Desperately seeking spring

my witch hazel buried under an ever-deepening drift.
my witch hazel buried under an ever-deepening drift.

After what seemed like a slow start winter has gotten stuck in a Ground Hog’s Day loop of snow and bitter cold. Here, that is. Not everywhere. It might be hard for New Englanders to believe that this winter ranks among the warmest on record but elsewhere winter has been weirdly spring-like. A discomfiting circumstance for anyone living in such a place who worries about a last minute freeze frying the apple blossoms. But such a treat for visitors from the winterlands.

Normally (if there is such a thing as normal anymore, anywhere) the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is timed, as they all are, to enliven a raw, dark winter and raise hopes for a shining spring. For many years, back when I lived in Seattle, I relied on the show to keep from losing my will to live. I paid what felt like a ransom to soak in the smells and burn colors onto my retinas. I stroked green growing things when no one was looking. Although I was a wannabe gardener hungry for information, I never even bothered to attend the lectures because I couldn’t bear to sit still in a dark room when there was so much blooming in another one.

I timed my trip back this year (after way too long) to coincide with the show. And call me crazy, but I only spent a whirlwind morning taking it in (with Slow Flowers superstar Debra Prinzing as my guide!) because it was hard to enjoy spotlit dreamscapes, pretty as they were, when the real outdoors was bright and blooming. I neither gave a lecture nor attended one. I would kick myself now if I hadn’t been able to gather inspiration, information, and joie de vivre in mossy Ravenna Park, Pike Place Market, the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden at the Ballard Locks (where Z and I kept off the grass and forgot to feed the parking meter), the Volunteer Park Conservatory, along sidewalks of my favorite neighborhoods, and from my best friend’s front porch.

Have you sought out spring this winter or has winter been spring-ish all along? If you went away, where did you find it?

FYI: I’ll be heading to the Boston Flower and Garden Show to give a talk on Friday, March 13 at 1:30. If you’re in the neighborhood that lucky day, desperate for a dose of spring, and can stand to sit in a darkened room, I will be over the moon to see you there!

Anatomy of a bouquet — late fall

Frida decorated and used as a bar on ThanksgivingBecause I am still intending to follow through on Debra Prinzing’s slow flower challenge and had a Thanksgiving table to decorate (Frida moonlighted as a bar), I asked the florist at our nearest independent supermarket for local flowers. She assured me that during the growing season she always buys from sources close to home. Huzzah! But now, presumably ever since a hard frost fell on the region, she has nothing. Even her flowering kale came from Israel or Holland. (She wasn’t sure.) I asked about American-grown flowers and she pointed to buckets full of lilies and delphinium from California. Alas, the scent of lilies would overwhelm this tiny house and delphinium struck me as much too July for November, so I opted to forage entirely from the garden and plantry instead. I thought it was slim pickings but I loved the bouquet it made. Here’s the list of what I used:

  •  Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ — hadn’t dropped its semi-prosh gems yet.
  • Spiraea japonica — the leaves that are left are still golden/orange.
  • Hellebore. I can’t remember which Lenten rose I have but its leaves will eventually need to be cut back anyway. Might as well enjoy them.
  • Carex muskingumensis — palm sedge. Right on the edge of becoming sludge.
  • Hypericum × moserianum ‘Tricolor’ — looks like it’s still growing.
  • Calamagrostis brachytricha — Korean feather reed grass seedheads.
  • Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ — wild bergamot seedheads.
  • Rudbeckia triloba — brown-eyed Susan seedheads.
  • African blue basil flowers from a plant overwintering in the plantry.
  • Cuphea ‘David Verity’ flowers also from plantry resident.

Thanksgiving bouquet detailHypericum x moserianum 'Tricolor'

Monarda fistulosa 'Claire Grace'Rudbeckia triloba

Despite Pigeon’s taste tests and my laziness about changing the water, everything has lasted four days now except the cuphea, which wilted after three.

Pigeon ups the ante on the slow  flowers challenge

Were you grateful for local flowers and/or your garden this Thanksgiving?

Slow flowers

I’m giving some serious thought to becoming the kind of person who has fresh flower arrangements in the house. I’ve wanted to be that lady for a long time but have never been much good at keeping flat surfaces free of paper, books, and other random bits of stuff that make the addition of a vase full of flowers, which will sooner or later drop their own trash on the table, feel overwhelmingly chaotic. I also have cats. One’s favorite sport is Smack Things Off and the other has Rocket Butt, which is a super fun and contagious affliction that manifests in lightspeed skids from one flat surface to another three rooms away.Mums, lacy carrot, and spiraea

But last week I was lucky enough to hang out with Debra Prinzing, founder of the Slow Flower Movement (and website) and author of Slow Flowers and The 50 Mile Bouquet, and she, being a fresh-flowers-in-the-house sort of person — and a real beauty to boot, made the idea very appealing.
When Debra mentioned the commitment she made when she was working on those books to create a flower arrangement every week for a year using locally sourced and sustainably grown stems, I found myself biting the hook. (For more information on why we should care about where our flowers come from, here’s an excellent rant.)

