Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I always like to get away from the garden in the winter. Usually I escape to books. Sometimes a snow deletes all the chores around the garden, at least for a day or two. Sometimes I just need to get away. Last Winter we went to Mexico, which was great for squeezing every last drop of chill out of my bones. But the lush tropical gardens, even the wild dry jungle of the Yucatan gave my botanist’s and gardener’s eyes a lot to do.
Where do you go?
This past weekend we drove to the Washington Coast. We rented a small cabin in a small Quileute fishing village at the mouth of the Quillayute River. A barren winter beach can really calm a gardener’s mind, even though the ocean is never quiet. The waves are constant and strong at La Push. So we retreated to our cabin and I read until I fell asleep. In the middle of the day!
When I woke I could hear my mother’s distant voice, “ What a waste of time.” Luckily she was only in my mind.
So, I though I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed, I thought at least I could think about work.
But I failed.
I did spend a few minutes trying to imagine a beach garden. Really an oxymoron. Just considering moving the detritus to get started was daunting not to mention the waves. So I thought about our garden back home. How one big slow wave --that’s what a flood is after all-- passed through a few weeks ago. How one big wave 8 feet tall passed across our land depositing tires and stealing soil and plants. We have been so busy cleaning out the basement that I haven’t had time for the garden or the nursery that I wrangled together at the last minute with bird netting and posts. I did pick up a few lavenders of the north lawn that had been de-potted by the current and shoved a 100 yards down stream. I was actually amazed to find the potted pinks that I keep on an old metal shelf to keep them dry ended up 4 feet under water and still look alive, and well.
So, there I was at the beach wasting time thinking about the garden when I could have been counting waves until I was mesmerized. But I started thinking about beach gardens , and waves, and our garden, and floods. Remember the fun-filled and frustrating hours building sandcastles? What a waste of time. But what a pleasure, too. Sunny hours building, cultivating delusions of permanence.. And then a wave came....
Even though the flood was only one big wave it knocked down a sandcastle I was building in my mind. Was I wasting time?
I began to think about other gardens I made. That rose up, not unlike a wave, and crashed when I moved on. All our gardens are prone to the waves; months, years, decades, a lifetime. They crest and crash. And yet we are perfectly happy to build our castles in the sand. Snubbing out noses at impermanence.
Wasting our time?

Is surfing a waste of time. I’m not talking about internet surfing, but wave surfing. There were surfers at the beach, wet-suited young men gutsy enough, or is it ballsy enough, on January 24th to enter the cold North Pacific to catch a wave. I admire their bravado, or is it “madness” as my companion called it. All for the thrill of catching a wave for a moment or two.
Our gardens are momentary, too.
Declining and reviving constantly, moment by moment.
Dissolving when we leave-- a garden is the gardener -- wave-like into a larger reality.
So what if we made our gardens in that larger reality? Would that be less of a waste of time?
Or should we just keep surfing, through the seasons, the years,the floods, and the chores?
And stop wasting time.

Life in the surf holds tight.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Even though Mahonia "Arthur Menzies" is screaming April yellow, It's still winter. I even heard a rumor of snow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This is not a black and white photo. This is just January in the Northwest.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Today I saw my shadow for the first time in weeks. Maybe even a month. He stood (lied?) before me tangled with shadows of tree branches on the lawn, as if I were up in that tree pruning. I decided to play with my shadow. Not in the way a child plays making funny shapes, but with my mind, the word, the concept of shadow.
We all have a shadow side. According to Jungian psychology, “It is everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. These are dark rejected aspects of our being as well as light, so there is positive undeveloped potential in the Shadow that we don’t know about because anything that is unconscious, we don’t know about.”
I wondered about the shadow of a garden, not the shade but the dark underbelly. What we hide, like the compost bins bowel-like digesting, or the shelf of chemicals in the shed that we can neither use nor throw out.
I wondered about the shadow of the gardener and how that manifested in his garden.
Later in the day I went to a lecture by the Seattle based landscape architect Barbara Swift, of Swift Company. She titled her lecture “Beginning to Get It”.
She was adamant in her use of long lasting materials, and simple in her design.
She also chided us about our “retail therapy” gardens. How we clutter our spaces, getting in the way of our experience of the space. She acknowledges that consumption is an antidote to the disconnectedness of modern culture, but a fleeting one, like chips. How many times have I bought the “ coolest new plant” only to toss it out at the end of the season, or the end of the month, in disgust. She encouraged us to pare down our appetites for new things for the garden, and to sharpen our appetites to the experiences of the garden.
For me it is not so much all the clutter as it is all the activity. How much do we really need to do to the garden? And how much is some craving for busy-ness? Why do I fear my lazy shadow? Why do I fear the part of me that takes pleasure even in the dandelions in the lawn? Why do I garden?
Why do we garden?
I am not asking you , dear readers, to go into analysis to figure out why you garden. I wouldn’t even ask that of myself. What I am asking myself is to look at the motivation behind my purchases, my activities. Am I just “control-freaking” nature, or “expressing myself”? Do I really need to?
I have begun watching my motivations as a gardener, like I watch the slow progress of the twiglet witchhazel I ordered from Forest Farm grow inches at a time.
I want to stay put and let the garden work, not work it.
Maybe like Barbara Swift I’m “beginning to get it”.
Maybe there’s still time for me to learn how to garden.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was expecting to find only the most reliable Winter bloomers to showing color today. After all the erratic weather we’ve been having it’s hard to imagine anything wanting to bloom. But beyond the determined there was also a few surprises. These photos were taken in a clients garden which could be considered zone 8 most years. At the farm zone 6.5, or worse, there is nothing blooming after the flood.

