Wednesday Vignette – what dwells beyond

fullsizeoutput_927Those who know me, know that I have a special place in my heart for old, rusty things. This old cart caught my eye at a recent visit to Joy Creek Nursery. It is deliberately planted in a carpet of Sedum ‘Angelina’, its chartreuse color glowing through the ruptured, rusted-through surface. Although one can see the green of the Sedum shine through from the other side – without the contrast of the disintegrating top, it would not have been half as remarkable. Once again, I am reminded of the importance of juxtaposition and contrast – in life as well as with visual matters. They strengthen each other. If it weren’t for the bad days, we wouldn’t fully recognize the good days for what they are. Today was a sweet blend of reunion, camaraderie, new experiences, and fun. It was a good day.

Posted in Wednesday Vignette | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

NWFGS 2016 – a doubter’s report

Next week, it is time for the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle again. That means it took me a year to write this post. I apologize. In all honesty, I had a hard time with it, as I wasn’t all that excited about it. I have spent the year battling not so positive thoughts about it, and trying to analyze why it didn’t make me more excited. My  dear, wise grandfather taught me to always add “I think”, when voicing my opinion. This is a great policy (I think 😉 ), because it respectfully acknowledges the distinct possibility that others might disagree with you. Which is okay. I still have no answers worthy of carving into stone, but here goes; My time of ponderance is up!

View toward the Puget Sound from the Washington Convention Center - home of the NWFGS.

View toward the Puget Sound from the Washington Convention Center – home of the NWFGS.

While it’s always a fun treat to go to garden shows, I’d go out on a limb here to say that they aren’t always that memorable. Did I see beautiful things in Seattle? You bet. Was I inspired by fabulous, imaginative creations? Sure, at least a couple of times. Did I get my socks knocked off? Well, there was this one deck… which I will dwell more on later. There were definitely a few memorable highlights – for me, about a handful.

This was one of my favorite displays - mostly because of how it manipulated scale. Its creators managed to create a miniature naturalistic representation of a massive land form using basalt pillars, completing the picture with blue drifts of crocus and iris, receding and leading your eye into the composition. Using a limited plant palette an rock against a photographic backdrop of sky, they managed to convey the majestic power of one of our most treasured environments.

The theme for 2016 was “America the Beautiful” – celebrating the US National Parks.  This was one of my favorite displays – mostly because of how it manipulated scale. Its creators managed to create a miniature naturalistic representation of a massive land form using basalt pillars, completing the picture with blue drifts of crocus and iris, receding and leading your eye into the composition. Using a limited plant palette an rock against a photographic backdrop of sky, they managed to convey the majestic power of one of our most treasured environments.

I also appreciated the display's slatted enclosure. The cut wood slabs that framed the entrance were magnificient!

I also appreciated the display’s slatted enclosure. The cut wood slabs that framed the entrance were magnificient!

Closeup of one of the Grand Teuton wood slabs.

Closeup of one of the Grand Teuton wood slabs.

This was another one I liked - a camp site set up in a desert.

This was another one I liked – a camp site set up in a desert.

There was a little of the Wild West over it - with modern conveniences, of course.

There was a little of the Wild West over it – with modern conveniences, of course.

I remember being quite surprised that it didn't win a higher award than it did. One of the designers explained to me that it didn't fill the criteria of having enough blooms. I suppose it is a "...Flower and Garden Show", but still.... To my mind, it was far better than many of the other, higher ranked display gardens.

I remember being quite surprised that it didn’t win a higher award than it did. One of the designers explained to me that it didn’t fill the criteria of having enough blooms. I suppose it is a “…Flower and Garden Show”, but still…. To my mind, it was far better than many of the other, higher ranked display gardens.

The one thing that was my absolute favorite highlight of NWFGS was this deck. I LOVED how the contours of the planks had been allowed to fit into each other. So unique and beautiful!

The one thing that was my absolute favorite highlight of NWFGS was this deck. I LOVED how the contours of the planks had been allowed to fit into each other. So unique and beautiful!

