Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Herb Gardening in Containers

Good morning gardeners,

Herbs are one of my favorite plants to grow in the garden. A garden of any size can squeeze in a few herbs. I grow about 50 varieties of herbs in my small urban garden. In my current garden of the last 6 years I dedicate one of my four raised beds exclusively to herbs. This allows the space for perennial herbs to thrive without interfering with my crop rotation of vegetables, annual herbs, and flowers in my three other raised beds. In addition to the one raised bed I grow about 20 containers of herbs.

Herb raised bed 5-30-2016

Many herbs grow well in containers given a few simple considerations. Make sure the containers are sited in the individual herb's sun preference, the container are at least 10 inches diameter, they receive adequate water, and are annually divided and repotted as needed.

Herbs are a diverse group of plants that grow in many shapes and sizes. It is helpful to understand if your herb plant is an annual, herbaceous perennial, or evergreen perennial and their size at maturity.

Containers of herbs, annual flowers, and vegetables 5-30-2016

I have successfully grown these herbs in containers:
Bay Leaf
Chamomile-German, Roman
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena
Mint-Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Peppermint, Spearmint
Oregano-Greek, Italian
Sage-Berggarten, Clary, Pineapple, Purple, Tricolor, and Tangerine
Scented Geranium
Society Garlic
Thyme-english, french, lemon, lime

A row of mint, lemon balm, and feverfew containers in a partly sunny location 5-30-2016

Mint and lemon balm spread aggressively in the garden by underground runners. I prefer growing these plants in pots so I can keep them under control. Mint grows successfully in containers and is a good example of a type of herb that needs an annual division and repotting. Mint roots are so aggressive they will literally choke the root ball when grown in a container.

Mint root ball taken out of container!

Other herbs grown in containers that benefit from dividing and repotting=lovage, lavender, rosemary, oregano, sage.

March is an excellent time for dividing and repotting perennial herbs. The weather is cool and most herbaceous perennial herb plants are just beginning to show signs of spring growth. Dividing and repotting perennial herbs will promote a healthier more lush plant with improved abundant harvest.

To prepare for dividing and repotting herbs here are the supplies you will need:
Bag of organic potting soil
Organic granular fertilizer
'Hori Hori' garden knife
Bucket of soapy water

Here's what I do to divide and repot mint grown in containers:

1. Bring pots to a raised work surface like potting bench or table
2. Prune off all dead stems and leaves to soil surface
3. Gently remove root ball from container
4. Set container aside, wash inside and out with soapy water, rinse well with hose
5. Take root ball and shake away old potting soil, compost or spread old soil around garden
5. Use garden knife to cut away any roots that have wrapped around in circles
6. Dispose of roots in trash or curbside recycling, never in your own compost bin or around your garden-unless you want mint to take over!
7. Use garden knife to cut root ball in half
8. Refill washed container half full with new potting soil and mix in organic fertilizer
9. Replace new half root ball and fill in with soil
10. Replace plant marker and water container
11. You can replant the excess root ball or roots in a new container for additional plants

Even if I am not dividing an herb plant, if it is grown in a container I annually top dress the container with organic granular fertilizer and a layer of fresh potting soil.

A variety of herbs and annual flowers in containers 5-13-2016

I hope you are inspired to try herb gardening in containers. Herbs are so magickal and beautiful in the garden, as well as irreplaceable and essential for delicious seasonal cooking.

You are invited to join me at one of my upcoming culinary herb gardening classes on March 18th or April 9th

Happy Gardening,

The herb raised bed garden is just waking up! 3-9-2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

What to Plant in the March Edible Garden

Good morning gardeners!

Our average last frost in Portland is March 15th and that is just 2 short days away! It is a good date to keep in mind when garden planning and planting. Frost occurs at 32 degrees and most annual vegetables and herbs are not able to survive temperatures that low. Please keep in mind this date is an AVERAGE based on previous years. We could still get an overnight frost. So far the 10 day forecast appears to be frost-free. This is great news for eager gardeners!

This Friday and Sunday saw partly sunny with 60 degree days here in Portland. Talk about spring fever, yikes! Wonderful days for gardening and getting some much needed sunshine on my skin! However, please remember it is not officially spring until March 21st and March weather is wildly unpredictable with rain, hail, wind, and fluctuating temperatures averaging in the 40s/50s.

