Anticipating Springtime

Standard
Galanthus elwesii.

This past weekend I worked outside for a few hours. There is much debris yet to pick up before the daffodils fully emerge from the ground and I’ve more pruning to do.

The temperatures were chilly, but it was sunny, and the back garden looks a bit better now thanks to the effort.

Container ships waiting near the mouth of the Columbia River to be driven over the Columbia Bar by one of the bar pilots. It’s dangerous work and from this restaurant window we can watch as the pilots are escorted out to the vessels.
The weekend before that we were able to escape for an extended mini-vacation—but I had to take my work along with me.
I worked a lot, but we somehow found the time to visit my maternal grandmother in Aberdeen (WA) one day, and we went to Astoria (OR) the day beforehand.

It’s rarely this clear and sunny during January so I took John up to the Astoria Column. (It is quite a landmark and I was surprised when he told me he’d never been there.) The views were breathtaking that day.

Looking southward (sort of) you see Youngs Bay. This is one of my all-time favorite views. Somehow, it always appears to me to look a bit like a painting.

Anticipating springtime.

Back at the house in Portland, life continues to change and we’re all adapting to the new vitality being breathed into our home. John is a lot of fun and has his own ways about him. He’s a special man to have moved into a place that is so mine, but we’re working to make it his too.

The most interesting adaptation we’re currently going through is that the youngest cat (the partially feral one) is moving in upstairs. As she has aged, she has changed. It has been interesting to observe her as she’s gone through a lot these past few years. Often, I find her hiding in plants like this just staring at me as I work. I stare back at her and she looks away. I suppose she is working too. I don’t really know for certain. She observes the garden for hours on end.

There have been some major territorial adjustments but the two female cats are respecting one another for the first time. (Maurice goes wherever he wants. It’s best that way—but nowadays he limps and doesn’t move around nearly as much.)

Mona tends to sit on furniture more and more and the ground less.

Indoors, Mona likes to be around the plants because she is used to living under them during the outdoor half of her year. She seeks them out in her daily routine.

She’s anticipating spring and follows me outdoors to spend time with me as I work. I never dreamed she’d shadow me so much. She is very much a loner cat but she’s changing. I’m honored but it’s more about her than me.

John is getting to know her more as well. He rarely saw her before but now they see one another everyday and he’s able to spend time petting her.

When I work indoors—writing and cooking as a ghostblogger for a food blog—she sits near my feet.

This is a big change for me. The other two cats are too old now to remain so alert to my movements all day. Maurice used to always be by my side, but now it’s Mona. This is a change.

Sedum spathulifolium.

Life is still a bit uncertain for me professionally as I try to manage working and serious chronic health issues. I miss my time spent at home, but it was very difficult for me to be living without career fulfillment. I grew tired of struggling to get by, and of working so hard to stay afloat, but it has been a humbling experience. I’m grateful.

The garden is seen differently now, but I’m at least seeing it again. The thought of losing it in the divorce made the sight of it excruciatingly painful. I now deeply admire those others who’ve gone through that kind of dissolution. I’m not ready to move on from here, but my time will come. Until then, I want to see my dreams and plans come to life outside.

I miss my garden though because I work a lot now and in order to be able to work I need to exercise a lot to keep the pain under control. The absolute pleasure and peace gardening gave me is now at odds with the reality of living a real life, but I am learning how to cope. It is an opportunity I never was given. I’m reintegrating gardening and am starting seeds again. I’m determined that this place will be reborn again soon.

Lewisia columbiana ssp. rupicola.

That’s why I’m set to rebuild it. I’ve been pulling the garden alongside me during the journey as I’ve been rebuilding myself during these past two years. As time has passed, and as I’ve struggle with its passage, how could I not think of the garden?

Freelance writing work is not easy to find and I was blessed with my current job. It’s amazing and I know it’s the right thing for me to be doing. Being a part-time caregiver is becoming more difficult though. I’m growing to the point now where I want to be away from illness. I live in both worlds, but I still want to belong to the living for a bit longer. I know exactly what I have to look forward to in the future, but right now, it’s my time.

It took the experience of a difficult client telling me repeatedly that I was there to provide her comfort and to take care of her needs. She repeatedly told me I was doing a poor job. Something inside of me rose up and rebelled. I’m in control of my own comfort and needs right now and I’m going to keep making better and more informed decisions so that I will land in a better place soon. I also realized that I was a damned good caregiver. She simply wasn’t the right client for me.

