Monday, May 30, 2011

Entertaining from the Garden (and the Heart) with the Hands and the Head

Whenever my husband drives up from California, I make plans with as many people as I can because when he was a cook—and then a chef—this was entirely impossible. Now that we care for foster children, and he works out of state at a vineyard in California, this becomes even more of a challenge at times. It seems we are getting a feel for it though and yesterday we had a smashing success when I invited over an old Italian friend from college who I hadn't seen in years!

The most difficult part for me is often just letting go of the menu completely. I want to do this, and I need to do this, and I can trust my husband completely, but it can be a difficult dance because it begins and ends quickly. This time, it went something like this, "Italian brunch to me means: frittata, leftover pasta from the night before, fruit and lots of veggies." We planned to go to the Farmer's Market on Saturday and that was the end of it. I turned to crafting with the foster respite and cleaning the house while additionally getting ready for our impending trip to California.

The Farmer's Market was amazing and I just pointed at a few green items and I honestly had no idea what the plan was and I didn't ask. The chef likes some mystery.

Yesterday, before our guest arrived, I looked around in the garden for some flowers to harvest for the table. I knew we had what I refer to as "bread and butter" Dutch irises in the Hell Strip by the street so I picked one of them first. It went swimmingly from there: long-spurred Aquilegia, Aucuba Gold Dust, and then some orange Buddleja globosa for some umph!
Then our foster respite asked me if I was going to use the other cool black Japanese vase and I thought about what to add to it. The Green Rose Rosa viridiflora immediately dove into the vase with a low wrap of Coleus and I didn't even have to think about it.
Our guest arrived, and with his help, our table was lovingly set reminding me in so many ways of the rituals done almost without thought but with great reverence during the Mass. Again, I am not a seriously devout Catholic nowadays, but I will always be Catholic by culture and I am proud of that as an Italian-American. 
We brunched upon a spring beet salad with fresh greens and a horseradish and walnut oil dressing, a spring asparagus frittata with a splash of white truffle oil, dragonfruit, honeydew melon, and mango, and lastly, there was a peanut soup with spring peas and a splash of whipped coconut cream. (This last course was added due to gluten and dairy intolerances and it was a perfect surprise!)

In addition to the fruit, our guest also brought carnations and I immediately thought of something I had read last week about the American singer Katy Perry. How could she demand that there be no carnations in her trailer? Sure we all have issues with some kind of flower for some kind of personal reason, but these little dolls were just so cute yesterday I just adored them. (These are for you Katy Perry XOXO.)

In less than a day, we will be departing for another whirlwind plant and garden tour from Portland, to the Bay Area of San Francisco, and then back again along the southern Oregon Coast. This time there will be more gardens, more plants, and who knows what kind of shenanigans! 

Hopefully I will not be soaking wet and shivering like I was last time when I did this about two months ago. Our rain totals so far this year are seriously off the charts. ¡Gracias La NiƱa! Now pleeeeaaaaase go away!

Marin County Open Gardens 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

When Gardeners Can't Sleep I Prescribe This Book

Pumpkin, Bartolomeo Bimbi, c. 1711, Florence, Museo Botanico. (The rectangular stone at the bottom reads: Pumpkin grown in Pisa in the garden of His Royal Highness in the year 1711. It weighed 45 kilograms or about 100 pounds.)
Last night when I went to bed I wasn't feeling well. In a hurried rush to get out the door next week—and back on the road to California—I have been doing far too much. Since reading complicated material is often very difficult when I feel unwell, I turn to imagery. Seed catalogs and garden magazines work most of the time, but I am often left with that icky I-can't-afford-all-of-this taste in my mouth. In comparison, this art history book is the quiet calm that always soothes any little storm inside of me that I throw at it.

My steady bedside grab is called Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso. It's part of a series of books put out by The J. Paul Getty Museum simply called: Guide to Imagery. I don't think you have to be an art history expert to enjoy this book, but I am fairly certain it is a must if you love gardens. Following current curatorial style, the book is arranged thematically and it is not chronological. There are tons of paintings, and not too much text. The painting above was in the brief Still Lifes section.

Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso

The reason I picked this painting is that it was the work most emblazoned on my mind last night when I finally turned into a pumpkin myself. Still lifes are a favorite genre of mine to begin with, but this one really struck me because it reminded me so much of the photographs, come autumn, in so many magazines. This image resonates much more strongly with me than many of the others I've seen, both in books and museums domestically and abroad, and if you garden, I think you know what I mean. We've all wanted a painting like this of something from our own garden bounty writ large like a trophy. This painting could replace the huge mirror above my fireplace any day.

