Sunday, May 29, 2011


Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you how claustrophobic I am. Though my therapist friend Judith insists, as she always does putting a positive spin on things, that I just need more space than most people. Still I had to be drugged to take an MRI, and I opt for staircases over elevators any day.
Michael calls me affectionately “squirrelly” . I’m not sure exactly what he means. Is he referring to my evasive nature? Or my nuttiness?
Here on the farm space is at a premium. Our house is tiny, with no room-of-one’s- own for either of us, which can make winter uncomfortably tight. With the lingering winter skies which can be so bitterly low compounding the fact. In spring and summer our lives expand on to our vast decks and expansive lawns spreading out through the orchard right up to the edge of the swamp. Life gets a little yin and yang around here as we expand and contract our realm with the seasons.
My working realm also expands greatly this time of year. I garden about 15 acres all together for my 4 clients and if you count the 7 acres at home, well, you get the picture. There is a lot of ground to cover in a week making more like a Serengeti ungulate than a squirrel. Some days I wish I could soar over it all like an observant raptor instead.
The term “ spaced out” is probably foreign to my parents generation. I’m sure it arose from the drug-induce mind-altering state know as the 70s. It is a floaty state hard to explain, between meditation and aggravation, activity and sloth. No place to anchor, nothing to understand. I felt it when I floated on my back in the briny Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua in March. I feel it sometimes in the morning before my first cup of tea, when my mind lies numb in my cranium.
Now I don’t want to live my life in a spaced out state. I love the rush of activity, the sparkle of curiosity, the solid silence of meditation. But sometimes , just sometimes, I like to space out, to vanish.
And sometimes that involves getting away.
On Saturday I used the last of my energy from a very exhausting week to rocket myself out of the lowlands. With my caffeinated foot hard to the pedal I sped over the rain splattered, green saturated Cascades and down into the inland deserts of Washington. There wasn’t enough time to think, so I headed to a favorite spot: Umptanum Canyon.
The valley was filled with bird song and wildflowers, the skies blue. The treeless landscape let my busy mind wander, dissipate, finding the relaxing space it needed.
And then I could enjoy, plainly and simply enjoy, the beautiful flowers, so casually, so artfully strewn through the valley. Each time I go there the I see new flowers. The season has been cool and wet many early flowers still bloomed though the valley was filled with Memorial day hikers and campers.

Lithospermum ruderale

Prunus virginiana, the chokecherry native to vast expanses of North America.

Some grasses are already turning autumnal colors as the soils dry out on the slopes above the Umptanum Creek.

Nothing helps the the spacing out process better than lazily moving clods in a blue sky and a nap.

This remarkable little Mimulus gave this inch worm a place to nap out of the sun.

This garden worthy combination of Hackelia diffusa, spreading stickseed, and Lupinus sericeus, silky lupine, is prevalent throughout the canyon.

My favorite Northwest desert shrub Pushia tridentata, bitterbrush, a rose relative, has a beautiful fragrance taht is not at all rosy.

After leaving the canyon I drove around to Umptanum Ridge. Wind whipped and spartan offering vast open views even with the clouds moving in. It takes austerity to a new level. I hardly spaced out though, so attracted to all the wild flowers that defiantly break out of this hard volcanic soil and into the harsh winds.

Among the many species of lupin here, the stony-ground lupin, Lupinus saxosa sood out with it's dense flower heads.

There were still vernal pools pocking the dry ridge where common camas, Cammasia quamash, grow.

There were also several species of l phlox in bloom, this one is Phlox speciosa, showy phlox, which it certainly is.

Thompson's paintbrush, Castilleja thompsonii not yet in bloom but lovely none the less

I had to hold this large flowered brodiaea, Triteleia grandiflora var. grandiflora, against the raging winds.


Any of you who have been reading this blog for a while know I have a fondness fro clovers, Trifolium ssp. This is Trifolium macrocephalum the large heade clover, one of our natives, unfortunately not in bloom.

