Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I know it is unfashionable to complain. Yet I find sometimes a strange satisfaction in complaint. I’m not sure where that comes from.
Dissatisfaction overruling gratitude seems downright evil. Yet these feeling overcome us all. It is especially bad when the complaining gets petty, is destructive or just plain mean.
That said, here I go...
I was up at Tilth the other day not the restaurant but the lovely gardens that surround the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. I just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I might find a daphne in bloom. I needed a photo for my latest “Garden Notes” column.
I saw this small clump of snowdrops that seemed unusual, ill, maladroit. So I bent down to get a better look. The only way to really appreciate snowdrops is to bend down and get a closer look, no matter how many times someone tells you that a little vase of snowdrops on your night stand is just the thing. This little clump of clumsy snowdrops were double. A bubbly, warty sort of double. Now I have no problem with horticulturalists creating double flowers, especially if they’re in the aster family. I love cactus-flowered dahlias, State Fair zinnias and purple chinese asters come fall. But when it comes to the lily family I find doubling ugly. Double tulips, split-cupped narcissus, double asiatic lilies and bubbly snow\drops seem marred. A perfect simplicity unnecessarily complicated. To hobble the grace of such elegant flowers is bitterly cruel. When we were warned to not gild the lily I think we were also being warned not to fluff it up, ruffled they become clowns in the garden.
As well as being a complainer I am also a rule breaker, especially my own rules. I forgive all the horticulturalists who fiddled with snowdrops, narcissus, lilies, and tulips, because I love the peony flowered tulip “ Black Hero”
What can I say?
I’m complicated.

No I don't have tulips blooming already. This is a photo from last year.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Rumors of “the last” always mean some thing new is starting up to me.
Last week was the last Northwest Flower and Garden Show, so it seems.
Though rumors abound that it might actually carry on.
Wait and see.
I was feeling guilty for not wanting to write some wistfully nostalgic piece about the garden show. About blooming trees indoors in February.
I could have been irate at the injustice of it all.
Really, I’m more numb. I guess that is also part of mourning. Accept that I’ve been in mourning for years watching the garden show fade from it’s past glory.
Strangely when I put the numbness aside, I began to enjoy my time at the show.
I sat through 3 lectures in a row. Ran into friends. Ate a quick lunch then headed out into the beautiful weather and to Suyama Space to see the installation by Richmond, Virginia artist, Kendall Buster. “New Growth/ Stratum Model” installed in the central gallery of Suyama Peterson Deguchi architecture studio, had a cloud-like grace that makes it hard to write about and even harder to photograph. It brought a great tranquility to the space without filling it or cluttering it. Could I possibly garden like that? Later in the smaller gallery George Suyama was reassembling a large plum branch, it was like a minimalist’s garden show. He smiled at me as I watched him and his assistant struggle to place the giant branch in the space. After they left I went and sat under it, like it was my own private garden show.

Talking about trees indoors...

This lovely life-size mural by Seattle artist Jean Bradbury is a permanent installation at the new Macrina Bakery in Sodo.

Later I ran back to the garden show after all I had set aside a few dollars to spend and needed to do some shopping. This is what I bought:

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Yesterday saw a bumper sticker that read: “ Perform Random Acts of Gardening”. It was obviously a knock off of the “ Random Acts of Kindness” movement that Oprah made popular, which in turn I believe was started to heal the fears of random acts of violence in Southern California.
I’d like to steal and alter this phrase too. I’d like to say “allow random acts in the garden”. I know allowing the garden is probably the gardener’s hardest task. Especially if you’re a control freak gardener like me. But some of the best things that happen in the garden are very random. I had planted these korean rock ferns ( Polystichum tsus-simensis ) and variegated pachysandra ( Pachysandra terminalis ‘Variegata’) in a shady corner where they flourished and lightened up the dense shade. But it wasn’t until this Wester Flisk hellebore (Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’) seeded in that the corner became interesting. I don’t know if it is the birds that visit the garden that transported the seed to this location. Or that rotten squirrel that does so much damamge. I cannot credit anyone. Nor take credit myself. But this hellebore acts like a torch in this combination, playing elegantly and solidly between the ferns texture and the pachysandra’s color.
I plant on stealing this combination and using it elsewhere, we are all thieves in the garden.
Or strip-tease acts.

There is something so sexy about magnolia flowers , especially when they are just starting to undress. This blossom was forced, we are really not that far along yet.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


There was no weather today. If that’s possible. It wasn’t really cloudy, or really sunny. Neither warm , nor cold. The only movement was the thermometer’s slow climb from 28 to 50. Still I’m going to write about the weather.
I went for a long walk along our road and through the swamp, and ended up on the river bank under the bridge. Everywhere I went I looked for signs of spring. Still none were to be found.

Flood waters still linger in ditches and hollows.

Flood debris still clings to the trees like weaver birds’ nests.

