Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt

Argemone grown from seed.
Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca)—also grown from seed.
Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa). Yes, this one is an old seedling of mine too. 
Western red cedar (Thuja plicatasnag left in a garden setting. (Just to throw you off the scent of my trail.)
Nigella seed heads: the circle of life begins again.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Dream Garden: When I first met mine...

Antiquo jardín del Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1908.
Writers, dreamers, poets and artists have thought long and hard about gardens for centuries—and so have the more religious and practical among us. At least I imagine they have because I've studied such things, but I'm far from certain. So often nowadays I find that these real characters of history are just as real to me as any who are fictional. I guess I've grown and that fine line is no longer there. It all blends together. It's all a pastiche. 

I'm not religious myself, but I was raised in a Catholic family, went to Catholic school for 12 years, and I now consider myself Catholic by culture. That's how I ended up visiting España with my parents back in my early 20s. Dad wanted to go there for 10 days to take photos of churches and to visit the region of Estremadura. The three of us traveled south from Madrid during the month of December and I'd like to say that I remember a lot more than I do, but I spent most of my trip feeling unwell. 

At night my dreams were in Spanish. (Back then my Spanish-language fluency was much better, although that had never happened to me before and it felt strange—yes, foreign.) During the daytime, my mind wandered back-and-forth in the backseat. I felt between worlds.  

As we drove I thought a lot about what a cousin had recently told me concerning our Sicilian ancestry. He'd researched our family as part of his Master's thesis and had found that one of our earliest relatives was actually a Morisco from Spain. Fresh in my mind was the way my father had vehemently been unable to accept this discovery. Today he's softened and has accepted that it's likely true, but at that time, it dramatically altered how we saw ourselves.
Jardín de Carlos V en el Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1910.
Before I knew it we were in the beautiful city of Sevilla. We stayed there for a few nights and went to several museums, a Flamenco performance, we ate delicious food, and then one day, while walking around on my own, I stumbled upon the Alcázar of Seville. I went inside. 

The gardens of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla changed me. I think I was transported there away from myself. They were—and still are—my dream gardens. It was there I felt so many new and wonderful things as I saw plants that seemed so unreal to me. I felt so alive and so awake. In many ways it felt more like home to me than my own home. I had never felt that way before and I haven't felt that way again.

To me that's what a dream garden is about and it's what we seek to make when we design gardens. We want what I can only describe as being a kind of religious experience. Like in meditation, we consciously count our breathing until we transcend and forget ourselves. We want gardens to give us that kind of rush too. It's deep. I know. It seems very much connected to something inside of us that's human. Many of us crave this feeling. It's spiritual whether we like to admit it or not. It's calming. It's soothing.

To Christians, it's a return to Eden, and to those who follow Islam, it's called Paradise. In Arabic the word is جنّة or Jannahand that's short for garden. That day in Sevilla I felt like I'd visited Paradise. Ever since then, as a gardener, I've wanted to recreate that feeling.

That has been my dream.

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It's a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I'm starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It's just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

My First Plant: The Old Man Cactus

An unnamed fuzzy cactus. Not quite like my original Old Man Cactus, but cute and fuzzy nonetheless.  
The first plant I ever owned was an Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). I must have been 8 or 9 and it was an impulse buy my mother made out of guilt. I'm not sure now what she'd been dragging me around to do that day, but I recall even now that she bought it just so that she wouldn't have to hear me complain about the day's activities. 

It was a distraction, a bribe, and it worked—at least until I killed it. 
The plant was placed on the shelf you see above, in the same place where you see the replacement plant I just plucked from Portland Nursery the other day. Many of you have probably already guessed that this placement gave the plant a death sentence. Yes. I know now. I did that but I'd wanted it to live with my most cherished possessions—my books. I just didn't know any better.

I don't recall how long I strung that plant's life out for, but I do remember how much my mother hated that plant. 

When I told her I was going to write a post about it here on my blog, she remembered that "damn thing" well. For many years my Grandma Ila had collected cacti and succulents and my mother had always found her mother's groupings—alway in mismatched kitschy planters—to be tacky. As a kid I'd found the whole setup quirky and exotic—not at all like the oatmeal palace my mom had made for us. Her worst nightmare was that I might end up being like her mother. Maybe I did end up a little bit like her, but like all good kids, I'm a lot like a lot of people and I'm myself too. 

My cactus had not been picked at random. For a time I'd admired it at the store and I was fascinated that something so cute could have such painful spines. That trigger in my imagination made me create all kinds of stories about it and one of those was the idea that it would protect me but that makes little sense now to my adult mind. 

Before the Old Man cactus entered my room I knew little of about caring for cacti. There must have been books about gardening for children but at that time I was hooked on mysteries, mythology and the classical texts my dad passed on for me to read. If I'd asked for a gardening book back then I think both of my parents would have chuckled. The fact those are what I mostly own now, and that the books are all over my home doesn't surprise my parents at all nowadays—not even a bit. Funny how we grow. 

When the plant finally rotted I must admit that I felt a bit defeated. One day it quietly disappeared from the shelf in my room and my mom and I didn't talk about it. She hated looking at it and I felt badly that I'd failed. 

It wasn't until high school that I started growing houseplants again, and that time, I quickly succeeded with the basics and felt some mastery. During college my collection continued to grow, and my mom bought me more plants, and I still have a few around the house that I've owned for nearly 20 years. 

This little fuzzy guy is set to have a long life with me now—I hope.

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It's a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I'm starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It's just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

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