Before returning to Italy, let’s review last winter…

Standard

About last winter, well, it was divine. Between the fair weather, a class in horticulture, and time spent with friends over long meals, it was a time to indulge in additional personal growth and discovery while lingering to get to know those around me better.

What I mean to say here is that my new mast cell medication was working mightily well—as were all of the other therapies. This plant of mine felt like its backbone was strengthened and buds began to form. (Now months on, I can see the growth.)

When we left for Italy, my health was better than it had been in some ways for years, but I know now that the neuropathy medication I was just given upon my return should have been instituted before our departure. Years of swelling have definitely taken their toll on my nerves.

IMG_7381

Agapetes serpens.

This winter was about propagation. Much joy was had when these Agapetes serpens cuttings taken from my friend Kate’s plant continued to bloom and bloom under lights in my basement.

They’re still alive and have hardened off outdoors and I look forward to potting them up this week or the next. Bloom on little troopers!

IMG_7474

Not such a bad year on Instagram.

This winter I continued to socialize on Instagram with other garden and plant lovers. It was through this platform we ended up meeting my new friends in Venice.

For anyone who has a difficult time falling asleep it can be a tool that can successfully create thoughtless thoughts. You can count sheep, or scroll through plant pics. Take your pick!

Many of the people I chose to follow are in Europe and I look forward to seeing their mornings as I slowly let the weight of my head really force itself into the pillow. Ok, maybe seeing their delicious morning repasts may sometimes widen an eye and a growl may grow from somewhere deep inside of my stomach, but then I move on to the next photo and set aside that fleeting idea of a sunny morning in Greece.

This past winter Kate and I decided to take a little coastal garden tour in January. We met up with Flora our friend over at Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal. (If you follow the link, you can read more about the gardens we saw that day.) Surprisingly, the weather was decent for us and in the end I was able to eat my beloved oysters.

From there we travelled south to Yachats and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve.

If you’d like to read a great blog post about that location I suggest this post from my friend Evan over at the The Practical Plant Geek. (He wrote several posts about it and of course I’ve yet to post any photos at all.)

While preparing for departure, the garden grew and things bloomed while more botanical Latin was memorized and I worked to pass my plant ID course in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

Friends were made, I hosted a talk here in my house about rare ferns given by an expert in such things, and the anticipation of the impending journey grew in me, the deviation from my medical routine grew more exhilarating, and soon we crossed the big pond.

More on that next time…

Wordless Wednesday: Regrowing Backbone

Standard
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.

The Fruits of my Garden: Figs, Apples, Pomegranates, Asparagus and Berries

Standard
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.)

"Go Seed Hunting!" said that little voice inside of me…

Standard

Just over a year ago, it was at this place (and nearly to the moment), when I knew my life was going to change in a big way. It was as if there was such beauty during that precise moment, in that place and time, that something opened up deep inside of me and I heard that little voice screeching loud and clear as it went in for the kill.

The Bloedel Reserve.
I see now that for many of us—especially for those who design landscapes and even our own gardens—these are the sacred moments we want to experience. We live and breathe to hear these little things inside of ourselves, to feel out gut instincts. We use them to help guide us forward whether we’re ready to go or not.
Two Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant) at The Blodel Reserve in Washington.

I want my next garden to have soul and at this point I will stop at nothing less. But until then, there is still a lot yet to do in my current situation.

This is a Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) woven pillow by artist Sue Skelly that was for sale at The Blodel Reserve gift shop last summer.

Some of these photos here are ones that I’ve not yet posted. Then again, maybe I have but I just don’t remember. I have a lot that was swept up into my iPhoto box during the past year. I hope to finally start to break these out now. Let’s all just pretend and ignore that they’re so “last season”.

Acapulco Salmon & Pink Hyssop (Agastache) at Dragonfly Farms Nursery. 
Fantastic garden structure at Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

There will be more and more of these in the coming weeks and I will try my best to recall what was going on at the time. A lot changed for me though at the Garden Bloggers Fling up in Seattle last summer and I regret not having posted many posts but I was going numb in preparation for the marital amputation.

That’s something which has become clear now, and there’s no turning back…

Random chance encounter I found between a plant and some pavement while walking home from the grocery store not long ago.

Then there are those beautiful moments I’m having now,

My precious Hollyhock (Alcea) grown from seed from seeds purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, CA.

as I mix them in with my past,

I love the color of Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) almost as much as I love their taste.

and I remember the simple pleasures too.

