Sunday, November 23, 2008


Look down . There is evidence. The mushroom is a flowering body of the fungus living beneath.
The foot print of the bear tells us who stripped the apple tree, and who tipped over the garbage can.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I was digging ferns in the forest today. Blechnum spicant, the beautiful native deer fern. I know I’m not suppose to collect from the wild, but let me explain, this ‘wild’ is about a 20 acre green belt around a faux-chateau subdivision. It was all forest until the 90”s, when the bulldozers scraped it clean, builders built houses, and landscapers laid sod.
Now luckily my client is a fern lover and this is a shady property. I’ve added many native ferns over the years and many non-native. It is in some ways a fern test garden for me. The only thing that failed was the New Zealand tree fern, Dicksonia antartica. Each time I go into the forest, my client owns part and has asked me to collect ferns and move them closer to the house, I am amazed at the abundance of ferns. In particular the Northwest giant Polystichum munitum, or sword fern. No matter how many it seems i take there are always more.
Years ago someone told me they planted fern hedges in Seattle. 2 days later I bought my train ticket and moved here. That is an exaggeration. But the idea of a climate where ferns thrived was enough to make me want to move here and eventually I did. That’s 20 year’s ago now and all that time my love of ferns has grown.
What is it about these flowerless plants that appeals to me?
It’s hard to say.
Their delicacy?
Their primeval silence?
I guess , as Boy George said, “ Love is never asking:Why?”

Sensitive fern ( Onoclea sensibilis ) growing rampantly in a wet meadow in Upstate New York. One of my favorites it spreads rapidly in moist ground even taking sun.

Sensitive fern turns this beautiful bronze in the Fall.

Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) this small evergreen fern is lovely in a shady rockery. My new favorite fern.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I picked up where I left off today, planting bulbs. The sun was regular and warming, the murky swirl of flood waters moved on, though not without leaving silty traces, and damage. Our new “dry garden” went under water. Newly planted rosemary and lavender coasted down stream. One large phormium set sail and landed in a ditch down the road. A barberry tumbled like a hedge hog picking up debris on the way. A log snapped off the top of our young “Elizabeth” magnolia. The pepper house collapsed into a slumping pile of plastic.
Yet I felt hopeful, planted bulbs. As soon as the earth was visible I couldn’t help but garden. It was the only act I knew that would perk up my mood, sometimes as heavy as the waterlogged soil. I talked to my friend, Peach back in North Carolina, she said she liked to plant crocus bulbs with the children at her church as part of the Advent observations. She said there was no more hopeful act. I had to agree. It seems hope is more than a campaign platform. It’s an actuality, effecting our daily lives. My hope when planting bulbs, has a conviction. Winter comes, yes. But spring follows. No darkness lingers too long before light comes to dispel it. Flood waters recede. Fallen leaves become soil.
A butterfly flew by, mistakenly woken m by the warm weather. THe illusion of Spring.
We had our friends, Kevin and Louis, over today to help us dig potatoes. There was no illusion of Spring as the sun slipped behind the ridge. I thought indignantly, “It’s still afternoon.” We all made wild guesses at what time it really was. Kevin was right-- 3:43. Darkness crept into the valley slow enough to allow us to finish our project. Then we retreated to electric light and bowls of hot posole.

Silty mess.


This bright calendula was 8 feet under water just a few days ago. Talk about resilience.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Where have all the flowers gone?

Where has the garden gone?

The Snoqualmie River, at record flood levels, has once again turned our garden into an 8 foot deep lake, with a current. Needless to say we are housebound, except for little tours with the Kayak or chest waders. We actually did a bit of "gardening" by yanking debris from the orchard and setting it afloat. The real work starts this weekend when the now obscuring waters, recede and reveal the damage.

The cherry tree under which we've had many summer picnics.

The house stayed high and dry, though the basement is another story, we're waiting for it to drain to check the damages.

The fig tree trapped pumpkins like a spider catches flies.

Blue skies returned at mid-day a hopeful sign that the waters will recede.

The end of the day was beautiful, still the river kept pumping it's overflow down our road and across our yard.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


My computer is going into the shop for a little R'n'R, not rockandroll, rest and rejuvenation...better known as repairs. I will be stepping out of cyberspace for about a week please stand by.