What I didn't like was this scalloped rendition of Adirondack chairs adorning it. This phenomenon always irks me - it's like Adirondacks are the only kind of furniture in American gardens - be they wood or plastic. You'd think at a garden show, perspectives would widen a little...

What I didn’t like was this scalloped rendition of Adirondack chairs adorning this fabulous deck. What a letdown…  This fascination with Adirondacks in any and every iteration always irks me – it’s like they are the only kind of furniture imaginable in American gardens – be they wood or plastic. You’d think at a garden show, perspectives would widen a little… 

But no - let's put one in every display. They come in so many colors...!

…but no.  Let’s put one in every display. They come in so many colors…! (Sorry for the snark, but… really?!)

Considering the buzz of irrefutable greatness that surrounds the Northwest Flower  & Garden Show, and its reputation as a regional heavyweight in its genre, I wondered if there was something wrong with my lukewarm reaction. It’s a good thing I had a while to think about this, before writing this post. I pondered whether it might be because, in my line of work, I am trained to apply a critical eye. This is what I do. A critical assessment is what people expect from me, and pay me for. This is not to say that I set out with the intention to find faults in the work of others at an event like this. Far from it. I usually dive in with eyes wide open and an equally open mind, with great expectations of getting inspired, and of learning of something new and exciting.

So, the feeling of “mostly meh” that prevailed after our visit needed to be explored and examined. Why was I so unmoved? Is it a plant thing? For a while, I thought it might have to do with the fact that the show is in February, and that you are met with an ocean of flowering spring bulbs, mixed with baby renditions of much larger plants, that would never actually function together for more than one season? At first sight, the plant textures and colors look fabulous together, but as any decent gardener knows, it would never truly work in an actual garden. But, no – I don’t think that’s it. I think some textured bravado is probably both allowed and encouraged at a garden show. Even though – as read on the Frustrated Gardener’s blog – the comparative diverse display gardens of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (which takes place at the end of May) – made me wish for a more accurate representation of actual plant behavior. I marveled at Dan’s tales of the designers who had grown seeds they had collected themselves in far-away, exotic places, and at the admirable timing and skill behind the accomplishments to make them bloom for those exact few days when they needed to be at their best. Perhaps at the height of spring it is easier to achieve such things? I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking of bulbs as floral one-hit wonders. Don’t get me wrong – I do love them, and have gobs of them in my own garden – but by the time they’re done, you can’t wait for them to go away. In February, I bet they are the hands-down easiest solution. Maybe that’s my problem – I don’t want to travel this far to see ‘easy’.

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs...

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs…


… and more bulbs.

This one I really liked - Cyclamen and Fritillarias - and some rock for them to stand out against.

This one I really liked – Cyclamen and Fritillarias – and some rock for them to stand out against.

Maybe my issue is with the concept. A show garden  is a concept thing. I don’t think there is really a requirement for it to work in reality, but it does need to represent an idea. Some garden shows make each participant create an interpretation of an overarching theme they need to adhere to. Seattle’s is one of those shows. As mentioned, the theme here was “America the Beautiful”. The year before, it was “Romance Blossoms”, which was positively overbearing in its pink- and redness. Kind of sappy too – it reminded me of this girl in my sophomore architecture studio, who when asked, answered that her concept was “cozy”. Okay then…

In other types of shows – like the Chelsea – each show garden has a sponsor, and its own concept – which obviously makes for a greater variety. Perhaps the idea of outside, corporate sponsorships is a key to my puzzle. Judging from the scale, originality, and level of detailing of the Chelsea gardens, there is A LOT more money involved, and last year’s themes ranged from math to geological processes, to political and environmental statements. This year’s NWFGS theme is “Taste of Spring”, with tangents of Urban Farming, from Farm to Table, and Sustainability. This might be interesting, and I’m prepared to be surprised. Without a framework of non-edibles, it is difficult to make edible gardens visually interesting for other than a short period of time. Or, at least I don’t know how. I hope to learn a few inspiring tricks. After all, Urban Farming is one persistent trend, and one that I struggle to find interesting.

