Wednesday Vignette – holding it all together

This past Sunday was the official dedication of the garden in Mt Angel I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. As luck would have it (or, were I of the religious kind, I might have said “the Lord would have it”) – two days before the dedication, I was able to pick up the last two plants  that had been released from the grower, as they had finally developed enough roots. Hooray! Of course I would have attended anyway, but this gave me even more reason. The goal was to get there early, while others were at mass, to sneak these two into their marked spots before the ceremony. That, however, didn’t happen. We got going a bit late, so instead, this is what we saw when we got there. The Sisters kindly waved me over to stand with them.


Though embarrassed to show up so obviously late, I obliged – the planting had to wait until later. The blessing ceremony was short, sweet, and lovely. With help from the breeze, some of the holy water sprinkled over the components of the garden managed to land on me, which made me feel oddly privileged. Late, bearing trowel and plants, and with dirt under my finger nails, I listened and mused that despite all our general morning disorganization, we managed to hold it all together. And, despite my awkwardness during the actual GardenTime interview , the editing skills of the producer made it good. It all turned out well in the end. My restless gesturing during filming had been mostly replaced with soothing imagery, and the discordant yellow flags that had held location spots for more than a month, were exchanged for two beautiful Mahonia eurybracteata.

Later, I saw the perfect literal manifestation of ‘holding it all together’ when fellow blogger Gina and I visited our talented friend William. Sometime’s it’s  faith, and sometimes it’s tangible, but it’s good to think that – somehow – all will likely turn out alright in the end. If I may be allowed to share the spirit of some of that sprinkled holy water, I’ll send those vibes on into the universe – to my friends and beyond. May it turn out well – for ALL of us.




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Wednesday Vignette – timing


Since O moved to Sweden a month ago, his dearly beloved Tank has become my pal, instead. Still, I like to Viber photos of Tank to him, now and then, so he knows he is missed. By ALL of us, mind you – not just the cat.

Today, my furry friend was sweetly sleeping on the couch next to where I was working. He was so peaceful, I reached for my phone to sneak a photo. And right as I pushed the button, he did this. I know it’s just a leisurely, feline yawn, but I have to tell you; this expression spoke to me – on so many levels – that it will become my Vignette for the week. It perfectly sums up my current state of mind. I hope for next week, my soul can be reflected in the languid bliss of a sleepy, relaxed cat. I miss those quiet, “normal” days.

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Create… create!

As luck would have it, Judy – one of the GardenTime co-hosts – had visited Joy Creek and gotten a kick out of the table gardens on display out there. Long story short – as some of you may have already seen – I ended up building one on camera for their show, a week before we filmed the Mt Angel project – which won’t air until July 13th. Twice in two weeks – a bit nerve-racking, I admit. You can totally tell I was nervous – LOL!


Anyway, despite the best intentions, there are always pointers that either aren’t said, or are edited out. So, I thought I’d go back and fill in my perceived blanks, and add some useful tips that, for whatever reason, were omitted the first time. For the most part, what applies to building a bigger table garden still applies here, for these mini ones. But some things do change because of the smaller size, that are worth keeping in mind:

  • Go beyond the box. There is no reason to stay within the limitations of your paver – or whatever your hard surface is. Think about this as you would Ikebana. It is absolutely fine to use branches that extend beyond – in fact,  I recommend it. It adds movement and drama to your creation.
  • Use the roots to your advantage. One of the two trickiest parts of building these small arrangements is to keep the soil from spilling out over corners and edges. In the video, when I cut the thyme down the middle, I split it open and – with the top still intact, splayed the two halves to create a corner out of the root mass. Not all plants are suitable for this kind of manhandling, but thymes, low growing sedums, blue star creeper, and other types of ground covers often lend themselves beautifully to this, as they have no main root that needs to stay intact. In some instances, I’ve successfully cut the contents of a 4″ pot into 1″ pieces.
  • Cover all roots. Okay, I have a confession to make… This As-Seen-On-TV arrangement was not perfect in this regard. As time was limited, I was trying to do it as quickly as I could, and fudged it a little, so the kind folks of Garden Time could move on with their day. I did go back afterwards, and shaved off additional root mass in a couple of places, and covered any exposed parts with wood or rocks. This helps your creation retain water, and prevents the plants from drying out too soon. As you saw, the fishing line helps keep the main parts together if you are moving your masterpiece. But sometimes, keeping these little rocks and wood pieces that protect roots from slipping, is frustrating. I have had luck using the kinds of staples used for keeping landscape fabric in place to temporarily pin them down. A sturdy piece of wire would work, too.
  • Add the soil later. I soon realized that a main difference between building larger table gardens and small ones, is that there is very little room for extra soil in the miniatures. So, instead of what was taught in the workshop, where we started with a pile of soil on the surface followed by branches and logs – here you start with branches, and then the plants. Not until after they are in place, do you fill in with soil around them.
  • Add some height. I like to use either a log, part of a stump, or – as here – a kink in a branch, to create a sense of verticality to the mini garden. Often, I also double up by using a taller plant – like the Carex ‘Frosty Curls’ in this one. I guess it’s not always a necessity – depending on what your goal is – but from a compositional aspect, it’s worth considering, I think.
  • 5-6 plants per sf. I figured out that the same ratio in terms of plant count that applies to the larger pavers, also applies to the single square foot paver used here.  Count on using about 5-6 plants per square foot.
  • Water from above. The easiest way to water these with a regular hose is to keep the watering wand on the misting setting, if you have one. If not, I shower it from as high up above as I can reach, to mimic a light rain as closely as possible. The reason is that until the various roots start connecting, and “felting” everything together, chances are you will find yourself in need of replacing some of the washed-off soil more often than you maybe have patience for.

I think that’s it. Have fun playing with Flora’s endless varieties of textures, shapes, and colors while you make your own little mini-gardens. If you are making them for yourself, in situ, I would highly recommend going as large as you have space for, but seriously – these little small-scale marvels make fabulous gifts for friends, or anyone who can remember to water them.

And there you have it! Yours truly on TV – as gloriously goofy as ever. Create… create! WTF was THAT??? Hahahahaha! I sure hope I appear a little less silly for the Mt Angel segment…. As for the website – it was kind of Judy to mention it, but don’t bother. I still haven’t managed to upload any pictures to it. I suppose I still have a few days to remedy that before Saturday. Or more so, beg one of my much more tech-savvy kids to please do it for me.



The plants used for this table were: Carex albula ‘Frosty Curls’, Sempervivum arachnoideum tomentosum, Acaena inermis ‘Purpuraea’, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’, Sedum dasyphyllum ‘Loyd Praeger’, and Thymus pseudolanuginosus.

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Wednesday Vignette – for protection only

So, it’s the week of Independence Day, when patriotism and pride should run high. I would argue that those kinds of sentiments are best against a backdrop of joy, compassion, generosity, and love of your fellow humans. The United States of America today has not inspired either of those two. Instead, I feel this need to take a scrubbing brush to my eyes, to erase the impressions of the day, and then bleach out the dark spots in my heart and my corroded soul. I would like to think that, as a nation, we are better than this, but apparently, we are not.


The coating on the chicken wire is not corrosion – it’s lichen. I thought it looked cool when I saw it, so I snapped a picture. BUT! Associations change with the times. In actuality, this particular border fence serves to protect Sebright chickens from predators, but of course any image sporting a metal barrier these days, bring to mind our ongoing, government sanctioned atrocities.

The asylum seekers in the highly concentrated (read; jam-packed) camps on the Southern border acted independently and opted to head north to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger, hunger, and/or prosecution. They got none of that. Au contraire… They got imprisoned and robbed of their families by gutless, self-serving automatons –  the radical opposite of the original celebrators of Independence. My challenge to all Americans (including me) for this Independence Day, is to think and act independently, search our souls for our moral imperative, and then follow the prompts. There may be tanks rolling down the streets of DC, but trust me – those are not there for our protection. Neither would a border wall be. Those both serve to keep us submissive and servile. It works in North Korea, and it will work here too. It is in the best interest of my independence to reject these developments, and reject the validity of following orders that make no sense. Other than perhaps for chickens, true protection is based in trust, values, respect, and fair treatment. Not in squashing those weaker than us, who have nothing to lose. That’s just chicken.


