Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stalking the Bramble

With the entrance of Scorpio, we're high into pie season and swiftly running down the bramble for berries.  Blackberries, late Raspberries, Black Raspberries, are our early fall ambassadors of the harvest to come, providing barbarous segue from summer nights to autumn mornings, flaunting dark berries ripe with juice; tangled, fat, and heavy.  It's the memory of near-fermented sugar in the mouth that tempts delicate trespass into a never- welcoming thicket, usually the first you see along the side of the road.  This time, a berry round-up was planned with like-minded conspirators.

My sister-in-law and I visited her best friend Jim near his 1-year anniversary of Hagg Lake property ownership.  If you've never been to Henry Hagg Lake, and I never had, it's 25 miles Southwest of Portland, sitting at the base of Oregon's coastal range in Gaston, Oregon.  Well, we were not on the lake but well above it, overlooking the 11 miles of shoreline while we explored some of the newly forested property near the high point, just past the giant boundary tree, a sentimental Douglas Fir oozing fresh sap in time with the changing beauty.

photo by Jim

Too close to sunset, we thought, we headed down into the hidden valley flanking the treeline to the West.  And there we stalked the bramble, arching our fingers to avoid conspicuous thorns, stepping delicately on the slippery mash of rotting bramble, leaves, and creek mud.  Trying not to fall because there is nothing to hold onto.  And if you do fall, the thorny bramble holds you in an unfriendly way.  Amid the drizzle, we worked our fingers sore filling empty collanders with our spoils.  I only fell once.  Falling was an education on how far I could safely reach, which meant leaving many a taunting arch full of gold star standards to hang heavy, waiting for the birds of tomorrow.

photo by Jim

As the dusk fell down upon us, we made our way back to a warmly lit home where Jim made us fresh blackberry pie.  It was so good!  He has graciously allowed me to share the recipe here.  It makes some of the prettiest napkin stains.    

photo by Jeni

From the Williams-Sonoma book: "Essentials of Baking". Master Recipe: Flaky Pie Pastry (with additional comments and alterations by Jim)

For double crust pie

2/3 cup cold unsalted butter (salted is ok too) (1 stick plus 1/6 cup)
6 Tbs cold vegetable shortening.  (I use Earth Balance)
2 2/3 cups flour (I make one of the cups whole wheat flour but you don't have to)
2 Tbs sugar  (optional, but hey....of course I add that)
1/2 tsp salt  (but if you use salted butter you can skip this)
8 Tbs ice water  (you might have to add more but add carefully)

Cut the butter and shortening into 3/4 inch pieces.

Using a Stand Mixer:

In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.
Mix on low speed until blended, about 10 seconds.
Turn off mixer and add the butter and shortening and then continue mixing on slow speed just until
the mixture forms large peas, about 20 seconds.
Add the ice water 1 Tbs at a time, and mix on low speed just until the mixture begins to hold together, about 20 seconds. (add a bit more ice water if needed)
The dough will form large clumps and pull away from the sides of the bowl, but will not form a ball.  To test, stop the mixer and squeeze a small piece of dough; it should hold together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface. (lightly floured)
For the double crust pie, divide the dough in half and form each half into a 6-inch disk.  Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, about an hour or for up to overnight.

Now get about 6 to 8 cups of blackberries together.  Some recipes call for insane amounts of sugar to be added to the blackberries.  I think a cup is more than enough.  Don't be afraid to adjust that to taste whenever you make this pie until you get it just right.  A cup is fine.  A bit more if you're feeling generous.  Add 1/4 cup of tapioca to thicken the berries and keep the juice under control.  If you don't have tapioca you can add 1/2 cup flour.  Add some cinnamon.  I just shake a bunch on there but cinnamon adds a nice flavor to the pie.

Note: I forget the tapioca from time to time.  It's not the end of the world but it makes for a super juicy pie.  I mean, when you cut the pie there will be a lot of juice.  If you do that, just carefully ladle out some of the excess and you'll be fine.

