Sometimes, between the Covid-19 and the political situation, it’s nice to go out for a walk, and not think about anything. I mean, to just think about what is right in front of you.
Fortunately, in our neighborhood, there are lots of lovely flowers to look at. Sunnyside Elementary and Environmental School has delightful gardens, which are being tended by staff and families while the school is shut down.
On a street down the hill a sunny patch is filled with Black-eyed Susans and zinnias.
Our local community garden up by the Laurelhurst Care Center, sweet-peas and dahlias stand tall in the sun.
And between our house and Auntie Katie’s place in Ladd’s Addition, the four rose Gardens are home to hundreds of bushes, all tended by volunteers. This ‘Caroline Testout’ rose, a variety that was created in 1888, caught my eye on our last walk down that way.
I have told you about our Rose Gardens, our Japanese and Chinese Gardens, but did you know Portland has Fairy Gardens?
They are harder to find than the City gardens, but this may be on purpose. Fairy-folk are a bit shy among us Big’uns, so these tiny marvels are not mentioned in any city guidebook. When walking through neighborhoods, you have to keep your eyes open and look down amongst the rocks and hedges. The telltale signs are pebbles in a curvy line, an over-large mushroom, or tiny doors leading into hillsides.
Another thing that makes Fairy Gardens hard to find is that they are so small. An entire community of fairies can fit in even a Portland sized yard, tucked between rose bushes and towering dahlias.
I love finding Fairy Gardens all over our city. Clearly, fairy-folk only establish their gardens among sympathetic, gentle humans, and I like that Portland has been given the Fairyfolk stamp of approval.
Also, I think fairies are wise gardeners. They know enough to leave the giant trees alone, focussing on the tiny weeds that can choke a flowerbed. They encourage the ladybugs, bees, and butterflies in their efforts to keep the flowers safe and healthy.
I hope you can come visit soon, so we can go find some Fairy Gardens together.
Once we got to the Rhododendron Garden, we saw all sorts of interesting things. First we met Chunkers the squirrel, who is famous and has his own Instagram feed. He is also a bit overweight, so the garden folks are discouraging visitors from sharing their treats with him. Chunkers does not approve of this decision.
We also saw that there is quite a bit of repair work being done. As with all trails, the ones in the garden need to be kept clear of small landslides and built up so they drain properly. I’m glad they take care of these chores in the off season!
We found the earliest Rhodies tall and beautiful, standing against the blindingly blue sky. The lower azaleas weren’t blooming yet… maybe we’ll come back in March to see the progress!
The ducks and geese that call the lake home were being very vocal and friendly. They are so used to people, they only pay you any mind if they see you have treats. We didn’t.
There is a small waterfall on a tiny pathway and it may be my favorite part of the garden. It isn’t the sweeping views or the bursts of color, but it sings a cheerful song.
When we had seen all there was to see, chatted with all the critters and sat on most of the benches, it was time for the next part of our adventure.
We walked through the neighborhood and caught the Orange Line Trimet train downtown, where we enjoyed lunch at Bless Your Heart Burger. Yummy!
I have told you how sentimental I get about certain plants, especially ones that remind me of your Great Grandma Billie, my Momma. She had a hydrangea that had been a wedding present from her landlady in 1946, and she loved it.
You and I found a little hydrangea overgrown by some other plants in your very own back yard, and trimmed the other plants back so it could get more sunlight.
I have found, in Portland, hydrangea heaven. I have never seen so many, or such beautiful colors! It must be the wet winters and the intense summer sunshine, the humidity levels, and the volcanic soil. These plants are really happy.
And every time I see one, I think of Great Grandma Billie, and you. She died exactly one month before you were born, Liza. She knew you were coming and cherished the idea of another great grand child, but never got to meet you.
Watching you grow up to know the difference between a magnolia and a maple, learning to ride your bike and read, being brave and smart, would make her smile and warm her heart.
Thursday was the Summer Solstice, which means it was the longest day of the year. The sun stayed up here in Portland until 9:00. But most of the fun was much earlier.
I walked to Auntie Katie’s house, and the cousins and I got on the number 4 bus to the Lan Su Chinese Garden on Northwest Everett Avenue. This is a whole city block with a wall around it, filled with trees, bushes, a big pond, pavilions, bridges, and even a tea house. It feels so magical and peaceful, you forget you are in the middle of a big city.
The garden was built in 2000, but feels much older. Many of the larger magnolia trees were transplanted full-grown from other gardens, and give the place a feeling of solidity. You can see the tall city buildings above the walls, but they seem very far away. It is easy to imagine fairies living in the crannies of the rocks, dipping their tiny cups into the pond.
There are so many things to see every step of the way. The pathways are all pebbles laid in lovely patterns, pleasantly bumpy underfoot. From the tiny mondo grass to the fragrant gardenias, there are a hundred delights for all the senses. Sitting in one place and looking, I mean really looking, at the pond, you see the reflections of the clouds and buildings on the surface, then the shadows, then the water skippers, then the golden koi and pebbles underneath the surface.
At the tea house, we enjoyed pot stickers, bao, edamame, baked tofu, and Kestrel even had a small pot of rose tea. We sat on the second floor by the window and had a lovely view of the garden below. Everything was so calm and quiet, even the smaller children remembered their manners.
After a few hours of exploring, nibbling and imagining, we headed out to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The kids climbed on rocks, played in fountains until they were drenched, then walked themselves mostly dry until we all caught an orange line train home. A few hours quiet time, making dinner and reading stories, got us ready for a nice evening.
I went back to my house and Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I had a nice walk around the park and neighborhood, happy to be here in Portland for whatever lies ahead.
Friday, June 15th, your great grandma Billie would have turned 97. To remember her and celebrate her life, we visited The Grotto in Northeast Portland.
Not because of the religious aspect of The Grotto. Its real name is The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, and it is run by the Catholic Church.
Momma wasn’t Catholic, and she most certainly wasn’t sorrowful. She went to mostly Protestant churches, because that was what she was raised with, but her philosophy always seemed to be more of a Transcendentalist, believing in the Oversoul that created and loves all living beings and expects us to love and care for each other.
But mostly, The Grotto reminds me of Momma because she was a gardener. She loved flowers, trees, and the birds that lived in them. She loved to quote part of the poem “God’s Garden”, by Dorothy Francis Gurney, which went like this:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.
The Grotto is in two parts. The bottom section, where the parking lot is, has a church, a gift shop, and the grotto for which the place is named, a tall cave in a 110 foot stone cliff. Into this grotto has been placed a copy of the statue called The Pieta. It is a beautiful but very sad statue, and does not make me think of Momma.
But when you pay the ladies in the gift shop seven dollars, you get a token that lets you take an elevator to the top of the cliff. And that is where the magic happens.
At the top, you walk through 62 acres of gardens. There are statues, including one of St. Francis of Assisi, who Momma loved because he cared for animals. There is even a brick Labyrinth to walk on, if you like. There are lawns, ponds and small waterfalls. Banks of laurel bushes and azaleas line the pathways. Maple trees and pines give shade and peace. Roses and rhododendrons give color.
The bird population is extraordinary. Happy robins, proud hawks and cranky crows provide bird drama, while the tiny sparrows busy themselves under the bushes.
Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went together but split up at the top, so we could wander at our own speeds. There were other folks there in groups, some of whom seemed to be very noisy, but Momma would remind me that everyone enjoys places in their own ways. So when there was noise and I wanted quiet, I walked around again until the noisy folks were gone.
Whenever I take time to think of how Momma was, how she treated the world and the people in it, I feel more at peace with myself. It is worth doing, I think.