Rhododendron rainbows – it’s a family thing!

This bright yellow rhody is in our back yard, actually it IS our backyard! So bright, it seems to glow even at night.

Here in maritime Northwest rhododendrons are ubiquitous this time of year. The tiniest little ramshackle house, hidden behind a huge plain green bush eleven months of the year, barely noticed, suddenly is eye-poppingly beautiful when covered with huge bright red or pink blooms.  I didn’t intend to be a “Rhody” person.  A fan of pollinators, I find rhododendrons are not that useful to most pollinators – hummingbirds and butterflies have no interest in them and bees seem picky, liking some varieties but not others.  Highly hybridized, most plants have one big showy spring bloom then sit quietly in their evergreen garb the rest of the year, blending into the landscape.  But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate their abundance of color and have loved individual plants as though they were pets.  It must be a family trait, both my parents loved rhododendrons, and one of my brothers has planted many here on family property, late-blooming varieties and ones known for their unique foliage.

A new & current favorite, this variegated peach colored rhody is in a pot where we lost to drought a 20+ year old, hot pink rhody.  I still miss it, a favorite, it consumed our front steps,  greeting us coming and going.

This year, a more typical northwest spring than we’ve had for several years, has made apparent one primary value of rhododendrons – in spite of cold, gray, wet weather, front yards and public parks everywhere are lit with the bright hues of rhodies. People make their annual pilgrimages to the many public rhododendron gardens to enjoy this rhododendron festival of color.

A small rhododendron, grows only about 18″ tall.

That’s how we (Mike is especially enamored by their colors) became rhody people. Living 15 minutes from Whitney Gardens, a second generation family rhododendron garden and nursery, we go to soak up the color of the giant, tree size blooming bushes. Caught up in the color bonanza, we buy one, or maybe two, with little thought as to where we will plant them. Alone I can resist, but Mike is powerless when surrounded by all those shades of purple, lavender, salmon, pinks, red, oranges, yellows – a rainbow of rhodies. And if they are a scented variety, he swoons. Ok, I swoon too. (note: we have not made that pilgrimage this year, and if we do, we’ll have more self control as we just planted 5 small Pacific Rhododendron starts, Washington’s state flower.)

Pacific Rhododendron, Washington State flower, less abundant but still found in many wild places.

Rhododendrons were first “discovered” by Europeans in the Himalayan Mountains and other mountainous regions of Southeast Asia , where hundreds of varieties are native. They are the national flower of Nepal, where they grow abundantly.  Archibald Menzies “discovered” the Pacific rhododendron in 1792, though they were certainly already known to native people. (An interesting paper on the history of the Pacific Rhododendron is found here.)  Rhododendron leaves are highly toxic (though I had a Jersey cow, Daisy, who ate some and seemed unaffected, but I wouldn’t recommend it). In traditional cultures wherever they grow wild, rhododendron leaves have been used as poultices for arthritis pain and headaches.

in spite of thick leathery leaves, occasionally some bug finds one that is tasty.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized to have many colors, scents, leaf color and shape variations, to grow to different heights, and bloom at different times, from the winter blooming Christmas Rhody to ones that bloom in June.  The ones we grow bloom early to mid-spring. Except for a rare bug nibble, the primary pest problem we’ve had are mountain beavers who chew off branches and carry them to their dens, where we find piles of branches. This has done serious damage some years, one young bush completely ‘harvested’ to the ground.  Larger bushes are “pruned”, not at all aesthetically, destroying many buds. We’ve also lost a few bushes to drought. But in our woodsy environment most thrive and have long lives. Shallow rooted, though we give them big planting holes with lots of “good” soil, as long as they get some leaf mulch, they seem to tolerate our clay soil.

This is our Christmas rhody, the first to bloom, though not at Christmas where we live.

Rhododendrons come in all sizes, some can be pot grown, some like more sun, others more shade, many different bloom “styles” appeal to people’s personal sense of what makes a pretty flower, and you can probably find one in your favorite color.  I highly recommend, if your climate is right, growing rhodies for the pure benefit of color therapy, especially wonderful on a gray spring day.

Mom and I, squinting in the sun in front of a huge rhododendron at her house in Seattle. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, you live on in spirit in the many flowers we both love!