When you're ready to pull out the dough disks and roll out the pie, pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out that crust, top and bottom.  Assemble using a standard pyrex 24 cm (9.5 inch) glass pie dish. (lightly butter and flour inside)  Drop those berries in.   Put that top on and poke it with a fork a bunch of times to allow for venting.  Now slip that in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until golden brown and bubbly.

Yeah, that's all there is to it.  When done, carefully pull it out of the oven and let it cool for a bit on a rack.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream if you're feeling especially dangerous.

photo by Jim

photo by Jim

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Improving Water Efficiency in Lawns

There seem to be a couple of schools of thought on local lawns:  to have one or not to have one?  Some would say they're not environmentally friendly because of the high water demands on the commonly seeded perennial ryegrasses (Lolium perenne) to keep them looking good.  When well-watered and biannually fertilized, you're rewarded with lush, verdant grass that's great for toe-dipping on sunny, 75-degree days.  But are lawns a good choice in a time of increased water-consciousness and with the availability of less-thirsty lawn alternatives?  Is there such a thing as an environmentally-friendly lawn?  I say yes.  With lawns, you can have it both ways!  But it's not going to be seeded primarily with ryegrass, and it's not going to be thatched and full of weeds.

If you've got thirsty grass growing on a slow-draining soil, and you're not committed to summer watering, your lawn probably looks like ours, yellow and patchy where the moss is drying out in the summer heat.  It's time for a renovation.  And here are our options.

Building and Installing a French Drain:

Water drainage in backyards is a common problem, especially in rainy climates like the Northwest. If your soil content is high in compacted clay particles, as is common in many areas of Portland, then your lawn likely suffers from excess water that literally has nowhere to go.

A "french drain" is essentially a trench that gets dug along the most common route where the water is getting backed up. A pipe is laid down under the ground so the water can freely flow out of your yard and into the street or sewer system.

If your drainage problems aren't significant enough to require  a french drain, you are lucky!  The following method of renovation is much easier, and should suit your needs.  Two local experts make the case for covering your lawn with a 1/4" - 1/2" thick layer of commercially available (not home composted) compost product, seeded with your lawn mix of preference, then top-dressed with 1/4"-minus crushed rock.  

Metro's Carl Grimm, here on KATU news:

Portland Water Bureau's Sarah Santner on a local garden show, offering the same solid advice.

Wishing you a successful renovation!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Foxtail Lilies, How I Love You!

Eremurus are one of those seldom seen plants in local nurseries.  They're never on a sales table for long, since the bloom photos are so enchanting.  They're available in fall as packaged "bulbs" and again in spring as 1-gallon starts, but they're a little spendy, so it was several years of coveting before I finally bought a couple.  I'm not one for fall-planting bareroot in my yard, I like to plant starts so I know what I'm getting.   

Some assumptions of their appearance and preferred environment can be made from the common names Foxtail Lily and Desert Candle.  The bloom time is relatively short, but so beautiful you will cry (if you already have that tendency) when you see them open for the first time.  When provided a warm, well-drained location with ample light, they will reward you with tall stems of fat, bottlebrush spikes that multiply as the plants age and grow.  They're perennials, so you'll have them for many seasons.

The flowers come in a variety of colors:  white, pink, pastel orange (creamsicle), yellow, and more?  I'm growing the cultivar 'Cleopatra', with low-growing rosettes of spear-like foliage that emerged a soft grey-green, turning to blue-grey, with stems 12 - 18" tall.  The flower spikes are several feet tall, so that the tops of the spikes are at eye-level when I'm standing next to them.  So beautiful!  And bumblebees looooove them. 

If you can give them what they need but you don't see them around, try mail order.  I've even seen them for sale on e-bay.  Weird.

Starfish shaped root bundles for Fall mail order

early Spring growth

July 3, 2011

Bumble Bee delight!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hello, my name is Tillandsia

You've seen these epiphytic airplants displayed in terrariums, vivariums, and on wood mountings in a la mode shops and restaurants throughout the Northwest, in Portland at Clyde Commons, Stumptown at the Ace Hotel, Solabee, New Seasons and more.  Magazine pages are press-hot with modern reintroduction efforts to convince you you want one.....they're strangely appealing, so easy to care for, au courant.   But what are they?  And where do they come from?  They look like plants from outer space, and they come from...the internet, of course.

