Wednesday Vignette – time to find our humanity

Today, I did a consultation (outside, in the fresh open air, and while keeping CDC recommended distance requirements, mind you) with someone who had written not one, but TWO books on a very niche, and rather obscure and unusual subject matter she was passionate about. Meeting people like that makes me so happy! My beloved and I had just had a conversation about how all this Corona downtime we are experiencing is such a golden opportunity to pursue something we’ve always wanted to do but not had time for. This led down another rabbit hole; how getting an education used to be about just that; broadening your intellect, expanding your horizons, pushing your presumptions, and testing your tolerance limits. In short, it used to be about making you a well-rounded person and a valued, engaged, compassionate citizen.

We mused about how, as kids, we were allowed to roam free, and had plenty of downtime to ponder, fantasize, create, and imagine – or do nothing. We compared this to the contemporary norm as we raised our own kids. We weren’t as bad as some other families around us, where kids were scheduled and carted around from morning to night, gaining exposure to myriad activities considered “useful”, with the end goal of eventually getting admitted to a good college, which in turn would preferably result in a lucrative career. The question arose – do those experiencing less helicopter-free childhoods ever have a chance to figure out what it is they actually love to do? In today’s context – when faced with a pandemic lockdown and weeks of prescribed isolation, what do people do? Obviously, there are hours of distractions on Youtube, Netflix, Steam, and whatnot, but how many days can one handle of this mental feeding tube, before one goes stir crazy? Maybe I’m delusional, but I refuse to believe either curiosity or art, is dead.

We talked about the contemporary emphasis on that ‘on-track’ mentality, and how damaging that is to a resilient, developing society. Well rounded educations of years past were as much about art, music, history, and language as they were about more nebulous things like civic-mindedness, creativity, humanity, and compassion. Thinkers, philosophers, rebels and makers come out of that kind of environments. Today’s on-track grooming produces nice little mainstreamed cogs for an unquestioning, non-discerning society, where – despite hand-eye coordination being tracked from birth – too few know how to actually use their hands – or even their brains – in matters outside their particular training. Caught in the ever spinning rodent wheel they also have no time to get off, and learn how. So, all of a sudden, here is this gift from the Universe! Yes, it’s a pandemic that involves more death than most of us are comfortable with, but don’t you agree it can also be viewed as a lucky break of sorts? Suddenly, we have the immense luxury of time on our hands. A lot of time.

I sincerely hope that now that life has temporarily slowed down, folks will feel the gift aspect of the disaster – we now have the time to try something new, outside of our usual realm. Read that book, learn how to knit, build a model airplane, plant some seeds, draw, paint a picture, learn to skateboard or cook from a new cuisine, distinguish a chickadee call from that of a robin, or tell a pine from a spruce…. or whatever it is that interests us. Perhaps not the most crassly useful activities in terms of furthering the industrial complex, but awe-inspiring, and endlessly valuable in finding our worth and our humanity. And maybe, just maybe, this experience of facing potential, undiscriminating death will collectively shift our thinking toward more humane ways of living, help us find meaning, and reassess what’s important in life, going forward. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would think – ideally – surviving a life-death situation would do that.

If you’re still with me – thanks for bearing with me this far – this was a lot. Stay safe, be well, and enjoy the free time you have. What am I doing? Tomorrow, I’m going to check on a metal retaining wall that is currently going in at a client’s house, and also bring her an Acer griseum to plant in front of it. This weeks photo will serve as a reminder that those involved in the landscaping industry are not as affected by the latest shelter-in-place order from the Governor’s office, as long as we adhere to the CDC guidelines. (Working in plein air certainly has its perks…) Besides that, I’m doing lots of gardening, of course – at home and at my little community garden plot. I also grabbed a few cookbooks – one Indian, one Peruvian, one on beans, and one on chili peppers. Will cook something new from one of them in the next few days. And, if the rains hold up, I will finish painting our garage. I’ve been going for walks, and I keep thinking I’m going to learn to paint with water colors, but that last thing is probably a delusion. If I haven’t sat down to learn to paint yet, I probably never will.  How are you spending your days?