The rest of the year rhododendron’s shiny forever-green leaves remind us of eternal life.   I’m quite sure whatever corner of heaven my parents are hanging out in, they have planted rhododendrons!

 

Spring & Rosy Jam

Cold air keeps the Pacific Northwest in a holding pattern between seasons, at least for us two-legged ones, but in the world of flora and fauna, where there is light there is action!  Birds are hassling each other and singing their breeding and territorial songs, the robins being the last to go to bed. The chipmunk population in our yard has exploded! (This usually means the weasel population is low, and does not bode well for garden vegetable sprouts and peas, which the chipmunks “harvest” before us!)  A cold winter left our evergreen woods less green, many dead fern fronds make for an unusual brown underbrush.  New growth from wild bleeding hearts, vanilla leaf, false lily-of-the-valley, red huckleberry and other plants are a welcome sight of new life.   Longer days means more activity not only for nature but for us,  we take after dinner walks and work outside later in the day….bundled up as though it were January!

(Click on a photo to see slideshow, or move your cursor over pictures to read captions)

Though I’ve been harvesting nettles for steaming and pesto, and munching on miner’s lettuce while walking in the woods, as these and other fresh new plants and herbs become available for a spring diet it’s also time to use up old “stock” that I’ve hoarded all winter.  I forget, a lot, I forget to add dried Calendula blossoms to soups, dried spearmint to tea blends, etc.  Out of sight out of mind in our small house where jars of this and that get stored and tucked away many places.  I was surprised, while making a tea blend for a friend with a cold, to discover a pint jar of dried rose hips I didn’t know I had. Forgetting I’d bought some last fall, I’d bought more in January!  So this year, an “Easter treat” to share is rose hips jam.  It is the easiest jam in the world to make, and not only is it tasty, but with our lingering cold weather, there are lingering colds going around.

Rose hips are packed with the disease fighting antioxidant vitamin C. I’ve collected hips, but separating the fuzzy hairs from the seeds inside the fruit, or “hip”, is a challenge.  They can be used in tea whole (thus no fuzz) if simmered a bit. When you buy rose hips you get nice little pieces of dried red hips, clean of fuzz.

Pouring water over dried hips reconstituted them. Soak overnight and you have instant jam! My pint of rose hips reconstituted when I filled the jar with water, but it was very “solid” so I mixed in: honey, (which smooths the astringent taste) and added more liquid in the form of a warm spicy infusion (tea) made from fresh ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon chips, a few cardamom pods, and two clove buds. After simmering on the stove 30 minutes, in a teapot, I added the infusion a little at a time until I got a smooth, spreadable paste.  Spread on crackers, it goes nice with a cup of ginger spice tea!

This is a great way to get vitamin C, especially for children or anyone who prefers tasty jam over pills!

Have a lovely Easter weekend, whether you celebrate Easter or just enjoy this season of hope and renewal! Mother Nature reminds us every spring there are always new beginnings and beauty to be found regardless of outer circumstances.

 

Past Easter posts:

A Season of Celebrations, A Season for Forgiveness

Egg Enchantment

Hare Hare Everywhere

Memories of the Season

Celebrating Cycles

 

Finding harmonious energies in Nature

“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of the sectarianism. It is of [all] ages, climes, and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge. When I am at it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night.” Henry David Thoreau

One of my herb harvests became a herb mandala!

One of my herb harvests became a herb maṇḍala! View more on my Flora Mandala page.

We have certainly had some “spangled heavens” this summer, with warm summer nights, clear skied full moons, and an extraordinary meteor shower. Did you see it? Here in our woodsy home, surrounded by tall firs, we only managed to catch a few ‘shooting stars’.

Though most the summer has been warm and lovely, it’s also been challenging for me due to an infected tick bite, followed by several weeks of antibiotics, causing other problems, more drugs, yada, yada, yada. Tired, achy and hot on the 90+ degree days (those same sky-view-limiting trees like to hold in heat!), my muse was looking for a creative, calm distraction from bodily woes.

a few of my little color doodle designs

a few of my little color doodle designs

Ten years ago, sick with what was diagnosed as idiopathic gastroparesis (I wonder about that word “idiopathic”, does it come from idiot? Is it when doctors don’t know what the heck is going on and feel like idiots?), I started drawing mandala-type designs I called ‘color doodles’. The color and geometric foundation of my ‘doodles’ was calming, centering, and focused my mind away from constant nausea and pain. There was something soothing and healing in each little design as I concentrated on drawing it. For about 3 months I drew one design after another and the little drawings became transformational for me.