For optimal planting conditions not only do day temperatures need to rise, the soil needs to warm, and dry out some. In wet cold soil potato tubers will rot, seeds won’t germinate and transplants will struggle to grow. As March proceeds into April we generally have more ideal planting conditions. Think cool season crops, it is way to early for summer heat lovers like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, etc--you will plant these crops after May 15th.

Working in wet gardens causes soil compaction that impacts plant health. I’ve had my raised beds covered with a frost blanket that is keeping the soil warm and drier through the rainy season. On a dry day at the beginning of March I prepared my raised beds by removing the frost blanket, hoeing the fall-planted crimson clover cover crop, leaving greens on soil, sprinkling on an organic granular fertilizer, adding a fresh layer of compost, and then replacing the frost blankets. By mid-end of March when I assess the weather the raised beds will be prepped and ready for planting.

During the sunny warmer weather on Friday and Sunday I worked on my herb garden-both containers and a raised bed. It is wonderful timing to divide and repot herbs and perennials grown in containers. The cool weather of spring was perfect for planting annual herbs that thrive in the cooler weather like chervil, cilantro, and parsley. As well as hardy perennials like english and lemon thyme varieties. I think that subject warrants an entire separate post that I am working on now!

Cool Season Crops to Plant in March:

Asparagus-from crowns
Garlic-from cloves
Horseradish-from roots
Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes-from tubers
Potatoes-from seed potato tubers
Onions-from bulbs or bunches
Shallots-from cloves

Direct seed in the garden with protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame or plant transplants directly into the garden

Asian Greens
Escarole & Endive
Florence Fennel
Leeks-transplants are best
Mesclun Mix
Mustard Greens
Radish-direct seed is best
Swiss Chard
Turnips-direct seed is best

I would wait a little later in March to see how the weather goes for planting: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. Or if you want to plant these now from transplants into the garden be sure to keep a warming frost blanket handy or use some other kind of protection from a cloche, cold frame or low tunnel. I would also hold off until late March into April for direct-seeding beets and carrots. Make sure the soil has warmed up or their seeds won't germinate!

March is a great time to get started with your herb garden. Cool-loving annual herbs like chervil and cilantro should be planted now from seed or transplants. Biennial parsley can be planted now. Additionally perennial herbs like chives, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme can all be planted from transplants in March.

Late winter into early spring is the ideal time to plant small fruit and fruit trees in your garden. This time of year you will also get the best selection at nurseries. Consider planting a dwarf or columnar fruit tree such as apple, Asian pear, pear, cherry, or plum which all grow excellent in Portland. Fruiting shrubs, canes, and vines include:


And don’t forget the strawberries!

Spring is right around the corner. Happy Planting!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Good morning Portland gardeners,

March has arrived and with it a daily rotating variety of rain, hail, snow mix, wind, fog, clouds, and sun breaks. That's why the gardening proverb goes: March in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.Two weeks ago I managed 2 afternoons working in the garden without any rain. It was cold to be sure. Raking leaves, cleaning up winter storm debris, pruning hellebore and sword fern foliage, and cutting back the remaining ornamental grasses that dried out last fall.

This morning was a surprising delight. I was awake early before the sunrise and just before 7am I noticed it was actually sunny outside. I bundled up over my pjs and headed into the garden with a mug of steaming hot tea. I curled up in my adirondack chair wrapped in a blanket and soaked in the late winter garden.

Living in the middle of our city, one block off the Alberta Arts District can make for a noisy existence. So finding a quiet time in my urban garden is a rare treat indeed. Sunday at 7am, for a blissful half hour, the only noise was birdsong and the gentle music of the breeze stirring my wind chimes. No cars, no delivery trucks, no pedestrians, no dogs barking, no one smoking. Total heaven in my urban garden. I watched and listened to crows, bluejays, robins, sparrows, and one hummingbird all visit my garden in turn. Even a few seagulls flew overhead.

When it is not raining I hope you can enjoy sitting in your garden, doing a little gardening, and go on a nature walk. By now you should be seeing yellow-blooming forsythia, fragrant winter daphne, bright and tiny crocus, an endless variety of hellebores, and exotic looking edgeworthia.

A word of warning for eager gardeners. I have seen vegetable starts beginning to show up at nurseries and grocery stores. IT IS TOO EARLY to plant your vegetable starts. Our average last frost in Portland is March 15. Hold off on your cool season vegetable starts at least a few more weeks. Please also wait on planting seeds. Seeds have very poor germination in cool wet soil.

