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. 

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

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It has been at least a month since I’ve written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I’ve been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it’s safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I’m blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.

Much of what’s been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.

Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn’t have been possible either without all of the friends who’ve come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I’d been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now.
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year.

Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I’ve sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that’s because it’s been a day-to-day thing.

Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.

I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me.

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I’ve been feeling and sensing again.

May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA.

I also still see plants everywhere.

The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.

Even when I’m enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That’s why I haven’t been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.

I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.

Plants are still at my center.

I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them.

I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it’s just a snapshot.

Driftwood at the Washington Coast.

Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.

A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest.

I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.

My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau.

Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.

Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.

The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.

I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)

Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water.

I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that’s a whole other post.

Begonia boliviensis in my garden.

Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.

To say we’d grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.

And the cats are doing as they please…

Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won’t.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I’d planted that I’d purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.

He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time.

The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.

And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, “It’s ok.” As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I’ll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I’ve been through a lot, and it will be ok.

What’s Your Botanical Learning Style?

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I’d wanted to have a nice long post for today, but my brain is really, seriously, quite tired. Right now I should be sleeping, but instead, I am up and exhausted from staying up late to read more and more about plants. You see, I have a long drive home now, and there are more plants to come, in different kinds of places, that have different kinds of ecosystems, and already, my brain and eyes are spinning because of plants—but not really. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this post.
Looking at the wine grapes took work since I wish I could identify the different kinds just by looking at them, but I am not that talented. This shouldn’t stress me out, but it does. Right now I don’t have the energy to begin learning about any other plants since I am still being overwhelmed with the native plants of California!
Here’s a good example. Entering into this native ancient oak grove truly blew me away. The side effect though is that I have a lot more to read now. I love to go on vacation but it is so odd to return home with homework. (This was near the top when I climbed Mt. Konocti with our friend Tom.)
After that shock to the botanical senses, before we reached the peak, we were able to look out and see Mt. St. Helena in Napa. (It’s the flat-headed mountain out there near the center of the picture.) It was hard for me to believe we could see it, but we could.
Identifying plants along the way became more complicated that day, but I was really happy to have found this Cirsium occidentale. I knew what it was immediately, but I have so many more plants to memorize before I walk through the chaparral of Lake County, CA again. Everything is simply too new to me here still.
While I went off to explore each day my husband had to work. The grapes need to be harvested and processed quickly so that nothing sits around in the heat for long. It is strange to come back to your spouse as they work at a job you’ve never actually seen them do. I’ve heard about the whole process for years, but seeing it was like seeing someone new who I didn’t totally know. When he works the field, pruning and planting new vines, I understand that, but this part was new to me even though it’s similar to a popular activity in the NW called, “beer brewing.”
Right now you may be wondering about my relationship to our famous Oregon Pinot Noir, but I have never been interested in the whole lifestyle it entails in my state due to the cult of the grape that began in the 1970s when I was a girl. It has always seemed somewhat foreign to our region, and yes, Californian. Oddly enough, we don’t have a native grape vine the way California does and I think that’s telling in a way. Wine really fits into the landscape here in a way that it doesn’t in Oregon. That’s just my opinion, and I know it tastes great, but it has altered Oregon in a funny way. (I know, hops aren’t native either, but at least they seem to fit in well and they grow so well in the Willamette Valley.)
So, back to plants, on another day I drove about 80 miles into a very remote area of Lake County by myself. (You can see the road along the ridge in the picture. It’s the wavy line and it was amazing to drive along!) This may not have been the wisest decision, but it made me feel brave.
From that remote area I could look over at Mt. Konocti again and ponder how I could have ever climbed to the top! Oddly enough though I felt safe-ish as I ventured deeper into the wilderness since I could hear a lot of traffic in the air flying over the Mendocino National Forest. This is harvest season after all and I think many of you know exactly what the Feds were looking for at this time of the year.
A few days ago I landed back in San Francisco before heading south to the burbs. Seeing 1/8 or so of the San Francisco Botanical Garden was another amazing and yet visually confusing mess. I am still recovering from that walk but maybe after I visit it again once or twice a year for 10 years I’ll know all of the plants! (Bromeliads grow there “wherever”.)
I wish I could wander the streets of San Francisco just looking for these amazing little gardens. I had never seen a  Standard Fuchsia tree quite like this one before and it truly surprised me too. The streets of San Francisco are so rich with flora year-round.

So as I drive home, I will endeavor to keep my eyeballs straight and not to tire myself out with all of this seeing and looking but that’s truly how I memorize plants and I put a lot of energy into it. Today’s Halloween though, and it’s the day I head north again, so wish me luck as I enter back into the sphere of plant life I am familiar with already. I have a lifetime to learn about Californian plants and I will just have to accept that it will take that long to learn them.