Geometric form has helped people order and calm their minds, homes and communities probably since people learned to draw forms. Geometric designs and architecture are found in all the great civilizations, from the Incas of South America to Egypt, ancient China, and the Indus Valley culture of India, with which I am most familiar.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cuppula which corresponse with the open space below, or the Brahma, or center. The center of mandalas is also often called the Brahma or center.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cupola which corresponds with the open space below, the Brahma center. The center of a mandala is also often called Brahma.

Vastu Shastra, (also spelled Vaastu and sometimes called Vastu Vidya) the ancient architectural principles of India designed to bring harmony to buildings, like many Vedic teachings, was lost as a science and art for centuries because many ancient texts were destroyed or misinterpreted by people and cultures who invaded, dominated, and suppressed the Indus Valley culture. But ancient buildings, both residential and temples, built according to those Vedic principles were not destroyed and through the efforts of Ganaparti Sthapati, who was an architect, sculptor, and teacher, there has been a revival in India of Vastu architecture. We were fortunate 11 years ago to find a young American architect who studied with Ganaparti. He drew up plans for a small Vastu building, designed for us based on the land and our Vedic astrologic charts. Though only a ‘mini’ example of Vastu Shastra, it is a lovely building and folks comment on the ‘energy’ of the building. (You can read more about Michael Borden, Vastu architect, and look at pictures of gorgeous homes built according to Vastu principles here: Vastu Design.)

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little manadala.

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little mandala.

When the ancient rishis, or sages, wrote the Vedic texts Thoreau refers to above, they wrote about Ayurveda, Vedic (Jyotish)astrology, Yoga, and Vastu. They understood the energy fields of the material world, including the earth and everything on it. The existence of those energy fields has been confirmed by modern science. The rishis understood the importance of working in harmony with those energies for health and well being, including the magnetic fields of the earth and cosmos. The rishis understood the magnetic fields of the earth to be laid out in a grid pattern. That grid pattern is a theme repeated in a Vedic astrology chart, in the architectural plans for a building build according to Vastu principles, and the patterns of mandalas and yantras, intricate patterns created for the purpose of calming and interiorizing the mind. The energy grids are the foundation of the sacred geometry found throughout Nature.

A 'floating' mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers.

A ‘floating’ mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers. You can see in each flower a mini-mandala!

Consciously or unconsciously, people have always sought to reproduce and harmonize with these grid patterns in architect, art and the lay out of towns and cities. Examples can be found in stain glass windows found in the great cathedrals of Europe that have similar patterns to the mandalas of Hindu culture and yantras of Buddhism, or the patterns found in ancient Aztec and Mayan art and architecture, best known being Sun Calendars, or Sun Stones.

a little bontanical mandala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found amongst the dune grass.

a little botanical maṇḍala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found among the dune grass.

When my muse began to make botanical mandalas this summer, I realized the theme of geometric design has repeated itself in my life, often at times when I needed an outer expression of creative harmony. Our little Vastu building, my color doodles, labyrinths I draw in the sand at beaches, and now mandalas made of herbs and flowers, all have this theme of symmetry and geometric pattern. It is human nature to be attracted to these grid-like patterns as a way of finding harmony in chaos. We all seek that harmony. The symmetry brings balance, the creation process brings calming focus. I encourage you to try working with the harmonious geometric patterns of energy and Nature in whatever way you find to be creative.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

I find the process of actually creating geometric designs most beneficial, but there are oodles of coloring books of mandalas and some of yantras available.  At the very least, notice the spirals and grid patterns found around you in Nature, from a conch shell or snail’s shell to the interior of a flower.  It is not difficult to find energetic harmony in Nature, even when there appears to be such in-harmony around us.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandals grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandala grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Wikipedia has a very informative page about mandalas in art and architecture, with scrumptious pictures! Mandala

 

 

Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

Morning in Paradise & Forget-me-nots

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Peach Tree

Wow! If you are living in western Washington this first day of April, Nature is ‘fooling’ us in the most pleasant way…with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, weather that makes one open the curtains and look forward to the day! I opened my curtains to see two Stellar Jays in the peach tree. Our lone Jay has found his mate for the year. Their bright blue feathers amongst the pink petals was a colorful portrait of spring love!

