Primrose Cheer

new planter boxes warrant some new primroses this season!

There are two plants that bring cheer to this three-year run of cool, gray springs…the first is Pulmonaria, or Lungwort, the second is Primulas. I appreciate them both and will write about each, starting with Primulas.

I love Primulas and find them endearing and familiar, perhaps it’s my English genes, or my early life longing to go to the Himalayan Mountains. My rational reasons are: they grow in shady areas, which we have in abundance, and the varieties I grow are not fussy. To survive in our soil one cannot be fussy.

Even some of the names: primrose, cadelabra, denticulata, cow-slip, farinose, Juliana, are lovely to say.

Primulas grow all over the world, in vastly different environments, from wild primrose meadows in Britain to plants tucked into the alpine regions of the Himalayan Mountains.  There is even a primula that grows wild in Alaska.  Dramatic, thick leafed auriculas, the primulas of shows and connoisseurs, grow in dry rock gardens. Fairy like, lacy leafed Candelabras love wet boggy areas.

My favorite Primula book (out of print, but the library or an on-line used book store is a good source) is A Plantsman’s Guide to Primulas, by Philip Swindells and is loaded with colorful pictures.  Written for the novice it gives both the history and growing preferences of the different sub-species.  The Genus Primula in Cultivation and The Wild, by Josef J Halda is the primula encyclopedia. It took the author 30 years to compile, traveling all over the world.  It was published in 1992 for the national Primula conference held that year in Portland, Oregon, the first such gathering in several decades, as I recall. Caught up in the fervor of the gathering, I purchased this book, a wealth of information, but at $45 (not a lot of copies were printed) it is likely the most expensive just-under-400 page paperback I will ever own!

a new little denticulata

But I digress. I want you to meet the modest and diverse primroses that grow happily in a northwest garden and encourage you, when poking around your favorite nursery, to look for priumulas beyond the ubiquitous, usually primary colored and single petaled supermarket variety primroses.  Primulas have been cultivated at least back to the 16thcentury and there are a wide variety of the herbaceous varieties (the alpine ones are more difficult to find, and grow, and not good candidates for our wet springs).  As old and hardy as they are, you would think they would be more readily available, but you do have to hunt for the more unique cultivators. Peninsula Nursery in Sequim has, and will be getting more, double petaled primroses, and the ‘drum stick’ looking denticulatas.  I occasionally find a good primula ‘fine’ at Garden at Four Corners in Port Townsend.

You can view my collection over the years on my Primula page. My favorite primula information web site is Arlene’s Garden (a dream garden for a primrose lover!) Another good site is Primula World.

another newbie this spring.

Primulas show up each spring regardless of the weather, bright cheery color, they add charm and bring hope to a garden waiting to wake up.

a tub full of one of my most prolific primroses.
Want to trade a few plants?

“It would be difficult to imagine a time without primroses.  By the Middle Ages they were being praised in literature by poets and playwrights ~ the name ‘prime flower’ meaning the fairest and best, as in Edmund Spenser’s later lines:   
 ‘As fairer nymph yet never saw mine eie
She is the pride and primrose of the rest.’

from The Book of Primroses, Barbara Shaw

Girls Scouts turns 100!

Yep, that's me 'modeling' the new 1963 Cadette uniform for the local paper. From the article: "the new look...represents a recognition of the changing needs of young people in a changing world." Not sure how it does that!

On my honor I promise..…to try not to write so much in one week!  But Monday the 12th marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting and as a blog (mostly) devoted to expounding on Nature, I wanted to express gratitude for an organization that nurtured my love of Nature. It also nurtured a young girl named Ruth.  Mom did not have many opportunities growing up, church activities and Girl Scouts were her primary social outlets.  At school she felt the  self-consciousness of not having the latest style skirts and sweaters other girls wore, or being able to go places they went, but in Girl Scouts she worked diligently on badges that gave her knowledge, experiences, and a quiet pride.  If you ask her now she may laugh nervously and tell you she only got a few badges, or she may tell you that everything past 125th street (in Seattle) was woods and that’s where they went hiking. One of the many things she learned in Scouts was identification of plants. She says in high school she didn’t want to take a language course, but took instead botany and through that got her plant badge.  Home life was not easy, her father, and osteopathic doctor during the depression, often was not paid in cash, but in trades or not at all, creating sparse meals and tensions at home and resulting in a divorce that was difficult on a young teen-age girl.  Though she always worked full-time, later in life she found time to be an active adult Girl Scout.

