Sunday, January 29, 2012

My First Citrus Lesson—and a bunch of other stuff from California

Wintersweet aka Chimonanthus in bloom.
Yesterday our friend—and host during a portion of our trip—took me to visit his friend's tree nursery in the city of Napa: Main Street Trees. One of the first things we saw was this amazing Wintersweet shrub in bloom and immediately I knew I wanted to use some of it for an ikebana arrangement. 
Even on the dashboard I loved its angularity. 
Later, after driving north to the vineyard in Kelseyville, I assembled this ikebana with some pine and pretty dried out roses that had overwintered near the winery.
But I'd mentioned in the title of this post that I'd had my first Citrus lesson, right?
The candied pieces at the bottom of this image are from a Buddha's Hand. 
It was amazing to try so many fruits I'd only seen pictures of in books.
This was a lime that my friend rolled around in his hands to release its oils. The scent was heavenly but we didn't eat it. I was more than content just to stare at it.
As you can see, our hostess was incredibly generous, and best of all, she served a blood orange—one of my favorites.
Beforehand, we'd walk through the labyrinth of trees at the nursery with their Bengal cat. I'd never seen one in person before and I have to admit that I was probably a bit more into the cat than I needed to be but I do miss my own herd back home.
This is Willow, their German Shepard. Oh!, plant people and their pets. I get it and I imagine you do too.
This is not the best image, but I had to add it. I found the juxtaposition of an olive tree and a Sequoia to be a bit like the famous surrealist quote taken from the Comte de Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror: "Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table."

It reminded me to always think over plant associations.
There were bees—lots of bees, and I heard hens, but unfortunately, we had to run so I didn't get to visit with them.
Just as we were about to leave, I snapped an image of this timber bamboo. That stuff really is incredibly beautiful.
During my drive I kept thinking about this picture I'd snapped while visiting. It was my eldest niece's 20th birthday yesterday and she has a tattoo of a California poppy. Seeing the roses only reminded me of home: Portland, aka the City of Roses. I didn't drink any of the wine, but I liked the label, and besides, wine is the connection now between the two states we go back and forth between. 
Hours later, I made this ikebana for my niece's 20th birthday. Like myself, she loves dark and mysterious things that are a bit quirky and I knew she'd love this slightly dark olive and pomegranate arrangement.

Ciao from Lake County, California...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Garden Bloggers Fling, 2011 (Seattle): A Confessional Introduction to an Event Long Past

So, as winter creeps into our lives, my posts from the fling are on their way. In anticipation of the great Northwest Flower & Garden Show—the fantastic winter event in Seattle that my husband and I attend annually for Valentine's Day—I am posting these to not only get myself excited for next spring, but as a wintertime gift to anyone who happens upon them. 

(Additionally, the next Garden Bloggers Fling, 2012 will occur in Asheville NC from May 18th-May 20th and I encourage you to go if you are able to do so.)

This past summer I participated in the Garden Bloggers Fling in Seattle, WA. I'll be the first to admit it. It was a first for me, and and although I truly enjoyed the gardens, the plants, the people and the great conversations immensely, I wasn't completely sure what I was doing there. I'm still trying to figure that out now, and the length of time that this whole process has taken, is just, well, kinda ridiculous.
Hummingbird in an Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Here are a few of my most basic thoughts on the matter:
I am not a published garden writer. 
I do not write a well-known garden blog. 
I am not a garden journalist.
My garden/(s) are neither glossy nor centerfold worthy, and last but not least—
I do not work in the garden industry and do not blog for a company—let along a cause. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Add to this the fact that many of my favorite garden, landscape and/or plant books come from the philosophy, art history, and/or critical theory sections of the bookstore and you really might begin to wonder about me. When I think of gardens, my mind quickly tends to move to land art—you know, stuff like Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson—and if not there, I mentally begin analyses of social context, race, class, gender, and all that stuff. Once those areas have been buzzed over I move immediately to botany and botanical books in order to catalog as many plants as I can in my mind to know where a garden, and garden designer, are coming from both geographically and stylistically. 

If you're reading this, and you really know me, none of this will be revelatory. 

