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

First Picnic in the Allotment

Dear Liza,

It was so sunny and warm the other day, Auntie Bridgett and I took a picnic to our plot at the community garden. We have planted lettuce, radish, marigold and carrot seeds, which is all we can put in until it gets warmer and drier, and wanted to keep them company as they start sprouting.

Cheeses, fruit and haroset made a nice portable lunch. We each carried a camp chair to set up in the narrow space between our plot and our neighbor’s.

We got to meet Ruth, who is the manager for our garden. She showed us her plot, just across the pathway. She has a lot of flowers growing, and just a few vegetables. She headed off to work on a public plot at the top of the garden.

We set things out and the sun just kept getting warmer! I peeled off my jacket, then my sweater and hat…. down to my tee shirt outside, for the first time in about seven months. It felt fabulous, thank you very much.

We watched tiny birds eat bugs off the kale in the next plot, and heard the crows telling everybody something, very loudly. We noticed evryone’s tiny sprouts coming up and marveled at the beginnings of things.

When all the food was gone, I got up to pull some weeds (of course) and Bridgett got out her watercolors to make some pictures. As always, I enjoyed getting my hands in the dirt.

I harvested some mint that is sprouting up at the edge out our plot, enjoying the shade of the camellia bush. When it was time to go, I carried the weeds, since there isn’t a can for them at the garden. Auntie Bridgett put the mint in her backpack.

Back home, I worked on a watercolor of the camellias I pruned the other day. It’s spring again, and here I am, painting flowers. Funny how that works.

Camelias in my Nicole Curcio vase

Love,

Grandma Judy

Busy Easter

Dear Liza,

Easter Sunday wasn’t as warm or sunny as the day before had been, but it was still nice enough to get out for some fun.

After French practice and crosswords, Auntie Bridgett and I walked by our allotment to see how the seeds are doing. We have sprouts! The radishes and lettuces are sending up tiny green baby bits and I am so excited! I will come by tomorrow with the watering can to make sure they stay nice and moist.

We continued through the neighborhood, past pink drifts and blizzards of cherry blossoms, to the Pix-O-Matic on Burnside. Pix is a fancy French style patisserie. Due to Covid, they have installed high end vending machines to sell their pastries, but also Candy, toys, and odd bits of niftiness. We got a small collection of Easter candies and a pastry called a Shazam to have after dinner. Noticing that Kopi coffee was open, we stopped by and had interesting and delicious Ginger and cardamom coffees, and a blueberry scone. We sat at a tiny table on the sidewalk, watching and listening to all the humanity…..conversations, buses going by, car radios. It was nice to be OUT.

We got home and put the goodies away, did some art, and had lunch. Then Grandpa Nelson joined us and we walked way up into the Laurelhurst neighborhood, loving the spring flowers and blossoms on the hundred year old trees.

We got back in mid-afternoon and it was time to start dinner. I was cooking lamb shanks for the first time, and wanted to give myself time to do it right. Shanks tend to be tough, and need low and slow cooking. I used a recipe from The Spruce Eats online, and they turned out wonderfully! Tender, rich and yummy. I made mint sauce out of our mint from the garden, and it made the lamb even better! Hooray! I love learning how to make new delicious things!

Lamb shanks on the table, decorated with Pam Ferraschi’s ceramics

We remembered to save room for the Pix desserts, however. Shazam is an almond cake with caramel and mousse under a paper thin chocolate wrapping. Delicious!

And THEN it was time for my zoom visit with you, Liza. We chatted, giggled, and drew Easter eggs and bunnies. I showed you the collage I’ve been working on (more about that tomorrow) and visited with your mommy and daddy.

We finished off the busy day with “Escape from the Chateau” and working on a new jigsaw puzzle, and headed for bed.

Not bad for an ‘isolated’ Easter.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seeds In!

Dear Liza,

Finally! After months of anticipation, we have seeds and a plant in the ground at the allotment. The weatherman has promised we will have no more frost this spring, so it was time to commit.

Chilly Auntie Bridgett, drawing

Auntie Bridgett went along with me, though she is not a gardener; there is too much mud involved for her liking. But she wanted to draw the garden, keep me company, and make notes. That’s what she does.

We bundled up against the chilly morning, carrying the seeds, the lavender plant, and nifty home made garden markers along in a bag. We chatted briefly with other gardeners. After so long in isolation we long for companionship, but we were all there on our own missions. The camellia tree had given us more blossoms, and I realized it may be a good idea to trim it back just a wee bit, to give us more space and sunlight. All good relationships need a little space, right?