More about California next time... 

Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Reasons Why I Garden Therapeutically

1) Creative Outlet: I am a creative person, but I am not creative. This is what I used to think, but I am beginning to change my mind. Gardening has been the activity that has helped me to better understand this and it has helped me haul my obstinate mind and kicking spirit over this hurdle.

2) Relaxation: I know there are folks out there who consider a week by the pool relaxing—and I am sure that works for some of you—but I have found that kind of relaxation dull. Gardening is my form of moving meditation.

3) Sharing: Gardeners are wonderful givers. They always have plant divisions on hand for others and they are always open to sharing their knowledge with gardening neophytes. 

4) Connections: Through plants I am connected to both my past and my future. One of my white lilacs is from a cutting of a lilac once grown by my great-great-grandmother in Baker City, Oregon. Additionally, seeds from around the world have allowed me to travel to places I would never have been able to experience otherwise. 

5) Curiosity: Not every gardener really gets into the fine details, but for me, our garden is a laboratory where I perform plant experiments. Collecting seeds that I then germinate is what makes gardening even more rewarding. I am simply in awe of seeds and the potential they hold.  

6) Love of Nature: Whenever you're unable to camp or hike, you always have your garden. Bringing birds to it, and providing room for all of the other little creatures is the least we can do to give back. When I need a quiet sanctuary, I go to my garden. 

7) Preserve Dignity: Until you have to tell someone you are unable to work due to a disease, and that you are unable to have children, you may not understand how painful this encounter can be. My garden helps to preserve that last scrap of dignity in that it is a way for me to contribute something. In time I have discovered it is the best answer too when I am asked what I do for a living. I make and care for living things. 

8) Sense of Perspective: Things are steady and the seasons dictate the rhythm of time. I hum whatever tune is needed and I can be inconsistent as the days pass. Nothing is lost, and nothing is truly gained. Every day is different and no plant is ever the same.

9) Sense of Pride: Yes, I do garden to grow things but I will not take part in any kind of foodie garden fad. I am an Italian-American and that means you grow your own food. I am also a descendant of pioneers, and in our family, if you couldn't grow food, and save seed, you'd die in the wilderness. Better to be prepared, to grow well, providing for your family and sharing your knowledge with those who may need your help. 

10) To Provide Relief for Grief and Loss: My words cannot yet fully describe the feeling of losing the sense of yourself once the process and experience of disease begins. Mourning the loss of what life was like before is something that never fully goes away. I can be the cloud on a sunny day in my garden, and I can pour my heart out while toiling with my hands. Best of all, I learn from the garden. My garden has taught me how to renew myself daily, weekly, annually, and like it, I continue to grow, and shed, and change.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Seed Labor-atory Grows

I am currently in my zero gravity recliner recuperating after two very long 10-hour days in the garden. The weather had been cold and wet so I'd put off dealing with all of my seedlings. When the sun arrived earlier this week, I rushed out like an idiot and jumped right in. Now I have garden rashes on my forearms that are both topped with a nice sunburn. My back is killing me and I can barely move my fingers. Was it all really worth it? I keep asking myself this over and over. And the answer I keep coming up with? Absolutely!
Part of my springtime mess. Sure, I have a potting area, but there is a pile of stuff there right now. 
When you look at my seed starting numbers for 2011 you can see why I am so tired. You may find yourself wondering too if I am nuts, and yes, I might be because these numbers are totally ridiculous.

Indoors: I planted about 302 different plants.
There were 1658 peat pods or plugs, etc.
 As of yesterday, 340 plastic 4" pots had been potted up. (Many of these contain several seedlings.)
Outside: I planted about 300 different plants.
They were planted in plug trays or rectangular biodegradable fiber flats.
I have not yet started to process these, but I imagine about 200 plants will be potted up. 

I have also been potting up plants from flats I planted a few years ago—not all plants grow quickly. Some of them actually have surprised me. They looked rather small in their pots, but their roots were really ready to go and grow on.

