A Plant Story – the plant in our family tree

Our family tree includes a plant.  Once lush with many shiny, leathery green leaves, my now straggly, not-so-attractive Hoya plant has a 3 generation history. It began as a cutting from a plant of my mom’s, her plant being a cutting from my paternal grandfather’s. Grandpa’s plant, of unknown origins and age, covered the entire ceiling of an enclosed back porch in the farm house where my dad and his siblings grew up. Mom’s plant moved east with us when I was 5, living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and eventually coming back to Washington with my parents.  At some point in my 20s I began my plant, now over 40 yrs. old. Not sure how long mom’s lived. Her’s began to have mealy bug problems in its/her later years, and though she still had a Hoya in her 90s, when she moved from her house, it may not have been her original.

My plant, though dropping lots of leaves, continues to bloom pale pink velvety stars, with centers of  red centered pale yellow stars.

The plant genus Hoya was named after Thomas Hoy, a respected plant biologist and propagator in England in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Hoyas grow in the wild throughout Asia, especially India, some species are also found in Australia. The soft velvety pale pink variety of our family plant is Hoya carnosa, and though it is sometimes called Wax Plant, I’ve never heard anyone in my family call it that. I would call it velvet plant, the pink stars so fuzzy you want to pet them, but if you do you will get sticky fingers from the sweet nectar, which is very tasty! Hoya carnosa is said to have been cultivated for 200 years. If I add up the age of my plant, my mom’s, and think of how long ago Grandpa started his, I estimate the Hubbard plant is from a very early cultivator!

Being a tropical vine, it is “natural” for the plant to get “viney”,  and perhaps drop lower leaves as it adds new growth. Over the years I’ve cut out old dead vines and it has responded by increased new leaves and blooms further up the vines. Not having a tropical forest to climb up through, its vines, trained back on themselves around a trellis, made a visual mass of evergreen leaves when it had more leaves. Hoyas are easy to grow, survivors of many conditions, not wanting too much water or attention, but often tricky to get to bloom. Someone once gave me a Hoya they had that never bloomed, I kept it for years but never could get it to bloom.  I was taught they must be root bound to bloom, perhaps blooming when stressed.  Mine has always bloomed, regardless of where it is located. I’m thinking of cutting my plant back, even re-potting it, which will mean no blooms for possibly years, but it has sent up a few new leaves from its base, a hopeful sign.

Aunt Jackie’s second generation Hoya growing in the same house Grandpa grew his. She has not let hers cover the ceiling however! (thank you Shaun Hubbard for the photo)

So what happened to Grandpa’s plant?  My cousin Shaun tells me when her parents, my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Jackie, who own the original farm house, moved the house in the 60s the plant went to a hair salon where my cousin Laurie was working at the time. Aunt Jackie took cuttings and when the old enclosed porch was remodeled into a room, Aunt Jackie’s second generation plant was reinstalled, where it continues to grow today.  Over 90 herself, Jackie continues to pass out cuttings from her second generation plant, as grandpa did with the original plant. There are no doubt extended family Hubbard Hoya plants in the homes of many family members and friends. (Any cousins reading this who have their own Hoya story, I’d love to hear it!)

When I do cut back my plant, I have someone in mind to pass a cutting on to, who I think will nurture the cutting into a fourth generation plant. And if my cutting doesn’t make it…..there’s always Aunt Jackie’s!

Rhododendron rainbows – it’s a family thing!

This bright yellow rhody is in our back yard, actually it IS our backyard! So bright, it seems to glow even at night.

Here in maritime Northwest rhododendrons are ubiquitous this time of year. The tiniest little ramshackle house, hidden behind a huge plain green bush eleven months of the year, barely noticed, suddenly is eye-poppingly beautiful when covered with huge bright red or pink blooms.  I didn’t intend to be a “Rhody” person.  A fan of pollinators, I find rhododendrons are not that useful to most pollinators – hummingbirds and butterflies have no interest in them and bees seem picky, liking some varieties but not others.  Highly hybridized, most plants have one big showy spring bloom then sit quietly in their evergreen garb the rest of the year, blending into the landscape.  But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate their abundance of color and have loved individual plants as though they were pets.  It must be a family trait, both my parents loved rhododendrons, and one of my brothers has planted many here on family property, late-blooming varieties and ones known for their unique foliage.

