Wednesday Vignette – on cuts and care

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My fellow blogger pal Jason of the excellent blog Gardeninacity added a very thoughtful remark on last week’s Vignette post. He wondered if we as a society will be able to heal the sickness of which DT is a symptom, once he is gone. That’s a very good question. He is absolutely right in that the rifts and distortions presently so prominent, existed far before the current administration. The saying “Death by a thousand cuts” can be applied to a million different things, and it can certainly be applied to our concept of democracy and to any illusions we might have of attainable dreams. As all gardeners know—even the toughest plant will wither with insufficient care. By the same token, over the past half century, we have repeatedly and increasingly abused each other, as well as our laws, resources… heck, our entire planet and its many living creatures!

This beach find will serve as a reminder of our own and our systems’ fragility. A tiny jellyfish washed up on the shore, with a thousand grains of sand scarring its glassy, gelatinous body and clouding its former translucent glow. Will throwing it back into the cleansing waves help wash the granules away? Will its shiny surface be forever pockmarked by the continuous assault of the small but sharp aggressors? Nobody knows, but that’s no reason to hesitate. Let the healing begin! And, let’s forego the cutting with caring. It might take a while, but we can do this!

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Wednesday Vignette – truths and untruths

I’m sure I’m not alone in having done a lot of eye-rolling in the past week. What a crazy state of our union, n’est-ce pas? It’s hard to keep up with all the contortionists and their rhetorical acrobatics. I listen, I watch, I roll my eyes, and thank my good graces for the options luck has afforded me. It’s nice to know there is a back door, should society as we know it implode. I’ll leave it at that.

On an occasion where I happened to roll my eyes upward earlier this summer, I saw this backlit version of Etoile de Hollande – the massive red climbing rose that came with the house. The rich, red, new foliar growth is almost on par with the velvety petals themselves. In the right light, it’s not difficult to mistake one for the other—which, come to think of it is, in a way, reminiscent of the deceptive, deflective posturing and shape- shifting I’m currently trying to decipher. The weeks to follow will no doubt be fascinating fare. Strap yourselves in, folks—it will be a wild ride!


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Wednesday Vignette – the sweet sound of styrofoam

Styrofoam as planter fillerI’m currently working on beautifying the outdoor spaces of a houseboat – which is a first for me. It involves a number of changes, but the one thing that has been occupying my time lately is the backbreaking work of removing root bound plants from large containers and planters. I would describe much of what was there to begin with as poor choices for that location; large shrubs which invariably would blow over in the sometimes 60 mph winds that wipe the back decks clean in winter. To remedy this, the people who sold the house to the current owners had made these interesting contraptions of boards that were screwed directly into the deck, then put the pots on top, and secured them with bungee cords. Functional perhaps, but not very elegant, as you can imagine. And so much of it devoid of any logic reasoning. After removing most of it, I have three rather obvious takeaway observations to share:

  • Containers with openings larger than their base will always be more likely to blow over in strong winds, than planters with a large base. (Which is why rectangular planters are so popular on houseboats – duh!)
  • I understand the conundrum of weight distribution on floating homes, but seriously—don’t fill the bottom half of the pot with styrofoam. Just don’t. It makes them disproportionally top heavy, and even more prone to tipping over.
  • Large shrubs and trees become windsails in exposed locations. A better choice might be swishier plants like grasses and perennials, and lower, more compact shrubs. At least that’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it, until proven wrong.

Anyway, long story short – I hired my muscly friend William to help me. Yesterday we tackled the built-in planters in the front. Cussing like sailors over the waterlogged, plastic-filled mess, we slowly and painstakingly emptied each cavity. One contained a dead Cotinus, and another a struggling Snowbell (Styrax japonica). Long skinny (a shovel blade’s width) troughs had Clematis, Hydrangeas, and other, smaller things. They all had in common that they were a bitch to remove. We persevered, and—bit by bit—out they came, their roots encased in large blocks of styrofoam. (Which makes it that much harder to reuse plants, which I had been asked to do, when possible.)


William with one of the many blocks in the Cotinus planter.


A small mountain of plastic from about half of one of the trough planters. Sheesh…


I totally get the temptation of using fillers instead of good soil—it’s cheaper, weighs less, and is endlessly easier to transport in a little cart— down the long ramp to the boardwalk below, and from there, out to your slip. It was clear that whomever had planted this, way back when, had totally opted for easy and cheap. As you probably figured out, plants don’t really thrive in styrofoam. But, since they do want to live, they brave the odds and push out those roots as best they can. The roots had grown right through the styrofoam blocks, knitting them together into larger, matted clumps. As I write this, we have one cavity left to empty (the one with the Snowbell). So far, we have removed more than three (3!!!) large garbage bags filled to the brim with styrofoam. And I have grown to loathe the squeaky sound of pitchfork penetrating plastic. I can’t wait for it to all be gone, so the fun of planting can begin!


