Saturday, December 24, 2011


Already 3 weeks ago, when I first heard Bing Crosby’s dreamy crooning, I too began to dream. And even wish out loud for snow. Not mountain-top, ski-slope snow, but snow right down here in the lowlands. I know my wish was childish, say around 10 years old with a new sled under the tree. I know my wish had traffic-snarling, jet-grounding impact, but all I cared about was my dream, and well, Bing’s too, and any other number of crooners who’ve tackled the song. Ask someone who grew up in Wisconsin, there is nothing like a white Christmas.
So weeks ago I began with the dreaming. In some sort of neo-shamanistic ritual I sprinkled popcorn along the rails of the deck outside the kitchen window. I told Michael it was to entice the birds closer to the house, but under my secret wishfully dreamy breath I was also trying to entice the weather gods to give us snow.
It’s not that I am ungrateful for the incredibly mild December we’ve been having. Nor do I mind the dense fog that the inversion layer kept pushed down around our ears for weeks now. I actually like the truncated visibility, turning the swamp surrounding our farm into a gothic masterpiece inhabited by spirits wearing moss pelts and opalescent pearls of dew. I love to walk through the valley this time of year when most others avoid it.
As I walked through this river of fog a few days ago and the season hung drab all around me and my dreaming about snow crescendo’d and collapsed, a strange sensitivity awoke in me, as if the low levels of light made my eyes more sensitive to subtle color variations. We grumpily refer to this weather, the fog, as the gray as if it were one thick coat of paint over everything. But it often reads blue especially early and late in the day. Sometimes even a vague sort of yellow when there is incandescent lights near by, haloed with eery greens.
And sometimes you enter pockets of the purest white. I had entered such a pocket on my walk that day when what to my wondering eyes did appear, actually it was my ears first that caught the magnificent trumpeting. A jubilation. Then just over my head out of the white sky a flock of 8 swans, a multitude of heavenly hosts, dropped from invisibility just yards over my head. They had not seen me either and a honk-honk-honk of warning echoed among them and they banked. The breath from their 16 wings brushed my upturned face. Then they vanished in the swaddling opaque fog. As this sublime monochrome moment opened and closed a shimmer like a shutter went through me. It was nothing that electricity could duplicate. Or, alas, words convey.
By solstice the weather had shifted a little. Shifted I say because there has been no wind to speak of, no great change, just a sleeper shifting under blankets of fog and clouds. The sun broke through. At first it merely laid on the fallen leaves, the walls, the blacktop, not penetrating, not heating. Even in the bluish shadows I could see it’s presence though, cool as electricity, skittering across the pebbled pavement, the rough trunks, and the smudged window of the Salvadoran restaurant where I ate pupusas.
Then through a slow persistence that seemed to bare no force heat came through. As I walked northward from the restaurant to my parked car I could feel this heat massage it’s way through 2 layers of wool and 2 layers of cotton and touch my fog-pallid skin. I forgot about summer and everything I did to keep the suns burning rays from damaging my oh-so-pale and cancerous skin. My skin called to the sun that day, nearly lifted off my shoulders as if desperate, as if starved for the closeness of those warming rays.
The sun left that day smearing the western horizon with an explosion of oranges, reds and yellows. I tipped my hat, so to speak, knowing it was now on it’s way back. And shivered under my for layers, a little wet with sweat, as I scurried through the crowds of shoppers back to my car.
Here its is Christmas Eve already. No sign of snow, not even in the mountains, much to the skiers’ chagrin and this snowshoer’s. It seems ironic the the classic Northwest Christmas song is written by Brenda White and extols the blessings of a “Christmas in the Northwest / a gift God wrapped in green.” Looks like the lyricist name is the closest we’ll get to a white Christmas this year. Why am I so obsessed with a Christmas that is a certain color?
About 20 years ago when I was working as ‘Mr. Christmas” for Molbak’s Seattle Garden Center in the Pike Place Market, there was a big push for a jewel tone Christmas by the people selling decorations. The traditional silver and gold, red and green were being replaced by multi-syllabic colors like turquoise, amethyst and aquamarine. Classy colors. I’m all for reinventing the wheel. But when it comes to Christmas I’m a traditionalist. I don’t want any Chippendale mermen on my tree, or chili pepper lights or jewel tones.
Give me silver and gold.
Give me the mono-syllabic red and green.
And, please, oh, please give me a white day after Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Rhododendron 'Ostbo's Red Elizabeth' blooming again the day before Christmas. Eat your hear out all those of you who are blanketed in white.

