Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

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. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Houseplants in Bloom and One Ripe Pepper

This last week has proven to be more than I'd expected. The house is abuzz with blooms, the Norfolk Pine lights are twinkling, the Espelette pepper is finally ripe, and we made some unexpected headway on my rare illness. 

In other news, let's bring on the blooms while I recover, yet again, from my most recent health flare-up. This little jewel we purchased up in Seattle last year when we went to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I neglect it all of the time and yet it rewards me again and again with its blooms. I highly recommend these for dependable re-blooming houseplants. Not everyone loves the color fuchsia, but it does work wonders during the dark of winter.
Monkey Plant (Ruellia makoyana)
I posted a single bloom from this little gift a week ago but since then it has been joined by a friend.
Streptocarpus, Butter Blues, with 2 blooms!
This is a single bloom on a rather sprawling plant that seems to be in bloom almost continually just so long as I listen to its needs. My friend gave me this plant in the form of a cutting and it grew really well and quickly. I will have to post pictures again when it is covered in these tiny little hovering lilac kisses.
Sinningia, not sure which
We bought this Norfolk Pink years ago to use as a small Christmas tree. It was very small when we purchased it and now it is large enough to wear 20 battery-operated lights all on its own. They are so cute.
Twinkle, twinkle little star!
The Black Jewel Orchid and I have not been great friends though I have read that these are easy plants to live with. This picture makes the leaf look really dusty, but it wasn't that bad. Notice those amazing pinstriped lines. Even if these are a bit picky, the leaves alone make them worth it. They really add to the plant's year-round interest.
Leaf of the Black Jewel Orchid, (Ludisia discolor)

This is our very first bloom on our Black Jewel Orchid. When the plant grows larger, there will be many more of these spikes. I hope that it will add more than one spike per year though. They bloom during winter so I guess no matter what I should not complain right now. It really is beautiful to look at when it is so cold outside.
First blooms on our Black Jewel Orchid (Ludisia discolor)
Lastly, the Espelette Pepper I wrote about a post or two ago is finally ripe. I am so happy that I brought it inside and gave it a chance. Sometimes we too don't make it on time and need a bit of encouragement to keep up.
Ripe Espelette Pepper ready for Christmas harvest!
Hopefully I will be able to keep up with all of the seed catalogs coming in the mail. Nothing makes me happier at this time of the year than my seed starting! Hope you are all excited for the coming season too. We have planters to plan, structures to straighten and so much to do.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Crafts, Houseplant Blooms and Loss

The month of December is flying by and for the most part my little slew of Christmas orders on Etsy is over and I am very content. Folks were happy with their garden oddities, and I kept up with the shipping. Considering how busy we have been, this a big accomplishment for me and I couldn't be more happy about it. 

These are some wooden spoons someone ordered for a gift. 
I have been making these simple accordion books, but I have not completed one yet for sale or for Christmas presents but I am getting close. So many layers of glue can take a long time to dry. I intend to glue a few envelopes inside of them too, add some seeds, and voilà, you have a little seed book.
These are the envelopes I have been making. The chicken wire paper is so cute I could not pass it up. Usually when I sell seeds I make origami envelopes but this time I used a template. It seems to work ok, but I wish that I could get the wire links to match up consistently. I plan to paper over them anyway, but I will keep working away at these.
While I work, I get to adore my little winter treats on the houseplants. Hopefully I will have more blooms this winter than ever. Whatever the plants need to look their best, I will help.
African Violet, not sure
African Violet, Genetic Blush, standard
Streptocarpus, Butter Blues
African Violet, not sure, given to my mom when she had breast cancer for the second time about 10 years ago.
African Violet, Kentucky Strawberries, semi-miniature
Lastly, we lost a very dear feline friend this week and I am still mourning his untimely death. Meng was a neighbor's cat who also lived at another neighbor's house, and often spent time sneaking into our basement to sleep and eat. He was also the guardian of my garden, the cat who claimed and protected my turf, saving my 3 cats from the trouble. He lived outside and so was on guard 24/7.

He was struck and killed by a car this week on a dark and rainy night. It was not unexpected, but that somehow does not make it any easier. We will miss his so much around here.
Meng the Cat, RIP, you will be missed

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Espelette Pepper Winter Miracle with a Side of Beefsteak Begonia

Last year I was able to purchase hard-to-find Basque Espelette pepper seeds from Europe. I purchased them legally, with my seed importation permit, and although I am aware that when grown outside of their AOC they are no longer considered certified, I had to go through all of this because I love my husband, and he really wanted them. Besides, he knows how to use the dried pepper product, and that seemed important at the time.

