Garden Adventure with the Cousins

Dear Liza,

It has been a long time since I’ve been able to have an adventure with young people. You live far away in Salinas and the shutdown has kept Cousins Jasper and Kestrel inside for almost a year and a half.

Reading on the bus

So Friday, we headed off. We put on our masks, hopped on the number 2 Trimet bus, and rode clear through downtown to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. This garden was built 30 years ago on a full city block in what has always been the Chinatown section of the city. Skilled workmen came from China with beautiful rocks, tiles and timbers, and built this oasis of beauty and tranquility .

We took off our shoes, the better to feel the variety of stones that pave the paths and bridges of the garden.

Bare footed and ready to go!

It was a hot sunny day, and we appreciated the curvy roofs over the pavilions. The shade made the stones underfoot cool and even allowed some soft moss to flourish. It was wonderful. We were happy to see that the Tea House was open, for take out only, of course. Little tables and stools set right out by the lake made for a gorgeous view as we nibbled steamed buns and moon cakes made with sweet red beans.

Our lunchtime view

When we were fed, we walked around Zither Lake to the bridge. Dozens of koi came up to us, thinking we were going to feed them.

Hello Down there….

We had learned that the huge yellow-gold colored one is called Cob, (as in Corn-on-the), and Kestrel called the big silver one Luna. We stood on the bridge for a long time, appreciating the colors and movements of the koi as they moved between the sun and the shade. A lady who walked by told Jasper, “They must like your energy.”

Cob, the big yellow koi, back by the rock

Before we left the garden, I asked Jasper to choose a place for he and Kestrel to sit for a photo. He chose this nicely shaped doorway. Here are your handsome cousins!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Full Speed Into Summer

Dear Liza,

This week, summer will hit full blast. Our weather will be in the 90s, with the sun coming up at 5 a.m. and not going down until almost 10 p.m.

Tiny baby carrots!!

Everyone’s gardens are beginning to bear fruits and vegetables. We have been eating our own lettuce for a few days, and even had some teeny tiny carrots with dinner.

Strawberries and cherries are growing, often right onto (or over) the sidewalk! The world is so full of sweetness it just can’t be contained.

And after a long silence, Laurelhurst Park is filling up with music again. I went walking last evening and got a free concert by a group called Johnny Franco, who was making music in two trumpets, a saxophone, drums, four different guitars and a vocalist.

It was a delightful blend of rock and reggae, and a crowd of about a hundred people was scattered around, enjoying the music and the weather. There were picnics, and kids and dogs ran all around. People danced, frisbees flew. It felt like LAST summer had finally come, fifteen months late.

Have a good weekend! Stay well, stay cool, and find ways to share your joy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Quality Time with Momma

Dear Liza,

Your great grandma Billie, my Momma, would have been 100 years old yesterday. She passed away just the month before you were born, so you two never got to know each other. She would have liked you!

She loved two things above all: Her family and her garden. I think she saw all of us as her garden, actually, nourishing and us encouraging us to become our best. Here is a picture of her in her garden.


Momma in her garden

Wednesday, to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday, I got on a bus for the first time in a year and a half, and went to The Grotto. The proper name for it is The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother.

The upper garden at The Grotto

The Grotto is a beautiful church, sanctuary, and garden in Northeast Portland. It is most famous for its Christmas concert, but the holiday crowds are huge, so I don’t go then. I like it better when it is just me and the birds.

I bought a token for the elevator that takes you from the lower garden, where the Grotto, church, and gift shop is, and rode the hundred feet up to the upper garden, where it is nothing but lovely.

St. Francis of Assisi, Momma’s favorite catholic

The path that leads around the top passes a meditation chapel, and small shrines to Our Lady, who is Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are statues of Saint Francis of Assisi and St. Jude of Thaddeus. But mostly, there are gardens.

The last of the rhododendrons

Pines and maples soar up to the sky, azaleas and rhododendrons bloom pink and purple, waterfalls bubble, and birds sing. It the best place I know for walking and thinking peaceful, happy thoughts.

I spent hours in the upper garden. I walked the labyrinth, did a watercolor, and wrote about a momma. I wrote about how her love wasn’t the sort that smothered us or hid us from the world, but let us know that we could go out into the world and be safe. It was a love that got better and stronger as we got older and had some of our prickly edges knocked off.

When I took the elevator back down to earth, and was leaving the Grotto, I found a fellow’s wallet in the middle of the street. Once I got home, I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get it back to him. With no home address or phone number, it will be a challenge, and I’m still working on it. But it’s what Momma would do.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Garden Update

Dear Liza,

I have had some real progress in the garden this week!