Both years I have visited this show, it’s been the marketplace part of it that I’ve found most  fun. The Pacific Northwest has lots of glass artists. Although I don’t have any in my garden, I think it’s fun to see the plethora of booths featuring the shiny, colorful, amorphous creations.

blue-and-yellow-glass glass-art-red-and-orange

glass-art-greenThere were tons of other arts too, and of course plant vendors – hooray! Among the vendors was a display from Butchart Gardens, BC. I would love to visit them some time. Their displays are always feature some of the more interesting plant combinations at this show – at least I think so.

This year, they had a Zebra as part of their composition.

This year, they had a Zebra as part of their composition.


I was delighted to see one of my faves in there – Stachyrus salicifolia!

The orchid display is always wonderful, but terribly hard to photograph!

orchid-1 orchid-2

The garden art is always fun to admire. Lots to choose from, should you be so inclined!

art-lighting yard-art-fly yard-art-sculptures yard-art-sun

All seen and done – when it really comes down to it, the opportunity to hang out with friends for a day or two of garden revelry is truly what makes this memorable. This year, we are missing Tamara, but William and Gina will be there. And just about all my other blogger friends too. It will be lots of fun – of that, I have no doubt!


Posted in Nursery industry and events, Rants and raves | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Bloom Day – February, 2017

Thank heaven for foliage, I say – as far as flowers go, it is slim pickings here this February. As probably just about everyone else from the Pacific NW can attest to, this has been a whopping kind of winter. While there would be many things in bloom in a more normal year, the things that are still undamaged here are substantially lagging behind, time wise. So, are you ready? Here we go – probably the most pathetic Bloom Day post ever…

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Starting out, the Camellia ‘Yuletide’ stands out as an absolute trooper! Through ice, snow, and freezing winds, it shines on.


A wonderful green-flowering Hellebore is on its way up. Forgot its name…


This one is further along than any of the other ones.


This little guy is just peeking above the layer of dead leaves.


The Edgeworthia surprised me by not freezing its buds off. It always has in past cold winters, even though I tried to drape sheets over it to protect it. This year, I didn’t do any such thing, and it seemingly sailed through its troubles. I don’t know what to think…

Edgeworthia in bud

The only thing is that it’s a bit flattened compared to what it used to be. No wonder, considering what it has had to hold up. Both ice and snow are awfully heavy.

Stachyrus salicifolius

The Stachyrus salicifolius with its decorative rows of soon-to-open buds. This is one of those that excite me!

Clematis 'Appleblossom'

The Clematis ‘Appleblossom’ has nice, juicy buds, but is nowhere near open yet.

Erica 'Kramer's Red'

Kramer’s Red Heath is going full force, even though it’s quite small.


There are things hiding underneath the large downed Magnolia branch. It’s about 5″ across at the breaking point. We just pulled it aside for now, and I’ve been snipping off twiggier parts with my loppers to fill our compost bin a little bit at a time, one week after the other. As you can see, there is still a lot left, but just today, we got a chainsaw in the mail. Hooray!


Here are the buds of a yellow Hellebore that narrowly escaped the weight of the branch crashing down.

Sarcococca flowers

Lovely, fragrant Sarcococca peeks out underneath the leathery Magnolia foliage.

Daphne aureomarginata buds

Daphne aureomarginata is never a very photogenic plant on any day, but noteworthy at this particular time is that it didn’t get burned in the many, extended freezes we had. Now, how the hell did THAT not happen, I wonder…? Not open yet, but good things are coming soon!

Mahonia 'Charity'

Sweet Mahonia ‘Charity’ has bloomed throughout the entire winter, and is now just about done. It did well – I am very grateful for its graces – which is why it is included in this post.


Indoors, a number of Amaryllis I rescued as they were being thrown out, are rewarding me.

Amaryllis bud

Crappy photo, but I really love how their petals form little cages before springing into a fully open flower.


And those lovely South-Africans, my friends, will finish up this month’s Bloom Day. Head over to Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what else is blooming around the world.

