inspired by spires

Italian cypresses

We have about 10 Italian cypresses scattered along the drive leading to our house. They act like a series of exclamation points. Some shoot up from bare ground, while others provide vertical elements amid lower growing plants.

stachys ‘Helen Von Styne’

With Stachys ‘Helen Von Styne’ sending up flowering stalks from her mounds of silvery foliage, it amounts to the best of both worlds. Beloved by bees, these stems also exude a subtle fragrance and avoid flopping.

Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’

In late spring, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ towers over this same berm, anchored by an Italian cypress at the far end. I might be accused of overdoing the spires, but there are billowy Euphorbias, rounded Rhododendrons and a few groundcovers to soften the effect.

kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’

After Cleo has faded, Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’ steps in. I always knew kniphs as red hot pokers, but Percy is more of a white hot poker, pale yellow shaded to light green. K. ‘Primrose Beauty’ is less vigorous, but it may just need a little more sun than it gets on the other side of that Berberis jamesiana.

Acanthus spinosa

About mid-summer, Acanthus spinosa produces tall columns of exotic looking blooms that dry in place and are dressing up their berm even now. When happy, they can be thuggish, but I love them too much to complain.

digitalis purpurea

I never know where the foxgloves will show up, but they seem to have a knack for placement. You may recall my puzzlement over the cupped flower at the top of the wand of more expected gloves. I was just reading up and found that it is typical of Digitalis purpurea ‘Monstrosa’.


This Verbascum is another volunteer, so I can’t tie down its identity any further.

Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’

I’m not sure these could even be called spires (they are pretty fluffy), but they do reach for the sky, and they sure do inspire me. So what about you? Are there spires in your garden? What are they, and how do you use them?

jam today • a book review

jam today

“…melt some butter in a skillet and cook the carrots, with a little salt, until they’re not raw anymore…” That’s about as exact as things get in Jam Today, a Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got. Author Tod Davies invites us into her world. It’s a cozy world in the mountains of Oregon, where she writes…and, as chronicled here, cooks: for friends, for her dogs, and most especially for her “Beloved Vegetarian Husband.” This she does without a hint of rancor (she is an omnivore) and without depriving herself of any of the joys of the table.

One is apt to come away thinking that cooking delicious meals is more attitude than recipe and that it extends into every crevice of one’s life and world view. I was especially taken with a section involving the purchase of one marble-sized Oregon truffle: the care and attention lavished upon its ripening; the sensitivity to its developing attributes; and finally, the three meals evolving from this one small nugget of flavor. Yes, she admits to one misstep by adding too much parsley to a pasta dish and overpowering the shaved quarter-truffle’s subtlety (I was reassured to find her judgment fallible).

Davies clearly loves everything about food and has absorbed quantities of cookbooks and recipes to arrive at the easy-going, seat-of-the-pants approach you will find in these pages. My great-grandmother was a sublime cook. Her “oh, a handful of flour and a pinch of salt” responses to those seeking to emulate her results were highly frustrating. Ms Davies is more forthcoming than that, but even if you fail to be converted to her way of doing things, I think you will enjoy her company.

The book is available on Amazon, and if you would like to sample some of her food and food writing, you can do so on her blog.

Bon Apetit!

foliage follow-up…and a confession

foggy scene

The season may be winding down, but that last act is a doozy. My crape myrtle has never bloomed, but who cares. The foggy mornings set it off to nice effect, don’t you think?

spider web

The spiders are in cahoots, spinning webs that catch the raindrops to bespangle the spaces between shrubs. A faceful of silken strands awaits the incautious rambler.

Euphorbia wulfenii

Sporting raindrops as jewelry is a specialty of Euphorbia wulfenii. Mine looked so ratty last spring than I was tempted to dig them out. Fortunately, I took the lazy way and cut them back hard. They rebounded marvelously.

Macleaya cordata plumes

Spent plumes of Macleaya cordata do a good job with the raindrop thing too…one way I rationalize postponing garden cleanup until spring.

tree peony and dogwood

Many of the showy trees and shrubs have flamed out already, but various Cornus species, like the one on the right are still working up to it, as is the tree peony in the center distance.

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is at its very best when the twisted, thorny branches are completely bare, but this stage, with the luminous, inedible fruit, is not bad either.

Ficus carica ‘Negronne’

I look forward to one day enjoying an abundance of figs. That little one you see clinging to the branch is one of only three, and it is far from maturing before frost. Last year we had one…my half was delicious. To compensate, the design of the leaves is exquisite, and they turn this buttery yellow before they fall.

Lysimachia clethroides

This one is a mystery. In that whole patch of green gooseneck loosestrife only the one stem turned orange and scarlet. What’s up with that?

Heuchera ‘Sashay’

Heuachera ‘Sashay’ maintains its perky personality through it all. I love the way the pink undersides of the leaves peek out around the frilly edges.

unmown grass

And finally, this patch of grass out back has escaped mowing because it has been too wet. It is ankle deep and swirls in undulating patterns. I do love the rain. If, like me, you just can’t get enough of fall foliage, let Pam show you hers and guide you to more.

