Friday, August 31, 2012

A Few Blooms of Summer and the Plant Path Ahead

As summer begins to wind down here in the Pacific Northwest (and we enter into my favorite time of year), I thought it might be a nice time to review a few beautiful blooms of summer.

Many of these images are older ones—so forgive me if you've seen them before somewhere on here.
Love-in-a-mist after it's finished blooming (Nigella damascena).
The traditional school year begins soon. Maybe you've noticed all of the back-to-school fanfare and hoopla whenever you go shopping? I know I walk into stores wondering what back-to-school plants look like but I'm still not sure.

(Let me know if you have a clue. Somebody must have marketed something for just this occasion. I just know it.)
California Poppy, (Eschscholzia californica).
So, maybe this might be a good time to mention that I've finally taken into consideration how many folks I've been chatting with recently who've mentioned that I should stop acting like such an amateur and admit to the fact that maybe I could grow beyond where I've been making circles in the dirt with my fingers. (This is how I perceive their thoughts on the subject. I may have filtered their comments through some rather large tumblers of gin and tonic this past weekend so I'm a bit fuzzy on exactly what they said, but I got the gist of it.)
Large-leaved Lupine, (Lupinus polyphyllus). 
Ok, darling friends of mine, you win (and I know at least one of you regularly reads my posts so thank you C).
Western Columbine, (Aquilegia formosa) along the Smith River in CA.
I'm going to admit to having an aptitude for the sport, but with some reservations. As I write this, straddling my words loosely between images of an Aquilegia and Mimulus I shot while visiting the Smith River in Northern California last year, I should mention that right after I took these pictures I fell and gave myself severe whiplash.

Just sayin'.
Common Monkey-flower, (Mimulus guttatus) along the Smith River in CA. 
But let's get back to some of those summer blooms [insert awkward transition here].

There are so many amazing little plants and blooms for our sentimental green souls to treasure and like so many others, I have that insanely nerdy desire to know how, where, and why they grow. That's why many of the plants you see here I've grown from seed at some point, or else I had plans to play with that process this past year, but it had to be postponed until now. 

Yes, I can "announce" too that I will be back to my old routine soon and the basement will be filled with light and life this winter and I will stratify outside and I will be so happy about it. 

Yes, it's these subtle little touches in the natural world which matter and are important. It's these blooms that often have idiots like me coming back over and over. 
Calico Monkey-flower, (Mimulus pictus) at Annie's Annuals & Perennials.
Some of them are just amazing and you know of few other sights quite like them.
Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida) at Annie's Annuals & Perennials.
I don't think I even need to mention what blue blooms do for a lot of people—myself included.
Rose Snapdragon, (Antirrhinum multiflorum) at Annie's Annuals & Perennials.
Some flowers you just want to touch and caress, and you wonder if you should purchase a whole new wardrobe based upon their merits—or at least a new pair of boots or some nail polish. (OK, maybe it's just me who thinks like this but I am becoming more and more convinced by messages I receive that a lot more oddballs are out there. Raise your hands! I know you're reading this right now.) 
Sticky Monkey-flower, (Mimulus aurantiacus) at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
But then there are the glowing blooms that brighten your way and shine a light down that plant path we must all wander down.
Mexican Prickly Poppy, (Argemone mexicana) at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
I remember visiting the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley for the first time and remembering how funny I used to think it was that my friend Sean Hogan worked as a curator there. As someone who'd studied art history, I'd never thought of curation taking place outside of an art museum or gallery. So I looked around and thought about how much visual literacy mattered in both of these arenas. 

I knew that I fit in when I thought about having compared hundreds of Christ images as an undergraduate and how that ability could easily overlap with a survey, say, of Agave—or any other group of plants. So similar to most, yet some of us just have a knack for discerning subtle differences—and these differences often matter a great deal and they tell us a lot. 

I'm not great at that game but I can spot and identify seed heads at great distances in their natural environment—sometimes while driving a car. It's a skill—a very strange one, but it's part of this whole process. 
Prickly Pear, or Opuntia bloom. 
I remember walking around, looking at the students and employees, and I thought about how sad I was that I'd been unable to complete the plant path long ago. I had to turn around defeated before I'd even really gone very far. 

My illness made physical activity and a lot of technical work too difficult. I had to slow down and at times I just didn't make much progress at all. My mind didn't work as well and I no longer had near perfect grades. It took years to discover I had swelling in my brain that was impeding me and inhibiting my growth as a person. I was trapped inside and I struggled for years to find the words to describe what I was experiencing. 

I turned to art to soothe and stimulate my mind. 

I moved indoors, inside of myself. Later I moved indoors because I had no choice. My immune reactions disallowed me from being outside. I had to look out the window and I started to play with seeds to keep the hope alive. 

