Wednesday Vignette – changes

I have some news! I got a fun job! This week, I started my training to become a plant buyer for Teufel – a huge landscape company here on the west coast. For as much as I like design, I’ve learned that don’t really possess the self discipline and drive to maintain all the other aspects of being a business owner. I hate the feeling that I have to constantly market myself, I abhor the nuts and bolts of actually running a business – the bookkeeping, the invoicing, the many social media presences you’re supposed to keep alive and active. Although I do like the freedom of it, I can live happily within the structure of a 40 hour work week, too.

The view from my new job. If you zoom in, you can see Mt Hood, just to the left of the tall conifers on the right.

Anyway, my husband saw the job listing, and suggested I apply. I did, and when I didn’t hear back right away, I forgot all about it. When – a month or so later – I got a call, I had all but forgotten that I had applied. I instantly liked my future boss. My second interview was onsite, and I was offered the job right there. The installations they do is on an often massive scale – a whole different level than I’m used to. They work up and down the west coast; from SoCal to BC, although the brunt of their work is centered around Oregon and Washington. Not every project is exciting, but here and there, they do some pretty fabulous installations. The most recent one I unwittingly visited was the Amazon Spheres, back in January (which right now feels like years ago). They also installed two of my favorite places in Portland; the LanSu Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden. I had no idea… For those of you who have visited the Spheres, can you even imagine tracking down all those amazing plants??? What a job!

I’ll spend my days chasing down plants, in the company of other people who love plants. Since I’m a morning person, I go in as early as I can, so I can have some free time in the afternoon. Just because they are so fun, I will keep doing occasional consultations if and when opportunity arises – to get my design wiggles out. This means I will keep my little company going, even if at half dormancy. In the event anyone were to want a more involved design from me, I might consider it, but only if they are okay with a longer turnaround. For now, I’m on a different learning curve that will take most of my energy for a while. Wish me luck, would you please?

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Wednesday Vignette – thanksgiving

This is a weird year, and everything is different – routines, traditions, you name it. It’s easy to gripe about it, but really – this is only one short year out of one long lifetime. Quite honestly, it could be so very much worse. I’m reminded of this stark reality every time I pass or turn on or off our freeway exit, when I venture downtown, and every place in between. And when I see the ballooning misery in the richest country on earth, I feel shamefully thankful for our – by comparison – blessed and privileged existence. Yes, we desperately need a new roof, but at least we still have one. And for that, and for many, many other large and small things, I am beyond grateful. It could be SO MUCH WORSE.

Across so much of our fair city, tent cities have sprouted up due to the economic collapse in the wake of the pandemic. If I’m ever tempted to feel sorry for myself, seeing this instantly snaps me out of it.

I wish you all as good a Thanksgiving as you are able. Count your blessings and hang in there. It won’t be easy, and some of us have had to make unthinkable sacrifices, but I trust this too, shall end. And by now, we should be closer to the end than to the beginning.

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Wednesday Vignette – the rose experiment

I guess I’m not unique in that I have binge-watched The Great British Bake Off during this pandemic. A pattern I’ve noticed is that almost everyone attempting to use rose water in their creations gets told off because it’s too dominant. I agree. It’s a very tricky flavor to get right, and one of the main reasons I often don’t appreciate baklava; it’s almost always too damn strong!

Then one morning, soon after one of these rose thrashings, I was in the kitchen making rose hip soup from a mix. This probably sounds a bit strange to anyone who is not a Swede, but this is a childhood delicacy, and every time someone returns or visits from Sweden, this is on the wishlist for them to bring. Anyway, the thought occurred to me, that maybe – just maybe – a little of the perfumy rose water might taste good with the rose hip soup. After all, they ARE from the same plant. Said and done. I put a tiny drop on a table spoon, drained the excess back in the bottle, and ladled the soup into the almost clean spoon. Seriously, the amount of that potent rose water was miniscule, but together it tasted heavenly! It lifted what was already very tasty to an entirely new level! Delicious!!