I’m growing in ways I wasn’t able to grow.

I’m carving out more time to write too. I cannot wait to see what publishing some of my own work will do for me as a person. It’s all I ever wanted out of life and it’s accomplishable now. Part of me will be at peace soon after settling that score.

Writing more—more than anything else—will heal some large wounds for me.

I’ve always been a writer at heart who just so happens to garden and love plants.

Lastly, as I go along plotting all these things out, my mind continues to go in and out of the garden and my plans for it—I mean our plans for it.

I’m currently sorting things around the house and am getting rid of old gardening books and other pieces of junk and this vintage window box combination really struck me the other day. I tossed the book but I kept this image from it.

This is the tangled and complicated kind of beauty I admire most. The round and tender leaves of a nasturtium are the last thing I’d imagine paired with a rattail cactus. One plant grows with ease in one season, while the other is an incredibly mature specimen plant—perfect example of the passage of time in the garden.

Spring is coming soon and I guess I’m not the gardening fraud I feel like I’ve become due to these past two years or so of major life changes and transitions. I’m going to Italy and I will be looking at a lot of plants. There hopefully will be a beautiful one-year wedding anniversary celebration to plan. There are more plans for the future than I can mention. I’m not necessarily the specimen plant I wanted to become. I’ve accepted that maybe sometimes I’m going to be the annual plant with great growth and vigor put on during one season. Or, it’s baroque and complicated and like everyone else I’m everything at once and far less interesting or important than I imagine myself to be and then I just don’t matter and I drift back with my eyelids shut to a sunny day in the summertime where all I can hear is the noise from the city streets, or waves from the Pacific Ocean, and I remember the sound of my grandma’s trowel in the dirt beside me as I doze off in the lounge chair.

Yes, I’m anticipating springtime too and the calm nothingness brought on by spontaneous moments of profundity caught in nature and in the garden. Maybe that’s what the feral cat is anticipating too.

Taming the Beasts

Standard
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.

Winter Awakening and an Assortment of Seeds

Standard
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.

Merry Christmas: Here’s to Planting the Seeds of Celebration

Standard
Several years ago my husband and I pruned off the old Christmas Eve celebration I’d participated in annually with my family. To some this may seem harsh, but I’m a gardener and am optimistic about such things, because change is good, and it almost always means growth and renewal in a garden.

An unfinished felt cactus ornament on one of the many houseplant holiday trees with our first real Christmas tree behind it.

Gardening has taught me that you can use many of its lessons in your own life and that the values found in each and every one of these lessons can add a rich hue to your life that is as enriching as any organic fertilizer.

Our first vintage Christmas has added immensely to the holiday feeling on our urban street.

Good pruning is about learning how a plant grows, knowing its needs, anticipating them, and then creating a plan to foster the best growth based upon this knowledge.

Playing with more materials.
We can use this system for people too, and performing these tasks on our own lives is commonplace whenever we hit a wall, but I want to posit that you should do it seasonally—just as you would do for your garden plants.

For we also have our own seasons for growth, and traditionally, many of us have grown during the dark winter months in unexpected ways as we plant the seeds of celebration with those we appreciate having in our lives.
The table was set for 14 this Christmas Eve and much merriment was made.

It is for these people we give thanks, and as we celebrate, we support one another. At this time of year we are allowed to close our eyes and let go knowing that we have people in our lives who will catch us if we fall, and they will feed us if we are hungry, or they will give us water if our soil is dry, and best of all, they give us the light we need to survive and to keep going—but we must provide light for them too and you cannot do so if you are not at your best.

First Amaryllis to rebloom. I did it! Whew!

The most difficult part though is that we must reexamine our own lives as the new year is upon us, and we must measure our growth, take stock in our stores, and we must rejuvenate ourselves with a light pruning.

The Amaryllis was much taller this year than last year. 

This is how many of us are able to avoid that gnawing depression which can eat at our roots and rot us to our innermost core. If we do not prune, taking into consideration what is best for ourselves, what will give us the greatest integrity to grow our strongest, we will weaken over time.

My first giant floral installation.

Sometimes you’re the seed that fell upon foreign ground, growing up in an environment that couldn’t allow you to be your best. Often, you weren’t in your best light and you never bloomed much, kind of like a lot of houseplants I know who struggle to do what they can in far off foreign places.

My Christmas Day reading arrived in the mail on Christmas Eve.

