Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.


On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

Rowena Plateau wildflowers in early April

The giant HPSO plant sale, renamed Hortlandia with a nod to the Peabody winning (WWTT) TV series ‘Portlandia’, which lifted its name from the sculpture on the Portland Building by Michael Graves (I know, I know…way more info than you need) has come and gone. Here is why I missed the first day: Saturday.

Bob n Laurie

Our good friends Bob and Laurie are avid wind surfers. Since the Columbia River Gorge offers some of the best, they built a house in Mosier to be closer to the wind, the sun and the river. We have had a standing invitation to visit, and when that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, off we went.

rock outcropping

If you have been following this blog at all, you know that I never met a rock that failed to capture my heart. The Gorge, then, is pure bliss. After visiting over snacks, we headed for Tom McCall Park, also known as Rowena Plateau, where many trails lead from the road to the cliff overlooking the river.

the Columbia River beyond the cliff

In the springtime, the main attraction is the parade of wildflowers strewn along the path. I made an effort to track down the names, with only moderate success. There is an informational board at the trailhead, but I was not equipped to take notes. Maybe next time.

Lomatium columbialum

Columbia desert parsley, or Lomatium columbialum



Later in the season, when the balsamroot comes along things get showy and bold, but now one must look closely to spot the dainty blossoms sprinkled here and there.

grass widow

The hand is there to steady the ‘Grass Widow’ for the camera, but it also gives you an idea of scale.

Fritillaria pudica

Yellow Bells, or Fritillaria pudica

So that, my dears, is what kept me from the first day of ‘Hortlandia’. Next, I will fill you in on what led to my second day of truancy.

beauty on Belmont

remodeled office & landscaping

Wandering around on the east side of the river the other day, I came across this. The building was once one of those nondescript hunks of nothingness, contributing only negative vibes to the ambiance of the street.

the entry walk

A light remodel and spiffy colors brought the building into the 21st century,

another view

But it is the landscaping that does the heavy lifting when it comes to the “Whoa! Look at that!” reaction. I should have taken a photo from the end to show the way the plantings of grasses and lavender are arranged in rows, with small deciduous trees spaced regularly throughout. I suspect they will be cutting things back soon. So glad to have happened upon it in all its billowing glory.

close up of wall

The undulating cement retaining wall and the rounded clumps of grass are a nice counterpoint to the straight lines of the building and the planting grid.

by the alley

An alley runs between the building and its neighbor (you can see the neighboring building as a backdrop here). The planting strip there takes a more casual approach, utilizing the same plants, with a few additions, scattered more haphazardly along a dry creek bed of river stones. I will definitely be back to see it when the trees leaf out and the lavender blooms. I love the Calvin Klien-ish collection of neutrals, but when it changes into its new clothes I’m sure it will be a new kind of beautiful…and fragrant, too. If you want to see it for yourself, go to E Belmont, right across from the Grand Central Bowl.

As John Lennon warned “Life is what happens while we are making other plans”. Thus I did not make it to the Yard Garden & Patio Show as planned, but I can direct you to two outstanding bloggers who can show you and tell you all about it. Just visit Loree and/or Scott for a ringside seat with a dollop of editorializing.

it’s a rocky road

Walking on the beach, along a river bank or just on my daily walk up our road, I am compulsive about picking up rocks. I am partial to smooth, egg-shaped rocks, though round or oblong discs will do. I have written here before about big rocks that I drag home from driving jaunts, but here I’m talking about little rocks…the kind that can fill up my pockets.

grouping of medium sized rocks

If you were to visit (and oh, how I wish you could), you would see little groupings like this collection of medium-sized rocks, and one to grow on.

kitchen windowsill bare

The kitchen windowsill did not appeal to me. This window looks out to the cherry trees and the bird feeders & bath, so it is always good for a show.

windowsill rocks

Filled with rocks (guess they are more like pebbles), it pleases me as I stand here admiring avian antics.

heart-shaped rock

I was tickled to find a heart-shaped rock. I like the way it looks at the feet of my goofy earring holder.

collection of flower frogs

Here is part of my collection of flower frogs…

rock frogs

but I rarely use them for their intended purpose, because rocks work so much better (in a tall vase,

rock frog 2

…or a shallow one.

rocks as mulch

Lately, I’ve been emptying my pockets into large container plantings. They keep the soil from splashing up and give a nice finishing touch.

rock earrings

Even my favorite earrings are a pair of matched rocks, wire wrapped, with an extra little silver dangle to dress them up a bit. What about you? Do you have a rock fetish? Or perhaps some other siren (plants don’t count here, we all share that obsession) lures you onto the rocks. I would love to hear about it.

after the storm

‘Thunderhead’ pine

The rain ceased, the clouds parted and a patch of blue sky could be seen: a fine opportunity for a walk around our place and up the road. I spent a long time looking for my ‘Thunderhead’ pine back before they started popping up everywhere. It has been in place now for about four years and was beginning to earn its name, before this drastic pruning job administered by Mom Nature. It lost a good half of its volume. Several less precious pines out in the front hedgerow suffered lesser damage.