Friday, December 16, 2011


I love prune brown, though I would never eat these old pear leaves, frozen, rained on, in decay. But the color to me is as rich as chocolate, savory as braised lamb, hefty as pumpernickel. Who needs pink this time of year? There’s a bucket of potatoes to be peeled for dinner.

Friday, December 9, 2011


How precious the light. I don’t care how high the price of gold goes. This time of year when the clouds break, you have to stop and catch it. Not just with the camera, or the skin, but with the very fiber of being. That is all that will sustain us until the clouds break again. Decorations are distractions, but the way this fading Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) shines under the wash of sunbeams enlivens.

Friday, December 2, 2011


As I searched through my my fiery vocabulary for a metaphor to describe the generous beauty of this sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum), I ran up against trite words like “volcanic”, “molten”, unsatisfying phrases like “engulfed in flames”. Then I tried invoking the the gem-like quality of poisonous cinnabar, or the sugary cheeriness of cinnamon bears, to no avail. I exhausted quickly up against this beauty. And then I found these words of Rabindranath Tagore:
“As the season ends let everything go in an orgy of giving away.
Come, thieves of hidden honey; come now bees—
The year has chosen to marry death and wants to give all as she leaves.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


As the cold melancholic rains strip the color from the trees, flinging the golden leaves of the cotton woods into the gutter, the flaming reds of maples across the lawn, I wonder how I will sustain this post series until December 21 when fall ends. I could go on about green for the next month. But I’ll save that for later. What I see now is white, ominous white. Will snow come, or nor? Snow berries ( Symphorocarpos albus) are certainly already here, ghostly, inedible and totally beautiful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


If you’re prone to metallic hyperbole you’d probably call the color of these fallen cherry leaves bronze. If you’re like Crayola you’d probably call it burnt sienna. If Caran d’ache is more your style you’d most likely call it cinnamon. If masculine Sherman-Williams supplies your color vocabulary you might call it tobacco, But if you’re slike me you probably prefer brown. Not that I don’t see the complexity and richness of color here, not that I don’t appreciate a lovely associative word. But because I love the roundness of the word brown. Because to me the color brown is round, not just for the sake of rhyme. It is a color swollen with implications.

Friday, November 11, 2011


This lovely lavender dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) has been blooming since April. In July as it began to lay down slowly on the surrounding perennials I thought I should cut it back, but then forgot. By August I was wondering, “How long will this damn dame keep blooming.” The flower spikes were stretching nearly 8 feet by then. We’ve finally had a killing frost, 22ยบ. Much was blackened and flattened over night. All the leaves of the empress trees dropped green. There was ice in the watering can. But the little, well not so little , dame’s rocket just keeps on blooming