Posted in Bloom Day | Tagged , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – some classics never die…

As I was looking through the hundreds of photos I saved from my trip home to Sweden last winter, and contemplating the several yet unwritten blog posts, I found a shot of one of my favorite serving plates ever. We had one, I recall, but this particular one was spied in the Rörstrand Museum. For me, it beautifully sums up the 1950’s Scandinavian graphic design aesthetic – it is such a classic!  A few steps away, was a chair upholstered with a textile rendition of the same pattern. It is called ‘Picknick’ and was designed by Marianne Westman in 1954. I wish I knew what happened to our platter – I wonder if it is still in one piece…? Anyway, I can still enjoy this iconic design. You see, my dear aunt Anita gifted me a linen towel printed with it. She made me so happy! 😀fullsizeoutput_98d fullsizeoutput_98f

Posted in Wednesday Vignette | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – travel in time

I admit it – I forgot it was Wednesday, and time for a Vignette. I had too much fun last night – I went night-skiing with a friend. There were 10″ of new, white, fluffy snow, and wide, open slopes with temperatures hovering just enough under freezing so that it wasn’t wet. It was wonderful!

We took a couple of breaks in the old Warming Hut mid-mountain. It features a big fireplace to dry out in front of, a bar in which to get wet again, rustic tables, chairs and benches to hang out, and a resident cat named Callie. The walls are adorned with photographs of skiers from the Hut’s early days in the late 30’s and 40’s, and other mountain memento. It is too cozy for words.


Meanwhile, in the garden, the rhubarb is peeking up through the wet, cold soil, as are daffodils and crocus. The signs are promising, but also give me leave to spend my free time skiing – for as long as weather conditions allow. Spring is not quite here yet, but the battle between the seasons has certainly begun. And, as always, we know who will win in the end. It’s just a matter of time 🙂


Posted in Wednesday Vignette | Tagged , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Wednesday Vignette – scrim shock

snow scrim

This shot is from my garden a couple of weeks ago, when temperatures slowly started to rise again after our shocking snow event. The snow had begun melting, and a mild breeze released a scrim of snowflakes from the Magnolia, that glittered in the sun’s rays. In its radiant glory, it created an elegant visual obstruction, an attractive layer of refracting obfuscation, blocking and diffusing the view to what was beyond. I didn’t know it then, but this image was to perfectly sum up current events this week.

Sometimes, what is most obvious is not the important thing. It’s put there to veil, distract and conceal. Just like the red herring on a math test, it aims to confuse. This week had us wringing our hands at the barrage of executive orders emanating from the White House – especially the one concerning admittance of certain travelers over our borders. For as outrageous as the so called Muslim Ban is, I now know that its main purpose is to be a strategic tool, an instrument of deception – it is textbook “shock event”. The entire point of a shock event is to divert attention, divide, and distract. I learned this from an absolutely fantastic blog post – it taught me something extremely important, while promoting unity over fractured chaos and confusion. I apologize ahead of time if you have already seen me share this on Facebook. Once I understood the gravity of what was unfolding, I realized I needed to spread this around until I’m blue in the face, so here goes. I’m sharing it again here. It’s well written, it’s educated and informative, and it deserves every share it can get (hint, hint). As the absurdity of the rather poorly executed Muslim Ban plays itself out, MUCH more worrisome dealings are happening in the background on the executive level. And, why this isn’t all over our national news is beyond me. So, dear readers, draw your own conclusions. And if you, like me, believe that this is indeed a high level orchestration of intended confusion, don’t let yourself be played. Instead, please do your best to clue other people in. Our collective eyes need to focus on the machinations of the top levels of the new administration – not on what’s going on in the trenches. This is not the time to take sides. This is the time to unite.

Dammit – this was another political post. I’m sorry – didn’t mean to. I’m really, really trying…

Posted in Wednesday Vignette | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Blogger Appreciation Day at Joy Creek!!!

