Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Weekend Parties and Their Gardens

This last weekend I attended two parties. One was a 60th birthday for my former employer, and as you can see, he has a thing for pink flamingos.
Both of the homeowners are colorful people so it's been fun helping them out in their garden during the past few years.
Then on Sunday I attended a "meat" party hosted by an old friend at his house in inner industrial SE Portland. Not too long ago I'd lived near this area and it was great to hear the trains going by all day. I also was able to see a few people I haven't seen in about 15 years.

There were other dishes too but this is Portland after all and I'd be acting deceptively if I didn't admit to there being bacon cupcakes and PBR.
Like my old rental house in the area, these two houses are also boxed in by warehouse walls. During the weekend the place is empty so band practice next door was not an issue. The two houses are occupied by friends so the garden is a bit of a shared area though I think Jerrod is the one who takes care of it.
I'd hoped these were edible old roses but they were scentless and that was rather disappointing.
Jerrod has planted vegetables here and there for his culinary needs.
It's been very rainy again so these probably don't look much like summertime in the city but here in Portland this is what it can be like sometimes.
After dinner several of us gorged ourselves on u-pick raspberries.
Oh, and if you're counting this post for cool Portland references, I should add that Jerrod's roommate John works at Renovo Bikes. Yes, that's wood you see there on that bike frame.

Welcome to my little slice of Portlandia.
Ok, Jerrod also made a fresh salad too with homemade Cesar dressing, so it wasn't all about meat... (He also made a horseradish sauce too with fresh horseradish. Yes, this guy is a foodie.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

When You're Not Really in the Garden

These last 3 weeks I've meant to be here more, and I've meant to be in my garden, but the medical requirement to walk 15-20 miles per week has been taking up a lot of my time. 
Just a few weeks back, I had the pleasure of walking 6 miles during a really great thunderstorm. Yes, this was classic Portland in the spring.
From the Hawthorne District, I could look back and see where I'd come from and at this point I was a bit worried about the rain that was coming. (Mt Tabor is the green hill you can see far off in the distance.)
By the time the rain started to pour, I was already well on my way home.
Wet and cold, the sky continued to darken but the sunset was nice that night.
Rosa 'Golden Showers'.
When I go on my walks, as I round the corner for home, I can now see my roses blooming more and more frequently. Sometimes I think of my garden as one big neon billboard exclaiming some really colorful person lives here. I like it this time of year as the jungle begins to take over and there is a different world outside my window. 
Oftentimes I see gardens that I think look nice, but are too patterned. I might have a jungle, but these lines really fascinate me because they boggled my brain a bit. I'd rather have a jungle.
Always before reaching home I wander the reservoir at Mount Tabor Park to get in some extra miles. It is such a beautiful place to walk. I walk over the hill you see there in the background and reach home that way. It is such a wonderful place to live. 
This past Sunday I walked to the store to purchase ingredients for a lemon tart I was making for a party later that evening and I ran into what I later discovered was a swarm of bees. It was just waiting here until the group could determine where to go. What an amazing thing to watch. One moment it was there, the next it was gone. I wish I could have seen them at the moment when they all flew away.
Later that same day, after the tart was partially completed, I walked over to Portland Nursery to purchase some heirloom tomato plants from myself and a friend. Along the way I spotted this old mattress frame being used as a trellis support. This isn't exactly my style, but I do love its lines and conical rust-colored squiggles as the grid floats there in the air.

Yes, I am sure this post is a bit random, but when you're not really in the garden, so often you are, aren't you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Walking to the End of Spring

Possibly Lonicera periclymenum. 
Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty'. 
Phacelia tanacetifolia 
Most obnoxious Roses ever! (I kind of like them.)
Lychnis coronaria with Eschscholzia californica. 
Lychnis haageana 'Molten Fire'.
Fragaria vesca
Rosa 'Jeannie La Joie'. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ending Garden Therapy

Sunset from the front porch.
Gardens are therapeutic and gardening is admittedly a therapeutic activity. For almost 10 years I've been in treatment in the garden and that period of my life is now ending. We've all been there in one way or another, but in my case, I think it's safe to say that the garden saved me and changed me. 
From left to right: Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. Adams. Before the age of 22 I'd climbed 10 mountains in the Pacific Northwest and Mt. St. Helen's was the last on that list.  
When my world seemingly closed, and I had to retreat to lick my wounds, it was the natural world and learning about plants that kept me attached to life. Sometimes, when I'd fly to CA to see my ex I'd often hide a few errant tears if I saw the mountains of the Pacific Northwest knowing that I could no longer hike or backpack in the forests that skirted them. My garden had become a surrogate for these adventures, but I still very much missed the real thing.