A new & current favorite, this variegated peach colored rhody is in a pot where we lost to drought a 20+ year old, hot pink rhody.  I still miss it, a favorite, it consumed our front steps,  greeting us coming and going.

This year, a more typical northwest spring than we’ve had for several years, has made apparent one primary value of rhododendrons – in spite of cold, gray, wet weather, front yards and public parks everywhere are lit with the bright hues of rhodies. People make their annual pilgrimages to the many public rhododendron gardens to enjoy this rhododendron festival of color.

A small rhododendron, grows only about 18″ tall.

That’s how we (Mike is especially enamored by their colors) became rhody people. Living 15 minutes from Whitney Gardens, a second generation family rhododendron garden and nursery, we go to soak up the color of the giant, tree size blooming bushes. Caught up in the color bonanza, we buy one, or maybe two, with little thought as to where we will plant them. Alone I can resist, but Mike is powerless when surrounded by all those shades of purple, lavender, salmon, pinks, red, oranges, yellows – a rainbow of rhodies. And if they are a scented variety, he swoons. Ok, I swoon too. (note: we have not made that pilgrimage this year, and if we do, we’ll have more self control as we just planted 5 small Pacific Rhododendron starts, Washington’s state flower.)

Pacific Rhododendron, Washington State flower, less abundant but still found in many wild places.

Rhododendrons were first “discovered” by Europeans in the Himalayan Mountains and other mountainous regions of Southeast Asia , where hundreds of varieties are native. They are the national flower of Nepal, where they grow abundantly.  Archibald Menzies “discovered” the Pacific rhododendron in 1792, though they were certainly already known to native people. (An interesting paper on the history of the Pacific Rhododendron is found here.)  Rhododendron leaves are highly toxic (though I had a Jersey cow, Daisy, who ate some and seemed unaffected, but I wouldn’t recommend it). In traditional cultures wherever they grow wild, rhododendron leaves have been used as poultices for arthritis pain and headaches.

in spite of thick leathery leaves, occasionally some bug finds one that is tasty.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized to have many colors, scents, leaf color and shape variations, to grow to different heights, and bloom at different times, from the winter blooming Christmas Rhody to ones that bloom in June.  The ones we grow bloom early to mid-spring. Except for a rare bug nibble, the primary pest problem we’ve had are mountain beavers who chew off branches and carry them to their dens, where we find piles of branches. This has done serious damage some years, one young bush completely ‘harvested’ to the ground.  Larger bushes are “pruned”, not at all aesthetically, destroying many buds. We’ve also lost a few bushes to drought. But in our woodsy environment most thrive and have long lives. Shallow rooted, though we give them big planting holes with lots of “good” soil, as long as they get some leaf mulch, they seem to tolerate our clay soil.

This is our Christmas rhody, the first to bloom, though not at Christmas where we live.

Rhododendrons come in all sizes, some can be pot grown, some like more sun, others more shade, many different bloom “styles” appeal to people’s personal sense of what makes a pretty flower, and you can probably find one in your favorite color.  I highly recommend, if your climate is right, growing rhodies for the pure benefit of color therapy, especially wonderful on a gray spring day.

Mom and I, squinting in the sun in front of a huge rhododendron at her house in Seattle. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, you live on in spirit in the many flowers we both love!

The rest of the year rhododendron’s shiny forever-green leaves remind us of eternal life.   I’m quite sure whatever corner of heaven my parents are hanging out in, they have planted rhododendrons!

 

Loving the gone-wild ones!

While admiring pictures in herb books of neat, organized, bountiful gardens, I get heartache and desire as I view past the book at our weedy yard and over grown garden. I ponder how the “Herbal Immersion Course” I’m taking has exasperated my frustrations about clay soil, forest shade, an endless “army” of slugs, and most of all, my own physical limitations that have thwarted garden dreams for decades, dreams of bouquets from abundant cut flowers, baskets brimming with vegetables, herbs, etc. Every spring I foolishly get hopeful as Mike finds time to help with the heavy digging and weeding, then moves on to higher priorities like firewood and house repairs. Oh, I’ve had harvest baskets, some years veggies miraculously did very well, especially when there was less shade, and as I mention below, some herbs grow like weeds. Bouquets are plentiful during the short bloom season of our profuse old fashion bush and climbing roses, and hardy nasturtiums keep color alive all summer. But gardening for me, on this land, has for the most part become a process of default, not choice, not dream gardens. If it survives….hurray! If it thrives and multiplies, hallelujah! I’ve resigned my garden philosophy to the sentiment expressed in the Rolling Stone song…“You can’t always get what you want….but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.”

