Saturday, May 30, 2009


“ I just want to say one word.
Just one word.
Are you listening?

If you have ever seen The Graduate, you remember this scene. In 1967 plastics were the future and there was money to be made. Now it seems plastics have permeated the very matrix of life. Do we breath it in microscopically? Do we eat it? I have no doubt. In the future when they talk about us will this be The Plastic Age, just like The Stone Age, the Iron Age?
Plastic is undeniably unavoidable. It takes so many forms making a blanket statement like “I hate plastic” seem unfair. Don’t worry, I will not be stepping forward to say “ Hello my name is Daniel . And I love plastic.” But there is a certain amount of plastic in my life that I do love. The sufi sheik Hafizullah Chisti says the plastic is the only dead matter on earth. He also believes water sings and rocks breath. It is certainly this “deadness”, inertness that makes plastic so useful. So amazingly malleable it can take rigid and floppy forms with equal easy. It has been transformed into everything we use from clothing to car parts, pens to plumbing. And things we never knew we needed like Zip-Lock bags. No wonder we fell in love with plastic.
The downside of plastic is well documented. From how its made to how it’s disposed of plastics are problematic. I have no doubt given enough time the earth will create a bacteria that will eat plastic and return it to more usable materials, but until then there is this mountain of plastic. Here in the Northwest we recycle like crazy and luckily a lot of plastic is getting reused. But there is also a lot that doesn’t.
Though I must admit I hate plastic for aesthetic, environmental and prejudicial reasons, I do use it daily. Even in the garden. So in the spirit of Lily Tomlin’s 1970s bit about our endangered unnatural resources (sorry I couldn't find a working link to this very funny bit) I’d like to wax nostalgic about plastic as it slips slowly (perhaps too slowly) out of use.
It all started this past Sunday. I realized I have been painting a false picture in my posting of a garden filled with flowers and rain showers and birds singing, but never plastic. We moved the greenhouse to accommodate the new critter pad (a giant berm where we can store things during a flood. Heaven forbid we have another flood, but we’d like to be ready.) The finishing touch was covering the metal framing with a new huge sheet of plastic. We had already covered the ground inside with plastic to keep the weeds down. We have weeds reaching giant proportions in our rich bottom land soil. You have never seen weeds grow so vigorously as in a greenhouse. We’ve tried cardboard, burlap, mulch and a combination of the 3, but the weeds we have, creeping butter cup ( Ranunculus repens) reed canary grass ( Phalaris arundinacea ) and Morning Glory ( Ipomoea sepium), eat right through it in time. Black plastic is the only thing that seems to work.

So as I stood in the plastic-covered greenhouse on the plastic-covered ground among the tomato plants in plastic pots I knew I was ignoring the elephant in the room. So I decided to take some pictures of the plastic around the farm. I actually feel guilty about the amount of plastic pots I accumulate by the end of the planting season. A deluge. Fortunately it is much easier to find nurseries who will recycle them. Locally “Flower World” will take any and all pots and flats. “Wells/Medina” will take pots within a certain range of sizes and types. We do hang on to a lot of plastic pots " just in case”. Way more than we need to actually. So if anyone needs plastic pots...

It seems obvious to make this a diatribe against plastic in the garden. After all what do you do with all those plastic labels, or plastic bags that soil or fertilizer come in. Is it all really just garbage? Garbage that won’t go away any too soon?
So as our world grows “Greener”, I want to write, almost nostalgically, in praise of plastic, after all it's here to stay.

These are a few of my favorite plastic things.

Though we harvest our own bamboo and hazel poles for staking on the farm, I love to use these plastic covered wire supports in my clients gardens. They actually last a long time, due to the plastic slowing down the rusting process and I love how easy it is to hook the loop around a lily stem and not have to mess with twist ties (there’s more plastic for you)

I wouldn’t be without my plastic grain scoop, indispensable in the fall when picking up leaves.

This Farman’s pickle bucket is my best friend. It follows me wherever I go when I’m weeding. It the perfect size for tucking into the borders next to me.

More to come...

Sunday, May 17, 2009


It seems time is being pick-pocketed away as we speak. Time for relaxing. Time for friends, flowers and fragrances. I’d love to blame spring, but it is not spring’s fault. It’s mine.
I do stop to smell the proverbial roses, actually no roses are blooming here yet. Last Sunday in the midst of disassembling the greenhouse, Michael brought a blossom from the ‘Loderi’ rhododendron for me to smell. It wasn’t a rose, but what a delight to dip my nose into the vanilla ice cream sweetness of that flower. A brief pleasure before I resumed my chores, planted lettuce, mustard greens and spinach, dumped out the faded tulips, potted cuban oregano, cooked dinner, folded clothes and collapsed after losing at Scrabble to Michael (he always wins).
Monday morning the black cat woke me. He was crying at the door. Michael says I spoil him by getting up at 5 a.m. to let him in. But he’s my alarm clock; he gets me out of bed early and gives me the time he pilfered from the night while I slept. I went out on the porch to enjoy this half hour of extra time, to breath it in and to listen to it. The gentle rain had drummed a green fragrance off the earth, off the plants, maybe even off the birds, whose chorus is so seamlessly loud to drown out my early morning mind’s list making: do this, do that; and do the other thing. I breath in this overall sweetness of spring, trying not to name or discern where it comes from. In these few minutes before my day begins I get to enjoy the beginning of springs day, to acknowledge that spring is not demanding anything of me but to breath and to listen.
Having worked in nurseries for years, and as a gardener even longer I have come to think of spring as something to be rushed through. By mid-May I am usually unsprung and disgruntled with spring for being so demanding. This year is no different. The say one sign of madness is expecting different results from the same behavior. This year , with the help of the cat, I’m trying to change that pattern. Trying to see spring not as demanding but giving. I have been told I’m stubborn, not likely to change any time soon. So if I introduce the idea of spring being generously gentle in half hour increments, at a time of day I don’t need to use, maybe I will begin to see spring differently. So as not to miss this opportunity I let the cat wake me in the deliciously dim hour of 5 a. m. when I could have stayed in bed. I go out on to the porch face the mountains to the east and breath in spring’s generosity. I enjoy what spring does best: sing in a most beautiful fragrance.
By the time I breakfasted and dressed for work the black cat had fallen into curled up sleep, and I started checking off the first thing on my list of things to do: load the truck.

