Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Girl Named Flower

By Chris Lae, via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Lea, via Wikimedia Commons

The Girl Named Flower

 I hate my name.
They could have chosen Iris, Violet, Lily or Rose.
Something less likely to be Flo.
They were hippies. Wanted me to be fruitful, free,
abundant, pretty. Thank god it wasn’t Weed.
I’ve made important people sneeze.

I met Bill, at a bar on a Friday. Lots of friends.
We traded who we worked for, what part of town
we lived in, favorite drinks. He drank stout;
mine a skinny margarita. It was going down
kind of mediocre for the first hour.
He has a condo. I have two roommates.
I write ad copy for creameries. He’s in a bank.

Then he tipped his third Guinness, a foam mustache.
A habit of wiping his fingers through his black hair
like he was afraid he might be balding.
He saw the rosebud tattoo on my ankle.
H showed me a blue tattoo on his wrist bone.
Forget me not, he said. The flower.

Later he said, Flower me.
I thought I might as well. So I did.
Two weeks later I learned
he said Follow me.

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Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon poet who has maintained gardens all her life, sowing the seeds of sanity. She grew up admiring her mother’s roses and vegetable garden. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and volunteers at Portland’s Washington Park Rose Test Garden. Her chapbook Urban Wild is available from Amazon and focuses on interactions between humans and wildlife in urban habitat.

Her lyric and eco-poetry of  Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press) focuses on a small town on the Oregon coast, Manzanita. Website:
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Spider Web Haiku



in the dead
of frozen winter
remnant spider web


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Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon poet who has maintained gardens all her life, sowing the seeds of sanity. She grew up admiring her mother’s roses and vegetable garden. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and volunteers at Portland’s Washington Park Rose Test Garden. Her chapbook Urban Wild is available from Amazon and focuses on interactions between humans and wildlife in urban habitat.

Her lyric and eco-poetry of  Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press) focuses on a small town on the Oregon coast, Manzanita. Website:
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Romancing the Seed



Winter. Once again, it’s seed buying time, planning time, dreaming time. On a frosty Colorado Saturday morn, as I sit at the kitchen table and browse my favorite catalogues, my thoughts turn to vegetables, to spring, . . . to love. I muse at how, in spring, all the garden becomes a stage for romance. Pregnant buds on trees, after a wintertime of slow hidden growth, open, joyously revealing perfect leaves and flowers. Birds sing throaty songs of mating, and bees begin their explorations, helping flowers meet.

In the catalogue I see asparagus, sex incarnate as they begin pushing up through the earth, thin chartreuse phalluses. Precoce d’Argenteuil from an Italian supplier sounds especially intriguing. In the photo it is handsome—rosy purple in color with only a bit of green at the head.

Another variety, Purple Passion, catches my eye. These deep burgundy men have a higher sugar content than their green counterparts. Although they turn green upon cooking, I learn that sweet young spears are often savored raw. I imagine eating them in the proper way, with the fingers.

Another page offers peas. Of all the springtime blossoms, the darling peas are probably the most delicate, the most like Georgia O’Keeffe masterpieces in miniature. Paradoxically, the catalogue boasts varieties with male names—mighty English peas named Green Arrow, Mr. Big, and Knight. That makes me wonder if they’re macho after all, but then I think of the babies, the peas in the pods.

Peas . . . seeds . . . suddenly I’m in my sun-filled potting shed, basking in the new March warmth. I roll up my sleeves, readying myself for a few hours of planting seeds, assisting nature’s miracles of birth. As I begin to work, my husband Andy surprises me with a visit. I am so pleased by his offer to help. We toil side by side, enjoying the musky smell of soil going into pots, the feel of the tepid water we spill, and the warm sunshine as it envelopes us from the window. Birds twitter and cavort outside, in rapturous mating rituals. They are happy spring is coming. We are happy, too. My husband says I look beautiful, even though my face is smudged with dirt and my hair is unloosed from its kerchief. As our fingers caress and count seeds, cover them, push them into the damp soil, the room heats up.

Our fingers touch when we reach for the watering can. Everything becomes sweetly electric, spring-fevery. The potting shed door closes, and . . .

My husband has walked into the kitchen. He notices my daydreamy smile. “Try not to overspend this time on seeds,” he says, “like you always do.”

“Whatever,” I say, my smile fading like a pressed flower.

Alas, my sexy potting shed is total fantasy. All my seedlings are started in the chilly unfinished basement, below shelves of fluorescent lights that illuminate a frightening amount of dust and cobwebs.

I move on to the eggplants. I find that new this year is Slim Jim. Slim Jim is supposed to be exceptionally early, garden flower pretty, long, slender, purple, mild. Maybe I’d enjoy its sensual flavor in a favorite Italian dish, Pollo con le Melanzane e I Pomodori Freshi (fricasseed chicken with eggplant and fresh tomatoes). Delicioso. The name Slim Jim suddenly seduces . . . I envision another Italian dish, a slender gentleman named Giacomo—dark, very sexy, and a master of culinary delights (among other things). I am sure this Jim would not limit his wife’s seed spending.