Metal retaining wall installation

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Wednesday Vignette – the changing of our ways

So much happened in a week, huh? This is so strange…. All of a sudden, we are surrounded by this invisible, erratic, unpredictable, microscopically beautiful dominatrix named Corona, who quite forcibly is making us change our ways. Arrogance and defiance will be met with disease and quite possibly death.

coronavirus-dark-1200x800 CDC website

Macro shot of the COVID-19 virus from the CDC website. Quite beautiful in a menacing kind of way – like the undiscriminating fury of the Queen of Hearts of Wonderland. “Off with their heads!” Indeed, off with their heads. Woe us.

A reluctant trip to the grocery store reinforces the seriousness of this new development. Some shelves are empty – something rarely seen in this land of over-abundance. But, when America panics, America shops. Corona – or more correctly – COVID-19 is a harsh mistress. For many, life changed overnight. Thousands are losing their jobs as businesses are closing, and spring break just got extended to six weeks. I doubt even that will be enough time to curb this thing. It feels as if we’re standing in front of something enormous that will alter all of our lives forever. It’s too early to tell if the change will eventually be for better or for worse. The only sure thing is that there will be pain involved.

We are practicing “shelter-in-place” as much as we can. I asked my elderly neighbor if I could get her anything from the grocery store. Ever the independent, she said she didn’t think there was any danger in her going to the store herself. Armed with the recently learned, heartbreaking knowledge of a friend who just lost her son to Corona virus complications, I told her how wrong she was. “Here in town??” she exclaimed. Yes. Yes indeed. I think it finally sunk in that whatever they tell her on Fox is not the whole truth. A little shaken, she let me buy her cat food.


As I left the store, I walked past just arrived stands of annuals and perennials stacked along the wall. Although I’ve always been a fan of Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina Red’, this time seeing it made me gasp, as the vision of the Corona virus was still fresh in mind after being bombarded with images over the past week. Poor thing… Maybe it’s just my brain’s overly flexible associative capabilities, but today that flower looked like a live representation of death. Kind of like a kid named Adolph in 1946. It’s just not done!

Who knows what will happen, and where this will go? Hang in there, friends. If you can, help others in your community (at a safe distance, of course) and donate to your local food pantry. Those who were fine yesterday, may be destitute tomorrow. My friend who runs one of the few independent food pantries still standing, fed over 500 people today. They have seen a customer increase of 300% each day this week as people have lost their jobs and kids miss out on school lunches. Everything is changing around us, and fast. Be careful, avoid crowds, refrain from touching people, cough/sneeze into your elbow, wash your hands… you know the drill. I don’t know about you, but I still haven’t quite grasped just how much the world is currently is spinning around us. I will leave you with something a friend sent me earlier today. As we stare into the face of the unknown, I found it comforting. Hope you do too.

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 12.09.37 AM

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Bloom Day – March 2020

So far, we’ve pretty much had a non-winter, which could also be interpreted as a early spring. We’ve been spoiled by abundant early blooms FAR earlier than normal. So imagine my surprise, when I woke up to a white world yesterday morning! It had snowed, and continued to snow throughout the day. By late afternoon, though, it was all gone. It was like it never happened, but I did snap some shots to prove it.

Hellebore in snow

An all green Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’ covered in snow. It was the wet and heavy stuff too.

Hellebore and Allium foliage

Most hellebores were collapsed on the ground from the cold and the wet, heavy snow. The green foliage surrounding this one is from Alliums. More on those in coming months.

Pecotee hellebore

A cute little double white NOID picotee – for now. I’m sure the tag is somewhere…

Hellebore 'Sparkling Diamonds'

This one is ‘Sparkling Diamonds’ – a pure white double.

Grevillea rosmarinifolia 'Canberra Gem'

The buds of my Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Canberra Gem’ had just started to open, and was probably a bit surprised by the sudden cold.

Snow covered Edgeworthia

The Edgeworthia has been blooming for a while, and looked cute with its little snow caps. Interestingly, the yellow color has faded with time. Maybe it always does that, but it’s more noticeable amplified by the now.

White Martagon lily emerging

Emerging white Martagon lily, especially imported from Sweden. I flagged it to ensure I didn’t forget where I had planted it. Last year, it’s flower bud got eaten by slugs, so this year, I was early with the slug bait. Hopefully this will help – I have yet to see it bloom. With a little luck, maybe this year I will? This one, I’m excited to see!!