Gazing past the pages of gorgeous lush gardens, I see plants I didn’t plant (many called “weeds”) buzzing with pollinators, watch a chipmunk munching on a seed pod or berry (they also have a taste for pea vines and beet sprouts), and see many plants growing in abundance that are indeed just what we need!  It is a lush sight, but not neat and tidy. Messy gardening is what I call it!

Here are a few of our “resident” plants who, in their abundance, practically scream at us….“here we are, use us!” Perhaps you have them too!

IMG_5381Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, which I planted probably 35 years ago, literally grows everywhere – around our house foundation, in the garden, in the backyard, across the driveway, down the driveway – you get the picture.  It is antiviral, making it a good choice to add to teas for colds and flues and an excellent tea for calming nerves. Though I’ve never found it effective for chronic insomnia by itself, it can be used for occasional sleeplessness and does make a nice evening tea.  One reason for my taking the herb class was to motivate myself to try new uses with these abundant plants we already have, so my first new use of Lemon Balm was a lemon balm and apple mint hydrosol*, very refreshing to use as a skin spritzer or in water to drink on hot day to calm and lift spirits.  And it was fun to make! I plan to try a lemon balm glycerite, a tincture to extract the medicinal constituents using vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol, (which, for me, might be more effective for sleep as it is  more concentrated than tea).  I’ve put lemon balm in various recipes such as my cauliflower hummus to add both flavor and the beneficial properties of the plant. There are many internet sources for information on Lemon Balm, lemon balm recipes, etc.  A good general information one is Herbrally.

Apple mint, Mentha suaveolens, another plant that has “gone wild” here, was the mint IMG_5378of my childhood. My original plant here was given to me by a volunteer at the visitor center where I worked. She and I developed a friendship around our mutual love of plants. Sadly, she died of cancer a few years after we met. This lovely mint-gone-wild reminds me of her and her warning that it would grow everywhere!  Over the years I’ve often ignored apple mint in favor of “true” peppermint, though pollinators of all kinds love it.  It is a more calming mint than peppermint so I use it in evening teas, and though many sources say it’s large, soft, fuzzy leaves aren’t as “acceptable” as the daintier peppermint leaves in culinary use, I find the milder flavor blends in more and doesn’t give that strong peppermint zing when you don’t want it!  I like adding it to grain salads, and due to its calming properties, will add it to my lemon balm glycerite for flavor and medicinal benefits.

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Plantain leaves washed and ready to dry, to remove moisture before making an oil infusion.

13533167_10206899128817401_8443144441246995934_nPlantain, an under appreciated “weed” plant, is huge in our yard this year! I harvested a small batch for my first exploration into making a healing salve and told Mike, who gets cuts and scrapes a lot, about using a fresh leaf poultice to quickly stop bleeding and speed healing. In the past I used the leaves for this purpose all the time and would hunt around for a plant, this year it is growing everywhere!  It has multiple medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory. The plant tannins  help draw tissues together and allantoin stops bleeding and  promotes healing of injured skin cells. It is used to sooth bug bites and a recent raid on my body by mosquitoes gave me an opportunity to test this. A strong tea, cooled and dabbed on the bites stopped the itching for a better night’s sleep. If applied immediately, it can draw out the toxins of a bug bite and even be used to draw out a splinter! According to Rosemary Gladstar, you soak the splintered finger in plantain tea, then apply a poultice of crushed leaf under a band-aid, keep reapplying a fresh poultice until the splinter comes to the surface and can be removed. I plan on trying this next time one of us gets deep-seated splinter! Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, plantain has many first-aide uses. There are two varieties of Plantain, lance-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major) and they both contain these medicinal benefits. Here is a story of Plantain’s healing benefits along with a recipe on how to make a Plantain oil: First Aid in Your Backyard.