Certainly not on tomatoes, perhaps the most female fruit. My catalogue offers an incredible variety of tomatoes, but none very enticingly named. Green Zebra and Grandma Mary aren’t very lip smacking. I am old enough to know that a tomato used to be a word for a sexy young thing, like Betty Boop or Bettie Page. It makes sense if you think about it, the tight skin covering firm, unblemished flesh, the succulent and juicy insides.

While the taste of tomatoes is not overtly sexual, they have their moments, in Italian food with wine, of course, or eaten warm off the vine, the juice dripping down one’s arm. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to enjoy the sensual pleasure of taking a whole cherry tomato in my mouth—and squishing it. I should develop my own tomato, I decide, and name it simply . . . Betty.

Next I browse the selection of beans. At first I find little in the sexiness department, few provocative names. I do not understand—beans are energetic, forceful—they ramble up fences and trellises, twining, curling, and grasping like possessive lovers. Then a lusty Italian pole bean, Purple Trionfo Violetto, catches my eye. This bean’s vines are reported to overrun trellises, and the ornamental light purple blooms turn into thousands of dark purple beans, whose “nutty sweet flavor is just sublime.”

I feel an instant attraction . . .

I am in the vegetable patch. I wear a low-cut peasant’s blouse with floral print skirt and cradle a French wooden trug in one arm. The trug’s overflowing with multicolored beans, just picked from one of my large and rustic been teepees. My husband gazes upon me and approaches as a slight breeze tousles my hair and skirt. My amoroso tells me he cannot wait until dinner to sample my cooking. I offer him a bean and he lustily bites off the tip. I say the names. They roll off my tongue seductively—Purple Trionfo Violetto, Yellow Romano Burro D’Ingegnole. We look at each other and then the bean teepee, I feel his hand so gentle and . . .

Yuck! Alice, our dalmatian, has nudged her cold wet nose into my palm. “Stop it,” I scold. Oh well. In reality, I’d be wearing blue jeans, a dirt-stained shirt, and sandals with smudges of chicken manure on them, compliments of my tiny urban flock of bantams. I’d probably be slightly irritated that I barely had enough beans for a side dish, and furthermore, I’d botch the pronunciations so terribly that even I wouldn’t know what I was trying to say.

I turn the page to cucumbers. Cucumbers are so erotically charged there’s not a time I buy one that I don’t blushingly consider its reputation. I’m not alone. Andy once told me of a time in the produce aisle when he “just happened” to notice a very attractive woman as she moved toward the cucumber bin. As she approached the cukes, most of the male eyes in the vicinity zeroed in on her (including his, I pointed out). Now here, I think, is also an area where names could count. But before I can improve on the ones the catalogue offers, I notice the spread with melons, the female counterpoints to cucumbers in the produce aisle.

Under the selection of watermelons, I find one that exudes romance, Moon and Stars, an Amish heirloom. Moon and Stars is large, deep green, and sprinkled with yellow spots, like constellations of other galaxies. Some of the spots are larger, moon-like. A wet, sugary constellation that can fit in one’s hand.

The catalogue cantaloups range from the tiny-bosomed, one or two-pound Jenny Lind to the voluptuous five-pound Magnifisweets. A cornucopia of melons, one for every preference.

Melons . . . I’m on a picnic with my man, on a blanket near the bank of a secluded, private pond. Our shoes and our cares temporarily shed as we watch the fish jump, the dragonflies mate. Everything is easy, lazy. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a sweet, juicy melon to savor, and . . . we kiss, a long slow summertime kiss that seems to last forever. Thoughts turn to indulging in more of life’s riches, right then and there. I lean back and . . .

“MOM!” a hair-raising yell comes from the other room. It is my darling daughter, informing me that her just-as-darling sister has hit her.

Dang. Why did reality have to remind me about the maternal side of melons, pregnant, so pregnant, with responsibility? I know well what all that passionate abandon can lead to—fruits of love, fruits that yell “Mom” all the time. A rude thunderstorm suddenly drenches the picnicking lovers. Their fires extinguished, they run for cover.

Oh well, it was time to finish the order anyway. I smile in spite of it all. Gardening is sometimes described as “an old lady thing.” An old lady thing? Digging the fertile earth, enjoying the warmth of the sun, watching the birds and bees . . . gardening is about loving, nurturing, touching, smelling, tasting. It is sensual. Even more, it is sexual. Flowering, reproducing, fruiting—these are the primal acts of life.

Oh yes, I nod, as I finish filling out my order. Gardening is the sexiest hobby.

–Sandra Knauf

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In 2016 I’m Eating Weeds

Oryctolagus_cuniculus_eating_dandelions (2) flipped

European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) Eating Dandelions in Yealand, Redmayne, UK, by Gidzy, via Wikimedia Commons


And I’m happy about it. Eager to dig in, even.

Let me explain. Weeds are good for you. VERY, very good for you. They are the super foods you don’t hear about. Probably because they are free.

I credit two people for my enlightenment, Katrina Blair . . . and George Washington Carver.