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Abby and I went for an early morning walk, the blue skies beckoning us out. This is the phase of spring for flowering bushes and trees and some of the humbler flowers, such as forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts, both the wild and domestic. The ‘humble’ flowers are the ones no one has hybridized into hundreds of varieties with rainbows of color, nor do they have festivals and shows to glorify them, but they are often favorites of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Living in a woodsy environment, I appreciate the humble ones, they tend to be hardy, less fussy, and reliable.

IMG_4685Come with me on my morning walk and let me tell you about the ‘blues’, the forget-me-nots that grow everywhere in our yard, a few sneaking into the woods and joining the wild bleeding hearts.

 

The flowering current bush in it's glory outside my bedroom window, about 8' tall!

The flowering currant bush in it’s glory outside my bedroom window, about 8′ tall!

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Forget-me-nots are in the plant family Borage, genus Myosotis,  There seems to be disagreements as to their character traits. They are mentioned as being annual, biannual, and perennial (I always thought the annual ones different from the perennial ones). They re-seed easily the same year, new plants growing late summer and fall for the following spring. But the seeds, which can stay dormant for decades if necessary, also grow new plants in the spring. Some sources say their origin is New Zealand, others claim they hail from the mountains of Europe. One reference stated there was a native North American species but I could not confirm that. Seeds of many plants hitched rides early in European settlement of the New World, so confusion as to whether they were here already or caught an early boat is understandable.

IMG_4696Not all who study them agree on the number of species, 50 seems an average. Apparently it is difficult to tell many of the species apart. There is agreement that forget-me-nots like to grow in damp woodland areas. I find this true, when they grow in drier corners of our yard they get yellowish leaves and dry out. Their bloom season here begins in March and they bloom well into summer, the dainty little blue flowers blooming up the stock as it grows taller and gets “gangalier” I often pull some of them mid-summer, when there is more leaf and stem then flowers, letting them reseed with new ‘fresh’ plants. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and though a few in a salad is ok, caution should be taken for internal consumption. 

Another spring bush adding vivid color to our morning walk is this quince

Another spring bush adding bright color to our morning walk is this flowering quince

Whether native or not, they quickly become ‘wild’ flowers, in a more polite, not so invasive way as other ‘invaders’, such as non-native buttercup. One article said they were ‘invasive and hard to control’, suggesting the use of a herbicide. Yikes! I appreciate that they return every year, sometimes in the same places, sometimes showing up in new corners of the yard or garden. Should they appear where they aren’t welcome, they are easily removed by pulling, coming out ‘clean’, leaving no root pieces or runners, (as compared to morning-glory which is very invasive!).

There are many delightful stories as to the origin of their name, some are in the Wikipedia listing, other stories, both true and fanciful, can be found on other web sites. They are the Alaska state flower, the one place they are ‘glorified’ with a festival! I appreciate not only their reliability, but their color, blue being under-represented in the flower world and a delightful addition to spring color. That’s what makes them unforgettable!

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our 'chicken coop' garden

our ‘chicken coop’ garden

Bleeding heart, both the wild and domestic, is also beginning to bloom. Last year our big plant was eaten by deer for the first time, so this year I divided it and put half in our new, tiny, “chicken-coop” garden, created in a now empty back-yard chicken coop. It is happy in it’s new home, and with other deer and mountain beaver treats, very protected! The plant remaining ‘outside’ has been sprayed with a commercial deterrent of garlic, eggs, etc. So far it is happy too!

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Wild bleeding heart, which I’ve written about before because it carpets the woods here for the next two months, is just beginning to bloom.

Early morning walks are not just for people and dogs enjoying the flora and blue skies, but for ants looking for a drink!

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Pear tree

Pear tree

Hope you enjoyed this walk-about and seeing some of what is blooming this first day of April here in our woodsy paradise!  Abby and I will be enjoying the day in the garden and sitting in the back yard under our ‘ancient’  little pear tree!

