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Archive for February, 2007

The misery of deeply cold weather: I find myself longing for actual spring, for tulips, for roses, irises, peonies, poppies.

I’m reading Dominique Browning’s “Around the House and In the Garden”, a memoir which precedes her wonderful “Paths of Desire.”  Both are about her home, her garden, and recovery from divorce.  I admire her transparency and exposure and am amazed by it and by the fact that I connect with her experiences even though I would have thought that as editor of “House and Garden” her life in a more privileged sphere would have made her foreign to my more humble existence.

While reading her memoir last night, I began to reminisce about my joy in discovering the Stillmeadow and Stillcove memoirs of Gladys Taber.  Not only did Gladys write of gardening and domesticity, but she often waxed more political about war (against) and enviromentalism (for).  Browning clearly defines herself as a strong feminist, a welcome stance in these reactionary times when many young women of my acquaintance don’t realize how old time feminists have forged the rights that make their lives more full of possibilities.

Gladys Taber, from The Book of Stillmeadow, 1948:

“Many simple folk like me are thinking long thoughts this Christmas as we wrap the packages. We are still waiting for peace.  We are insecure, when we have won the war.  Civil conflict exists everywhere, people are still starving.  Labor and Management are embroiled in half the world.  Nations still argue unsolved issues.  Race prejudice snakes along every hidden byway.

“This must not be.  The aggressive instincts have run the world into destruction, culminating in the desperate promise of the atomic bomb that man shall perish from the earth, and the earth from the cosmos.

“What is the answer for us?  The creative instincts, the love force must be nourished with every beat of our hearts until they overbalance the destructive instincts.  And this cannot be accomplished by any great legislation.  It will be the sum of the little people’s feeling.  Good will toward men, that is the answer.  Every mother and every father has the future life of the world in control.  We have got to stop lining up as Fascists, Communists, Laborites, Gentiles, Jews, Negroes and Whites. Somehow, by some divine light, we have got to see ourselves as people, one and all.”

Gladys maintained her outspoken nature through and beyond the Vietnam War and, like Browning, did so despite her visibility as a columnist for a mainstream “home” magazine: in her case, the “Butternut Wisdom” column in Family Circle.   I used as a child to look forward to the day that my Grandmother (another Gladys) would send me to the corner store to buy “our magazines”, Woman’s Day and Family Circle, and”Butternut Wisdom” was always the first page I turned to….a memory which became crystal clear when I read my first Stillmeadow book.

my Gladys Taber bookshelf

About memoirs, Taber wrote: “What most memoirs do for me…is to illuminate the personality of the writer, for this always comes through.  Yesterday may have influenced our tomorrow but we are still individual.  What we feel and think is our own possession.  But the business of living is sharing, so I always want to know all about everything that happened to the people I care for.  Then I feel a small door has been opened and perhaps I may step inside and feel briefly less lonely.”

In earlier adult years, Gladys was not lonely, and lived a life of domestic tranquility with her long time companion, Jill.  After Jill’s death, she wrote “Another Path”, a heart wrenching memoir about loss. I believe that was the beginning of her lonely years.

I wish I could go on to post all the Taber passages which I laboriously typed out from her books, but of course what I must suggest instead is that you seek the books out, even the older one that are out of print, and the amusing novel “Mrs. Daffodil”, a fictionalized story of her life..  (I got them through inter-library loans, and later a dedicated Taber fan sent me some old copies of books, including the rare and precious “Mrs. Daffodil”.) Meanwhile, Dominique Browning’s memoir calls me back to the couch….

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The day began with a miserable cold wind blasting us while we planted those single pink orphaned roses on the berm in Long Beach.  I wondered if I would be able to stand more than an hour of it.  Onward we went to cut back the grasses in the small popouts, and by the time we were midway into that the day was warmer.  In looping around town to get espresso, I was reminded that the pond by the Bolstadt light needed fern pruning; got   Allan did the brave part: going out on the dangerous promontory without falling in….in full view of the Heron Cam. 

before and after; would be embarrassing to fall in on camera

I bought a few violas to add (‘Sorbet Lemon Chiffon’, ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’, ‘Sorbet Plum Velvet’, ‘Sorbet Blueberry Cream’), but they hardly show yet..  Originally, this garden was planted only with natives, and to me and to the parks manager was rather drab.  We added some more colourful plants: Armeria, Oregano ‘Hopley’s Purple, a bright pink Cistus, narcissi and species tulips.  At a peace vigil in March of 2001, a local native plant enthusiast complained to me that the native theme of that garden had been compromised by SOMEONE.  “That would be me!” I said mildly and with humour, as one does not want to have an argy bargy about plants at a peace vigil!

