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. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Companion Planting: My Husband as Companion

A constant agricultural character in my life is husband. In a sense, due to the fact that he works with wine in California, I jokingly call myself a wine widow. This arrangement may seems odd to some, but for two incredibly independent folks, it seems to be temporarily an acceptable situation. We are not really that far from one another, we love driving all over the American West, the flights back and forth are not that expensive, and let's face it, a change from the Northwest's rainy days is a great thing. (Besides, this means we can garden and cultivate plants SEPARATELY, yes, in different states, but EQUALLY.)

Mr B returns home for winter in a few days so I thought I would write up the 4 most important reasons why we go well together. This is actually about plants and I know that many of you will understand how exciting it is to share a love of tilling the soil with your partner.

1) Mr B is the high-quality dry vinegar to my goofy oil drenched cheesiness. He never laughs much at my bad jokes and I don't always know when he is joking. Somehow, this seriously works, mostly because we are not competing for the same audience.

Visiting Francis Ford Coppola's Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley, 2009.
2) We absolutely love traveling by car together, enjoying all the sights, taking in the agricultural, horticultural, historical, and cultural sites along the way. 
Mr B admiring his G-G-G Grandfather Speed Stagner's homestead on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. We drove there and back and I hope to do the drive again someday. It was beautiful. I am sad though that I was unable to germinate the native Clematis seeds I collected on the site. 
Garden at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, (CA) c. 2009. We have visited over half of the missions and by far this is our favorite. The garden and the grounds felt like home to us. 
Trucks of garlic. This kind of thing makes us both happy. Besides, it smelled amazing.
Notice the juice dripping near the left flap of the truck. This was just north of Los Angeles on I-5 and it was about 100 degrees F. The smell of hot tomato juice as we followed this truck cracked me up. It was surreal especially when it intermixed with the garlic smell from the other trucks. 
3) The site of this vineyard makes both of us very happy. For Mr B, it means hard work and a challenge, but for me, I see the freedom he gets to have while doing something he loves. Besides, you really cannot grow these same Italian varietals in our area in northern Oregon. (Historically, the Italian immigrant families used to pool their money together to buy boxcars of wine grapes from California at wholesale prices and then they would distribute them for home winemaking down in produce row. My family was one of those families.)

Rosa D'Oro Vineyard, Kelseyville, (CA) c. 2009.
Mr B is a cat lover too, but he also likes other animals.
Our American Gothic.
The tanks.
The olive orchard at Rosa D'Oro, Kelseyville, (CA) c. 2009.
Tasting room sign at the vineyard. Notice the piles of rocks. This was something my husband thought up to make the new cement look more rustic. I have no idea if he finished that tiny pile he started at the base of the sign, but this was his
first attempt at being Andy Goldsworthy and I loved it. 
4.) Lastly, we also both love Oregon very much, and we both love our home and garden even if Mr B still likes to have everything planted in straight lines. We're still working on that, but I really cannot complain. He is one AMAZING hole digger, oh, and did I mention, he likes plant shopping!!!!
There are the Sangiovese grapes in our Oregon garden. Last year they ripened nicely, but this year they didn't even come close. This was due to our El NiƱo weather pattern. I planted these to remind him of his home away from home and when he is gone during the summer, I am always remind of him and have a piece of his life here with me. I eat these grapes though and they taste great.

If you are interested in reading more about unusual and uncommon Italian wine varietals, I have added a link to the Rosa d'Oro blog. My husband writes it and sometimes he can get really technical about the wine growing and making process and folks seem to enjoy that quite a bit. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even ask him for menu ideas to go with different wines. He is a trained chef, and sommelier, and sometimes misses that kind of thing. Check out what his currently up to by clicking here: Rosa D'Oro's Blog 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Break in the Storm