The zucchini plants are still getting bigger. I wonder when they will start to take over the plot! The tomato plants I put in, from the nursery and from my windowsill, are still alive and getting taller. The carrots are getting taller, as you can see in the picture. But it has been weeks and weeks since I planted them, and I felt the need to know what was going on under the ground. I pulled a medium sized one up!

It is teeny tiny, even for a miniature carrot. But it tastes perfectly carrot-y and gives me hope for a future harvest. I will keep watering and hoping.

The strawberries planted by a previous gardener are coming ripe, but up until now, the squirrels have gotten to them before I did. Not today! Hooray! They were wonderful.

The pumpkin seedling is standing tall, up to about four inches so far. It has a little mound all to itself by the miniature lavender plant.

And most surprising, the replacement radish seeds I put in just last week are coming up! I spaced them out better, so they will have more room to grow than my last crowded bunch. Keep your fingers crossed!

I love having the garden just up the street to play in. Some days I go for a quick stop to water, and others I take a snack and have a nice visit.
Love,

Grandma Judy

False Summer into False Fall

Dear Liza,

Our summer-like heat has given way to cool, cloudy drizzle. This is a well-known pattern here in Portland. People ask, “Which false summer are we on now?” Or “Is it real summer yet?”

All this on-again-off-again heat and wet is fine, as long as you can adapt to it. Don’t put your boots away yet. Keep the umbrella handy. Keep the watering can by the door.

When it started to rain the other day after a hot, dry week, the wave of that smell we call “rain” was overwhelming. It made me part of the rain and the earth and the plants.

It felt like such an important thing, I came home certain that there must be a specific word for it. And there is! The word is PETRICHOR. (Say PET-Ri-Kor). The word was invented in 1964 by Australian scientists to describe the smell of earth, moisture, and plant oils being released into the air.

Our current cool spell is predicted to last for another week, giving all the gardens a chance to slow their growth a bit. The roses will stay fresh and the lettuce won’t bolt.

At least until real Summer comes along !

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Lovely Saturday

Dear Liza,

After a week of really warm weather, last Saturday was actually a little chilly. I worked in the garden a bit, planting seeds for some replacement radishes and six sunflowers. I have lost all the cucumber seedlings to some tiny slugs that eat the stems, but I have replacements growing in the sunny window and will buy some organic “Sluggo” repellent next time I am at the nursery.


My carrots are getting taller, and the zucchini plants are spreading out. While I was sitting in the garden, the sky got grey, the wind started to blow, and I got drizzled on for a while.

The smell of fresh rain in a garden is one of the best smells in the world, and I sat there, very happy, thinking how blessed I am.


Once I had the seeds in and watered, I cut some of the lovely lettuce to have later. Then I went home for lunch, which was leftover pulled pork sandwiches from The Portland Ciderhouse. Yum!

After some quiet time of reading, art and French lessons, Grandpa Nelson headed out for a walk, and I joined him! The clouds had mostly blown away but it was still cool. We walked the mile south to Division Street, to Salt and Straw Ice Cream. I ordered a flavor I didn’t even know existed, Pear and Blue Cheese. I know it sounds weird, but the sweetness of the pears and vanilla ice cream made a nice balance with the strong flavor of the blue cheese, and it was wonderful.

We sat by the sidewalk and watched dozens of other folks walking down the street to get their ice cream. There were more people than I’ve seen in one place for over a year. It was delightful, bright, and very human. Folks wore masks when they got into the crowd, which let everyone feel safe.

We headed for home up 32nd Street, which is lined with lovely old houses and beautiful gardens. The azaleas are fading but the roses are really coming into their own.

We spent the rest of the day reading, doing crosswords, and watching the Giants beat the Chicago Cubs. A very pleasant day, all around.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Feeling Safe, Heading Out

Dear Liza,

With me being totally vaccinated along with so many folks here in Portland, I felt safe enough Friday to do the long walk down to Auntie Katie’s Books with Pictures to take her new kitties some catnip toys.

I always love the walk to and through the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood. Gardens, trees, and lovely Craftsman style homes are so welcoming and friendly. And at this time of year, they really show the love.

On the way, I stopped by Palio coffee house to pick up lunch for Auntie Katie, because she works hard and doesn’t always get time out to eat. A sausage quiche, salad, and blueberry muffin should hold her until dinner. While we chatted, she told me that her new kitties, now named Maggie and Hopey, had gone missing. They were probably still in the apartment, but still, some worried faces here.