So, from there, I was off on a culinary thought experiment. What if I could thicken the rose-enhanced soup to a more jelly like consistency, and use it as a filling in a petit four type little cup made with an almond short crust? I used both sweet and bitter almonds. Come to think of it, almonds too, are members of the Rosaceae family, so if I could pull this off, it would be a botanical family affair. Pretty cool when you think of it from a gardening standpoint, I think!

Marzipan from Denmark made with California almonds, rose water from Lebanon, rose hip soup from Sweden – all from Rosaceae. The Rosaceae family includes 4,828 species in 91 genera, and many of great economic importance. In terms of commercial rose hip production, the rose that is predominantly used is Rosa dumalis (syn. Rosa canina) or glaucous dog rose.

Anyway, this was easier to think up than to perfect, but happy to report that my first attempt wasn’t too bad. There is hope. The first batch became a calcium enriched version, when I dropped half an eggshell into the mixer. Duh! I picked most of it out, but there was a little extra crunch here and there. I greased my hitherto unused cake molds VERY conscientiously, but those little elegant servings I had envisioned never materialized. We had to spoon them out of the molds as they wouldn’t release. Great flavor, but the textures and the handling weren’t great.

I put a thin slice of marzipan in each, to prevent the chance of a “soggy bottom”. From that vantage point, I’m not sure it was needed, but it did enhance the almond, so it will stay. Two tablespoons of potato starch thickened the soup to a near perfect consistency, but the rose flavor I had so gingerly added before thickening, seemed to have mysteriously vaporized after bringing it back up to a boil. It tasted great, and then…. barely a hint. I wonder if it was the heat…? Next time, I’ll try adding the rose water last, to see if that makes a difference.

We added a dollop of whipped cream on top. I’m still thinking about that part – it would be better with something else, something “brighter”. As we were tasting and analyzing, my mind went straight to Calvados. Maybe if I add a sauce…? I think some of that good apple liquor might be beneficial in some form or other. And yes, if so – apples too, are members of Rosaceae.

Well, it’s easy to get carried away. Sometimes less is more, so I’ll keep that in mind when revising. My presentation skills are obviously lacking as well. So, not unexpectedly, no Star Baker for me this week. But, it’s fun to play, even if not in *that* league. As for the rose experiment, I think we can safely say it is ongoing. And I learned more about a great plant family.

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Wednesday Vignette – serendipity

About a month ago, I asked for your favorite plants that last well in a vase, and you kindly gave me some great input. Last week – two days after the election – I finished sprucing up the 100′ bed in front of the Monastery. For ease of maintenance, this bed will be mostly shrubs, but I thought long and hard, and asked the advice of several great flower arrangers, to ensure they will be of varieties that are valuable for bouquets.

The path you see to the left under that orange maple leads up to the main entrance. The giant Sequoia towering over everything was planted in 1893, by one of the very first nuns. To orient you, the Meditation Garden I designed last year is immediately to the left of that massive tree. The bed I was working on last week, starts behind the fiery maple, next to the pathway, and stretches along the front of the entire building. As you can see, it was a rather gloomy day, election worries aside.
You can probably sense that this photo was taken from underneath that orange maple in the previous photo. From that vantage point you can see the entire bed that we reworked. Aden and I removed most of the old rhododendrons, and a slew of other unhappy, misplanted shrubs and out of control perennials. We divided a bunch of those Bergenias and spread them throughout the bed. Can’t wait for them to start filling in elsewhere – they are such a great texture plant, and tough as nails.

My story for today is in regards to the spot underneath the blue arrow. Obviously, the bed is dominated by those two big trees. One is a Liriodendron, and the other a dark leaved Maple of some sort. As I was initially looking at that bed, I felt that spot needed something rather large, but not so big as to spill over into the pathway, or grow up into the nearby maple. But it definitely needed a statement of some sort, to cap off that long bed and frame the view of the entrance. Of course there are endless options that would fit that description, but for whatever reason, the plant that popped into my head was a Vitex. “That’s it, Aden… we need a Vitex there. It will look amazing!” To show my dear helper what I was thinking, I looked it up on my phone… and then I realized it. I swear – I had TOTALLY forgotten that the common name for Vitex agnus-castus is Chaste Tree!