And yet, I was not disappointed. I had expected, that the only sign of spring would be me looking for spring. And when I recognized this, and accepted it, a stillness came over me. Not unlike the stillness of the day. An exquisite suspension between past and future, winter and spring called now.
Yet, still in now I wait for spring, look for signs expecting none.
And that is the first sign of spring to me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Time is a 4 letter word.
Like fuck , like love.
Today I wished a friend “ all the time in the world” as if time were a commodity, like money. But contrary to popular belief time is not money. Time is time, slippery, ungraspable, “never-enough-of” time. And yet we make time, or take time continually.
My friend has a desire to write a book, and that takes time. So I told him he had to make time. But that takes time he said. So I simply wished him time. All the time in the world. As if I were a billionaire in hours, or the head of the State Chronological Lottery Board.
Wouldn’t that be something if you could buy a lottery ticket and the prize was time?
What would you do with all that time?
Spend it on a lavish world cruise?
Feed the time-hungry like mothers, or work-a-holics?
Would you keep doing what you’re doing , only longer?
The first thing my friend would do is quit his job.
Would you quit your job?
I don’t think I could.
More time , more gardening.
Maybe all the fruit trees would get pruned this year, and the grapes, too. Maybe I would finally get one bed totally weed free.
Or read all the greatest gardening books of all time.
There it is again, that 4 letter word.
“ Time isn’t after us,
Time isn’t holding us”
David Byrne of the Talking heads sang those words more than 20 years ago, when youth perhaps made him believe he had all the time in the world. Would he sing about time running out today?
Does time run out on us? Or do we run out of time?
“ Time’s up!” the game show host calls out.
So maybe time is not win-able, or make-able, or even take-able.
But it sure is enjoyable.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Each Morning I wake before dawn. Even before the birds begin to sing. I’ve stopped looking at this as a problem, a disorder, and accept it as a gift. Extra time in the day. A few moments of calm before the storm of activity I call my life.
The first thing I do is step outside. No matter the weather. Still in my slippers and pajamas, this time of year often wrapped in a blanket, I go out on to the covered front porch on the east side of the house. The darkness around the porch is dispelled by a light we keep burning day and night. It is the strange fearful habit of farmers to keep the light burning , in case the cows come home I guess, even if we don’t have cows. In this little mantel of light I take a few deep breaths.
You see I’m an outsider.
A few years ago I had a knee operation, a very simple operation , that had me laid up for weeks. While I lied in bed my left knee cocked into an uncomfortable position by a big pillow, I thought. I had plenty of time to think.
What I thought about was what I would do if I couldn’t garden for a living anymore. I had horrific visions of fluorescent lighting in taupe painted rooms. A chair and a desk as tight as a straight jacket. A small unopenable window to the outside. I find office jobs scary. You see, I’m an outsider.
When I go to the theatre, during intermission I go outside with the smokers. I’m afraid I might have missed something, like a chance shower, or a fluctuation in the temperature. Just to breath the second hand smoke seems preferable to being inside.
I know sometimes this behavior borders on addictive, reeks of claustrophobia. If I’m somewhere where I can’t get a breath of fresh air I get panicky or sullen. I used to sleep with the window open all year long. Now that I share my bedroom it’s out of the question.
So I get up at 5 AM, and the first thing I do, well, maybe not the absolute first thing, is to go outside.
You see, I’m an outsider.
Are you?