Life circumstances prevented me from being able to return to any of these green dreams until these last few months. Now they surround me again and I am surround by green friends too who've made me feel so welcome despite my typically stylish and late arrival. Just when I wanted to give up hope after nearly 18 years things started to unravel in very mysterious ways. 

What matters is that I've arrived and I know why I'm here now and what I want to be doing. After a really long time, I feel like I've finally grown and that at long last I truly bloomed this summer. I've never felt like this before but I'm getting used to it. 
Elegant Clarkia, (Clarkia unguiculata). 
It's one foot in front of the other once again but this time I get to laugh and walk because I want to do so—not because I have to or need to do so. My load is so much lighter now—literally too. 

My mind is calm and silent now and I'm open to what's ahead of me. I have the mental space again and have found my old quiet personal nature waiting there for me. It was there all along waiting for me to be well enough to come by and pick it up and wear it again as my second skin. It's warmed me to the core to be myself again, and as time goes on, and I keep at this, I hope to better understand and explain my dormancy. 

Until that time, I will revel in the simplest of things, the blooms of summer and the magic they bring to gardeners and plant lovers around the world. I'm a believer and if you're here reading this, you probably are too. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sexy Wild Wildflower Moments (The Touch-Me-Not)

Common Jewelweed a kind of Touch-Me-Not, (Impatiens capensis). 
This is a post about something that's a common experience, and it's probably happened to you too.

Gardeners and plant people see the world differently, but we're human after all, and many of us can also be sentimental in how we see the world around us. Sometimes this can help us when we're not feeling so comfortable. It's through these stories we often find our own release and can be set free again.  

Here's my story. 

Anthropomorphizing isn't just for poets, or maybe it is...

Sometimes we just see wildflowers, but at other times, we grab them and want to hold onto them and own them. So often they are ephemeral and delicate and once picked they droop and fade quickly. They're not often as sturdy as other plants. And yet, that's what makes them so special to us. 

Our human desire to capture that brief momentary beauty can be a rush that evokes in us a kind of lust for something we can never truly possess. 

And wildflowers are necessary to us because they are not the shrubs or trees in our lives. They are something far more special and their beauty touches us much differently. 
video
If I were a wildflower, I'd be a Touch-Me-Not. In my moment I don't just droop over and let my seeds trickle out, or worse yet, blow away in the wind. This is not the showiest of seed heads, but it's energetic and active.

I am a seed collector and I've grabbed many wildflower seed heads—but only after their blooms had faded and the plants were near gone.

This summer I reached out and grabbed a wildflower and it faded quickly and when I went back to look inside for seeds, there were none.

Someone had been there long ago to drain the plant of its seeds. So now I'm walking away empty handed—but with the memory of the momentary pleasure of the bloom.

Friday, August 17, 2012

O-Bon, the Spirit Festival at the Portland Japanese Garden

One of the key reasons I annually renew my membership to the Portland Japanese Garden is so that I can attend this members only event each August. During this time of year in Japan, for 3 days each summer, there is a spirit festival which is considered a homecoming of sorts to welcome back the spirits of ancestors into your home and life. Ever since my first visit to this festival, back when I was still a teenager, the Rev. Kodachi has led the Buddhist ceremony. I am honored to know both he and his wife. (I used to work with Mr. Kodachi during the summer for a week-long Japanese exchange program he created and Mrs. Kodachi just so happens to be my ikebana sensei.)
video
Before the ceremony, guests gather for Bon Odori. Of the 3 dances performed last night, this is the one I'm most familiar with since I learned it years ago. It is the dance of the Tankō Bushi or "coal mining song."
Guests enter the garden after the performance, and as the Rev. Kodachi chants, we are handed candles that are later lit and are floated on the pond en masse. 
Guests continue on and gather on the Moon Bridge. They can be seen to the left. 
Sadly my Grandmother Virginia's name was not read, but when my candle was sent out, I thought a lot about her. 

To my great surprise, for the first time, I heard much more weeping around me from the other guests and it made me smile.
I looked up at the night sky through the pine needles above and I thought about how she and I used to cry together so often. This would make us turn to laughing eventually and giggling about being such sensitive women. Grandma called us crybabies and she used to apologize that I'd inherited her traits but I'd comfort her by telling her that my sensitivity made me strong by making me vulnerable and honest. 

We both knew we had the horrible fate of being born with the hearts and souls of poetesses. Those around us did not understand this, and in my case, they still don't, but it's ok. Grandma feared others really knowing her, and knowing this weakness she had, but I am so proud she gave it to me too and I thanked her last night since it's what has made my life so unique and special. She gave me my heart and soul. This is a beautiful thing to give a woman and I am grateful above all else to her. 
The alter. 
After the event was over, I spent additional time speaking with the Rev. Kodachi, Mrs. Kodachi, and their son—whom I haven't seen in years. I met two of their granddaughters and I was filled with that happiness I so often have when I see small little women. We spoke of my divorce, my health, my plans for the future, and then I promised to return to ikebana classes next month.

