Eight Plants That Have Forgotten It’s Fall 

There’s something odd about our place here in Oregon. There’s some quality that hints of eternal youth, of continual renewal and transformation. A touch of Eden, perhaps. Oh, not for us human residents — this magical spring of youth is reserved for our plants.

Take our wisteria vine, for example. Look up how to grow wisteria, as we did when we moved here a bit more than two years ago, and you’ll learn that wisteria blossoms in the spring and then fades. That’s the normal course of events. But not ours. Our first summer, it blossomed at least twice. The following year, it put out blooms at least four times (I lost count near the end), tender green buds appearing just as the flowers from the previous wave of color began to fade. This year, it’s currently in its fourth wave of blossoms, with the velvet-soft buds of the next incarnation now appearing. It will be September any minute now, but that wisteria is determined to flower ceaselessly.

Then there’s this lovely hellebore. It’s an early spring flower. This one appeared in late January or early February, a rich purple with faint greenish tinges. An earlier-blooming hellebore, which was a delicate white, bloomed in December and faded as this one was at its height. Another purple one lost its blossoms by May. But this one is still blooming. The purple color has faded, allowing the underlying green to take over. You can see the brown seed-cases in the center, and a touch of dry brownness along the petals’ edges. But this dainty, fragile spring  blossom  is still holding its own, refusing to die off. It’s August 30, and here it is.

Our raspberry harvest was in June, just as it was last year and (to a lesser extent, due to neglect) the previous year. This year, after extensive work over the past two summers improving the raspberry bed, we had the best harvest yet. Naturally, I assumed that the June harvest was the end of it. Apparently I thought wrong. Yesterday, as I trimmed and weeded and supported young green canes, I found…this. A handful of tiny green almost-berries! Today, as I finished pruning dead canes and tying up young ones, I found two more plants that appear to be making new berries. I had no idea this was possible. I’m not sure it actually is — and yet, there it is, another piece of evidence that our home holds a few grains of the Soil of Youth. img_9251

We took a walk Sunday evening, Aaron and I and the kids. Niko and Sofia munched apples they’d filched from our trees and picked frothy blooms of Queen Anne’s lace as we strolled down our driveway to the lane — season-appropriate actions that were entirely expected for the end of August. What was less expected was what we found as we passed the plum tree at the end of our driveway. As we paused to examine a branch that overhung the driveway and needed to be trimmed, I gasped. “No way!” The branch sported a twig inexplicably laden with flowers. That’s right. Plum flowers! In (nearly) September! img_9192

This next one is, I think, actually appropriate to some varieties of strawberries — a second, smaller, crop of berries in late summer. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed blossoms in the bed of strawberries that was originally here before we moved to this home. This week, we’ve been picking the occasional berry to snack on. It’s a delightful, probably normal feature of whatever variety these plants are, and I halfway expected it. What I didn’t expect was for Niko to find a red, ripe berry in one of our new Hood River strawberry beds — a variety not known for producing a second crop! Once again, magic has touched our garden. (Most likely a seed or runner crept over to the neighboring bed from the twice-bearing bed…but I prefer the more magical explanation.)img_9254

I’ve been told that lavender, promptly harvested, can produce a second wave of flowers. The past two summers, I harvested the buds just before opening for the most fragrant bouquets, carefully hanging and drying them — and waited in vain for a second crop. This year, an extended wave of migraines kept me indoors for the peak lavender harvesting time (you can blame them for my lack of blog posts, too). I finally managed to trim the flowers as they were fading, long after the ideal time, and tossed most of them into the compost. Since some of them had already gone to seed, I expected no further flowers from them. And yet, here they are, weeks later, a charming display of dainty buds and flowers.

When I was growing up in Northwestern Ontario, most of the roses around our place were wild roses. All of them, wild or domestic, were spring flowers. Once the summer heat arrived, they were done blooming. Here in Oregon, it’s a different story. As long as dying flowers are kept trimmed, these roses will produce flowers until the first frosts. I know it really is normal for this area — but it thrills me every time I look out at our rose bed filled with vibrant color!

Last week, I decided to tackle some overgrown shrubs that provide shade along two small ponds and screen the lawn from the driveway. As I trimmed and hauled away branches, I leaned down to pull a few weeds from the shady pond garden — and there, nestled in dark green leaves, was a purple primrose! In the spring, that primrose plant had provided a splash of color in that dark corner, with multiple blooms, but of course the flowers faded as summer approached. Maybe the overgrown shrubbery had provided enough shade that this plant was tricked into thinking it was still spring. Who knows? All I know is that it’s one more example of the magical, eternity-tinged properties of our garden. A slightly faded, bug-eaten example, but come on! A primrose, at the end of August? That’s got to be real garden magic. img_9347Whatever the reason for the magic touching our home, I’m grateful and delighted. Grateful for the beauty, grateful for a respite from pain that allows me to enjoy it, and grateful for our life here in the country after too long hemmed in by a city’s concrete. Delighted by the surprises I encounter nearly every day.

