Snow, Beauty, and Grief in February 2018

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February of 2018 started out quietly. After months of renovating the kitchen I was trying to return to normal for all of us—including the cats.  It was cold and grey. I’d signed up for a few more classes in horticulture at Clackamas Community College. My hope was that I’d feel better and do more in the coming year but I honestly wasn’t sure yet what that would mean.

There were still a few more things to add. John picked this old chandelier for the dining room and a light for the entry too. The cats began to relax and LuLu took over the kitchen again. I started seeds, and some were soaked in hot water in my grandma’s vintage mugs. I enjoyed the winter light that now could come in all along the north side of the house thanks to having opened up the back room. For Valentine’s Day, I received a juniper bonsai. Life was really settling in.

On February 11th, I lost a good friend. George Hull and I didn’t know one another for very long but he was very supportive of my drive to propagate and to eventually breed some plants. He was a plantsman who saw me as a plantswoman. He encouraged me and mentored me. He understood my spinal issues because he too had sustained injuries from a serious fall. I miss having him around to talk to about the chronic pain. In his absence, I try to channel the qualities I miss most about him so that I can share with others what he shared with me. I do miss him though. I know a lot of us miss him.

So that’s when I really embraced my garden. Mourning is a long process when you care about someone, and losing George was difficult. My Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ bloomed longer last season than it ever had. The Camellia japonica ‘Black Magic’ bloomed before, during, and after we had snow. It was magnificent! My heart also opened to a new plant, the Camellia x ‘Yume’. With a name that translates as ‘Dream’, this former Surrealism was immediately smitten. The pink and white petals really did it for me. Wow!

At work, winter moved on. Hummingbirds sipped from the Arctostaphylos when it snowed, the Garrya were dressed in their winter best, and the Aristolochia californica started to bloom. Though I’ve not yet planted one of these amazing vines in my own garden, I plan to do so soon. It’s a favorite of mine at work. Additionally, the Cirsium diacanthus (aka Ptilostemon afer) seeds I sowed started to look great. In retail, I met Rhododendron ‘Snow Lady’ for the first time.

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Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Hiltingbury’.

Before class one night at Clackamas Community College I went back to the row of Hamamelis to find the one I’d really liked a year or two ago. It was Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Hiltingbury’ and I was happy to see it again. Yes, there are others that are more popular, but I really like this one. I don’t have room for it in my garden, but I look forward to seeing it again next month when I return to take another class.

There were two more unusual things that happened that month.

A designer up in Seattle wanted a tree that he’d seen at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show but the show was over, and his client hadn’t gotten back to him in time, so he contacted the grower while they were driving home. It just so happened they were near Portland so it was delivered to my house where he came to retrieve it a week or two later. I didn’t see it installed, but it’s likely a really beauty. It was a weeping Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’.

The second fun event was a propagation workshop for the bloggers at Joy Creek Nursery. I felt right at home in the greenhouse taking cuttings although it’s not what I do primarily do at work.

Lastly, we had some snow. It seems like that happens from time to time around here. I don’t mind it at all. As a matter of fact, I kind of like the cold of winter. What was the most entertaining though was watching our part Norwegian forest cat Oliver, aka Ollie. That’s him with the wide eyes in that last photo. If you could zoom in you’d see that there were tiny snowflakes coming down. I was surprised at his excitement. He sat at the window all night watching it snow. While the snow was here, he ran out when I let him and he’d borrow and dig and jump around. His joy brought me much joy.

January 2017: Amateur Bot-Ann-Ist is Back!!!

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img_1108It seems only fair to write a post after a week-long snow event. This will be short though—much like my patience after being snowed-in for so long. Last year I felt that I needed a break but I didn’t know why and now I feel better about a return to regular posts. So much has happened. It is sad to think that there were many things I didn’t post about but I will try to add them when I can in the future.

img_3249This fall we lost Maurice the Cat. He was an old guy who sadly passed away from cancer on his jaw. Luckily he’s been immortalized because the back garden was named after him so we will forever think of him. He spent many summers in Campiello Maurizio sunbathing on his favorite bench beneath the living willow arbor. He will be sorely missed. img_4266Last spring this little guy made his appearance. Felix has been quite a handful ever since he arrived here. He was abandoned by his mom the day he was born and sadly outlived his sister. With no mama cat and no siblings to play with I have had to do a lot of work. We received him when he was about 3 weeks old and I will forever be grateful to his foster mama.

He will certainly be showing up here a bit more now although both he and LuLu are primarily indoor cats since we lost Quincy just over a year ago to an urban coyote. They do get to go outside but both are doing well with supervised trips.

