Thursday, April 30, 2009


Damn! As I get older it seems spring gets faster. Nothing makes that feel more apparent, then getting on a plane in the middle of gardening/farming mayhem. But you see it's my parents ( yes, both of them) 80th birthdays this May, and I'm flying home for a surprise party. No better excuse to interrupt my spring rhythm.
Maybe by the time I get back the tulips will be done and I won't feel so hateful.

One more reason to hate tulips:

The way too loud "Banja Luka". Silly!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Any of you who know me or have been reading this blog for a few springs know that is probably a lie. I don’ t hate tulips, but I do.
Let me validate my confusion.
I love tulips, but I hate how they behave in the Northwest where the springish winter starts them growing in February, making them prone to frost damage and thus the fungus Botrytis tulipae, or Tulip Fire. I’ve been warned by the experts to not plant tulips in the same spot except for every third year. But I don’t listen. My love of tulips gets in the way. So I’m trying to cultivate a hate of tulips. So, when Fall delivers all those colorful catalogues and I’m already feeling anxious for spring and I totally forget how bad the tulips looked the past spring, I won’t buy them again. After all 3 years isn’t that long.
So here’s a few of my favorite tulips to hate:

The too unnatural ‘Black Hero’

The way too lovely ‘Perestroyka’

The clownishly graceful ‘Burning Heart’.( Do you see the heart in the tulip in the upper left corner of the photo? Too charming.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