OMG – it was indeed PERFECT! Not only is it a beautiful shrub, but back in the Middle Ages, monks used a concoction made from this tree, to curb their libido – it helped them stay chaste. As medieval monastery gardens were the cultural centers for medical and herbal research of their time, Vitex was always part of what was grown. So all jokes aside, this plant really SHOULD be part of the cast of shrubs and trees of any monastery – but yeah, I laughed.

‘Agnus’ by the way, means ‘lamb’ in Latin. Per Wikipedia, the 14th century Cornish writer John Trevisa reported the tree would turn men into lambs; “the herbe agnus-castus is always grene, and the flowre therof is namly callyd Agnus Castus, for wyth smel and vse it maketh men chaste as a lombe”

So, what else did I plant in that long bed? Here is a fairly complete list:

Thermopsis dolobrata ‘Nana’

Thuja ‘Sherwood Frost’

Chamacyparis filifera ‘Aurea’

Viburnum davidii

Cotinus ‘Velvet Cloak’

Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ (I sneakily planted one of each Cotinus, because I wanted to see what the difference is. I have yet not been able to figure that out.)

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s garnet’ (the most awesome, long-lasting red fall color)

Cistus platycepalus (not great for cutting as far as I know, but the south end of this bed is hot, hot, hot. I also moved a Grevillea victoriae ‘Murray Queen’ there, from the Meditation Circle.

Symphoricarpos (a pink variety)

Hebe ‘Hinerua’

Lonicera ‘Baggesen’s Gold’

Eleagnus ‘Gilt Edge’

Choysia ‘Sundance’

Calluna ‘Firefly’

Weigela ‘Briant rubidor’ (amazing fall color!)

Weigela ‘Variegata’

Deutzia ‘Pink Pompom’

Deutzia ‘Nikko’

Deutzia corymbifolia

Polystichum munitum (sword fern)

There were a few others that I ended up putting in the Meditation Garden. I moved some things around to make room for them:

Deutzia ‘Variegata’

Philadelphus madrensis (the most amazing fragrance!!)

Philadelphus ‘Belle Eto├Čle’

Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’

The Meditation Circle already contains a lot of shrubs that work well for cutting: roses, abelias, mahonias, osmanthus, spiraea, viburnum, myrtle, fuchsia, callicarpa, camellia, red and orange dogwoods. These newcomers will make it even better. I also couldn’t resist putting a black pussy willow in their actual cutting garden, which is where they will plant all the dahlias they bought, in spring. Most of the plants are still rather small, but it is my hope that they will soon be able to make full, fabulous use of it. And I’m sure they will love the Vitex – it’s gorgeous!

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Wednesday Vignette – waiting and sweeping

Well, it wasn’t a clean sweep. It’s disturbing that it had to be this close, but there is still hope. I admit going to bed before midnight, but we all knew it was going to take time, right? For as gerrymandered as our fair nation is, I’d say, it was surprisingly close in quite a few states. It is a powerful mode of cheating – it will be really interesting to see where the popular vote lands…

Anyway, my way of dealing with my morning anxiety was to go out and… yes, keep sweeping. I started yesterday to clean up the millions of Japanese Snowbell seeds that drop every fall. It’s good therapy, but then it started raining. Finished them this morning, and now I have to disappear to work for a few hours. All good things, while anxiously waiting. How are you all holding up?

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Wednesday Vignette – almost there

This past Friday, I had the privilege of a wonderful start to my day; a visit to my dear eye doc’s garden. Located on a one acre lot on a rather steep slope, it’s a cake of many layers. Near the house, it’s a beautifully styled and manicured garden with exquisite hardscaping. (More on that some other time.) As you serpentine your way down, the garden gradually transitions to forest. The fern lined path plods along under a low tree canopy toward the next turn. As you descend, the trees get larger.

The large tree trunks below are magnificent! I tried putting my arms around one, but could cover less than half. A little bit further down, there is a clearing. On this particular. somewhat cold, overcast morning, it exuded a feeling of quiet mystery. For me, this week, the brightness at the end of that path still instills hope. We’re in the home stretch, and looking at this scene calms both heart and soul. All will be well in the world.