Unlike houseplants we can get up though, dragging our weakened roots behind us, and we can wander until we’re able to find the home where we’re meant to grow, blooming repeatedly, living in an environment that no longer threatens our growth.

So this season, if you are feeling a bit alone in the Wilderness, I want to wish you the best and let you know you’re not the only one. I also want to encourage you to dust off your shovel and pruners a bit and revisit what it means to be you. If you’re not ready yet to move on, at least trim off what you’re able to let go of and take a good hard look at your roots. Make the adjustments needed and just like a plant in your garden, return to the problem in a few months time to reconsider your options.

I did it and survived and this Christmas was one of the best I’ve ever had simply because I felt free to be who I really am.

Happy Holidays!

Northwest Flower & Garden Show (2011) Part Three

Standard
We made it home despite the Arctic blast and saw lots of snow along the roadside. Immediately we ran as many outdoor plants as possible into the studio to protect them from the cold air. All my new treasures are hidden or else under lights in the basement. I cannot wait until next week when I can plant some of the new stuff that is dormant. I bought some incredibly rare plants so that I can collect their seeds. (Oh, and while we were gone, the last 100 or so packets of seeds arrived.)
The cats are happy, the weekend foster kiddos are getting along ok, and now it is back to the garden show. (I will show you the treasures after the kiddos go home on Sunday night. I don’t want them poking their eyes out with my new metal garden pieces and plants.)
Here are some more amazing pictures from the really great container garden area of the current Northwest Flower & Garden Show.
Carnivorousness at its best.
Naturalistic plantings with every nook and cranny planted.
I loved this water feature.
Potting bench.
Potting shed.
Gorgeous!
Garden bed. Flower bed.
Sweetest dreams.
Too funny!
I noticed this just before I walked off. It made me giggle.
I really want to make some cement/concrete pieces myself this year.
This was a really cozy setting.
This is a really cute idea.
Two of the container garden displays had beverages on display too for the gardener’s pleasure. My husband the winemaker completely agrees.
It’s another planter gutter.
Air plants on furniture—with Puget Sound out in the distance and Pike St Market.
Air plants on plant.

I think that I only have a little bit left about the amazing seminars so more tomorrow.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

Standard
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, the conclusion that we have had an amazingly simple, peaceful and joyful holiday! Lucky for us, the holiday continues until Epiphany, at which time, we will eat Gâteau des Rois and possibly a Gallette des Rois too. So let them eat cake!!! (Poor Marie Antoinette was not the famous princess who said: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. So whatever famous princess did, as described in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, we will toast to her!)
Maybe I will buy another houseplant too to mark the occasion! Let me know if you have any ideas for any great ones! I am sure that I could always use a few more…
Colored poinsettia at Al’s Garden Center, Sherwood, OR. These are painted and not dyed.
The Virgin Mary looking over our holiday poinsettias purchased during our trip to Al’s Garden Center, Sherwood, OR. Our blue one is painted, not dyed. You simply use floral spray paint.
Tillandsia cyanea for Christmas that matches our Advent candles.
What our family calls Mom’s Christmas Cactus. This was given to her during Christmas of 2002 when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer for the second time. She has been cancer free ever since then and is strong and healthy just like the plant.
Columnea “Lava Flow”. This isn’t exactly the best bloom from this little tike but I have a lot of hope for its continual growth.
Christmas cactus that has not yet bloomed.
The Thirteen Desserts. It is a great Catholic tradition from the French region of Provence. We had a lot of fun with it since there was a degree of flexibility. The nougat was too expensive so we replaced it with white/dark chocolate for good/evil. It was so funny and our guests loved having the tidbits around to nibble on all night. We sat around the table for seven hours and the food, wine and conversation was outstanding.
Bûche de Nöel from our most amazing local French inspired bakery Pix Patisserie. If you are ever in Portland, OR, you MUST visit one of their 2 locations on the East Side. Note to all of you gardeners: rosemary, ladybug, and small bug crawling up the leg of the green pixie only made me more happy to be in love with gardening.
A recent fortune from a Chinese restaurant fortune cookie that I loved.
This is a REAL Christmas cactus. We had no idea where to put it, then I found a place, and it just begged for some Christmas cheer.
Last but not least, this is our Christmas Eve Bouillabaisse. The rouille is key to its success as are the vegetables at its base.  Chef Pietro had to adapt the seafood additions to our West Coast North American version, but it was by far the most amazing soup I have ever had in my life.