When I was at Mc Lendon’s , my favorite hardware store, on Wednesday the parking lot was in full buzz. The sunshine on the black top gave the day a summerish sizzle. The tomatoes had arrived. People love their tomatoes. And marigolds and geraniums, and coleus.
As I stood in front of a cart of coleus and geraniums. A woman in a bright orange blouse approached and said to her friend “Coleus!” I’m sure if she was writing this she would follow the word “ coleus” with more than one exclamation point.
The she asked her friend, in her outside voice, “ I wonder if it’s too early to put coleus out.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at the folly and responded, “It’s way too early.”
She gave me a dirty look, that said “ Spoil sport!” followed by multiple exclamation points.
I slunk off to befriend a lonely cart of pansies.
Later as I stood in the long line to check out, I balanced an ax, a rake, a pot of tarragon and one orange pansy. I had plenty of time to be nosy about what all the other shoppers were buying. Tomatoes, geraniums. And coleus. I was so October with my little orange pansy. I felt strangely out of synch with humanity. So when I reached the cashier I tried to rejoin by joking, “There sure are a lot of tomatoes going out of here for mid-April.” 
The over-worked and unamused clerk responded defensively, “They probably have greenhouses to keep them in.” Knowing in the nursery business “buying early” and “buying often” go hand in hand, I slid my card. Typed in my pin. Juggled my purchases back into my arms. Smiled through my obedient “Thank you” and headed back into the sun.
I remembered a February years ago when a friend was handing out tomato seedlings started way too early. I took a few of the pale leggy seedlings home and planted them outside on Valentine’s Day in honor of their old German name Liebapfel, love apple. When I told my friends they all chuckled at my folly. Luckily the frosts had ended early that year, so the tomatoes didn’t die but they sure sulked. When June finally came the tomatoes started to grow in leaps and bounds and by the end of summer I was in abundance.
I know it is spring not because the tomato plants have arrived at the hardware store, or because one day it is sunny and the next cold and rainy, but because I am so busy. Every step must be a step forward. No slacking, no back tracking. I run this course each year like a benefit marathon. I look toward the goal, hammock and heat, a beer, a book. Tomatoes.
My next stop, on Wednesday, was at a less frenetic wholesale nursery. One of the employees greeted me and then asked, “When is spring going to get here?”
As I stood in the heady aroma of a nearby cart of alyssum and looked at the blue sky over his head, I said “This is Spring.” No exclamation marks necessary.
“ I guess you’re right,” he responded and then a small smile came to his face, as if spring had entered him with my words.
In the afternoon I stopped at the gas station to tank up and ran in to get a quick cold drink. Something lemony and sweet felt in order that day. When I checked out the clerk said, “ Summer is finally here”. I wondered where he was from that he could delude himself that a 70 degree day in April was summer’s arrival.
Then I responded, “ Sure seems like it.” And joined him.
The rest of the day I made believe it was summer. I took a walk to no where, sat on the front porch with my friend Gretchen and watched passers by. I had a Miller High Life with dinner and just relaxed a bit. I cast off my notion that the demands of spring are reward by the pleasures of summer. And lived a “ summer evening” in April, which began my craving for a tomato sandwich.
So this weekend we need to clean out the greenhouse.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I have not been able to post.
I’d like to blame it on my busy-ness, but blogging is part of my busy-ness. I’d like to blame it on my laziness but truly I have no time to be lazy. My excuse for not posting is awe. So much is going on right now, it is hard to know what to say. I know the birds aren’t silent, nor the ten thousand frogs on our marshland farm. I know that every plant if I listened close enough, if I had a microphone sensitive enough would be popping and snapping like some gum chewing broad. Spring is just that kind of teasing hussy, hot one day, giving you the cold shouldering the next, yet always remaining fascinating.
All winter it was so easy to write, write, write. It was almost an imperative of my restless mind to fill the silence with verbiage. But now the cacophonous chorus of spring silences me. It is not just a silencing though. Beneath all my doing,and not deeply below, just scratch the surface, is my undoing. Not the active undoing like my knitting friend Kathy unraveling, as if she raveled, a mis-knit sweater.
I admire people who can make clothes with 2 sticks and some yarn, and talk, or chew gum the whole time they’re doing it. Who bravely undo their knitting and start all over again, as if it were just an existential puzzle.
Sometime I find gardens puzzling. They knit themselves together in admirable and inextricable ways. This requires very little activity on the gardeners part. Actually in the garden no activity is the best way to achieve this effect.
I have taken on two new gardens this year, both have knitted themselves into knots after years of minimal maintenance. Much needs to be undone. Maybe I should call it “judicious editing”, sounds smarter. Certainly cognitive skills are needed to undo: observation, evaluation,discretion and resolution, but for me it is the gut reaction which guides my undoing.
My gut responses have been honed by 25 years of gardening, so I can trust them, even though they are a very sharp tool. Still I need to step back, to become a “judicious editor”, instead of an undoer. An undoer can make mistakes. So as I tight-rope walk between my gut responses and the mildly friendly fear that makes me step back and look at what I’m doing with discretion, I come into balance. These moments of doing nothing except thinking about the doing or undoing are pivotal moments for the garden. In April’s rush it is hard to remember. I want to get in there and get things done.
I’m still eliminating last years dead. Dead branches, dead plants, dead weight.
Removing dead weight can be the most important step in the progress of a garden. When I say dead weight I don’t mean a plant that has reached the end of its life , but a plant that has reached the end of its importance.
Let me give you an example. Last winter I was consulting with a client. She took me around the north side of her house where in very cold, damp soil was a cluster of lavender. It was January in what has been a cold, damp year, so you can imagine how the lavender looked. Lifeless.
Yet my client gently bent down to point out a few knobs of growth at the lower nodes on the branches.
“ Can I cut these back here?” she asked.
“ Not now, not until they begin actively growing in spring,” I said repressing the undoer who wanted to rip those pathetic plants out by the roots. Trying to mimic her concern I asked, “ Do they flower?”
“ Oh, a little,” she said as if apologizing.
“ You don’t have to save them,” I offered judiciously.
Then we headed off to the sunny side of the house, although it was January and there was no sun, to look for a place for her to plant lavender in spring.
The hardest thing for most gardeners is to undo. There is always more fertilizer, more water, some mulch that will bring that plant around. There always more to do.
I can imagine this lavender loving client coming home in midsummer with seven pots of blooming lavender. At that very moment the sun, which arcs very far north here at that time of year, was hitting the north side of the house for a few hours at midday. This spot which hosted mostly moss and shot weed seemed the perfect spot for lavender.
It wasn’t.
But it is hard to be joyful about giving up. Doing is much more fun than undoing. Undoing feels like an admission to failure, although undoing creates opportunity for doing. I have learned to take great pleasure in “doing” the undoing. Maybe like a knitter I have become less afraid of the opportunities in failure.
And less afraid of inactivity.
Last Sunday was the last day of my 50th year. I know I could have waited until Monday to celebrate turning 51, but because my 50th year was so full. Full with travels and floods, full with gardens and art, full with old friendships renewed and new friendships found. I wanted to bid it adieu with a celebration.
Of course that involved some doing. Luckily Michael took on the brunt of the cleaning and cooking, leaving me to play with bouquets and setting the table. Then I had to move some of the potted plants form the deck that didn’t make it , the rosemary and bay laurel that I like to call “ hardiness test plants” to derail any guilt I have about neglecting them this horribly horrible winter. Then these pots had to be replaced by pots of tulips. The ones planted in glazed pots did not make it through the winter which leads me to believe it is the wet rather than the cold that undoes tulips. So I pulled the terra cotta pots full of tulips in the nut-hard green bud stage up onto the deck. I dove quickly into the nursery which was still wearing the silty leafy mantel of the flood and pulled out my alpine willows, only one succumbed to the winter. I even found a small pot of hosta seedlings, collected from ‘Blue Angel’ starting to sprout. I was sure they had washed away. There were so many signs of the smooth rush forward that the warm days were affording us.
By the time the guests arrived in the afternoon I had exhausted myself with activity and was ready to do nothing but drink margaritas and laugh at my friends’ funny stories and try to solve the worlds problems. And eat to excess. The day had warmed up so deliciously that our little fiesta mexicana felt like the winter vacation we missed this year.
Now that I am 51, I realize the 50s are like the teens, you are no longer young, but you are also not quite old. I’d love to call myself an old gardener, maybe I used my grandpa too much as a role model, I’d like to point to a venerable old tree I planted in my youth and feel truly useful to the planet. Instead of feeling the wisdom of the years, I’m feeling the on rush of grumpiness, making me curse and wave a fist at the city folk driving down our bucolic country road with their sound systems thumping base so loud it cracks the black top. But I also revel in after dinner constitutionals down to the river, in the shameless relishing of cottage cheese and soft boiled eggs.
I am not one of those who believes the best is yet to come. I want the best now. So I am happy with early springs cold shoulder, the ‘Fuji” cherry opening it’s tight green fists ever so slowly, the over abundance of yellow in the garden and a rainy Easter. I am happy that the giant sequoia that Michael and I planted on my birthday is only threefeet tall. I am happy to sit on the porch doing nothing, being serenaded by the ten thousand frogs.
And thinking about how much more nothing there is to do.

Once native here, before the last ice age, I am happy to reintroduce this venerable tree Sequoiadendron gigantea to the edge of the swamp.

P.S. If you follow the think to Kathy's blog you might get something for nothing or at least for something else. I'm offering seeds.