Lumpy bed, waiting for some care

The soil was very lumpy, and I spent a lot of time crumbling the clods between my fingers, making a smoother bed for my seed babies. I sprinkled the seeds in and patted the soil gently, laying down a bit of of decomposed straw over the top to keep them damp.

There. The seeds are right there.

When my back was tired and my fingers were numb, it was time to lock the tools back in the shed and head out. Light rain is predicted for a few days, and should get the seedlings started. I am so excited for what happens next!

That marker says “LETTUCE”. That burst of green is a lavender transplant.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to the Riverside

Dear Liza,

On the way back to Portland, we all felt the need for snacks. We stopped at the very posh Lake Oswego Safeway and got coffee and pastries. I was in awe of the enormous collection of Kosher for Passover goodies! Kosher wines, macaroons, and a dozen different kinds of matzoh.

There was whole wheat matzoh, bran, rice based, and even spelt. But it was the gluten-free matzoh, Made of oat grain that made me laugh. I showed them to Auntie Bridgett but instead of laughing, she wanted to get them! Wheat based things don’t always agree with her stomach, and she thought this would be an interesting experiment. We got a box, almost choking on the five- times -regular-matzoh price tag, to have (along with Grandpa Nelson’s regular) for our Seder that evening.

High-end oat based matzohs

With our new matzohs carefully stashed, we again set off for the city. We drove north on Taylor’s Ferry Road , catching glimpses of the mighty Willamette River between buildings and trees. “Should we find a place to stop?” Auntie Bridgett asked. “Yes, please,” I said.

Mount Hood, waaaayyy across the Willamette River

She found parking at Willamette Park, which had a very busy boat ramp. Apparently, everyone agreed with us that the day was too nice to stay inside. At the park we were again treated to a show of nature and humanity that we have been missing for a long winter and an even longer shut-down.

The sweeping views of the river and parkland seemed to open up our hearts, letting fresh air in. We just sat and let the sun soak into our skin, warming us right through.

Downtown Portland from the Riverside

After we had walked along the river, visited with more dogs, and soaked up hours of sunshine, it was really time to go home. We finished the drive, then rested and cooked dinner for our first night of Passover. We said thanks for our good health, our sweet life, and our good company.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Sunny Day, Sweeping the Clouds Away….

Dear Liza,

It was so pretty out Saturday, we just had to get out in the sun!

Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson figured out what we should do. While they got dressed, I packed a picnic lunch, and we headed off across the Willamette and south toward Lake Oswego. Looking ahead on the map, Grandpa Nelson found a park we had never been to.

Fanno Creek and footbridge

We drove through a forested neighborhood with Tolkien-inspired street names like Rivendell and Arkenstone to the Durham City Park. The trees are still bare, but tiny green shoots are bulging and showing color. We found a picnic table above the soggy ground and enjoyed sandwiches and fruit in the nearly blinding sunshine. People walked by with dogs and kids, scooters and walking canes. It was a slow parade of humanity, all out enjoying the sunshine.

We crossed the footbridge over the Fanno River, enjoying the sounds of the rain-fattened stream. As we walked around the park we couldn’t get over the colors. Ruby red branches. Baby green leaves. Buttery yellow Oregon grape blossoms.

We walked until we were tired, chatting with people about their dogs. We got back in the car, and I thought we were heading back home. But life is full of surprises.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Progress in The Garden Journal

Dear Liza,

I haven’t done much work in the garden, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it! My garden journal gives me a place to put my dreams and imaginings down in a art-y, fun, not-having-to-think-too-much-about- it sort of way.

So when the rain comes down and the garden plot is all mud, I dream and draw, get out the collage glue and the watercolors, and have fun making up what I WANT to be doing.

Hopefully, by the time I run out of ideas to paint, spring will have sprung enough to where I can put seeds in the ground.

I am anxious for spring to come and to be able to watch my seeds grow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

What a Day! Part 1

Dear Liza,

Friday was my 65th birthday, and I had made a short list of things I wanted to do. I got to do (very nearly) all of them!

I came down to breakfast to find my Hundred Acre Wood wishing me a Happy Birthday, and Auntie Bridgett and I did Duolingo french practice, like always. Grandpa Nelson came down and I got lots of birthday hugs. It was predicted to be a rainy, blowy day, but it wasn’t going to keep me locked in.