IMG_5384BorageBorago officinalis, has grown in our garden for decades, any attempt to invite it to grow outside the garden has failed. In early summer I reluctantly pull up many new plants, but always leave too many, forgetting how BIG it becomes! When in bloom, it makes for such happy bees, I do not have the heart to pull more. I use the beautiful blue blooms in salads and to garnish desserts, but honestly, that isn’t often enough given the abundance of Borage in our garden. I let it grow for the bees, and because I love looking at the little star flowers, the same reasons it has been given the names “bee bush” and “star flower”. This year it is on my list of plants to discover “why is it here, why do we need it?” I’ve begun my research and learned of its nutritional value and plan on using the leaves in recipes. Though it has little thorns on the leaves and stems, when chopped and added to stir fries and other dishes, the thorns disappear.  The leaves maintain a beautiful dark green color when cooked.  Used as a food in Europe more than in the US, it’s medicinal benefits have also been well researched in Europe.  It has beneficial constituents for the digestive system, lungs, urinary system and heart. Sounds like we need to be eating it more!

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A finishing salt made during a workshop at a conference on plants in the Northwest includes Douglas Fir needles, dock seeds, and Nootka rose petals along with garden plants like Calendula.

There are other plants that grow themselves with little assistance on our part in this wild, “messy” spot of earth we call home. Plants that seem to be calling for a closer relationship include Burdock, Calendula, feverfew, violets (past their prime for this year), honeysuckle, a hawthorn tree (past the medicinal flower stage, but looking forward to the berry harvest to make syrups and tinctures which are excellent for the heart), and many more.  At a recent herbal conference about medicinal plants in our Northwest bio-region we learned of the medicinal and culinary uses of Douglas Fir needles, the most dominated conifer surrounding us.  I’ve long been aware of the medicinal properties of many of native Northwest plants, such as nettles and Oregon grape, but it never occurred to me to look up to the trees!

All this wild abundance, both native and introduced, makes the view past the pages with the pretty gardens more exciting and hopeful!  Stay tuned as I learn to love the ‘wild things’ even more and find out they are just what we need to stay healthy!

Resources:

There are many fine books and resources in the world of herbal medicine, I mentioned a few in a previous post. Here are a few more.

Any book by Rosemary Gladstar is worth having if you are interested in herbs. Her most recent book is packed with information and recipes: Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow and Use 

Juliet Blankespoor is the founder of The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and the course I am taking. She is soon to have a book out and her blog is full of fun and useful articles: Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Blog.

In the Northwest region, Ryan Drum is a gem of information and has many detail articles about specific conditions and plants on his web site: Ryan Drum

* Hydrosols, also called floral waters, or distillates, are usually the by-product of distilling plant material to make an essential oil. A simple stove-top distillation process will produce a scented water less intense than an essential oil, thus making it usable in ways an essential oil could not be used. My first hydrosol was with wild Nootka rose petals and rose petals from our vintage rose bushes. The results was heavenly, as was the lemon balm/apple mint water! See below for basic directions on how to make a floral water, you can also find many articles on-line, just search for “stove top herb distillation.”

Stove top

Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

Morning in Paradise & Forget-me-nots

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Peach Tree

Wow! If you are living in western Washington this first day of April, Nature is ‘fooling’ us in the most pleasant way…with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, weather that makes one open the curtains and look forward to the day! I opened my curtains to see two Stellar Jays in the peach tree. Our lone Jay has found his mate for the year. Their bright blue feathers amongst the pink petals was a colorful portrait of spring love!

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Abby and I went for an early morning walk, the blue skies beckoning us out. This is the phase of spring for flowering bushes and trees and some of the humbler flowers, such as forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts, both the wild and domestic. The ‘humble’ flowers are the ones no one has hybridized into hundreds of varieties with rainbows of color, nor do they have festivals and shows to glorify them, but they are often favorites of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Living in a woodsy environment, I appreciate the humble ones, they tend to be hardy, less fussy, and reliable.

IMG_4685Come with me on my morning walk and let me tell you about the ‘blues’, the forget-me-nots that grow everywhere in our yard, a few sneaking into the woods and joining the wild bleeding hearts.

 

The flowering current bush in it's glory outside my bedroom window, about 8' tall!

The flowering currant bush in it’s glory outside my bedroom window, about 8′ tall!

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Forget-me-nots are in the plant family Borage, genus Myosotis,  There seems to be disagreements as to their character traits. They are mentioned as being annual, biannual, and perennial (I always thought the annual ones different from the perennial ones). They re-seed easily the same year, new plants growing late summer and fall for the following spring. But the seeds, which can stay dormant for decades if necessary, also grow new plants in the spring. Some sources say their origin is New Zealand, others claim they hail from the mountains of Europe. One reference stated there was a native North American species but I could not confirm that. Seeds of many plants hitched rides early in European settlement of the New World, so confusion as to whether they were here already or caught an early boat is understandable.

