Monday, October 31, 2011

What's Your Botanical Learning Style?

I'd wanted to have a nice long post for today, but my brain is really, seriously, quite tired. Right now I should be sleeping, but instead, I am up and exhausted from staying up late to read more and more about plants. You see, I have a long drive home now, and there are more plants to come, in different kinds of places, that have different kinds of ecosystems, and already, my brain and eyes are spinning because of plants—but not really. Otherwise I wouldn't be here writing this post. 
Looking at the wine grapes took work since I wish I could identify the different kinds just by looking at them, but I am not that talented. This shouldn't stress me out, but it does. Right now I don't have the energy to begin learning about any other plants since I am still being overwhelmed with the native plants of California!
Here's a good example. Entering into this native ancient oak grove truly blew me away. The side effect though is that I have a lot more to read now. I love to go on vacation but it is so odd to return home with homework. (This was near the top when I climbed Mt. Konocti with our friend Tom.)
After that shock to the botanical senses, before we reached the peak, we were able to look out and see Mt. St. Helena in Napa. (It's the flat-headed mountain out there near the center of the picture.) It was hard for me to believe we could see it, but we could. 
Identifying plants along the way became more complicated that day, but I was really happy to have found this Cirsium occidentale. I knew what it was immediately, but I have so many more plants to memorize before I walk through the chaparral of Lake County, CA again. Everything is simply too new to me here still.
While I went off to explore each day my husband had to work. The grapes need to be harvested and processed quickly so that nothing sits around in the heat for long. It is strange to come back to your spouse as they work at a job you've never actually seen them do. I've heard about the whole process for years, but seeing it was like seeing someone new who I didn't totally know. When he works the field, pruning and planting new vines, I understand that, but this part was new to me even though it's similar to a popular activity in the NW called, "beer brewing." 

Right now you may be wondering about my relationship to our famous Oregon Pinot Noir, but I have never been interested in the whole lifestyle it entails in my state due to the cult of the grape that began in the 1970s when I was a girl. It has always seemed somewhat foreign to our region, and yes, Californian. Oddly enough, we don't have a native grape vine the way California does and I think that's telling in a way. Wine really fits into the landscape here in a way that it doesn't in Oregon. That's just my opinion, and I know it tastes great, but it has altered Oregon in a funny way. (I know, hops aren't native either, but at least they seem to fit in well and they grow so well in the Willamette Valley.)
So, back to plants, on another day I drove about 80 miles into a very remote area of Lake County by myself. (You can see the road along the ridge in the picture. It's the wavy line and it was amazing to drive along!) This may not have been the wisest decision, but it made me feel brave. 
From that remote area I could look over at Mt. Konocti again and ponder how I could have ever climbed to the top! Oddly enough though I felt safe-ish as I ventured deeper into the wilderness since I could hear a lot of traffic in the air flying over the Mendocino National Forest. This is harvest season after all and I think many of you know exactly what the Feds were looking for at this time of the year. 
A few days ago I landed back in San Francisco before heading south to the burbs. Seeing 1/8 or so of the San Francisco Botanical Garden was another amazing and yet visually confusing mess. I am still recovering from that walk but maybe after I visit it again once or twice a year for 10 years I'll know all of the plants! (Bromeliads grow there "wherever".)
I wish I could wander the streets of San Francisco just looking for these amazing little gardens. I had never seen a  Standard Fuchsia tree quite like this one before and it truly surprised me too. The streets of San Francisco are so rich with flora year-round.
So as I drive home, I will endeavor to keep my eyeballs straight and not to tire myself out with all of this seeing and looking but that's truly how I memorize plants and I put a lot of energy into it. Today's Halloween though, and it's the day I head north again, so wish me luck as I enter back into the sphere of plant life I am familiar with already. I have a lifetime to learn about Californian plants and I will just have to accept that it will take that long to learn them. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Greetings from an Amateur Botanist in CA