Those of you in the Bay Area (or with internet access to the Bay Area), seek out Paxton Gate SF on Valencia to find a unique selection of hand-blown vases in miniature.  The Hudson vase is by far the coolest, if you can find it in stock.  It's a 3-inch globe with 3 tiny "legs", and is the perfect size to house a very miniature airplant.  It's inconspicuously alien, complementing a wide range of personal styles indoors.  And due to the persuasiveness of literature, it's selling like crazy.  SF neighbor Flora Grubb also sells them in her store. Her photos are up at

Not wanting to travel with much glass, I only bought one of each.  My friend Shae took the Hudson vase home to NC, and I took a cube vase home to Oregon.  Shae named her airplant Bubba, and put him in a place of honor in her home.  I named mine Mama, and she sits in the kitchen windowsill.  Until I get a picture of Bubba at home, you'll only be seeing Mama.  But know that the possibilities for your own airplant vase and display are many...

They don't require a lot of care.  Due to that fact, vendors will tell you you can't kill these, but you can.  So don't feel too badly if you do.  They're relatively inexpensive, and worth a second or third try.  The more research you do about the variety you purchae, the better success you'll have.  Not all Tillandsias are created equal.  But it's not completely inaccurate to generalize that most are happy with bright, indirect light and regular misting with or soaking in distilled or chlorine-free room temperature water. 

For a broader selection that what you'll find in stores, try ordering online from Rainforest Flora, at  It's where Miss Grubb, and likely the whole west coast gets theirs.  Call and ask for Aaron for a little expert advice on caring for your purchase.   

Mama in Cube Vase

Airplants don't need soil to survive

Weekly Soaking

Tillies with Blue Coral Climbers

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carnivorous Plants

Sorry I've been away!  I had a great opportunity to stay with a good friend in San Francisco while she was there attending an NCORE conference.  Shae and I grew up together in NC, and haven't had many opportunities to visit each other since my family relocated nearly 20 years ago.  We met at age 11 when she moved into my neighborhood, transferring schools in the fourth grade.  Both of us had pink plastic glasses that were too big for our face (as were common in the 80's), shared equal passions for clothes and candy, and were fiercely independent in a 4th-grade dependent sort of way.  Our friendship was immediate and has lasted more than 2 decades despite our living on opposite coasts for nearly half that time.  Across the miles and the years our lives have paralleled enough that we still tune to compatible frequencies.  So this was a must!  To learn more about NCORE and what brought us to SF in the first place, follow the link below.

I'll post more on our SF adventures, but today am focusing on carnivorous plants, some amazing specimens of which are housed at Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers.  Nepenthes and Venus Fly Traps were both on view.  I don't recall seeing my favorite, the Sarracenias - also called Cobra Lilies, but found each atrium mind-blowingly cool, though literally warm enough that jackets had to be removed to avoid passing out.

For anyone new to carnivorous plants, this short little video is a succintly great primer.

People are fascinated by the carnivorous nature of these plants!  During my Urban Flora days we sold lots of the Nepenthes, but for reasons I don't recall never had many of the Sarracenias on hand. So I was delighted to see Xera Plants peddling a few small, striking cultivars at close-in retail locations such as Portland Nursery and Pistils this spring. The species' small statures make them perfect for home terrariums, windowsills, or small bog gardens.  Here's one I put together for our upstairs window table.

Hanging in the photo below is one of the amazing Nepenthes specimens from the Conservatory of Flowers.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit, go!  I'd read mixed reviews, and so went in expecting to be less than impressed and was pleasantly surprised at the incredible displays.  And for kicks, we sat down to an impromptu concert outside where a blond pixie punk in tattered organza sang from a low spot on the lawn in a soaring operatic voice while her companion provided violin accompaniment in city punk stretched earlobes and aftermath rags.  They had a good-sized crowd, held static by the immeasurable weight of heavy, low clouds on an incentive to mobilize.  We stayed long enough to cool off, and then were off to the next adventure.....


Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Fuels Your Garden?