I know the other gardening proverb Plant Peas by President's Day. Well, after gardening in Portland for 17 years I subscribe more to Plant Peas at St Patrick's Day.

However, now is a good time to plant asparagus crowns, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, cane fruit like raspberries, grapes, kiwi, and fruit trees.

Some ways to satiate your eager gardener until it is planting time:
*Make a garden plan for the year
*Purchase your seeds and bulbs
*Inventory, clean & repair garden tools
*Pick up some flowering spring bulbs and cool season annuals to fluff up your containers-now's a great time for hyacinth, daffodil, mini iris, ranunculus, anemone, primrose, fairy primrose, pansy, and viola
*Spread sluggo organic slug bait around your garden, reapply every 2 weeks to keep in check the slug enemy
*Purchase blooming branches, tulips, and daffodils from your local floral shop to bring the garden inside
*Hang a new spring wreath on your front door
*Brush up on your gardening skills by taking a gardening workshop, read a garden book, get a subscription to a gardening magazine, or join a gardening club like The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO)

March is definitely a lion right now, so please use caution in planting too early. Spring will be here soon, I guarantee it!

Happy Gardening,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What to do in the February Garden

Good afternoon gardening friends,

I have come to love this time of year. Certainly many of you will laugh and think I am crazy. You might skeptically ask what about the ice, rain, rain/snow mix, freezing rain, thunderstorms, and variation upon variation of Portland’s “liquid sunshine?” For me February is a dreamy month when I take the last restorative pause of winter before frantic spring arrives. It is my deep breath, in anticipation of a very full 9 months of home gardening, hiking and nature walks, nursery visits, and my seasonal gardening business takes off at rocket speed. I give thanks for a break from the work of gardening, a restful winter mostly spent indoors, and prepare for rebirth of spring and awakening of nature.

February in Portland is an unpredictable mix of wintery weather with small hopeful glimpses of impending spring. Rainy days I’ve enjoyed inside reading and dreaming of spring. On the warmer days the winter sunshine is a seductive siren luring me into the garden for some gentle exercise and the healing power of nature.

A short stroll around the February garden reveals signs of spring abound! Winter daphne, hellebores, and spring flowering bulbs. In the autumn I planted several pots of spring flowering bulbs. Defiant of rain and frost the brave green shoots of daffodil, crocus, and hyacinth are all now poking up out of the winter soil.

This month my fragrant winter daphne started to bloom. Thinning some of its evergreen branches to provide more room for under-planted hellebores provided ample blossoming stems for indoor cut flower arrangements. Oh my, the sweet fragrance of daphne wafts throughout my small home as the tiny but powerful buds open!

Speaking of hellebores, as they are beginning their late winter flowering, you can help them out by completely pruning back to the ground all of the old foliage. Make sure to cut back only the foliage not the new flower buds. By getting rid of the large glossy evergreen leaves you showcase the low-growing dramatic flowers that otherwise would get lost. Don’t worry; after the hellebore plant is done blooming it will grow new evergreen leaves.

Honestly some of the warmer days near 50 degrees have sparked what can only be described as an epidemic of spring fever. I gently remind myself that spring is still five weeks away. A fantastic and fun seasonally appropriate gardening activity is to visit your local nursery to check out the late winter offerings.

If you didn’t plant spring-blooming bulbs in the autumn, February into March your local nursery will be packed with a selection of potted daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, miniature iris, grape hyacinth, crocus, anemone, and ranunculus. Keep an eye out for one of my favorites, the delicate “checkered lily” Fritillaria meleagris.

This is also a wonderful time of year to purchase and plant cool-season flowering annuals like cyclamen, pansy, primrose, and viola. I tuck these fresh flowering annuals into the pots on my deck to brighten up the front entrance. You can even bring some into your home to grow on a sunny windowsill. After a dreary winter, these welcome flowers are a sure sign spring is on its way.

The local florist is teaming with cut daffodils and tulips in February. Also be on the look out for flowering branches-cherry, plum, quince, forsythia, and pussy willow. I adore forcing these blooming branches indoors during the rainy and dark late winter months. Pretty spring wreaths start showing up. I christen the onset of spring with a pussy willow wreath on my front door. There are so many ways to get more nature in your life even when the weather is not yet cooperative for gardening.

