I have, in fact, been sticking with my commitment to take my camera along on walks. It somehow prompts more attention to details like this tree, whose catkins have tassled up delightfully.


Then there was this holly growing up through a tall cedar and loaded with bright red berries.

Here’s where the warning part comes in. In order to get these shots, and some of a gnarly old apple tree still hanging on to aging, bronzed apples (that didn’t turn out), I found myself scrambling up brushy embankments. A day later, my face began to itch something fierce. Before long, I looked like a victim of something between jungle rot and teen acne. Now, I know what poison oak looks like. My cousin Billy was my partner in crime in the early years. We found some fabulously shiny and colorful leaves in the woods one fall day, and thought that armloads of boughs would please our mothers no end. Quite the contrary, as soon as they spotted us they snatched us up, branches flying, stripped us down and scrubbed us raw with lye soap. We got out of it scot-free, but Aunt Florine swelled up until her eyes were mere slits. Lesson learned. Poison Oak sports oak-shaped leaves with a surface that gets its shine from the sap that causes all the trouble. I didn’t spot any on this expedition, but it must have been lurking there somewhere. My advice is to stick to trails at least until things leaf out and you can tell what you are getting yourself into. Regular applications of tea tree oil have calmed down the itch enough that I can resist the scratching that spreads it around.

winter steals


One of my favorite little shops is in NW Portland on 24th, just off Thurman. Its name is Oxalis and it is in part of a little house, with garden art out front, all kinds of fun gifts in the house and plants out back. Like so many places that sell plants, once the season passes and the offerings lose their summer luster, great deals are to be had. I picked up Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Helena’s Blush’, Hebe ‘Silver Dollar’ and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ for a song. (actually, they probably would have paid me to spare them any singing)


They went into this petrified wood planter, where they are too crowded to stay for long. ‘Helena’ blushes deeper as temperatures drop, so she has provided a nice alternative to flowers in the dark months.

uh oh


So this is what wishful thinking got me. I will cut all the dead stuff off and hope for the best, but I fear my vision of a massive Phormium tenax anchoring this bed will never be realized. Had I wrapped it snugly against the deep freeze, would the diagnosis be any better, I wonder? The new Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ came through unscathed, so I will be moving in that direction with replacement purchases.


This well-established tree has lost its military bearing. Unlike the dry, lightweight snow that fell in great quantities and lasted over a week in ’08, doing little damage, our recent snowfall was wet and heavy. I’m hoping this guy will recover with time.


Here is another victim. I must pass both of these sufferers any time I leave the house. It is like having disapproving uncles “tsk tsk”ing at me. How much effort can it be to take broom in hand to relieve them of their burden? I promise to try to become a better caretaker in future.

ray of light

Yesterday brought light spilling across the breakfast table. A walk was called for.


The path down through the back of our property gets pretty overgrown by mid summer, but right now the extreme weather has beaten back the blackberries (see…some good did come of it) to reveal great swathes of sword ferns.


A big old hemlock has moss-covered stumps of limbs that look almost like spokes interspersed with the living branches. The close-up view is a nice reward for tramping through brambles.


The way the moss captures the light turns everything sculptural.


I love the way ferns grow out of the mossy trees. Those Oregon grape look so much happier than the ones I planted.


Color, texture…the forest floor has it all.


Now that’s texture!


The people before us sold off many of the large cedars on the property. It was a scarred landscape, but even the stumps are being reclaimed by nature and draped in beauty. She does a better job than I could dream of, so whenever I become frustrated by lack of progress in the cultivated garden all I need do is take a stroll back here. Hope you enjoyed coming with me this time.

putting on a good front

I have killed a number of Phormiums, even some kept in pots and moved about to avoid freezes. This one was in the ground for a few years before the winters of ’08 and ’09 swept in with unheard-of deep freezes.


It looks pretty good here, but if last year is any indication (and I think this year’s conditions were even worse) these leaves will shrivel and need cutting back as time goes by. It was half again as big before last spring’s haircut. I rejoiced that it came back at all, especially since it is in the care of a slipshod gardener, who failed to wrap or otherwise protect it. Do you think we are in for a long term shift in weather patterns, or was the recent double whammy an aberration?

bloom (?) day

Here it is! The one thing blooming outside right now.


Once all the Christmas razzle dazzle gets put away, the racks in front of our one-stop shopping center fill up with cheery primroses. I can never resist picking up a few to brighten the entryway deck. Once other things displace them, they go into the ground in the woodland. The white ones are most satisfying. The blues and pinks kind of disappear against the dark background of the forest duff, but the white sparkles and seems more vigorous as well. These began blooming as soon as the snow melted.

by the book

Our favorite book for identifying the birds visiting us, or those we see in the field, has long been Sibley’s Guide to Birds of North America. The carefully rendered illustrations make them easier to identify than any photograph. Now, after eight years of painstaking effort, David Allen Sibley has brought the same meticulous attention to detail to bear in a book on trees. It was Richard’s one request when asked what he would like for Christmas, and of course I was only too happy to oblige.



