Monday, December 29, 2008


Michael and I drove home today from Boise, where we spent Christmas with his family. Coming home we passed through the snow-covered Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon.The weather was dreamily gray and the undulating old mountains lulled like lull-a-byes. Luckily Michael was driving through this beautiful part of the world most people miss. It gave me a chance to doze. And also to daydream. My dreams were reflections of the sunny spots I visited this year, of the new friends I made and the old ones I revisited. Full, rich, blessed...what a year it was. And though I am hoping to stay closer to home this coming year, I do not regret one trip, one dollar spent. This year of erratic and unusual weather for the Northwest was sandwiched by snow. The escapes to Mexico, Arizona and Italy couldn’t have been better planned. And seeing legendary landscapes and gardens I thought I might miss was truly the inspiration I needed. Here’s a little photo essay of the highlights of 2008.

My first winter at the farm reminded me of Wisconsin, snowy, frozen and silently beautiful

February's trip to the Yucatan Peninsula with Michael and his friends Jonas and Christine, was magical and monolithic; here Chitzen Itsa's main pyramid.

In March I headed north from Phoenix with my family to the Grand Canyon. I was, and still am, speechless.

Back at the farm we were still having snow in April. Unheard of.

The cool summer made cabbage the star of the garden this year. This prompted me to contact my drawing teacher, Carol Emmons, from 30 years ago ( my final project was cabbage based), we met again in November in her spectacular art-filled home in Green Bay Wisconsin. It was a happy and inspiring reunion.

The biggest surprise of the year for me was right in my own back yard , so to speak, the City of Bellevue's exhibit "Sculpted Green". The huge sculptures, installed in the downtown park were impressive. This piece by Bernard Hosey called "Round and Round" was my favorite.

Of all the gardens I visited this year I was most moved by the humble grace of Bartram's garden in Philadelphia.

I joined the Garden Writers Association this year and attended the symposium in Portland ( a city I love to go to again and again). This detail from Lucy Hardiman's garden, symbolizes how I felt about this inspiring and downright fun weekend.

I finally return to Elba and the garden I worked in over 10 years ago. It was wonderful to reconnect to the garden and to my friend and the garden's creator, the photographer Hans Georg Berger.

We had a blessedly long and beautiful fall.

The first flood hit November 8th.

The second flood hit a week later with devastating effect.

The surprisingly minimalist garden at the Milwaukee Art Museum. When I was growing up there gardens were for corn and tomatoes.

The year ended on a sweetly happy note. The snowy weather gave me an unexpected vacation. And a client gave me this gingerbread house fashioned after the garden shed I use on her property, it is filled with delicious spice cookies.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I wonder what will survive this unreasonably wintery weather. We’ve had it down to 8 degrees at the farm, howling wind and pelleting snow. And just when you think it’s run out another front paces through. I know there are much worse conditions in other parts of the country, but you must understand the tenderness of the North-westerners and our gardens. We blindly continue to plant things that have little hope of surviving, even though “zonal denial” seems to be a fashion in passing.
I was daring this year. Or should I say stupid?
I left a few plants, treasures, outside. It was deliberate. Deliberately a test of hardiness, not deliberately a murder. I’m already regretting my decision, but I also know it was a sane decision. There’s no room in this house to keep so many plants , so my inadvertent sacrifices are lessons learned. Stop buying plants that aren’t hardy here.
I wonder if I’ll remember that lesson in May when the nurseries are full again with treasures, maybe not quite appropriate for this climate. I wonder if I’ll leave them on the porch again. And I wonder if we’ll have a doozie of a winter again next year.
It’s only December 22 and we’re already experiencing more winter than we’re used to.
I wonder if were backpedaling from global warming to global chilling.
I wonder how long this will last , or how often it will come and go over the next months.

I wonder about wonder, too.
I’m still simple minded. Still wonder at the beautiful frothy white frosted world.
Still find it magic.
And in these moments I can easily forget my losses, and my loss of work. As I regain a sense of wonder.

What a perfect way to end the year.
No more dreaming, white Christmas is here.