In some ways I’ve always lived on that wind swept ridge. I feels more like home than the lush Snoqualmie Valley. But when I returned home to our freshly tilled field and new greenhouse I knew I wouldn’t be able to space out any more. It’s time to plant the vegetables and flowers. But somewhere in side I have put the expansive Umptanum Ridge , the roar of it’s wind, the intimacy of the wildflowers and when I need a moment to space out, I’m going to close my eyes and go there.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Time seems more and more slippery as I age. One year, one month, one moment more firmly braided into the other, emerging from the other like a new snake from an old skin. At no time is this more obvious than in spring. I have an itchy need myself to change. To strip free, unfold, awaken. To re-green.
A dear friend of mine who reads this blog regularly asked me why I changed the design of my blog so much. I guess because it’s easier than painting the house or the extra bedroom. Easier then finding someone to give me a desperately needed hair cut now that my Laotian hairdresser has disappeared with out a trace. I worry, I worry.
I worry, dear readers, that you will get bored with the same-old-page week after week like I do. Magazines change their faces regularly. The seasons change, and so do I. My blog seemed so wintery all black, dark and cramped. I wanted to set it free, let it express the lush new world I face each day.
When I talked to my mother on Mother’s Day, she was jubilant as a a spring song sparrow. “The grass is just jumping out of the ground,” she chirped. She had looked out over the still brown pastures in the morning, winter leaves late in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan, by afternoon all was vibrant green. I can remember the speed of the re-greening in the midwest, the fresh emergent green that delights and energizes. I began for us months ago and progressed langurously through one of the coldest springs on record. Now everything is so green you can’t even see green any more, or imagine the months when it vanishes. Here in the Evergreen State, where dark conifers dominate and green never totally retreats the re-greening of trees and fields is slower, easier to ignore. I was blind to green, my head buried in my work and worry.
Last week I was doing some transplanting for a client. I was thinking about my grandfather who was an estate gardener, too. I was feeling grumpy about being out in the chilly morning air digging, as I’m sure he often was. He was a grumpy old man who most of his grandchildren could not appreciate. To me he was magical with his stories of growing up in Brazil, his knowledge of nature, even his grumpiness seemed like a power and not a short coming. When I was doing my grumpy digging I dug up a piece of debris. The garden in which I was working is a new garden, I never find a chard of pottery or an aluminum pop-top, so to finally dig something up was quite exciting. I like finding bits of the past, pulling them out of the dirt and into the light. The something I found was on an old Pall Mall cigarette pack, my grandfather’s brand. It’s red and white printed paper was protected by the cellophane wrapper for years in the earth. It seemed spooky strange and yet comforting to find that Pall Mall package while thinking of my grandfather 30 years after his passing. As if from the underworld, the other side he was saying hello. It was also my brand for a while after he died, some strange reach for continuity, just like being a gardner is, and perhaps the grumpiness.

I don’t really like being grumpy in spring, while every blade of grass and flower is being so joyous. Each year I swear I will take spring slower the next year so I can enjoy it. And each year spring and the busy season comes and I’m a rushing grump again. I know there are remedies for this. Sometimes it’s a beer, other times a nap. But this week I found an even better solution: joy. It took a little work and a little caffeine to find it, but it’s there among the flowers. In particular the tulip ‘Happy Generation’.

I had stopped at Wells Medina Nursery, one of many nursery stops in my busy day. In their mixed borders they had planted a miscellany of tulips, that I actually took a moment to enjoy. And what a joy they brought. Especially ‘Happy Generation’. There is something about the combination of red and white. The fierceness of red balanced by the cool sophistication of white breeds pure cheerfulness. Why do you think circus tents are red and white?
I know there is a certain Christmassy sort of tackiness to this color combination, but it makes me squirm with childish delight. Candy canes and Santa come to mind, but also Valentiney wishes. “Be mine, be mine.” Who can decline these cupidinous wishes’ kisses? So I let these tulips kiss me all over. And I began to laugh. I suddenly remembered why I was gardening, and at such a fierce pace. I was not for money, or too keep busy, but for joy. Joy, that word I rarely use, too antiquated, too Christmasy for any other time of year, is what filled me.
One of my first memories is of sticking my face into a big red tulip, a gigantic tulip compared to my two year old face. A group of adults stood around smiling as I took a whiff. In my memory I have no thoughts, just the un”adult”erated feeling of joy.
I forget, I forget about this joy in getting caught up in my grumpy adult life. But it only took a tulip to remind me and then I saw red and white everywhere in the gardens I create.

Cytisus alba ‘Elegantissima’ froths over Rhododendron ‘Winsome’

Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ behind a variegated boxwood.

Once I was woken up by red and white I could see the green. The spring greens are already darkening into summer greens, which will become the golden greens of August before it all drops away again to the dark, dark greens of winter when I can legitimately sing “Joy to the World”.

And suck on a candy cane.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


John Lennon said “Life is what happens when you’re making plans to do other things.” I’d like to alter that quote to say, “ Life is what happens when you're putting off things you should have done last year.” I’m banging myself over the head right now for not getting plants labeled in the garden. I always relied on my firecracker memory for plant names, both Latin and common, but when I walked around our muddy 6 acres yesterday I realized my cup runneth over and what is spilling out is all the names of plants I thought I would surely remember when I planted them only 3 years ago. Michael was proactive and got all his roses and hydrangeas labeled a month ago.I thought I could skiff along on his wake and get my labeling done, too. Too busy. It’s that time of year.
But here’s the problem, a little fancily marked 4-leafed clover that I bought a few days ago came home without a tag. It was the one plant I bought that day that I didn’t know the name of. Not that it’s all that important, it’s just a Trifolium repens cultivar that I want to watch grow, see if it hybridizes with others on the property, just fun. So why am I obsessing? Because there are a lot of plants around here, valuable, rare , unique, that I don’t remember the names of. So I decided in lieu of a lengthy, photograph-laden blog. I’d keep it simple so I can get my labeling done.