Hanging around in Trees

photoThere are numerous living things that spend time up in the trees besides the trees’ branches and leaves. All sorts of insects and animals, not least of all various nutty sorts of anthropoid mammals that might be not only cousins of ours but a little more similar to us in character than we generally wish to acknowledge. There are, of course, also those companion plants we know as parasites and, more mellifluously, their subtler siblings the epiphytes.

Kissing under the mistletoe is a pleasant enough excuse for familiarity with such entities, but mistletoe isn’t necessarily a specially handsome bit of greenery on its own, being a modest clump of small leaves with some inconspicuous pale berries clinging to them. Mistletoe, in fact, only really comes into its own in wintertime when the host oak trees shed their seasonal clothes and the puffs of the mistletoe’s tidy presence reveal themselves among the branches against the winter sky. This is not only reason enough for the plant to be a fitting representative for the winter holiday season but for us to appreciate it as a remarkable and pervasive and even likable presence in oak country, particularly since it does no notable harm to its host plant, unlike many parasites of all species.photoBut if we’re to talk about the kinds of plants that make their homes in the trees, I’m even more of a fan of the epiphytes, many of which were only vaguely familiar to me some years ago thanks to occasional visits to botanical gardens and conservatories and parks. I find their ability to live, virtually, on air astounding and, somehow, poignant. Oh, I knew lichens and mosses and algae pretty well, what with living in the moist and miraculous Pacific Northwest among the old-growth rainforests and craggy granite faces and the richly green shores of Puget Sound and the ocean. But I can tell you that, like most people who live in treasuries, I knew the sparkle of the jewels but nothing of their true nature.photo

When I had closer contact with those parasites and epiphytes at last, it made for a short descent to fall in love. My lifetime romance with moss and seaweed expanded to welcome bromeliads and all sorts of pretty flowering epiphytes. I found all of that mighty attractive when I would get drawn in by the strangler figs and pulled into the pretty gloaming of the tropical house at the conservatory, the steamy glass room of the jungle displays at the horticultural center. So, so lovely. Then there was the trip to Panama. Ahhh, Panama.

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The titular king of Finca Drácula is a dramatic orchid that can haunt your dreams . . .

Opportunity enough to see firsthand a whole lot of gorgeous bromeliads and previously unknown green joys in situ, to experience a whole new level of admiration for the variety and intricacy in the plant universe. Poinsettias, my natal flower as a December baby, meant little to a northern-born kid who’d only seen their showy bracts in hothouse display and known them merely as holiday decor: suddenly, on their own turf, I was able to learn that they can grow as tall as four meters and thrive like showy weeds in the sparest of small dirt patches. To see coffee growing in its accustomed shade on the slopes of a dormant volcano, overlooking rainbow-crowned valleys and orange plantations. And to look up into the cloud forest canopy and see tree trunks hugged all ’round by glorious orchids. Among the many wonders of the region, we stumbled into an orchid farm. Bliss!photoFor one who had been impressed by but hardly addicted to orchids, to arrive in the environs of a farm specializing in orchids to the tune of about 2400 varieties was a stunning and heady shock of new delight. Finca Drácula, named for its showpiece orchid variety,  was a superb baptism in the beauties of the breed. And yes, it did make me want to swing from the branches of the trees like my monkey cousins. What an irresistible lure is an orchid smiling down from the heights. Funny that the Christmas crop of mistletoe has led me the whole winding way to Panamanian orchid country. Then again, they could both inspire an urge to engage in frenzied kissing if one got caught up in their fantastic beauty.photo

Ten Thousand Kinds of Green

 