Now, almost a year later, and after a horrible summer here in the NW, I have one pepper. It was still green when I brought it in from the garden in October, and then I set about trying to ripen it while it was still attached to the plant. It lives now amongst the houseplants under the lights and it is ripening. We never thought we would see this day, and as pathetic as it might seem, it is our little winter gardening miracle.

In addition to our one little pepper "that can!" I have also been enjoying my Beefsteak Begonia (Begonia 'Erythrophylla') though I think it should have been called Lily Pad Begonia instead. Purchased last year, it grew quite a bit this past summer on the porch and it needed better placement in the house. It now sits beside my chair in the front window and it is very happy there. I cannot wait to see what it does next. 

I have no idea what variety of Begonia this is yet, but this is actually a cutting that is sitting in my window and it is blooming for us right now! What a great little winter gift.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vintage Roadside Garden Attractions: Petersen's Rock Garden, Central Oregon

I am attracted to paper—especially old paper. This attraction often finds me flipping through old photos, old postcards, old magazines, and old books. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to spend every Saturday morning at Powell's Books in downtown Portland, looking at old books, and several nights a week we'd go to the library to read and escape the noise called "family life" back at home. Looking at any old pieces of paper was often a thrill to us, and it wasn't uncommon to find us smelling book binding glue—but that is a whole other story for another time.

Postcards of places that I have never heard of always give me a thrill, especially when they are still around. In this case, I now have a rock garden to visit when the weather warms next spring. Maybe not all gardeners love rocks as much as lapidarists or geologists, but many of us love them a lot, and when we are able to collect large specimens, we will add them to our gardens.

This place if more rock than garden, but it looks like a lot of fun and I tip my gardening hat to the man who made it! Anyone with that much passion and a penchant for obsessive behavior is ok in my book.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Ice

For the last week or so we have been closely watching a young foster child and, due to the toddler status, not much is getting done in the garden—but so it goes. The little one is having a hard time, but we are working together to help with the necessary support.

Last week we had a touch of snow and with it came a hard freeze and some ice. Down here closer to the Willamette Valley floor we didn't see much in the way of the white stuff, but the ice was fun to look at out of the car window. I couldn't stop taking pictures of it as I waited in the car trying hard not to notice it was really cold.
I spied this gorgeous little fruit/seed hanging off of one of my newer Mondo grasses and I had to get a picture of it. The color is really amazing.
Contorted Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon chingii)
These are what's left now of my Japanese Snowbell seedpods. The outer part froze off and now the seeds are just hanging on. I probably should collect a few more while I can.
Ice kind of fascinates me. This is a small area where ice popped up and out of the soil. I used to know how it forms, but I can no longer recall. I am in awe of its beauty and mystery and that is enough for me. Since this is an area of soil that is heavily rained on due to the downspout nearby, the wet soil saturation should have something to do with its creation.
My unfinished stuffed 12" living obelisk, a small incomplete project overseen by St Francis in pint-sized form,  appears to have acquired a new planting plan while I wasn't looking. The mushrooms really cracked me up.
The snow has turned to ice on the globe planted with creeping thyme. Sometimes I too feel my snowy nature turning to ice and it is then that I close my eyes to imagine the sunshine warming my shoulders, and I turn, and I feel the sunlight as it heats my eyelids and I open them only to be blinded, happily.

Not sure if I have complained about Hypothryoidism much, but it makes life for me very difficult during the coldest days of winter. Raynaud's syndrome makes socks a necessity too at all times and even in bed when I am asleep I will get foot craps if I neglect to wear them. Winter is the hardest time.
I caught the last embers of autumn along this frozen Begonia grandis stem before it warmed and collapsed. From a distance, it really was quite striking, a kind of garden graffiti I welcome.
Frosted Hens and Chicks proving yet again that they are always alive.
My ever watchful amulet. It is not the cornicello that so many Italian-Americans cherish, but it is the other evil eye amulet to protect against the evil eye. I suppose it is more akin to fighting fire with fire. This was purchased last year at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and I hope to buy another one this year when we go. It just glows in the right light.
Hope you enjoyed my mostly random garden visit. Next time I will include the garden crafts I've been making indoors while I've been overseeing the little one. For me, I am crafting in baby steps so don't expect hand-grown, hand-woven perfection. Maybe next year though...

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Did I Germinate?