This past week has been a brutal storm but I kept afloat during what seemed like a tempest. My novel progressed, without a real plot, but the plodding upon the land is everywhere upon it. (That was what I'd wanted most of all and I am having a lot of fun with it.) Then on Monday an emergency foster child arrived and this pre-teen was with me until Thursday afternoon. Demanding, energetic, and busy does not do justice to describe those days.
Maurice watches as Macavity takes a break on the roof. They had a difficult week
too and often needed to unwind and escape whenever possible. 
Somehow I was able to write, but I ended up with a headache that still has not gone away. It was not the child per se, since it has more to do with my inability to communicate the needs of my health condition while enlivening the necessary empathy in this particular child. Conquering this hurdle is often impossible with most of these kids, yet I need to work at how to do so in the future. The children in state custody have the most difficult time with it, and as much as I understand, I cannot chose to suffer through this again.

Wouldn't you know it though, on the last day I discovered how much she loved to garden so that really helped up both to calm down before her departure. We went on a trip to the nursery down the street when the wind storm finally let up and we bought some bulbs and pansies to plant.
Native Silk-Tassel Bush or Garrya elliptica at Portland Nursery on SE Stark. Notice my car's bumper in the left-hand bottom corner. This shrub is in the nursery parking lot!
Many of the plant racks are empty for the season, but the native licorice fern Polypodium glycyrrhiza still persists. I love these things and have reintroduced them into my garden. Mine is on a Doug fir tree.
Lastly, I am spending my last week alone as a single part-time foster parent. The husband returns home for the winter next weekend, hopefully after the olives are harvested, but that is a whole other story. Needless to say, having him home will be wonderful and we will have a lot more fun, but it can also be stressful because I am daily reminded both verbally and non-verbally of how difficult it can be for a spouse to live with their partner when they are seriously chronically ill. The burden and the sacrifice is heavy, and I don't know if I could do what he is able to do. My goal for this winter is to work harder at moving forward together, but this needs to be his goal too and I hope we are ready for it.

Using my interest in gardening, with a bit more of the purpose of my past, has helped me to tie my many lives together. Plants are so much a part of who I am, and of where I have come from, they have helped me to overcome a great deal of personal suffering as well as the self-pity I have experienced. Somehow I feel as though gardening has really helped me to reintegrate everything I have gone through and much like a garden design, I've just needed the plants to grow in. The picture has revealed itself to me, and I am at peace now. Whatever internal struggle was at play, seems to have seriously subsided.
Vaccinium ovatum with berries. This is our native NW evergreen huckleberry. I have fond memories of picking these once in the woods surrounding Mt St Helen's. I love the berries so much, I had to plant them in my garden so that I wouldn't have to drive too far to pick them. This is an excellent and easy to grow shrub. 
Vaccinium ovatum.
Cutting some people from my life, and having little contact with others, has helped me to feel so much safer too with a sense of being protected. (I imagine my growing hedges have helped to concretely remind me of this action as well. Maybe I will name these hedges accordingly in the future.) Editing or trimming can clean so many things up, making things clearer, and for me, I have really had to come to terms with the fact that I come from a family that cannot cope with chronic illness, and that is just the way it is for them, but it no longer had to be that way for me.

You see, when you have been ill for almost 10 years, and your family still cannot pronounce what you've been diagnosed with, nor have they taken the time to understand what it is, or how it functions, you know it is time to step back and stop trying to reach them.

I feel much like any plant in a garden now. I am complicated, but I have very basic needs. I need my food and water to survive. Sunshine will help me stand up. Sometimes I may flower and bare fruit, but sometimes I may grow weak and need help. The list goes on and on, but what matters most is that no cure or magical fertilizer will make the plant perfect forever—just like me—and we are both in flux. It is a day to day thing, and I am happy in the moment, just as I imagine my plants are sometimes when they put on their show, even it it might be their final one of the year...



The last of my summer roses. This is a Damask rose from Heirloom Roses. This summer I finally harvested petals and made rosary beads. Not sure yet what to make with them, but the rose water was delicious too! I used it in my Syrian lemonade. I will have to share those recipes next season. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Gardener Visits the Oregon Zoo

As I write this an East Wind is blowing out of the Columbia River Gorge and I can hear the Doug fir tree as it gently brushes the roof. This winter, those branches will finally be removed. It is late, and the emergency respite child is asleep in bed and I can now openly feel afraid of the dried vines scratching at my window. I wish I could be upset at the person who planted them, but I cannot do that to myself. I meant no harm at the time. The scratching noises they make though are really a bit terrifying. I must remember to trim them back. 