IMG_4696Not all who study them agree on the number of species, 50 seems an average. Apparently it is difficult to tell many of the species apart. There is agreement that forget-me-nots like to grow in damp woodland areas. I find this true, when they grow in drier corners of our yard they get yellowish leaves and dry out. Their bloom season here begins in March and they bloom well into summer, the dainty little blue flowers blooming up the stock as it grows taller and gets “gangalier” I often pull some of them mid-summer, when there is more leaf and stem then flowers, letting them reseed with new ‘fresh’ plants. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and though a few in a salad is ok, caution should be taken for internal consumption. 

Another spring bush adding vivid color to our morning walk is this quince

Another spring bush adding bright color to our morning walk is this flowering quince

Whether native or not, they quickly become ‘wild’ flowers, in a more polite, not so invasive way as other ‘invaders’, such as non-native buttercup. One article said they were ‘invasive and hard to control’, suggesting the use of a herbicide. Yikes! I appreciate that they return every year, sometimes in the same places, sometimes showing up in new corners of the yard or garden. Should they appear where they aren’t welcome, they are easily removed by pulling, coming out ‘clean’, leaving no root pieces or runners, (as compared to morning-glory which is very invasive!).

There are many delightful stories as to the origin of their name, some are in the Wikipedia listing, other stories, both true and fanciful, can be found on other web sites. They are the Alaska state flower, the one place they are ‘glorified’ with a festival! I appreciate not only their reliability, but their color, blue being under-represented in the flower world and a delightful addition to spring color. That’s what makes them unforgettable!

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our 'chicken coop' garden

our ‘chicken coop’ garden

Bleeding heart, both the wild and domestic, is also beginning to bloom. Last year our big plant was eaten by deer for the first time, so this year I divided it and put half in our new, tiny, “chicken-coop” garden, created in a now empty back-yard chicken coop. It is happy in it’s new home, and with other deer and mountain beaver treats, very protected! The plant remaining ‘outside’ has been sprayed with a commercial deterrent of garlic, eggs, etc. So far it is happy too!

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Wild bleeding heart, which I’ve written about before because it carpets the woods here for the next two months, is just beginning to bloom.

Early morning walks are not just for people and dogs enjoying the flora and blue skies, but for ants looking for a drink!

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Pear tree

Pear tree

Hope you enjoyed this walk-about and seeing some of what is blooming this first day of April here in our woodsy paradise!  Abby and I will be enjoying the day in the garden and sitting in the back yard under our ‘ancient’  little pear tree!

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Raised bed in the backyard, with blooming blue plumonaria, primroses, including a purple denticulata, and bleeding heart. Other perennials just beginning to grow include columbines and geums. Sweet woodruff will fill in the blanks!

Fall, the time of molt

“In September the birds were quiet. They were molting in the valley, the mockingbird in the spruce, the sparrow in the mock orange, the doves in the cedar by the creek. Everywhere I walked the ground was littered with shed feathers, long, colorful primaries, and shaftless white down. I garnered this weightless crop in pockets all month long and inserted the feathers one by one into the frame of a wall mirror.” Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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I too collect feathers, as no doubt many of you do. Forty years living with chickens and ducks, I notice not only the wild bird feathers of fall in the woods, but feathers piled and scattered throughout the coops. This shedding of feathers starts in the heat of late summer. By the October rains, Thanksgiving at the latest, fresh feathers are in place for winter.

Missing their primary wing feathers and the under feathers more explosed, our muscovies are reserved and caution, not able to fly as well. Here they are listening to a predator bird, full alert.

Missing their primary wing feathers, exposing the feathers underneath, and less able to fly, our muscovies are reserved and cautious.  Here they are listening to a predator bird overhead, full alert.

Our two Muscovies have been less active lately, choosing to stay in their coop even when the door is open. Growing new feathers requires energy. I’ve noticed in years past older or unhealthy birds often don’t grow back all their feathers.

In my recent cleaning out of ‘stuff’, I sorted my feather collection, decided to keep less, and tossed the rest. I’ve been molting too, my feathers and more.

The purpose of molting is to make way for new growth. When new feathers grow back on birds they are fresh, clean, perfect, without damage. How wonderful to have a part of your body rejuvenate itself in this manner! Our bodies rejuvenate. Some cells last only a few days, others years, (though apparently our cerebell cortex cells, cells in the inner eye, and the heart cells last a life time.) It would be nice if our rejuvenation, a more stuble process, made us look as fresh as a bird with new feathers!

