Taming the Beasts

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.

Ending Garden Therapy

Sunset from the front porch.
Gardens are therapeutic and gardening is admittedly a therapeutic activity. For almost 10 years I’ve been in treatment in the garden and that period of my life is now ending. We’ve all been there in one way or another, but in my case, I think it’s safe to say that the garden saved me and changed me.
From left to right: Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. Adams. Before the age of 22 I’d climbed 10 mountains in the Pacific Northwest and Mt. St. Helen’s was the last on that list.

When my world seemingly closed, and I had to retreat to lick my wounds, it was the natural world and learning about plants that kept me attached to life. Sometimes, when I’d fly to CA to see my ex I’d often hide a few errant tears if I saw the mountains of the Pacific Northwest knowing that I could no longer hike or backpack in the forests that skirted them. My garden had become a surrogate for these adventures, but I still very much missed the real thing.

To heal that pain, I studied plants in books, purchased seeds to grow, and I sought out a few plant folks. This was not a replacement for the joy I’d once found in the beauty and solitude of the forest and in nature, instead it became a symbolic bandage meant to hold back the deep weeping emotional wound I’d developed. While my peers were out exploring during the spring and summer, I was at home, often so swollen I was unable to walk, and I’d read about the plants that others were able to physically go out to view.

Sometimes I’d feel like a caged animal and in retrospect those sobs that came out of my loneliness now seem more like howls for the wild as much as they were my cries for help.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Nike of Samothrace is a piece I find very inspirational.
It was the first piece of garden statuary I ever purchased.
Creating a refuge or a sanctuary was very important to me, and now, as I am set to fly, with a little nudge out of the nest, I look around before me at what I’ve created while my mind was so overwrought with blocking out the reality I was living, and I’m still so surprised by what I find.
I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen to me that the past 10 years have been the ugliest in my life. Yet somehow I stuffed every blank space around me with beautiful and rare plants. My brain keeps trying to tell me that I shouldn’t have been so escapist though, and that I should have been trying harder to work and to learn how to survive in the real world. My heart says that I did what I had to do to survive though, and between the two, I have no idea yet what I will do now to support myself, but part of me wishes I could be a garden therapist for someone else experiencing what I’ve been through. Few seriously ill people can afford to own their own gardens though and I know in my case it has been such a gift to have been able to have my own. My garden was the best medicine of all.
This was the backyard before we’d removed all of the grass about 6 years ago.
But I’m not really qualified to be a therapist, though I am a writer. That’s why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to share my experiences and I wanted to inspire those who were down to try to find the physical strength to at least try something that seemed to me as simple as planting a packet with a few seeds. Taking that first step can be difficult though for some people—even healthy ones. It started like that for me and it led to an entire world I’ve been able to live in but now it has to end, or shift, or change, or grow.
My plant labor-atory.  
More of my plant labor-atory.  

Ending therapy means ending a relationship. For me that still means leaving my garden, and although I am ready to do this if I really have to do so, I still have my doubts that it’s the best idea.

What began for me as therapy has grown into something else. I cannot extricate the experience of plants from who I am anymore. How plants will now figure into my plan I don’t know, but plants are my future.

An undated photo of my three cats under the willow arbor. Yes, they think they are too good to sit on the ground.

Like many other Americans I am living with a chronic illness that makes many forms of employment difficult. I too want to live with my dignity and this is challenging when daily you feel as though you are partially unreliable due to your condition and its symptoms. Finding flexible employment is not easy, but we all must make our way in life.

I’ve had to grow into accepting this as my life, and I am more than grateful for the reprieve that a new medication has given me. My life is almost normal now and the difficulties are far more manageable than ever.

But I cannot afford to own the garden that healed me and that is what I am faced with right now. To think of selling something that did so much for me is really difficult. It has been not only where I’ve enjoyed hiding, but over time—especially during the last year—it has been able to reintroduce me to the world and to more and more people, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting and speaking to all of the amazing plant-loving people I’ve met both here and in person.

