Monday, September 28, 2009


According to color theorists blue is the least appetizing color. That’s not hard to swallow considering there are so few blue foods. When I think of food I think of so many other colors.
Red comes to mind first: a bloody rare steak, bitter radicchio, hot radishes.
Green certainly follows: the humbleness of peas; the reliable leaves: lettuce, chard, kale arugula, et al; unripe fruits, cucumbers, beans, okra and peppers.
White is unavoidable: potatoes, bread, sugar.
As is brown: potatoes, bread, sugar.
But blue foods are few, except for the fashionably anti-oxidant rich blueberry.
Blue seems mostly found in fruits:

“Purple” tomatillos have a ghostly blueness to their beauty.

The waxing bloom on grapes makes them also blue.

Or wild berries like our native service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

But what about blue leaves?

Kale and cabbage have a tendency towards blueness, I say a tendency because the blueness is simmered down to a silence within the green. Hardly seen at all.

And broccoli foliage is a dewy dawn blue.

The blue leaves of the ornamental blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’. Cultivated for berry production it’s beautiful ever-”blue” foliage and continual berry production make it a poor candidate for commercial berry fields. But these assets make it a perfect plant for the home gardener, who is looking for an evergreen shrub and a place to stop and nibble while weeding.

The blue flower of radicchio.

And the red leaves of a blueberry.

If you're still hungry for the blues visit Tobago where each year they host a Blue Food Festival, featuring the grayish blue roots of taro.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The only fuchsias I saw growing up were in conservatories. I wrote them off as being “too ornamental”. The names like ‘Pink Marsnmallow’, ‘Danity Angel Earrings’ and ‘Bouffant’ will give you an idea of what I mean. But when I moved to the west coast and discovered the hardy fuchsias, in particular Fuchsia magellanica and it’s cultivars I was smitten. I could overlook the fussy looking hanging baskets and head right to the nursery to get my fuchias. Of course it didn’t take long before I was seeking out the fuchsias that were marginally hardy, mulching with straw, dragging pots into the basement and generally worrying. This summer really gave me a scare when the extreme heat stopped flower production and generally made my fuchsias look weak. But now that our famous cool moist air has returned so have the fuchsias and without a frost we could have them until November.
Fuchsias are in the Onagraceae, or primrose family. There are between 100 to 110 species, most of which are tropical or subtropical. They are primarily found in Central and South America. The hardiest F. magellanica grows as far south as Tierra del Fuego. There are also 6 species distributed through out New Zealand and Tahiti. This explains their propensity for greenhouse culture. There seems to be only guesses at the number of cultivars world wide, ranging between 5000 to 8000. Most are crosses between F. fulgens and F. magellanica are now referred to as F. x hybrida, the parentage becoming blurred from the enthusiastic interbreeding.
I am particularly lucky to live in the Northwest and to have a client whose garden is well situated for hardy fuchsia cultivation. Here are some of my favorites:

Fuchsia magellanica var gracilis 'Aurea' has performed incredibly well in a very sunny border that tends toward dryness, not usually recommended for fuchsias. It's startling yellow foliage sets off the red and purple flowers. It often winters over without die back, though when it doesn't it shows no reluctance to grow vigorously from the roots.

'Cardinal' was sold to me as hardy. I have my doubts. It absolutely flagged in this summer's heat, I was ready to pull it out. Luckily I didn't, it is now over 3 feet tall and heavy with flower.

'Leverkusen' is a new one in the Northwest, with promises of hardiness. We will see. I bought it in bloom in April and it has not ceased since. It also did not like the heat, dropping flowers and looking fatigued. It bounced back remarkably though and shows no sign of giving up. The cerise flowers packed densely make an incredible display in a half shady corner of my client's garden.

F. magellanica 'Variegata' is another super hardy one with great foliage setting off the scarlet and purple flowers. It reads very nicely from a distance in one of the more expansive parts of the garden.

'Lambada' is a lovely fuchsia possibly hardy with mulching. Though listed as heat tolerant and a prolific bloomer by The Earthworks Fuchsias, it was reluctant to grow or bloom in the summer heat, now it sends out new growth and plenty of flowers. A month after the party , of course.

This is 'California' the only fuchsia I need. The combination of flamingo pink and coral is cheerful without being insipid. The guys at Joy Creek Nursery in Oregon, a great source for hardy fuchsias, said it was hardy for them. This is one I love too much to put to the test, I'll drag it into the cool greenhouse for the winter.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I am a “cheater”. Last Tuesday when everyone else was rushing back to school or the grind-stone, I fled to Tucquala Meadows. My reliable retreat from the work-a-day world. All the campers had left the valley. And the rain too, leaving the valley washed and puddled, and cool. This was my little cheater’s holiday getting the whole valley to myself. Selfish I know but I wanted to walk into Fall naked, not literally of course. I know I am rushing things as usual calling the day after Labor Day the beginning of Fall. I know Fall officially starts on September 22. But Fall has really started. The meadows once a pointillistic constellation of colors have gone brown except for the occasional aster or golden rod, tardy and resplendent.

Convinced this was the start of something other than school. I wandered through the meadows collecting seed for next year’s garden, and taking pictures.