Greetings from an Amateur Botanist in CA

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Leading up to this trip I didn’t say much. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and additionally, my broken finger recovering took a slide due to my swelling disease. Coaxing them both back into splints was all we could do and it really slowed me down again.
The Rogue River in Southern Oregon.

Just a few days ago I drove down to California alone, to see my husband and to witness the wine harvest and crush for the first time. It’s the least I could do as his wife and it was my birthday gift to him. I had to be brave to drive I-5 alone and to stay in a yurt right off the highway when virtually few others were doing so. Driving the whole 10 hours in a day—by myself—was just not possible. The two-day drive was amazing!

Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, in a rest stop near Lake Shasta.
Arctostaphylos in a rest stop near Mt. Shasta.

As for botanizing, my main goal during this trip is to more deeply familiarize myself with the native flora in the chaparral of California. I will be doing some coastal exploration too, but most of my activities will be centered around Lake County where my husband is during the growing season.

While stopping in Redding to visit McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Garden I caught some folks fishing for salmon in the Sacramento River. The flyfisherman who’d waded all the way out in the riffles was fun to watch but I was disappointed that he didn’t know how to cast. (Sometime I will have my husband take a picture of me casting. It’s the only fishing skill I retained from my upbringing.)

After Redding I drove south toward Sacramento and San Francisco before heading west on Hwy 20 into Lake County, CA. From the point on, I was far happier with the gorgeous scenery.

When I arrived, he hopped up the ladder and began to punch down the fermenting grapes in the tank. I have to say, it was impressive and the smell was incredible. It was both good and bad at the same time!

I looked at the color of the grapes, took the picture, and then as I was on the ladder I laughed when I noticed the labels on the tank.

When he finished we walked through the olive orchard.

We were both surprised that the pomegranate tree had actually produced this year despite the funny weather.

Then he showed me what the weather had done to some of the grapes. With the heavy rains and low temperatures we’ve had this season all along the West Coast, you’re going to get some rotten grapes. This is what they can look like and you just have to let them go.

And this is what grapes in a vineyard look like when they’re not pruned. This row was going to be grafted with something else but when the time to do so passed because the weather wasn’t right, they just let the grapes go. It’s only one row, but it really shows you how much pruning is necessary to make all the vineyards look so pretty. They really prune to improve the air and sun exposure for the grapes and to ensure that they have consistency in overall quality and quantity. The whole process is really interesting to me.

While we perambulated, we were being watched. I shot this picture and admired Mt Konocti behind the mighty raptor. That’s because at that moment, I had not yet climbed to its top. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how that went because right now, I’m off to collect some more plant materials just north of here…

Garden Blogs Flinging Themselves upon Seattle! (Pre-Fling Prep Course: Kubota Garden)

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Grrrrrrr. I’m an anatomically incorrect stuffed eel toy and I’m about to take Seattle! I’m a lean, mean, green, garden stalking machine.

The Amateur Bot-ann-ist has never been a flinger, but I’m flinging this year to give it a shot. I’m almost always open to new garden viewing opportunities, especially when my cohorts are not kids groaning in the backseat. Garden Bloggers Fling 2011 (Seattle).

My husband needed a break from California so he came with me. After our arrival, I tagged along while he accomplished some work. There is a tasting planned for this Saturday so first we dropped off several cases of wine at the Fremont Wine Warehouse. Then we jumped back on the freeway and headed back to another shop. I marveled at the greenery both times we passed through downtown. Due to our wet and mild summer it is looking even better than usual.

While he was pouring samples at another shop in West Seattle I sat in the car and played with my new camera. It’s a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS and I think I’m in love. Seriously.

While I was in the car I realized that on our way back into the city we could revisit a garden that I’d only seen once during a winter trip to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show: Kubota Garden.
We bloggers will be visiting the Bloedel Reserve on Monday so the least I could do was revisit the garden left behind by Fujitaro Kubota. He was a Japanese immigrant from the island Shikoku, a self-taught gardener, and a man who became a keystone to what is called the Northwest Garden Style. He also designed the Japanese garden at the Bloedel Reserve.
An island of Bergenia cordifolia.

After having seen the Kubota Garden during the winter, I have to admit that today it felt like an entirely different place.

Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo.’

This Japanese maple, known in Japanese as the “Floating Cloud Tree” took my breath away.

The green canvases he painted with a textural brush are so calming and peaceful.