Last winter I thought I’d have some time to read a few books (ha, silly me!) so I wrote a couple of publishers. One of the books I was interested in was The Wild Wisdom of Weeds (published by Chelsea Green). As an aside, I am never compensated for a review of a book, but I do accept a copy to read! I’d heard about The Wild Wisdom of Weeds via a review by Dominique Browning in the New York Times, and had listened to a terrific local podcast interview with the author Katrina Blair (it starts at about the 18 minute mark) . I was hooked from the beginning of the interview when she told of her first communication with the plant world at age eleven. She was on a mountain lake, not far from her home in Durango, Colorado, with her brother and cousins, just out having fun, swimming in the lake. They left for lunch while she stayed around, paddling around on an air mattress. She spied a lush spot of plants that seemed to beckon to her–come over here! She did, and crawled up among them, and said she felt embraced with “a euphoric energy.” Then she said the plants told her, “You’re home. You’re going to live your life with us!” Immediately I thought of Zera, my Zera, the teenager I’d created in Zera and the Green Man. But Katrina was not a work of fiction. This was her amazing beginning in an intense interest in and study of plants.

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds arrived at my home soon after and then and sat around for most of the spring and summer while I was distracted by many other projects. Once in a while I’d hear about the book, but I still hadn’t cracked it open to take a look.




Once I did, I found everything I needed to know about the subject.

The most fascinating aspect was the plants themselves. Blair has made a list of “13 essential plants for human survival,” the book’s subtitle. These 13 plants are extremely high in nutrition, higher in nutrition than cultivated greens as these plants have adapted over millennium to survive and thrive in the most extreme conditions. Their roots run deep to mine for soil minerals, they can survive almost anything. They’ve adapted all around us, are available on all continents. They can be found in most backyards (if you’re not a sprayer of poisons), so they are FREE and perfect local foods! Plentiful, common, and Blair says they are delicious. Frankly, I have taken a taste here and there of dandelion greens, clover, lambsquarter, purslane, etc. and have found them palatable, but I didn’t fall in love. To be honest, I imagine most of us will have to cultivate both our taste for these new greens and our ability to use them–as they are foreign to both our plates and palates.

But it can be done and I’m ready to start! I mean, c’mon, free superfoods in your backyard? What’s not to love? Chances are, if you’re a gardener, you have many of them growing on your property right now.

Here’s the Fab 13 in alphabetical order: amaranth, chickweed, clover, dandelion, dock, grass, knotweed, lambsquarter, mallow, mustard, plantain, purslane, thistle.

I have all but chickweed, knotweed, and wild thistle on my city lot, but thistle is plentiful in other areas close by.

Blair goes into great detail about each of these plants: their nutrition, their food uses through the seasons (many recipes included), their preparation, storage, their medicinal uses, their history. What she tells you about their nutrition alone will make a believer out of you.

Also last year I had been re-reading, for the 3rd time, Rackham Holt’s 1943 book, George Washington Carver: An American Biography. Carver, as I’m sure you know, was a scientist and an agricultural expert, but he was also very much a champion (in the early 20th century!) of sustainability, including organic farming, composting, and eating wild weeds. One of the many amazing things discussed in this book is his knowledge of wild weeds and their use as food.

In fact, it is in this book that I read his definition of a weed as “a plant out of place.” I’d heard that many times and wondered if it was the first time it had appeared in print.

In one chapter, Carver told the story of a hungry man who asked him for money for food one day as he was walking in the town of Tuskegee, Alabama. Carver gave him money and the man headed in the direction of the stores. Carver then sadly shook his head and said, “It’s pitiful, pitiful. Between here and that store there is enough food to feed a town.” He pointed to weeds by the road and wild plums on the trees overhead, and added, “And a balanced diet, too.”

That book goes on to tell, as Blair’s does, about the vitality of weeds and their comparison with cultivated plants. “But often the wild plants were more palatable than the cultivated ones, which had been robbed of vitality by coddling . . .” and other benefits, “they would dare to come up earlier than the tenderly nurtured within the enclosure, and would still be flourishing when the short growing span of the latter was finished. You did not have to hoe around them or pick bugs off or spray; they were there because they had already mastered the rules of survival.”

That is an interesting thought about the taste. Could it be that our taste buds have been dulled by inferior, weak, non-wild foods? I’d guess the answer to that is yes.

The book goes on to list some of the wild vegetables Carver ate, and they include almost all of those on Blair’s list in addition to hawkweed, Flora’s paintbrush (Emilia fosbergii), water cress, shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), pokeweed, and swamp milkweed. I looked up shepherd’s purse, and it is a mustard. I did not look up the others, but some may fit into Blair’s Fab 13. Later in the book, when Carver is quite old and ill, he only rebounds from when he decides to throw away his pills and leave his hospital bed to go outside to gather and prepare some “wild vegetables.”

Synchronicity of events is not something to take lightly. I don’t think that these two voices, over seven decades, beckoning, “Eat weeds! They’re good for you!” reached my consciousness at the same time by mistake. And so today I share Blair and Carver’s wisdom with you.

Check out Blair’s book and plan to rustle up some recipes when the dandelions bud and bloom. It’s time to taste the landscape.

–Sandra Knauf

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