Wednesday Vignette – from the window seat

It is a sweet feeling to reconnect – to catch up with old friends, and to hear their stories. And, it is priceless to visit family. We live so far away from the rest of our clans. It was our choice to move – we wanted things you couldn’t get where we were. We figured we could always visit “once in a while”. That “once in a while” turned out to be rather “rarely”. The exclusivity and distance sinks in when you realize that the kids were half the size they are now, last time they visited their grandparents.


We laughed when we showed up at a party friends had arranged, at how we all looked like our parents – it had been so long… It was the first time my best beloved had seen all his former roommates together in one room, in 28 years! Gray hairs, sagging skin, and crow’s feet aside – judging from the cheer and the banter, we might as well never have left.IMG_7923

Our trip was a whirlwind – parties in our honor, familiar faces of many, many friends, beloved family members, visits to old favorite restaurants (which were still there). All older and a little more worn – including us. We had that soft, comfy feeling of a flannel shirt that has been washed a hundred times – we were all there, and we only got better with age. IMG_7929

It was hard to leave. A mix of sadness, angst, and guilt. Will everyone still be there next time we return? Isolated from our past, it’s easy to lose track of time. As the plane took off, I fretted over our choices. The urge to be a part is strong, and family weighs heavily. No one should have to carry the weight of generations alone – yet those that remain do. From here, we’re as distant and removed as passengers on a plane – gazing down from a window seat. And, it’s a cold place to be.

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Wednesday Vignette – the fibrous, webby reach of the world

Yesterday, we visited the art exhibit of a talented fiber artist friend. Inspired by the way fiber makes up our entire world, to me the most interesting part of her felted bowls were the solids and voids created by the varying thicknesses of the many layers of wool, and the play of light and shadows that formed as a result.

Later that evening, I had reason to marvel about that very same interconnectedness manifesting itself between us humans. I had promised a friend I’d previously only met via Instagram a start of a plant, and last night I delivered it to him. As I left his house, I saw an old friend (whom we hadn’t seen in 18 years or so) standing in the street. After dropping off the plant, we were heading out to dinner to meet him and a few other friends. Long story short – it turns out my new acquaintance and our old friend were longtime neighbors! How funny is THAT odd coincidence? It made me wonder how many other pleasant surprises we miss, by not exploring the weft of humanity.

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Wednesday Vignette – a geodesic surprise

We’re in Ohio for a couple of weeks visiting family and potential schools for our budding college student. About 10 minutes down the road from my in-laws is hidden this marvelous complex, housing an organization formerly known as American Society of Metals. In order to be more inclusive, it eventually changed its name to ASM International. The name change corresponded with its updated mission of broadening its scope to cover all materials – not just metals.

Surrounded by rather dense forested areas and horse country, cut through by winding two lane country roads –  suddenly coming upon this sparkling modernist campus with its fabulous geodesic dome, is a delightful surprise! We just HAD to stop and look. I took lots of photos, and will write a more detailed post about it on my other blog, because I think this gem of a building deserves more than a vignette. But for now, here is a tease of the good things to come.

I loved the dome’s reflection in the large plate glass windows of the building below.

I also appreciated looking up at the hexagon facets of the geodesic dome through the mostly bare branches of a small tree that grew in the 100′ diameter circular Mineral Garden below. 

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Wednesday Vignette – it’s just cabbage

The word “cabbage” sounds decidedly downmarket – about as far from the world of glamour and red carpets as one can get. It brings to mind watery Depression era broths, and dingy apartment building stair wells, filled with the unmistakable reek of poverty and strife. A bit unfairly, I think. Personally, I love the many culinary offerings of the Brassica family. Still, its name has that lowly ring to it… c-a-b-b-a-g-e.

I think something this gorgeous deserves a name more illustrative of its many superior qualities – looks, taste, nutritional content – if not its stinky smell. I have no great ideas for this proposed name change, though. Maybe I just need to start liking the name it already has, and disassociate it with the hardship label. For whatever it’s worth – this lowly cabbage was by far the most glamorous thing in my garden today.

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Upcoming HPSO book talk; Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Those of us living in the greater Portland area have been aware of this development for a while, but those of you gardening in other parts of the Pacific NW might not have heard. There is a new book on the market (Timber Press) written just for us. Released just recently, it is the perfect primer for anyone who wants to garden here – or a perfect go-to reference for anyone already doing so. Written by Paul Bonine (one of the co-owners of popular local nursery Xera Plants) and Amy Campion (illustrious author of The World’s Best Gardening Blog), this book singles out the various specifics of our region, and present them in an easily understood format.

I usually tell people that in order to become a good gardener, one has to become a serial killer first – there is so much to learn, and the best way to learn is, very often, by doing. This book provides a significant shortcut to that kind of learning. Paul’s background in meteorology is evident in the first chapter, which is pretty much the Cliff Notes on our climate and its regional differences, and weather patterns. He also gives you the impact of temporary seasonal variations like El Niño and La Niña in ways easy to understand. This is huge, as (in my humble opinion) knowing your climate (or more so, NOT knowing) can wreak havoc with anyone’s good gardening intentions – especially starting out. He also talks about what is coming our way, that we don’t fully know the extent of – climate change. At this point, just about everyone – except maybe those DC dip wads – know that it is changing. Our kids will experience a vastly different world than we do. This is one of my favorite parts of this book – it teaches you enough to go into the future as prepared as you can be. This is not your ordinary gardening book. This is a call to action!