When starting up garden projects, or before taking on an hour or two of weeding, it's important to have the proper fuel.  During winter and early spring when it's still cold, I can easily motivate for the promise of a glass of wine after the work is done.  But during summers and other random spells of warmth, all motivation is on ice.  I've recently become a regular consumer of Guayaki Yerba Mate's Enlighten Mint.  I love the brand but hate single-serving packaging, so as the weather warms up we'll make pitchers of it steeped with bulk-bagged dry leaves, and fresh orange-mint from the garden.  Nothing fuels our garden more effectively.  Last summer, I had two favorites:  a basil-honey lemonade, and a cranberry-honey Mate.  If you're a basil lover, you will probably LOVE the iced citrus combination.  But a garden isn't built on sugar alone.  There must be some caffeine somewhere!  This is Portland, afterall.

Last year I was fooled by the early appearance of late-spring warmth, and planted out our seedlings too early.  This year our cool temperatures are a little precocious, so in order to avoid an encore failure, I broke down and purchased veggie and herb starts from local nurseries.  I love the invitation of seed starting, the promise of something created from tiny, unpromising looking varied-color orbs and oblong shapes.

We're trying out a couple new Basil varieties this year, "Dani Lemon", and "Super Sweet Chen".  It's still early out for them if unprotected, so they're sitting under the sunny eaves next to the house for warmth and dryness.  We'll have another month to wait for lemonade from our own basil harvest.

Years (and years!) ago, I was hired by the Rob & Michelle Mitchell for one of my very first jobs, waiting tables in a small, friendly restaurant with Sundance quality food.  I still crave the roast chickens, spinach fettucine with mustard-alfredo sauce, and the espresso milkshakes.  I had my first honest experience with espresso there.  In a long-running joke, all glasses were tipped to the mouth with pinky fingers extended.  The lemonade was always a summer hit, and drinking it reminds me of the hilarious banter and pseudo-philosophical backroom exchanges between tables.

This is our favorite Basil Lemonade recipe, adapted from our friends now in San Diego, the Mitchell Clan.  You can see what they're up to these days at

Basil Honey Lemonade

12 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
7 oz. honey (add hot water to 2 C. to help it melt)
7 oz. sugar - or to taste, this may be too much if you don't have a sweet tooth 
(add hot water to 2 C. to help it melt)

Mix the above together, then add 10-1/2 C. cold water
Stir in 1/2 cup  firmly packed fresh basil leaves, torn (one .75-oz. pkg.)

*optional* garnish with fresh basil leaves and lemon or lime slices

courtesy of

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Glass Gardens No. 4

After a weekend spent weeding and mulching the yard (thankyou Grimm's for the fine, dark mulch), and another setting up some inexpensive drip irrigation hoses through the ornamental beds, I got to have some more fun with glass gardens.

I wanted to use up all the moss from my first collecting, and display other colorful characters recently brought home.  The trick is to get them situated before they've been around too long.

The little landscape painter seen here is housed in a wine decanter.  Last week I saw some pretty cool decanters in Kobo's Coffeehouse NW, selling for around $30.  The Scilla bulb now lives in this great beaker that I picked up at Paxton Gate in North PDX.  If you're ever over that way, they're worth checking out.  You can preview them here.

Let me know what you think!

Landscape Painter No.1

Landscape Painter No.2

Scilla without pebbles

Scilla with beach glass & coral

Friday, May 20, 2011

Falling in Love with China Blue

We have a new China Blue Vine, Holboellia coriacea.  A long delayed purchase recommended years ago by veteran nursery folks due to its polite and shade-tolerant, evergreen vining nature.  That, and the promise of lovely, unusual flowers in the 3rd or 4th spring (May) after planting, as well as blueish-purple, sweetly edible fruits in the fall.  Without buds, it could easily be mistaken for an evergreen Clematis variety.  However, if you come face to face with it in your plant searching, and let your eyes dwell on it a moment, you will recognize a delicate (non-aggressive) confidence in its twining, and a calmer demeanor.  I'm a fan of some types of Clematis, and have an 'Early Sensation' that is really enjoyed by all in view of it, but I swear you will detect a difference in China Blue.  

