Wednesday Vignette – gardening as set design

One of the many things I miss about Sweden is the sight of spring, when carpets of white Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) cover the yet to leaf out woodlands – especially when the trees are birches. In most of the images I googled, in order to show you, the trees weren’t birches, as my imaginary image is, but still; Here is a borrowed image from Wikipedia Commons, to show you what it can look like:

vitsippsbacke from wikimedia commons

About couple of months ago, part of a large birch blew down on my freeway exit ramp. I drove by it for a couple of weeks, thinking I need to grab those branches (which in the context of my little garden would be the perfect scale for actual trunks). I finally did, and dragged them all home. My neighbors probably thought I was nuts (if they didn’t already) as I proceeded to, with the help of rebar, erect these “trunks” in a dark corner of my garden, tucked under our giant, evergreen Magnolia. Beyond ferns, not much is happy there anyway, so I figured I could brighten it up with some artificial birch trunks. Now I just have to procure the white Anemones, which are readily available from the dear folks at my cherished Joy Creek Nursery. Once those are in place, I will have my own little vignette of Swedish spring. This is my progress, so far:


And yes – that blooming Sarcococca adds a fragrance dimension unheard of in the real thing. Makes my fake, mock-up birch grove even better, I think!


Edited to add a photo my mother just sent me of her bike, casually parked in the kind of dreamy landscape that served as my inspiration. Case in point – thanks Mom!

mammas cykel med vitsippor

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Wednesday Vignette – magic


Me + moon + mountain = magic. The big, white, quiet stillness, broken only by the hum of the ski lift and the swishing of skis on the snow, illuminated by the first full moon of 2019 – a wolf moon. It was my first night up this year, and it was magical. Wish I could share its restorative power with you all. It was… well… magic!

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Wednesday Vignette – know your plants!

Or – as we all find and fall for new things – at the very least do some research first. On my walks, I often pass by this new planting, just down the street from us. The other day, the hired installer was there, so – with some hopefully not too obvious disbelief – I asked him if that plant really was what I thought it was – Senecio (or Brachyglottis) greyi. He confirmed, so I gently asked him if he knew they easily get 5′ wide – meaning it would soon gobble up the little Hellebores planted around them. He said he did, which made me think that maybe this might just be a case of stubborn client ignorance and insistence.


How about that? I have never seen Senecio greyi used as a bedding plant before…. It will be interesting to see this planting evolve. Is there some dwarf version of this plant I don’t know about?

To add insult to injury, facing east and north, the light aspect of this particular planting is far more to the liking of Hellebores than it is to anything Brachyglottis. Maybe they are banking on that to stump its growth? Since I possess intimate, empirical experience in this matter, I could have told him that if it doesn’t get enough sun, it will get rather leggy, and lean toward whatever light it gets. I planted one in one of my sunniest spots, but it still wasn’t enough. As as saving grace to its deprived condition, last year my neighbors removed an old Cypress, which had an instant brightening effect on that entire bed – including the Senecio. But, since I figured I had probably annoyed the poor landscaper enough, I didn’t offer up this additional bit of unsolicited advice, and instead moved on. Maybe he really was doing exactly what he was told to do, against better odds. If so, I feel for him – it’s never fun to have to do things you know will soon be doomed.

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Wednesday Vignette – in the presence of royalty

Billbergia nutans

This week, my hat’s off to Billbergia nutans, or ‘Queen’s Tears’ as it is commonly called. That has GOT to be one of the toughest houseplants in my possession! It suffered such neglect (by me) this past summer, I thought for sure it wouldn’t bloom this winter. Happy and astounded to say I was wrong. By now, it’s been pushing out blooms for weeks, and I finally took some pictures. My favorite part of its flowers are those little bi-colored ribbons that curl so elegantly at the bottom.

Billbergia nutans flower

A blue ribbon plant, for sure!

I wonder a bit over the common name of this showy South American epiphytic bromeliad. Several sources explain the ‘Tears’ part from the drops of nectar that drop from the flowers. I also think the form of the flower is rather dramatic and droopy, but it still doesn’t explain the other part. Which ‘Queen’ is it referring to? And why was she so sad? I imagine it must have been a Spanish or Portuguese queen, as I don’t imagine indigenous South American populations celebrated queens in the same way the Europeans did. Or, maybe they did? Perhaps the queen in question belonged to one of the  tribes ravaged by the invading colonialist thugs. In that case, I can totally see why she was crying.

No matter… the Queen on my window sill is lovely, and I will do my best to treat her better in the future. She is most certainly a noble one.

Billbergia nutans



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Wednesday Vignette – hope

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t happy to put 2018 to rest. I really, really was, for so very many reasons. That said, who can tell what the future brings? Will it be better? Will it be worse? What can we do to ensure a fair and decent life for coming generations of Earth’s diverse cast of creatures?

One of the ways we deal with the idea of “future” is hope – manifested in a kind of naive way of viewing time – as if the difference between yesterday and today truly IS something “new”, and not more of the same. To that extent, the progress of time in itself IS probably linear, but our planetary travels around the sun makes our experience of it cyclical, as the seasons, seemingly endlessly, come and go. So yes. As the birth of our New Year falls soon after the darkest day of our Old Year, it might make sense for us to perceive the future as new and brighter. In the safely foreseeable return of longer days, it will be.