It took awhile for me to realize how much Mom knew about plants, maybe because we moved east when I was five, away from that which was familiar to her, though on family camping trips she would casually mention the name of this or that plant.  Living back in Washington, she seemed to know more names of the local flora.  Several years ago she asked me to give her a sheet of pictures I’d taken of wildflowers, with the names. I think she wanted to hold on to that knowledge she gained as a Girl Scout and which gave her a sense of accomplishment.  Today, it is I who am telling her the names of plants, forgotten in her mind, but taught to me by her.

Girls Scouts was founded by a widow, Juliette Low, whose husband died while she was on the verge of granting him a divorce after he moved his mistress into the their home. He left his estate to the mistress, with an allowance to Low, managed by the mistress. Talk about a woman ‘done wrong’!  Low fought back and received her widow’s inheritance.  She then turned her attentions to establishing Girl Guides in the United States, having started a group while living in Scotland after meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts.

Daisy (Low’s nickname) called her good friend and cousin one day and said “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”  And she did!  From the beginning Daisy saw Girl Scouts as an organization for girls to experience the outdoors, learn to be self-reliant, learn about the arts, and prepare for working in different professions.  Perhaps due to her own deafness in one ear, at a time when people with disabilities were often excluded, she saw no difference between them and those without disabilities. Girl Scouts has always been inclusive – race, religion, nor sexual orientation prevents girls, or women, from being active in scouts.  This inclusiveness has caused some to criticize Girl Scouts.

cover of the 1980 edition of GS handbook

My first Girl Scout Handbook is the 1953 – 55 edition.  I’m sure then I did not think about how young the organization was!  When mom was a Scout I’m not sure she had a handbook. By the time I was an adult Girl Scout one book had become three.  These guidebooks changed over the years.  As the role of women became more complicated, scouting responded with deeper, richer programs and guidebooks with more information.

Girl Scouts is not about this month’s ubiquitous cookie sale, it’s about opening worlds, especially the world of Nature, teaching self-reliance, nurturing self-esteem.  Thanks Daisy, not just for my memories of summer camps and camp songs, but also for guiding a young girl through her difficult years during the depression.  You are still guiding girls through difficult times while teaching them to grow into successful women.

Do you have Girl Scout memories? I’d love to hear them!  Share them in the comments section below, or perhaps you were a Camp Fire Girl, or Marine Scout!  How did these impact your life?

You Are Remarkable! International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, now a UN sanctioned multicultural event blended into many cultures, yet started as a socialist political statement.  There will be events honoring women in science, history, government, and various other professions.  There will be joyous celebrations to simply bring women together, and serious discussions about the plight of women worldwide. In spite of this annual celebration of women, women still struggle throughout the world for equality in the workplace, basic human rights, and often for their lives.  Women are exploited everywhere.  It is a bittersweet day if you look closely.

However, I pondered this morning about the women in my life, a long list covering a broad range of ages, social-economic backgrounds, political leanings, religious beliefs, education and professions, moms and non-moms.  To be honest, it takes my breath away when I think of the women I know.  If they were in a room together it would be a room of power, energy, healing, multidimensional experience, love and compassion. Most of all of laughter!

Having not had my own children, I’ve been privileged to know many remarkable young women as friends, including my nieces. I have an ‘official’ goddaughter, but there are other young women I consider ‘goddaughters’ in that they are a blessing in my life. This group of women beam with energy and light, have creativity that is boundless, are full of hopes and dreams.  I stand back and marvel!

There is a cadre of women in my life a bit younger than me; I guess they might be considered in ‘mid life,’ who balance lives of motherhood, entrepreneurship, professional jobs, etc.  I am astonished at the vitality and intelligence of these women.

Then there are the women I have ‘grown older’ with or met at this time of life, women with a depth and richness to their very beings that comes with experience, hardships, joys and disappointments, heart aches and hearts that are full.  I notice many of them growing more open, more honest, with themselves and others.  They are my peers on this journey but they are also my mentors.

