Wednesday Vignette – finding true color

So, I spend a few days a week working at Joy Creek Nursery – one of the premier sources of Hydrangeas in this part of the world. I can tell you from first hand experience that they are damn near impossible to tell apart when in a one gallon pot. The potting soil we use for our cuttings is more alkaline than your average Pacific Northwest soil which is solidly acidic. Therefore, all (except the white hydrangeas) present as pink when they bloom. It’s very hard to imagine what they actually will look like after their color stabilizes. Hydrangeas take about three years to find their true color. Once planted, they extract all available aluminum sulfate out of the soil, and over those three, or so, years, you’ll see it emerge a different color each year, before it finally settles down.

Luckily, there is a nice, big garden at Joy Creek, where all the stock plants grow. Ever so often, I walk a disbelieving customer down to “their” hydrangea to show them what they might reasonably expect once their new baby settles in. Over the years, I’ve discovered a few favorites. Of course, I have room for none of them in my home garden, but with the luxury of the Community Garden plot acquired this spring, I finally had space to indulge myself. I had this idea of making the garden primarily blue and yellow, so my choice fell on a lace cap variety called ‘Rotdrossel’. The name means ‘Redwing’ in German, although  in the gardens of Joy Creek, this plant turns the most stunning, electric blue.

Hydrangea 'Rotdrossel' grown in acidic soil.

This photo is from a couple of years ago. Can you even believe this blue??? Electrifying…

Actually, I do believe soils on the European mainland tends toward more alkaline. I bet in Switzerland, where it was first introduced, it sports a rich red. Anyway, I planted my ‘Rotdrossel in the Community Garden in May, and it just put out its first flower. Of course nowhere near the color of the one at Joy Creek, but knowing how they roll, I have hope.

Baby Hydrangea 'Rotdrossel' planted in acidic soil in May, 2020.

After just two months in acidic soil, it sports this vibrant reddish pink. Not really a spontaneous lover of pink, but this is bright enough for me to tolerate. For now.

Patience is of the essence with these things but still – I can’t wait for the day when it will  (hopefully) take on the electrifying hue of the one at Joy Creek! I checked on the Joy Creek specimen today. It hasn’t quite reached its total blue-ness  yet, but is well on its way. The edges of the sepals are currently a bright royal blue, while the centers are a most captivating dark purple. It’s stunning, but the best is yet to come. The blue photo was taken in late July a couple of years ago, when we had the most oppressively hot summer. I wonder if the excessive heat that year had anything to do with the marvelous color…? Or, will it continue changing as the summer progresses? Time will tell.

The moral of this story is that, like chameleons, newly planted Hydrangeas change color with their given circumstances, and it takes us years to see where they will finally land. I promised myself I would try to avoid my usual opinionated, political intimations when writing this post. Apologies ahead of time, but this one is so irresistibly easy. As I was thinking of how to describe the change in this particular hydrangea, it dawned on me what a perfect symbol this flower is for our current political events. Just like our changing demographics, it’s steadily moving toward blue. Just give it time. Once it’s there, the only way to render it red again, is to cheat, by pumping up the alkalinity in the soil.  And, we don’t want to do that, do we?

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Wednesday Vignette – a wind is blowing

As the world is in turmoil, the most ravishing grass in the world is going to seed. As I was heading out, having just caught up on the barrage of morning news, the long, fuzzy strands of Stipa barbata were manifesting their glittery contortions in the breeze. I had to stop, and take in the undulating display. Perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking, but at that moment, I had this profound feeling that change is coming. The way it felt, there was an anticipation of good things to come – as in light and fresh air, at the end of a long, dark and dank stretch. The swaying grass was giving me a knowing nudge. Maybe it was just in my head, but the notion was convincing enough to lighten my step; that there IS a wind brewing. There is a wind coming that will air out the stench of pettiness, injustice, fear, and decay, disperse the dust of crime and corrosion, and blow open the doors of thought and perception, to let light shine into even the darkest of corners. I can just feel it. Can you?

Stipa barbata

Stipa barbata

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Wednesday Vignette – so that all may thrive

In early March, I posted a little ditty about my plant hoarding weakness. Or perhaps I should call it boundless plant curiosity. Anyway, I had just signed up for a 400 sf community garden plot. Since then, I have moved gobs of struggling beauties over there, from my shady paradise at home. Now that summer temperatures are here, I might have to visit more frequently to water, but for the first couple of months Nature helped me out, so I only averaged about one trip per week. I was astounded to see my struggling plants improve from week to week. Holy moly! Seeing them – FINALLY – in their right element, has been incredibly rewarding. And with only one visit a week, the positive changes from one week to the next felt almost unreal. Talk about boost! My little plot experiment has proven the point that ‘when given what we need, we all have the capacity to thrive’ beyond all doubt.

