25 March 2009

When love's in bloom, the whole world's a pistil

You know how teachers have their students write thank-you notes after a field trip? The volunteer coordinator at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, where I'm now working a few hours a week, showed me some she'd saved, including drawings depicting what the kids had learned during their visit.

The fact that you can tell azaleas from rhodies by counting the stamens -- azaleas typically have five, rhodys ten -- apparently made a big impression on one group of 3rd graders; every illustration featured prominent stamens. I grabbed a couple of shots with my cell cam.

Ah yes, spring is here, and romance, botanical style, is in the air. The amaryllis that came back to life last month, following a winter of total neglect, is now in full bloom. Check out the stamens on that baby.

My work at the Rhody Garden counts toward fulfillment of the Master Gardener volunteer practicum I mentioned in my paean to herbaceous perennials earlier this month. We're now down to the last couple of weeks of coursework before the final exam. I have no specific plans for putting my certification, once I earn it, to use. I've always loved gardening. I learned to weed before I could walk, at my green-thumbed mother's knee. Now that I have the time, I liked the idea of picking up some theory to go along with what I've experienced and intuited over the years. Plus, focusing on growing things seemed like a pleasant coping mechanism for getting through a Portland winter. And, I must admit, I was curious to see how much my brain could retain, at this point, in a structured learning situation. To that end, I'll just say that I'm really, really glad that the final is open book.

One thing the course hasn't covered in detail is plant identification, as in "What is this and where should I plant it?" and variations of that question. But I've joined the Hardy Plant Society, whose exhibit at the garden show impressed me so much, which should help address that deficit in my knowledge base.

Funny, I've had three small fiber-arts projects gathering dust on my design wall all winter. Has this garden thing taken over? Is that why I'm not doing art?

Chef Jerub Presents

I'm lucky, I know, to live with a guy who loves to cook. At least two of my friends have offered to take him off my hands, for that reason alone, should I ever get tired of him. As if.

The meal above was chicken breasts with a fig and balsamic vinegar sauce, potato casserole with caramelized onions, and asparagus with a honey-mustard yogurt-based sauce. The one just below was Goan-style shrimp curry on basmati rice with a roasted vegetable salad.

Another dinner, below, was all about orange. Salmon with varicolored cherry tomatoes, pureed sweet potatoes, and carrot salad. The avocado garnish makes it pop, don'tcha think?

At least somebody in this family is expressing his artistic side. I think all of my creative energy is going into gardening at this point, or thoughts of spring. I'll have more to say about that. But first, dessert:

16 March 2009

Literally made me laugh

This is a whole genre on YouTube. Search for "literal version" to turn up other song, uh, treatments.

03 March 2009

Lessons from herbaceous perennials

As both of my faithful readers have noticed, I haven't been blogging much lately. I've been reading, cocooning, trying to keep up with email, generally feeling more like taking in rather than putting out. I haven't shot many photos, either, in the last six weeks or so. I certainly haven't spent any time in the studio, unless you count mending clothes and teaching myself how to knit cables. I've felt like an imposter at the last several art quilt group meetings I've attended; you mean darning socks isn't a form of creative expression? Maybe it's just the late-winter blahs, but my creative impulse has been at what feels like an all-time low.

But I have been going to school. In January I began a master gardener certification course, offered online through OSU Extension. We're about two-thirds of the way through; this week's module happens to be herbaceous ornamental plants, both annuals (the single-season dealies) and perennials (the ones that come back on their own).

In addition to 12 weeks of coursework, including lectures, readings, discussions, quizzes, assignments and a final exam, we're required to put in between 60 and 70 hours of volunteer work. Last Friday I logged a couple of hours just handing out literature at the Yard, Garden and Patio show. Unlike last year, when I staggered out of the Convention Center under the weight of a Meyer lemon tree-let, a witch hazel sapling, and the mother of all aloe vera plants, my takeaways this time were modest: a pair of $2 gardening gloves and an a-ha! moment.

When we first moved to Portland, I noticed several low plants with ratty-looking dark-green leathery leaves growing on the east side of the house. In late winter they put out inconspicuous drooping blossoms in muted shades of pink, purple and cream. Eventually I learned that they were hellebores, prized hereabouts as shade plants. Whatever; they seemed happy on their own, and I was glad to see something thrive on that semi-neglected portion of the lot.

The Hardy Plant Society had a major exhibit at the garden show, several tables of specimen plants and cuttings, with identifying tags. There was a lot to see and absorb. On my first pass through, I noticed some exquisite, tropical-looking blossoms floating in a shallow bowl of water. On my second pass, I read the tag: Hellebores. Wow.

How could I have overlooked these stunners? Easily; the flower faces hang downward, coyly, on hook-shaped stems. From above you'd never know. I wonder how long it would have taken me to discover their beauty on my own. Thank you, Hardy Planters, for the inspiration. Sometimes you have to go beyond the obvious, make an extra effort, place things in a different context, look at them from a new perspective. All clich├ęs, but true -- in art and in life.

Yesterday was gorgeous; it felt like a foretaste of spring. I spent a couple of hours out back at my potting bench, transplanting and fertilizing house plants. The pushy amaryllis that died back to an inert bulb after its flamboyant show last winter has suddenly extruded -- overnight, it seems -- a pair of fresh green stalks. Plants know when it's time to start growing again. People sometimes need a reminder.