Since the shop was busy and Auntie Katie needed to take care of her customers, I dropped off the lunch, got a hug, and headed for home. Passing by Palio, I remembered how yummy Katie’s lunch looked and stopped and got one for myself. A Roast Beef Reuben sandwich with horseradish was so yummy! Along with chips and an almond Italian soda, I was filled to bursting.

I continued home and had a long quiet afternoon…. listening to music, working on art and thinking about history. A very pleasant time. But Friday evening is our night out. So at five o’clock, out we went!

We thought of Bread and Ink, an old favorite down on Hawthorne. Their website said they were open, but it turns out they meant ‘for take out only’. I totally understand that folks are not all vaccinated and don’t all feel safe, so we moved on. What WAS open?

St. Anthony Bourdain

Turns out, the Portland Ciderhouse is! Their food menu was short and sweet… fat pretzels for Grandpa Nelson, pulled pork sandwiches for Auntie Bridgett and me, and tater tots. The cider menu was more extensive, and we all found something we liked. Mine was a ‘Runcible Hoot’ which I got for the name. It was dry and wonderful. Once we were seated, we could remove our masks, and enjoyed being inside a restaurant. We looked at art, including a nice portrait of the late Anthony Bourdain, labeled ‘St. Anthony’, and watching other folks. We ate and drank and felt very blessed to be safe. Our walk home was sunlit and lovely.

And, once we got home, I heard from Katie. The kitties were found! Cousin Jasper spotted them in their new cuddle cave behind the clothes dryer.
All is well!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Trees Helping Roses

Dear Liza,

I love seeing how trees and roses grow together!
In your great grandma Billie’s yard, there was a giant lemon tree that grew right above a pink rose bush. When Billie didn’t trim the rose one summer, we got this:

Yes, that is a rose that climbed up into the tree and used its branches as a trellis! I had never seen such a thing, so I took a picture. The rose wasn’t hurting the tree, just climbing. So we let it be.

Since then, I have been on the lookout for clever roses that borrow space in nearby trees to get up into the sunlight. There is one, just down the street by Sunnyside School. It is a Cecile Bruner Rose, which may be my favorite kind of rose, (although I hate to have favorites.)


This rose has grown up into a large tree, and its tiny pink blossoms are almost completely covering it! It is beautiful. Still, if I were that tree I might feel a bit crowded.

A third rose bush has taken up residence in what I call “The Best Maple Tree” , just down the block. This is Heritage Tree #241, a Japanese Maple about a hundred years old. It is so big it is impossible to get a clear picture of!

But here is what I saw the other day, walking under it. The nearby roses have grown up, looking for sun, and climbed right into the tree. It is amazing and lovely.

Maybe you could be on the lookout for climbing roses in your neighborhood.

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Harvest

Dear Liza,

I stopped by the garden plot yesterday, to pull tiny weeds and remove the camellia blossoms. I noticed that some of the radishes were looking weird… the soil around the leaves was lumpy and tilted.

Harvest!!

And then I saw why!! Some of them have actual radishes below the leaves. Taking a clue from my friend Shawn Quione in Salinas, I chose the biggest ones to thin out, so the others would have more room. Each one was about the size of the end of my thumb.

Once I got them home, I washed them gently and put them away like fine jewelry, to have with supper. And while I was waiting for Auntie Bridgett to get home, I celebrated with a portrait of the harvest. It is my favorite page in my garden journal so far.

The latest page in my garden journal

I know it is only May, and summer goes until September, but I don’t know if I will be as excited about anything I pull from my dirt as I am about these four radishes. The newness of this sort of creation is just wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Gardening For Real

Dear Liza,

We have had a solid week of sunshine and above freezing temperatures, and I have been busy in the allotment!

The carrots, radishes and lettuces had already begun to show their first baby leaves, so I put in cucumbers, zucchinis, and even pumpkins. It feels almost summer, with temperatures predicted to be in the high 70s today. I was able to garden in just my coveralls and a tee shirt, and even got my garden hat out of the closet.

A long-forgotten gift shop purchase from visits with Momma

Of course, the camellia bush next door continues to drop its lovely blooms on my plot, and the water for the garden hasn’t been turned on yet (it’s not ours to control… it belongs to the hospital whose land we are using). I will need to carry the big watering can up to the allotment twice a day until it is, to make sure my seedlings get what they need. So there are, you know, glitches.

But being able to dig and water and watch things grow is such a gift!

Camellia bush blessings

Love,

Grandma Judy