The book is, of course, a valuable field guide. What surprised me was the poetry in Sibley’s prose as he talks about trees.

Then there is this little gem, which found its way to me as a gift.



The first book by Paul Bonine of Xera Plants, its squareish format makes for a pleasing layout (close-up, dramatic photo on the right-hand page, descriptive text on the left). Oddly, I never went in for scary movies, but the noirish character of these plants really appeals to me. Take, for instance, the ‘Vampire’s dracula orchid’

…best known for their bizarre flowers. Three large petals or sepals are veined with black and white lines, each terminating in a long, midnight-black tail. The interior of the flower is no less sinister with yellow stripes that radiate from a central white to light pink pouch, reminiscent of a small coffin.

What fun!

easing into the new decade

Man, oh man! The holidays totally knocked us out for the count. Lots of family, friends and fun, computer in the hospital and still not working properly, finally colds that made us too fuzzy to accomplish much. I finally popped out of bed this morning feeling fairly frisky and realized January is one-third gone and I haven’t even wished my virtual friends a “Happy New Year”. Is this a foreshadowing of the way the whole new decade will unfold? I hope not. Don’t know about you, but I am just as happy to whisk all those aughts into the dust bin and move on.

Contemplating the garden’s future, I hope to bring whimsy and an artist’s heart to all future endeavors. I just came across a piece I wrote for the Ventura Reporter a couple of years ago. Rereading it is what put me in this frame of mind, so I’ll share it with you.

The Art of Nature

Several years ago, I wandered into a small flower shop. There, on a pedestal amidst sprays of orchids and exotic foliage, lay an open book. The photograph was of the highest coffee-table-book caliber. The scene depicted looked like a natural phenomenon, but not like any I had ever seen. I leafed through a few pages, each of which revealed a new image as startling, in its own way, as the first. I had just had my first brush with Andy Goldsworthy.

Here was a book I had to possess, and an artist I must learn more about. I hadn’t been so excited about art since DeKooning. I snatched up Andy Goldsworthy, A Collaboration With Nature right then and there, and mooned over the other books so vocally that they eventually came my way as gifts. Unlike most glossy art books, they are opened, and pored over, long and often. Guests are pressed to dip into Andy’s world, and lo and behold: they “get it” and immediately fall under his spell, whether they have any arts background or not.

The works in question are in nature and of nature, but not exactly nature. The artist goes forth onto the land, looks around, and sees the tools and materials of his trade all around him. He carries no sketchpads, no brushes: nothing but a sharp eye and a brilliant imagination. A piece might be as simple as picking a lot of dandelions, transporting them to a nearby stream and covering the surface of a quiet pool with them. The effect of the splotch of color where least expected is displacement, intrigue and a whiff of humor.

Not all of this man’s ideas can be executed so easily. When he chooses to create a tapestry of leaves, he will use thorns to stitch them together. Coloration for a cairn of stones might be achieved by pounding and scraping other stones of the desired colors until they produce a fine powder. Sculpting with ice means working in punishing weather and resorting to bodily fluids as mastic, then willing the shards or icicles to stay where he puts them.

Most of these art works are ephemeral by nature. It is only through the wonders of photography that most of us will ever experience them. A starburst fashioned from icicles, nimbly perched atop a rocky, snow-dusted cliff, seems on the verge of melting from the very page. Rocks piled precariously speak of impossible balancing acts and make you want to hold your breath. Sand sculptures on the shore invoke the tingle of suspense we felt as kids, waiting for the tide to obliterate our handiwork.

A film, Rivers and Tides brings time into the equation, and thus enriches the viewing experience. We can actually watch the process of nature reclaiming its materials, redistributing them and, in effect, erasing the artist’s work. A streamer of brightly colored leaves placed in a rushing river becomes a contortionist on the currents, finally to be torn asunder. Handfuls of russet rock dust flung into the air create a pattern for an instant before falling back to earth. The fleeting images burn into the brain, leaving a little ache in the heart.

Film gives us the opportunity to meet Goldsworthy’s family, taste their cozy life and tramp with him over the rugged fields of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where he developed his unique aesthetic. One glimpse of his ruddy cheeks, ruined hands and puckish demeanor, and we know him to be an outdoorsman who will never take himself too seriously. We watch him slowly and painstakingly construct a frieze by inserting hollow reeds into each other. When he pushes the construct too far, the whole thing collapses. He laughs good-naturedly and starts over, assuring us that the failures are all part of the process.

If art is a new way of seeing, Andy Goldsworthy is better than laser surgery. See through his eyes only briefly, and I dare you to look at the world in the same old way. His gentle stride through nature leads him to change it utterly, and yet leave it as if untouched.

Now I am going to hop on over to Netflicks to put in an order for Rivers and Tides to watch on one of these chilly winter evenings.