One of my pet peeves in when the “underwear”, i.e. the liner, shows in a pond.  Constrast the area where the liner is loopily visible, yet I dare not trim it for fear some part would leak, with the much more attractive look of an area where no liner shows:

Onward we went, no longer suffering from cold, to a complex of cottages inhabited by people in transition; on this, our first visit of the year, we predictably cut back the ornamental grasses and sword ferns, but I also planted some free plants: Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ of bright red blooms, and a double orange daylily (not together) and more of the pink rugosa rose (also not with the orange!).  Not the most unusual of plants, but the price fit the garden’s budget.  The designer of the planting scheme had created such a tasteful and subdued garden with evergreen shrubs, plain green ornamental grasses, shore pines, beach strawberry, and somber bronze Phormiums, with the only bright colour coming from a dark pink rugosa rose and a few asters and two plants of Osteospermum. Money had been spent, not on good mulch to improve the sand, but on a coating of bark.  (Our motto: “Just say no to barkscapes!”) In fact, last spring we put Mount St Helen’s pea gravel of subtly multicoloured hues over some landscape fabric at entry areas, after scraping off the bark which was blowing away revealing MUCH underwear.  Today I was glad to see that only in two small spots had the gravel been kicked away to reveal the fabric.  But back to the planting scheme: I want to liven it up; if I were a bit sad, I would want to come home to a garden of vibrancy and vivacity.  Last fall, we did put in some bright yellow assorted narcissi and a few swathes of tall tulips and a few species tulips.  (The foliage of Greiggii tulips is up and looking pleasingly checkered with its unusual pattern.)   Had I known how well within the yearly budget we would fall, I would have done some sweeps of early crocus, too….  Next year….Meanwhile, I will be on the lookout for happy plants to add joy to that garden.

[2012 note: We eventually quit that job because the sprinkler system never worked, there was no budget to improve the soil, thus only the drabbest native landscape prevailed and I got bored with it. Also, and more importantly, the residents did not seem moved by garden improvements,]

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While pondering the pouring rain and peering through water-drenched windows wishing I could go out and prune my own sword ferns, I remembered the new plants I had bought at Portland Avenue Nursery in Tacoma on the way home from the garden show.  There was not much to buy, except for some Burp/wood hellebores which I refuse to buy because I am boycotting them. I was not best pleased to see a flat of horridly invasive and damaging English ivy for sale and grumpily told them to look at the noivyleague website.  But I did find two new-to-me sedums, along the lines of Autumn Joy, on the sale table, one called ‘Neon’ and one called ‘Munstead Dark Red’, and a very reasonably priced Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey.’

Also featured were some nicely blooming yellow or brick red Hamamelis mollis (winter blooming witch hazel), but I already have those.

I got my copy of “A Garden, A Pig, and Me” from Moosey, and am so thrilled that her name is in the book. I read it immediately, and recommend it…if you can find it.  Moosey is my great journal inspiration.  We traded books; I sent her a copy of the humourous garden memoir ‘Crazy About Gardening’ by Des Kennedy, which is required reading for all gardeners.  It cost us each about $15 to ship the books between the USA and New Zealand so I do hope she likes mine as much as I like hers.

I have a weeks’ worth of Daily Astorian newspapers to catch up on, and a Sunday Oregonian.  If I can exert the willpower to AVOID the crossword puzzles, I might get some reading done…OH!…and the sun is out (for five minutes?) so I just must nip out and prune some sword ferns.  I will regret it if I miss the opportunity, and then get too busy, and thus miss the chance to see the new fronds unfurl.

(left) The small glossy plant in the lower right is a special Mahonia ‘gracilipes’ from Heronswood; after seeing it in a Dan Hinkley slide show I had to have it and bought one for $45.  After languishing for five years it finally looks healthy but still lacks the glossy white undersides that his slide depicted.  I hope that comes with age.  The right hand picture shows golden “ghost bramble” Rubus which both Hinkley and Ann Lovejoy used to recommend and now I think both of them have decided it is invasive.  But look–oh how lovely it is.

(Hours later) Uh oh, what happened to my quiet afternoon of reading?  First I trimmed “just one” sword fern…which led to more and more, especially when joined by Allan, who is always quick to pitch in when he sees a job to do.  (He has a wonderful knack of showing up to help just when I am about the move a large shrub.)  The ferns on the bank (where mountain goat Allan did the ones requiring the most agility) and those along the road are trimmed…some of the native blackberry pulled along my side of the road because every year I have an as yet unrealized vision of that garden looking ornamental.