Some folks may have already stopped reading this, and that's kinda the point I want to get to with all of this right now. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I've been very slow though to provide any posts here about the Garden Bloggers Fling I attended, mainly because I simply did not understand the rush to do so at the time, and since I tend to think these things over far too long sometimes, I just didn't say anything. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
For me, rushing into grocery lists of plants and trying to say the words "lush", "green", and "beautiful" in as many different ways as I could conceive of just seemed really taxing. I've never been able to write filler and I deeply appreciate those who are able to do so without its unceasing monotony getting to them. I am such a contextualizer that it seems to take me longer and longer to weave together the treads of my garden experiences.
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
Sitting on this whole Garden Bloggers experience was a good thing, and now that it's 2012, and I will be up in Seattle soon for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, I'm ready to say what I do here, and how I define my garden blogging.
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I will say it here, and I'll say it loud and proud...
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
I don't write much about pretty, or perfect. I don't really like pretty or perfect. What I see are the complex social, societal, and emotional relationships between plants, the people who plant them, and the people who select, grow, promote and sell them. I look for the connecting points between information, personal experience, and business transactions and watch these created environments (gardens) as they evolve and as society, and its many stratum, both continue to inform and disrupt the tastes and desires of everyone involved in this complicated little dance—including myself. 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
So I hope my little Garden Blog Manifesto was as good for you as it was for me. Yup. I'm one of those. Who let the nerd out into the sunlight? The garden doesn't need any of this pollywuppos, right? 

Au contraire mon ami!  (I'm a nerd, remember?) 
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
One of the greatest works of literature in the Western cannon was a little French novella entitled Candide. Published in 1759, during the Age of Enlightenment, it was written by a man we now call by his pen name, Voltaire. This wildly satirical novel is full of a kind of wit that is rarely, if ever, seen today and at its end, the author of the text leave us with: Il faut cultiver notre jardin. ("We must cultivate our garden.")

Yes, that famous line, one which even today is still wildly debated as to its semantic meaning, has only served to remind me recently that as awkward as I feel sometimes in the world of garden bloggers, I belong here. Maybe I don't cultivate and perfect my own garden as often as many other garden bloggers, and I don't rave about designs, nor do I regularly tout the products of one company over another, but I think I am in line with Voltaire when I say about society—years after he wrote it—we still must cultivate our garden. (My husband just reminded me that I should go into Hegel at this point but I promise not to at this time—maybe at a later date when I'm really feeling it. Right now I need to pack for a week in California.)
An Unidentified 2011 Garden Bloggers Fling Location. Any guesses anyone?
So that's how I roll, and that's how I blog. It might not be for everyone, but I felt like I had to define this publicly because ever since the Garden Bloggers Fling I have felt unsure about a lot of what I was thinking, seeing, hearing, and reading—especially from disheartened bloggers I've enjoyed reading who want to throw in their garden writing t(r)owels.

There has been an attrition in the world of personal garden blogs and this has been occurring as we've simultaneously watched the rise of business/marketing/corporate blogs. Many of those left still writing personal garden blogs are doing so with the hope that somehow, someday, it will lead to monetization or acknowledgement in the form of a mention in a nation gardening magazine, or better yet, a book contract.

We've even watched as "personal" gardening blogs have become paid content for companies to use as a way to broaden their online presence. This has been an eyeopening experience—to say the least. It may also have been the last straw for this camel as she looked out across the desert landscape, unable to distinguish one branded garden blogger from another—especially since many of them are professional writers seeking to broaden their audiences even more.

I understand the democratization of this technological process—this is the information age after all—but I sometimes feel as though I am standing around waiting for the next train wreck. As bloggers continue to be held liable in court, and as the publishing and news industries are watching their own cannibalization online, it's kind of a mess around here.
Gardening should be about finding your voice, and so too should garden blogging. An inauthentic voice heard anywhere, even on a computer screen, should be pruned and composted. I think I went into all of this, and even the event in the Seattle, as a kind of litmus test, seeking my own authenticity and voice. Thanks to Seattle, I've found the voice I'm happy with, and I hope you too may find your own...

No matter what, I can assure you that there are so many garden bloggers out there you'll be able to find those writers eventually who will suit your taste, even if they aren't the preferred read of your neighbors.

Call me the Andy Rooney of garden blogging if you want, but personally, I'd much rather be the Anne Sexton of this genre—minus the suicide.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin. 
(We must cultivate our garden.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Awakening and an Assortment of Seeds

Winter snow visited our home and garden this week and I'm happy that it didn't stay for very long because it was really an unexpected event and we weren't prepared for guests. 
It snowed a lot on Tuesday night (January 17th, 2012), and my excitement was remarkable—though I know not why—except to say that up until just last month I would not have been able to stay outside in such cold temperatures for that long. So maybe I do know the reason why, but it is such a personal reason, having more to do with my illness, that I feel I must explain.
As I write this, the movie Awakenings (1990) is playing on the television. Based on the British neurologist Oliver Sacks's memoir Awakenings (1973) it's a movie about a group of patients who awaken from their catatonic states after being given an experimental treatment in 1969, and over time, the drug that they're given stops being effective, and they return to their catatonia.