Ah yes, this is really about the zoo. This past Saturday we were at the Oregon Zoo and before we'd left the house with our last foster respite guest, I'd already decided to see the zoo through the fresh eyes of a gardener, and not necessarily just the animal lover that I am. 

This meant—of course—that the first photo was of a bear. I am horrible at these assignments but I was simply too excited since I have not seen the black bears in some time now. 
 
Back on track, I noticed this along the pathway as we continued. These are what we call sheds or shed antlers and they are just sitting around to make the place look more natural in the Pacific Northwest Exhibit. This kind of thrilled me and brought back memories of a mostly horrible camping trip to British Columbia with my father for one month after I'd graduated from high school. I would have preferred a week in NYC to that month of misery, but at least I really did get to know the desolate feeling of true wilderness.

While I was there, I found all kinds of odd animal bones by wandering a bit into the woods but I stopped doing that the day I heard a grizzly for the first time. Back home in Oregon, even after all of these years, I still love to toss out artifacts into my garden for that surreal juxtaposition. This winter I hope to go to the coast to get some more great stuff—another bone or two would be kind of fun—but my mainstay are large oyster shells.
My husband was briefly home this past weekend. He brought home books and clothing from his seasonal wine sojourn in California, and is now wrapping up what loose ends he can before returning home for the next 5 months. The arranged respite for the weekend was very excited to see him again and I think that's something he is beginning to enjoy more and more even if it is confusing or rough at times. He was happy to be back in what we lovingly call the Pacific Wonderland.
The lifecycle of the salmon is represented by art at the zoo. (You cannot really keep salmon in tanks so they have trout instead.) There is an amazing mosaic in the walkway near this sculpture that is a favorite of mine. Salmon fertilizer is one of our favorite fertilizers here at home, so adding salmon again to my blog I do with pride.
This is an owl I caught napping but I cannot imagine it sleeps much with all the kids around it all day.

Owls can be useful for rodent control, even in the city, so of course it gets a gardeners seal of approval. Living at the base of the extinct volcano that is now a forested park, we have some owls living amongst us. There are some bats too, but they don't visit me down here at the base much. (We have them at the zoo too, but by the time we made it to the bat cave, I was too tired to take another picture.)
The native rose hips were really glistening and glowing. I didn't get a full picture of this shrub rose, but it was lit up like a Christmas tree with all of its red hips. It made me crave my favorite black tea with rose petals for some strange reason. 
Near the farm area, where they have the main petting zoo, this salvia was afire. I found it hard to believe that they were blooming away, but nearby there was a native Mimulus in bloom too. I mourned the fact that I was too late to harvest some of its seeds, but maybe next year.
I am not sure if this is the North American native Beauty Berry or not. It is planted between a viewing deck and either the hippo or giraffe and zebra area. This was a welcome sight since the colors are always so beautiful. 
Temporarily the penguins have been moved into part of the polar bear exhibit. If you know any penguins, it should come as no great shock that their filter needs to be replaced at their house. This might take some time so they have made themselves at home.

They were sun worshipping while we were there and a few were swimming up to us as we looked through the glass. It was a great last stop and I am glad I pushed to see them and not the ice cream machine the foster respite was by that time obsessed with.
As we left on Saturday, this was the amazingly romantic weather we saw from the parking lot. Fog was settling in on the West hills, and down below, in the city, it was drizzly. Some folks feel that this kind of climate is heavy, or even depressing or sad, but I adore it. I might even want to add that it can inspire you to get some writing done that you've been meaning to get around to doing.

Today was mostly clear and sunny so we do have some good days around from time to time. I now have over 4,000 words written for this novel of mine, it was a great day, and a great weekend leading up to today as well.
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