I admit it – I have been a bit consumed with national politics and the world’s reactions lately. But who can blame me? One nut bag decree issued, after the other… It’s been almost three years since I got my American citizenship. Being a white person from a non-muslim country I probably would have gotten admitted just fine, despite my comparatively liberal views. But with recent events in painful memory, by now I’m starting to feel almost  ashamed of living here. In the torn duality of my existentialist despair, I had almost forgotten the restorative powers of spending some time outside in the garden. A few hours spent the other day, picking off dead leaves and broken twigs, and snipping away at the larger storm debris did wonders for my soul.  So when my friends and fellow bloggers Tamara and Ricki who both work at the wonderful Joy Creek Nursery together with its owners Maurice and Mike, invited us all for a Blogger Appreciation Day, I jumped at a chance to get away from it all. I mean, who wouldn’t have? Besides, it gave me a stellar opportunity to post a truly garden-related blog post. It feels as if it’s been awhile…


Everyone gathering, with Alan and Jane in mutual admiration of, and comparing each other’s footwear. From the left; Evan, Alan, Jane, Loree, Matthew, and Amy.


More bloggers have arrived in this photo; Linda, Alyse, and Phillip, as well as the welcoming crew Tamara, Mike and Maurice.


Mike had planned an educational walk through the gardens. The topic was how to deal with post storm clean-up – something I think most of us are currently grappling with. Seeing the healed pruning scars of this old walnut, added to the task at hand, knowing full well how merciless the past two storms were on my own garden.



Pieris isn’t typically one of those shrubs that sends my heart a-twitter, but seeing these clouds of buds in the white light, almost made me wish I still had one. They are fabulous plants for native bees like mason bees, as they provide an early food source for them when they first crawl out of their cells.


The Hamamelis were in full, raging bloom. No winter damage there!


Drifts of snowdrops emerging.


Mike at the ready with the pruning saw, contemplating the receptiveness of the gawking bloggers. 🙂


Vanessa taking in the sorry sight of a Juniper with pretty severe storm damage. It would have to be pruned back to any point of breakage, and carefully tied back up, in an attempt top preserve its distinct form.


Amy, Alan, Linda, Alyse, Jenni, Jane, and Evan deep in conversation, or taking in the marvelous views in all directions of the gardens. If the photo was better, you would have been able to see the snowcapped Cascade mountains in the distance – a sight that always makes me swoon a little.


There was some pretty severe damage on other things, but the beautifully mulched bed of roses came away unscathed. Amazingly, the Echinaca or Rudbeckia seed heads were mostly upright, too.


Not so much this poor Hydrangea aspera though, which had broken off at the root. Luckily, there is a nice, young, healthy, upright shoot left. The remedy is to remove the damaged part, and then wait, in the hopes that out of the decay, the new generation will retain its foothold, and prosper – ensuring its survival. Kind of like our political situation, isn’t it?


A bit of advice for enjoying a winter garden; Look close, and look up. I wanted to pet these Magnolia flower buds.


And, I love how the branches have an almost molecular branching structure.


Something that looked like artichoke or cardoon seed heads growing up through a Callicarpa (Beautyberry). Or, was it possibly a pink Symphoricarpos (Snowberry)? 


Here is a closeup of the berries. What do you think? I’m leaning toward Symphoricarpos, but am not at all sure.


The many, many Hydrangea flowers (one of Joy Creek’s specialty plants) had that beautifully paper-like winter quality. Surprisingly many had remained upright. This one had one of my favorite trees as a backdrop – a kind of Hornbeam with “some kind of Polish name”. I remembered it from another summer-time visit, when it was in full bloom. It was spectacular. Now, seeing it in its naked glory, I couldn’t help but admire its beautiful, vase-like form. A lovely tree – I need to find out its full name, and permanently add it to my list of fabulous, small trees.


I’m a little unsure, but I think these are either Iris or Daylily seed heads that were left for the birds. For some reason, I’m always uncertain as to which one it is, when I see them. Electric deer fence – a necessity out here – in the background.


Here they are still standing tall, silhouetted against that wonderful view.


Whole beds of Rudbeckia or Echinacea seed heads stood tall, despite the winter weather they had just endured.


Oak leaves take an annoyingly long time to fall, but they are actually quite beautiful with their toothed edges, and coppery sheen. I found myself quite enamored with this one.


Miscanthus grasses are some of the most long-lasting into winter, but you can see that the wintry weights took a toll. Still though, the flower heads still look as soft and wispy as ever.


