Before the Storm

The sun has shone bright this week. Lately, we have enjoyed a short run of lovely spring weather – sunny days, slight breeze, clear skies, and stars intensely visible and luminous at night. Not just the gardener has enjoyed this weather – birds and wildlife who come through this garden appear to be happy, more active than usual, and hungry! Especially the rabbits. Especially them.

Plants are sprouting, flowers are opening, colors appear. Do they look more vivid than last spring, I wonder? Pinks, yellows, orange, purples, blues, and vibrant whites surround us. This is a beautiful time of year. It can be. It should be.

A storm is forecast for this weekend. Rain, more snow in the mountains, wind. But, we take the bad with the good. Does “it all balance out”? I don’t know. This week’s news has been horrific: two mass shootings in two days; a small boy found alone, wandering along the US-Mexico border after being abandoned by the group he had been traveling with, hungry, frightened, completely alone; the grief and guilt felt by the witnessess to the murder of George Floyd. A storm of pain. The bad with the good – where is the good? The young boy has been helped. Maybe justice will finally be given to the Floyd family. Maybe gun restrictions will finally be put in place. Maybe we will see the beauty surrounding us and appreciate it – in all its forms. I put away the newspaper – turn off the news – and walk outside into the sun.

Primula vulgaris

Pulsatilla vulgarius
Kalmiopsis leachiana, Umpqua Form
Cherry trees on the campus of University of Washington.
Someone has the right idea.

Early Spring in the Neighborhood, and at Home

We’ve had some gorgeous weather lately. Sunny, warm-ish days, lovely sunrises and sunsets, and much birdsong. Our robins are singing, crows are talking, and Steller’s jays are telling anyone and everyone within earshot that cold winter days are just a memory. In addition to all the work in the garden my spouse and I have been doing, I’ve been out walking in various neighborhoods to take in buds and early blooms. After a tough winter and a long 2020, my walking route is filled with folks who are enthusiastic and busy. Following are a few pictures from my walks – and from my garden.

Enjoy!

One of the more popular children’s play areas on my walking route.
A new rock garden borders this yard. Something tells me the gardener is tired of weeding.
New container planting greets visitors at this retirement facility.
Magnolia buds.
I appreciate this planting along a very busy street. Nassella tenuissima.

And from my garden:

My Leucothoe fontanesianna in full bloom.
Few plants more beautiful than manzanita.
Skimmia japonica.
Ribes sanquinenum, ‘White Icicle’
Helleborus orientalis, ‘Snow Fever’
H. x hybridus ‘Maid of Honor’
And from the borrowed landscape – my neighbor’s heirloom cherry tree gracefully drapes into our side garden.

I hope your spring is filled with beauty, peace, and good gardening!

Someday

I wrote this poem after the shooting in Charlottesville years ago. Since that time, so many hate-filled shootings have occurred. And yesterday, another hate-filled shooting. Eight people died because of mindless, ignorant hate. Eight people murdered, simply because of their race. When will this end?

Someday.

Someday we will listen.

Someday we will speak of our lives and not be afraid.

We will speak and listen and feel no rage.

Names so different and faces so new will be welcomed as family – one and the same.

Someday we will listen.

Atheist and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist, Hindu and Jew – we will speak as one.

We will speak of shared hopes and fears and feel no hate.

Names so new and hands so fragile will reach out as family – one and the same.

Someday we will listen.

Languages foreign and new will be heard and welcomed as those long known.

Faith and science will sit together in love of life – one and the same.

Someday we will mourn and rejoice and know we are kin.

Someday we will listen.

Someday we will love.

Gardening Heals Mind and Body

In 1996 I was diagnosed with Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling, stiffness, physical weakness, and fatigue. As with most any autoimmune disorder, its cause is sometimes a mystery and treatment is often ineffective. In my case, stress has been the primary reason for its resurgence. But I was lucky – it went into remission within one year and I was free of the disease until 2002 when stress hit my life like a hammer and continued until 2006. That episode faded away along with the symptoms. Then in July 2014, the stress returned to such a degree that I was at times almost incapacitated. In May 2016, I found the wherewithall to remove the stressors from my life and within one year good health returned.