At least one cultivar is locally grown and sold (by Xera Nursery).  Both seem to come and go quickly from the local nurseries.  I've never seen more than a dozen plants in one location before, so if you're entertaining the adoption don't hesitate too long, or you'll be waiting another year for yours.  

So far it has enjoyed our morning sun location, sitting in rich, well-drained soil, and given regular water.  It's predicted to quickly fill our little trellis and provide a nice background for our columnar apple and surrounding daylilies.  It will attach itself to your trellis, no tying required.  And it's hardy to approximately 0 degrees F.  In order to ensure winter hardiness, bury it several inches deep at planting and mulch heavily in the fall.  And of course, let me know how yours does!

Newly Planted

Growing Quickly...

Backing up our Scarlet Sentinel


Problems with Terrariums

If you've ever made a terrarium, or are interested but haven't done it yet, you may have discovered or considered they're not always maintenance free.  Depending on the plants chosen, soil sterility at time of planting, size of your jar's opening, light exposure, etc... you may run into problems with grey mold, fungus gnats, slime, or inexplicably sad-looking plants.  Follow the link below for a really great Q&A providing advice on terrarium problems.  And don't let the problems discourage you.  You can always clean out your container and start over, but if you've had a bug or fungal problem try to sterilize your container before replanting.  Good luck!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Little Garden Birds

Though I often work in the presence/periphery of avid birders, I haven't yet caught the bug.  Thus far, my enjoyment of non-plant life has been ambient and generally inclusive.  My mom recently reminded me that while growing up I had strange pets:  hermit crabs, tadpoles, turtles, and rats.  That's what happens when you have 3 older brothers, who themselves had a strange menagerie of "pets".  Specifically, that's what happens when you have 3 older brothers, your backyard is woods, and your parents encourage outdoors discovery.

I'm pretty sure the tadpoles only lasted until they had legs.  They lived in a yellow notecard box, the type you own in elemetary school for word memorization.  At a slightly larger than 3 x 5 size, holding approximately 2 cups of water, I thought I'd provided them an adequate pool for their happiness.  But something larger than that little pool of public drinking water was calling them.  I watched their growth with fascination until one morning they were gone.  Though I searched all over for them, I never did find a trace.

Well, it's been years since I last had the responsibilities of a pet.  These days, in order to make my connection with the rest of life, I garden.  And the garden brings them in.  One by one, the neighborhood cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, birds, squirrels, mice, raccoons, bees, and more come calling.  They come for various reasons.  The chickens and ducks (our neighbors just brought home Runner Ducks) come to grub through the newly laid mulch.  Raccoons come stalking the chickens.  Flying birds come to bathe in the fountain and eat our dandelion seeds, vegetables, and greens.  Cats slink around, stalking the birds.  The squirrels come to plant walnuts and nest in the trees.  And mice live in the wood pile.

Females in the background / photo courtesy of
Lately, I've been making some very amateur observations of our avian friends.  Yesterday, I saw Lesser Goldfinches eating our Giant Winter Spinach, which surprised me for two reasons.  First, I had no idea little birds ate greens.  The second is that of course they eat greens.  So I read up on them a little and learned that they eat more than available seed when opportunity presents, preferring mashed boiled eggs, dried fruits, veggies, herbs / greens and even superfoods, such as bee pollen.

Lesser Goldfinches are found in much of North America, from Texas heading West.  Here's what the male looks like, the Willamette Valley species having a back more green than black.  They frequently forage urban and suburban gardens, so take a look outside today and you may meet one.
Photo courtesy of Squaw Creek

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Epiphyllum's Ephemeral Bloom

Saturday is the perfect day for Tiamat, our new Epiphyllum, to show off.  We're sitting over breakfast together for the first morning of the week, and there she is leaning towards us with a shocking fuchsia bloom called 'Dragon Heart'.  The bloom itself stretches 6 inches across by 6 inches high.  The weight of it bends her, but not to breaking.  We're both amazed at our little one.  The promise of the bloom was no exaggeration.

Tiamat is the all-birthing sea, the unconscious mind, ever-changing in form, the saltwater of blood and tears: elemental, both creative and destructive, neither evil nor good.  And certainly beautiful.  