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Raised bed in the backyard, with blooming blue plumonaria, primroses, including a purple denticulata, and bleeding heart. Other perennials just beginning to grow include columbines and geums. Sweet woodruff will fill in the blanks!

Tulips, Swans and Snow Geese

IMG_4605Yesterday we took a trip to the tulip fields of Skagit Valley. This essay is my rather pensive after-thoughts, which you can skip and just enjoy the pictures!

Lovely layers of shape and color at the Roozengaarde display garden.

Lovely layers of shape and color at the Roozengaarde display garden.

Like re-reading a book, or watching a movie you’ve watched before, revisiting places can lead to very different experiences than previous visits. We are, after all, not the same person we were yesterday, or last week, or 10 years ago. Perhaps you’ve experienced the phenomena of returning to a place of your childhood and thinking, “Wow! I remember everything as being bigger!”, well, of course it was, you were littler! It’s all a matter of perspective in the moment.

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amazing how the mucky mud nourishes such a bounty of beauty!

My first trip to the tulip fields was too long ago to still have vivid memories of it. My second visit, 9 years ago, was with Mike after a doctor’s appointment in Anacortes. I was one year into 2 ½ years of being intensely ill with 24/7 nausea. Based on doctors’ predictions, I was learning to accept being nauseous might be my every day life from now on. The tulip fields were a haven of color, a playful respite for us from medical appointments and worry.

IMG_4633A few years later I went to see the blooms on my way home from visiting my good friend, and cousin, Shaun on San Juan Island. That trip was a landmark for me, driving myself after 2 ½ years of being too sick to drive. Initially it was not an easy trip to make, but 3 days of walks, chats, and sitting among spring wild flowers, listening to Shaun talk of her passion for “her” baby oak trees and the land she loves, I felt renewed and on the road to recovery. The tulip field visit was peaceful and calm (few people visiting that day) and symbolic of finding my way back to myself. (click to read more about Shaun the Oak Lady of San Juan Island)

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behind the display garden was fields of daffodils, which are still in bloom and dot the landscape with ‘fields of gold’, just as lovely as the tulips.

Yesterday’s trip was very different. A simple day trip, it was a compromise after canceling two attempts in the past month to go away for a weekend. I’ve not been feeling well, exhausted, probably from a reoccurrence of Epstein Barr virus, and in a lot of physical pain. Traveling has become challenging for me.

Our trip to the Tetons last year, and a California trip to my niece’s wedding the previous year, left me discouraged about future travel plans. By the return trips, the joy of the destination was lost in physical pain. Even a trip an hour from home results in stiff sore legs and sciatica pain, reaching our destination I can barely get out of the car. I say ‘we’ because I no longer drive an hour away by myself, my right foot in numb pain from neuropathy, and a torn meniscus in my right knee which gets worse when I drive, makes driving even short distances undesirable.

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At the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, a favorite place to shop, I bought Mike his chocolate Easter bunny, who visited the tulip fields with us!

Today’s trip to the tulip fields was a challenge, but I was determined to go, knowing that ‘getting out of Dodge’ was important for both Mike and I. And the blue skies were irresistible. By the time we arrived in Skagit Valley I was already grumpy about bodily pain and discomfort.  Hungry, we headed to Skagit Valley Food Coop where the deli was packed with folks on lunch breaks. After a car-picnic in a local city park, we were off to the fields.

IMG_4524The color was dazzling, the fields just beginning to burst forth in their vibrant, almost psychedelic rainbows of color. But I found myself more interested in the swans flying in numerous small flocks into a field just beyond the tulips. By the time they all landed there was a ‘super flock’ of hundreds.

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IMG_4558The workers picking tulips in the fields made me wonder what it must be like to live their work-a-day life of low pay, listening to their Spanish language radio songs, chatting among themselves as they worked side-by-side while tourist’s “oohed” and “aahed” over the flowers. And I wondered why some of them wore masks.

IMG_4578The big display field at “Tulip Town” had the most blooms, and people, but was off-limits to me, I could not walk the distance from car to the ‘entry point’. Over the years the tulip fields have become, out of necessity, a more managed tourist destination. I was able to take a few distant pictures, it reminded me of a surreal Peter Max style painting!