I have my spirit back now and I very much look forward to moving on in my floral arranging studies. Ikebana is my art form and poetry and I really hope to keep doing it for many years to come.
The lights collecting, reflecting in the water, the koi sleep beneath. 



Monday, August 13, 2012

"Go Seed Hunting!" said that little voice inside of me...

Just over a year ago, it was at this place (and nearly to the moment), when I knew my life was going to change in a big way. It was as if there was such beauty during that precise moment, in that place and time, that something opened up deep inside of me and I heard that little voice screeching loud and clear as it went in for the kill.
The Bloedel Reserve
I see now that for many of us—especially for those who design landscapes and even our own gardens—these are the sacred moments we want to experience. We live and breathe to hear these little things inside of ourselves, to feel out gut instincts. We use them to help guide us forward whether we're ready to go or not.  
Two Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant) at The Blodel Reserve in Washington.
I want my next garden to have soul and at this point I will stop at nothing less. But until then, there is still a lot yet to do in my current situation.

This is a Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) woven pillow by artist Sue Skelly that was for sale at The Blodel Reserve gift shop last summer.  
Some of these photos here are ones that I've not yet posted. Then again, maybe I have but I just don't remember. I have a lot that was swept up into my iPhoto box during the past year. I hope to finally start to break these out now. Let's all just pretend and ignore that they're so "last season".
Acapulco Salmon & Pink Hyssop (Agastache) at Dragonfly Farms Nursery. 
Fantastic garden structure at Dragonfly Farms Nursery.
There will be more and more of these in the coming weeks and I will try my best to recall what was going on at the time. A lot changed for me though at the Garden Blogger Fling up in Seattle last summer and I regret not having posted many posts but I was going numb in preparation for the marital amputation.

That's something which has become clear now, and there's no turning back...
Random chance encounter I found between a plant and some pavement while walking home from the grocery store not long ago.
 Then there are those beautiful moments I'm having now,
My precious Hollyhock (Alcea) grown from seed from seeds purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, CA.
as I mix them in with my past,
I love the color of Alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) almost as much as I love their taste.
and I remember the simple pleasures too.
Coastal Goldenrod (Solidago simplex ssp. simplex var. spathulata).
Recently I began to think about my precious seeds, and the seed hunting, and the plant IDing.

This summer I've not yet had a road trip to look for seeds. Planning one for later has been in the back of my mind, on that perpetual back burner with the pile of other things, back behind all of the practical things I need to do right now—or else I should have done months ago.
The lovely annual Alternanthera
This week I will begin collecting some seeds around here at home. I'm working again too on adding items to my Etsy store and am thinking about what kind of job will potentially work for me—though deep down I just want to play with plants and write. This should probably come as no big surprise to anyone who knows me! I have some options now though and am working on scenarios that will help me to live with the dignity I'd like as someone with a chronic illness.
"Somewhere" in Mendocino County, CA.
So I'm mentally ready to prepare for such a journey back out into the woods and wherever else I land and I hope to hit the road this October. These trips are fun for me to plan.
Yes there is the ocean to see too as I go into California, but there are also friends in San Francisco, Los Angeles (I've not yet seen Lotusland) and (fingers crossed) the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium in Tucson, AZ. (Come to think of it, I've never been to one of those either.) The drive home from there could be all new to me and that would be nice to venture more into the Rockies a bit.  

Something says to me that arriving in Tucson by car might be just what I need. 

And somewhere out in the desert I hope to hear from somewhere deep inside of myself, "Thank you for listening. Thank you."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

It has been at least a month since I've written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I've been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it's safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I'm blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.
Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.
Much of what's been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.
Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn't have been possible either without all of the friends who've come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I'd been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now. 
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam's Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year. 
Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I've sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that's because it's been a day-to-day thing.
Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.
I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me. 

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I've been feeling and sensing again.
May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA. 
I also still see plants everywhere.
The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.
Even when I'm enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That's why I haven't been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.
I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.
Plants are still at my center.
I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them. 
I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it's just a snapshot.
Driftwood at the Washington Coast. 
Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.
A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest. 
I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.
My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau. 
Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.
Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.
The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.
Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.
I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)
Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water. 
I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that's a whole other post.
Begonia boliviensis in my garden. 
Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.
To say we'd grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.
And the cats are doing as they please...
Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won't.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I'd planted that I'd purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.
He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time. 
The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.
And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, "It's ok." As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I'll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I've been through a lot, and it will be ok.


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