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Filming at the Queen of Angels Monastery

In anticipation of the official dedication ceremony of a garden I recently designed for the Benedictine Sisters of Mt Angel, I spent a couple of hours with the wonderful crew of GardenTime – a local garden TV show here in the Pacific NW, filming a snippet about the newly installed garden. Of course, being calm and collected in front of a camera is hard when you’re me, who likes to gesture, point, and talk with my entire body. In short, I didn’t feel I really got to say everything I needed to say to explain my reasoning behind this project, nor did I have time for some relevant details. So, I figured I would document it all here, instead. When the segment airs in a couple of weeks, I will post it as I also do a report on the dedication ceremony. Hopefully it will all make more sense to you then.


Jeff getting some garden shots, and Sister Jane.

We have this big tree, and we want a seating area somewhere near it. Can you help us?“, said a cheery voice on the phone. This was Sister Jane, who were to be my point person on the job, and with whom I hit it off famously. Turns out, she wasn’t kidding. The first thing you see when turning into the Monastery parking lot is this 130′ Sequoia dominating the landscape, and dwarfing everything else around it. It was planted by one of the very first Sisters in 1893. She found a seedling by the train tracks, and transplanted it. Not knowing what it was, she gave it a prime spot a little too close to the building, as time would eventually show. “This is the spiritual center of the Monastery”, said Sister Jane. I could feel it. Standing underneath that magnificent canopy made my toes tingle – it was indeed powerful!


It’s a deeply spiritual experience to stand underneath the bows of this tree, looking up.

As it happened, there were a few more details that needed to be addressed when placing that “seating area”. The lawn to the north of the Sequoia was also home to an old bronze bell and a flagpole, which were to remain. I learned that the Sisters provide “spiritual walks” to the community, and that they also had a peace pole that needed to be placed. This garden, with the peace pole, was supposed to be an essential part of those walks.

As a result of that first visit, I wanted to put the peace pole underneath the tree. The trunk of the Sequoia was about 13′ in diameter, and had a bit of a divot in the perfect location. To my mind, that natural “alcove” would be the perfect place to house the peace pole. To get to it, there would be a board walk of sorts, floated above the uneven ground of the massive tree roots, for easy access for aging Sisters and their spiritual companions. I drew up plans with the board walk widening around the peace pole, showing a built-in seat right underneath the massive crown of the Sequoia. In that scenario, the peace pole would have been somewhat askew, but the seating area itself would have been right on axis with the bell and the flag pole “outside” on the lawn.  I say “outside”, because standing under the tree inspires the same awe as looking up into a cathedral spire – it transports you into a vortex of the mysteries of the universe –  a completely different world.


” “Draw not nigh hither,” says the Lord to Moses; “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground”. (Exodus 3, 5)” (Quote copied from Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and The Profane.)

In sorting out the more profane spatial organization outside of the sacred Sequoia, I was inspired by the idea of the spiritual walks. Since the beginning of time, labyrinths have symbolized a journey, a search for the meaning of life. Carefully inlaid mosaic labyrinths have adorned the floors of any cathedral with self respect, as a physical manifestation of our quest for the sacred, and for eternal answers. Of course, the roughly pie-shaped patch of lawn I had at my disposal didn’t quite have room for a labyrinth, nor was it really part of the scope of the project. (Besides, the Monastery already have a labyrinth, I later learned.) I moved on… Instead, I focused on using axes to tie the randomly placed elements that needed to be incorporated into the design. Obviously, the giant Sequoia provided me with the sacred, vertical axis – the spiritual, heavenly connection. Looking up at this massive tree, the baffled question I had blurted out when I first saw it still remained; “How the hell do you compete with something that BIG???”


Here is the path layout, before it was seeded. 