Spiraea prunifolia buds

Also soon to come are the tiny green-eyed flowers of Spiraea prunifolia – Bridal Wreath Spiraea.

Holboellia angustifolia

Holboellia angustifolia which should NOT be blooming this time of year. And yet, it’s been blooming for weeks.

Syneilesis palmata and Corydalis 'Purple Leaf'

One of my favorite spring combos; the furry mushroom shapes of emerging Syneilesis palmata in a sea of Corydalis flexuosa ‘Purple leaf’.

Acacia dealbata

Another thing that should not normally do this well, this early, in this climate; Zone 9 Acacia dealbata, or Silver Wattle.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'

The first Epimedium I ever bought; E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’. So tough, and so easy. By now, I have quite a nice clump of it. Come to think of it, it would probably benefit from being divided.

Epimedium warleyense

Epimedium warleyense, a strong orange-y red and brighter yellow. Kind of a classic in the Epi world – it’s named after Warley Place, the estate of Ellen Willmott  – of horticultural fame as she was one of the first women to be included in the Royal Horticultural Society.

Epimedium 'Supernova'

Epimedium ‘Supernova’ glistening as the snow melted yesterday.


Epimedium ‘Arctic Wings’ and black mondo grass. The white flowers are unusually large – the size of a quarter. Love this one!

Epimedium 'Hot Lips'

Hot pink Epimedium ‘Hot Lips’. It’s still in a pot, (paired with equally pink Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’) while I try to figure out where to put them, but I think I just did!

Flamingo monster

A couple of years ago, at the FarWest show, I fell in love with this goofy flamingo-eating monster. This, of course introduced quite a chunk of pink into my sparsly pinked garden, and for a while, I wasn’t quite sure how to display it.

Flamingo vignette

It felt a bit random, and needed its own vignette, so finally last winter, I broke down and bought two more flamingoes. A discarded glass table top, an old pie cutter, and an old hub cap helped me screen off some of the shadier lengths of the chain link fence toward our west side neighbor. You’d think the grazing birds would look more spooked with the monster tearing one of their friends apart right above their heads, but… well, it’s not perfect, but I’ll leave it for now. But, to wrap up my pink conundrum – I think this area is the future home of Hot Lips and Beth Evans.

For other flowering news from around the world, head over to Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what others have in their sanctuaries. Be well, and Happy Spring!

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Wednesday Vignette – the thing with spring

The thing with spring is that it’s damn hard to focus on anything other than what’s going on outside. Every few hours, I find myself making excuses to go outside to see what else is happening. Has the little Podophyllum nubbin gotten any bigger from two hours ago? (I mean, it IS rather warm and sunny…) Has that seemingly dead thing I stuck in the ground (after letting it get bone dry) managed to revive itself? After all, hope is the last thing to leave a denialist gardener, and in this particular instance, the answer was YES!! Wohoo!!! I saw tiny little leaves of the marvelous Epimedium ‘Dark Side’ emerge today – phew! Have the slugs devoured the single white Martagon lily that just emerged, yet? Last year, the little bastards waited until the flower bud was forming. Not so this year. At first sight of green, I armored it with slug bait.

And so on… the squeals of delight are frequent in spring, and I admit to doing a lot of restorative mental health activities out there. Holy cow – the news, and the world in general, is just maddening. When it gets too bad – trust me – a few minutes of focused staring at the intricacies of an unfurling fern manages to calm my blistering senses. So, this is what you will get from me today:


Like tightly rolled urchins with hair, the furry croziers of Polystichum neolobatum belie the hard, almost metallic sheen of its unfurling, new fronds. Such a cool fern! 


This is the first year I’ve seen more than a couple of flowers on Epimedium ‘Arctic Wings’. The flowers are huge – almost the size of a quarter.

Syneilesis palmata and Corydalis 'Purple Leaf'

 Planted last year, Syneilesis palmata and Corydalis ‘Purple Leaf’ have grown quite a bit. They have free reign as far as I’m concerned, and can expand as much as they want. Notice those little sprouting brown nuts in the lower right corner. They are seeds from the Japanese Snowbell up above. If you ever are faced with a choice of whether to plant a Styrax japonica – just say NO. 