I wish I could photograph scent, this sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia showing both flowers and berries, is a real sweet wake up call this time of year.

Helleborus foetidus 'Chedglow' one of my favorite plants.

My favorite witchhazel, 'Jelena'. It's rusty colored flowers vanish in the winter garden so siting it in front of evergreens is crucial.

The big surprise today was this lonely daffodil, soon to be joined by others. Rijnveld's Early Sensation is the earliest blooming daffodil I know of, but January 15th, unheard of.

Friday, January 9, 2009


The waters were deep, and now receding. Thank God. Here's some during and after photos.

Michael is 6 foot 2 inches you can see from the line of debris on this hedgerow of roses that the water was higher than that.

There's a pear tree under there.

The Cherry Orchard.

Cardoon "flowers" still standing after being totally submerged in 3 floods.

Curly kale at our neighbor Dan's farm still looks tidy in it's rows though the current was strong enough to push huge logs miles.

Everything feels so surreal.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Record flooding hit Western Washington yesterday. Those usually not susceptable to flooding have been evacuated. We in the regularly flooding Snoqualmie Valley stayed home, our houses built to be above the 100 year flood. Of course this flood set us on edge as the waters reached epic proportions, coming to the very brink of disaster, water in the house. The second floor decks around our house seem to float raft-like just inches above the monstrously widened river, lolling in murky gray eddies and currents on all sides.

Sadie, our black lab surveys the flood waters. "Nowhere to 'go'."

This soup of silt and septic over flow, garbage and carnage covers our land 10 feet deep from one end to 6 feet at the road. It is hard to think of this dirty water as washing. I remember seeing the bathers on the Ganges a few years ago, stepping into what looked to me like an open sewer to do their ablutions, and horror of horrors, brush their teeth. I wouldn’t step into these waters but there is a certain and undefinable sense of blessing that comes with these waters. A sense of cleansing. If you look at the graph on floodzilla.com which charts the movement of the waters, the flood appears to be a big slow wave sweeping away anything and everything except the fast rooted trees, our houses, the birds which fly among the exposed branches as if nothing has happened at all. Their strange sense of ease seems infectious. I’m sure I won’t feel the same in a few days when we enter the drained basement and survey the damages. But today there is no where to go, no work. I have nothing but time to look through the deluge of seed catalogues piling up on the table.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Here it is January 6th and I have made no New Year’s resolutions. This is nothing new for me, though I have in the past made resolutions to make resolutions, which I didn’t make, or made and didn’t keep.
January seems like a a strange time of year to start something. It’s not the first day of spring. Or a mid-point like Candlemas , February 2. It doesn’t v even signify an end accept by the calendar we bought. It is actually the 11th day of Winter. Arbitrary in my mind as a starting point. Though the Shinto have celebrated Shogatsu, New Year,on January 1, since pre-history, I can see no natural reason why this is when we observe the year as ‘new’.
It is actually the Babylonians, who celebrated New Year after the vernal equinox, who gave us the New Year’s resolution. It was consider propitious to return any borrowed farm equipment at that time. Probably the person you borrowed it from was doing there spring planting, so this makes sense.
Since I am generally more stubborn ( as my friends say) than resolute, I have not gotten over my abhorrence of New Year’s resolutions. But this year my curiosity got the best of me, I couldn’t help wondering about resolutions. So I started by looking for definitions of the word. The earliest definitions in English seem to be from the 1400’s. At that time it meant “ breaking into pieces”, or “the process of reducing things into simpler forms”, it wasn’t until 100 years later that it began to mean “ holding firm”, though related word “resolve” originally mean “to loosen”.
Maybe I have been mistaken all these years about making resolutions. In my simple mind I thought “resolution” was a fancy word for “rules”. So I avoided spontaneity crushing rules, by avoiding resolutions. But this year I am beginning to wonder if the meaning of resolution is more akin to it’s use in regard to lenses. A high resolution lens makes objects clearer, colors sharply defined. Maybe the the New Year instead of bringing new rules brings more clarity. Maybe this state of clarity is a singular vision that baths everything in the same new light. Not just seeing things as they are but as they could be. Seeing potentialities.
Seeing clearly the potentialities at this time of year is beneficial to the gardener as he approaches the task of pruning. Today I decided to prune the bar-berries, a prickly task that requires resolve. I started by looking. Then removed one after another of the older canes, simplifying the structure by untangling, letting the naturally arching young canes form a hemispherical shrub. The thorny mass now regained some definition. And I began to realize that maybe I am a person with resolve. Not the dramatic resolve of a New Year welcomer, but the detailed resolve of a gardener, knowing the benefits of focusing on a task.