broken birch

We have a little grove of birches along the entry drive. Several of them had their main leaders broken off.

sapsucker damaged birch trunk

Of course, the birches had been weakened by the attack of the sapsuckers, who had drilled them full of holes before R put the protective cages of chicken wire around them. This latest of several home remedies seems to be doing the trick, especially if I keep the suet feeders full.

rain-beaten grasses

Grasses that had been standing tall have been beaten to the ground. Guess I can’t put off cutting them back much longer.

roadside snow

Out on the road, the remnants of the snow storm linger. Many of our neighbors had burn piles going to deal with the debris. With all that wet material it looked like they were sending smoke signals back and forth.

forest damage

The forest gets thinned out naturally from time to time. This go-around left broken branches and fallen trees all over the place.

salvaged rocks

Loosened rocks fall onto the roadsides every winter. We hauled home some beauties today.

mossy rock

Here’s a rock from a previous plundering party that has had a chance to settle in and accumulate some moss. Seldom have I met a rock that didn’t call out to me for adoption.

It was pointed out to me by Loree, that most dangerous of gardeners, that I have been largely absent from the blogosphere of late. I was touched to have it noticed. I guess I am beginning to feel some spring-like stirrings that should prompt a spate of new subjects to spout off about. Thanks you, as always, for stopping by.

frosty morns

northern sea oats

Just when everything was beginning to look slightly bedraggled, along came Jack Frost with his pot of ice crystals. See how each seed head on the Northern sea oats is outlined with icy edges.

icy fallen leaves

Even something as mundane as fallen leaves on the driveway takes on a shimmering beauty.

frosted Ceanothus

The tiny leaves of the Ceanothus could pass for a courtier’s embroidered frock.

Phlomus leaves

The leaves of Phlomus.

weeping Norway spruce

This is what I think Christmas should look like.

frozen bird bath

This reminds me: I’d better get out there with some warm water to help the birds out…suet & seed already in place. But before I do, let me direct you to Linda’s site. She has posted some stunning frost photos the last couple of days.

rebuilding center on Mississippi

from across the street

Now that things are slowing down in the garden, it’s a good time to trot out some of the things stored away that didn’t quite make it into previous posts. When I visited Mississippi Ave a few weeks ago, I took quite a few pictures of a place I find inspiring, The Rebuilding Center. If you drive toward the river on Fremont, you will come upon it where Fremont intersects with Mississippi.


It is a place where builders and remodelers can drop off unwanted building materials that are then sorted, priced and put on display.

wall of windows

Bulletin boards hold ideas for ways to use cast off materials in ingenious ways, but perhaps the most inspiring examples are to be found in the building itself. Here is a wall incorporating a hodge podge of reclaimed windows. Greenhouse, anyone?

welded metal fence

Scrap metal has been welded into a decorative fence.

main entrance

The main entrance is a fantasy land, with built-in benches at the base of trees whose branches, adorned with sparkly elements reach for the vaulted skylights.

another look

Here’s another look at that entryway.


The space is huge, with enough room for separate areas dedicated to doors, windows, etc.


In the lighting department, whole fixtures hang from above while shelves of globes and shades fill the dense shelving below.

lumber, etc.

This is one of those places to come with an open mind and let the imagination roam free. Who knows what manner of garden structure might result.

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.

weekend wanderings

‘Lucifer’ hedge

A little drive to St Helens took me by this “hedge” of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’. I usually prefer it as a single specimen, but must admit that a long line of it massed along the meridian was a show stopper.

dragon bike

On the way home, I stopped to take a picture of this motorbike-cum-dragon. It was a poor day for picture taking, but I have passed by this so many times with no camera on hand that I decided to just go for it.

The Benson hotel

On Sunday, Din took the whole family to brunch at the London Grill in the venerable old Benson Hotel. As we gathered in the lobby, I was mesmerized by the floral arrangements, wondering where they ever found Oriental lilies of such a saturated orange.

oops…they’re fake

Closer inspection told the tale: fake flowers, all. HPSO members are spoiled by the massive flower arrangements of the real thing gracing every one of our meetings. Brunch did not disappoint, however. The wood paneled, clubby restaurant puts out five or six tables groaning under the weight of every conceivable edible that might be taken in at that hour of the day.

PHReed in the Pearl

Walking it off, we found ourselves in The Pearl District, checking out the new digs of PH Reed. That back pot contains black bamboo that tops out at about 12′.

more PH Reed

At the other side of the alcove bracketing the new shop sits another grouping of the same pots, different plantings. The new iteration of this home furnishings and accessories shop is much smaller than their last venue. It has served to focus their selections and makes for a pleasing experience. Good to remember that bigger is not always better. Should probably have kept that in mind when loading up on eggs benedict and hazelnut torte.