Bowl of hellebores

I will leave you with a bowl of hellebores as diverse as the original field of democratic contenders. I went a little crazy on hellebores last year, and this year, my reward is to be able to make and share several bowls of these incredible flowers. I’m keeping this bowl for me. 😀

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Wednesday Vignette – eat the cake and have it too

This week’s musings is about the power of human weakness – particularly my own. I’m pretty good at rationalizing the future benefits of this pathetic lack of restraint, though. Some benefits, in fact, will be rather instantaneous. Let me explain.

This was not something I consciously sought, but as fate would have it, I happened to walk into an opportunity that was too good to pass up; a 20′ x 20′ sunny community garden plot with free water, at the near unfathomable price of $45 per year. WHAT??? Yes please!

I signed up. The wheels in my brain immediately started to turn, as I was imagining all the more or less suffering sun-loving plants that I’ve been experimenting with in my all too shady yard. The thing is, I love my shade. Temperatures drop at least ten degrees when you walk into our back yard. I don’t think I would survive our summers here without the relief it offers. As you all know, one of my bad habits is to keep testing plants, to see how far they can be pushed. Some of them have been delightful surprises in their versatility, while others have been rather sad experiments. There is already a waiting list of hopeful contenders, waiting to move into these new, far sunnier quarters.

IMG_5623 (1)

This is it! There are currently two lavenders and one cardoon left from whomever had it previously. They will likely be removed by whomever owns them before I get access. Wouldn’t mind keeping the cardoon, though… Such fab leaves, and it makes bees so very happy.

Plot #5 is occupying the northwest corner of the community garden. My plot is buffered by a wide pathway on two sides and flanked by a chainlink fence that wraps around the property. It’s the least popular plot of the garden as there is a tree immediately outside the chainlink to the west, and a clump of reasonably tall conifers on the south side of the two lane road running east to west outside the fence. Thus, it gets part open shade in the afternoons, but for most of the day, it’s in bright sun. Compared to my yard, calling that shade is…. well, laughable.

The garden coordinator told me they are considering carving off the southwest corner of my plot, to make the path more navigable with a wheelbarrow. They also wanted to put a couple of chairs there, as it is the only spot with a little afternoon shade where people can take a break. How would I feel about that? I said it would be fine with me, if I could have the equivalent corner back along the fence, for possibly planting a climber, or two. I sketched it up on the back of the sheet of Garden Tenant Rules, so she could see what I meant. She agreed – yay! I


For now, I think I will arrange my plot on the diagonal, with a narrow path that widens in the center. The two halves will be bermed up with mounded soil and gravel. Not sure yet what I will put in the center. A birdbath maybe? Or a small stock tank with the few aquatic plants I have amassed.  I told the coordinator that I would not be growing edibles (unless they are what I call “prettibles”), and that I would focus my efforts on bringing in pollinators. Pollinators are more likely to hang out if you add water.

Some of the plants that do the worst in my shady garden are things like succulents, agaves, eryngiums, echinops and grasses. They will definitely move here. I also have a couple of lovely conifers and some hebes that I know will appreciate the move. Definitely roses too. I have a lovely little thing called ‘Snow Carpet’ with white full flowers, the size of a quarter. It looks a lot like another miniature but green rose called ‘Green Ice’ that will also likely have the chance to move to greener pastures. And, of course, provided the cuttings from a couple of weeks ago are successful, a Rosa chinensis viridiflora. Fingers crossed! Salvias, Asters, and Yarrows will also find a home here. Probably a slew of other things too.

Yes, I know – it’s only 400 sf, minus the diagonal slash down the middle. I realize I will fill this up in no time, but still. Just to make myself even giddier, I went outside and measured the largest open portion of my backyard. From the garage to the side fence measures 26′, and from the back of the house to the rear fence is 40′. Which means that this new space is about 40% of my current backyard. I’m thrilled, and can’t wait to create new test vignettes on my sunny plot. Time will tell if this will curb my plant addiction, but until then, the main benefit in the most foreseeable future is that it will de-clutter my home turf. I can’t freakin’ wait… I can commit 100% to my shady paradise at home, because I can get my sunny wiggles out elsewhere. Stand by for more – probably in about a year, or so. I imagine it will take a while for most of my convalescents to recover enough for a photo shoot.