February is a perfect time to do your garden planning, enjoy your seed catalogs, begin purchasing seeds & bulbs, inventory, repair and purchase new gardening tools and supplies. During the winter month of February you could expand your gardening knowledge by taking a gardening workshop, reading a gardening book, or subscribing to a gardening magazine.

Check out my upcoming gardening workshops in February and March.

February weather in Portland is extremely unpredictable and full of garden-threatening frost. Please keep in mind gardening in soil when it is still wet is very damaging. By walking, shoveling, tilling, and planting in wet soil you cause more compaction that equals a challenging living environment for plant roots and beneficial soil microorganisms.

When the temperatures are mild and the rain stops for a few days, February can afford the first opportunity of the year to garden. On those days I enjoy raking up autumn leaves and cleaning up winter storm debris. It is a good time to replace plant markers and lay on a fresh layer of mulch or compost.

The average last frost in Portland is March 15 and this is conveniently close to the spring equinox when we are halfway between winter and summer. This is important because it means the longest days and closest sun distance are on their way. Edible garden plants benefit from the warmer air temperatures, warmer soil temperatures, longer days, and brighter closer sun.

February is the time to start tomatoes from seed indoors. The plants take several months to grow from seed to transplant for the Portland short summer growing season. Honestly, I don’t ever start tomatoes from seeds indoors. Once May rolls around and it is the appropriate warm weather for tomato planting outdoors in the garden, Portland Nursery stocks hundreds of varieties of heirloom and hybrid varieties of tomatoes plants. I always get my favorite and some new varieties for my small urban garden. I am confident you will also be impressed by their selection.

Say you really have the gardening bug this month and the unpredictable weather momentarily cooperates with a break in the rain and temperatures reach the upper 40s, what can you plant? First keep in mind cold, wet soil is not conducive to seed germination so make sure your raised bed or in-ground garden is equipped with the protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame, tunnel or greenhouse. You can then direct seed or transplant these cool-season crops:

Escarole & Endive
Florence fennel
Mesclun mix
Mustard greens

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that grows wonderfully in the Portland climate. Keep in mind, as a perennial crop they need a dedicated garden space to spread out. Be patient as they establish, full production of spears takes 2-3 years. Asparagus crowns are planted early in the growing season during February and March. Crowns are now available for sale at your local nursery.

February in Portland is the ideal time to purchase and plant fruit. Nurseries carry the best selection now and the cooler weather is conducive to planting fruit.

Trees: apples, apricots, Asian pears, European pears, cherries, plums, peaches, and nectarines
Vines: kiwi, grapes, and hops
Bushes: blueberries, currants, gooseberry, and huckleberry
Canes: raspberries and blackberries

And don't forget about your strawberry crowns. Strawberries grow awesome in Portland!

As I write to you this afternoon I am listening to the rain on the roof and the wind shaking the trees. I appreciate the life-giving rain filling up our reservoirs, rivers, and lakes. I am grateful for all the rain as it contributes to such a lush glorious garden. Remember while the garden may look mostly dormant, life is stirring, nature is quickening and spring is right around the corner.

Happy Gardening,

Monday, January 16, 2017

Garden Dreaming....

Good afternoon gardening friends!

Here in Portland we received 10-12 inches of snow last week and with daily temperatures below freezing all that snow is persistently and stubbornly sticking around. Snow days can be a writer's dream come true! Initially I was poetically writing about this unprecedented snowfall in Portland.

Day 1: "Fat fluffy white snowflakes magically dancing like soft whispers from the cold dark sky. Layers and layers of puffy glittery white snow weighing heavily on trees, shrubs, pots, hanging baskets, and the fence, all blanketed by mother nature. I love this weather. Thank you for this beautiful winter gift."

Day 2: "Mother Nature is just showing off this morning. Not a cloud in the sky, the brilliant bright sunrise is magically turning the blankets of snow into glistening pink cotton candy. I love this weather."

Day 3: "The sunshine and blue skies contrast brilliantly with the blinding white snow. I have cleaned the entire house, organized my dresser, closet, and all the kitchen & bathroom drawers. Thanks for another snow day."

Day 4: "Why am I only the only person in our neighborhood who actually shoveled their sidewalk? I slipped and slided trying to walk 4 blocks to the grocery store. It's slim pickings in our refrigerator and I am hangry. The store is mobbed and of course out of what I walked over for. Dumb snow."

Day 6: "With windchill it is 9 degrees outside this morning. Will I ever drive my car or go to work again?"