photoIt takes very little time upon returning to the Pacific Northwest for me to be reminded of one of its central characteristics that became so imprinted on my heart and mindset through my many years of dwelling there as to be interchangeable with my entire concept of wholeness and well-being: the color green. The millions of colors that can be called Green, to be more precise. Having been born in the Emerald City of the Evergreen State, I can confirm that they have earned their titles both the hard way (rain–sometimes seemingly endless–rain–oh, and snowpack and glacier runoff in the spring) and entirely honestly. The city and the state are genuinely, deeply, exquisitely green.photoOther places may be green with envy. Yes, there are certainly other spectacularly green places on earth, some of which I have visited, among them to wit: Ireland, Allgäu, and the jungle that straddles the Panamanian border with Costa Rica (a tropical cloud forest) all rife with verdure and also with all of those forms of watery nourishment that bring about such burgeoning beauties in their respectively green-glorious regions. Each green place is unique in the character and flavor of its glowing, growing vegetation, and each gains its place in my heart as much through its variations of verdancy as by any other means.photoWhat it all comes down to is that these things grow on me as much as on the face of the earth, filling my senses and my emotional center in ways that few other things can. This recent return to my mossy, leafy, grassy, graceful green roots merely reminds me of what lies deep within me all of the time. The west coast is so rich in tints and hues and tones and shades and variations of green that I cannot imagine an existence without them and know that green will always be the color against which completeness and contentment and ecstasy are best measured.photophotophotophotophotophotophotoMourn the tiresome persistence of the rain at times, if you must, but once you have been drawn into the corridors of the green world you will likely find it irresistible, too. It bursts with the presence of renewal and strength, lures you with the dappled dream-world light that only a leafy and towering tunnel of trees can create, and makes the heart ache with that yearning form of delight best found in things that sing of secrets, promises and hope.

Wishful Gardening

 

photoIf you haven’t already guessed it, gardening in the temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest is a mixed blessing. Yes, you can battle long, murky, cool, overly rainy winters that seem to last seven months of the year, so the easiest things to grow are mold and mildew, possibly between your fingers and toes. You want a green roof? Get yourself a rooftop Japanese moss garden without even trying just by positioning your house close to any healthy shade tree. I can’t promise you’ll feel very Zen about it, because like the fiendish imported English ivy, such moss is mighty hard to stop let alone kill, and eats buildings faster than you can spell ‘plague’. Mud is perhaps a given, but so, in the territory of a once quite active volcano is the euphoniously named glacial till that means Rock Picking becomes a competitive sport among gardeners and anything larger than a teacup had better be excavated for with vigorous pickaxe action and the tenacity of a Welsh miner. Slugs grow to mythic size and are believed by small children to be capable of swallowing their pint-sized innocent selves without chewing.photoBut the mildness of temperature and plentiful rains also mean that one can practically put a piece of two-by-four in the ground and grow a tree, or at the very least, can make greenery and flora proliferate in an almost jungle-like exuberance. Heck, though outsiders might doubt it, you can grow big healthy palm trees and citrus and big fat figs right there next to the cold waters of the Puget Sound, mere crawl strokes away from the chilly dark not-really-Pacific Ocean. So the P-Patch allotments of Seattle are rich; why, even a parking strip along a city street can support a dandy raised-bed vegetable garden full of tempting green and vitamin-packed leafy goods.photoOne of the things I’ve missed greatly since leaving the west coast is an incongruously tough plant, one evolved to withstand the vagaries of coastal wind and salt and coastal dwellers’ neglect with remarkable stamina and glamor. The Ceanothus, sometimes known as Farmer’s Lilac, is one of my very favorite plants for this combination of ruggedly handsome looks and ease of care. I am fairly certain that an experiment with one or two of these heady-scented, blazingly blue delights is in my Texan future. They come in such a variety of heights and breadths, leaf sizes, shades of blue and purplish, and even both deciduous and evergreen types that there’s sure to be a sort that will withstand even north Texas trials. Now that I’ve been back amid them in full-blast bloom, I know I can’t keep going sans Ceanothus without giving them a good old Texas try.photoThe other thing I miss most, perhaps, about Northwest gardening will likely be much harder to replicate in my newer, ahem, digs: cottage gardens. Besides that native-born northwesterners are not much inclined toward formality, their access to easy growing conditions make them quite fond of that crowded, colorful and slightly overblown style of gardening, not least of all because it leaves less room for weeds, which of course also love the mild and friendly weather. But in hot and dry climes it can be a little too stressful on the water meter and long for greater shade than is easily procured by the average gardener. Clearly, it’ll take some tricky thinking to overcome those obstacles. Our recent negotiations with the fellow who will likely supervise our landscape overhaul when we can manage to do it have been a solid reminder not only of the limits of NTX nurseries and their resources but how much it’s going to cost us to do any adventuring in the fuller development of our patch of ground. Our recent house plumbing near-disaster and a couple of automotive ones, not to mention the trip we are making just now, all send pretty clear signals to our budgetary brains that it’s yet a while before we can tackle much renovation or revivification in our happy little greenbelt-hugging home zone. So for now it seems all the wiser to me to store up all of the brawny, brainy yet beautiful garden ideas I can and savor my short stay back in cottage-garden country to help me suss out just what I can do to bring a semblance of it back home with me when the bank account has been fattened up a bit more again.photophotophotophoto