Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Moved a Garden

Several years ago, when we moved into our first home, I moved all of my plants from our rental home over to this one. Of course, there were a few improvements which I left behind, but, for the most part, I dug up at least 100 plants with the help of a friend from Poland, family, and my husband. The neighbors later told me that they weren't sure if I was a homeowner or a landscaper. I still laugh about that to this day. When I think of all of the crazy things I have done, this was certainly one of the funniest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winter Color

Sedum spathulifolium.

This Sedum is native to the Pacific NW and is typically found in areas which tend to be higher, drier and sunnier than our valleys usually are during the winter. I took this photo at the Gordon House last winter, but I have several at my home too. The red color in the winter is quite striking, and obviously, this plant can survive in the valley if planted with care.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Gordon House (1)

My Christmas wishes have already been posted, but I thought that I would include this one too on Christmas Day. As I am trying to look forward to the coming year, I would like to wish for better health, and for my part-time job at the Gordon House to be re-instated.
A year ago my job was cut after a very special board member/president passed away and a new president chose to take the house/museum in a different direction by moving the budget around a bit. I have no malice about any of that, my health was in decline at the time, but even now, as I sit here still ill, with a better understanding and a plan of attack in terms of my health upheaval, I would love to look forward to returning to work in Silverton this spring.
Before I was first hired, I didn't know very much about Frank Lloyd Wright and his Usonian designs though I had majored in art history at the university. After working there for almost two years though I learned a great deal more about so many different things and I met some of the most wonderful people.
More is to come about all of that, and I have many stories that I plan to share too in this blog about my experiences out there. I just wanted to throw this wish out with the others because I have started seeds in my basement for plants which will eventually be planted in the Gordon House landscape.
Please wish all of us luck in the coming months!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Garden Crafting

A few months ago I purchased a globe similar to this at a craft store. To be honest, I am not sure what the purpose of the first one was, but I thought that it looked nice and I have since used many of them around my garden in various settings. Some are just sitting on top of empty planters, helping the pottery to look as though it may be in use with a kind of purpose that just isn't apparent. Others though are stuffed with moss and native ferns taken from my dad's property near the coast. Those I hope will grow nicely onto our two douglas firs, but I am not too sure yet about the empty others and their fate. I probably would have bought more of them if I could have, but I have to admit, with the largest being $10 I just couldn't see spending much on them at all so I went to the DIY idea.
My globes are more like topiary basket/planters. I've used willow branches from my own yard and a few pieces of wire. In my former life, before I was a housewife with a pituitary tumor in "watchful waiting" mode, I'm not too sure I could have seen myself doing this kind of thing, but I really am a believer now when it comes to art therapy and illness. Nothing seems to have made me happier during the last few years than my silly little craft projects. The key is too remind myself daily that it isn't my whole life, it doesn't have to be my whole life, but is can be an excellent painkiller.
Besides, I have to admit that weaving today reminded me a great-great-grandmother I never knew. My grandmother says that she used to sit in the corner weaving baskets and she wouldn't talk much. Of all the blanks spaces in my geneology, this woman is part of my darkest corner. Some people will tell you that it doesn't matter who you are related to, but when you are a young childless woman, in the prime of her life, loved and striken with rare genetic problems that appeared out of nowhere, you will leave no rock unturned, and you will look even into the darkest of corners for clues. I won't find peace in a bottle, or in a capsule, it starts here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things

If I could have five very special things for Christmas, for my garden that is, this is what I would like:
1) An extra acre would be wonderful.
2) More help from my loving husband, because he could never lift enough.
3) A few more cats from wherever they come from and more stray dogs.
4) An endless supply of rocks and bricks.
5) Free water all summer long and daily yard debris service.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How to Write a Garden

Books and writing have been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. Whenever I was asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said a writer. Genetics being what they are, they intervened, so to speak, and I wandered through college in a way that I never would have dreamt of when I was younger. First I studied biology, then English literature, and eventually I studied art history and several languages. All of these topics I studied with so much passion I was able to propel my way through school despite my aches and pains. Without my parents' financial support, it never would have been possible, and I often wonder about other folks like me and what they are able to accomplish and how they do so. Being chronically ill leads you to many limitations, but it also clarifies so many other things. As I child I read books in a raft, floating in the creek behind our house, under the branches of an overhanging group of trees and shrubs. I was hidden to the world in that sunlit tunnel and sometimes I feel that is the place I want to return to and so here I am learning how to write a garden. How to create that kind of feeling and refuge for others, those who didn't have the childhood I had, living outside and loving wildlife the way I did.
Tonight, for the first time, I will attempt to write some short pieces for a non-profit gardening publication. This isn't something I have taken lightly. My hope is that in time I can learn to lighten other peoples' loads, while filling mine up with something that will help me carry on.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Reds, not Blues

