Wednesday Vignette – reflection on space

IMG_3467BIG accomplishment this week – thanks to my dear husband who helped me sort out my yet mostly unedited (will it ever be?) collection of compulsively taken photos. Thousands upon thousands of photos. They have now all been tidily collected on a 5T hard drive. The cloud (which was also full) has also been emptied, and – even better – the photographic contents of my phone (which was also full), has also found a new home on that hard drive. Wow, it feels like I just went through an accelerated WeightWatchers crash course (don’t think there is such a thing) and can finally digitally move about again. Hooray! I want the world to know that I count this as a fantastic early Christmas present! It’s not easy moving through life being this technologically challenged, so this was HUGE!

Now I get the fun job of looking through them and weed out all the mediocre ones. I tend to delete the worst photos immediately, but there are always more unworthy ones that I miss. The goal is to have everything easily accessible, and —eventually—  the best ones labeled, in one easy to navigate spot. The sorting itself is kind of fun, and a trip down memory lane. You find a lot of good stuff you forgot you had taken, and discover a slew of ones you never knew or forgot you had.

Today’s photo is neither old, nor fantastic, but I like the somewhat melancholy stillness of it. Plus it shows a rather cramped community in the middle of a vast landscape. It was taken from the access ramp looking down at to the houseboat community where I spent so much time recently. All ye bloggers – how do you manage your masses of photos?

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Wednesday Vignette – koi buffet

To the great excitement of visitors, and the equally outsized dread of the garden staff, there was a Heron scoping out the juicy fish swimming in the large pond at LanSu. With the Lotus dying back and subsequently less spots for the fish to hide, its timing was, of course, impeccable. This prompted a conversation with one of the staffers. Apparently, Herons can be an expensive problem to have. How does one maintain the quiet authenticity of the garden and the pond without losing all the koi to these long-legged marauders?


Heron fishing

Patience is a virtue… and if I stand still enough, they won’t even know I’m here.                                                                                   (I was so mad at myself for cutting the reflection’s head off….)

Heron on roof 3

Actually, the view is far better from up on the roof…

Lan Su from above

Obviously, you flat-footed humans, you get a much better overview from up high.

Heron on roof 2

Even more so from this particular perch. Great view – I like a menu with pictures!

White koi



I can totally see the garden’s allure to Herons, with these high-contrast bottom-feeders blissfully gliding around without a care in the world. What would you do if you were the one responsible for the well-being of expensive fish? I floated the idea of maybe  installing some sort of discreet metal or plastic grating under the water surface in areas where the fish like to gather, where they could be safe hiding underneath. It might do the job of frustrating the Herons, but in such shallow waters, it would probably be too visibly obvious when the water plants around these “islands” go dormant. Alternately, how about planting some dense, evergreen aquatic that would form a floating cover? Or would that look too messy? Some of those aquatics can get pretty rampant… I can well understand the staffs’ panic when they see these large-winged creatures swoop in on their dinner prey. In their shoes, what would you do? Laws prohibit doing any harm to the birds, so you can’t go there… Thoughts?

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Chrysanthemum and other autumnal lovelies at LanSu

During the month of November, LanSu—our wonderful Chinese garden— puts on a display of the culturally significant Chrysanthemums.  In China these marvels in all their configurations are known as one of the “Four Gentlemen of Flowers”, along with their brethren plum, orchid, and bamboo. More on the rather hokey albeit apt name “Mumvember” event here. (Trust me – a much nicer pastime than that silly name might indicate.) Of course the mums aren’t the only reason to visit. This time of year, the garden is ablaze in fantastic foliage color, and some trees and shrubs offer up colorful fruits. If it rains, you will get the additional benefit of sparkle – it’s just a gorgeous place to visit any time of year! But, as I took far too many photos of November’s glorious floral abundance, I felt compelled to split my photos up, and save some for another post. Don’t worry – there is enough here to bore even the most ardent reader.