Recently, one of the stressors returned – reached out to me via email – and this time my reaction wasn’t illness but anger. An intense, very specific anger based in distrust popped up and remained. My initial response was to delete the email and block the sender, but instead I decided to distance myself from the stress. And for me, the most effective means by which distance is accomplished is to get outside and garden. And so, I did! My work was therapeutic until I discovered that after using my trowel for an hour I couldn’t release my right hand from the handle. I had to laugh at the futility of anger. Using my left hand, I pried off my fingers from the trowel handle until I could release the tool and stretched my right hand until the feeling returned. At that point, I decided the time had come to take a long walk. After almost 4 miles of walking, I decided to turn back home. When I arrived home, I was exhausted but calm, relaxed, and pain-free. During the walk I had thought through all the possible responses I could make to the email, but decided upon a short, friendly, innocuous reply. And in my answer, I asked about her garden – the safest, kindest, most universal topic I could think of. It went well. If we continue to communicate, my side will always be impersonal and light. And, gardening will always be present.

A few pictures of the beauty I saw during my walk:

I love this Rhododendron.
Camellia sasanqua.
A fading Crocus nestled in a lawn.
And yes – my favorite flower.
That day closed in a beautiful way.

I wish you a peaceful, beautiful spring. And a firm grip on happiness.

In the Presence of Trees, Part 3

Humankinds’ relationship with trees is as complex and multifaceted as is our relationship with each other – sometimes more so. Following are a few quotes I have read over the years that have remained with me, and give some insight into this deep, enduring relationship.

“A tree is in a forest, but there is also a forest in each tree.” William Bryant Logan, Sprout Lands

“If you are holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.” Richard Powers, author

“The tree, shears, and I are dancing partners under the sun. We’ve been together for decades.” Leslie Buck, Cutting Back

“The vision of trees – huge, still, quiet – as experiencing subjects, processing at their own pace while we scurry around them, is such an evocative one. ” Peter Godfrey-Smith, Metazoa

“Trees have marvelously intricate relationships with other organisms,” Jonathan Drori, Around the world in 80 Trees

“Among all the varied productions with which Nature has adorned the surface of the earth, none awakens our sympathies, or interests our imagination so powerfully, as those venerable trees, which seem to have stood the lapse of ages . . ” John Muir, 1868

“In a world increasingly dominated by change, these trees provide a tangible link with our past, serving to remind us of the extraordinary antiquity and beauty of life on Earth.” Edward Parker and Anna Lewington, Ancient Trees

“Almost every paean to trees includes some description of what trees do for human beings (wonderful things, important things), but even if trees performed no ecological services, I would want to observe them regularly and intimately just to experience the brillance of their engineering.” Nancy Ross Hugo, Seeing Trees

“We too often forget that trees have been successfully negotiating all the processes to which we subject them – mutation, evolving adaptations to changed circumstances, cross-breeding, self-planting, regenerating – entirely of their own accord for millions of years.” Richard Mabey, The Cabaret of Plants

“People and trees are meant to be together, and if we work at it, that’s how we will stay. Right here, dwelling in our common home on this beautiful earth, far into the future, amid the beauty and wonder of trees.” Lynda V. Mapes, Witness Tree

“I imagined the feelings of the tree: no sight, no sound, no smell. It knows the trees around it by the touch of their roots. Maybe there is the sensation of fullness, the pull of water through its trunk, the daily sweep of the Sun, the slight push of the wind. Maybe it could feel the tug as we pulled away cones.” Zach St. George, The Journeys of Trees

“To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is therefore to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty.” David George Haskell, The Songs of Trees

“There is some basic sympathy between oaks and humans. We both like the same things, we both have similar virtues, and we both have spread to the very limits of what we like. And wherever we have gone, oaks have become central to our daily lives. We invented a whole way of living out of their fruit and their wood, and by that token, they too invented us. ” William Bryant Logan, Oak, The Frame of Civilization

The Tenacity of Life

Few things in life impress and surprise me more than a plants’ ability to survive extreme conditions. From the ubiquitous dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) sprouting up through a tiny crack in a field of concrete, to a downed tree with one tenacious sprout struggling through contaminated, compacted soil on a construction site up towards the sun; plants can survive most anything thrown their way. I learned this most keenly while hiking through Canyon de Chelly many years ago. This dry, hot, hostile landscape on the Navajo Nation has poor, sandy soil and a dearth of water, but for all its paucity of beneficial conditions this land has supported human life for over 2,000 years. Some of the crops grown here throughout ages are corn, melons, beans, squash, apples, and peaches! With temperatures that range from 105F in summer months to -30F or colder in winter, people have lived in this area, farmed the land, and developed highly sophisticated cultures for centuries. And these people have left behind a wealth of artifacts and buildings to explore and learn from.