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Wednesday Vignette – the speed of time

I currently find myself in a bit of a chase. My days are whirling by so fast, I can barely keep up, juggling an extraordinary number of things. It’s so weird how time can seemingly distort itself. There was a time this spring, when I felt like time practically stood still. We were in Covid lockdown, every day was more or less the same, and it didn’t really make a difference what day it actually was. I think it also helped that the days were longer, but for a while there, it felt like I lived quite a blessed existence, safe and protected from whatever might lurk outside our little bubble. Life was lived a little in slow motion.

However, things gradually speeded up, and eventually kicked me out of my blissful dream. When you get constantly pounded by events, they tend to pile up like cars in a multiple car crash, and it becomes nearly impossible to separate the long string of coincidental, temporal collisions. When I try to disentangle the various dates, and I realize that whatever seemed to have taken place in a distant memory, in fact only happened three weeks ago, it’s overwhelming.

I’m not sure exactly what triggered this reaction of mine. Remember back in spring, when we saw interviews with front line workers? Harrowing visions of exhausted, overwhelmed healthcare workers, working double shifts to keep up, and the visible mental cost the stress extolled. That was then, when it was all new and fresh. Over time, the stories became more patient centered, and soon enough, it became a numbers game. The folks on the front lines faded and the rest of us entered into an odd sense of insulation.

But guess what…? Whatever it was that brought it back to me, gave me an acute realization that although I myself have gotten numbed to the stark reality of the world around me, these front line heroes are still very much in the thick of it. While from my privileged perch things seemed more or less normalized, we are in fact entering a third spike of infections. And although we don’t hear much about it anymore, I imagine there are still shortages of critical resources, central to their wellbeing and protection. They can still be found sobbing in their cars, upon completion of their double shifts.

Once again, I realize how lucky I am to be in a line of work that focuses on biophilia and beauty, and that allows me to spend ample time in the exhilarating diversity of Nature, in the company of living things. It beats crying in a parking lot any way you look at it, and offers the kind of enviable grounding and healing we all crave. This evening, I was privileged to visit a new friend’s garden when the fading light hit it just so. I dedicate this week’s Vignette shot to all of you who spend all hours of day and night running up and down fluorescently lit hospital corridors, without much opportunity to see the fragile fall beauty on full display outside, as you bust your tails trying to salvage as many as possible from the potential tragedy of a highly politicized, often ignored pandemic. You may no longer be top of the news, but you are at the top of my heart. Thank you.

I was awestruck by the purple Callicarpa berries against the chartreuse conifer and the blushing leaves of a Cornus. Thanks again, JoEllen, for a very nice break in the routine!

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Wednesday Vignette – the nuns are bored

Remember that meditation garden I designed last year for the Benedictine Sisters? It’s filling in nicely, and I go down to see now and then, to check on its progress. It’s only been a year and a half since we began the installation, but what an exceptionally awful year it’s been – especially the past six months or so. With the pandemic shutting everything down, like most everyone else the Sisters found themselves on lockdown, with extra time on their hands. They were bored and wanted a cutting garden, so they could make bouquets. Plus – as we all know – spending time in gardens is good for both heart and soul, especially in grievous times.

Recently, I got called back down there for a consultation. The Sisters want to rework some other areas of the campus as well. “We’re tired of looking at it”, said my feisty favorite, Sister Jane. When I asked what they want me to do, I was told I can do whatever I want. Within reason, of course, but…. Hooray!! How fun!

Some plants can be divided and spread around, and some will most definitely do better in a different spot. Others still, are simply best removed and replaced. So, for the last couple of weeks, I have spent one day a week playing at being an estate gardener. They even granted me digging help in the form of a gentleman named Aden. He’s great! I wish I could bring him home to help me out in my garden.