Aside from clearing surfaces and discouraging kitteh mayhem, this week’s arrangement was too easy. I didn’t have to buy anything. There were plenty of pickings (I snagged a bunch of Robin Hollow Farm mums) left over from Debra’s Eco-Floral Design workshop and we haven’t had a frost yet so I grabbed plectranthus and spiraea foliage from the backyard and ended up with three little bouquets. Perfect subject matter, as it happens, for my return to painting. (Will I up the ante and pledge to make paintings of each arrangement? Maybe.) Next week, after our first polar vortex melts the annuals and strips branches, I’ll get to really sink my teeth into the challenge of finding/buying locally grown stems.

mums, asters, hypericum and spiraeamums, etc in oil

Do you bring flowers into the house? Do you pick from your own garden? Do you support your local flower farmers? Are you up for the challenge?

Falling back

The beginning of Standard Time was marked this year in my garden with a biting rain that changed into a sideways fat-flaked snow. For most of the day bitter weather forced me to rest on the couch with a dog on my feet, a good book in my lap, and my hands wrapped around a cup of tea. Not the worst thing but I fretted a little about plants I should have moved inside already and that all the fall color and last flowers would be blown away. I shouldn’t have worried. The snow didn’t stick and didn’t destroy the nicotianas, and the wind didn’t separate the wine-red sourwood foliage from its branches. The salvias took it all on the chin too and when it comes right down to it, I don’t mind waiting to dig one or two of those plus the dahlias some nicer day.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)Salvia guaranitica and Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'Red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora)Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple' turned a bilious shade

And even though I shivered and complained I’m grateful for the fall back to winter and a snowy teaser. I want to enjoy the down season or at least take it as it comes. Says Louise Dickinson Rich in We Took to the Woods,

“In civilization we try to combat winter. We try to modify it so that we can continue to live the same sort of life that we live in summer. We plow the sidewalks so we can wear low shoes, and the roads so we can use cars. We heat every enclosed space and then, inadequately clad, dash quickly from one little pocket of hot air through a no-man’s land of cold to another. We fool around with sunlamps, trying to convince our skins it is really August, and we eat travel-worn spinach in an attempt to sell the same idea to our stomachs. Naturally, it doesn’t work very well. You can neither remodel nor ignore a thing as big as winter.”

Guess I’ll quit trying.

How did you spend the fall-back? Are you looking forward to winter? Do you usually bundle up and enjoy it or wish it were summer again?

Vacationland

Over a lifetime of summer vacations spent lakeside in the great state of New Hampshire I can’t recall ever wanting to pick up sticks and live there year-round. After one week on the Damariscotta river in Maine I can’t stop thinking about leaving little Rhody and living the rest of my life as a Mainer. (Mainiac? Downeaster?) I am aware that the winters are long and cold and I became acquainted with deer flies and ridonculous Vacationland traffic. But I loved the smells. Part pine forest air freshener, part salty shell-fishiness, part mud. And I loved listening to the shoreline forest’s sounds that included (but wasn’t limited to) an invisible (and so far unidentifiable) bird in the treetops that sounded exactly like a squeaky swing set or unmusical-me playing a penny whistle, others with a pterodactyl scrawk, easily identified as great blue herons, and whole colonies of terns pipping and screeching. I loved the quiet around those sounds. I loved the pull of the tide and letting Bazil run free on long dirt road and forest walks to chase and never catch tiny red squirrels.

View from Pirate's PointBazil's walk

And I loved abandoning my reading (and listening and gazing) perch on the screened porch to visit quaint and intensely touristy harbor towns and one very cool garden. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has only been open since 2007 but looks and feels full grown (aside from a few slender trees) and fully established. And it was hopping. Not since visiting the Highline years ago on a sunny summer Saturday have I known a garden to be such a popular destination for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. My pictures don’t do the place justice — it was a brighter day than forecast — so I’ll spare you the full roll and vow to go back. Perhaps in the fall when this hillside (below, top) of thread leaf bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), Tiger Eye sumac, and bowman’s root (Porteranthus/Gillenia trifoliata) blazes.

CMBG Haney Hillside Garden
CMBG Haney Hillside Garden
CMBG Lerner Garden of the Five Senses
CMBG Lerner Garden of the Five Senses
CMBG Vayo Meditation Garden
CMBG Vayo Meditation Garden

Have you taken a summer vacation? Where to? Did you want to stay forever too?