Portlanders, I am sure that you can relate! I usually am not affected by seasonal depression. I enjoy all the seasons of the year, even the restful winter season. However, this is the 4th snow/ice inclement weather event in Portland since the beginning of December.

A funny drawing by Joseph Tychonievich of Green Sparrow Gardens is floating around the Internet. He says, "The short dark winter days cause me to suffer from S.A.D. Seed Acquisition Disorder.” Gardening friends, I’m sure you can all relate to this! During the intensity of the holiday season we are happy to have a rest from our gardens.

At the beginning of every year the new seed catalogs arrive in my mailbox. Thankfully this year several arrived just in time for the long snow days spent indoors. I spend hours excitedly pouring over each catalog, wrapped in a blanket, drinking pots of my favorite tea and devouring every detail of the new and old favorite varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Usually in January I find myself in pajamas and boots, clipboard in hand patrolling my puddle-filled, mostly dormant garden. Typically I gaze at the lush fall-sown cover crops and I ponder what worked and didn't work last year. This week my garden is still coated in a 10 inch blanket of stubborn snow.

That's a photo of my raised beds!

Winter is an excellent time for me to make list after list of garden plans. Dreaming and fantasizing about peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, and lilies I mark up my seed catalogs and make online wish lists. I eat, drink, breath all the endless potential and promise my garden holds in the coming year, especially this cold snowed in January.

My unchecked gardening enthusiasm for heirlooms can also promise the emptying of my bank account if I do not practice some restraint. I could easily see that happening this week as I drooled over the 2017 Swan Island Dahlias catalog.

Heirloom seeds offer a diversity of old-fashioned quality, and are rich in taste, color and history. Heirlooms are commonly defined as open-pollinated varieties that have resulted from natural selection rather than a controlled hybridization process and were grown prior to 1950. Some excellent sources for heirloom seeds are Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interest, and Renee’s Garden.

When purchasing seeds you will see many terms like heirloom, cultivar, GE, GMO, open pollinated, hybrid, organic and treated. All of these can be confusing and are often misinterpreted by the gardener consumer. I found a handy online resource from Renee’s Garden called Seed Buying 101: A Seed Gardener’s Glossary.

If you are concerned about GMOs, signers of the safe seed pledge do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds. A list of companies that have signed the pledge is maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, a non-profit with a stated mission of educating the public about and advocating for socially responsible use of new genetic technologies.

With so many seed choices, where does a gardener begin? First, make a list of all the things you are interested in growing, their growth habits and size at maturity. Take measurements of your garden and draw out where you might place things. You are invited to join me for the organic gardening workshops I am teaching this February, March, and April.

Winter is the perfect season to explore gardening books like: The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, and The Timber Press Guide to Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy every moment of the garden dreaming season before the hard work of spring begins!

In Health,

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What to Plant in September

Good morning gardening friends,

Two days left of August and today's cooler cloudy weather may be a signal Autumn is on it's way. Indeed Autumn Equinox is September 21st, however often we have delicious warm weather through September. Late summer in Portland means a garden bursting with fresh delicious produce. Summer's bounty includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melon, corn, beans, and basil! Stone fruit is amazing this year and local apples and pears are beginning to ripen.

Four short days ago we had 99 degree weather in Portland. During those sweltering temperatures it is hard to imagine now is the time to begin thinking about a fall and winter garden. But believe it or not July and August are the months to begin planting your garden for a fall and winter harvest. Unfortunately the bad news is you may have missed your planting window for some winter crops. The good news is there is still plenty you can plant in early September.

Portland’s warm fall and mild winter temperatures make an ideal climate for food growing into winter.
According to the farmer’s almanac our average first frost date has now shifted to November 15th. When thinking about planting fall and winter edibles, in general you want them to be at harvestable maturity by this average first frost date. So if you are interested in planting broccoli and the variety you select says 90 days to maturity you need to count back 90 days from November 15th and plant on August 15th. Other factors that effect plant growth to consider are the shorter day lengths and farther position of the sun during fall and winter.

Some crops that do well in the cooler weather of fall and winter are:
brussels sprouts
chinese cabbage
collard greens
endive & escarole
herbs-chervil, cilantro, and parsley
mache/corn salad/vit
mesclun mix
mustard greens
salad greens
swiss chard

You can also plant seed potatoes in the summer for a late fall harvest.

