Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Angst

Huddled under a blanket of snow the winter garden rests. After yesterday’s fierce wind that blew trees and shrubs sideways as snowflakes swirled in white tornadoes, today the garden is perfectly still. The sedges’ slender blades look like brown hair against the white snow while the green, gold and blue conifers stand stiff and stark, dusted with snow. Grateful for a warm house and hot water, for the comfort of cats and tea, I do what I can while the garden sleeps. I bring in the frozen hummingbird feeders, thaw them out and refill them. This is a day when I’ll be in and out in the snow only as far as the posts where the feeders hang. I do not love winter. I look out and long for the garden, even after only one day of absence. Winter is a waiting time, and I’m not good at waiting. But along with the plants, and the hummingbirds, I must wait for the return of sun and warmth. Today will be a luxuriously restful day for thumbing through garden books, reading Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, and cooking soup. But I’d trade it all in for a day in the garden.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter's Pleasures

"Hummingbird alert!" I cried, and Tom looked up. Out the window a redheaded hummer was probing the frozen feeder. It was actually kitty Webster’s clacking jaws that tipped me off to the hummingbird’s presence. "I think he’s licking the feeder like a popsicle,” Tom said. And considering how many times the tiny bird returned to dip into the feeder, I think Tom was exactly right. The one feeder that hangs in view of the dining room window is visited often by the tiny birds, and the pleasure of seeing their iridescent feathers and their whirring wings is worth the effort of keeping the feeder from freezing.  Most nights I remember to bring it inside to stay warm, and take it back out in the morning, but sometimes, in the flurry of activities, I forget. So soon after the popsicle incident, I purchased one more feeder so that I can more easily rotate them when the temperatures plummet. It’s the least I can do for these brave little birds who stay here through our iffy winters. Aside from the feeder, the hummingbirds are in love with Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies,’ which is loaded with upright spikes of yellow flowers. It’s about the only nectar source in this December’s garden and if I’d known what a cold winter we’d be facing I’d have planted two more. No matter, this plant is at least ten years old and stands eight feet tall and five feet wide with enough blossoms for a hundred hummers. This year the evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) produced a bumper crop, and fortunately for the foraging sparrows, most of the tiny, tart berries are still on the branches in December. Like the hummingbird feeder, the huckleberry bush stands right in front of the dining room window, a perfect place for Webster to ogle the birds and clack his jaws some more. For His Majesty’s comfort (he is quite regal, with fur as soft as angora) I’ve placed a bench by the window, with pillows on it, where he can dream of hunting without doing any damage.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November's Chyrsanthemum Display and Talk at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Over 500 chrysanthemums light up Lan Su Chinese Garden (corner of NW 3rd and Everett) this month. On Saturday November 9, at 11 a.m., expert Ray Gray of King’s Mums in Oregon City will speak about his favorite flowers. Even if you don’t grow them yourself, the scent and beauty of chrysanthemums will bring you autumn cheer. I recently visited his nursery and plan to order mums this spring! for details.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall's Pleasures

As the first frost hits I say a sorry goodbye to the blackened dahlias and look around for the next wave of beauty. I don’t have to look far—Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ has turned brilliant red and Ginkgo ‘Autumn Gold’ is true to its name. Viburnum xanthocarpum is filled with orange berries that gleam in autumn’s light, while long chains of burgundy fruit dangle from the branches of Leycesteria formosana. What fun to see trees and shrubs that have been standing quietly by, suddenly shouting, “Look at me!” I love the slower pace of autumn, when very little is urgent. That’s when I take a leisurely look at the garden. What do I still love, and what no longer pleases me in my little kingdom? What will live and what will die is totally up to me and my faithful spade. Lately I’ve been digging up masses of redtwig dogwood. Once a lifesaving filler on this acre of wetland, it’s colonized way too far, and is now occupying what my gardening buddy Doug calls “prime real estate.” Over the winter I’ll build up the soil by composting on site, and this spring there will be fertile ground ready for containers of Viburnum, Physocarpus and Loropetalum waiting to put their feet in the ground. Always looking forward to the next season, to the next new plants, to the next pleasures—a gardener’s life is a year-round delight.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter Pleasures Hummingbirds perch on the metal gridded arbor, waiting their turn to sip from the yellow flowers of Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies.’ One little guy sits patiently at the top of the cutleaf alder, flashing his red head as the sun glints off his tiny feathers. This winter the flowers on ‘Arthur Menzies’ are more splendid and full than ever before. I count a dozen spikes of yellow flowers at the ends of one stem, and at least as many flowering stems, so that the whole shrub, standing eight feet tall, is a brilliant beacon. Never mind that the leaves are leathery and spiny, so that pruning this shrub is as dangerous as handling agaves, the winter bloom that begins in December when the buds swell and begin to show color and continues for weeks and weeks, is worth the occasional pain. Had I known how spectacular this plant would become I would certainly have bought half a dozen and plunked them all around the garden for more winter color. Right now in January I want to rip out the mock orange that looks like a bundle of twigs and replace it with another Mahonia—I still don’t have ‘Charity,’ ‘Lionel Fortescue,’ ‘Winter Sun,’ or ‘Underway.’ Hmmm. Come to think of it, there are several mock oranges that only bloom for a short period of time, and have ho hum leaves, while Mahonias with their jagged leaves and long-blooming flowers would be much more interesting, for so much longer.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Catalogs are Coming

The Catalogs are Coming
Even though it’s snowing on and off, my office looks like a garden. Yellow lilies and lavender mums still bloom in a bouquet of flowers from dearest Tom. A red and orange canna flower blazes at me from the Georgia O’Keefe wall calendar. A watercolor scroll painted by friend Sue Berge’s mother in China shows a cascade of pink peonies, while irises, magnolias and alstroemeria, and crocosmias bloom in numerous prints push-pinned to the walls. Two hummingbirds even flit amid these offerings.
Even more exciting are the arrival of this year’s enticing catalogs. For the first time ever, a full color catalog arrived from Midnight Gardens in the mail. Sixteen of Bob Anderson’s vivid new introductions jump off the page, including ‘Midnight Call Me Al,’ a butter yellow daylily with a bold black-purple eye, named in honor of Al Rogers, Bob’s mentor. I’m thrilled to see ‘Midnight Barbara Blossom’ among the bright array. An unbelievable offer is included: “Your first plant is free in 2012.” You can visit the website at or call 503-889-6819.
Today my order will go out to Digging Dog Nursery in Albion, California ( or 707-937-1130). Their selection of geums, kniphofias and sanguisorbas were irresistible so I succumbed. For years I’ve had the birchleaf spiraea on my wish list after seeing it overseas, and voilĂ , there it was for me to order! Reading the plant descriptions and enjoying their charming illustrations were enough to chase the winter blues away.
Each day a trip to the mailbox brings more delightful surprises. A big thank you to the wonderful growers who bring these treasures our way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Food Served with Love Tastes Best

I’m delighted that my story, Food Served with Love Tastes Best, has been published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love.

The story commemorates my Aunt Libby, a beloved relative who embodied the joy of life. A woman ahead of her times, she had a meaningful career, never married or had children, and showered me with love and acceptance. I wish she were still alive to read the story. Her spirit is alive in my heart, and on the pages of Chicken Soup.

After reading Food Served with Love Tastes Best, one fan e-mailed “Everyone should have an Aunt Libby.” Especially when we’re young and vulnerable, a relative or friend who’s in our corner, who doesn’t have preconceived ideas of who we should become, helps us discover and honor our true nature. I will always remember Aunt Libby’s giving me permission to make mistakes—essential if we are to take risks and try new things. She said, “That’s why they make erasers!”