As you walk through the scenes, experiencing the layers, it feels cleansing and refreshing.

There are nooks and paths that lead to views.

You may even find a place to rest in the small forest. It was planned and planted in such a way as to make the space seem larger and longer. This is very pleasing to the eye.

There are two red bridges. One bridge is lower and wider.

Red berried of a Vaccinium parvifolium.

There were native red huckleberries.

The other bridge is higher and is more of a Moon bridge.

As we left the garden we both noticed the construction that we’d seen several years ago was now complete and that they’d added a new wall and passageway into the garden. The contemporary construction includes “tiles” made of rusted metal rectangles which truly enhance the garden with their weathering. Additionally, the concrete blocks reminded me a great deal of the Gordon House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, where I used to work. Do you like the wall finished or unfinished? I love either, but I think that the raw and unfinished wall could look a lot worse. It truly is kind of interesting.

I’ve not yet met any of the other garden bloggers, but I certainly feel as though I’ve arrived. I look forward also to deeper contemplation of the Northwest Garden Style that means so much to me. Cheers to you Seattle!

Fall Round Up

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Our summer was a bit of a dud here in the NW due to El Niño. What’s funny is that I remember another summer like this during the 80s when I was a young girl. My family lived on a medium-sized creek and each summer I was able to purchase a new raft for my own use. Usually I just tied it up under some overarching bushes, and with my trusted radio by my side, I’d read all day. That summer, it was just too cold to hang out in the creek all day, and I feel the disappointed feelings of that memory creeping over me as I write this. I don’t think I like El Niño a lot.
Yesterday, while cleaning up my overgrown jungle with a weekender foster child, I saw these blooms and I knew what they meant. Ah, how I adore my Cyclamen, but they are the bellwether of autumn whether I like it or not.

Cyclamen hederifolium

This little darling popped up and I have no idea what it is, but I would love to find out if any of you have and idea. I am sure that I planted it, and that it is in my database, but I just need a hint to figure it out. There are at least 729 entries in my spreadsheet now. Yikes!

Sedums and the like are some of my favorite little garden friends. This is an image of Old Man’s Bones.
Sedum globosum

Another thing I have become more and more proud of are my ivy topiary items. Since ivy is considered the ultimate evil in these parts, even if you just have the completely non-agressive type, I keep it around just in case. The leaves on this are the tiniest I have ever seen.

Hedera helix ‘spetchley’
I only have one of these that’s made it through my neglectful care this past season. I purchased the seeds from Thompson and Morgan and I intend to grow more of these next season. I have never seen such amazing dark leaves on an annual snapdragon.
Antirrhinum majus nanum ‘bronze dragon’
The last single specimen plant in my garden that I am showing is my dwarf pomegranate shrub. I am really sad that it did not make it very far this year. We have tons of blooms, but nothing resembling a small fruit is anywhere near making it. It is a true perennial in this climate though, and I don’t regret planting it at all. Last year I had two small pomegranates so I can wait another year to try again. (I have harvested about 50 figs from my dwarf fig tree so I am quite happy with the fruits of my labors.)
Punica granatum var nana
Here is the pomegranate in context. It is to the bottom left in the corner of this picture. The grapes are escaping their supports in this picture and are about to reach out to strangle their neighbors. (These are Italian wine grapes. I planted them to remind me of all the hard work my husband does making wine down in California.)
This picture is meant to show how unremarkable our porch is this year. Typically, the porch would be lit up with late summer color. I have color, but it just didn’t really grow enough. Better luck next season. I WILL be back.
Here is the cleaned up front area. In my mind, it is the least attractive area in our garden. I think it is due to the heat during the summer. The Provence lavender was finally harvested at least for crafts and gifts. It had eaten the sidewalk and folks would walk around it to avoid it. Now I will be able to watch more neighbors walk by since they won’t avoid our side of the street anymore.
The backyard and I have a love/hate relationship. The greatest accomplishment back there this past season though was the additional growth of items that block our view of the small apartment building behind us. I have hated the view of this building for some time, and I really don’t like the walkway that is frequently used by the tenants and their continued curiosity, as well as their loud cell conversations. Maybe I should add that I would also like a sound buffer from the busy street a house away from me, and that maybe next summer, I might like to have an outdoor movie setup but I have to protect them from my noise then too so it is a two-way street, right? I want to be a good neighbor, really I do.
 

Oh, and this is my big boy Maurice. He has had a rough summer with the foster kids and has taken to living privately in the basement with his friend Mona. He has been mishandled by too many kids these past few months and today we spent several hours alone together in the garden. He was very happy.