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Fall, the time of the molt, is a time to reserve one’s energy resources, to nurture ourselves. Plants send their ‘juices’ deep into the ground to be stored through the winter in roots until needed for new growth, which mostly occurs in the spring.

In Ayurveda fall is the Vata time of year. From an article on the Banyan Botanicals web site about fall foods and herbs that nourish us this time of year, “Fall is a time of transition. It is evident everywhere around you. Many trees and shrubs are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter.” It is the season of the elements air and either.

Foods that help balance us during this time are those of the elements earth and water, foods of the fall harvest such as winter squashes, pumpkins, parsnips, root vegetables – grounding foods.

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Enjoy this time of harvest, fall color, molting, rejuvenation. Conserve your energies, prepare for new growth in your life!

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Note: My last post had less readers, no web site comments and only one email commenting on it. It may have been too wordy, too philosophical, maybe it just plain didn’t make sense! The famous poet John Lydgate, (a quote later adapted by President Lincoln) said “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. My expectations are modest, some of the people some of the time would be great! I blog because I like to write and to have a purpose for sitting to write.  After 8 years of blogging, it’s a good time to take stock of what people would like to read and see here. I would love feedback on what readers enjoy from my blog.

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Mother’s Garden Love Affair

IMG_6842In her tiny yard on Queen Anne Hill, Mom tended many flowers & a few veggies. (Pardon the redundancy to those who read my fb page. This is the ‘long’ version).  She was particularly fond of her roses, but loved all flowers and tended and fussed over lilacs, rhododendrons, Gerber daisies, pansies, tulips, daffodils and many more. A black-bearded iris was a favorite, she wanted me to dig it and take it when she knew she would not be living in her house much longer. DSC02162If you took her to a nursery she’d inevitably buy something and squeeze it in somewhere. If a plant died she asked to stop at a nursery so she could buy a replacement. A planter on the porch changed with the seasons. A spring ritual was the purchasing and planting of twin red geraniums along with little blue flowers in two planters on each side of the entrance to the basement stairs. Little lavender, pink and white flowers whose names I’ve forgotten (but she remembered!) re-seeded each year to her delight. IMG_1296 (1)Late in life she had to hire someone to keep up the yard up. Initially he replaced some of her flowers with more practical bushes and low maintenance plants, including lavender. Mom was not a lavender person, she had never grown it. With resolve she accepted it in the garden, but did not care for the scent in the house. The yard began to look raggedy, in the last year she lived in her home a neighbor complained to me about it. To me her yard was like those you see in every neighborhood, the yards of the aging, frail or ill, once tended with love, now aging with their owners. But years of planting and caring paid off as the perennials, old friends, returned each year for her to enjoy. IMG_1259 (1)

DSC08014 When she would visit us she always brought something from her yard, a rose, a sprig of lilac. Even when walking became difficult, her body hunched, she would walk her yard and pick a tiny nosegay for her table and one for the small vase I gave her that hung on her refrigerator door on a magnet. A huge dusty miller plant provided the ‘filler’ in every bouquet.

Inside, in the atrium off the living room, which was warm and bright on sunny days, there were more plants.  Multiple Christmas caucuses, a large hibiscus in the corner, the family Hoya, root bound and blooming at least once a year, spider plants, and various misc. plants. Plants also resided in the living room, where a gorgeous red prayer plant cascaded down off her marble table. In the dining room she attended to her African violets. She had a special fondness for orchids and grew a few.

IMG_0661.JPGTwo yrs. ago was our last trip to Volunteer Park Botanical Gardens where she loved to see the orchids.   Mom was not a plant aficionado, but she had her own quaint ways of making things grow, she read the newspaper articles about roses and other plants, watched Gardening with Cisco on TV, and she knew there was always room for one more plant to nurture. My wise cousin wrote to me today “All women are mothers — of someone they love. We can’t help it, we learned from the best!”  I don’t remember ‘learning’ it from my mom, but loving and appreciating plants have always been part of my life, from her encouragement of my childhood pansy beds to our trips in recent years to Whitney Rhododendron Gardens and Bloedel Reserve. Yes, I learned from my mom to love and nurture plants, and like her, I find there is always room for one more.