Eventually, I will plant some of the plants, watch them grow, and then collect their seeds. Some of these plants will be traded, and the rest will be sold on Craigslist—or else to friends and family. 
The back garden before severe editing that will begin soon.
Some of the seedlings in their new pots. 
Scene of springtime that kept me focused as I worked. 
From time to time I take breaks and reconsider where to add my garden goodies. 

I purchased this great plant hanger a year or so ago at Molbak's Garden+Home up in the Seattle area, and I found the hanging buckets at IKEA. What's so great is that they hold 1 gallon plastic pots. So far, I have only chosen two of the five plants for the buckets, but the possibilities are simply endless. (I know the same plant would look better, but I am all about the seeds and I need to have many different plants.)
Then there are the houseplants that I arrange, and then rearrange. This is always a fun way to spend my time both inside and outside and it is a great break in my seedling routine. The houseplants are so much happier because of it too.

This Tradescantia sure made a mess when I brought it back inside the house last fall. Now the other houseplants that lived beneath it all winter have babies. Next year I am going to collect the seeds and keep that from happening again. I have no idea which species this is, but I think it's Tradescantia fluminensis. Any thoughts?
This year I purchased this planter at IKEA. Like the other ones from last year, it is also made to hold a 1 gallon plastic containers. I had a small one stuffed in it in this picture, but you get the idea. I love that it can hang perfectly on a chain link fence.
Lastly, there is another new addition.

I am one of those folks who grew up in a home and garden that was like a museum and mom would have cringed if this had ever arrived in her space. I too wondered about it when I first saw it, but I was with a foster girl, one who is likely to be in the system until she is an adult, and she really loved it.

In her world, no one can afford things like this, and yes, they are seen as completely frivolous, but the fact that I would buy it and hang it outside actually mattered to her. When you are caring for a child of meth, one who's mother chose the drug over her children, this kind of thing does matter.

Wearing my big heart on the sleeve of my house's eave mattered to her, and for this reason, it mattered to me. I wanted to model the kind of behavior she craved in an adult, and so I obliged.
To my surprise, my husband liked it a lot. It reminded him of the 1960s and The Beatles, and over time it has started to remind me of Keith Haring's art from the 1980s. I think it was a wonderful addition to our home and I cannot wait for the fern to perk up. 

If you are interested in purchasing one for any reason, here is the link:
Mac's Yard Hearts (I bought mine locally at Al's Garden Center, but I think they can be shipped too.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (May 15th, 2011)

Clematis montana var. rubens.
Tulipa 'Queen of the Night.'
Iris suaveolens.
Glechoma hederacea Variegata.
Primula auricula.
Dicentra formosa.
Rhododendron occidentale.
Dicentra eximia.
Dicentra 'Bacchanal.'
Clematis montana var. rubens.
Iberis sempervirens.
Alyssum montanum 'Mountain Gold.'
Arisaema triphyllum.
Viola glabella.
Gaultheria shallon.
Rhododendron occidentale.
Rhododendron x 'Jean Marie de Montague.'
Saxifraga umbrosa

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seeds of Inspiration, Plant Veneration, Pits and Poetry

Some palm-like plants I've grown from seed. They are looking kind of sad. 
While eating a date today for breakfast, out of concern for my teeth, I bit into it carefully. I'd noticed a small chip in my tooth recently, so I sat wondering if it had been a seed pit from my last package of dates. It had been a dangerous bag.

Somehow, this led me to thinking about the poetry of Medieval Spain and of Al Andalus. My roads to nowhere often lead to this place, and I am sure that when you garden, your trains of thought all arrive back at some station that's meaningful to you.

These are the things that we gardeners sometimes think about when we don't speak to people all day. How on Earth do you explain that to people though when they ask you what you think about all day?

Of course all of our minds wander all over the place. Somedays I think of nothing, and yes, sometimes I think about seeds, and plants, and where the come from, and why and how. I think about the people who travelled with them tucked into their belongings, and I think about those who longed to see the plants of their childhood in places far away from them. Yes, these things I find inspiring and they perpetuate the mythology of the garden while propelling me forward as I create my own. Great garden poetry inspires me too.

The Palm Tree
A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa,
Born in the West, far from the land of palms.
I said to it: How like me you are, far away and in exile,
In long separation from family and friends.
You have sprung from soil in which you are a stranger,
And I, like you, am far from home.