This, my friends, is how the Cotinus died. The poor thing drowned! Just like what happens if you put rocks in the bottom of containers, styrofoam can effectively block the drainage holes. For happy plants, skip all that other stuff, and just use soil.

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Wednesday Vignette – in black and white

What a day, huh? First my favorite Swedish teenage climate activist, telling the UN exactly how she feels about their sluggish reactions to decades old indicator data, and how this life we live will soon ensure planetary death. Soon thereafter, Congress moved on impeachment proceedings on 45, after a situation that is such an unequivocal example of right vs wrong, both in terms of jeopardizing American national security and in exhibiting a total disregard of fair play and democratic values.

New library - Grant High School

New library – Grant High School

When later in the evening I visited our son’s newly renovated school, and admired the new interiors with its contrasting black and white color scheme, I could but conclude that it was a perfect summation of the day and, by extension, of our polarized times. I appreciate the symbolism of how the two sides meld in the gray tones of the library carpet. The carpet becomes a safer, less shrill space, where the tension of extremes are muted and less abundant.

My musings aside, I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge the enormous community effort that allowed for the beautiful renovation of this school. A few years back, Portland passed a bond to update and renovate a number of very run down schools. This one was the latest one to be completed. As a result, my kid will get to spend his last two years of high school in a bright and beautiful state of the art environment – which is a great contrast to where he spent his previous years of education.  Heck, they even have attractive plantings, complete with a working sprinkler system! Amazing…. It’s worth noting that despite such constant and rampant dysfunction on global and national levels, sometimes something good can still get done—on at least a local level. Thank you, tax payers – THANK YOU!!

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Wednesday Vignette – confetti

Thalictrum 'Hewitt's Double'

Thalictrum ‘Hewitt’s Double’

I’m in a bit of a state of disbelief about out weather. It’s been raining for three days – IN FREAKIN’ SEPTEMBER!!! What’s up with that?? Big, wet, sloppy drops drenching anyone who ventures outside, in mere minutes. It would seem perfectly normal if it was about two months from now, but September here is usually still rather hot and very dry.

I’m not complaining. Not at all! I wanted to play outside, but had a lot of work to do, so the timing of the rain showers helped me summon the resolve I needed to dutifully stay by my desk. It feels nice to not have to worry about watering. Everything is so effortlessly lush and green, thanks to this wonderful, premature, autumnal gift! Mostly green, it seems, but then there is this – an explosion of tiny purple fuzz balls. I have to say I’m quite taken with it. It hasn’t succumbed to the abundant rain either. It holds its little flowers high and proud, as it brightens this otherwise gray week. Enchanté, sweet Hewitt!

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Wednesday Vignette – a new love

A trip to Hughes Water Gardens last week on behalf of a client, yielded the most thrilling surprise! In a place so well stocked with fantastic plants, making me jump like I did is no small feat. Sure—as some have remarked—when it comes to plants, I am often very easily seduced. But, even in the blurry brain windings of a mesmerized hort addict, this one was special. For one thing, it was as tall as I, its tips glowing with fantastic, scarlet flowers, right in my face. How could I possibly resist?IMG_3784

Everything about it is perfect! For now anyway… Fabulous, palmate leaves that silhouette beautifully against the sky , and those marvelous, silky petals. Almost better than the flowers are the buds and seed heads, both of which are supremely elegant, pointed marvels that reportedly provide both winter interest, and fodder for autumnal bouquets. Anyway, I am hooked. Hibiscus coccineus makes me smile every time I see it. And, it’s hardy too—all the way to Zone 6—which makes it almost possible to share this beauty with my mom! What about you? Any particular horticultural heartthrobs this time of year?

Hibiscus coccineus

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Wednesday Vignette – the soothing green

Lately, I’ve had a tendency to forget that Tuesday night means I need to write my Vignette. I’ve developed a bad habit of catching up on the news on Youtube at night and my good intention gets lost in the fray. For some reason, I feel committed to stay on top of reports of the train wreck that is humanity. Not sure why – it leaves me sleepless. But I still do it. So here I am – it’s 2am. I realized what day it was when I went to bed, and – as sleeplessness goes – it started by thinking I should get back up and write my post. By now, my head is full of visions of the Amazon in flames, gun-toting haters, a flattened Bahamas and resultant devastation of lives and ecosystems… I don’t think I need to go on – you get the idea.

Anyway, the other day, I marveled at the intricate contrasts and textures of open and unfurling banana leaves in my garden. Such a simple joy! Outside of my garden, sleep really IS better than reality. So, whaddya think – now that I unloaded my angst on you – maybe sleep a little? Wish me luck!


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