[2012 note: a goal briefly achieved in 2009 when our garden was on the Peninsula garden tour!]

Maddy observes while sitting on a “hot and spicy” Oregano plant

Then I decided I simply had to move another of my three columnar boxwoods further back in the garden across from the pond.  (I can’t think of clever names for the different areas). Allan appeared just in time to heave it out of the hole. That led to moving the third and last columnar boxwood further back….alone, as by then Allan was well occupied salvaging some blocks to make a low retaining wall in his garden area. (Later, he cleaned up my sword fern mess as well as his.) I yanked a once blooming single pink rugosa style rose which runs like crazy and tomorrow it will go to live as invasively as it likes on the parking lot berms in Long Beach.  I planted some lilies:  Species album, rubrum, and Black Dragon where the boxwoods were.  My garden will be less tasteful and less evergreen this year.

Maddy, a good garden companion, with Heuchera ‘Marmalade’

So much for reading. I had a choice of such good books lined up to start today, too! A sequel to “A Year by the Sea: Notes of an Unfinished Woman” by Joan Anderson or a sequel to “Paths of Desire” by Dominique Browning.   Or a huge garden photo book by Dominique Browning (editor) called “The New Garden Paradise “…a stack of Fine Gardening magazines from the library…and that week’s worth of Astorians.

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The weather was workable on Friday, so we began by cutting back the ornamental grasses at Raymond Federal Bank.  We had been asked to prune a conifer which was blocking the light from a tall streetlamp, so I thought I would remove a couple of branches to see the inner shape of the many trunks.  Oh dear, one branch led to another and soon we had a trailer load of debris.

We then had a load of debris for the dump, so went to my mother’s to add a bit of hydrangea trimming to top up the load, and to take in firewood for her.  By then, it was too late to do my original day’s plan, which was to prune back the grasses in Obelisk Park in order to get the debris into the city dump before the gates close at four.  I did so much want the park to look good for the weekend, so we did it anyway and hauled the debris home.  Allan cuts grasses with a small electric rechargeable chain saw, the best method we have discovered for that sometimes daunting task.

This morning (Saturday), torrential buckets of rain lulled us into late sleep.  Then a break of sun…leading me to the delusion that it might be workable weather. Allan hooked up the trailer to haul off yesterday’s load of  debris while I became immersed in a larger than expected security download for the computer.  Off he went, leaving me with some self imposed guilt for being home, and then the bucketing rain returned giving me a guilt free computer day.  Allan has gone to rescue friend Jill from a plumbing dilemma. He is the helper for my whole circle of women, and is certainly working more this week than I am. I might just catch up on my newspapers.  And tonight, we have a choice between two deep and artistic films from Netflix: Bollywood/Hollywood or Mission Impossible III.

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Monday we left Seattle with a shopping stop at the University Village on the way.  Allan had found that Ravenna Gardens carries a mermaid birdbath that I covet, but at $250 it is out of my range.  I believe this is the so pretty shop which in its garden show booth will sell you an old picket fence slat for $10.  Or so I seem to recall from years past.  I did buy some sweet pea seeds and agreed with the store person that there were very few seeds for sale at this year’s garden show.  Upon leaving I saw a flat of the most glorious primroses with flowers like red roses, and bought two.

While I love the beautiful objects at the home shops at the U Village, it is a different world of prices: $160 for a stainless steel wok (the smaller one) at Williams Sonoma.  How can this be?  I wish I had taken a photo of a glorious line of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the parking area….I can think of nowhere here where I could plant a sweep of multicoloured twigs like that without them being decimated by the deer. (The U Village has some lovely landscaping.)

Back home, we did a bit more spring clean up in Long Beach on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I stayed home, having decided that my compost pile was an eyesore along the side of our dirt road…an undeveloped city road called Spring Street.  To me, a heap of composting vegetation looks promisingly lovely, but at the tree meeting I realized that it may be something a (nongardening!) citizen would call an eyesore.

I impressed myself by getting it shifted by dusk. I have a vision of entering the lower garden gate and having a bed on the right which is contained by a low rock wall and is built up to height of the street, in a sweeping shape that allows a bed well around an old apple tree which is covered by rambling rose ‘Bobbie James’.  The pile of compost, spread there after moving a small Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ (smokebush), will help to eventually achieve that height.

[2012 note: the height of the bed was attained but we cut down the old apple tree sometime around summer 2008; it was making a path for climbers to get up on the power lines.]