Leading up to this trip I didn't say much. I've had a lot on my mind, and additionally, my broken finger recovering took a slide due to my swelling disease. Coaxing them both back into splints was all we could do and it really slowed me down again.
The Rogue River in Southern Oregon.
Just a few days ago I drove down to California alone, to see my husband and to witness the wine harvest and crush for the first time. It's the least I could do as his wife and it was my birthday gift to him. I had to be brave to drive I-5 alone and to stay in a yurt right off the highway when virtually few others were doing so. Driving the whole 10 hours in a day—by myself—was just not possible. The two-day drive was amazing!
Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, in a rest stop near Lake Shasta.
Arctostaphylos in a rest stop near Mt. Shasta.
As for botanizing, my main goal during this trip is to more deeply familiarize myself with the native flora in the chaparral of California. I will be doing some coastal exploration too, but most of my activities will be centered around Lake County where my husband is during the growing season.
While stopping in Redding to visit McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Garden I caught some folks fishing for salmon in the Sacramento River. The flyfisherman who'd waded all the way out in the riffles was fun to watch but I was disappointed that he didn't know how to cast. (Sometime I will have my husband take a picture of me casting. It's the only fishing skill I retained from my upbringing.)
After Redding I drove south toward Sacramento and San Francisco before heading west on Hwy 20 into Lake County, CA. From the point on, I was far happier with the gorgeous scenery and I was excited to see what my husband was doing. When I arrived, he hopped up the ladder and began to punch down the fermenting grapes in the tank. I have to say, it was impressive and the smell was incredible. It was both good and bad at the same time!
I looked at the color of the grapes, took the picture, and then as I was on the ladder I laughed when I noticed the labels on the tank.
When he finished we walked through the olive orchard.
We were both surprised that the pomegranate tree had actually produced this year despite the funny weather.
Then he showed me what the weather had done to some of the grapes. With the heavy rains and low temperatures we've had this season all along the West Coast, you're going to get some rotten grapes. This is what they can look like and you just have to let them go.
And this is what grapes in a vineyard look like when they're not pruned. This row was going to be grafted with something else but when the time to do so passed because the weather wasn't right, they just let the grapes go. It's only one row, but it really shows you how much pruning is necessary to make all the vineyards look so pretty. They really prune to improve the air and sun exposure for the grapes and to ensure that they have consistency in overall quality and quantity. The whole process is really interesting to me.
While we perambulated, we were being watched. I shot this picture and admired Mt Konocti behind the mighty raptor. That's because at that moment, I had not yet climbed to its top. Tomorrow, I'll let you know how that went because right now, I'm off to collect some more plant materials just north of here...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ikebana International Chrysanthemum Exhibition: celebrating Kiku Matsuri

Yesterday I attend Ikebana International Portland Chapter 47's annual Chrysanthemum Exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden. As expected, it was amazing, and I truly enjoyed viewing all of the different arrangements. 

Following are a few of my favorites from the show. (My Sensai's is the last arrangement in the Sogetsu School section at the end of the post.) 

Saga Goryu School
by David Komeiji
by Mieko Heriford
by Wako Henjyoji
by Luci Bachelor

Ohara School 
by Selina Lechner
by Betty Robinson
by Ruby Warren

Ryusei-Ha School
by Reiko Grenade 
by Kathleen Birchfield
by Judy Harpel

Ikenobo School 
by Dr James Skog
by Elly Heitmeyer
by Jack Smeckar

 Sogetsu School
by Diantha Knott
 by Keiko Kodachi

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Little Foster Boy Who Loved Seeds

Last weekend I was surprised by a 9-year-old foster respite boy—but it was a pleasant surprise. 
False Yucca Seeds, Hesperaloe parviflora.
Usually on Friday nights kids don't want to watch me sitting at the table sifting through seeds. Our kids are usually fairly emotional and like to have us right there with them, watching a program with them, or participating in their play.
Cardinal Flower Seeds, Lobelia cardinalis.
Last weekend I was left alone in the evening. It felt kind of odd and a twinge of guilt crept up, but then I squashed it because I liked being able to work quietly after dinner without any major interruptions.
False Freesia, Anomatheca laxa.
I was sorting and sorting and didn't notice when the room became silent.
My little helper hiding behind the lamp to preserve his anonymity. 
Then I felt his eyes on me and he drew nearer. There were a few questions about how to do it, and why I do it, and then he sat his toys down. He was mesmerized by the process and before I knew it he was sitting beside me sorting too.

And that was Friday night! Ahhhhh.....
Elms in the Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon.
Due to his anxiety issues, running errands for my upcoming trip required some planning, but all that really meant was that he needed park breaks in the city so that he could forget about all the people. Near Powell's he as able to run around in this playground in the park blocks. I admired the elm trees while he let it all out.
Licorice Ferns, Polypodium glycyrrhiza.
Before we left to go to the store I showed him how the epiphytic Licorice Fern grows on trees whenever possible in our area. He stood there on the sidewalk staring up at that tree for much longer than I'd expected.
This lily at a flower stall captivated my little weekend visitor. 
At the market in NW Portland we stopped to buy flowers for my daily Ikebana.
Pumpkin Stick Tree, Solanum integrifolium
I let him pick what he wanted for a Halloween theme and we talked about the flowers he really liked.
Monkshood, possibly Aconitum carmichaelii.
This was the first Monkshood he'd ever seen and he couldn't stop looking at it. He wanted to call it a Hoodie Flower and that made me laugh.
Once we were back home he posed with our purchases and then we started working on Halloween cookies. Until he left on Monday he continued to sort seeds with me and he asked me many questions. He opened up a lot during this time and when he left it was hard for me to say goodbye. Part of me felt ashamed though to have been so biased in my feelings for him just because he loved seeds but I totally fell for him.

I am currently still sorting outdoor plants before I take off for my next plant and seed hunting trip in California.
I wanted to post that I have many winners and losers and these are examples of each. Both are hard to find plants, but only one made it. The Dicentra would have made it if I hadn't neglected it, but so it goes...
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