The nuns took a field trip to nearby Swan Island Dahlias and ordered their favorites for next spring. My plan is to replace tired old shrubs mostly with others (and some perennials too), using the same kind of criteria I used in the meditation garden – plus the addition of one more; their flowers and foliage should preferably hold up great in a vase. This is my newest learning curve, and I could use your help. What is your favorite cut flower/foliage/berries/etc.?

This is a great chance for me to use the kind of fabulous large shrubs that most urban gardens have no room for. Having this kind of space to work with feels absolutely luxurious! So far, we have added (or at least decided on the inclusion of) a Buddleja japonica, Cotoneaster nitida, Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’, Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, Cotinus ‘Grace’, and our native Vaccinium ovatum. And, they are of course welcome to harvest the goodies in the meditation garden, to their hearts’ content.

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Wednesday Vignette – empty chairs

Crazy week, huh? Good thing the weather is still good… I feel a lot less polarized, and certainly a lot less freaked out, in my garden. Today’s photo is from the garden of my dear leader at Joy Creek.

The genius placement of those red Verner Panton chairs in front of the shining, exfoliating, coppery red trunks of a massive Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ is notable even on a good day. This week, those empty chairs assume an especially wide range of symbolic importance.

Though it certainly complicates things, Covid isn’t half as stifling to our situation as perpetual gridlock, distrust, and blame. Let’s fill the empty chairs around us, find our common ground, and our civility. Let the conversations and the healing start back up again. Today’s words on the countdown calendar were POISE and COMPASSION. If we approach the days ahead with that in mind, perhaps there is hope for tomorrow and beyond?

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Wednesday Vignette – catfish and Hebes

As I was up on a ladder today at Joy Creek, I found myself eye to eye with a catfish. This encounter was in preparation for our Fall Sale, and I was in full display making mode.

The list of our discounted offerings is rather long, and included in what is going for half price is one of my favorite plant groups: Hebes. If you don’t know what they are, I can tell you that they are a genus unique to New Zealand. Because our climate here in the Pacific NW is rather like theirs, we are fortunate to be able to grow many of these fabulous shrubs and subshrubs here.

Because our Hebe varieties are overwhelmingly numerous, and I was tasked with making a display that made sense, I did a little research. And, of course I learned something new. It’s hard to tell when you see tiny plants in D4 pots, but they actually grow up to do all kinds of things. A handful of the Hebes and Parahebes we carry make phenomenal, weed smothering groundcovers. I had no idea…!

Others adult in exceptionally tight and tidy configurations – these are the plant world’s perfect PTA fundraising parent equivalents; rounded, polished, mounded form. There are plenty of candidates suitable for lining up and edging borders.

All Hebes are evergreen and have leaves that display these fabulous, near fractal geometries in how they are put together. Several have foliage that change color with the seasons, and most all of them bloom, in either white, lavender, purple, violet, magenta, or soft pink.

Many make excellent partners in planters, and carry on long after their pals have succumbed to death or dormancy. This is how I first saw them when we moved here. I could not believe that these architectural marvels in pots all around the city, were real! In addition to the fantastic shapes, the foliage color range encompasses everything from a silvery blue to cream, purple, burgundy, pink, and just about any shade of green.

Others still are what we call whipcords, and are easily mistaken for conifers. This group includes several of my personal favorites. Actually, I have about a dozen favorites. (Is that even allowed?) Anyway, I bet this diverse genus really does contain something for everyone, regardless of preferences. Look them up and concoct your own fab combo. They are such fun plants!

Most Hebes are wider than tall, and some form nearly perfect hemispheres, without any need for pruning whatsoever. Only a few are taller than wide. They can get rather big, and can make good specimens. Some have tiny leaves, while others have large, glossy ones. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the leaf, the hardier they are.

This is Hebe ‘Western Hills’. This is a very tough Hebe. Planted last year, I just moved my smothered Yucca out of its relative misery under an encroaching Callistemon and into the open air next to the Hebe, this past weekend. I think both I and the Yucca are happy about that.

As for my customary political commentary, I just want to say that I think the next moderator needs to be equipped with a stun gun on a stick and a license to zap anyone who interrupts or disregards the rules. Or a kill switch. Thank heavens for plants!

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