Sunday, November 6, 2011


A few night s ago I had dinner at a Japanese restaurant that I hadn’t dined at in years. It actually had changed hands and names several times since I was last there back in the early 90s. It’s in an odd little corner of Seattle and a basement at that. But when you enter this finely laid out and decorated subterranean restaurant, you feel like you’re in Japan. Well, I feel like I’m in Japan, though I’ve never been to Japan and don’t really know what being in Japan feels like. But the atmosphere of this restaurant, which has gone through some changes since I was there last, still has a quintessentially Japanese feel. At the end of the small front dining room, which used to be the bar twenty, thirty years ago, is the beautiful autumnal mural. Japanese maples in reds, oranges and yellows seem unusual, most Japanese restaurants focus on bamboo or spring and cherry blossoms for their decor. These maples frame a plunging narrow water fall now covered by Samsung large screen T.V. The waitress caught me taking this picture, looked puzzled and then apologized, “ It’s a shame we put a T.V. in the middle of that beautiful painting.” I just smiled.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This weekend we had a sunny day. Michael and I were rushing around the garden gathering the last of the gatherables before the next swath of rain passed through. A few pears, a few pumpkins. And even some beans. I bought the seed for this yellow romano bean in Lucca, Italy a few years ago. It’s called Meraviglia di Venezia, the Marvel of Venice, for a reason. The first year we grew it we was totally disappointed with it’s slow growth and reluctance to produce. But then late in the season, when the rest of the beans had given up it began to develop these beautiful and tender yellow pods. Again this year the late harvest was marvelously rewarding. Its a bean we will grow again and again.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Last weekend Michael and I drove to Boise, Idaho for his parents Golden Wedding Anniversary. It’s a beautiful drive, that we take frequently through the Cascades, the sage lands of the Yakima valley and the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon. This was the first autumn trip we made. I was surprised by the colors.The cotton woods in the river valleys were golden, with that yellow between egg yolk and lemon rind that we call golden. The slopes were reddened with sumac and service berry. Yet the dominant vegetal color beneath the clear blue October skies was beige. Almost a non-color in its ubiquity and neutrality. The grasses were beige and every form of herbaceous growth, the flower head of shrubs like the rabbit bush (Chrysothamnus naseosus) above and the stubbly fields of harvested wheat. It’s an affable if dead color, not cheery like spring time pinks, or bold like autumn gold, but valuable and calming. Or maybe it was just the long ride in this sublime beige landscape that calmed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Fall is creeping up on us slowly. Certainly the temperatures have changed, the clouds are back, the rains have begun on schedule. It’s the colors that are being shy. The grand autumnal colors, gold, orange, red, are just starting to peek out here and there. Sometimes it does that here. Sort of like spring is a prolonged parade from February to June. I have been taking pleasure in other colors as I wait for Fall’s triumph. Like anemones and aster. And the leaves of this purple brussels sprout lacquered with glare.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Last weekend Michael and I headed to Mount Rainier for a 3 day weekend. We were celebrating Michael’s birthday and escaping a myriad of projects around the house. Though the weather forecast was mixed, as it has been a lot lately, what we got was foggy, cloudy, rainy, actually any meteorological phenomenon that reduces visibility and gets you wet. Still, we had a beautiful time. “Invisibility is its own natural wonder,” writes the novelist Joyce Kornblatt. Certainly over the weekend as foggy distances gently opened and shrunk like schools of jelly fish, played peek-a-boo like a 2 year old, or teased like Sally Rand with her fans, we were continually awed by the beauty. And there was a certain peacefulness, which we didn’t realize we were seeking, that came over us, and would have been impossible if the sun was shining and the views gargantuan and triumphant as a brass band at Christmas.

Monday, September 26, 2011


It seems an odd time of year to be selling tulips. There are sunflowers, asters and mums ripe for the picking. I wonder where these six-petalled beauties are coming from. Somewhere below the equator where it is spring? From some strange complex of coolers and hothouse nearby where spring could be electronically recreated? It makes you wonder how they can get them to us so cheaply.
David Perry and Debra Prinzing are writing a book about sustainable, local flower growing called A Fresh Bouquet. Their blog is full of beautiful photos and interesting interviews with growers around the country involved in local sustainable flower culture. I’d be visiting it know except my bulb orders just arrived and I have hundreds of tulip bulbs to unpack. Giant Darwin Hybrids, Greggii Hybrids and Fosteriana Hybrids for my clients. And a few species tulips for me.
Maybe September is tulip time after all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I’ve read that all gardening is a sickness, a homesickness. A deep seated longing for our mythical home in Eden. Or an echoing refrain of our evolutionary beginnings on the African savannas. I know many people who plant lilacs or peonies because their grandma did. I grow cucumbers and pickle them in memory of my mother’s sour briny summer kitchen. And I am researching arborvitae, a native of my home state Wisconsin, for an article. This research lead me to Oregon last weekend to tour conifer nurseries, take photographs and interview growers. I saw many new beautiful cultivars of Thuja occidentalis, as well as standards like the stalwart ‘Emerald Green’. But when I saw these ‘cactus’ I had to stop. I imagine the owner of this car wash was longing for his home in the Sonoran desert when he planted them. Even the 'Stella D'oro' daylilies seem like yuccas in this context.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011


I have been accused, affectionately by friends, of being a long winded blogger. This criticism was relatively painless, yet baffling because I’m always thinking I’m not writing enough. So I looked around the garden-blog-o-sphere and realized most garden blogs are about pictures not words. But, boy-oh-boy, I love words. I realized most garden blogs are about gardens, primarily pink flowers, but I love to digress. And digress ad nauseum.
So let me be brief, for once.
Over the coming months I will be focussing my energies on finishing my new website. So I will be posting in snippets. I have given myself a limit of one photo and one paragraph a week. After my new website is up and running my blog will take on a new format. Longer, yes, longer, posts once a month. Hopefully this will liberate me to digress in depth. I will also be disabling the comment function, I’m trying to shed some spammers. If you have something you must say please e-mail me.
Here’s the first photo and paragraph.