IMG_4604Roozengaarde display gardens were busy but not too crowded. There were enough people  it was not easy to sit and ‘soak’ in the color and beauty of the carefully laid out patterns of blooms, and for me it was not easy to keep walking.


IMG_4650As it turned out, the highlight of the day was not the tulips but the swarm of white birds we saw in the distance, moving as one, turning, banking, turning again. A graceful bird ballet. We followed them and found ourselves watching a massive flock of snow geese settle into a field.

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This close up photo shows only a small number of the Snow Geese. I took many videos of their noisy, moving feast.

One of my hoped for trips a month ago was to the Snow Geese Festival, which I’ve wanted to go to for years.  I was very grateful for this unexpected opportunity to watch, in awe, literally thousands of birds in such a feeding frenzy as to hardly pay notice to the cluster of human “gawkers” who gathered. (see video below to hear and watch the snow geese)

We left the Snow Geese, went into La Conner, which was quiet and ‘sleepy’, stores beginning to close at 5:00. After a simple supper at a picnic table on the river we started the trip back to the (very packed out!) evening ferry.

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The display garden has many different bulb flowers, loved this highly scented hyacinth display!

It was not the predictable fields of vivid color that will stay in my memory of this day, nor did I feel the peacefulness of previous trips to the fields, it’s the ‘chance’ events of the day – watching hundreds of swans in flight, seeing thousands of Snow Geese swarm, land, feed, even watching the field workers, the real energy behind the surreal bonanza of tulip bloom each year.  It was a good day. Of course I wish was not in pain.  (and I wish Abby had not gotten sick.)  There is a sadness knowing such a simple day trip was so physically uncomfortable.  I’m learning to accept a life that stays closer to home.  As I look at the woods out the window and the bouquet of tulips we have from ‘our’ local tulip field at Red Dog Farm, I am grateful home is a lovely place to be – and stay.

Happy Easter all! IMG_4634

For more “Eastery”  posts from past years, you can read about, and see pictures of, eggs and bunnies at these links:

Egg EnchantmentA Season of CelebrationHare Hare Everywhere

 

Mother’s Garden Love Affair

IMG_6842In her tiny yard on Queen Anne Hill, Mom tended many flowers & a few veggies. (Pardon the redundancy to those who read my fb page. This is the ‘long’ version).  She was particularly fond of her roses, but loved all flowers and tended and fussed over lilacs, rhododendrons, Gerber daisies, pansies, tulips, daffodils and many more. A black-bearded iris was a favorite, she wanted me to dig it and take it when she knew she would not be living in her house much longer. DSC02162If you took her to a nursery she’d inevitably buy something and squeeze it in somewhere. If a plant died she asked to stop at a nursery so she could buy a replacement. A planter on the porch changed with the seasons. A spring ritual was the purchasing and planting of twin red geraniums along with little blue flowers in two planters on each side of the entrance to the basement stairs. Little lavender, pink and white flowers whose names I’ve forgotten (but she remembered!) re-seeded each year to her delight. IMG_1296 (1)Late in life she had to hire someone to keep up the yard up. Initially he replaced some of her flowers with more practical bushes and low maintenance plants, including lavender. Mom was not a lavender person, she had never grown it. With resolve she accepted it in the garden, but did not care for the scent in the house. The yard began to look raggedy, in the last year she lived in her home a neighbor complained to me about it. To me her yard was like those you see in every neighborhood, the yards of the aging, frail or ill, once tended with love, now aging with their owners. But years of planting and caring paid off as the perennials, old friends, returned each year for her to enjoy. IMG_1259 (1)

DSC08014 When she would visit us she always brought something from her yard, a rose, a sprig of lilac. Even when walking became difficult, her body hunched, she would walk her yard and pick a tiny nosegay for her table and one for the small vase I gave her that hung on her refrigerator door on a magnet. A huge dusty miller plant provided the ‘filler’ in every bouquet.

Inside, in the atrium off the living room, which was warm and bright on sunny days, there were more plants.  Multiple Christmas caucuses, a large hibiscus in the corner, the family Hoya, root bound and blooming at least once a year, spider plants, and various misc. plants. Plants also resided in the living room, where a gorgeous red prayer plant cascaded down off her marble table. In the dining room she attended to her African violets. She had a special fondness for orchids and grew a few.