Persimmon tree

I think this is the more astringent type of Persimmon than the one you can eat right off the tree. There is a way to dry these that will render them sweet and delicious. It’s a Japanese method called Hoshigaki which I wrote about here, if you’re curious.



This is a miniature Pomegranate, small enough to grow in a large pot. The blushing fruits stand out beautifully against the yellow fall foliage.

Camo bark

Should have paid closer attention to the ID of this tree. Its mottled bark looks stunning against the white stucco wall.

Crape myrtle trunk

This one I know. In my world, you can never go wrong with a Crape myrtle!


But, fab as it were, we weren’t here to look at fruit and bark. An abundance of mums were beckoning from the other side. This is such a sweet shot of my mum-in-law (sorry!) who accompanied me on this adventure. Nothing like flowers to bring out a smile!

Pink and coral mums and tree

There are apparently mums of all shapes, colors, and sizes. In that regard, they remind me of Dahlias.


Coral mum closeup

Such a scrumptious coral color!

Rusty and dark pink mums

These rusty ones were almost metallic!

Rusty mums

Rusty and green mums

I have a thing for green flowers. I always appreciate these. I like the size of them too – they are much smaller than most of the others.

Green mums

Creampuff mum

In contrast, this giant creampuff of a flower is a bit over the top. I do love the way its petals curve, though, and its octopus tentacles.

Purple mum

Pink mums

Per the LanSu event description, these flowers can come as: “…. spiders, quills, spoons, regular incurves, irregular incurves, reflexes, semi-doubles, anemones, brush, thistle, exotics…” Yup, I can totally see how one can get lost in Chrysanthemums. There were reportedly more than 75 varieties on display. I thought these pink ones looked so good against the blushing Nandina behind it.

Red mum

Such a great red!

Red-yellow mum

Love the curlicues on this one.

White mum arrangement

An arrangement of fluffy white mums in the first courtyard, as an indicator of what lays ahead.

Yellow mums in vase

Quite a bit sloppier arrangement than the white one, as these flowers seem just randomly stuck in the vase, but it caught my eye, and somehow I liked it.


A lovely bonsai was on display in one of the inner courtyards. This artform is so intriguing to me, but I’ve never tried my hand at it. I think I’m far too scatterbrained to be able to keep something like this alive—no less looking this good.

Wisteria bonsai whole

This one blew my mind! Knowing how huge Wisterias get, and how quickly they grow, I found the kind of discipline I imagine would be needed to keep something like this in check, mind-boggling.

Wisteria bonsai bottom

Just look at that impressive trunk!

Wisteria bonsai top

I just couldn’t get over the calligraphic quality of this form. Absolutely beautiful – like one of those ancient Chinese ink brush paintings.

I will let that fabulous piece of living art end this part, and also end this year’s Thanksgiving weekend. Hope you all had a good one. More to come!



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Wednesday Vignette – thankful

Although I tend to feel grateful for at least something most every day, another year has rolled by, and it’s time to–once again–call my privileged existence into focus. Recent events serve as reminders of how tenuous all of our situation actually is – both on a grander and a more intimate scale.


We’re almost 15 hours from Santa Barbara, which is currently ablaze. Mandatory evacuation is ensuring that most folks down there will spend their Thanksgiving in relative safety, although not perhaps, how they expected to. From our safe distance up here in northern Oregon, we can offer armchair compassion, but I wouldn’t count our chickens quite yet. As future climate projections go, we will probably all burn at some point, but for now I’m grateful for where I live.

I’m thankful that at least some of our elected leaders take their oath seriously, but I’m terrified that there are so many of them who don’t. I keep thinking we need a pro-democracy movement à la Hong Kong here as well. Once it’s gone, it would take a revolution to get it back.  I’m thinking prevention is better than cure, in this case. If anyone out there knows of any pro-dem marches on Washington DC being planned, I would be thankful for a heads-up. I’d be all in! Mind you, I fear most of us are too checked out to be bothered—which is also terrifying. I saw a Reddit post the other day saying that 56% of Americans think teaching Arabic numerals in schools should be banned.  That explains a lot… (insert eye roll, shake head) Now is the time to act.