This time last year I was in San Diego. I'd flown one-way and my husband and I had planned to drive home to Oregon by way of Los Angeles, Fresno, Yosemite, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, then 101 up the coast to Coos Bay, and over to I-5 for the quick dash home. Along the way we saw friends and family, and as can be imagined, we stopped at many plant places.

This leads me to today. It is cold out and we may have snow down to the valley floor this weekend. I am trying to protect whatever plants I can, but sometimes I do no know what the plants are, so that makes my job more difficult. This is the seedling in question:
This is its mommy and daddy. The picture does not do justice though to their height. These inflorescences were so tall. I cannot recall for sure, but they seemed to have been at least 10 feet tall.

Does anyone have any idea what this is? The plant is super happy, and I will protect it, but I must figure out what it is so that I can care for it. The seed pod was really big and I found it on the ground as we walked past the plants.

This is also how I collected seed from these plants too, and I am guessing they are some kind of Asparagus. If you know for sure, let me know pretty please! (Yes, I grew babies for these seeds too. I wish I'd taken a better picture but I was getting so tired by this point in our walk.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why sometimes you must wait for a plant...

By the time I accept that a blast of very cold air is about to hit my garden, I am usually too late to save everything. This year, by some incredible stroke of luck, and I think a dash or guilt, I was out there earlier than usual, working on the winter shuffle. For our garden, that usually means moving some furniture, emptying or moving some planters to safer locations, picking up debris from the Douglas fir trees and entertaining any cats who drop in to watch me.
While shuffling pots this year, I had a bit of a surprise. I found that one native shrub I'd planted a few years back was more than I'd thought it was before this season's growth. As I rolled its large terra cotta planter to a safer location, the leaves rubbed against me and the smell was amazing! It was unlike any plant smell I have ever smelled before and it was kind of exciting to recognize that this was a new sensory experience for me. It reminded me of incense that was both earthy and spicy and I was so excited by this change in my opinion of it because it really had not done much during the last few years. It wasn't going to be edited from the garden like a diseased plant, or a seriously underperforming one. Since I'd already pushed it to the back, I'd given it that chance that it needed to recoup. Now that it has grown a bit more, wow, look out!
The lovely soft fuzz underneath smells nice too and reminds me of the large leaved Rhododendrons. 
Formerly known as Ledum groenlandicum, after recent genetic testing, it it now Rhododendron groenlandicum, but the common name remains the same: Bog Labrador Tea. As can be ascertained from its name, it likes to grow in boggy conditions. In addition, it is a slow grower so that might explain why I was not overjoyed with its performance. I am so sorry now and I will never doubt a slow grower again.
The plant is named after a steeped beverage that Inuit and Athabaskan people have enjoyed for years and which other Native Americans and even early European trappers drank too. According to Wikipedia, in Labrador itself, the tea is called Indian Tea. The beverage is considered palatable and is used medicinally as well. When the plant grows some more, I will attempt to make some myself! I am always willing to try new foods, and will run this one past my chef husband. It might be useful in the future for some kind of special dish.

As I worked throughout the day, cats came and went. Our youngest cat Mona was by far my gardening buddy that day and she stayed outside with me in the mud. She had to run around a lot to keep warm, but she kept me entertained.
Mirror, mirror on the wall...
The neighbor cat watched both of us from above the garden garage/shed/studio/atelier all day as well. (When I open the curtains in the morning I often see him perched up high on that same roof looking towards the east watching the sun come up. )
Another important task of the year is always to save any seedlings that didn't grow large enough to plant, trade, or sell during the summer. Here are a few of the plants I pulled into the house recently. These are Lilac Fuchsias I grew from seed that might make it in this zone, but I am afraid to take that chance just yet—if ever. The others are Australian Cabbage Palms.
Lilac Fuchsia, Fuchsia arboresens, before they head into the basement growing area for the winter. I purchased seeds for these plants last winter, and hope to add them to my ever expanding Giant Fuchsia Collection. 
Livistona austalis is not hardy here, so I will most likely end up trading these with some adventurous soul. They were a free gift in a seed trade, so I was really just interested in germinating them. 
Everything is far from being completed outside, and the countdown is on. I have about 4 days until the near freezing temperatures and wind arrive on the scene so it's back to work for me. Hope you are all warm and toasty and have accomplished your garden tasks before this on-again off-again chronically ill up-and-down gardener! Let me know if you find any amazing and unusual seeds for sale in those new catalogs too that are pouring through our mail slots just about now. 

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