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!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lisa's Polytunnel

My good friend Lisa has been living abroad in Ireland for the past several years, where she's running the successful fledgling publishing company, Doire Press, with her partner John.  Now, Lisa and I share no gardening history, and I've never known her to have a garden....until she moved to Ireland.

We met over 10 years ago in a literature class devoted to the fascinating writing & illustrations of William Blake.  (If you love William Blake and have never seen Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, you should.  My advance apologies for two graphic scenes of violence.  I'm not interested in violence, but will endure a lot for Blake.  Besides, it stars Johnny Depp before he became a gay pirate...)

So Lisa is gardening in the stony seaside of Ireland near Galway.  She's been digging up stones, growing potatoes and greens, and this year she wrote to tell me she's thinking of adding a polytunnel to her space.  So what is a polytunnel?  I'd never heard it before.  After looking in all my usual places, I found it's essentially what Yanks call a "hoop house" or "door garden".  My Dad has a substantial one that we call "the greenhouse".

 The benefits of it are getting an early start on your garden, and extending it later into the fall/winter, even allowing a fully year-round cycle in the temperate Pacific northwest.  The protective plastic cover provides a microclimate that offers young plants an earlier (and in winter, a later) warmth.  I don't have one!  But this morning as I examined the cautious progress of my pea starts in this late-warming Spring, I had a desire to make one.

The best part of this clip is not that it shows you how to construct a polytunnel, because it doesn't do that in detail.  The best part is that it shows you how to clean one, to keep the plastic cover in good shape for years of extended gardening.    

You can visit Lisa and her partner John at the following web address.  While you're there, ask about the progress of their polytunnel.

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself." 

-William Blake

Saturday, April 9, 2011

This One's For The Kids

In the past 18 months, five new little ones have come into our lives! Just out of our newlywed year, my partner and I are still getting used to the notion of knowing children. But just as our friendships with their many parents began, they are fascinating from the first moment, and we are transfixed!

First came Wesley, born in the winter but already owning the bleached summer blonde of a heartbreaking rambler. Next was sweet little Adaliyne, all dark eyes and cheeks, with an easy October smile. Then giggling and handsome, blue-eyed Bridger, born on J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. Followed by long and lean Iris, sliding into the mixed March light with still-cloudy eyes, a talisman birthmark and the warmth of a fresh baker's dozen. And the newest, fearless Talan, future Riverkeeper and keymaster to a wilderness renaissance.

We are lucky to know the next generation of our dear friends and loved ones. Some born to gardeners, and some not.  All of them holding some magic for us.  All known somewhat intimately through their parents, across life's webbing geography that separates us from all but one. In recognition of them, and of all the little ones out there, this post is dedicated to cartoons, childrens' books, and nursery rhymes.

These little verses are for the youngest, for the snow still falling on the mountains, for the robins and flowers of Spring, and for the squirrels planting nuts in the garden when they think nobody's looking.

"I Had a Little Nut Tree"

I had a little nut tree

Nothing would it bear

But a silver nutmeg

And a golden pear;

The King of Spain's daughter,

She came to see me
And all because of my little nut tree.

I skipped over water,

I danced over sea

And all the birds in the air

Couldn't catch me.

"The Crocuses"
by Frances E.W. Harper

They heard the South wind sighing
A murmur of the rain;
And they knew that Earth was longing
To see them all again.

While the snow-drops still were sleeping
Beneath the silent sod;
They felt their new life pulsing
Within the dark, cold clod.

Not a daffodil nor daisy
Had dared to raise its head;
Not a fairhaired dandelion
Peeped timid from its bed;

Though a tremor of the winter
Did shivering through them run;
Yet they lifted up their foreheads
To greet the vernal sun.

And the sunbeams gave them welcome.
As did the morning air 
And scattered o'er their simple robes
Rich tints of beauty rare.

Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.

First to weave for Earth a chaplet
To crown her dear old head;
And to beautify the pathway
Where winter still did tread.

And their loved and white haired mother
Smiled sweetly 'neath the touch,
When she knew her faithful children
Were loving her so much.

For the next older set, one of my favorite new childrens' books is A Seed is Sleepy.  There are endless positive reviews online, both for Diana Aston's writing and for Sylvia Long's beautiful watercolor illustrations.  For those of you local to Portland, you can visit it in person at Presents of Mind and Powells Books.

Books have always fascinated me.  As a child, well against the good advice of my mother, I read under the covers at night with a flashlight into the early morning hours.  As the batteries drained and dimmed the light, I shook the flashlight to get every next sentence I could.  For children of the ages to get away with this, the link for you is  There's a whole section of award-winning gardening books for kids of various ages.  It has all the old classics parents will remember from grade school libraries (if you frequented these in the 80's, ha!) - I have no idea what's in them anymore.  

And for those who can't pull free from pixelated images in light-tube display (I'm looking at a certain nephew here), a little cartoon delight.  Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 1, 2011

First Day Barefoot!

I believe there is no such thing as a shrinking violet, that there is only the shy or cautious viewer.  Violets embody the qualities of divine power (blue) and of divine love (pink) which, when merged, create a pulsating energy that consumes on contact the darkness within all that it touches.  

"The violets are children with bare feet"

Translation by Allen Prowle
Original poem by Rocco Scotellaro

The leaves are fresh on the almond trees,
spring water rains from stone walls;
trotting lightly, the donkeys choose
the friendlier of the river’s banks;
the girls with the darkest eyes
clamber on the squeaking cart, aloof.
March is a baby, laughing already, in its swaddling clothes.

And you can forget the winter,
who, bent by bundles of wood,
have told your beads,
mile after freezing mile,
to roast your face by the fire.

Now ticks come back to the horses,
in the stables flies stir the air,
and children with bare feet
charge upon clumps of violet.

If you have a mind to grow these, try planting them in a portion of your lawn that's shaded from hot afternoon sun.  They tend to take over, albeit slowly.  Harvest the flowers in spring (March - June) for homemade Violet Syrup, to toss into fresh salads, or to candy for an old-fashioned treat.

To make Violet Syrup, pour 1/2 C. boiling water over 3 cups of flowers (no stems) and cover.  Let cool and steep together for 24 hours.  On the second day, add 2 - 3 C. sugar (to taste) to the violet water and bring to a gentle boil, stirring 'til the sugar is dissolved.  Strain the flowers.  Your Violet Syrup is ready for use!  Store in a cool, dark area or in the fridge for up to 6 months.  Little re-corking bottles make sweet gifts.   
Photo by French Tart