(Am reading the amusing new Agatha Raisin mystery, “Love, Lies, and Liquor”.  Try “Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener”, one of the earlier ones in the series for a garden-themed British cozy.  Thanks, Mary Rosewood, for the gift of that book years ago!)

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The shuttle from Northgate to the show took a remarkable 9 minutes…such an improvement over weekdays when the showno longer is a shuttle.  We got there so soon that we were able to get into the Pamela Schwerdt and Sybille Kreutzberger seminar “On Making a Garden: Learning from a Lifetime Experience” AND get our tickets for the first Dan Hinkley seminar.

Pamela and Sybille’s lecture was wonderfully humourous.  After their retirement from being head gardeners at Sissinghurst Castle, they “arrived [at their new home] with more plants than furniture.”  Regarding making plans, Ms. Schwerdt spoke of how hard it was to draw up the garden: “We are not paper people.”  I love the way the British say rotovating instead of rototilling.  Because their new garden was on rocks, they built up the soil “a spadeful”.  When the workers came to attach a wire grid to the lovely stone wall, she said “We were flapping around because they were knocking the shoots off the plants.”  What a picture! Many times I have “flapped around” while someone does a job that requires stepping into one of my gardens!

About the two of them placing the new plants in the garden, Ms. Schwerdt said, “There was a certain amount of argy-bargy, but we managed without actually coming to blows.”  (Having been an anglophile since first reading a book set in Great Britain, I love statements like that.)

Because it turned out to be too expensive to lay in a water main for a pool, Ms. Kreutzberger says their fisherman sculpture “fishes in blue flowers instead.”  About their thickly planted garden, she added “We’re gluttons for work.  We make labour for ourselves.  Everything is staked because then we can get more in.”  They make cages of hazel twigs, just the eventual height of the plants, for staking.

After their seminar, it was out the door and into the line for Dan Hinkley’s talk on “The Quintessential Tree.”  He spoke  in his inimitably humourous style about many trees, among them Betula luminifera (“gold catkins like Garrya elliptica”) Clethra barbanerbis which I put a star next to in my notes as the slide was so beautiful, cut leaf alder for a wet site, Cornus kousa, Cornus mas,, Cornus contorversa, Embothrium which I want rather badly as he says it is dependably hardy here, and Sorbus forestii.

We had some time to further tour the show for an hour or so between his to lectures.  I found some sweet pea seeds to buy but the pickings were slim for seed stands this year.

Then back to the seminar room for Dan Hinkley speaking on “No Naked Ground.”  I was pleased when the emcee introduced him by saying that his website was “upyoursburpee.com”, to the great glee of the audience.  I am so glad the group exists to try to save Heronswood. Dan inspired much laughter when he began by saying something like “Now that I no longer sell plants, I’m telling you the truth.  The plants that I rave about are actually good plants, not ones that haven’t been selling at the nursery.” His version of groundcover is anything that covers the ground including shrubs, which made for a fascinating lecture and slide show.  I was interested to learn that Spiraea ‘Gold Flame’ will grow in a wet spot…so instead of typing this I should be moving mine to the spongy wet area next to my pond. Euonymus ‘Wolong Ghost’ caught my eye at Steamboat Island Nursery last summer and turns out to have been collected by Dan…but of course! I scrawled 6 pages of notes of plants to acquire but I miss being able to immediately order the new-to-me plants from the Heronswood catalog.  (I will never buy from Burp/wood after what they did.)

Thus ended the garden show for me…Allan went back to his folks’ house and I to Ballard to have dinner with friend Carol at the Santa Fe Cafe and then to watch our beloved show “The Amazing Race.”  Curses that the ubiquitous Rob and Amber came in first.

[2012 note: Ha but though Rob and Amber won the leg, they did not win the race!]

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While spending a quiet day pruning and weeding in the garden of Ruth, Allan’s mom, I noticed her neighbour, Bill Hardy, two doors down, weeding in his own garden.  Ruth had told me that he has an impressive garden built on levels so she and I went to request a tour.  He was happy to show off the garden that he and his son Larry had made.

The paths down to the back two-level deck lead through a series of inlaid wooden arches.  From the street, one can only imagine the continued theme of contrasting wood.  To see he moon gate, you would need an invitation into this secret paradise.

At this time of year, with many plants dormant, Larry’s carpentry is the main feature of the terraced descent into the back yard. I can imagine it in the lush bloom of summer.  I like a garden full of secrets, and this one revealed new delights at every level.

What a privilege it is to gain entry to hidden gardens.  This one is worthy of being on a garden tour.

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