Michael has been trying to grow a decent daikon for a few years now. This year he gave up. A few wild radishes always sprout up in our field, but when I saw what I thought was a daikon seedling among the peas I let it grow. And it grew. Good thing we only got one. I don’t know what we’re going to do with this one, let alone a dozen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Last week I headed out on a scouting trip. Unlike the scouts of the great American expansion of the 1800s, I headed east, not west, towards the green, green grass of home, not away from it. To see family not to escape it. But I was also a scout for the Northwest Horticultural Society. We are planning a tour of gardens of Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin for the Fall of 2012. I was sent to make connections and find gardens.
A few savvy gardeners here in the Pacific Northwest questioned my sanity:
Isn’t it all lawns and foundation plantings?
Corn fields and pastures bucolicly furnished with Holsteins?
Maddening right-wingers and a disgruntled working class?
As a scout I wanted to prove them wrong:
Wisconsin, like the world, is not flat.
The natives aren’t hostile.
And all gardens are not made of junipers and lawn.
I saw the happiest and healthiest hostas I’ve ever seen. I experienced the hot humid weather that encourages exotic annuals to tropical proportions. I met fervent gardeners who would not let USDA zone 4 stand in the way of creating interesting gardens.
And I envied these gardeners’ panache with grasses.
Madison is situated in a very botanically complex part of the country. A area where the great hardwood forests of the Northeast peter out making way for oak savannas and prairies. This biome exalts in grasses. And so do the gardeners.
My first stop was at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, where I met with Director of Horticulture Jeff Epping. Olbrich is included in Horticulture Magazine’s top 10 inspirational Gardens in the U.S. for a reason. Under Epping’s guidance these gardens are a show case of what is possible in this nearly impossible climate. Grasses are one of the many things that make this garden so successful.

The enchanting softness, yet down right toughness, of prairie dropseed ( Sporobolus heterolepis), a Wisconsin native reaches it’s peak in this selection ‘Tara’ found not far from the garden by nurseryman Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm.

Though there are plenty of native grasses exotics like silver feather grass (Miscanthus sinensis) seem right at home. Here Epping uses the cultivar ‘Adagio’ in masses to great effect against the Prairie School arbor and large lawn at the center of the garden.

At home Epping has a little less ground to garden, yet he gardens it exquisitely and intensively, not even shying from including two lawns. In the back of the house a small square of traditional lawn is crossed by neatly set pavers that lead to a pocket park, where boys tackled and tossed footballs.

At the front of the house Epping challenges his neighbors with a fescue lawn which he mows only once a year. In the waning daylight of late summer it’s tousled, sexy bed-headed look made it seem gentle enough for cuddling. Or was it the red wine and fireflies?

Further afield at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum I met Ed Hasselkuss, curator (for 45 years!) of the internationally recognized Longenecker Gardens. I was impressed by Ed’s planning. Here he has planted trees in rows separated by lawns the width of a normal city street to demonstrate there use as street trees.

What the arboretum is probably most famous for is the Curtis Prairie, the oldest restored prairie in the world. Here one finds not only the beautiful little and big blue stem grasses (Schizachryum scoparium and Andropogon gerardii) but an absolutely complex yet unified matrix of forbs and grasses which make prairies so beautiful and important ecologically.

As my day wound down I headed to my friends’ house. Linda Brazill and Mark Golbach (Each Little World) have truly bucked the trends, following a very traditionalist lead from another country: Japan. Working within the limits of climate and site they have created an exquisite and strangely exotic garden in a rather ordinary neighborhood. Their attention to detail and commitment to traditional Japanese garden making is admirable.
Though they use grasses sparingly, and often accidentally, grasses can not be denied their place in this garden. Berms, mimicking mountains at the back of the garden, are allowed to grow a host of grasses and wildflowers, They read with a velvety softness from the distance and echo the great swaths of moss in the shadier parts of the garden.

Grasses become fragile in the shade, like whispers in wind, they bond in quiet communities with violets and mosses keeping my steps firmly on the granite pavers. I am reminded of the delicateness of existence here as much as I was reminded of it’s robustness in the Curtis Prairie, or it’s toughness played out on a park lawns.