I’m grateful for Oregon’s voter laws. It’s so easy – they allow you weeks to do it. Pick a day that works, fill out your ballot while still in your jammies, sipping your warm beverage of choice, and simply drop it in the mail. Or, drop it off at a nearby drop-off site at your convenience. It’s a highly accessible model, which could (and–in the name of democracy–should) be copied by more obstructionist states. IMHO.

I say this every year, but I’m STILL endlessly thankful for investigative journalists who are under constant attack from corrupted subjects, assaulting them at any and every opportunity. Their combined grit, talent, tenacity, intelligence, integrity and instincts is our most prominent check and balance on a deteriorating moral agenda led by those at the top. I laud them daily.

I am happy we still have a roof over our heads, but also somewhat guilt ridden about it. The tent communities all over our fair city are constant reminders of how easy it is to lose your footing in our society. All it takes is a stroke of bad luck–illness, job loss, extended unemployment, whatever. It can, and does, happen to anyone. We haven’t yet been pushed into living out of a tent at the side of the road, and for that I’m so very, very thankful.

We had parent-teacher conferences this week. This caused two instances of gratitude; one for great teachers, capable of engaging students and opening their eyes to the world, plus a willingness to nurture their budding interests in ways only they can. The other–well, you guessed it–we are blessed with yet another awesome offspring! (The first is too old for PT conferences, and has moved on. In only a couple of weeks, he will be back to visit for an entire month–whohoo! Yet another reason to rejoice!)

Family and friends always rank high on my list of blessings. For as much as I gripe about humanity, I cherish my people. They ground me, inspire me, love me, and forgive me. When something happens to them, it hurts. A dear uncle was just diagnosed with cancer. Reportedly, the treatment is making him feel much better, and I will keep hoping that it will keep the illness in check and his spirits up. Health is another thing I tend to take for granted. I know I shouldn’t. I’m well aware it is indeed a privilege that I can.

Last but not least, I am SOOOO grateful for my garden, and for this beautiful planet of ours. I sound like a broken record when I keep stating the obvious; Being able to go spend time outside, letting Nature recalibrate my mind and sooth my senses, is the best drug in the world. I think I’d go insane without it. Right now, temperatures are dropping, and we’re getting some freezing temps right in time for Thanksgiving. I wish you all a wonderful T-day with great food and great cheer, in the company of family and friends, preferably indoors. Catch you on the flip side!





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The making of a table garden with a Flash

As part of a recent project on a houseboat, I was entrusted the skull of a beloved horse. We had talked about table gardens. The topic came up as I spied this fabulous driftwood log on the bank of the river. “This is going to sound weird, but do you think you could you plant a horse’s head?”, asked the client. I, immediately thinking how cool this could become, jumped at the chance. Said and done, weeks later, the horse head was brought from their other home in North Dakota. Here name was Flash, and she was a gift horse, at age 28—which is old for a horse. Even so, she roamed their property for another 5 years, until one day she disappeared. It took them months to find her, and when they finally did, only the head was left. They took her home, and now Flash has moved to Portland.


Sadly, Flash had gotten a little damaged in transit—the bridge of the nose had broken off. After stewing on it awhile, I ended up using wire mesh and hot glue to secure it back on. While I was at it, I also re-attached a couple of loose teeth. As you can see in the photo, the teeth are rather cracked. The whole skull proved very brittle and fragile, and as you can probably imagine, this caused me some worry.