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Wednesday Vignette – getting in line

Even though I hate the gladiator-like format of those things, I tuned in to the debate last night, and forced myself to sit through it. It often deteriorated into shouting matches, with candidates taking jabs at each other. I had hoped to see more unity, but of course the goal with these debates is to make yourself look good, while making everyone else look bad. Talk about counterproductivity!  I can’t help but feel that these shows are only good for amplifying differences, not elevating similarities. All the booing and hissing that took place confirms that notion. And don’t get me started on all the labeling… sheesh!

A two-party system inevitably has to provide a roof for a wide range of opinions. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing – it’s just an different expression of the same thing. In Sweden, we have gobs of smaller parties. In order to further their agendas, they have to join others, relatively likeminded, and form coalitions – usually along ideological lines. In the end, the function of these coalitions is very similar to the two-party system of the US. Right now, the field of democratic hopefuls need to start thinking about forming more productive relationships with each other.  There is a big job awaiting whomever gets the nomination, and to be successful, they will need each other. (Which of course these made-for-TV soundbyte spectacles are not at all promoting.)

Study of green textures

Ferny, strappy, palmate, round… each filling their space in a productive collaboration to unite behind a powerful statement. That’s what we need the democrats to do. There is a tensive beauty in discourse and dissent, and our democracy depends on it. There is an inherent, inclusive brilliance in our variations.

My awesome old social studies teacher in high school explained the difference between ideology and political reality in an unforgettable way. He told us: “Think about the political spectrum not in the form of a line connecting right and left. Think of it in the shape of a horseshoe where extreme right and extreme left are very close. Ideologically they are vastly different, but their effect on the average citizen is pretty much identical”. Over the past three years, we have slid dangerously , and are well on our way toward the right tip of the shoe. This ship needs straightening, and fast!

All this to say that for as different as these debates force the candidates to say they are, I really think they are all rather similar. They are all positioned somewhere rather high up on the arc of the horseshoe, far away from the totalitarian extremes of the tips (where we’re currently headed). Thinking of it visually in that way, rather than through the use of more or less inane labels, helps keep perspectives clear. What the left flange of the herd of democratic candidates are offering, Forbes calls “compassionate capitalism”, which is a far cry from the explosive S-word. Again, labels wreaking havoc…

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Wednesday Vignette – a little reductive gardening

Just as we were sitting down to eat, we heard a big SCCRRRRRAAAPE outside. I’m not sure how in the world our sweet seventeen managed to accomplish this, but as I jumped out of my seat to stare out the window, I saw the trunk of the Bloodgood maple silhouetted in the red lights beaming from the car that was – from our perspective – right behind it. As you probably guessed, our maple was not planted in the driveway. To get that close to it, he had to drive over a low retaining wall, about 12-14″ tall. How the hell he did that is something I still haven’t figured out. The little Corolla he’s driving is not built for offroading. That said, another perplexing thing about his accomplishment is that the car itself seems completely fine. I guess time will tell if the fuel pump, gas tank, or anything else was damaged in the process.


You can see the dark soil where he moved the rock. The poor barberry lost a few branches – not yet sure how many, but now it has effectively been pruned away from the driveway. Which is something that will no doubt please my dear husband, so there is that. (I should probably thank him for the stealth pruning job.)


He also smashed one of my cheap and easy planters , which desperately needed to be replanted anyway, so even there, this was somewhat of a good thing. It was a heavy beast, and now I don’t even have to worry about it being full of soil – it will be far easier to deal with in its knocked-over, half-empty state. 

Anyway, he was rightfully upset, and we had fun mocking him. This may sound cruel if you don’t know that we have endured months of backseat driver commentary from this punkish little prodigy. “Shouldn’t you turn on your turn signal?”…… “Why are you tailing him?”…… “Shouldn’t you have moved over by now?” And so on….. All that said, we hope he learned a valuable lesson – or two – today. (I really hope I don’t sound as inane as Susan Collins when I say that.) Godspeed to us and all other teen parents!




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