Well, I went big, too. The pathways are 6′ across. Two main axes going north/south and east/west intersect right between the bell and the flagpole. In addition to the two main paths, there is a circular path connecting them, symbolizing the cosmos and the cyclical progression of time. As I was working on the layout of the paths, I realized what was happening… I was drawing a Benedictine cross! And there it was – the Sisters loved it! Outside of the circular path, are four 12′ x 40′ bermed beds, to be planted with mostly shrubs (for ease of care). It’s funny – after all the elements were in place, and the proportions looked right – looking at the plan, the size of the footprint of the garden is almost identical to that of the tree. I guess that’s what it took to not get completely lost in its shadow. After considering several other material options for the paths, we went for the beautiful simplicity of a gravel lawn. You can read more about that here, at Joy Creek’s blog. It’s a fabulous alternative, and works like a charm!


Plants going in!

In the end, the Sisters decided against building the boardwalk. They just couldn’t justify the expense, not knowing how long they would remain at the Monastery. I guess this caution makes sense – their calling isn’t exactly popular with the younger generations, and they are going the way of the Shakers. (Hadn’t really thought of that conundrum before.) No matter. In the revised version, the Benedictine pathways remained. Instead of housing the peace pole, the drooping branches of the Sequoia now provides a backdrop to it. Where is the seating, you wonder? The Sisters restored a bench that had meaning to them, and its backrest fits perfectly against the old bell. From there, one looks straight at the peace pole against the towering Sequoia, and can meditate on its life-affirming message; May there be Peace on Earth.

Crossroads are important – the physical ones as well as the existential. We all come to them in the course of our lives. As a Swede, I feel like I can say that living in American society is damn hard. There are non-existent social safety nets, and people are constantly faced with the trauma of devastatingly hard choices like “Do I pay for surgery, or keep my home?” As part of these spiritual walks, the Sisters offer compassion, lend an ear, and give kindness to fellow humans in all kinds of despair and states of sorrow. Coming from a rather heathen background with very little tolerance for organized religions and their various dogmas, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the very important role they fill, in American society. I’ve always been a free-spirited being, consistently shying away from labels of one sort or another. I wondered why on earth they picked me to do this for them, but I’m so glad they did. I’m a spiritually richer person for having had the privilege to work with them.


The grass in the gravel lawn grew in amazingly fast! And it’s completely solid under your feet.

So, what about the plants? The spiritual walks occur year round, so I decided I wanted to appeal to as many senses as possible. My rules were that there had to be something in flower at all times, something fragrant at all times, and flowers, fruits and berries to bring in insects and birds, and for additional year round interest. The Nuns had some rules too. Maintenance would be done by staff, but due to their many other duties, maintenance needs had to be minimal.


Did a little inpromptu rose pruning while there today. William from GardenTime who knows a thing or two about roses, showed me a few tricks. The truck smelled really good on the way home. 

Working within the confines of Catholicism was so much fun! It’s a veritable treasure trove of symbols, liturgical traditions, and meanings. Purple is a hugely important color around Lent and Advent. White, red, green, black, rose, and gold are also prevalent. Blue is the color of the Madonna. I confess I didn’t manage to time the flowering times with the exact time of their importance. Instead, I chose plants that will move and change with the seasons. What will be purple, white, peachy rose, green, and black in summer, will change to golden yellow, orange, red, green and black in winter. Of course, there are lots of roses included, including the fabulous wing-thorn rose (Rosa pteracantha), Yuletide Camellia, various dogwoods with red/orange/yellow branches, various Mahonias, a Grevillea, Osmanthus ‘San José, Fatsia ‘Spiderweb’, Garrya elliptica, Daphne, Callicarpa dichotoma, Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, Lespedeza thunbergii, various Hebes and hardy Fuchsias, Myrtis communis, Cupressus ‘Tiny Towers’, Miscanthus purpurescens, etc.  Of course there are some lilies – their symbolic weight was just too great to ignore. There are also some smaller grasses, Hellebores, purple Epimediums, white and peach Diascias, and purple Asters. The four center quadrants are planted with Black Scallop Ajuga with miniature blue-eyed tulips, butter yellow Hawera narcissi, and white Fritillarias emerging in spring. Will write a separate post on the plants at a different time as they fill in a little. Right now, many are rather small, and don’t really convey what they will eventually do. So, stand by on that one, please!