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Yes, I broke down and planted some herbs and veggies too – but only those I classify as ‘prettibles’. Beyond that, it’s still a randomly conceived “holding tank” for various plants I wanted to test, but I do admit it feels ridiculously great to eat food you grew yourself. Ever the ornamentalist, I can totally see the allure of domestic food production. I guess I’m evolving…

I planted a number of annuals, like the poppy and nemophila. They have been making me happy for over a month now. I planted some rescues, and some things left over from a few projects. I planted things I thought were dead. And others for which I had no recollection of origin. And, I planted things I’ve gotten from friends.

Every year, we Portland garden bloggers get together and have a couple of plant swaps – one in spring and one in fall. I have gotten some really wonderful things from those; a Musella lasiocarpa, green-flowering Nicotiana langsdorffii, a lovely little Geranium I forget the name of, several Agaves… and so on. My friend Tamara of  Chickadee Gardens fame gave me starts of many of the things she grows. Lucky me! Happy to report everything is doing fab and some probably think they’ve won the lottery! I even have a flower bud on this little Eryngium I’ve had for a couple of years. SO fun! Trust me – until further notice it’s a big, happy mess!

Of course the intention was to have more room for experimenting in this new play space of mine, but don’t you think I already filled it up? I will have to do some serious editing later, but for now, I’m just enjoying seeing that things are still alive, despite being subjected to various earlier abuses (read: testing/pushing of limits). More to come, I’m sure.

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Wednesday Vignette – progressive change

Clematis florida sieboldii flowers

My Clematis florida sieboldii has a really interesting growth pattern. It seems to move from shut to open gradually, and I can’t seem to recall whether this is the norm with other Clematis. I don’t think it is… At the lower end of this plant, all the flowers are wide open, displaying their magnificent, purple, central boss. The flowers on the mid-level are only partially open, and look like dainty little cup holders, widening as they behold and receive the world. At the very top are these perfectly pointy, closed little buds shooting for the sky, like tiny Imperial Star Destroyers. Taken together, I find this display quite intriguing.

Clematis florida sieboldii half open flowers

Here is a better view of the top two forms. Other plants grow that same way; they open up at the bottom first, and work their way up the stem. Liatris would be just one of many examples of plants with similar behavior. So, it’s not uncommon, but I just find it a bit odd in a Clematis. Maybe I’m just imagining things…?

Clematis florida sieboldii flower from below

Here’s an attempt to show a better shot of the progression of the blooms. This Clem is still only about 6-7′ tall, but it’s already an interesting plant to watch – especially if you crouch down low. In a real time snapshot, it illustrates beautifully the developmental process of going from closed to open. As humans, let’s take inspiration from this – it’s right on cue.

The man who brought this plant to the Western world was a German physician named Philipp Franz von Siebold. While living in Japan, he fathered a daughter who eventually became Japan’s first female medical doctor, and a very well regarded one at that, thus breaking down an age-old taboo and trailblazing a new set of societal norms. She lived out her days as court physician to the Empress herself. (Her mother too lives on, as Hydrangea ‘Otaksa’ was named after her.)

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Wednesday Vignette – the monoculture mindset

So, what IS the definition of a monoculture? One of Merriam Webster’s definitions has it as:

2: a culture dominated by a single element : a prevailing culture marked by homogeneity

To gardeners and farmers, it conjures up notions of cold efficiency, complete with its own set of vulnerabilities; monocultures are prone to contracting diseases and pests. On the other hand, Nature’s strengths is her multifaceted diversity. It’s how she stays healthy.

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Same with business, come to think of it. Cities that have a wide range of varying businesses fare FAR better through economic fluctuations than those that host just one or two behemoth corporations. So how come it is so hard for some to realize and accept that a heterogeneous society is stronger, more vibrant, more complex, more dynamic, more resilient, more cultured  – and frankly a lot more interesting? Maybe the monoculture mindset is that the less of all that messy stuff we have, the better…? That there is safety in static and every reason to defend and protect the doldrums.