My spouse, brother, and I visited Canyon de Chelly in the early 1980’s. We hiked the areas we were allowed to visit (much of this land is sacred and closed to visitors) on our own or with our Navajo guide, Harold, and experienced solitute, sounds, and sights we had never experienced before. We left with a reverence for land that stayed with us. My brother, Kirk, died in 2002, but I remember that the last time we spoke with him he talked about returning to the area with us.

On our way home from Canyon de Chelly, we took some time to hike in Canyonlands National Park (Utah). This is a beautiful, unique region of our country and we spent two full days hiking there, but the memories of Canyon de Chelly have stayed with me in much more detail than any place I have experienced since.

Following are a few pictures from that wonderful trip. Enjoy!

Sacred Spider Rock, and remarkable plant life.
Buildings nestled into the cliffs, shaded by the rocks above.
If I recall correctly, this is Whitehouse Ruin.
Canyonlands, Utah. My brother is in the upper left of this picture.
More Canyonlands.
My brother and I hiking up to a hole in the rocks. Incredibly dry and hot.
My brother, Kirk.

A Gardener’s Snow Day

We don’t get much snow here in Seattle, but when we do, it is beautiful! Our area received an small amount of snow overnight but a large snowstorm is forecast for tonight and into tomorrow.

The following are a few of the reasons I enjoy this rare occurrence. These pictures combine last night’s snowfall and a much larger snow event from February 2019.

Enjoy!

The little Zen garden outside our front door.
He made it through winter with no problems!
My little blue Chamaecyparis looking good.
Our pond under a blanket of snow.
2019 – a neighbor having fun.
My daughter’s fair-weather cat was pretty unhappy with the day.
Just enough to be pretty. This morning.

Gardening in the rain and dreaming about travel.

Sometimes common beliefs are misconceptions, sometimes overstated, sometimes plainly false – but sometimes, they are true. A common belief about Seattle is that we receive lots of rain. Buckets of rain, rivers of rain. And today, as I write this, we are receiving rain in huge amounts. We ended January three inches over our normal amount of rainfall. My garden – soggy, mushy, in a deep sleep – has soaked up so much rain that the soil is wet four inches deep. And as our soil is primarily sand (even after 30 years of mulching/composting/enhancing), that is quite an accomplishment. All six rain barrels are full, the pond is close to over-flowing, the fish are unusually active for this time of year, and the neighborhood raccoon appears to tip-toe over the beds to avoid muddy paws. So, during these days of incessant rain when gardening is neither practical nor beneficial, I start to daydream. And my favorite daydreams involve travel.

My spouse and I had planned to spend two months in the UK last year but COVID-19 made that impossible. He has family ties in Liverpool and the surrounding area and we planned to spend two weeks in that lively city. I wanted to return to Hadrian’s Wall, Haydon Bridge, and surrounding areas for more hiking. But both of us wanted to return to Kew Royal Botanical Gardens to spend at least one week getting to know that magical place on a deeper level.

On the Cotswold trail.

After the UK, we had planned to spend time in eastern Washington. Four years ago we visited Spokane and enjoyed their city-wide garden tour. I was impressed with the beauty, creativity, and enormous variety of gardening styles and plants I saw during the day-long tour. Most enjoyable was the time the hosting gardeners spent answering questions, sharing ideas and tips, and talking about our favorite plants.

Early autumn in Spokane, Washington.

We had planned to return to Smith Rock area in Oregon. My spouse and I hiked that area years ago and were impressed with its rugged, austere beauty.

Hot, dry conditions but beautiful nonetheless. And nice to be away from rain for awhile!

And last, I have visited San Diego three times in the past but my spouse has only visited once for a short time. I had planned to take him with me on my biennial visit. That was cancelled, also. But this year, who knows? We may be able to travel again – vaccinated, masked, and social distancing all the way. I’ll enjoy it in any form.

View from a balcony in Balboa Park.
Cactus Garden, Balboa Park.

I wish you interesting travels, beautiful daydreams, and a gardening season full of adventure. Just hang on – life always gets better!

My daughter’s kitten, hanging on to the window screen.

Conifer Time

In a winter garden of dormant life, the conifer is king. Color, shape, texture, form – all contribute to a welcome variety of sights in a season of denuded branches, bare soil, and recurved leaves.