On this Mother’s Day I’m sure mom is puttering around a heavenly cottage garden, delighting in the vivid, colorful blossoms! Happy Mother’s Day to all the remarkable mother’s I know. I hope your day is filled with blossoms of love and appreciation.

(Mom was proud of her tulip tree, which she thought both beautiful and a bother when it blocked the view of the renter downstairs or dropped its petals & leaves on other plants. Every few years it was cut to the quick, but always came back with even more blooms!) DSC06278

Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

Meet my little friend Pulmonaria

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Blue Ensign Pulmonaria

 One of my early thoughts after being diagnosed with cancer, among the fears, anger and bewilderment, was “I don’t think I’ll be so ‘into’ spring this year.” I felt cheated by this thought. Cancer has a way of forcing itself front and center, diminishing the importance of everything else in life. But it turns out Spring trumps cancer, at least for me, and I hope for others I know challenged by the demands of cancer or other serious health issues.

There are no answers, I’ve looked and asked, to the cancer questions that run amok in my mind.  Is it gone? Did the surgery get it all? Will it return? Soon? Later? Are the protocols and supplements I’m doing going to work to ‘mop’ up any left over cells or prevent re-occurrence?  With no answers, the questions get boring.  And when compared to the daily evolution of brilliant greens, bright colors, bird songs and courtships going on in our yard……Nature wins, it is a much better show!

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So let me introduce you to a little plant I love that grabs my attention every time I step outside. Some of you may be familiar with Pulmonaria officinalis or Lungwort.  I highly recommend it for those who want the satisfaction of early spring color, regardless of the weather.  Like primulas, Pulmonaria is an early bloomer, is very happy with shade or partial sun, and though garden books say it does best in rich soil, in my experience it is quite happy in clay soil, maybe not as prolific as it could be, but happy, because it also likes moisture and if you grow it in soil that drains well it will need a lot of watering.  My Pulmonarias seem to need, and get, no care, but magically reappear each spring.

The Latin and common name both indicate the traditional use of the plant in herbal medicine. It was used to treat lung conditions such as bronchial infections, asthma, coughs, etc.  Modern herbal medicine does not recommend internal use of Pumonaria due to a toxic alkaloid found in the plant.  It still has a use externally for wounds, burns, and other skin treatments.

A hardy perennial, it is a rhizome plant best propagated by plant division.  Although it does produce seeds they are difficult to germinate.

If you love plants that bring visions of old cottage gardens, this is the time of year to scour nurseries for Lungwort in shades of pinks, blues, and white. There is also variety in leaf color, adding interesting foliage to a garden even after the plant has bloomed.

You were looking for a reason to go nursery shopping weren’t you?

Whoops! Forgot to mention – one of the most dear proof plants!

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The Big Harvest

six different veggies & flowers for the table, a harvest to share!

The definition of  the word harvest includes the phrase, “the season’s yield”.  This brings to mind philosophical thoughts, such as – what are the yields of the seasons of our lives?  This morning I enjoyed a tiny harvest from our small garden. For those with big gardens, lots of sun, great soil, and able bodies, eating out of the garden and having a bountiful harvest is part of everyday life throughout the summer and fall, the harvest seasons.  My physical challenges, and our solar challenged site, make our few beds, (raised for easier accessibility) of compost and store-bought soil to augment our ‘native’ clay, produce far less than the gardens of my dreams. However, this morning was no less joyous when I harvested enough veggies to make dinner for company.

One of life’s most essential lessons is to appreciate the gifts we receive, even when things don’t turn out as we’d planned…..or hoped for.  I have learned this lesson many times, at each turn in the journey that went a different direction than expected.  The dreams of my youth included living on a farm; the dreams of my young adulthood included self-sufficiency, with plenty to share. The reality of my ‘mature’ years is a small little plot to enjoy the thrill of eating a carrot freshly pulled and peas just picked.

This may be my ‘big harvest’, the only meal all season made entirely from the yield of our garden, (usually supplementation from local organic farms is needed), but for this one meal, this one day, I feel blessed with abundance and taste the satisfaction of my dreams being fulfilled…..with enough to share.

May your harvest be plentiful!

Footnote: So what’s on the menu with this gathering of veggies?  Quinoa with chopped carrots, beets and zucchini, cooked with spices and served with a tahini sauce;  steamed beet greens; and salad.  Also from the garden will be chives to garnish the quinoa dish, nasturtiums to add more color and pizzazz to the salad, mint and lemon balm tea.