Anyway, I had this vision of a happy horse, roaming the North Dakota plains, rearing on its hind legs, throwing its head back and winnowing, the mane flowing with the movement. Now, to translate that into reality proved a bit of a challenge. The clients had, with the help of their kayaks, towed the driftwood log to their slip, where it was drying out. I wanted the horse to somehow become a feature of the log, but how the hell would I be able to secure it the way I was imagining it???  Obviously, I only had the head to work with, and I wanted it to have some movement. I attempted to somehow express the throwing of the head and the winnowing by floating the lower jaw slightly above the log, and then… well, then WHAT??

I went through and discarded so many ideas… Could I use a lug bolt? Or, maybe an eyelet bolt? Rebar? How about a nice rock?  I consulted my metalsmith neighbor to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. I walked up and down the hardware section at the hardware store, but nothing truly useful jumped out at me. I started to get really worried that I wasn’t going to pull this one off, as I had hoped. Weeks went by. Then one day, our neighborhood grocery store came to the rescue. I found these great large hooks used for hanging bikes and organizing the garage. I bought a few, but I still wouldn’t be able to know until I had everything in front of me—horse, hooks, and log. Today was the day, and to tell you the truth-—I was scared shitless that I would screw it all up, and worse—break that brittle, beloved horse’s head.

The log had some long groves which I was planning to plant with cute little ferny Leptinella. As part of the horse, I envisioned using curly rush that would grow through the cavities, representing that flowing mane, but first I had to place and stabilize the head. The cheekbones rest directly on the log, and the lower jaw is held up by a U-hook that I drilled into the log, and some wire. Once that was in place, I spent some time playing with the upper part. I drilled another hole for the larger, padded bike hook I was hoping would work. After messing around with angles for a bit, I realized that I needed to drill a different hole, about an inch lower. The reason was the way the bone was formed—I needed to get it down to a level where the jaw joints could connect naturally, and there was a bone in the way preventing that. Thankfully, I got it right on the second try, and everything fit into place. After that, I wired the upper jaw to the hook as inconspicuously as possible to secure it. It took some finagling, and was SO RELIEVED when it was done, and nothing was broken! After that, adding the curly rush was easy.


Here is the lower jaw resting on the U-hook, before it was wired into place. The soil for the Leptinella serves to hide part of it. You can see the bike hook in the background too.




This evening, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself (and still VERY relieved) for pulling this off. In the end, challenges like this is my favorite part of doing what I do. I love when I get a chance to incorporate something truly special in a design. A few years ago when working on a remodel, I was handed a box of tiles bought on vacation in Mexico. It was a thrill to build in their family memories! This time around, it was a pet horse. I honestly can’t wait for the curly rush to fill in a little! Despite my care, you can see some of the wires and hooks. When that grass grows, the hardware will barely be noticeable. Whether my wired arrangement can withstand the wintry wind gusts that occasionally plague the Willamette River houseboats, remains to be seen. Fingers crossed, would you please?

Lastly, in the future, there will also be a 10′ rain screen built  behind the log toward the neighbor, but this is a project the owner wanted to execute himself. When in place, it will eradicate some of the background clutter, and provide a nice privacy screen, once it’s done. I hope he gets to it soon – can’t wait to see it all together!

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Wednesday Vignette – the houseplant conundrum

Bromeliad and Adiantum microphyllum

Okay, so it’s November 19th, and I still haven’t gotten all of my houseplants moved inside. Bad Anna… We had some icy winds a couple of weeks ago, which did this to my beloved Fuchsia speciosa:

Frozen Fuchsia speciosa

Strangely enough, though, the houseplants in pots seem to have weathered that dip in temperatures better than the Fuchsia in the ground. Microclimates sure are fascinating. It’s fair to say that the fern (Adiantum microphyllum) and the NOID bromeliad are in a very protected spot, but still… I honesty would have expected them both to look somewhat disturbed by now, given what they have been through. Maybe it’s a matter of delayed reaction? As in, when moved indoors, will they just melt?