Abd al-Rahman, Emir of Cordoba, d. 788 CE

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden (Portland, Oregon)

Ever since I can remember I've been visiting what my family always referred to as The Rhododendron Garden, though nowadays, I've finally started calling it by a name others actually recognize: Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
The garden was started back in 1950, when my dad was a boy, and not long after my Grandfather Salvatore, aka Sam, had returned home from World War II. Situated at the southeastern edge of Portland, it sits right in the middle of my Portland universe. 
For about a decade or so I didn't visit the garden at all. Instead I was spending more time with friends, and less and less with family, and now that I have been gardening for about 10 years, I love to visit there more. 

With over 2,500 Rhododendrons, azaleas, and other plants, the setting is idyllic. 
The garden is great if you need planting ideas. 
Fringe Cup. Tellima grandiflora
Wood Anemone. Anemone nemorosa 'Flore Pleno'.
It is also a great place for some color after all the grey rain. 
Not long ago this retaining wall with ferns was added. I have enjoyed watching it grow and change but part of me really wants them to add a stumpery just so I can say that we have one here in Portland. (I know they are all over the place in the woods, but to have an official one would seriously crack me up.)
I have one of these in our garden but it's barely alive. Ours has been broken, stepped on, and tripped over, and it's alive, but it doesn't look this nice. 
Spider Azalea. Rhododendron stenopetalum Linearifolium.
To see a Rhododendron tree in bloom in the middle of the woods is a sight to behold.
Nearby, the carpet of primroses was breathtaking and it was great to see an art class painting en plein air. I want to draw again so badly but I simply have too much to do. Maybe that will be added to my long list of things.
Primula pulverulenta.
Then there are those azaleas!
There are a lot of reds in the Crystal Springs garden, and I know that not everyone loves red, but I am fond of the color. 
Rhododendron ibex.
These colors work too. 
There was no tag on this one, but I found the lighter green foliage rather interesting with the pale violet blooms. It must be an early bloomer since it's already beginning to fade. 
Here is a Cercis in bloom with an accompaniment of Rhododendron
Have you ever seen a purple like this reaching for the sky? Neither have I. 
I added these two reds because I grew up with them. The big bloom in the middle is the hybrid Rhododendron 'Jean Marie de Montagu' and the smaller bloom in the back is most likely a Hino-Crimson azalea. The only other classic crimson combinations would be a Rhododendron 'Vulcan' and a Wards Ruby azalea. I only know these because my mom stuffed her acre sized garden with them and I loved red so I was kind of all about those blooms each spring. 

(As a kid, I would sit on my thick fuzzy red blanket in an ocean of lawn at my parents' house for hours and hours at a time. My mom didn't need to put me in a playpen since I wouldn't touch the grass. I know. I was a weird kid.)
Here is another bank of azalea blooms. 
This is my favorite yellow Rhododendron.
Rhododendron lutescens.
Beside the lake, after you cross the bridge to the island, you'll see a weeping cherry tree. 
On the return trip back, this is the same bridge. Even when packed with folks during the springtime, it is enchanting. 
The other bridge is back at the entrance. This is the Moon Bridge as seen from above. It was also at the beginning of this post, but from below. 
Before I go though, I should mention the birds. There are a lot of birds, but most of all, there are water birds because the garden is both surrounded by, and is full of, water.
Pair of Mallard ducks sleeping in a tree. 
Geese and a gosling. 
The garden sits across the street from Reed College—a fine institution of higher learning. Though I never attended the school as a student, I did spend a lot of time on the campus with two of my best friends during their years as undergraduates. That was a long time ago though.

Due to the busy season at the garden, and because the small lot was reserved for a film crew, I had to park in the school's parking lot. So, on my way back to the car, I noticed these gorgeous Ceanothuses in bloom and the short walk was worth it!
Back at home I worked on my pile of plants this afternoon. Funny I hadn't noticed that a Candelabra Primrose was beginning to bloom, but I sure noticed it today! How rewarding to see this after having cared for it for a year or two. It is another primrose I've grown from seed and I cannot wait for it to give me more babies.
Primula pulverulenta.
My native Rhododendron occidentale has not yet burst open, but I am watching it closely. This is one of those plants that your nose may notice much sooner than your eyes. 
Lastly, if you made it this far, the American Rhododendron Society will be in Vancouver, Washington this week for their convention. So if you have the time, you should check it out:
American Rhododendron Society Presents The World in Your Garden May 11-15, 2011
Heathman Lodge, Vancouver, WA 
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