When I returned home to the Evergreen State I was not surprised by the tawny lawns, at least not like I was 22 years ago when I moved here. With are predictable late summer drought and abundant rain the rest of the year many eco-concious gardens forego being green for the summer. Hardly a place for football or a picnic, or pasturing sheep for that matter, these burn out lawns have a certain amber-waves-of-grain beauty about them. And though they look like the penultimate in neglect, at least to someone, like my father who had the oscillating sprinkler out on our Wisconsin lawn weekly, they are a sign of the great care for the greater garden in this place that “always” rains.

Except in summer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


While I'm traveling think about the Rentable Fences. As a band name.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


One of my clients has a sign in the bathroom the gardeners gets to use which says: Live life by exclamations, not excuses. That said I am posting one picture, worth a thousand words they say, while I'm working on my next thousand word post.

Nothing exclaims like 'Jester' New Zealand Flax ( Phormium cv.) with the sparks of 'Boone' gladiolas (Gladiolus cv.) shooting from it's flame like leaves. Below the coals of this combination are purple wood spurge ( Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea') and ' 'Molten Lava' oxalis ( Oxalis vulcanicola).

Saturday, July 16, 2011


On a cold and rainy Saturday last month, when I was trapped in the Plum Island beach house of my dear old friend, the songwriter Loey Nelson, I found I had not only taken a trip to the East Coast put the past. The historical past of New England and the personal past of rainy coloring book Saturdays. It wasn’t Loey I colored with but her 4 year old son Andreas. We shared a scrambled box of crayons and a coloring book, each taking a page. I riffled through the crayon box looking for the most natural colors, while Andreas grabbed red and hit the page ignoring the outlines set out by the coloring book designer, even sometimes ignoring the page his stokes on to the floor. He finished and was ready to turn the page long before I ever got one color laid down on the vest of a cartoon cowboy cat, yodeling with guitar in hand.
As we turned pages I knew we had to speed up, to cast out my ideas of coloring-in and just lay down color on the page as fast as possible before Andreas turned the next page. It was incredibly liberating, this boundless coloring, though the end result may have been not os aesthetically gratifying. It also made me aware how much my mind clings to all the outlines, boundaries, fences around things. How as a gardener I am ceaselessly maintaining them, the edge of the beds against the lawns, the property lines, the fences.
The ubiquitous and ever-commenting "they" say “Good fences make good neighbors.” Or, is it good neighbors that make good fences? Either way a boundary is constructed for many reasons. To keep the dog in, or the neighbors kids out. To state “this is mine” and “that is yours”.
My childhood garden was bounded by a white picket fence to the south, but our neighbors to the north had no fence. Can you guess which neighbor was more friendly? Who we shared more vegetables from our garden with? And who shared the apples from their giant tree, which we kids were allowed to climb?
I’ve taken a particular interest in fences lately. Not just as boundaries, but as objects, elements of design and use, as symbols, and as, well, fences. I’ve never built a fence. I’ve never owned anything to put a fence around, unless you consider the makeshift pen around the ducks a fencing of my property. I really did it to protect them from the coyotes. But you can see where this is leading. Fences are useful for many reasons and you can’t avoid them.
Each week as I drive around photographing fences discerning their uses and their beauty, I become more entranced, amused and puzzled by them. I plan on doing several posts over the next few weeks about what I’m seeing, why they entrance, amuse or puzzle me. Why sometimes these last few weeks I’ve been yodeling in the car, the old cowboy tune“ Don’t Fence Me In.”
I’ve been working on an article for The Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin about the Arboretum Nacional Juan Bautistas Salas Estrada in Managua, so I decided to start with photos of fences I’d seen in Nicaragua last winter. Many fences there, especially on Little Corn Island where we spent most of our time, are make shift which I find very charming and most are for keeping animals in or out. So function out weighs aesthetics, and from the looks of the materials, cost effectiveness plays a huge role.

Is a fence defined by materials or use? Is this stone balustrade a fence of sorts?

A fence or a wall? I think of fences as being permeable, letting air and light pass through.

The Catholic Church can afford some pretty fancy fences. Is this one around the cathedral in the center of Granada to keep satan and looters out, or to keep the faithful in the fold?

The seemingly purposeless fence tells people on the public beach where the private resort's property begins.

Once again, it acts like a fence, is permeable to light and air, one of my criteria for a fence, but it's made of concrete not a fencing material at all.