I said I had a confession to make, and I do. Everyone was so complimentary about my mushroom bravery, and supportive, too. Well, I had no ill effects from the bits I did eat, but R nixed the meal. Lest you think he was being overbearing, let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, he discovered a swath of mushrooms in a part of our yard. There followed a quest that included poring through the illustrated mushroom guide (inconclusive)
and visiting several farmers’ markets. The mushroom stand guy called his dad (the expert) and described these fungi in detail. The verdict: Black Trumpet, one of the most delectable varieties. When we checked this info aqainst photos, these were definitely not the same. At another farmers’ market, a Croation woman said that she knew mushrooms, and these were definitely edible, though she could not name them. We had a small amount as a side dish. They were good, but not exceptional…certainly nothing to risk one’s health for the privilege of eating.
R is nothing if not persistent, so back he went to the People’s market in SE Portland, where the mushroom vendor seemed to know his stuff. He had a story about a guy who had liked this particular mushroom so much that he ate quantities of it (our field was awash in them). His outcome was not digestive problems, or death, but liver failure. Sooo…much as I longed to cook up my cache, and much as I doubted that anything so subtly delectable could harbor a dark side, I yielded to the more prudent approach. Just this morning I was doing a little more research and discovered that last Sunday there was a free event to hike the trails at Tryon Creek State Park to search for mushrooms, with an expert on hand for identification. I will be on the lookout for more such events. Here is a web site with some good information…and hey, guys, I’m sorry to disappoint you with my less swashbuckling ways…but, well, I’m sure you understand.

bloom day & other stuff


Talk about your unassuming little flower: Liriope would probably never make its way into a post if it were not for the paucity of bloomers in mid-November.

northern sea oats and fallen leaves

Wet fallen leaves are a more likely sight, with northern sea oats shuddering in the wind in the foreground, refusing to come into focus.

Fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’

The hardy fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’ is hardy indeed. It is holding on long after most have succumbed to cold, rain and wind.

dying hydrangeas

I usually allow the Hydrangeas to dessicate on the bush, becoming lacy shadows of their former selves. This is ‘Limelight’ going the rusty pink, with ‘Preziosa’ turning a complementary rose to sepia behind her.

Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies’

See the tassel of buds forming on Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies’? It has done that every year, then been frozen so that I never get to see that wonderful burst of blossoms. If you are longing to see a riot of color provided by blooming plants, you will have to visit other parts of the world. No problem: Carol, of May Dreams Gardens can transport you there via the magic carpet that is the internet.

praying mantis

And now to the “other stuff”. We were working on tidying up an espaliered firethorn the other day when R said “come over here…you gotta see this.” He held the shrubbery aside while I took the picture. Notice how distended the abdomen is. Isn’t it the wrong time of year for any creature to give birth? A raucous scrub jay was kicking up quite a fuss in that area once we moved on to something else. I hope he didn’t make a meal of Ms Mantis.

caged R ‘Ebony Pearl’

You may remember the troubles we were having with rodents tunneling into the roots of newly planted treasures. Our latest solution is to build wire cages for special plants going into open ground. It’s a lot of extra work, so it tends to hold down the flagrant purchasing of new plants…they have to be worth it. The new berm I am working on will have wire mesh at its base. The sound emitting devices seem to be slowing down the lawn damage, but we’re not taking any chances with Rhododendron ‘Ebony Pearl’ shown above.

mushrooms gathered on my walk today

Now just take a gander at what I filled my pockets with on my walk this morning. There are about five different kind of mushrooms here. They look and smell like the varieties I remember from childhood. Referring to the Peterson field guide to mushrooms is only minimally helpful…hard to find an exact match for any of them. Here’s what I have been doing: take a tiny taste of one style, holding it on my tongue to let the flavor develop and see if there are any superficial ill effects. If no problems have surfaced…yes, I swallow. I still feel fine these three or so hours later, so I am planning to feast on wild mushrooms this evening. Wish me luck.

Portland Homestead Supply Co


Tucked way in the Sellwood-Moreland district, just a little north of Tacoma on 13th Ave., all ye home cooks and gardeners (not to mention candle makers, home brewers. etc. etc.) will find a treasure in Portland Homestead Supply Co.

merchandise display

As soon as I stepped through the door, I was struck by the quality of the goods on display. They steer away from electronic gadgets in favor of the tried and true (note the bright red hand-crank meat grinder on the nearest table). These are items that can pass for artifacts. Indeed, they raise the homely arts of home making to an art form. All of the standard jars for canning and pickling are here, but for just a little bit extra, you can buy jars that will turn your kitchen’s yummy output into gourmet gift items to make you proud. I was drawn to some stainless steel pie pans…anticipating the delight they would bring to turning out pies and quiches.

how-to library

Need a little help getting started? Many subjects are covered in their book section.