Oatmeal Bath Soak

Sofia is suffering from her first-ever real diaper rash. She’s 9 months old and, unlike her brother (who had some incredible rashes that would have had me in a panic if my NICU-nurse husband hadn’t known exactly what to do), has always had soft, smooth skin. She’s had temporary redness on occasion, but never full-blown rash – until now. And, true to the old adage that it never rains but it pours, Niko is having a now-rare eczema outbreak – he had them frequently in Alaska, but his skin has cleared up significantly since moving to Oregon. It’s pretty mild, but I’d like to take care of it before it escalates.

So, it’s time to whip up a batch of oatmeal bath soak! My recipe is based on the ingredient list from a number of (ridiculously expensive) soaks I purchased or was given back when Niko was just tiny. Mine is actually a bit more effective, I think, than the ones I purchased, and costs me quite a bit less. I used it with a lot of success when Niko was in the diaper rash stage, as well as when he was breaking out frequently with eczema on his face.

The first step is to visit a store with a good bulk section to stock up on some herbs and other ingredients. For a small batch like I’m doing today, I use about ½ cup each of calendula flowers, comfrey leaves (you could also use the flowers), and lavender buds. Usually I also add about ½ cup each of powdered goat’s milk and powdered buttermilk. I’m not putting them into this batch because Sofia is very sensitive to dairy in her diet (well, my diet, since she’s nursing), and I’d rather not find out the hard way if she’s also sensitive to it on her skin. I always have oatmeal on hand, but if you don’t, look for it in the bulk section too. Get some baking soda in bulk as well – you need about ¼ cup of it, and it costs much less in bulk than getting it in the grocery section. (I use it in so many things, like room freshener and laundry stain remover, that I always keep lots on hand.) Finally, I like to add a few drops of lavender essential oil. You can find it fairly easily in the “natural” section of many grocery stores. It gives the soak a pleasant smell, and it adds to the healing effect.

Ingredients for bath soak
Ingredients for bath soak

Next, it’s time to get the ingredients into a workable form. I start by dumping about 2 cups of oatmeal into a blender. It needs to be processed until it’s a fine powder, known as colloidal oatmeal. To make sure it blends evenly, I stop the blender periodically and shake it down. When it is soft and silky feeling, it’s done.

Now I blend the dried herbs. I pour them all in together, about ½ cup of each, and give them a good whirl. They blend more easily than the oatmeal, but it still takes some time to get them to a fine powder. It doesn’t work well to process them with the oatmeal, because the textures are so different. You end up with big chunks of dried herbs, which is unattractive and tends to clog the drain.

Finally, I mix the oat flour, powdered herbs, and ¼ cup each of baking soda and corn starch together, as well as the buttermilk and goat’s milk powders if I’m using them. Shake 4-5 drops of lavender oil over the mixture and mix again. Store it in a sturdy ziplock bag or a glass jar that seals. Don’t overdo the lavender: it can be quite strong, and you don’t want your home to reek like a perfumerie for the next six months.

There are two ways to use it in the tub. When I was first making it, I would dump it right in to the water. It made a sludgy mess, and I would have to scrub the tub afterward, but it worked just fine.

Then I got the idea to use cheesecloth sachets. I just toss the bag into the water as the tub is filling, and leave it in during the bath. The tub still needs to be rinsed, but it’s not nearly as messy. It is a good method for Niko in particular, because his eczema is always on his face, and I can use the sachet like a washcloth and apply the bath soak directly to the problem areas. When the bath is over, I squeeze the water out of the sachet, open it up, and turn it inside out over the trashcan. Then I rinse it in the sink, and it’s ready to use for the next bath. After a couple of baths, or if you know you won’t need it again for awhile, wash it in the delicate cycle. If you don’t want the trouble of washing it out, you could probably use paper tea bags. I’ve seen them in cooking supply stores and in spice and tea shops. They’re easier to find in the fall, when stores are marketing cider spices to simmer in apple juice. I feel like they would be less effective because they wouldn’t allow the oatmeal to disperse as well, and oatmeal is one of the main soothing factors. I haven’t tried it, though.

Soothing bath soak in a cheesecloth sachet
Soothing bath soak in a cheesecloth sachet

Here is the recipe in a more traditional format.

Oatmeal Bath Soak

2 cups oatmeal
½ cup calendula flowers
½ cup comfrey leaves
½ cup lavender buds
½ cup powdered buttermilk
½ cup powdered goat’s milk
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup baking soda
4-5 drops lavender essential oil

1. In blender, process oatmeal until it is a fine powder [known as colloidal oatmeal]. Pause frequently to scrape or shake down the sides.
2. Use blender to process calendula flowers, comfrey leaves, and lavender buds into a fine powder.
3. Combine powders with remaining dry ingredients in a mixing bowl or large ziplock bag. Add lavender oil a little at a time to desired scent, mixing thoroughly each time you add some.
4. Store in zipped plastic bag or tightly closed container. Add generous scoop to bath to soothe itchy skin or rash.