Garden Journal in April

Dear Liza,

It has been a weird spring of snow, sun, wind, hail, and rain. I have tried to reflect this in my garden journal.

This is my favorite two-page spread, with April 10 showing the garden as it was that day, and the dramatic change wrought by the overnight snowfall. As my accuracy improves, I am capturing the details better.

Illustrating transparent containers is hard, but they have been an important part of this spring’s garden, sheltering my sprouts from two inches of historic April snow. The bits of sunshine during the day allowed the soil to capture some heat.

And now that the freezing temperatures seem to be gone, we have rain and more rain. I am hoping for resilient sprouts and just a few peeks of sun for the next week.

Fingers crossed!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Portland Oddities

Dear Liza,

After two sunny weeks of very unusual weather, we are back to the usual… rain, wind and cold. This is going to push my garden work back a week or so. But that’s okay, I have lots to keep me busy.

For this blog, I want to share some things I have found around town that are different, quirky, or just plain cool.

This beautiful pathway in a front garden is a combination of climate, pavers, and lots of time. The patterned concrete bricks were laid down flat to give traction on the gentle slope, where it can get slippery with our rains. To me, it looks almost like a green, fuzzy, stained glass window.


Here is another thing that is perfectly Portland. In this tiny free library down on Salmon Street, a box of Corn Flakes rests next to the books, ready to be taken by anyone who needs it. These little libraries are managed by the people who install them, who make sure they are stocked and kept in good condition.

While graffiti can be a nuisance in some places, these added words and letters on an electrical box in Laurelhurst Park made me smile. Delighting in my memories, and making new ones, is how I like to spend my time.

I hope you had a good day, and sleep well to have another one tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Everything’s Waking Up!

Dear Liza,

I don’t have anything planted in my garden yet, but a whole lot of plants are awake and blooming in the neighborhood.

Jonquils, sometimes called daffodils, are very showy.

There are tall ones over a foot high, who sort of look down on the other plants, and tiny little ones that bloom on stalks about three inches long.

And the deep purple of the crocuses is a nice contrast to the bright velvet green of the moss.

A few streets away, I found quince trees blooming in incredible combinations of colors. One of the ladies said I could come back in the fall and help her pick them. I’ve never made quince jam, but I’m willing to learn.

Happy Spring!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Winter Sunshine

Dear Liza,

It is winter in Portland. It doesn’t officially start until December 21, but it’s winter. We have rain which may turn to snow flurries, bridges that are getting icy, and dark, dark afternoons.

But then you look up and the clouds are gone for a while, and the sun comes out! And you don’t care that it is 40 degrees F. You put on two scarves and a wooly hat, and out you go.

We are blessed to live in our Laurelhurst/ Sunnyside neighborhood, with its gardens and hundred-year-old stone walls.

Moss and evergreens glow nicely in the low angled light of a Portland afternoon.

Succulents in a wall resemble magic gardens.

Azaleas and rhododendrons put out buds, defying the seasonal cold. And even though we know that tomorrow will be rainy and grey again, our mammal brains are happy for the light.

Love,

Grandma Judy.

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