Coastal Goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. simplex var. spathulata).

Recently I began to think about my precious seeds, and the seed hunting, and the plant IDing.

This summer I’ve not yet had a road trip to look for seeds. Planning one for later has been in the back of my mind, on that perpetual back burner with the pile of other things, back behind all of the practical things I need to do right now—or else I should have done months ago.

The lovely annual Alternanthera.

This week I will begin collecting some seeds around here at home. I’m working again too on adding items to my Etsy store and am thinking about what kind of job will potentially work for me—though deep down I just want to play with plants and write. This should probably come as no big surprise to anyone who knows me! I have some options now though and am working on scenarios that will help me to live with the dignity I’d like as someone with a chronic illness.

“Somewhere” in Mendocino County, CA.

So I’m mentally ready to prepare for such a journey back out into the woods and wherever else I land and I hope to hit the road this October. These trips are fun for me to plan.

Yes there is the ocean to see too as I go into California, but there are also friends in San Francisco, Los Angeles (I’ve not yet seen Lotusland) and (fingers crossed) the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium in Tucson, AZ. (Come to think of it, I’ve never been to one of those either.) The drive home from there could be all new to me and that would be nice to venture more into the Rockies a bit.
Something says to me that arriving in Tucson by car might be just what I need.
And somewhere out in the desert I hope to hear from somewhere deep inside of myself, “Thank you for listening. Thank you.”

Will Walk for Seeds

Standard
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.

È arrivato l’autunno! And darkness is falling…

Standard
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) from the bedroom window.

Due to my seed collecting and my husband’s grape harvesting, bottling, and pressing, for us autumn is when we return to our roots. It’s when I begin to feel like cooking again and it’s when I return to my Catholic past. From now until Easter we’ll cover all of the holidays with food and friends. Once Easter hits though it’s back to the “fields” for both of us. (I still have 4 weeks though before Mr B returns home for winter from California. That’s when the kitchen really gets going!)

Burst of gold from the bedroom window. That’s our old garage behind the house and beside it is our overgrown willow  arbor. (This is what happens when you break your pruning fingers.)

This year I will be making one last road trip to the San Francisco Bay area and I will be taking everyone along with me again. Believe it or not blogging along the way makes the traveling a bit less lonely. And trust me, the Redwoods in the rain and fog can be very scary even for this girl from the heavily forested Pacific Northwest.

Looking into the heart of the Cyclamen.

Before I leave I still have so much work to do and that’s why my blogging has been a bit slow. At least the Ikebana work has been picking up thanks to my enrollment in a course. My teacher is a wonderful woman I met over 20 years ago when I worked with her husband as an ESL helper for Japanese exchange students. He is also a much loved Buddhist minister and it was such an honor to me that he came to our class solely to say “Hello” to me on my first day. I am still smiling about that! Glowing really.

Perennial Impatiens arguta.

Autumn has had a few surprised for me in the garden too. With the onslaught of a lot of rain, my perennial Impatiens has gone crazy with bloom after bloom. It is so beautiful to see such delicate jewels just before it’s the end of the season. The lilac is so unlike so many of the other fall colors but I don’t mind a bit.

I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit when this box arrived on my doorstep. It’s full of dried plant material for crafts, as well as heat sealable teabags and dried kelp for making compost teabags.

There are all of the last minute craft projects too that I have been planning for my shop. Some are things I have always wanted to sew, like sachet bags, and some are new ideas, like bath time teabags with fresh local dried hops and honeycomb extract from France. Sounds tasty too, right?

Dried Praying mantis.

Autumn is also the time we have to say goodbye to things we find beautiful until the next season, and when I found this amazing specimen dried between my exterior and interior window today, it saddened me and I felt a little tear well up in my eye, but there will be more Praying mantis bugs in my garden next year. Until then, it’s a little bit of feasting around these parts…

Ogghiu di ‘n summa, vinu di ‘mmenzu e meli di ‘n funnu.
“The choice oil is from the surface, the best wine is from the middle,
and the best honey is from the bottom.”—Sicilian saying

(I tend to practice my Italian this time of year too by singing a lot out of boredom so here’s a little Italian pop music courtesy of my favorite Italian singer Jovanotti. The first one is a corny love song, the second is a classic funny song about love, and then the last one is s new “magic happy” song I am kind of really into right now and the foster kids seem to love it because it’s bouncy: Baciami AncoraBella & La notte dei desideri).