We have such a dark house that I end up keeping most of my houseplants under lights up in the uninsulated attic, where I rarely get to enjoy them anyway. This is the main reason I have stalled on the transfer. Life with me is difficult under the best of conditions, but they really suffer horticultural hardship inside our house. This year, I’m tempted to see if at least the toughest of them will survive in the garden shed instead. I power washed the clear plastic roof earlier this summer, and the rest is pretty much all cobbled-together windows, so the light is great. It’s essentially an unheated greenhouse. The problem is, I don’t really know which ones can handle colder temps if kept out of the elements, without doing a bunch of research. It might be easier to just bring them inside. Should I even bother with the Abyssinian banana  (which is pretty much to be considered as an expensive annual) if I don’t? Decisions, decisions…

Anyway, my big infatuation this week is the dainty little Adiantum microphyllum. Planted in the same pot as that fab bromeliad pictured above, it has done remarkably well outside – in a pretty dark spot, mind you. It has filled out and is draping its flowy fronds next to a much hardier Fatshedera. Wherever it goes, it will have to go with its buddy B. Not sure I want to take a chance with either of the two – I love them both. Today is the day, as night temps are dropping toward the end of this week. I think I’ve pushed them hard enough already.

Fatshedera and Adiantum microphyllum



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Late summer/autumn garden report

It feels like an eternity since I’ve posted an actual garden report. I am the Queen of Unrealized Intentions, and big jobs that hurt—like removing shrubs, curbing ever-expanding bamboo, building paths, or pruning trees—tend to get pushed on the future. This year, though, at the end of the summer, I hired my talented and much stronger friend William to help me out. The fact that my garden still looks a bit of a mess is not his fault. He helped me clear all these big chores out of the way, and then I just never got around to finishing it up, by planting (read; shoehorning) all my homeless plants in the ground.

Not to say that I was entirely unproductive—I did liberate the garage from the massive Clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’ that was eating it, and I finished pulling back the two-story Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ from the roof of the house. They both got pruned back rather harshly, so there will be no cascade of pink apple blossoms this March. But—on the good side—my husband now speaks to me again, and that is nice. I also built another couple of  new fern tables, and finally made good use of a discarded café table base I found a year ago, by filling it with my scattered Sarracenias. They look so much better where they are now!

There is never a lack of things to do, but at least I can now see things shaping up a bit. Over the past few months, I have taken some pictures here and there but—quite frankly— this wasn’t a big year for photography on my end. I realized today when I was out there, camera in hand, how much I’ve missed it. Posted below you will see a smattering of images from the last few months. My goal is to spend this winter is to do some more editing, to try (again) to remove a bunch of unwanted Acanthus seedlings and Rubus lineatus suckers that are taking far too many liberties with my limited front yard space. That of course, will open up space, but don’t worry – I have plenty of options to fill it with.

Bamboo pruning progress shot

One of the first things we tackled was reigning in the black bamboo, which had escaped its barrier. Not for the faint of hearts, and certainly not for the faint of arms and backs. I’m amazed he is still my friend… this was a bitch of a job, to put it mildly.

Bamboo - original barrier

Quite heroically, William managed to cut it back to its original barrier I had so naively employed so many years ago. Back then, I dug down two feet, and used corrugated metal roofing to line the hole. It worked for several years, but like all bamboo liners, you need to switch it out every 4-5 years, I’m told. Which makes me wonder why even bother…? From now on, I will do what the Chinese do; root prune /cut of any stray shoots twice a year. In this shot, it still needs some thinning…

Behind the garage

Behind the garage is a narrow little seating area. Here, it is still full of plants that need homes. By now, some of them have gone in the ground, but I still have a few to go. Some of them have gone back inside, as they are houseplants outside for the summer. This is my “tropical corner”, and one of the few spots in the backyard that gets some sun.

Behind the garage with flamingo and bench

Here, it’s cleared up a little bit. The flamingo is kind of a joke, as he guards the entrance to his jungly home.