Sadly, my list of ‘elders’ grows shorter each year, and includes my mom, who, even with her changing mind, still exhibits a resiliency and strength that is awe-inspiring. There are a handful of elderly women I am blessed to know. They teach through example that in acceptance there is peace and strength.

Most the women I know will not be reading this, but those who do, (and I know who you are!) you should take this personal and know that I find you beyond remarkable, you are my role model, my inspiration, you play your part on whatever stage of life you are on with grace and aplomb I find awesome!  You have a story I would be honored to write, a story that would inspire anyone who reads it.

(Footnote: A few years ago I wrote a short bio for my friend Marsha, who needed a bio for her web site and press releases about her art.  I have interviewed and written about people for articles I’ve written, but the process of a focused interview with a friend, was something we both enjoyed.  I really would like to write your story, let me know if you are open to it, I would like to start a collection of short bios on the women I know. You can read Marsha’s bio on her web site: The Art of Marsha Hollingsworth)

Wanderlust vs. homebody…dreamer vs. pragmatist

‘Tis the season of movement. Plants are on the move, so to speak, poking up from under leaves, pushing through the soil where they slept through the winter; birds on the move, for mating and home building…and my mind is starting to wander…around the yard and the countryside.  As Mike and I start spring clean-up, cutting out dead leaf debris, uncovering new growth as perennials appear, clearing away space to widen our ‘back yard’, and putting in a new fence for the vegetable garden, I also start dreaming, which then becomes scheming, and eventually planning, where to take a spring vacation.  I imagine us hitting the road on weekends throughout the spring and summer.

But there is conflict – be home wresting gardens out of the woods, or hooking up the trailer to be part-time gypsies. You can tell by my choice of words where lies my bias!

Behind our house are acres of dense woods. We try to maintain a thin strip, which we call ‘the back yard’.  There is also ‘the side yard’, and even a ‘front yard’.  The recent clearing project, which we do every five years or so on one side or the other, is an attempt to reclaim a small space designated for human fussing and messing with, and keeps us from being engulfed by northwest flora and fauna, which is designed to engulf.  Once there is ‘open space’ we get all energized to create a new planting area, cut out tree limbs, and even trees, for more sunlight, and imagine ourselves sitting in a yard surrounded by flowerbeds, basking in the sun.

Possibilities....cleared (for now) of Salmonberry, nettles, and an overhanging Osier Dogwood branch, a fresh pallet of dirt awaits a garden box for new plantings.

But I know better.  I’m not sure about the adage “with age comes wisdom” but I know with age, and experience, comes cynicism. I am married to an optimist who still thinks, though in his mid-sixties, he will miraculously have time and energy he has never had, after working long physically demanding days, to come home and work in the garden. The reality is he gets caught up in this spring ‘revival’, goes gung-oh, digging, building, cutting, and then goes off to critical projects, like firewood, coop repairs, house maintenance, etc., and doesn’t understand why beautiful beds don’t magically happen and everything he diligently dug out grows back.


This year he is especially challenged by my ‘threat’ to tear out all garden beds, many of which have already ‘gone wild’, and surrender to Nature’s embrace, smothering though it can be.

For one more year I go along with this fantasy, after all, in the past I was the one with garden schemes, and will attempt to do my best to plant newly made beds with plants that like ‘partial shade’ and clay soil (we do add a lot of ‘soil amendments’) and try to keep the weeds down to a small invasion.  We are only in the dream stage and my body already aches. I imagine a weekend at our favorite beach on the coast, or exploring some corner of the NW we have yet to discover.

Mike's inspiration for garden dreaming-crocuses open to the sun, which he would stop to oh and ah at. Today they are closed up tight in the cold rain.

Every spring these two dreams we share collide as other responsibilities…Mom care, Mike’s job demands, as well as health challenges, etc., work to tatter the dreams.  But that is the glory of spring; each new spring brings new hope.  Visions of garden possibilities seem to sprout, like dormant bulbs and plants, which regardless of how they fared last growing season, begin again with fresh growth. As spring fades to summer we will have taken a weekend excursion, planted a few new flowers, and seeded some veggies.  It will be modest compared to spring aspirations, but with age also comes acceptance for what is, and contentment in enjoying little successes (working on this!).

I appreciate I am married to a perennial optimist. And Nature, literally waiting in the wings, is always willing to engulf us in her embrace next year…or the year after that…or…..