Another piece of evidence of one of Joy Creek’s main fascinations – that of Clematis. In this particular case, I share their obsession. Wherever there is even a remote possibility, I’ll have a Clematis climbing up something or other. I think I have at least a dozen of these beauties dotting my tiny garden. One of my cram-scaping mantras is that if you can’t spread out, go up. These are perfect plants for that kind of thinking, and many have wonderful seed heads.


Nothing like a bit of red to elevate a winter garden. Cornus species add a brilliant, uplifting effect. Pruning here is beneficial in that regard – the newer shoots are always a brighter red.


It looks like a conifer, and has the finely filigreed foliage of an Erica arborea, but is actually a Hebe cupressoides. I once had one, but lost it. Now I’m kind of lusting for one again…


Woodpeckers can do a lot of damage, as evidenced by these logs. I learned from Alyse that they can also spread Verticillium wilt this way. They are awfully decorative, though, and – I think – would make great candidates for some kind of nifty decorative use in a garden. So cool.


Speaking of ways to reuse the fallout debris of storms and tree removal – Maurice gave a wonderful slideshow of what he and his partner did with the several mature poplars they had taken out on their property. They used them to construct a stumpery for ferns and woodland plants, as a main feature in a shady part of their garden. The photos showed promise of wonderful developments to come. We all hope for a chance to come visit and check it out once it matures a little. Those of us in the know, were hanging out by the plethora of goodies provided by our merry organizers, before the presentation. I especially chowed down on Tamara’s fabulous carrot ginger soup. Soooo good!!!


As many of you know by now, ferns and mosses are some of my favorite plant groups. I honestly don’t know much about mosses, but I always marvel at how similar they are in looks to each other. And, of course, that they tend to like similar conditions. Seeing closeups of moss makes me think of my math-loving son, who during a fifth grade math test – as the other students finished and left the room remained at his seat, mesmerized at the parabolic curves on his computer screen. When nudged that it was time to wrap it up, he dreamily lifted his eyes and excitedly told the test administrators of his new discovery. “I just figured something out! All the parabolas are the same! It’s the distance from where you see them that makes them appear different!” He was so excited, and I totally get that. I get the same mental tickle from comparing plants – especially ferns and mosses. It’s all about actual scale, and the distance from which you view them. 


Here is another possible contender for my dreamy fern world, but this time a conifer. Not sure what kind, but I think some kind of Cupressus. It had held up beautifully in the winter storms.


The lichen on this branch caught my eye. The colorful world of winter is more subtle than that of the other seasons, but make no mistake. It is jubilantly colorful, but you have to proceed slowly so you can see. This is what I meant when I said earlier that you have to look closely. It would be all too easy to move past it at regular speed, and totally miss it. Winter truly is a time for thought and reflection.


More of my moss obsession. This is a shot down the empty shade house tables. What? Did I just say empty? Again, it depends on what scale you’re operating in.


I got such a kick of this luxurious velvet-padded foot of one of the table legs. When people ask me what they can do to kill moss, my inclination is to gently take them by the hand, make them bend down with me so I can show them the miniature worlds of moss. I try to drive home the point that if they don’t like moss, they should probably take down their trees and shrubs. I’m always amazed how hard it is for folks to understand that the two are intrinsically related, as part of the same biological system.  Mind you, I’m more inclined to hear their concern when the moss is overtaking their roof and paths. At that point, it really can become a health and safety hazard. But from a gardener’s perspective, I confess to loving the soft, perpetually green lushness of moss.


On my way home from this uplifting experience among friends at Joy Creek, I passed by this sign. It made me laugh, as it completely summed up my feelings about an award this blog received earlier this week. However flattering an award or any kind of plug generally is (almost regardless of origin) I guess you always have to ask yourself who doled out the award, and on what basis. With this one, I still don’t have it completely figured out. Regardless, despite some trepidation, I gratefully accepted the award, and – for now – agreed to post the badge that came with it – if for no other reason than to return the favor. Like moss and tall trees, I imagine bloggers and websites too enjoy a certain symbiotic relationship.

Posted in Nursery industry and events, Visits to other gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments