Flowering Quietly

Photo: Macroscopic Garden 1The faintest, mildest, least-noticeable of all things can still have tremendous impact. Take lichens, for example: the most wonderful of flowers, even gardens, on a microscopic scale. Strong enough to wear down stone itself over time, but so delicate and dainty and fairylike that they are rich and glorious even in their seeming fragility.Photo: Macroscopic Garden 2

Bloggy Froggy

Just a quick howdy-do from the little amphibian who visited me in the garden the other day. Sometimes it really does take very little to brighten the dullest, most common chores or the least exotic occasion. A little hopper leaps into view, and my heart leaps to follow.Digital illo from a photo: Leapfrog

Strange Landscape

Photo: Palm Trees 1No matter what the reasons, the weather is different these days than both what I grew up with (all those centuries ago!) and what the locals in most places call ‘the usual’—really, really different. It’s not that Toronto has suddenly become the center of the tropics or San Salvador is now an iceberg floating along the edge of a glacier, it’s just different. The highs and lows have become both more pronounced and more prolonged in many places, from what I can see.

Where I grew up in Seattle, for example, its mythic status as Rain City and the region’s fame as being constantly wet were exaggerated, much of the truly soaking rain happening on the Olympic Peninsula as a result of the mountains’ effect on traveling clouds, weather fronts, and so forth, and thus less of it eventually reaching Seattle’s sheltered spot on Puget Sound. Instead, there were lots of grey, overcast days and light drizzling ones, but the measurable rain was moderate. In fact, the region generally has had plenty of rain to sustain, in its temperate climate, a stupendous variety of plants year-round, from the great towers of evergreen trees to their tiniest replicas in forest-like carpets of moss.

There were, as anyone anywhere knows, secrets and surprises in this unique climate. In the neighborhood where my grandparents had their apartment when I was young, right next to the shores of the Sound, I was awed by a few yards sporting healthy palm trees. These were not native to the northwest, nor even the slightest bit common—hence, my amazement at their exotic punctuation of the expected landscape—but they grew there without requiring any particular magic, because the microclimate along the West Seattle shoreline has remained remarkably sheltered and coddled by Mother Nature.

Now, it’s a more frequent phenomenon to see all sorts of semitropical plants creeping into the Seattle area landscape, and at the same time, more and more xeric plants. The hot weather of summer does, in reality, get a little hotter and stick around a little longer than it did in years past. It also tends to be drier. The total annual rainfall average hasn’t fallen into a chasm, but it’s creeping lower gradually, and this winter-spring cycle has been a record-setter for low snow pack, sending a fair number of ski resort owners into early and/or even permanent closure and more than a few homeowners into rethinking their home sprinkler systems and dispatching lawns in favor of water-saving raingardens. A few years down the road, it wouldn’t surprise me especially to see yards that look remarkably like the iconic ones of Las Vegas popping up on many northern properties as well.

Some of this change in nature’s attitude toward us is bound to change how we can and should live our lives. The watersheds that once supplied an abundance of cheap, readily available drinking and gardening water and hydroelectric power to wide swaths of the country are shrinking and already being bargained for more aggressively, even disputed. The world is already water-poor, despite newly over-watered and flooding regions, and I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if at some point water becomes the basis of more wars than oil and politico-religious reasons are today. I hope I’m not around to see the day.

Meanwhile, it’s still something of a novelty, never mind those long-ago days of perhaps two or three landmark palm trees in West Seattle, to see what’s happening in the gardens and seasons of this changing world. Never thought I’d see things the way they are, and that’s not just talking about the weather. Maybe I’ll get a grass skirt and celebrate it with a neon-colored summer drink served with its own paper mini-umbrella while it lasts.Photo: Palm Trees 2

Imperfections

Blood Grass

Short bursts of breeze in the long leaves,

the slightest of eddies as though

their pulse were pumping actual red cells

through the tall margins of the field—

Likelier that their real nature as flammable,

short-lived bursts of vigorous and

violent life, destined to flame

up, out, leap to cosmic oblivion, and die—

Are these our guides, or are

they mirrors of the flimsy, volatile existence

that we share? Only there, in

the margins of the field, do the flames

and shadows of our being have

a moment’s sway, for better or for worse,

of honesty out in the sun. Only there,

where the grass grows tall and yet

has not the strength or

depth of root to thrive, do we

see how little of the energy

with which we’d credited ourselves

really shines for longer than

a short, weedy season, bending

this way, bending that, and sparking

into sudden flares of incandescent

death

before returning to earth,

extinguished without

having distinguished ourselves, yet still

flying a bold red flag as if

we were something more.Digital illo: Japanese Blood Grass

Fix-It Fixations

Any homeowner or even mildly obsessed apartment-dweller who likes customizing his or her nest, office, cubicle, or living space knows that there are numerous ‘projects’ that are never officially finished. Most DIY projects of any sort, in fact, are only satisfying right about the time they’re in their last stages of preparation and very, very newly finished. Then we’re on to the next change or update we’ve been itching to see transform our spaces. For me, the Next Big Thing is perpetual: I never quite settle down and stop having new ideas and fantasies. My now-spousal partner knew even before my dad jokingly warned him when we sprang the (not especially surprising) news of our intent to marry that it was not merely in jest Dad told him to expect to come home virtually any day of the week and find the furniture moved all over the place, half the house painted, or the chairs reupholstered. Thank goodness he’s a very flexible, tolerant guy…of course, he wouldn’t be with me in the first place if that weren’t true.Photo: The '70s Called...

Nowadays I’m lazier and less willing to spend much money on concrete Stuff if I can save it instead for our various retirement plots and plans or spend on current doings. But the urge never dies; there’s always some little tweak or To Do lurking in the back corners of my brain’s attic. The one thing I’ve learned to appreciate better about the process is the slowness of it all that used to irk me immensely. Over the intervening time between idea and execution, the possibility of improving both process and product grows, and in many instances, the availability of a better set of materials and solutions arrives as well. Though I had in mind a nifty reboot of the existing dining room fixture that was, sadly, thwarted by the outdated wiring’s channels being too narrow for me to fit the necessary updated wiring through them, my time pulling apart and cleaning and fiddling with  the entire fixture in an unsuccessful attempt to bypass the problem was long enough for a more suitable modern fixture to at last appear on the market at a price I was willing to pay.Photo: Let There be Better Light!

Likewise, the wildflower and sapling “nursery” meadow I made out of half our backyard a couple of years ago has taken that long to begin coming to recognizable fruition as such a space instead of merely a raggedy weed patch. The time spent waiting for the (semi-dead, weak little one-dollar end of season) plants I picked up here and there to take root enough to survive longer term, let alone bloom, was well worth it, since those were not seasons of rich encouragement. This year’s mild winter and spring and its extraordinarily generous rainfall are providing a much friendlier environment for the plants now old and established enough for bloom to make their first appearances. So, though you can’t see it behind the blast of rose blooms in the last photo, there have been much more encouraging bursts of growth on a number of patches of chrysanthemums, Echinacea leaves, and myriad wild cousins, with some Salvia and Cynoglossom amabile (Chinese forget-me-not) throwing bright blue sparkles into the mix of pink primroses and green leafy things even before others come into bud.Photo: A Long Winter's Nap

Kind of the way that one new idea breaks in upon the muddle of all the old ones stirring in the brain while they wait to be put in order for becoming DIY projects and household fixes.Photo: Spring has Sprung

Between Worlds

Photo: Not the Last RainThis strange new climate we’ve been experiencing in north Texas lately, never mind on the west coast where drought has reentered the vocabulary for the first time in eons and the northeast where winter and massive storms have ruled in a newly lengthy way, makes me think I’m on another planet. Or perhaps a parallel reality. Whatever it is, it seems a bit surreal and decidedly unfamiliar.

In the last number of days we’ve had more rain, more thunder-and-lightning, and more windstorms—even a small tornado or two touching down not far from our home—than many past years have seen altogether locally. We’ve driven along what are normally pastures and meadows and bone-dry fields and low runoff gullies and seen what looks like  it should have the iconic airboats of the southern swamps speeding through: trees and brush sticking out intermittently from extensive marshes where we’ve only ever seen dry land. The phenomenal density and lushness of the grasses and trees, wildflowers in rampant carpets blooming for weeks on end instead of days, and swarms of early insect madness all explode around us in unprecedented extremes.

Then, today, a brilliantly sunny, rather hot, almost cloudless day; it was exactly as I would expect here in a typical mid-May. The rosebush behind the kitchen, shorn before the last storm of its spectacular but doomed bucket full of blooms lest they be beaten to death by the ongoing rain and hail, decides to pop out a couple of fireworks to celebrate the sun’s return. The birds are sunning themselves on every branch and power line as though to soak up rays as quickly as they can. The local lawn crews dash madly from house to house.

Because the weather forecast says we should expect about 7 or 8 days, at least, of rain and thunderstorms to begin again tomorrow.

And isn’t that the way things go? We decide we know how the world will operate, how we expect life to move forward, what we will do within it, and immediately we are given a firm reminder that nature will do as it pleases, that change is inevitable, and that we are small jots on the map of history. The sun will blast its way through a wall of weeks-long storming and then the storms will drop their dousing movable sea back down over the landscape for another round. We make our predictions and forecasts and duck and weave to move through it all as best we can guess we should, and it all changes again.

For now, I am content to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. All of it is rather exciting and surprising and even, welcome. And there’s nothing I can do to stop change. So I’ll just enjoy the weird phenomena as best I can, soak up the rain and then stop and smell the roses between times again when the opportunity arises.Photo: Not the Last Rose

Foodie Tuesday: I Could Just Eat You Up

It’s springtime, and that means I look at my yard with an especially keen eye. Toward eating, of course.

Photo: Parsley

Of course, the herbs—which I inter-plant with the other bedding plants because they’re all pretty together—are an obvious place to start. The parsley, coming into its own in its first full season, leads the way. And that goes with practically any food. If you eat green things, which I do.

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Sometimes, of course, I just let green things do their own thing, because that can lead to *other* green things when they go to seed and have babies. Nice of them to keep on feeding me, all the while looking interesting in new and different ways as the seasons go. Kale: great texture and color as a leafy plant, great food as a picked or cut bunch of leaves, great branching, spiky verticality as a flowering and pod-producing biennial.

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The rosemary out by the road is thriving and makes not only a lovely shrub but great perfume, too, when I walk by and can’t resist drawing my hand through it in passing. And there’s *plenty* for flavoring and garnishing everything I like.

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Mint. Of *course* the place where money is produced should be named after this valuable herb. One of the best, most deliciously versatile green things around. Grows like a literal weed back in the northwest, where I grew up, but it’s a little harder to get going here in my Texas garden, so I’m thrilled this little colony is getting itself established under the backyard pear tree. Hurray for refreshing mint!

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Many of the plants I’m nursing along in my nursery won’t pay off for a while. Some, maybe not until I’m not living here anymore. A baby grapevine is happily starting its way twining up the pruned-back holly I use as a support for the hummingbirds’ trumpet vine, too. Hope they’ll play well together as co-attractants for honeybees, lovely leafy, blooming, and fruiting plants when they grow up a bit more.

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This little figgy went to market…as a feeble looking $4 stick in a pot on the discount rack. That was a couple of years ago, and the little fella has had a couple of rough years since being rescued. But it’s determined to live. See? Once again, leafing out from its tiny, twiggy stem. *Someday* it’ll bear fruit, I very much hope. But for now, it’s symbol of determination and a little spot of green, and that’s good enough to eat.

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Even the front corner, out by the road, is a good place to put some high-contrast, shapely stuff that’ll be edible extroverted one day as well. Salvias, fringe flowers, irises and…rhubarb? Why not!

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And of course there’s a rhubarb doppelgänger that is beautiful in the garden any old time, too, and is about as versatile as they come, a milder-flavored version, I suppose of the parsley and kale back in the first photos. Salad, cooked greens, garnish: chard. Silverbeet. Oh, yeah, and snazzy looking in the flowerbeds, too.

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Food for me, yes, but gardening is also for the birds. No, literally. Sunflowers getting ready to bud for flowering joins sorghum grass that will seed for the avians in the late summer and fall. And below, those decorative squashes and pumpkins I piled up in the fall are not only leafing out profusely but bursting into flower to set up more fruits. The squashes and pumpkins will be nice, I’m sure, but I’ll probably indulge in eating some of the yummy blossoms as well.

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And while we’re on the subject of edible blooms, there *are* some that are delicious (Hemerocallis/daylilies, which taste to me a bit like snow peas) might escape my jaws unless they bloom really prolifically. But of course, I do think they’re tasty…so perhaps…. Time for a sunny floral salad again?