On a mezzanine overlooking the main room is a large table where classes are held. Be sure to check out the class schedule on their website if you would like to try something new with a little hands-on help. See that “fresh eggs” sign on the mantle? It is not just for show. I was there on a Friday, when fresh farm eggs had just been delivered. There were duck eggs as well as huge chickens eggs and teeny tiny ones. Once you have tried eggs straight from the farm you will never go back.

aprons and linens

Several small rooms off the classroom hold different categories of merchandise. This one had aprons and various linens, all with that homey feel executed with a modern twist. While I was there, a woman came in with oven mitts she had made using flour sacks handed down in her family. I’m not sure any of that batch will make it to the showroom floor, the way employees were snatching them up. Don’t worry: she will be back with more.

drying rack

This drying rack folds flush to the wall when it is not in service.

candle making

All the makings for candles, including an interesting array of molds (bottom shelves), and an instructional book. I think taking the class would be a fun way to get into this.

Just as I was about to pay up and take my leave, someone mentioned that there were garden related items out the side door.

Nigerian dwarf goat

Have you ever seen a sweeter looking goat? It was unclear to me if this was Wendell or Belle, but the pair of Nigerian dwarf goats provide endless entertainment, keep the grounds clear of blackberry vine and, if all goes according to plan, will provide some frolicking kids come spring.


They share the yard with chickens and ducks, all roaming freely…

alley fence

the only restraints being good looking fencing treatments that block off the alleys on both sides of the shop.

supplements and tools

As with everything else, the room holding soil amendments and tools is spick and span, and the displays are as attractive as they are utilitarian. Those galvanized bins hold all sorts of soil amendments, even hard-to-find things like Jersey Greensand…all available in bulk or in 5# bags. Now it really was time to shove off, and I found myself chomping at the bit to get back to my kitchen and garden.

Mississippi Ave – and a world of salt

Back to my original plan to take you on a stroll along Mississippi Avenue in North Portland, but first I suggest that you visit Digging to see Pam’s tour of the greatest fall display I have ever encountered.

the old and the new

This is one of those areas that has been in transition for a number of years. Unlike the urban renewal model, the process has been organic, leaving old houses like this one, complete with a yard full of roses, to cozy up next to a brand new building housing shops and businesses.

new apartments (condos?)

New housing complexes raise the density along the street,

bamboo-lined alley

complete with a bamboo-lined pedestrian alley that extends the storefront shopping experience.

funky style store-front

Many of the storefronts have a funky, reclaimed quality about them, like this Mexican restaurant.

untouched remnant of old neighborhood

A few remnants of the old neighborhood remain untouched.

alley food cart

Food carts are a big deal in Portland. Since this one is on private property, it can build some covered seating for its customers without running afoul of city ordinances.

art gallery

Art on the street runs the gamut, from this minimalist gallery presentation

metal sculpture farm animals

to these farm animals strutting their stuff on the sidewalk.


SunLan carries nothing but light bulbs. You never saw so many light bulbs…of every size, shape and description. It almost resembles a curio shop.

sleek entry

While across the street a new building sports this sleek entry

sophisticated planters

with modern, sophisticated planters. You wouldn’t think that the disparity of styles would work, but it all seems to hold together and exude personality in a way that monocultures like malls try so hard for and miss by a mile.

portal to ?

This brand new covered portal would seem to suggest something coming soon to this currently almost vacant lot, but on Mississippi you never can tell. It may have been built entirely for its own sake.

stone balls

Most of a block is lined with new shops fronted by a courtyard punctuated by these large stone orbs.

The Meadows

One of the shops is emblematic of the quirky nature of the street. The Meadow is devoted almost exclusively to the world of salt. A selmelier is to salt what a sommelier is to wine. They have one.

wall of salt

Yep, that’s a wall of salt, all right. There are tester jars of each variety, and little cups of water to clean the palate between tastes.

Himalayan salt blocks

Those handsome slabs in the foreground are Himalayan salt blocks. They can be heated or chilled to serve a variety of foods while imparting a delicate hint of salt.

flowers and chocolate

To round out a true gourmet shopping splurge you can pick from a nice selection of flowers (while I was there last summer, a biker type in studded leathers chose a perfect, small red rose, had it beautifully wrapped in tissue, tied with a ribbon and off he roared…presumably to his lady love, but it might have been his mom (there was that tattoo). The Meadow also has a selection of high end chocolates, wines and bitters.

bagging it up

Having guided me through a tasting session, this delightful young woman is bagging up my purchases: smoked Malton finishing salt, truffle sea salt and a tiny silver spoon (suspicious if I am ever in a drug bust). The salts are expensive, but potent. They are used at the end of cooking or at the table, and the tiniest bit packs a wallop. So you see, Wendy, I did wind my way around to a little bit in this post that justifies linking to your Garden to Table Challenge. I guarantee you these salts will bring out the best in anything from your garden or farmers’ market.