IMG_0661.JPGTwo yrs. ago was our last trip to Volunteer Park Botanical Gardens where she loved to see the orchids.   Mom was not a plant aficionado, but she had her own quaint ways of making things grow, she read the newspaper articles about roses and other plants, watched Gardening with Cisco on TV, and she knew there was always room for one more plant to nurture. My wise cousin wrote to me today “All women are mothers — of someone they love. We can’t help it, we learned from the best!”  I don’t remember ‘learning’ it from my mom, but loving and appreciating plants have always been part of my life, from her encouragement of my childhood pansy beds to our trips in recent years to Whitney Rhododendron Gardens and Bloedel Reserve. Yes, I learned from my mom to love and nurture plants, and like her, I find there is always room for one more.

On this Mother’s Day I’m sure mom is puttering around a heavenly cottage garden, delighting in the vivid, colorful blossoms! Happy Mother’s Day to all the remarkable mother’s I know. I hope your day is filled with blossoms of love and appreciation.

(Mom was proud of her tulip tree, which she thought both beautiful and a bother when it blocked the view of the renter downstairs or dropped its petals & leaves on other plants. Every few years it was cut to the quick, but always came back with even more blooms!) DSC06278

Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

May Day Reflections & Poetry in Fairyland

Yellow & Red Cowslips, Forget-me-nots, cranesbill, wood hyacinths, a white narcissus & a velvety maroon primrose make up my rain drenched May Day nosegay.

Was hoping my muse would awaken this morning with inspired and eloquent words about May Day, but transitions in Mom’s life requiring increased care have tapped my creative energies, so I share a poem written by my Dad. I shared this on my old blog, but it is worth repeating, for it is a lovely poem from a man not known for his poetry, but who had a poet in him.

 

 

Spring Rites

Come, come High Priest of Spring,

Come to this sanctuary, following a path

looking like a caterpillar waking up, the last tip of a fern frond unfolds.

Lit by pale rose and white wild bleeding hearts

Held aloft by leaves of green lace;

Come on a carpet of coiled fern fronds

Interwoven with the dark green of succulent nettle tips;

Come under the vaulting arches of red alder

Whose twining branches out waited winter to greet this time;

Fill your breast with perfume

Floating down from a million bursting leaf buds and

Rising from a million more life forms

Stirring in the rich moist earth;

Be bathed in cloud filtered sunlight tinted green by emerging leaves;

Listen to the chorus from a thousand pulsing frog throats

Providing backup for robin soloists marking territory boundaries;

Come, it is time, as you have for centuries beyond count,

To bless the life cycle renewal of yet another spring.

1993, Harry Hubbard (1919 – 1998)

 

lacy leaved wild bleeding hearts tumble out of the woods into our backyard, already starting to set their seed pods.

My Dad, moved by the same fairyland that leaves me in speechless wonder each April & May, describes the unfolding of spring on our little patch of northwest woodland.  The carpet of wild bleeding hearts, hidden Trilliums, emerging leaves of Vanilla Leaf, False-Lily-of-the-Valley, pink Salmonberry blooms, clusters of white Elderberry blossoms and yellow Oregon Grape, and lush, bright yellow-green new growth everywhere creates an environment begging for visions of sprites and faeries.

Even in my Mom’s yard in Seattle yesterday, as I picked her a big bouquet of her favorite pink lilacs and blue wood hyacinths (a favorite of mine, which she has in abundance!), I could feel the magic of new life not just unfolding, but bursting forth with color and energy! I’m quite certain, hidden in her tiny yard, dense with tall, mature, flowering bushes and beds packed with perennials and tulips, there are fairy beings reveling in a yard minimally maintained by an occasional visit from a gardener.  Well into her 80s Mom tried to garden, but pain and fragility required hiring someone.  At 91, her garden fairies reward her for her past care with perennial blooms brought into the house. She LOVES flowers, it is a well-earned reward!

complementing the fairy plants in the wild is this patch of cowslip in our garden.

Happy May Day to you all……..may there be a impish harbinger of spring hidden in your garden today!

 

(You can see photos of some of the woodland flowers I mention on my Wild flowers page.)