Unexpected snow.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I first started thinking of my self as a writer back in a 1974. I was wearing tartan bell bottoms and blue platform shoes, listening to David Bowie at that time. I was a young dude and it was the 70’s, please forgive me. Cooks were cooks and gardeners,gardeners. There were no Iron Chefs, just Julia Child, no garden celebrities, just Thalassa Cruso. It was a time when fame became famous. It was probably Andy Warhol’s promise for 15 minutes ( he actually denied saying that) that got the fame mill going and fame began to displace money as the American Dream.
Things were much simpler then. I would mimeograph my poems and hand them out. It all seems so quaint and nineteenth century as I type it into my laptop, though it truly wasn’t that long ago. I still am a hunt and pecker, technology has not changed my skills there. But it’s the malleability of the ‘page’ I love now. No white out , no reams of paper before arriving at a clean copy. I know “we’re using less paper”, that computer technology is “greener”, I think history will show us the truth. But that is a subject for another blog. Now like most of you I am mesmerized by the web to the point of believing I can’t live without it. “It’s only a tool,” a friend said to me only a few years ago when I sidled up to my first computer, with the voice of “2001”’s HAL echoing in my brain. I’ve learned to make use of this tool over the years. It has revolutionized bookkeeping and tax time for me. It has given the hidden researcher in me a speedy way to bounce from subject to subject without leaving my chair. I still go to the library frequently, I will never get over the lovely sensuosity of books. But what I really love about my computer is distribution. I used to be an avid letter writer, to the point of which licking the stamp was a ritualistic act. I actually miss it at times, but it never had the far reaching impact of blogging, which at this moment I think of as corresponding. I ‘correspond’ in Australia , Israel, Germany, India and Wisconsin. At least that’s the ones I know of. The web has put my ramblings in global distribution.
When my friend Bre ( check out his website I Make Things) set me up with a blog 7 years ago I was dumbfounded as to what to write about. I am a gardener so I decided a gardening blog might be the way to go. But Bre didn’t like my content.” Just report what you’re doing: ‘ Today I planted 700 tulips’ ; ‘Today it rained all day’ ; ‘ Today I dug a hole’,” was his stern advice. He truly believed a blog, a web log, was exactly that, an archive of activities. But my persistent poetic under-pinings, let me to believe it was an archive of thoughts and feelings. But I tried his way for a while, but lost interest. There is a sufi saying that Jesus said “ a man can only spend what is in his pocket”, mine happen to be full of poetic under-pinings and philosophic meanderings. Because I had so few comments on my blog I thought maybe I wasn’t so brilliant after all and stopped. I read other peoples blogs. Some were “ archiving activities”, others were “mimeographing” poetry and “handing it out”, others were becoming columnists, reporters and educators.
So I began contributing to the blog-o-sphere again. Spending what I had in my pocket.
But I still have my notebook and pens. It all starts there for me. My thoughts flow better in ink on paper. The clickety-clack, or should I say clunkety-clunk under my hands, of the keyboard some how bogs down my thought processes.
It’s February and I have more time than dirt on my hands.
More space to wonder and wander in this fat old head of mine.
More time for questions.
Is there a difference between writing and blogging? I’ve heard the word ‘blog’ tossed around so derisively by some very well educated people, or at least people who want to you to believe their well educated. Is blogging somehow less than writing? And if so what is it then?
Who are we bloggers?
The new journalists?
Or Correspondents? Are we all little Anderson Coopers on the front line of our back yards?
I guess I would say that’s how I see myself after 5 years of blogging. I’m simply writing missives, letters, correspondences with no address but the wide open cyberspace. Like messages in bottles they land in Australia, or Italy, Boise or Kentucky.
A few weeks ago I stood naked on the beach. Not truly naked, but without a lens, or a screen or any devices between me and the world. The world that we have made so small with the internet. But I realized that the world has not changed size. The Pacific is still immense beyond comprehension. Not even the most skilled swimmer among us would consider swimming it, unless you include whales in the “us”. And when I looked up into the night sky and the tenderly flickering Milky Way, I wondered if anyone up there was reading my blog. Then suddenly I realized how claustrophobic I was in cyberspace. How seductively expansive the small piece of sky above my head was, how wide still the seas.
Now I am back home sitting at my desk in logger jeans, I’ve kicked off my Muck Boots and slipped into the camel hide slippers I bought tin India (somethings haven’t changed). I’m clickety-clunking away at another letter to no one and everyone, at least everyone who reads it. On February 23 Andy Warhol will have been dead for 21 years. Are his legendary words finally coming true? Is fame being diminished as we each gather our 15 minutes, one megabyte at a time?
Is garden writing being turned into a series of soup cans with out a brand name?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


We’ve made it half way. Two days ago was Imbolc, the pagan festival that celebrates the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. You might think of it as Candlemas if you follow the Catholic calendar, or Ground Hog’s Day if you’re a T.V. meteorologist. What it means to everyone in the northern hemisphere is that the days are getting markedly longer, and you couldn’t complain about that, no matter what your religion.
We are lucky in the Northwest to be having a sunny spell. A long overdue sunny spell. You can really fell the jump toward spring, the birds are singing more and dandelions begin to pock the lawn. But it’s the sun, so warm ,so bright that gets all the credit for our good moods these days.
I’m busy in the garden again. Pruning shrubs. Cutting back the last of the perennials. Hopefully fertilizing. I’m as busy as the flocks of robins gorging on the waking insects, getting drunk on the fermenting cotoneaster berries.
I’m a little drunk myself, on sunshine. The gray diffuse sheen we called days these passed weeks was hard . Weather dependent, I guess that’s what I am.
The English novelist Julian Barnes wanted to entitled his first novel “No Weather”. Actually as a young writer he vowed to never write about the weather. I don’t know if he managed it, but it seems to me like a perverse literary pretense. Maybe he felt that the weather was too mundane for great fiction, or that “the most popular subject of conversation” would bog down his fleet stories. I don’t know how you could leave it out. Weather influences everyone and everything. It is the common denominator. No matter your religion, race, political affiliation or sexual orientation weather, like love, will get you. Maybe it this incredible loss of control in the face of weather that makes us human.
Look at London. Big powerful London. Modern fast moving London, shut down by 4 inches of snow. Julian Barnes lives in London. I wonder what he’s thinking about weather now. Was he part of the throngs of Londoners who came out to play, because everything else was impossible? Does he look for a sunny spot on a park bench in February?
Last night I went out to say good night to the stars. It’s a silly little bedtime ritual I’ve initiated since I’ve moved to the country. As if they were my children, or I, theirs. The moon and Jupiter were icy white and brightly haloed. The temperatures had already dropped below freezing. If it were summer I might have lied on the deck and soaked up some star light, but a thin layer of ice was already forming and i was longing for bed.
By morning the world was frosted. I had to scrape the windshield, but that was a small price to pay for being able to see the sunrise.