Expanded wall

On the other side of the garden is what was formerly the Lilac corner. It was the biggest lilac I had ever seen , but it was also old. One winter storm, part of it blew down onto our neighbors’ kayaks. Yikes! Some of it had been removed earlier this year, but William helped me finish the job. He also took out a big Aucuba. There is still one left. I didn’t think I needed two, and I’m sure you agree. With both Lilac and Aucuba gone, the curvy wall I built when we first moved in, could be extended and backfilled with soil. He did a beautiful job, and then helped me move my Japanese Umbrella Pine and a few other things into the spot. It will be much happier there, and is allowed to grow as tall as it wants. Not a superfast grower, I’ll be long gone before it gets too big.

Fire pit and peacock chair

You can see a small fraction resulting from our pruning efforts piled in the fire pit. The peacock chair was a gift from a neighbor when they moved. It goes great with the capiz shell lamp from my husband’s family. The chair is just for decoration—sadly it is far too brittle to sit in.

Viburnum pruning

The old Viburnum that acts as a shady roof over the table got itself a massive pruning. I always liked the tangled trunks that leaned out in all directions, but each year, it seemed, it got more and more obstructive, as it weighed down lower and lower. I stood my ground on only a couple. The rest got lopped.

Café table

This shot of the soon to be Sarracenia garden, doesn’t show the whole effect of the Viburnum pruning, but trust me when I say it opened the back along the fence up quite a bit. For one thing, you can see the metal screens on the fence a lot better.

Metal sculpture

Closeup of part of the metal screens. I made the little climbers back in school.

Snowbell pre-pruning day

The Japanese Snowbell also got limbed up a bit. If I had known better, I would have taken this tree out when we bought the house. Back then, it was rather small, and much more manageable. There are so many better trees…

Night shot through the gate

Not immediately evident from this somewhat fuzzy night shot through the side gate—the space inside feels a lot more spacious now than it did before.

Bloodgood pruning

The front yard got a big pruning job too—a much needed one. First up was the lopsided Bloodgood maple which leaned out into the driveway, driving my dear husband bonkers. I didn’t know it was alright to prune trees in the summer. It is apparently perfectly alright – it looks SO much better!

Front yard post pruning

Here is a shot looking back at it from the street at the cut. Such an improvement!

Bloodgood fall color

And a shot from the other day—in full fall color! The rest of the family is also elated that they no longer have to crouch down when trying to get out of the passenger side.

Fatsia pruning

The variegated Fatsia got itself a massive hack-back too.

Front walk

Suddenly the sidewalk is perfectly navigable again. It’s been a while. My poor Daphne also got severely pruned back, and hasn’t done much since. But, I looked the other day, and there is a tiny little glimmer of green on one of the trunks. William assured me it would be fine. As of right now, there is hope, but the jury is out for a while longer. I would have sulked too – it was a quite barbaric treatment, but probably necessary. And now you can see the stacked wall I built so long ago.

Bags and bags

For a few weeks, we were drowning in yard debris. I asked all my neighbors if I could top off their yard waste bins. (Gotta tell you, we have very kind and patient neighbors.) For weeks I filled theirs up too, and then wandered up and down our block and beyond, looking for other half empty bins. I took one big load to the dump as well. It felt really, really good to have it all gone!

Sarracenia table

Remember that upside down table a few photos ago? This is what I did with it. As you can see by the fallen leaf, it’s now near the Bloodgood  in the front yard, where I can see it from the window.


I’ll end this report with a shot of Tanky-Pank, our adopted kitty who seems to have some stomach issues. (No wonder he looks grumpy.) Here he’s having a Hakonechloa snack. Not sure if it helps him, but he seems to really like it.

So there you are – a collection of summer’s big moves. I still doubt I will ever be quite done, but for now, it looks endlessly much better than it did. And I feel a deep debt of gratitude to William. Holy cow, it’s amazing he still loves me, after what I put him through. More to come…


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