Many crops are intended to overwinter. You plant them in the fall and they mature for harvest the following spring or summer. Fava beans, garlic, onions and shallots are all overwintering crops. There are also many overwintering varieties of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and leeks.

A great resource for timing your fall/winter garden planting is the Territorial Seed Company. Check out their very informative fall and winter growing guide.

Some of the longer maturing crops are brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga and parsnip. It may be too late too plant those in September for a crop in time for winter. If you want to give it a try definitely use a transplant vs direct seeding and be prepared for season extension with a frost blanket or cold frame.

What I will be planting in my garden the first week of September:
From seed: arugula, endive, chervil, mache, mesclun mix, radish
From transplants/starts: beets, carrots, fennel, cilantro, kale, lettuce, parsley, peas-snow & snap, radicchio, scallions, spinach, swiss chard

In October I will plant bulbs for garlic and shallots to overwinter, as well as cover crops to help enrich the resting soil over the winter. And don't forget September and October are the perfect time for fall-planted spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and buttercups! Stay tuned for more details on these autumn garden tasks.

While you are enjoying the end of summer and reaping the abundant harvest of your garden, remember to grab a glass of iced tea and kick back with your fall and winter seed catalogs and planting calendar. When the winter weather sets in you will be grateful you planned and planted ahead for a cool-season harvest.

Happy Gardening,

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Healing Power of Nature

The Healing Power of Nature
Living with Chronic Illness

One week before my 14th birthday my mother died at age 42 after a three-year battle with breast cancer. I was staying with my father and stepfamily and I will always remember the pain of the phone call from hospice ringing in the middle of the night. The finality of that phone call tore into my tender 13-year-old heart. The next morning I went into the garage and found old seed packets for radishes, carrots and tomatoes. Armed with a shovel, seed packets and absolutely no instruction, I found a small patch of dirt between the house foundation and backyard lawn and I began digging. Repeatedly I slammed the shovel into the soil as an emotional release. I turned and turned the hard pack dry dusty soil. Without reading the seed packets, I planted them into the earth with my bare hands and watered them with the green hose.

What happened to my little first garden, I have no memory. What I do remember is the internal drive and instinct to seek out the soil and gardening as a means to cope with my intense grief. I imagine that experience was when the tiny seed of gardening was planted in my heart and where it lay dormant for the next ten years until I was again ready to put my hands into the soil.

The healing power of gardening was a powerful and patient seed, and at 25-years-old it awoke and gardening became my constant companion and teacher. Over the last 20 years of urban gardening I have gardened by any means possible; container gardening on apartments front stoops and patios, large scale backyard gardening, raised beds, community gardens, and everything in between.

My passionate love affair with plants has given meaning and direction to my often-confusing life. I believe in the inherent healing power of plants and nature and that is what led me in 2007 to my midlife career change to horticulture. In April 2015 I was blessed with the opportunity to start my own small business. As sole proprietor of The Gardening Goddess I happily devote myself full-time to garden design, garden consultation, garden writing, and teaching gardening workshops.

I was called to share my passion for the healing power of nature with others. In August 2015 I began a rigorous and prestigious horticultural therapy internship at Legacy Health with the goal of professional registration with the American Horticultural Therapy Association as a Horticultural Therapist. My internship was demanding and exciting providing with the opportunity for me to work in pediatrics, memory care, long-term care, intermediate care, skilled nursing, assisted living, and the Rehabilitative Institute of Oregon. I developed a therapeutic gardening program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This magical new professional life was a dream come true for me.

As the year progressed and my professional life became more demanding I struggled with several health problems. Ultimately in May 2016 a colonoscopy revealed ulcers in my small intestine and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease with no cure. Crohn's Disease is an auto immune disease that affects the entire gastro-intestinal system and is not completely understood.

How I personally experience Crohn’s Disease is a range of chronic GI symptoms including: mouth ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, chest pain, asthma, abdominal pain & cramping, abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, anal fissures, chronic blood loss, anemia, and nutrient malabsorption. My entire body aches in a state of chronic pain, insomnia gives me little restful sleep, and I am constantly fatigued and feeling like I’m running on empty.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness and managing the acute phase is profoundly life altering and the cause of deep emotional, mental, and physical stress. As an extremely driven and solution-oriented person I approached my illness with all the determination of an army tank. Within two weeks of diagnosis I was armed with my gastroenterologist, and also a new primary care MD, a new naturopathic doctor, and a new psychotherapist. I threw at my illness immunomodulation medication, multiple antibiotics, steroids, a multitude of naturopathic supplements, and a drastic change to a very restricted diet. I started a weekly routine of somatic psychotherapy, yoga, and meditation to dive into the emotional side of my illness. I was going to lick this Crohn’s Disease!