Felix is an alleycat of the highest degree and there is NEVER a dull moment when he’s around. Never have I owned a cat who enjoyed knocking over garbage cans and breaking glass so much. Lucky for him he’s a love bug. We look forward to those moments. He is a tiny terror, but he was also very sweet to Maurice in his final days. He’s not all bad. img_5674

At the end of 2016, thanks to my underground dinners, I was finally able to pay off the debt incurred by my back surgery several years ago. In 2017 the goal is to work on paying down the debt owed to my ex-husband from the divorce. If you’re in the Portland area and are interested in attending, please find the page somewhere here on my blog and add your name to the list. That’s the best way to find out what I’m up to and what menus will be coming up next. img_8126The other big news in 2016 was my first official job in the horticulture industry. It’s something I’ve longed to do for years and thanks to my friend and mentor Sean Hogan (of Cistus Design Nursery) it happened. I’m only a part-time employee, and this works well because of my health limitations, but the best part is that I’m a “Seedstress”. Only Sean could manufacture a name that great.

In 2017 it would be wonderful to be working more and more in the horticulture field but I’m not yet sure how much I can handle physically. Luckily, my health has been fairly stable since I started new treatments, and I guess that’s another reason I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been living my life and have been having a wonderful time getting up and around and developing and strengthening friendships. I was more active in 2016 than I’ve been in many years. It was great! img_9818Clearly I’m doing just fine! Obviously! So send me some new clothes. The ones I’ve been wearing are old (tight budget) but I DID get a new hat. (Roars with laugher.)

Ok folks, I hope someone is still out there reading this blog! See you again very soon. Can’t wait to update the world on all of the dead plants that we’ll be seeing in the next few months thanks to this weather we’ve been having. We only ended up with about a foot of snow here at our house.

Brrrrrrrrrr.

Winter Awakening and an Assortment of Seeds

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Winter snow visited our home and garden this week and I’m happy that it didn’t stay for very long because it was really an unexpected event and we weren’t prepared for guests.

It snowed a lot on Tuesday night (January 17th, 2012), and my excitement was remarkable—though I know not why—except to say that up until just last month I would not have been able to stay outside in such cold temperatures for that long. So maybe I do know the reason why, but it is such a personal reason, having more to do with my illness, that I feel I must explain.

As I write this, the movie Awakenings (1990) is playing on the television. Based on the British neurologist Oliver Sacks’s memoir Awakenings (1973) it’s a movie about a group of patients who awaken from their catatonic states after being given an experimental treatment in 1969, and over time, the drug that they’re given stops being effective, and they return to their catatonia.

The mother of one of the patients describes never having asked, when her son was born, “Why? Why was my son born healthy?” But after his illness sets in later, she remarks to the doctors that she hasn’t stopped asking, “Why? Why is my son unhealthy? Why?” Then she must watch as her son slowly returns to being catatonic again, unable to communicate at all, after having had him back so briefly.

Chronic illness follows this cycle, and it is for this reason that I garden and grow seeds, finding in their annual return and growth the false confidence that I need, and an additional natural comfort when I need it. Gardening keeps me far away from the Why? questions, and instead, the activity leaves me suspended in a healthy state of awe and speechlessness.

For the last few weeks I’ve felt alive again, and I’ve been afraid to note that here on my blog.

One of the reasons why is that I am afraid it won’t last for very long. I have lived with many chemical windows both opening and closing much like the patients in the film, though not nearly so dramatically, and I live with the ongoing dread that I will run out of options. For the last few weeks I have been doing much better than I have in about 5 years and it scares me. I must admit too that I have been living, and that means I’ve not been here so much, and that I’ve been having fun and I’ve been enjoying the winter and time spent with my husband.

Taking pictures of the snow at 11pm was just the kind of activity I needed. It filled me with a funny kind of joy and I looked around at the dark homes of our neighbors and wondered why they weren’t out there too—just as excited as I was at that hour—and I realized then that my mood had more to do with my most recent “awakening”than anything else. These are often the joyful moments we spend by ourselves and that’s alright I suppose, I just hope that all of you remember to have them too.

So yesterday the snow melted, and while keeping warm, I finally began my last seed sorting session for the 2011 harvest. Maurice the cat felt like helping too so I let him spend some time with me on the floor while I sorted all of the paper bags and poured the seeds out onto paper plates.

All of the seeds are now out in the open and I am so happy that I am able to capture them all in one shot. This is only 1/8th or less of what I collected last year so this really is a big deal for me to be so near the end.

Some of these are from the wild and some are from gardens. How I figured them all out, when some had no plant ID at all, is still a mystery to me. If they’re without a name I have no one to blame but myself.

I just cannot believe that the process is beginning again, since I feel as though I’ve just woken up a bit myself, and although I am a bit terrified that this new medication may fail me, the garden must grow on and so must I.