Our Yuletide Camellia is in bloom just outside our front door right now and I am stuggling to find the energy I need in order to do the same thing. Sometimes I wish that my own bloom could just pop up one day, on queue, with no fuss and maybe a little boost of fertilizer. For years now it seems that new medical problems have appeared almost daily. Each one bringing with it problems I never seem to be prepared for, but this winter, things aren't too bad. I simply wish that I had the ability to stay stable enough now for a schedule that might be consistant and steady. Life becomes very difficult when you are living with chronic illness and all you dream of is a little bit of time away from yourself and the pain. It is hard to imagine what you put others through, but in my case, I couldn't be luckier. My husband is wonderful and we both seek out solace in the soil. Maybe next Christmas I too will bloom and beat the camellia to its punchline. Then again, maybe it will happen sooner.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Favorite Houseplant

I love this Christmas Cactus! It was given to my mother during the winter of 2002-2003 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. I have divided it once, and in the future, I plan to make more of them for my family members and others. I call the plant "Mom's Cancer Cactus" but we all know that it's really a Christmas Cactus. Even though the plants only bloom once a year, their blooms are so welcome during those cold damp days of winter. I hope to buy others in time, but for now, I have both Mom's Cancer Cactus" and my mom too!


After falling down the stairs in some new Wellies, I chose to start growing seeds in the basement this week over other kinds of activities chosen by invalids in my state. Each year as I pull out my little envelopes there is a thrill that runs through me followed by shame since there are always other things I could be doing. What about the many plants I already have in the yard? What about the ones that still haven't been planted, sold, or held for friends? I just cannot stop the compulsion to begin again, and the feeling that the sooner I empty out the seed coffers, the sooner I can try something new. This sounds crazy, yes, and I know that I am not the only addict, but how can you cure such an innocent problem? I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I show no other signs of obsessive behavior. I just cannot stop growing plants. This year, some of the seeds were even stolen from yards as I walked past! I just couldn't resist the beauty of a seed pod dangling from a tree overhead. It felt like Christmas. But for now I must relent and resist this rant, my head is hurting and I have things to check on, like the seeds in the basement! (My little babies have already started to sprout.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Writing about Illness through Plants

Who knew that you could just throw this stuff out there into the world? For years I have called myself a writer that doesn't write and I suppose that's simply because I have been very, very ill. Concentration isn't one of my strong points now, unless I am in a grocery store line trying not to collapse, but on the whole, I no longer read ten books at once like I used to not too long ago. When I was diagnosed first with hereditary angioedema, a blood disease with no decent treatment, that was when I knew that life would change. Now that I have many other medical problems and medical mysteries that go with them, the only sure thing I can count on, and do, is my garden and the seed germination that occurs all winter long in my basement. I will never be able to have children, and that if fine with me, because somehow growing plants all winter long fills something inside of me in a way that nothing else can. I don't want to use the word faith lightly, but the cycle that goes on now year after year in my basement under some cheap florescent tube lights and a shelf made out of scraps really brightens my days. My hope is that I will be able to write about all of this and not necessarily about the constant pains and worries. Writing was always a dream of mine, but I never would have guessed that so much illness would have brought me back to it. I suppose though, that it is my love of the natural world more than anything that brings me here and it is the thing that brightens the path I am on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Rhodies kicked to the curb

For some strange reason, whenever I turn my back, another great rhododendron is being removed from a garden or yard. Offered for free online almost every day of the week, the long line of them never seems to cease. If the owners aren't into back-breaking labor, they gleefully will let you dig the beasts up on your own. I have never accepted this kind of torture, but my husband and I did help a neighbor with one that he needed moved because it was huge and in a tiny bed. This seemed like a fun job though because it is amazing in bloom, but I would never ask a stranger to do that kind of work in exchange for a free shrub! Some folks just risk it and will simply leave them on a curb with a cardboard sign reading "free,"but the worst is when old specimens aren't even saved. Ripped apart limb by limb they too are left on the curb, but this time they are destined for a compost heap. Ah! The circle of life...
It saddens me to see a plant once so beloved by countless homeowners all over the NW as being painfully out of fashion with a new generation of homeowners. Sure, many of them are pink or rose, but what about those red azaleas? Did you happen to notice the yellow ones or maybe some of the deep purple? Does anyone care that they finally made one that is almost black? I really care about all of them and sometimes even the pink.
My feelings by now must be transparent. As a child, I was surrounded by many gardeners, of many different genders and generations, and they all loved rhodies and azaleas. Mom was fond of the red ones, and even today, she still has them all over her yard and they are amazing in bloom. In the beginning though, when I was quite small, and she had only just begun her rhododendron collection, she would stop and ask strangers about which ones they had in their yards if she saw something she liked. At my Catholic school each year we would fill (and cover) the alter on the Virgin Mary's feast day with a rainbow of trusses and I recall that colored carpet so vividly even today. On May Day I would also make paper baskets for our neighbors Essie and Clyde on May Day. I would fill them with rhododendron blooms, ring their doorbell, and run away. They never said anything to me, but of course they knew I had done it.
Now younger folks and transplants to Portland just don't seem to have the same sentimental attachment to these beauties that I obviously do. And I, the most non-romantic romantic I know, cannot get them out of my mind. Maybe tomorrow I'll order another, or maybe I will go rescue one that someone else no longer wants.
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