From there, they move on to other factors that may not be very glamorous but have a huge influence on success. The authors touch on good cultural practices involving soil, the chemistry of fertilizers, irrigation, mulch, and offer terrific tips to deal with adversity – clay, ice, plant diseases, pests, and so on. Why bother learning all the different things that can go wrong when, for the most part, the culprits are usually a limited number of rather common causes, often made worse by the peculiarities of our climate?

Once the basics have been covered, we’re on to the fun stuff – the plants! What follows is a carefully curated lineup of badass beauties know to work here – some natives, and some that are well adapted to our climate. The descriptions are straightforward and easy to read – sometimes even poetic – and often contain suggestions of suitable companion plants.

Throughout the book are scores of fabulous photos that illustrate the points made in the text. Together, they form a wonderful resource, that any PNW gardener – newbie or veteran – would do well to include in their reference library. So, check it out – you won’t regret it! The authors will give a talk this weekend, on Sunday, Jan. 21. There will also be signed books for sale. For more details, and to register, click the link. Hope to see you there!

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Wednesday Vignette – foliar fun for the front

I agonized about this for a while, but then finally, last fall, I offered up my little Red Dragon maple to my friend Jason. He has way more garden space than I do, and is almost always a grateful yet discerning recipient of my discards. This little maple was one of the first things I ever planted after building what I call my “container wall” – a stretch of backfilled rock wall that turned my sloping, north-facing front yard into a nice level surface – AND gave me a nearly foot and a half head start on the street-side privacy screen I was shooting for.

Here is Jason, battling the Red Dragon.

Red Dragon is a very slow growing red little lace leaf maple that tops out at about 8-10′. I had it for about 12 years, and it helped hold together my front garden quite nicely while it was there. The color scheme in the front originated with the red brick entrance, and the dark, glossy green foliage of the giant magnolia and its white flowers. Red Dragons moppy red goodness was quite instrumental in keeping it all together. It was also a testament to the fact that I’m just like everyone else who moves to the Pacific NW. Newbie Oregonians tend to just LOVE Japanese maples! I did too. In fact, I still love them in the right place. This was the right place, and the little tree had served me well all these years – its only fault was that I wanted the space it was in for other things. I have some idea of what those “things” might be, but it’s mostly still TBD. The biggest conundrum was to find something that would give me that same red presence and keep a relatively compact size.

Scarletta and the TBDs, all grouped together for the photo op. The Drimys and the Agave are the two that I would really have to take a chance on, but damn – don’t they look smashing together?

Being a self-described plant whore, there is never a shortage of ideas – and often plants – to play with, but somehow, I hadn’t quite found the right thing yet. I had ideas, but there was always something that didn’t pan out; not enough light, wrong shape, too big, boring leaves… whatever… Then today, I felt I had spent far too much time in front of the computer, so I snuck out to my favorite little neighborhood nursery – Garden Fever. I needed some retail therapy, and they always have great things there. Go figure – they had this one shrub I had kept my eyes peeled for, for a while – a Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’. I have a few other Leucothoes with various attributes, but this one is spesh… It has these marvelously glossy red leaves that are positively scrumptious. And, it’s evergreen, and only grows to about 4′ across. Perfect! I brought it home. I set it with a few other lovelies I’ve been considering for the front. Some of these I know would work great in the front, for others I know I would be taking chances. But, half the fun of gardening is pushing your luck and your boundaries, so why not? I just might give it a shot and see how it goes. All I know is that that big hole the Red Dragon left – both in my yard and in my heart – will need to be filled – and quick. It has taken far too long already!

A closeup of her Majesty’s fab foliage. Aren’t those red leaves something…?

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Foliage Follow-Up Day – January 2018

The biggest news from my garden this month is that I – FINALLY – took the time to thin out my black bamboo. Wow – should’ve done that  years ago… It looks so much better now…

Having some space between those culms makes a world of difference. In their second year, they will turn black. This variety of Phyllostachys nigra is called ‘Hale’ and is said to be one of the blackest.

Love those black culms!

Muhlenbeckia (Wire vine) is another one to keep a watchful eye on. I only use it in containers. Here it’s about to overtake a Nandina filamentosa , but no matter… In a pot, I actually have a fighting chance of controlling it . I love how it catches the light!

In other news, I bought yet another Cheilanthes, with the aim of building yet another fern table – a more sun tolerant one.

This one is a Cheilanthes argentea. The soft peachy color of the new growth contrasts nicely with the blue-gray of its fronds.

In yesterday’s Bloom Day post, I featured this lovely little NOID Hellebore. It’s buried in a large “cramscaping” planter, where I stuck all kinds of larger things. In order to take this photo, I had to brush away both Carex and Mahonia leaves.  My friend Rickii asked me to post a photo of the entire thing, so here goes:

Here is the entire container, which besides the buried little Hellebore (you can see one flower if you zoom in towards the center) holds a juvenile Holboellia coriacea, an Eleagnus ‘Guilt Edge, Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ a NIOD rescued fine textured grass, and the curly, weepy leaves a Carex ‘Rekohu Sunrise. Yup – you would be right in cautioning me that this arrangement will soon burst out of its cramped quarters. I know. But, that’s a problem for another day. 😉

So, that is the extent of my offering for this month. Head on over to our hostess Pam at Digging, to see what kinds of foliar goodies grow in her garden as well as others, around the world.


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