If you've never owned an Epiphyllum, they're an easy and rewarding companion plant.  (By companion, I mean that the interaction with Epiphyllums is more personal than with many other plants.  Some you bring home, and they quietly hold up a corner of dappled light, but this one will always look like a guest.)  They are the "Orchid Cactus" or "Christmas Cactus" that used to be more commonly exchanged as household gifts.  Their short list of preferred conditions they easily adapt out of.  Discovered living in treetop debris in moderately warm, wet environments, they're considered tropical plants, but I've even had success growing them in the dry climate of central Utah, and feel confident these are a good houseplant for beginners and experts alike.

I've found a lot of easily read care information at the following website.  Don't be discouraged by the particulars.  Just find a tray of them in the houseplant section next time you're at Portland Nursery and pick the one that picks you.  If you missed the shipment, scour other nurseries for them, or order one online.  Keep it in a window with morning light, provide regular humidity, and do not overwater.  You won't regret it!

Tiamat in Bloom, May 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Giant Winter Spinach

It's early May, but it feels like March.  The temperatures have remained cool enough to keep my Giant Winter Spinach first in the running for most successful overwintering leafy green in my planter boxes.  Yes, we have Rhubarb, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Orange Mint, Yerba Buena, Oregon Grape, Sorrel, Romaine, Radicchio, Violets, Pineapple Guava, Apples, Poppies and more mixed in the ornamental beds, but our 2 little planter boxes are reserved for Peas, Spinach, Chard, Basil and Tomatoes.  All could be easily mixed in the remaining landscape, but the planter boxes came first, before we had time to devote to ornamental cultivation and conscious expansion.  (Are you familiar with the saying "The cobbler's son wears no shoes"?)  And we enjoy the quasi-structured feel of keeping the short-season crops in a devoted space (even though the boxes are small, we still practice rotation).

We like tomatoes as much as you, but are exercising patience this year and holding off on planting.  Last year the late-season rains drowned so many of our seedlings (if only we'd had a little cold-frame set-up then - a gardener's umbrella to weather the wet), the size of our plant graveyard nearly doubled.  Boo hoo, right?  You sort of get used to it.  Still, we like to honor our little friends...

Photo Courtesy of Watchful Creatures

Well, in looking back to see where I got this Giant Winter Spinach seed from, I found the excellent website, full of easy explanations for edible gardening.  In their words, "Spinach prefers the cool, sunny weather of late spring and early fall. If you simply must have summer spinach, provide partial shade, plant the seed deeper and water copiously. Spinach adores rich soil: amend the spinach bed well with compost and/or manure, dolomite lime and complete organic fertilizer. Keep the bed evenly moist and weeded. Early thinnings are wonderful for spring salads. For the kitchen gardener, it is practical to harvest by using the outer leaves from each plant or by cutting the whole plant, leaving 1” for possible regrowth. Or, broadcast seed and grow as a ‘cut and come again’ crop of tender leaves."  Here's what ours looks like today!

P.S.  It tastes great too.  Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Violet Cocktail, For the Modern Victorian

Violet Fizz (The Bubbly Bar)

4 oz Prosecco 
1/2 oz Homemade Violet Syrup (see April post for recipe)
1 oz Delicate Gin
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 oz Pasteurized Egg White
* optional garnish, 2 Pieces of Candied Violet

Pour the prosecco into a cocktail glass
Combine other ingredients in a shaker
Shake with ice until well chilled
Strain into cocktail glass
* garnish with candied violet

Perfect for an old-skool ladies luncheon, a bridal tea party, or any breezy afternoon suited for no more than bloomers outdoors.  It sounds afternoon daydreamy, sweetly ladylike and completely unnecessary, which is enough to appeal to me.

Photo courtesy of Old Prints

Viola Hearththrob

I'm often keeping my eyes peeled on Terra Nova Nursery's new plant introductions.  They paint with a bold palette, bringing eye-candy goodness to life, animating lovely and envious new things.

Now, my feet are firmly rooted on our soggy terra firma, but my head is sometimes off in the clouds.  It's not always the "novelty" plant, the hoop-jumping lion of the green world, that will seduce and literally bust my pocketbook (the zipper of which has long since been looted by trespass), but it's often a good old-fashioned charmer, an ornamental staple that I end up gently hauling home, for I have a rational side as well.

I have kept a nursery tag for 1 of every plant species I own or once owned that was more of a novelty for me, if only when I bought it.  Every gardener starts at the beginning, right?  I look through the stack each new year, and honestly remember many lost plants - some went back to the earth by way of the compost bin, some went home with friends, some are still thriving at a previous address or two.  And by this process, I'm able to better resist the newbies of each successive year.

Well, last fall after a brief introduction, I brought home another circus lion, a younger version of an old favorite, a variegated Viola called "Heartthrob".  It's just waking up from winter, and we're fighting the slugs together.  So I have yet to see how it will perform in our little space, but it's already showing signs of longevity, having survived two transplants, our cold winter, and a spring onslaught of slug armies.

This is what it looked like when I brought it home!

Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nursery

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Terrariums & Assorted Glass Gardens

It's Saturday night, and I'm feeling sort of social.  Probably will go out and mingle with the rest of sun-dazed Portland, but it's only 9.  While the lights come on around town, I want to share with you my 2 minutes of t.v. fame.  

When I've watched this clip and heard my voice, I've heard my sister Becca.  We sound almost identical on tape, and I'd like to say we're equals, but she trumps me in many ways.  She's a professional illustrator who, when not tied-up with project deadlines, busks at the warm-weather markets for practice and social interaction.  She's been getting into edible home gardening, which is a treat to watch.  

Our Dad has always had a fruitful garden, and put us to work as kids, planting rows, weeding, picking and cleaning the harvest for canning.  We were kids in North Carolina, my own blue ribbon of the south, the heart of my youth, helping our Dad grow us potatoes, grapes, fruit trees, spinach, tomatoes, peas, and beans.  Our Mom has always been the cook and the canner, which work I was late to pick up on.  And even though our parents have long been at home with no children, they keep at it.  It's in their blood.  It's in our blood, and we admire them, so we follow in their path....

Back in 2007, while doing Black Swan designs, I was also working a second season at Portland Nursery, and was recruited for a job at Urban Flora.  The indoor gardening specialty shop was looking to expand into the world of cut flowers, houseplants, and other botanicals.  So we embarked on a journey called Urban Flora Plant Oasis, which, sadly, was short-lived.  It was a remarkable adventure for me, and it was hard to watch the owners fold on it when it was still so new.  We were selling lots of unusual cacti, Hawaiian-grown orchids, bonsai trees, terrariums, and terrarium kits.  

Terrariums are everywhere.  That is, if you believe that everything that has happened and everything that is ever going to happen is occurring simultaneously in the present.  Then, they really are everywhere.  Twin Peaks's Agent Cooper is both in and out of the Black Lodge, the 1970's are happening in the 1930's, hurricanes are also calm seas, black is the new black is the new black, the garden is the first seed, and the collision of all our peaks and valleys in the same "everymoment" fills us to the brim, so that all the empty moments are no longer empty, and our lives are lived in every second.

If the garden is the first seed, then terrariums are a botanical oasis of an infinite scale.  Wanting to fill our home with the infinite garden, I put together some terrariums this week, making use of some empty bottles from (our neighbors') last year's parties, to help the local salvage stores move some merchandise, and to give a long-ago gifted "Junk Girl" a home.  Sitting in the upstairs dormer, they're absorbing fractal light.  

All Dressed Up....

Next weekend, there will be a good opportunity to see an amazing terrarium display in person at the 2011 Oregon Orchid Show & Sale.  It may look something like this...For two dollars off the admission price, pick up a show flier at Portland Nursery and other retail garden locations.

I would love for my office to have one of these, courtesy of  They're located in Brooklyn, NY.  So I'll probably have to make my own.  A project I wouldn't shy away from.  For now, I'm putting it in my mind's list of rad botanical projects I'm going to work on, right next to the polytunnel and others remaining secret, time and money and more time permitting.  One day.....

If you're interested in having one built for you in Portland, call me up.  

Last but not least, an easy how-to link for the Hands-on to make their own:  
Have a great week!