It is getting late and my husband is in the kitchen making preparations for our street’s first block party tomorrow. He is the trained chef, I am not, and I am grateful that he is here for a visit from the vineyard in CA because I have needed his help dearly in the last few weeks. As much as I love the summer, and I love my garden, this time of the year is always very hard for me physically here in the NW, especially with little physical help available to me, but this has been the best summer I’ve had in many years so I am not complaining.
In the garden there are a few special blooms to share right now. One is the first bloom I’ve seen on an unusual plant in our collection while the other is purely a sentimental bloom from a pass-along I purchased seeds for at a museum in Los Angeles.
This is the only bloom on the Crinodendron hookerianum (aka Chilean Lantern Tree) in the backyard and it is our first. This is a shrub I planted 2 or 3 years ago and I’d forgotten about since it nearly dies every winter but then it springs back to life just in time for winter to slam it down hard again so it’s easy to miss in the mess. Maybe we’ve turned the corner on those days though since there are more blooms to come; they just haven’t reached maturity yet. I like what I see though.
The other bloom I wanted to post is on a hollyhock in my garden, single and white, planted from seeds I purchased at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. The plant itself is pretty roughed up with rust, but I just couldn’t yank it out. It is one of those sentimental things for me, reminding me of a time not that long ago when I was well enough to work, albeit briefly, doing something I’d studied for, and which I loved a great deal.
Back when I worked at The Gordon House I applied for one of the small scholarships offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy in Chicago to attend an annual Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy Conference and I was granted that dream. It is a city I have visited many times now, both before and after, but that visit was very special since I attended many events and I saw the interiors of homes that very few members of the public are ever allowed to see. I also met Dion Neutra in his home in Silver Lake—the son of the architect Richard Neutra—and he was a really kind man who inspired me with his humility and kindness.
At night, after the conference tours, I’d wander off by myself to Pasadena for their annual Craftsmen Weekend with events organized around the designs of Greene & Greene. I was experiencing the best of both worlds in my mind, and I even skipped a party with Hollywood producer Joel Silver so that I could spend an evening dining at the Gamble House. I have never regretted that choice and I will always remember that event as well as the smashing party at the home once owned by Ernest Batchelder, a leading tile designer during the American Arts & Crafts Movement.
At that party I stayed late, wandering in circles around the property, between the house and the old artisan’s studio, lingering near the tiled fountain grotto at the far edge of the property in the back corner of the garden, and then finally in the kitchen, dining room, and living room with the magnificent fireplace. Eventually I spoke with the homeowner, a retired professor who’d spoken that day at my conference, and he was overjoyed that I was such a turncoat. I’d left Frank, and his cult, to spend an evening with someone else’s designs, and we both knew that I would live to tell about it.
This beaten up hollyhock is there to remind me now of my past and of my future, but mostly of my past and I am sad about that. Gardens are so often designed with such sentimental tales attached to their owner’s plant choices and this often drives those among us “nuts” when nothing makes sense in the design or is too disorganized for us to understand what the person was thinking or saying. There is often order to such gardens, but is is not often apparent, or it is written in a language that we do not understand, or were never intended to understand. These gardens are the most private, since they do not communicate to us, and are written in code. They are the gardens meant for only a few, sometimes only one, and I am beginning to think that we are folk gardeners creating outsider art as we call it in the art world. This just may not be what I want to communicate though and I have been spending a lot of time thinking over this recently.
Sometimes I really struggle with what my garden is saying, if it is saying anything at all to others. Writing this has elucidated a great deal to me though and I look forward now to thinking about it some more. All of this was also stirred up by my still not having spun together a name for the place, because this kind of a vision is really required and necessary at this point.
I guess it’s back to the midnight drawing board with the smoking panda up at the park above my house. That is unless they have banned graffiti from smoking too. Life is simply too short to make gardens so serious and staid.