In the tropics many trees sprout from a limb chopped off and stuck in the ground, thus living fences, which actually shade cattle and act as wind breaks to crops as they mature. A very useful sort of fence in this photos made with jinocuabo (Bursera simaruba) commonly used through out Central America fro living fences.

A trick fence at a resort. There is actually chain link under those palm fronds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Some people say, “ You can’t see the forest for the trees”. I think, “ you can’t see the trees for the grass.” Or at least that’s how I felt a week ago when I had toured the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. I guess I’ve been living a little myopically since I “discovered” the grasses a few weeks ago. I’ve had a hard time keeping focused on the bigger picture, which at the Arnold is some very impressive old specimen trees. As I scrolled through my photos when I returned, I’m working on an article for the Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin, I was surprised how many photos included grasses.
Now it would be hard to exclude grasses from almost any arboretum photos. Grasses make the perfect under story for trees, a soft hardscape for strolling among them. As I wandered the Arnold looking for specific trees I found I was often walking through grasses, wading at times, after a deluge of thunderstorms passed through the area saturating the park, as I went deep into the collection where there was little foot traffic. The park is crisscrossed by black top roads, and sidewalks, gravel paths, muddy paths and mown paths. There is a constant stream of dog walkers, stroller joggers, kids and work vehicles on the move there. There were even amblers, and a few questers like me looking for a specific trees, or the perfect shot for photographing.
I took each of these ways through the park at one point or another, but mostly I stuck to the grassiest ways, which conjured words I’ve only read and never written like sward, glade, turf, and green. Certainly it was green. The lawns stretched across the 265 acre park varied greatly from the finely manicured lawns near the Hunnewell building which housed the visitor center and offices of the arboretum, to glades beneath the stands of tall oaks, and meadows in open areas between collections.
I was surprised how much I was captivated by the grassy areas; I came for the trees. But if it weren’t for the grasses I would have only seen a forest and probably not the trees.
Walk with me and you might see what I mean.

Many choices. many directions to choose from.

Expansive well groom lawns read like architecture.

Kentucky coffee tree off the main drag.

Gravel leads deeper into the collections.

Grass captures shadows.

Deeper still on a path less travelled.

Shadows pool on the meadow on a hot afternoon.

The path becomes obscured as it penetrates the conifer collection...

until I'm knee deep in the sward.

Friday, June 10, 2011


"The urge to travel is self-perpetuating and can never be satisfied. It seems to have been handed down genetically, a residual trace perhaps of vast prehistoric migrations undertaken by our distant ancestors."