As the week hurdled forward, or was it me hurdling forward through the week which lied tranquilly in May? I lost track of my goal. It’s spring after all and I have a lot to do. So exhaustion led to sleeping in, even the black cat did not want to be out all night, so my alarm system wasn’t working. Yet still I found time to stop, because it’s lilac time on the farm. We have over 15 varieties in the hedgerow and when they bloom it is near impossible to ignore, and even harder not to stop to smell the lilacs. My mind raced around for a while trying to find the perfect metaphor for the fragrance of lilacs. But it is not fruity, nor musky, nor sugary (though it is sweet). It did not remind me of my grandma’s soap, nor an apertif I once drank in Paris. Nor did it remind me of my old friend Susan, nor June on my parent’s farm. The bright honest fragrance, took me aback with it’s immediacy. It stole a moment from my precious activity, like my cat steals time from the night, like mice, and brings it to the back door. The lilacs did not need to steal time form me, though. I stuck my hand in my pocket and gave. And got spring back in return.

I swore I'd never post a picture of my cat , but here he is Rubus, aka Bubu.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


It's Mother's Day and I wanted to say something profound about the birthing process, but when I read this blog entry I just wanted to share it . Follow the link.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I write in the past tense. Mostly because I don’t want to carry my lap top around while I’m gardening, I think the dirt in the keys might cause some problems, though I could be wrong. This makes writing about spring challenging; spring is so immediate, fast, uncontrollable. I use a few words to grab at it. “The cherry tree blooms.” By the time I get to posting that sentence, I should be saying, “ The cherry petals dropped.” News gets old fast in the spring garden.
Just a week ago I travelled back to Milwaukee, on my way to my parents 80th birthday party. I lived the first half of my life there. It is becoming more and more my past. It’s hard for me to be present there, every neighborhood, every corner bar, even parks and trees can not tell their own story because my nostalgia fills them with my stories. Poor Michael had the patience of a saint as yet another liquor store, another bus stop had me retelling an episode from my past. I love to revisit Milwaukee. I have family there. And one friend. Kathy. Venerable as an oak, she has been my friend, at least off and on, since 7th grade. I can’t count high enough to tell you how long that is.

It is even longer since I first visited The Domes. When they first opened in 1967, these three bee hive domes in Mitchell Park drew national attention. I was an unusual child who enjoyed the long slow Sunday walks with my grandparents. Ritualistic walks starting in the tropical dome, moving to the desert dome and ending in the floral dome. I was particularly fond of the mid-winter visits when the frigid temperatures outside caused so much condensation in the tropical house it actually rained. And for a moment my grandpa felt back home in his native Brazil, and I relived a Brazil I only saw on TV.

As Michael, Kathy and I did the ritualistic rounds, it seems they wanted to humor my nostalgia, I realized how much the open eyes of a child fill a place with magic. Maybe I was grumpy that day, maybe I’ve seen too much since I was 9, real deserts, real jungles and the Chelsea Garden Show. The Domes seemed as quaint as the victorian greenhouse they replaced with 60s space age technology. The years and a shrinking parks budget left The Domes a little ragged around the edges. I guess we’re all getting older.
And life is getting faster.
When I returned to Seattle from the barely nascent spring of the Midwest, I time traveled months. How could 5 days change things so fast? That’s spring I guess. Lilacs already and sky rocketing weeds, lush green growth from the drainage ditches to the tree tops.
Flowers, flowers, flowers...
And tulips:

The way too showy “Perestroyka”.

The way too unnatural “Gavotte”.

I guess I can say “the tulips bloomed”. I wonder if I would hate them less if they bloomed all summer.
Or am I just addicted to the anticipation? The first bulb catalogue arrived this week.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


This is not the middle of the spring on the Mediterranean. This is the Midwest. Milwaukee, and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum's Renaissance Garden, designed by Rose Standish Nichols in the 20s, shortly after the house, fashioned after Villa Cicogna ( 1560s) in Lombardy, Italy. The garden's history of delay and neglect was finally resolved in the the late 90s and the newly imagined garden based on 16th century italian gardens was opened to the public in 2002. Of course the day we were there the garden was closed. So we took in the view from above. The typical allees of italian cypress were recreated here with columnar sugar maples giving this garden a decidedly Wisconsin twist.

The Museum, once the home of Lloyd R. Smith, has always been a strange presence on the bluffs above Lake Michigan. Nestled tightly in between the earlier and more common gothic architecture of the Milwaukee lake front, it seems an anomaly. It wasn't hard to imagine Italian sun that day though. Spring had assuredly arrived to the Midwest. Cardinals sang it from every bud swelling limb it seemed. Michael took great pleasure in the extensive collection of iron work in the museum, as I continued to complain about not being able to enter the garden.

The crab apple orchard still held on to last years fruit though the daffodils bloomed and the buds began to swell. It was a trip back in time. Both back to my past and back to earlier spring.