are still small enough to move though, so maybe I shouldn’t start complaining too much.

Magnolia laevifolia-large form. (Cistus Design Nursery)

This Ribes really caught my eye too but with spikes on it I am not yet confident that I wouldn’t hurt myself.

Ribes roezlii var. cruentum ‘Dixie Glade’ . (Cistus Design Nursery)

Sorry that I don’t have more pictures from the show. I have to admit that I was carrying plants and was with a friend so I was too busy talking and shopping. The show was great though, and I am really glad I went.

There are those of you out there who regularly ask what I bought, so here goes…
Juno Iris, Iris bucharica. (Wild Ginger Farm)
Syrian Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus syriacus. (Joy Creek Nursery)
Cape Restio, Rhodocoma capensis. (Xera Plants)
Mukdenia, Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’. (Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery)
Grass Widow, Olsynium douglasii. (Humble Roots Farm and Nursery)
Arching Japanese Holly Fern, Cyrtomium fortunie var. Cliviola. (Not sure what the nursery was since the name wasn’t on the tag.)
Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium davidianum. (Far Reaches Farm)
Mouse Plant, Arisarum proboscideum. (Edelweiss Perennials)
Dwarf Himalayan Willow, Salix lindleyana. (Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery)
Mediterranean Sea Holly, Eryngium bourgatii. (Joy Creek Nursery)