To heal that pain, I studied plants in books, purchased seeds to grow, and I sought out a few plant folks. This was not a replacement for the joy I'd once found in the beauty and solitude of the forest and in nature, instead it became a symbolic bandage meant to hold back the deep weeping emotional wound I'd developed. While my peers were out exploring during the spring and summer, I was at home, often so swollen I was unable to walk, and I'd read about the plants that others were able to physically go out to view.

Sometimes I'd feel like a caged animal and in retrospect those sobs that came out of my loneliness now seem more like howls for the wild as much as they were my cries for help.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Nike of Samothrace is a piece I find very inspirational.
It was the first piece of garden statuary I ever purchased.
Creating a refuge or a sanctuary was very important to me, and now, as I am set to fly, with a little nudge out of the nest, I look around before me at what I've created while my mind was so overwrought with blocking out the reality I was living, and I'm still so surprised by what I find. 

I've been telling anyone who'll listen to me that the past 10 years have been the ugliest in my life. Yet somehow I stuffed every blank space around me with beautiful and rare plants. My brain keeps trying to tell me that I shouldn't have been so escapist though, and that I should have been trying harder to work and to learn how to survive in the real world. My heart says that I did what I had to do to survive though, and between the two, I have no idea yet what I will do now to support myself, but part of me wishes I could be a garden therapist for someone else experiencing what I've been through. Few seriously ill people can afford to own their own gardens though and I know in my case it has been such a gift to have been able to have my own. My garden was the best medicine of all.  
This was the backyard before we'd removed all of the grass about 6 years ago. 
But I'm not really qualified to be a therapist, though I am a writer. That's why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to share my experiences and I wanted to inspire those who were down to try to find the physical strength to at least try something that seemed to me as simple as planting a packet with a few seeds. Taking that first step can be difficult though for some people—even healthy ones. It started like that for me and it led to an entire world I've been able to live in but now it has to end, or shift, or change, or grow. 
My plant labor-atory.  
More of my plant labor-atory.  
Ending therapy means ending a relationship. For me that still means leaving my garden, and although I am ready to do this if I really have to do so, I still have my doubts that it's the best idea.

What began for me as therapy has grown into something else. I cannot extricate the experience of plants from who I am anymore. How plants will now figure into my plan I don't know, but plants are my future.
An undated photo of my three cats under the willow arbor. Yes, they think they are too good to sit on the ground. 
Like many other Americans I am living with a chronic illness that makes many forms of employment difficult. I too want to live with my dignity and this is challenging when daily you feel as though you are partially unreliable due to your condition and its symptoms. Finding flexible employment is not easy, but we all must make our way in life.

I've had to grow into accepting this as my life, and I am more than grateful for the reprieve that a new medication has given me. My life is almost normal now and the difficulties are far more manageable than ever.

But I cannot afford to own the garden that healed me and that is what I am faced with right now. To think of selling something that did so much for me is really difficult. It has been not only where I've enjoyed hiding, but over time—especially during the last year—it has been able to reintroduce me to the world and to more and more people, and I've really enjoyed meeting and speaking to all of the amazing plant-loving people I've met both here and in person.

Funny too that as much as I'd hoped for this post to be about not really knowing how to remake my life right now all I really want to say here now is that I hope this post inspires you to reach out to someone in your own life who might need your help right now. I am giving back to someone who almost lost her husband in a cycling accident recently and I know if you think hard enough you too can think of a friend, family member, or neighbor who might benefit from some garden help.

We really are all garden therapists when we reach out and get dirty for someone else.

Vive le jardin!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dragon Arum aka Dracunculus vulgaris

Last week the big stink around here was briefly in the backyard. Each year I watch and wait as this lovely bloom emerges. Sadly this past week it was trashed by heavy rains so it's not looking nearly so nice right now.  (Oh, the ephemeral beauties of the garden that we plant weirdos cherish!) 
I tried to get up close and personal with the bloom to show where the many different bugs were busy working. The reason these gorgeous flowers stink like month-old garbage is to attract the right pollinators. This bloom may have been short-lived, but it did its job well. I saw at least a dozen bugs in there while I was leaning over inspecting their activities.

Standing this close to the bloom was not pleasant so please forgive me for not having zoomed in more.

I also suggest that you never attempt to use this bloom in any kind of floral arrangement unless it is displayed behind thick glass.

Do you have these where you live?
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