Sunday, January 24, 2010


My friend Debra Anderson wanted to kill me when I got out my camera in her garden the other day. Of course she was kidding, she wouldn’t kill a fly. But if I was lurking around your January-drab garden with my camera and spotted a broken garbage can with a rescued rose in it, wouldn’t you try to get between me and the object of my photographic desire? It was evidently quite embarrassing to her that I should take a shot of the rescued rose. I almost held back, but then pop I got it. She named the piece: “Shabby chic.”
“Without the chic.”
Deb, who’s business is called "Spot on Pots", is an amazingly adept gardener and a particularly talented container gardener. I guess she wouldn’t want anyone to see a cracked plastic garbage can acting as a container in her garden, as much as I wouldn’t. So though I got the shot I won't be posting it. I guess that's what friends are for. Keeping your secrets.
Her postage stamp garden on a quiet corner in West Seattle is absolutely busting at the seams, even in January. It’s like an artist’s studio always in process and always changing. Plants coming and going, containers filling and emptying as if by magic, but it’s all Deb. Energetic, loving, happy Deb.
Deb, like me, started out as a painter. I have learned so much about color watching her work. I wish it had been spring or summer so I could post some photos of her complex yet subtle artistry. I know it is unfair of me to take pictures of her garden or anyone’s garden in January. “Come back in May or September” she said, whisking me away from one “disastrous” corner of the garden to another. Like any gardener will tell you, the garden always looks better on another day, or in another season, or in a few years when the trees are bigger. We will tell you anything to distract you from what we think is a “disaster” right now, but which might very well be beautiful.
As gardeners we are always working toward some future day, some unknowable year when it will all be perfect. But then we are pleasantly surprised at 7:22 on an unimportant Tuesday morning by how beautiful it all is as we rush out the door heading to work. These are the moments we’ve been preparing for.
That’s what Deb and I like most about gardens the element of surprise. Not the planned surprise but the surprise you get when it is so unspeakably beautiful for no apparent reason. Friday there was no apparent reason for me photographing Deb’s garden, the day was still dull when I came to pick her up for a trip to Harnden’s Nursery. Yet I knew we would see something surprising beautiful that day. We always do when we're together.

By the time we reached the Snohomish Valley and the 100s of acres of trees, the day began to shimmer ever so slightly as a dusting of sunlight pushed through the thinning clouds. We laughed at the monumentality of it all. “Who needs Versailles?” I asked. We both agreed we’d love to make a rectilinear garden, though our natures tend toward paisley. That we like vegetables in rows, and have a fondness for square pots is probably as close to a rectilinear garden as we’ll ever get.

As “professional weeders” we have learned to love weeds, we both stopped mid-step when we spotted this very toothy dandelion among the rows of trees. What a holiday to be able to enjoy a dandelion as it is and not have to worry about getting the whole root out.

The ashen blond canary reed grass in beautifully monochrome tranquility was something we agreed we could never make but loved immensely. Just then 7 white trumpeter swans honking overhead graced our day.

It is rare to find friends with whom you can share the beauty of a dandelion, or tawny monochromatics. They are treasures you polish with laughter.That makes Deb one of the shiniest people I know.