I stopped watching the rain gage and started watching the flood gage. The river got unexpectedly high . I was “islandized”, the house and drive totally surrounded by a foot or more of water. Pumpkins floated and dahlias sunk. There is nothing that will clean and dirty a garden faster than a flood. All the plastic pots that I wasn’t quick enough to collect have floated “down stream” and braided in a tangle of weeds, grass, branches and miscellany like some 80’s environmental sculpture. Beautiful in a very un-gardening kind of way. The tall weeds were flattened by the flow, leaves puddled in corners. The dogs can’t go out without becoming “mud-hens”; the cats stay in and sleep. But the birds seem celebratory. Great flocks of juncos and robins, even doves, pick through the debris with renewed vigor, like shoppers responding to a “ new shipment”.
But what was most spectacular was the silence.
The road closed, excluded what little traffic travels by our house this time of year. The simple slosh, like a hush made one feel far out at sea with land just visible. The fire burned bright in the stove. I cooked a soup and read a book about medieval cloister gardens and imagined myself in another place and time like I often did as a child. What a luxury to be trapped on an island o if only for a few hours.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Not so long ago I thought it would be a good idea to become an actor. I was working for a nursery at the time and the low pay and drudgery just wasn’t what I had hoped for in my life. My Botany degree lied uselessly behind me, my art work reduced to a weekend hobby. So why not venture into a whole new direction?
Like acting.
So I enrolled in classes, and even got some walk on parts in local productions. But when the applause died I still needed to make a living.
So back to gardening I ran.
One thing I did learn, or at least began to learn from my time as an actor was letting go. Letting go is to the actor what patience is to the gardener. If your jaw is clenched, if your soul is as tight as a fist you will never be able to emote large enough to fill a theater, or specifically enough to fill the silver screen. There are many exercises designed to help you let go. One in particular , which I was terrible at, was a blind-folded backward fall. A group of you class mates stood behind you open-armed ready to catch you. Now it takes a lot of inherent trust to be successful at this. And I probably learned more about how distrusting I was than about letting go. But it certainly got me thinking.
And thinking I was today as I walked through he garden watching Fall take its toll. I took a breath and tried to quiet the parts of my mind that wanted to stake things up or deadhead. Plants should stop flowering by the 1st week of November, I said to myself. Although they rarely do here. Plants should start their slow decent towards the earth. There is nothing really to do to aid this process. But I whisk away the failing these days so that none of my clients need be bothered by the unsightliness of decline.
Out at the farm there is no need to clean up. No clients to please. Actually living in a flood plain requires that you don’t clean up. Any debrie covering the soil saves the soil from being washed away when the river gets high. So no matter how ugly it gets around here I have to let go. This is almost harder than letting a group of open-armed acting students catch you in a backward blind-folded fall.
Yet I am learning to love the junco flocks plucking seeds from wads that were once flowers. I am beginning to see beauty in the nearly black foliage as slimmy as a slug draped across the garden. I am developing an aesthetic based on the criss-cross patterns of stems as they listlessly begin to bow.
But most importantly, I’m beginning to like the sensation of slowly falling.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Here is my article from Garden Notes for the Fall issue.

Maple and Birch forest on the shore of Ottawa Lake in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

In the Upper Penninsula of
Michigan there is a forty-acre wood
thick with sugar maples. I make a
pilgrimage there as often as I can.
Pilgrimages fueled by nostalgia. I
have visited those trees on my
parents’ farm since childhood. A
reverence also drives my visit, a
reverence for the sugar maple itself.
Sugar maples—the calendar girls of
fall color—are lauded by poets,
photographers, and nurserymen.
They’ve even inspired a Canadian
flag maker. But not, apparently,
Northwest gardeners.
An adaptable tree, Acer saccharum is
most abundant between the 43rd and
46th parallel, from the Atlantic to the
Mississippi. If you include the seven
subspecies and three varieties, which
some botanists retain as separate species,
it has a far wider range, into the cloud
forests of Guatamala and the sunny
slopes of the Rockies. It is one of over
150 species of maples in Aceraceae, a
family of only two genera. Most are
found in China and Japan. In North
America we have thirteen species,
A. saccharum being the most famous.
But Northwesterners are more familiar
with this maple’s sweet sap than any of
its nearly forty cultivars.
The crop that needs no sowing or
hoeing had been part of the native diet
long before Europeans landed on this
continent. According to Lenape legend,
the Algonquin tribes learned to “drink”
from the maple tree, Axsinaminshi, from
woodpeckers. Sugaring was a time of
celebration called “Maple Moon,”
beckoning the onset of spring. European
settlers took quickly to this celebratory
sugaring and the syrup’s energizing
effects. The high taxes on cane sugar
made the sugaring industry strong until
the early 20th century. Since then
production has fallen to nearly a fifth of
what it was. The healthful syrup is high
in potassium, manganese, and zinc. With
a celebrity endorsement from Beyonce,
who made the maple syrup diet popular,
and the higher costs of importing,
sugaring might make a comeback.
The wood, as highly valued as ever,
is used for everything from flooring to
musical instruments. The hard, fine-
grained wood gets smoother instead of
rougher with use. The Romans, who
used the hard wood of their native
maples for spear shafts, gave rise to the
genus name Acer, meaning “sharp.”
So why is this tree, chosen by four
states for their state tree, lauded by
poets, and a perennial October calendar
candidate, so seldom seen in the
Northwest? Arthur Lee Jacobson lists only
thirteen stately old trees, probably
planted by nostalgic Yankees, in his
Trees of Seattle. The Washington Park
Arboretum has only four cultivars and
three subspecies in its maple collection.
Maybe the sugar maple, disliking air
pollution, compacted soil, and heat
and drought, is over-shadowed by
the tractable Norway maple (A.
platanoides) and its innumerable
cultivars as a street tree. Yet A.
saccharum ‘Green Mountain’ and
A. s. ‘Commemoration’, thick-leaved
drought-tolerant cultivars with tight
crowns, are ideal for street
plantings. Maybe the elegant
Japanese maple (A. palmatum) has
eclipsed cultivars like ‘Brocade’, a
small tree with long, red-petioled,
deeply dissected leaves. Or maybe the
size is a deterrent. The record holder is
138’ tall. Yet the slow growing cut-leaved
‘Sweet Shadow’ would fit nicely into a
suburban lot. There are narrow forms
like ‘Temple’s Upright’ and ‘Newton’s
Sentry’, which A.L. Jacobson calls “ludi-
crously thin,” so why are you
complaining you don’t have room for
another tree?
I found room and planted a seedling
from my parents’ grove at our farm in
Carnation. I know we don’t have a
“sugaring” climate; yet, I look forward to
watching our sugar maple spread out
graceful branches and develop a dark
furrowed bark. I look forward to the fog
of chartreuse flowers in the spring, and a
generous amount of shade come
summer. But more than anything, I look
forward to the legendary golds and
oranges of fall and the short pilgrimage,
just a glance out the bedroom window,
to one of my favorite trees.

'Sweet Shadow' sugar maple in the Washington Park Arboretum.