Funny too that as much as I’d hoped for this post to be about not really knowing how to remake my life right now all I really want to say here now is that I hope this post inspires you to reach out to someone in your own life who might need your help right now. I am giving back to someone who almost lost her husband in a cycling accident recently and I know if you think hard enough you too can think of a friend, family member, or neighbor who might benefit from some garden help.

We really are all garden therapists when we reach out and get dirty for someone else.

Vive le jardin!

The Seed Labor-atory Grows

I am currently in my zero gravity recliner recuperating after two very long 10-hour days in the garden. The weather had been cold and wet so I’d put off dealing with all of my seedlings. When the sun arrived earlier this week, I rushed out like an idiot and jumped right in. Now I have garden rashes on my forearms that are both topped with a nice sunburn. My back is killing me and I can barely move my fingers. Was it all really worth it? I keep asking myself this over and over. And the answer I keep coming up with? Absolutely!
Part of my springtime mess. Sure, I have a potting area, but there is a pile of stuff there right now.

When you look at my seed starting numbers for 2011 you can see why I am so tired. You may find yourself wondering too if I am nuts, and yes, I might be because these numbers are totally ridiculous.

Indoors: I planted about 302 different plants.
There were 1658 peat pods or plugs, etc.
 As of yesterday, 340 plastic 4″ pots had been potted up. (Many of these contain several seedlings.)
Outside: I planted about 300 different plants.
They were planted in plug trays or rectangular biodegradable fiber flats.
I have not yet started to process these, but I imagine about 200 plants will be potted up.

I have also been potting up plants from flats I planted a few years ago—not all plants grow quickly. Some of them actually have surprised me. They looked rather small in their pots, but their roots were really ready to go and grow on.

Eventually, I will plant some of the plants, watch them grow, and then collect their seeds. Some of these plants will be traded, and the rest will be sold on Craigslist—or else to friends and family.

The back garden before severe editing that will begin soon.
Some of the seedlings in their new pots.
Scene of springtime that kept me focused as I worked.
From time to time I take breaks and reconsider where to add my garden goodies.
I purchased this great plant hanger a year or so ago at Molbak’s Garden+Home up in the Seattle area, and I found the hanging buckets at IKEA. What’s so great is that they hold 1 gallon plastic pots. So far, I have only chosen two of the five plants for the buckets, but the possibilities are simply endless. (I know the same plant would look better, but I am all about the seeds and I need to have many different plants.)

Then there are the houseplants that I arrange, and then rearrange. This is always a fun way to spend my time both inside and outside and it is a great break in my seedling routine. The houseplants are so much happier because of it too.

This Tradescantia sure made a mess when I brought it back inside the house last fall. Now the other houseplants that lived beneath it all winter have babies. Next year I am going to collect the seeds and keep that from happening again. I have no idea which species this is, but I think it’s Tradescantia fluminensis. Any thoughts?

This year I purchased this planter at IKEA. Like the other ones from last year, it is also made to hold a 1 gallon plastic containers. I had a small one stuffed in it in this picture, but you get the idea. I love that it can hang perfectly on a chain link fence.

Lastly, there is another new addition.

I am one of those folks who grew up in a home and garden that was like a museum and mom would have cringed if this had ever arrived in her space. I too wondered about it when I first saw it, but I was with a foster girl, one who is likely to be in the system until she is an adult, and she really loved it.

In her world, no one can afford things like this, and yes, they are seen as completely frivolous, but the fact that I would buy it and hang it outside actually mattered to her. When you are caring for a child of meth, one who’s mother chose the drug over her children, this kind of thing does matter.

Wearing my big heart on the sleeve of my house’s eave mattered to her, and for this reason, it mattered to me. I wanted to model the kind of behavior she craved in an adult, and so I obliged.

To my surprise, my husband liked it a lot. It reminded him of the 1960s and The Beatles, and over time it has started to remind me of Keith Haring’s art from the 1980s. I think it was a wonderful addition to our home and I cannot wait for the fern to perk up.
If you are interested in purchasing one for any reason, here is the link:
Mac’s Yard Hearts (I bought mine locally at Al’s Garden Center, but I think they can be shipped too.)