In order to preserve the privileged and empowered in a monoculture, enforcement is key in keeping anything else down. Efficient as a monoculture may be, it is fundamentally an environmental abhorrence, far different from the vibrancy of plentitudes and the challenges that come with it. And while the corn husks may blame the wheat and the soybeans for their current predicament, those of us lucky enough to have gardens know the value of a flourishing diversity, and how it ultimately enriches the lives within it, and exhilarates our setting. Just saying…

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Wednesday Vignette – the rise of Roseism

It’s been a ghastly week, and we all could probably use to focus our eyes on something of beauty, rather than on fiery, tear-gassed news stories. Roses are blooms with a long history – some of it excessively bloody. A popular symbol in medieval heraldry, the Houses of Lancaster and York each had a rose in theirs; the House of Lancaster’s rose was red, and that of the House of York was white. For most of the 15th century, the two families feuded over the throne of England, in something that later was to be referred to as the Wars of the Roses.

Rosa Pompom Blanc Parfait

Heavenly scented Rosa Pompom Blanc Parfait in the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery. I stick my nose in this rose as often as I can – it lifts my spirits and strengthens my resolve.

The blood on our streets today are for a different cause, but it’s still a power struggle. It’s no longer red vs white – now it’s black vs white, and a much more widespread affair. Of course racism is nothing new. Remember Rodney King? (Can you believe that was almost 40 years ago? (Edited to say 30 years, as my dear fact checkers pointed out. My math isn’t always great – LOL!) Of course it wasn’t new then either… and it hasn’t really abated since. Sigh.) BUT, if there is any silver lining at all to this horrific, cold-blooded murder, it is that this time around, ALL races, ages, and genders are taking part in the global protests to this display of oppression, that resulted. The old “lines” are blurred, and the great moral majority oppose the targeted injustices that are so painfully and tragically alive and well in our society. And, lucky us – there is an election coming up, so please don’t give up. Where hopelessness flourishes, injustices thrive.

So, where does the rose come in, again? Well, we need to keep the beauty and purity of what can be in laser focus, and keep our thorns at the ready for furthering those ideas. When things look bleak, let’s inhale its magnificent perfume, and keep going. The sweet scent of roses will eventually overpower the stench of racism and hate. The Yorks and the Lancasters were indeed polarized, but I’m willing to bet the bottom strata of their society didn’t care one bit, as long as they were able to keep plowing the fields for their masters, and hopefully able to put food on their tables. Come November, we – the now polarized serfs of current society – need to prioritize the core ideas of a free democracy over those of a fettered authoritarianism, and hopefully not just blindly adhere to old party allegiances. Together we’re going to vote out racism, and sever whatever shredded ties remain with McCarthyism, once and for all. November can’t come soon enough.

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Pompom Blanc Parfait is an old alba rose, introduced in 1876, when the United States was a mere one hundred years old. It’s seen a lot, I’m sure. If we don’t give up, it will see great things ahead again soon. Of that I’m sure.

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Wednesday Vignette – checks, balances, and Prozac

I was so angry with humanity last night and this morning that, despite being embraced  by Nature’s glorious gifts, it took me a while to calm down. I attribute crowded beaches to the processes of Darwinism, but I cannot understand why so many use violence and privilege to put others down, based on superficial appearances and subjective ideas of their own superiority. The shame kills a little part of me every time.

I spent a long day outside today – first a full day at Joy Creek, and then a two-hour consultation. Including drive time, it was a 12-hour day. Yes, I was tired when I got home, but the gloom that was so hard to shake this morning, was gone. Soil contains bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae. Working in soil stirs up these micro-particles, that have the same effect on our brains and sense of wellbeing. Now, I would mostly attribute my mental recovery to spending the day in a friendly, beautiful and nonjudgmental place, but I’m sure M. vaccae helped as well. It’s scientifically declared a natural equivalent of Prozac. Plants and gardening has become the checks and balances that keep me and so many others going through these maddening and stressful times. For that I am SO thankful. No wonder gardening is on the rise – we NEED it!

Scadoxus puniceus

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Wednesday Vignette – patient anticipation

One of my favorite things about being a gardener is that there is always something to look forward to. If you just planted something new, you look forward to seeing it take root, establish itself, and grow into its full glory. If you’ve seen an exciting plant performance in the past, you count the weeks and months until it does it again.