James Atlee Nocturne

Monday, June 6, 2011


A few days ago I was out for a walk down the road. I was still tingling with the excitement of seeing all the desert wildflowers the day before. My mind was keen with finding more.
Well, there were buttercups, and clover, and herb robert. All the usual suspects of the weedy roadside buried in a matrix of grasses.
I had been looking right through the grasses for the pretty petalled forbs. Then I looked at the grasses. I began to pick a few grass inflorescences just to get closer. I was stunned at the diversity of grasses I found in the 10 foot swath along the road. I picked a whole handful of inflorescences as I went to examine when I got home.
I pulled the only book I have on wild grasses and began to read:
‘Few people — even those who are passionately interested in nature — take the trouble to learn the names of grasses,” wrote Lauren Brown in her book GRASSES: An Identification Guide, “Enthusiasts who will travel hundreds of miles to look at ‘wildflowers’ ignore the grasses in their own back yard (even though they are technically also wildflowers).”
That sure sounded like me. So I decided to bridge that gap in my botanical knowledge and start learning the grasses. So like a good poet cum botanist I begin looking. Just trying to see the grasses. And the more I see the more there are. The word ‘grasses’ begins to hiss through my teeth like all the blue racers I saw on my walk fleeing the warmth of the black top for green privacy. But it is like calling my friends “people” instead of using their names. I want to learn their names.
A few were familiar, even had familiar friendly names like timothy and brome, from the summers I spent in the hayfields of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Some like quack grass and crab grass, with their cranky little names are familiar from a life of weeding. But there were many lovely grasses I had never taken notice of before. And June, the grassiest month, when they all start extending their inflorescences and letting their wind born pollen fly, is the best time to be looking.
So I am asking you, too, dear readers, to look. Not at lawns necessarily, or the ornamental grasses in you garden, but at the grasses that are everywhere in vacant lots, cracks in pavements and along the side of the road, the green swath that we speed by each day. And if you can find a place to get out of your car and take a closer look please do.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you how claustrophobic I am. Though my therapist friend Judith insists, as she always does putting a positive spin on things, that I just need more space than most people. Still I had to be drugged to take an MRI, and I opt for staircases over elevators any day.
Michael calls me affectionately “squirrelly” . I’m not sure exactly what he means. Is he referring to my evasive nature? Or my nuttiness?
Here on the farm space is at a premium. Our house is tiny, with no room-of-one’s- own for either of us, which can make winter uncomfortably tight. With the lingering winter skies which can be so bitterly low compounding the fact. In spring and summer our lives expand on to our vast decks and expansive lawns spreading out through the orchard right up to the edge of the swamp. Life gets a little yin and yang around here as we expand and contract our realm with the seasons.
My working realm also expands greatly this time of year. I garden about 15 acres all together for my 4 clients and if you count the 7 acres at home, well, you get the picture. There is a lot of ground to cover in a week making more like a Serengeti ungulate than a squirrel. Some days I wish I could soar over it all like an observant raptor instead.
The term “ spaced out” is probably foreign to my parents generation. I’m sure it arose from the drug-induce mind-altering state know as the 70s. It is a floaty state hard to explain, between meditation and aggravation, activity and sloth. No place to anchor, nothing to understand. I felt it when I floated on my back in the briny Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua in March. I feel it sometimes in the morning before my first cup of tea, when my mind lies numb in my cranium.
Now I don’t want to live my life in a spaced out state. I love the rush of activity, the sparkle of curiosity, the solid silence of meditation. But sometimes , just sometimes, I like to space out, to vanish.
And sometimes that involves getting away.
On Saturday I used the last of my energy from a very exhausting week to rocket myself out of the lowlands. With my caffeinated foot hard to the pedal I sped over the rain splattered, green saturated Cascades and down into the inland deserts of Washington. There wasn’t enough time to think, so I headed to a favorite spot: Umptanum Canyon.
The valley was filled with bird song and wildflowers, the skies blue. The treeless landscape let my busy mind wander, dissipate, finding the relaxing space it needed.
And then I could enjoy, plainly and simply enjoy, the beautiful flowers, so casually, so artfully strewn through the valley. Each time I go there the I see new flowers. The season has been cool and wet many early flowers still bloomed though the valley was filled with Memorial day hikers and campers.

Lithospermum ruderale

Prunus virginiana, the chokecherry native to vast expanses of North America.

Some grasses are already turning autumnal colors as the soils dry out on the slopes above the Umptanum Creek.

Nothing helps the the spacing out process better than lazily moving clods in a blue sky and a nap.

This remarkable little Mimulus gave this inch worm a place to nap out of the sun.

This garden worthy combination of Hackelia diffusa, spreading stickseed, and Lupinus sericeus, silky lupine, is prevalent throughout the canyon.

My favorite Northwest desert shrub Pushia tridentata, bitterbrush, a rose relative, has a beautiful fragrance taht is not at all rosy.

After leaving the canyon I drove around to Umptanum Ridge. Wind whipped and spartan offering vast open views even with the clouds moving in. It takes austerity to a new level. I hardly spaced out though, so attracted to all the wild flowers that defiantly break out of this hard volcanic soil and into the harsh winds.

Among the many species of lupin here, the stony-ground lupin, Lupinus saxosa sood out with it's dense flower heads.

There were still vernal pools pocking the dry ridge where common camas, Cammasia quamash, grow.

There were also several species of l phlox in bloom, this one is Phlox speciosa, showy phlox, which it certainly is.

Thompson's paintbrush, Castilleja thompsonii not yet in bloom but lovely none the less

I had to hold this large flowered brodiaea, Triteleia grandiflora var. grandiflora, against the raging winds.


Any of you who have been reading this blog for a while know I have a fondness fro clovers, Trifolium ssp. This is Trifolium macrocephalum the large heade clover, one of our natives, unfortunately not in bloom.

In some ways I’ve always lived on that wind swept ridge. I feels more like home than the lush Snoqualmie Valley. But when I returned home to our freshly tilled field and new greenhouse I knew I wouldn’t be able to space out any more. It’s time to plant the vegetables and flowers. But somewhere in side I have put the expansive Umptanum Ridge , the roar of it’s wind, the intimacy of the wildflowers and when I need a moment to space out, I’m going to close my eyes and go there.