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!


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?

The Philadelphia Flower Show

Pic of Mum's pic

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. Or any decent ones. But chalk it up to distraction since my day was bookended by appearances on the Gardener’s Studio stage (once for a container garden challenge and then later in the day for a Plantiful Propagation demonstration). And because the show itself is overwhelming and I know myself to crash and burn with much less external stimulation, I flew around trying to take it all in without taking it all IN.

The highlights for me were the cup winning Stoney Bank Nursery exhibit of a wild spring woodland with forced fothergilla, azalea, fringe tree, ferns, etc around a hollowed out tree whose branches hung from cables from the ceiling; a wildflower/tall grass meadow in winter by Scape Design; pressed flower paintings and Calder-esque mobiles; Twig terrariums in the marketplace; and of course the PHS Hamilton Horticourt. I had heard that Mrs. Hamilton was no longer competing — a friend suggested she too might have been shamed by Downton Abbey’s cousin Isobel into giving others the chance to win — but was so excited to see her perfect plants all together on display with her ribbons.

Stoney Bank Nursery exhibitBlue ribbon winnerMrs. Hamilton's plantsmore of Mrs. Hamilton's plants

I also thought it was kind of brilliant of PHS to offer a couple of places on the show floor for people to hang out, catch their breath, and learn something new. I had a great time up on the Gardener’s Studio stage despite public speaking heebie-jeebs and for that I have to thank my awesome audience. And thanks to my mom too for taking pictures that show I was having a ball.

on the Gardener's Studio stage

Did you go to the Phila Flower Show or any other this year? What stuck with you?

Down to earth – On artful, art-full gardens

Originally published on November 28, 2012 in East Bay/South Coast Life

My garden art is showing again. I must have forgotten how many ornaments I have stashed around because I was pleasantly surprised to see birdhouses reappear between the branches and my concrete goose poke its beak back out from behind some melted annuals.

I don’t mind that they, and a few other things, have suddenly resurfaced because they’ll add to the winter view in a way they never would have succeeded in doing over the summer when flowers and foliage were all the ornament I needed.

I also don’t mind that they were mostly hidden for the summer — all but our ironic pink flamingo named Floyd who hangs out by the mailbox — because I’m a little bit worried that one day tchotchkes will take over the garden the way they have the house. Then perfect strangers might see me for the loony collector of bits and bobs that I am. As it is, perfect strangers and fellow gardeners alike probably read my garden as an obsessive collection of plants, albeit strangely lacking in statuary.

This past summer I visited Bedrock Gardens, a private garden occasionally open to the public in Lee, N.H. that blurs or even crosses the line into being a sculpture garden. The property is owned by sculptor Jill Nooney and her artistic husband, Bob Munger, who together have created acres of gardens that are more like earthworks.

Among other delights, there is a 200-foot waterway called The Wiggle Waggle, a grassacre not of lawn but of blocks of native flowering grasses that reads as an abstract painting from the vantage of their barn, and a collection of 50-plus conifers in a stand called Conetown. And, the entire sculpted property is peppered in sculpture, both Nooney’s found-object welds and Munger’s structures, as well as a vast collection of art by friends. Most (all?) of it for sale. Somehow, rather than overwhelming the garden and stealing attention from their fabulous collections of plants, their art embellishes the garden and tells a fascinating story of its owners. Which is exactly what art in the garden is meant to do.

A few years ago I trespassed another very different but entirely art-full garden in Buffalo, N.Y. that came pretty close to crossing the line into miniature golf course-ness: An abandoned mill towered over and shaded a tiny, intensively planted backyard absolutely filled to the gills with statuary. Concrete Venus de Milos and Davids shared the shrubbery with saints, Asian lanterns and gnomes.

But it worked, not just for the owner who clearly loved his all-inclusive sanctuary, but for this perfect stranger as well. And that right there is why. His garden and Bedrock Gardens are loved unabashedly. They are intensely personal spaces created by unselfconscious gardeners who probably don’t give a damn what I think, which made it hard not to love and be inspired by them.

I recently heard a lecture on “infusing the garden with personality” by gardener and author Tovah Martin who, decades ago, wrote about one of the most fiercely idiosyncratic and self-possessed gardeners ever in “Tasha Tudor’s Garden.” Tovah offered a reminder that I’d like to have engraved on my hori-hori: Your garden is yours. Stop caring what other people might think.

If you do what you love, whether it’s to create a haven for wildlife, amass a collection of every species of viburnum or daylily, and/or display a gallery of knick-knackery, there will be beauty — maybe not in the eye of every beholder, but in yours. And, in any case, if you love your garden madly deeply, chances are others will be inspired to as well.


The boiling hot Tuesday of my second week off in August I set foot in a garden. (Not mine. I set sprinklers as soon as I got home but avoided mine until sometime the beginning of September.) I have considered Layanee a good friend for the last 3 years at least but still hadn’t visited her garden – all the way over yonder in Foster, RI. By Rudeyelin standids, Layanee’s garden is days away from mine. In actual fact it took an hour and 15 to get there. Just in case though, I brought my mom because she likes road trips – and gardens – and getting “lost” on the gray roads.

Despite Layanee’s demurrals and apologies her garden was actually still lush and colorful – and full of puppy. It just doesn’t get more inspiring than that. I am disappointed in my pictures but I didn’t even really want to take any because it was such a treat to experience it for reals. Pictures don’t do it justice anyway. Even after seeing years’ worth of Layanee’s pictures from every angle in every season, I had no real conception about the lay of the land. – There’s simply no way to find your bearings in a photo unless you’ve actually been there. I realized – and I feel a little silly to say this because I should always be keenly aware of it – that feeling grounded and present is an enormous part of the pleasure of seeing a garden. Ledge and Gardens was both more intimate in parts and more spacious in parts than I imagined and the vignettes and combinations much more interesting and beautiful for being held within the whole.

I liked my own garden better after the roadtrip – I’m not really sure why since it’s cramped and wonky and young in any kind of direct comparison. Then again there is no comparison, and no competition in gardening. It’s apples and orangutans. There’s only infectious enthusiasm – even when we’re all hot and exhausted and kind of over it.