The mother of one of the patients describes never having asked, when her son was born, "Why? Why was my son born healthy?" But after his illness sets in later, she remarks to the doctors that she hasn't stopped asking, "Why? Why is my son unhealthy? Why?" Then she must watch as her son slowly returns to being catatonic again, unable to communicate at all, after having had him back so briefly.

Chronic illness follows this cycle, and it is for this reason that I garden and grow seeds, finding in their annual return and growth the false confidence that I need, and an additional natural comfort when I need it. Gardening keeps me far away from the Why? questions, and instead, the activity leaves me suspended in a healthy state of awe and speechlessness.

For the last few weeks I've felt alive again, and I've been afraid to note that here on my blog.

One of the reasons why is that I am afraid it won't last for very long. I have lived with many chemical windows both opening and closing much like the patients in the film, though not nearly so dramatically, and I live with the ongoing dread that I will run out of options. For the last few weeks I have been doing much better than I have in about 5 years and it scares me. I must admit too that I have been living, and that means I've not been here so much, and that I've been having fun and I've been enjoying the winter and time spent with my husband.

Taking pictures of the snow at 11pm was just the kind of activity I needed. It filled me with a funny kind of joy and I looked around at the dark homes of our neighbors and wondered why they weren't out there too—just as excited as I was at that hour—and I realized then that my mood had more to do with my most recent "awakening"than anything else. These are often the joyful moments we spend by ourselves and that's alright I suppose, I just hope that all of you remember to have them too.
So yesterday the snow melted, and while keeping warm, I finally began my last seed sorting session for the 2011 harvest. Maurice the cat felt like helping too so I let him spend some time with me on the floor while I sorted all of the paper bags and poured the seeds out onto paper plates.
All of the seeds are now out in the open and I am so happy that I am able to capture them all in one shot. This is only 1/8th or less of what I collected last year so this really is a big deal for me to be so near the end.
Some of these are from the wild and some are from gardens. How I figured them all out, when some had no plant ID at all, is still a mystery to me. If they're without a name I have no one to blame but myself.

I just cannot believe that the process is beginning again, since I feel as though I've just woken up a bit myself, and although I am a bit terrified that this new medication may fail me, the garden must grow on and so must I. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Some Final Winter Celebration Images

Epiphany ikebana.
Our first King Cake was a hit.
A final holiday arrangement.
Two happy but very tired people. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Famous Garden Lady (from Digging Deeper: a Series of Gardening Micro-Stories)

Stilisierte Blumen vor dekorativem Hintergrund, Stilleben, 1908
(Stylized flowers before decorative background, still life) by Egon Schiele
She said she wouldn't listen to the two women unless the word Clematis was pronounced Clem-uh-tis and not Cluh-MAAA-tis.

(Prescriptivist linguistics do not belong in gardening conversations thought the younger woman. Gardeners—by their very nature—should always be descriptivists, but she didn't want to tangle with the famous garden lady in the tall golden grass surrounding them.)

The older woman remarked that she didn't want to be confused by having too many Clem-uh-tis vines from too many pruning groups in her large garden because they were too difficult to remember. The famous garden lady became livid and mean. Her face caught fire quickly—matching the chaotic hair crowning her head. 

She barked at the two women, "I refuse to continue speaking to ANYONE who is so prejudiced about Clem-uh-tis vines and their pruning schedules. That is simply ridiculous and I don't have time for this." As she'd been speaking, she appeared to the younger woman to look like hundreds of tiny little firecrackers writhing on the pavement and then it was over. Much like the fireworks, she'd simply burned herself out.

The two women walked back to the gravel parking lot. Both were a bit shellshocked from the senseless explosion. The older woman crumbled when they reached the car. She'd just finished suffering the humiliation of cancer and had not expected another gardener to be so unkind.

"You don't treat people like that," she said.

"That was uncalled for," said the other woman. "You don't even treat plants like that."

To this day, both women continue to happily garden, and they still call the vines Cluh-MAAA-tis vines.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Self-Portrait of a Gardener in Winter

Rearranging houseplants. 
Playing with nature.
Ripping out the carpet in the office. Making houseplants happy.
Making more ikebana for my other blog: A Year of Ikebana.
Eldest cat Macavity as she surveys the rearranging.
Our largest cat (about 20lbs.) Maurice sleeping with the glow of the LED lit tree—probably dreaming of summer.

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