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The idea is that once the shrubs reach their maturity, the feeling of being in the circle will be that of standing in a large clearing, or outdoor room, surrounded by colors, textures, and fragrances. I didn’t draw it in, but the giant Sequoia is immediately to the right of the elevation, providing backdrop to the peace pole.


Peace out!





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Wednesday Vignette – vetting


A beautiful day on the surface, but such a dark, dark day for Americans. Children in windowless warehouses with no access to basic necessities, trying to understand why they are there, and crying for their families, in inhumane conditions, stripped of all dignity. And all the while their asylum seeking adult family members are being vetted to ensure their application is legit. Just the fact that they even want to come here, should be proof enough of their desperation – because who the hell would voluntarily want to submit to be part of this shit show without being out of all other options??? To amplify the absurdity of it all, just consider for a moment that the people running the various Departments involved in perpetuating this ongoing tragedy, have undergone no vetting whatsoever. Sure, by apparent design, they are only “acting” Directors, but still… It makes me sick to my stomach.

Seeing animals in cages makes me ill, and hearing about the secretly ongoing practice of separating children from their families and putting them in cages is…. well, beyond gut wrenching.  It’s unfathomable that – despite the administration’s assurances that these  hair-raising “methods” had been abandoned a year ago –  is still ongoing. I don’t like being lied to. Especially not from my elected leaders – unvetted or not. This intentional lying about heinous crimes, and separating and disposing of fellow humans, has terrifying parallels with Nazi Germany, and it scares the crap out of me. How long did the Germans believe the lies and propaganda they were fed? How long will we?


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Wednesday Vignette – my first Tell the Truth Tuesday

It’s a good thing I have kind and patient neighbors. Our west side yard, facing their house, has undergone many changes and experiments, and it’s time for yet another revision. Each time, there seems to be an ever so slight boundary creep, as evidence of my excess and addiction inch closer to their garage wall. (It passed the midpoint stipulated by our deeds, a while ago.) So, here is my long overdue first contribution to Alison of Bonney Lassie’s fabulous and occasional meme – Tell the Truth Tuesday.

As anybody who has set foot in my garden knows, this is one of the only three – or maybe four – spots that ever gets any direct sun, for any length of time. (At least compared to the rest of it.) So, this is where my most prized sun lovers get to live, shoehorned in next to each other. I often put sun-loving plants with others of similar inclination in pots, so I can move them out in more light if they look unhappy. I do the same with plants that are borderline hardy, so they can be dragged indoors if need be. Anyway, after a year or two, these containers usually look rather crappy, and its time to take them apart, and save what is salvageable. Because we live in the eye of the eastern Columbia Gorge winds, the west side of the house is also the lee side, where all kinds of zone related surprises happen. So, this is where most manifestations of my denial ends up.


This past weekend, I disassembled several of these ugly old planters (hooray!!), and attempted squeezing most of the surviving contents in among their peers on the sunny side. These kinds of exercises almost always result in other things being moved, and so, a garden game of musical chairs ensues. This photo was taken in the midst of this transitory chaos. (Cat included for scale.) I’m still not finished (obviously).

One of the new things I just added is that fabulous Acacia dealbata. I’m a little worried about that one. It survived this past winter in a large pot, and is supposedly hardy to zone 9. I killed one once before. It was planted on the north side of the house – which was at the mercy of the whipping east winds. It succumbed rather quickly during its first cold winter. My worry here is that this one will quickly get way too big for its spot, in its new, cushy location. You can’t see it here, but the reason for my worry is just outside of the picture frame on the left – a 10′ Eucalyptus that was bought as an “annual” in a 4″ pot, years ago. Yes, yes, I know planting this is wrong, and goes against all best practices. Yet, I still went ahead and did it – those blue ferny leaves are just too fab to not have… I’ll do what I do with the Euca – cut it back every year, to keep it small. (I secretly nurse a hope that it will die before it eats the side yard. It is W-A-Y too close to the house…) For now, that wheelbarrow filled with horticultural hopefuls will remain part of the landscape – until I’ve worked my way around the house. More truth-telling marvels to come…

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