Auntie Bridgett and I walked the mile or so down to Pix Patisserie on Burnside. Along the way, we found a huge pile of tiles, apparently the leftovers from a going-out-business shop, neatly piled on the curb. On top were three that would be perfect stepping stones for our allotment! Auntie Bridgett hefted them into a strong canvas bag we had taken ‘just in case’ and we proceeded to the patisserie.

I have intended to try some of their pastry since we moved to Portland, but it has always felt too far away, or was too crowded. During Covid, they have installed two refrigerated, high-end vending machines that allow folks to shop for pastries or fancy canned goods with zero contact! Along the way I had a nice phone chat with my niece Lyn, who was born on my 11th birthday.

We enjoyed the adventure, being mindful of the guard-gnomes, of course. Inside the little automat doors were RBG masks, a canned survival kit (with waterproof matches, three yards of cord, and other useful things) and canned mussels in vinegar, to name a very few. But we were there for the pastries!

After reading the illustrated menu, I chose the Jane Avril almond cake with raspberries, and Auntie Bridgett got the Amelie, a chocolate and hazelnut delight. We placed these in a second bag and walked home, battling the rain and the gusty winds.

We dropped off the heavy stepping stones and ate grilled cheese and onion sandwiches for lunch. Then I opened my presents! A delightful Shakespearean insult mug from your family and a jigsaw puzzle made from one of Gia Whitlock’s wonderful paintings, from Auntie Bridgett.

After some rest, we had the second part of the day. I will tell you about that tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Spring Light

Dear Liza,

It is still cold here, getting down to freezing overnight a few times this week. But spring is coming, bit by bit, and now that the time change has put us in the sunlight more, I have been getting out in it.

Shadows on the path at Laurelhurst

One day this week I took a walk by myself around Laurelhurst Park. As much as I love walking with Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett, walking alone gives me a chance to stop and just stare at light and blossoms, shadows and branches. The low afternoon light makes everything prettier.

Another day, I stopped by the allotment to pull some Lesser Celadine weeds that I noticed around the gate. These weeds are so invasive and harmful that they are listed on a national registry of noxious plants. There is even a website here in Oregon to report infestations. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/45750

Pretty, but invasive!

While I was there I met Rachel and Joel, two other new gardeners. It was good to be able to show them what I have learned about these new weeds.

And of course, the trees are blooming! Auntie Bridgett calls this Pink Season, and for good reason. Portland has had a wet, cold winter, and the ground is still very soggy. But sunshine and hope are right there, waiting.

I hope spring is pretty where you are, too!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to the Nursery

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett and I had a busy day on Friday, heading back to the Portland Nursery for more spring things. In just three short weeks, the place has gone from winter to spring! Bedding plants are out, with signs that say “Protect from frost”, because we can have frost as late as April. All sorts of plants are on display, enjoying the sunshine.

And it wasn’t just for my garden plot! Bridgett has become obsessed with houseplants. Her latest Art-O-Rama zine is all about them, and she is letting her own green thumb blossom. To see this zine and all her others, you can go to b.spicer.art@gmail.com. She got a potted coffee plant and twenty pounds of potting soil. We spent quite a bit of time looking at pots and indoor plants.

From Bridgett Spicer’s latest Art-O-Rama zine

We also got the last seeds and plants we will need for the allotment. Nasturtiums and marigolds will make the garden pretty and keep the bad bugs away and the bees happy. A “Thumbelina” English lavender will smell nice and stay small. Tomatoes and basil will be yummy, come July.

And, with my birthday coming up, I got presents! This process was emotional, choosing three trees to plant in my Hundred Acre Wood bonsai forest. The fires last summer put so much smoke in the air that the Wood lost its leaves and went into dormancy, only to ‘wake up’ mid-December, putting on new leaves that didn’t survive the winter. I have had this tiny forest since my first summer in Portland, and am sad that it has died away. But spring is all about renewal.

So Bridgett and I picked out a small bunchy cypress, and a wonky, leaning cotoneaster and an upright latch to re-forest my forest. This was my project for Saturday, gardening that is a little easier on the back.

Spring was always my Momma’s favorite time of year. New beginnings, helping the earth wake up and come to life after the cold winter is healing for all of us. I think I will get out Francis Hodgeson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” for my reading this week.

Love,

Grandma Judy