One August I came to the valley for a week long camping, botanizing and photography retreat. I didn’t realize I had packed my camera with a dead battery and no back ups. I kicked myself repeatedly the first 24 hours, believing the meadows were more beautiful than I had ever seen them; I was pissed as I watched the long shadows of late summer slip across the canyon-like valley. I felt deprived of my tool. My weapon. No way to grasp this beauty, no way to bag it. I calmed down as the week went on, succumbed slowly to my liberation. I began seeing the glorious valley, it’s meadows, mountainous walls, and the slithering Cle Elum River, not as a series of snap shots but as a living environment. It ended up being one of the most beautiful weeks I spent there. And I don’t have a picture to show for it.
I’m not against taking pictures. My point-and-shoot is my favorite toy right now. Yet I wonder sometimes if I’m taking too many photos, a pick-pocket in a crowd. Always looking for the next dollar. No one safe. Nothing sacred. The Native Americans were reticent to have their pictures taken, saying their souls were also taken in the process. How soulless have I become in this rushed state of point-and-shoot pilfering. And yet I love photography, and photographers like Hans Georg Berger, Lorry Eason and David Perry, whose blog has taught me more about using my point-and-shoot than the manual that came with it or any of the classes I’ve taken. In particular it was his post about making vs taking pictures which has really made me stop to think.
I wish I had his saint-like patience for set up, or that gentle waiting for the right light that is so obvious in many of his photos. As the Artful Dodger I find myself forever in a hopeful state that one of these taken pictures might actually be a photograph. I am looking more, thanks to David, not only at the shimmery light-lacquered surface of things, but also the impenetrably black shadows eating holes in things.

So when I looked into the shiny puddles nestled into the rutted road, I realized their depth, their meaning, was not in how much water they carried but in how much light they reflected. They held the majesty of the trees and the vast blue sky in mere inches of mud fouled water. Certainly I can do as well with my complex little point-and shoot, or even better with this thing I call my life.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Last Monday was the last day of August. When I woke reluctantly I asked Michael to stop the calendar. I wasn’t ready for Monday after a busy weekend on the farm. Or September.
Even if this summer wasn’t a vacation. I'm already getting nostalgic for the heat induced stupor. But I,m also waxing nostalgic for back-to-school shoes, new notebooks and pens.
And pencils.
No one expresses the beauty of a pencil like Roger Deakin in Wildwood:
“ Nothing is so universally dependable, or comes so naturally to hand as a pencil. What could be simpler? For much of my life, I have lived with one behind my ear: either to mark out saw cuts or mortices for carpentry or to scribble marginalia or underlines when reading. I often write with pencil. It suits my tentative nature. It allows me literally to sketch out ideas before proceeding to the greater definition of ink. It was the first tool I used to write or to draw, and still suggests the close relationship between the two activities. I know I shall never out grow pencils. They are my first, most natural means of expression on paper. It is comforting and liberating to know that you can always rub out what is pencilled. It is the other end of the spectrum from carving in stone. The pencil whispers across the page and is never dogmatic.”

So why had I tucked all my pencils away. Was I reserving them for the day I start drawing again? I wish I could save money like I save pencils. After reading about Deakin’s love affair with the pencil I decided to revive mine and do my daily writing in “lead”. Lead is a misnomer we actually write with graphite a form of carbon, considered the highest grade of coal, but due to the difficulty in igniting it makes it a poor fuel. It is also the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions so will likely not increase our carbon footprint.
I forgot the child-like graphite glide, actually I am a heavy handed writer my pencil probably tromps, across the page. I forgot sharpening, like lighting a cigarette, had a certain sexiness. A doing-ness to it that users of the opposable thumb “clicking their Bics” miss. I surely missed that stop in full sentence to hone the tool.
Now that I write in pencil, my wordy traces leaden gray and fragile, I wonder if in the future someone finding my notebooks in a roadside dumpster will be able to read my ashen scribbling. Will the microscopic particles of graphite clinging to wood fiber slowly decomposing recede? Will this blog even exist in some form? Or is it as erasable as lead?
That end is way too far off to accommodate in my immediately nostalgic musings today: Labor Day. I saw hoards of campers on the freeway on Friday heading out to what they didn’t know was going to be the wettest weekend since April. Our own plans to build the deck were washed out by torrential rains. The lovely end of summer that lingered around in blue skies all week dumped on us. It’s been months. And the unofficial drought ends as squalling, drizzly, fog-swaddled September was born this week.
I tumble leaf like into a soft optimism as my favorite season, Fall, begins. I was corrected by my editor once for capitalizing seasons. “They are not proper names,” she said. To me they are. The Seasons are countries we enter. Forgive me this victorian metaphor. It’s the lovely poetic effects of cooler temperatures, decaf coffee and the scratch of lead across the page.
Labor Day weekend: it’s a funny holiday celebrated by trying to seize the tail of fleeing summer. Not a hello but a good-bye. Do you want to be standing on the shore waving good-bye? Or do you want to be on the cruise ship pulling off, heading into Autumn? My friend, Tsukina, says we only have two seasons here: light and dark. I imagine it is hard for most of us to celebrate the coming darkness. Especially in the Northwest where leaden skies dim what little light we do get at this latitude. There is something sinister in darkness, we don’t want to welcome. Maybe it’s the decaf optimism, but I’m looking forward to fires in the cast iron stove, a book and incandescent light. I’m looking forward to sleeping a little longer, dreaming more than doing, and the muffling of noisy summer. I’m looking forward to bare trees over garish dahlias.
More writing less digging.
But that is a long way off. There are more plums to pick, and the corn and tomatoes are ready. Today is Labor Day. We’re still doing our summer projects, between rain showers, which means digging post holes for the deck, and I’ll have a pencil behind my ear to mark out saw cuts, as the end nears.

It's a muddy job but it has to be done, we can't get into our front door.