Gardening supposedly teaches you to be patient, but I can’t swear that I’m all that virtuous in my waiting – meaning that I don’t suffer gracefully as I watch the infernal pot not boil. And sometimes, if I miss it completely, or if the awaited event itself is of a briefer variety (yes, I’m looking at you, Molly the Witch!) I – more or less patiently – am forced to wait another year.

These temporal cycles of wait, want, and anticipation are something we, as a society, are no longer used to have to endure. Instant gratification is generally the rule, as in “see it, want it, get it”. That’s one of the big lessons in gardening; You can’t hurry Nature. She will always take the time she needs, and let you know when she’s ready – whether you yourself are ready, or not.

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At Joy Creek, one of my favorite garden vignettes ever, materialized this week. The Agave neomexicana planted with the matchy-matchy little buckwheat groundcover look fantastic year round, but this week, the buckwheat burst into bloom. And suddenly, all is right in my world. Without exception, this combo brings a smile to my face.

I have mentioned before how nursery sales are through the roof because of the pandemic. As the weeks go by with no perceivable break in the record ordering, our inventory is dwindling. Today, I lost count of how many times I wrote ‘SOLD OUT’ or ‘NEW CROP IN FALL’ on my pull sheet for shipping. We’re propagating like mad, but beyond that, and caring for the new babies, there is precious little we can do. It takes time for roots to grow, and for buds to develop. Instant gratification does not apply. It will be really interesting to watch how novice gardeners deal with adjusting to this fact. The pandemic has made time slow down, and forced some reflection for many of us. It’s probably a vain hope, but I wish we – as a specie – grab a hold of this new reality and roll with it; good things are worth waiting for.  I think it would do our world a lot of good.

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Wednesday Vignette – tulips and toilets

A few weeks ago, we took a little roadtrip – just to get out of the house. On the way home, we drove by the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm near Woodburn. We figured their annual Tulip Festival was canceled, but were hoping we’d see the tulips in bloom, even if from a distance. We were lucky. They had apparently planned for visitors just like us, and rerouted us to drive down the road through the fields – like some kind of Dutch bulb safari – we got to see the tulips without ever leaving our car.

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The crowds obviously weren’t there, and I found the notable absence of all the auxiliary junk that comes with entertaining crowds, quite refreshing. I’ve griped about these view-marring plastic marvels in the past. This time around, there were still a few around, but they were far easier to keep out of my photos – even though some still ended up having a bright blue box on the horizon. (I spared you from those shots.) I think, for the post-pandemic Tulip Festivals, they should entertain the idea of renting tulip colored portapotties, as they would be far less visually disruptive.

Anyway, it was nice to be able to take in the rich pastels of the tulip fields without the numerous bulky, blue distractions. On the farthermost edge of the compound, backed by a green field and a hazelnut plantation, sat a lonely portapotty. As it were, it looked almost a little surreal in all the empty green – like some kind of weird art installation. I could live with that – LOL!

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Wednesday Vignette – honored guests

Okay, this is an absolutely terrible photo, but I will keep trying until I get it right. This is the perfect opportunity (and reason) to learn how to properly focus my camera on what I actually want to portray – rather than just randomly point and shoot and occasionally get lucky. But, as it is the most exciting thing going on in my life right now, I can’t contain myself. I need to share it NOW!

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I was chatting with a neighbor the other night when, all of a sudden, she discovered a little hummingbird laying on eggs in the giant magnolia. Imagine that; one of the smaller creatures frequenting our yard, nesting in the largest creature of them all. Mesmerized, we watched her for a little while, until we felt bad about the probability that we might be disturbing her. And yet, I can’t seem to leave her along completely. I like to go out front, coffee in hand, and sit on the steps and wait for her to take a snack break.

She was very strategic in where she built her nest. There is a massive, blooming fuchsia about 5 feet away from her. Fuchsias, of course, turn to ugly sticks in the winter, and for as much as I don’t appreciate its winter presence, from the end of April to first hard frost, it’s a non-stop hummingbird buffet. She’s a smart one, my little hummer…  Just in case she might occasionally like a hit of her favorite junk food, I moved the hummingbird feeder from the backyard and planted it in front of her, as well.

Anyway – again – forgive the crappy photo. The way she has positioned herself she faces east, and is illuminated by the morning sun. Mornings are the best time to try to eternalize her. Once she is shaded by the leaves, it gets pretty dark in there. I snapped this picture on my way to work today. If it weren’t for the fact that I was running late, I would have kept going, until I had a decent shot. Alas, there will be more mornings… if I ever get that perfect shot, I will be sure to show you. More to come…

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