My little Pinus mugo, ‘Carsten’s Wintergold”, enjoying a foggy morning.
Blue is a welcome color on gray winter days. From the Japanese Garden, Washington Park Arboretum.
Pinus schwerini, ‘Wiethorst’, surrounded by Galtheria procumbens, ‘Wintergreen’ (my garden).
Chamaecyparis obtusa, ‘Baldwin’s Variegata’, variegated cypress (my garden).
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana glauca, ‘Barry’s Silver’, Blue Lawson Cypress (my garden).
One of my favorite conifers, Cryptomeria japonica, ‘Sekkan-Sugi’, Golden Japanese cedar (my garden).
Thujopsis dolabrata ‘Nana’, variegated Japanese Staghorn cedar (my garden).

Conifers, dwarf or full-size, create important structure in any garden, offer protection for wildlife, and offer beauty that changes with each season. What’s not to love about conifers?

A Gardener’s thoughts on Genuine Hope

I watched the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris this morning.  Glued to my t.v., I wanted to see as much as possible so I put my phone aside.  Joseph Biden.  Kamala Harris.  Biden’s Inaugural Address came from his heart and spoke with sincerity and true patriotism about the promise that this country was founded upon.  That promise, after over 200 years, still has not been realized in totality.  But this morning, after listening to Biden’s speech, after watching Kamala Harris being sworn into the office of the Vice President by a Latina Supreme Court Justice, I felt Hope!  For the first time in many years, I felt Hope. 

I am not religious.  I am not Catholic, nor am I Christian. (My over-all experience with Christians has been horrific, not just for me but for my family.)  But as I listened to Joe Biden, and as I remembered all that I have learned of him over many years, I considered a possibility that just a few years ago I would have considered improbable.  Biden’s deep, all-embracing faith is the foundation of his life – his principles, his reasoning, and the base of his actions.  He has always appeared kind, considerate, genuine, and thoughtful if not always socially graceful.  Gifted and genuine. A man of God.

When I was 17, I spent three weeks working with seasonal workers in the Yakima Valley of Washington state.   They asked us to paint their beloved church, to repair some walkways to the church, and to do some gardening and landscaping around the lovely, small building.  Why?  They were busy in the fields – dawn to dusk – but their church was the center of their lives.  No time to do repairs.  We were happy to help despite our self-conscious, insecure, shy teen selves.  We made mistakes and felt like idiots.  But they appreciated our efforts, our small successes, and treated us like loved family members.  A deeply religious community of people who traveled from (huge) farm to farm just to live.  Just to survive. One of the most vivid memories I have is of picketing outside a large chain grocery store in that valley to bring attention to the conditions that seasonal farm workers experienced daily.  Most shoppers ignored us, but one middle-aged couple stopped to talk to our group before entering the store, and asked us “What’s the problem?”  We explained what we were trying to accomplish and explained that the grapes being sold in the store were representative of the inequity and poor working conditions we were protesting.  The couple entered the store to shop and returned shortly with their bags of groceries.  They then stood in front of our group, reached into a paper bag, took out a bunch of grapes, and began to throw grapes at us.  They laughed.  We were silent.  When the couple tired of teasing us (and ran out of grapes), they turned and walked away.

When I read today that Biden fired Peter Robb, trump’s National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, I cried with joy.  And cried with exhaustion, elation, and relief.  Also today, Biden fired Michael Pack (head of US Agency for Global Media), and Kathleen Kraninger (director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).  Lots of tears of joy and relief today.  And I wondered– is this really the beginning of true, substantial change?   Has the United States of America really taken a strong, confident step towards the promise written into our constitution and away from corruption?  I believe so.  I hope I am right.

President Biden isn’t perfect.  By no means is he without flaws.  But unless I am completely and thoroughly wrong, he is the person we need Right Now. He is as close to perfect for the times as anyone I can think of – experience, compassion, thoughtful, pragmatic, and open to change.  President Biden and Vice President Harris will need our help to rebuild this country.  The past four – five years have been horrendous. They are over for most of us but not for all.  Those who don’t support these changes will need our help in understanding this promise, also. Now we are asked to move forward, to act upon the ideals contained within the poem “The Hill We Climb”, written by Amanda Gorman.  The ideals contained within Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech. The ideals that Barack Obama spoke of in his inaugural address. These ideals, Biden spoke of this morning. Hope is painful, encouraging, frightening, and inspirational.  But more than all that, more than any description I can think of, hope is courageous.  We can do this.

I wish you faith, strength, hope, and courage.