Paeonia mlokosewitchii - red shoots

Paeonia mlokosewitchii – the red shoots of Molly the Witch.

There are signs in my garden that supports the notion of futuristic optimism. The part that made me grin the widest was seeing the angry, bright red horns of Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitchii) poking out of the ground. I like her can-do attitude. I choose to let her badass insistence on life and truth be my guiding light and inspiration, and trust that she will work her magic yet again. There were so many instances in 2018 that made me feel utterly hopeless, and yet complacently giving up is the very LAST thing we should allow ourselves to do. Obama was right. We really ARE the change we want in this world. Which still means we’d better get on it! There is no lack of larger-than-life problems demanding our focus and attention. Just pick one, and have at it, with everything you’ve got! With that in mind, I wish all of us a future of the vision, clarity, resolve, courage, passion, sound mind and priorities, health and prosperity we need, to each make a noticeable and powerful difference in the new year. So, cheers, friends! Here is to a better 2019! May it be our best year yet!





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Wednesday Vignette – funner with friends

This is going to sound terrible, but it’s true. We have no family here, so usually we’re on our own during the Holidays. As we loathe Holiday traveling, we almost always stay put. This year, we invited some friends over for Christmas dinner, and as a result, not only is the house cleaner, the food was also amazing (okay, that part is not so different), and the human interaction was joyous and fun, as spirits soared high and merry. More really is merrier! We all had a blast – after a near bout with food coma, we played Cards Against Humanity, which never fails to elicit giggles and guffaws. The year that passed has been a bit rough on both our families, and we’ve both lost loved ones. Getting together and binging on food, drink and game-induced vulgarities was the perfect way to deal with Christmas. Our friends just left, and I’m sitting here feeling pretty good about our day. Some other friends are still here, one new, and the others older:

IMG_0786 2

Here is the new one! This smiling rock moon face was a Christmas gift from the older of my sons this year. Just seeing his jolly face makes me smile. I have a special spot in my garden for him!


This sweet gnome has a look of perpetual confusion on his face. As if he’s not sure what to make of the situation. He was a gift from my mother.


This gray gnome belongs to my younger son and thus is a temporary resident in our house. I imagine he will eventually move out, but for now, I really enjoy his company.


This is the Boss gnome. Despite the fact that he spends most of his time in a box, there is no mistaking that confidence and bravado. He is my favorite, and also a gift from my dear mom!


This one too, is a badass, as he surveys the dining room from the top of the napkin shelf. He will also move on one day, as he belongs to my older son.


One of six that I bought at a Christmas fair in Stockholm years ago. Pure genius use of felt and sheepskin, in my humble opinion.


The cake that was demolished by our merry gang earlier today. I think there might be a tiny little sliver left… If I wake up first tomorrow, it will be mine… at which point, the rest of the family will not consider me a very good friend – haha!

Last but not least, the two little birds at the top of this post were part of the packaging of a wedding gift received 20 years ago from another very dear friend (who sadly lives far away from us). We saved them, and now they preside over the festivities every year, this year from the comfort of a tree branch of the Christmas Tree. I hope you too, had a Christmas (or whatever your holiday of choice is) full of friends, laughter, and happy memories!




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Wednesday Vignette – tracery


Every time I see a really well sculpted Japanese maple, my heart beats a little faster. Pruning maples is such an art form! And, given that many of them are fairly slow growing, I always wonder how the vision emerges. I imagine, in a case such as these two, (from the garden of a client) they have enjoyed trims and shapings rather regularly, throughout the course of their existence. Their undulating branches stretch outward with just the right amount of twisty gnarliness, and taper beautifully toward their graceful tips. When the leaves drop, all that’s left is a magnificent framework that commands its own attention and adoration, turning negative space into poetry.

Yesterday, while trying to hang some last minute Christmas decorations in my own Bloodgood maple, I got on a ladder and soon realized that I need to play some catch up. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed the opportunity to turn it into anything this fabulous. Granted, a Bloodgood is a differently shaped, and more upright tree than the two depicted here, but even so, I’ve seen some really nicely shaped Bloodgoods, whose caretakers had transformed them into something special.

My problem is that I don’t really know how to prune maples. My tree has all kinds of crossing branches pointing in various directions. Some of them seem fairly easy decisions in terms of whether to let them remain or not – others not so much. My deer-in- headlight indecision actually freaks me out a little. I can’t see the slightest sign of an emerging tracery – I have no idea where to cut! I think one problem is that I should have started long ago, when the tree was smaller. Instead, I was so busy experimenting and planting other plants, that I ignored it, and let it do it’s own thing for too long. And now I don’t know where to start. I know of a guy who is an excellent maple artist. As a Christmas present to myself, I think I will hire him to come and help me. He told me once he could show me how to do it, but I don’t think he expected it would take me this long to take him up on it. Oh well, better late than never. What about you? Do either of you have any good pointers? I could use whatever wisdoms I can get…

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