Monday, December 15, 2008


What a difference a day or 2 makes, a degree or 10.
Just 4 days ago I was making a list of what was in bloom in one of my clients gardens.
It was a braggart’s list to post on my blog. “Look at this, all you East Coast fools,” was the subtext. “ Sure it’s gray and wet here, but we have sunflowers in December.” No, I do not live in New Zealand, and yes, I did see a sunflower blooming in a street side garden in downtown Seattle on December 9th. It’s been a freakishly mild year, no summer to speak of and a fall that lingered in heat waves and heavy rains, but very little frost. Even here at the farm where our nearness to the mountains guarantees us colder temperatures and more snow than Seattle, we have not had one killing frost until this weekend. The temperatures predicted to be in the 20’s all week should finish off any of that lingering summer and fall that until now was reluctant to move on.
I want to post my “braggart’s list” anyway. Written December 10th it was remarkably long even for us this time of year.
Cuphea sp
Eleagnus x ‘ Sunset’
Fuchsia magellanica ‘Aurea’
Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’
Tropaeolum tuberosum ‘Ken Aslet’
Escheveria ‘Metallica’ (in bud)
Leucanthemum ‘Goldrush’ (one very fresh and new flower)
Begonia richmondensis
Amaranthus ‘Ponytails’
Fuchsia speciosa
Helleborus foetidus ‘Chedglow’
Viburnum x bodnatense ‘Dawn’
Camellia sasanqua
Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’
Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’
Tulbaghia violacea
Helleborus argutifolius ‘ Silver Lace’
Fragaria alpina
Daphne bholua
Nicotiana ‘Tinkerbell’
If that’s not impressive enough, on Saturday when Michael and I were digging the dahlias and covering the plants waiting to be planted with oak leaves I took a short inventory of what was in bloom at the farm. Remember we’re away from the gentle maritime effects of the Puget Sound, probably in zone 6.5.
We had in bloom on Saturday December 13th
Daphne transatlantica
Rosa bonica
Dahlias ( 2 types )
Not as impressive as the first list I know but who has dahlias blooming in December, except New Zealanders?
Of course now the arctic blast has absolutely scoured the garden. I must admit as much as I like flowers I like a clear ending. Now I know fall is definitely over.

The last dahlia was a portentous snow white.

An enduring calendula, crisp with frost.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The voluminous new entry hall at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Is it the walls or the space they hold that is so elegant?

WISCONSIN in November is sparse.

Just a dusting of snow and newly naked trees. Winter hadn’t settled in yet when we visited over Thanksgiving week, but Fall was definitely through. Hardly seems like a time to celebrate, even though that’s what we were there for.
After landing in Milwaukee we headed north. First to Green Bay to visit the woman who taught me to draw ( don’t look at my drawings as evidence of her skills as a teacher, for she teaches much better than I’ll ever draw ). Carol Emmons was my drawing instructor at UW-Milwaukee back in the late 70’s.
I say she taught me how to draw, but actually she taught me how to see. The most profound perception she opened my eyes to was the concept of negative space. The space in between things. In the 2 dimensional world of drawing these spaces become shapes and these shapes can be powerful elements in the composition of a drawing. So one is not just drawing a tree or a coffee cup, but the air between the branches, the hole in the handle.
Often times when I consult people on how to improve the gardens, I find they have been trying to solve their problems by filling up space. And when the garden gets cluttered they scream: “ Help!”
This is when I declare deletion king. Lifting tree limbs, clipping shrubs, removing aged perennials and rampant ground covers. Destruction, or deconstruction, is a the part of gardening I think most people avoid. They see these acts as brutal and miss the benefits of deleting, or what I would rather call adding negative space.
That’s why I love Fall and Winter, the garden shows you it’s negative spaces.You can follow them, enhance them. What is a bowl with out that empty belly to fill with soup. What is a garden without a scooped out corner to gather shade. An arching branch to frame a walk or view.

A reductionist garden at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

I used to adamantly look at nature for clues on how to create a garden. Not a bad idea I’ll admit, but limited. Now I look at architecture too. Am I maturing from my plant driven motivations? Has my interest in what’s “not there” become as important as what is? I know I’ve moved on from my 2 dimensional notions of painting a garden, though I will never tire of color and light and play. I guess as the gardens I created mature it is the editing, the hollowing out, the sculpting that increases in importance. As if the garden’s requirements force me to mature as a gardener. When I was 18 learning to draw I got my mind blown by the concept of negative space, but it is not until now that I realize we live in the negatives spaces. It’s where life happens, in between walls, in between branches, in our arms.
So now what I am looking at is volume. How branches hold space arching and expanding. How lawns run snug along the flat or undulating surface of the earth. How shrubs, boulders, even moveable furniture grabs at space molds it into shapes. Even the sky plays along mute with low clouds, obscuring with fog. Or opening ad infinitum at night to stars.
As we moved north in our travels last week to my parents home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it seemed we were moving closer to the sky and farther from a sense of garden. Though geometric farms and towns were carved out of the never ending northern forest, they appeared more like interruptions than intentions.
My parents had the intention when they bough their 40 acre farm back in the 70’s to let some of the cleared land return to forest. Over 30 years, and a strange passivity rarely seen in my parents, a forest has reemerged. Black spruce ( Picea mariana ) and white pine (Pinus strobus) and popple ( Populus tremuloides ) as they call it. That land wants to be forest , resists agro-nomics.
That bit of recovering woods is an antitheses to the mown hay fields that surround it begins to lend shape to the shapeless land, like a blank part of a page gives volume to a drawing. The interplay of ascending trees and flat fields change places; the fields become negative spaces in their Winter fallowness, the evergreens growing in a space taken out of production become the product, so to speak, as we searched for my parents Christmas tree.
And open up the woods.

Here we stand, my parents and I, in the forest they created by doing nothing. The blaze orange is not a fashion statement, but anti-camouflage, it was deer hunting season.