My body had other plans for me. The side effects from my medication caused me to be so nauseated I couldn’t see or smell food, let alone eat, without vomiting. I lost 20 pounds very quickly. I experienced cognitive impairment, normally a very organized person I could not remember details or words, I became easily confused while driving. Dizziness, vertigo, and headaches joined my plethora of symptoms. My right hip joint and muscles became so stiff and tight I could not cross my leg without excruciating pain. Muscle spasms and cramping became so uncomfortable my leg buckled when I tried to bear weight and walk. I was in and out of urgent care for painful urinary tract infections. All aspects of work and internship were becoming near impossible for me.

Within a month of diagnosis I had a complete physical and mental collapse. I was treated for dehydration and exhaustion. My “army tank” approach was not working. In the following months I was also diagnosed with gastro-esphogial reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, a multitude of food allergies, high cholesterol and interstitial cystitis. It was time to take a step back and listen to what my body and my mental health needed of me to begin my healing process.

Once again nature drew me into her supportive embrace and I discovered my healing process in my garden. My garden is the consistent throughout my life and especially during my illness. Most of the time I sit in my garden and do nothing. I find sitting very still and just observing nature to be so worthwhile. Nature encourages me to slow down.

My garden is my sanctuary. The trauma of being poked and prodded with weekly blood draws, injections, and being subjected to invasive medical procedures sends me running into my garden for refuge. When I feel defeated, hopeless, powerless, out of control, sick, in pain, fatigued, anxious, stressed, scared, depressed, confused, frustrated, or angry I come to my garden for release and comfort. My garden hears and holds all of my feelings.

In my garden my whole body relaxes. Here I breathe deeply and my muscles release tension. My heart rate calms and I let go of my worries. My pain and discomfort soften. Anxiety dissipates and stress melts away. Within a few minutes of being in my garden, my life makes sense and all is right in the world. Surrounded in nature, I am grounded, centered, and restored to balance.

My garden teaches me important lessons I relate to my own life. All plants have a birth, life, and death. Their life cycle includes both active growth and dormancy. Many plants experience disease, and often it is because they are weakened by stressors. I can throw lots of “things” at my garden like fertilizer, compost, weeding, pruning, staking, and ultimately I have no control over which plants thrive.

During the worst time of my illness, most days I could just muster enough energy to water and harvest my garden. The most minimal tending needed to keep it going. On good days I can spend an hour getting gentle exercise as I weed and prune. Every day I enjoy just sitting in my garden, listening to the breeze in the leaves, feel the warm sun on my skin, and watch the multitude of bugs and birds. The days I was too tired to get up, too fatigued to even read, I would lay on the couch and gaze out the window at my garden or look at the pictures in garden catalogs. Even a passive view of nature out the window or in print has healing powers.

There is always something new and delightful to notice in the garden. The abundant palette of colors, textures, shapes, sizes, fragrance, and tastes of my garden is endlessly exciting and surprising. Sitting in my garden inspires calmness and wonder.

As summer progresses I observe brilliant orange tiger lilies bloom next to dinner plate dahlias in a rainbow of colors. Beneficial bugs buzz everywhere I look. Damselflies, ladybugs, and a host of bees are regular visitors. Our resident hummingbird happily buzzes from splashing in the sprinkler to sipping nectar from purple agastache and brilliant red monarda blossoms. The tiniest “gray hairstreak” butterfly rests on a chamomile blossom and rubs her new wings together warming up for flight. Crow, blue jay, robin, swallow, finch, warbler, junco and chickadee alike take turns bathing and drinking from our birdbath.

Surrounded by nature’s wonder I will continue to seek refuge in my garden. No matter what my physical, emotional, and mental state my garden consistently provides an opportunity to restore my balance, find meaning in my life, and heal myself. During an adolescent time of great grief and trauma the tiny seed of gardening was planted in my young heart. The healing power of nature was a powerful and patient seed that has sustained me and grown strong giving my life meaning and joy. Nature is abundant in her healing power, she is always here waiting during every adversity, and here is where you will find me loving my life in my garden.

Warm Wishes for Your Vibrant Health,