In the Weeds

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This has never been a how-to garden blog, but maybe in this case, I’ll make a grand sweeping exception. If there is one thing I can teach all of you to do, it’s how to be in the weeds in your garden. With the grace of my rough and rebellious American hand we’ll brush off the argument that my garden is a mess, and I’ll show you how to do so from the zero gravity chair I pretty much live in for the majority of the gardening year. So yes, today, I am playing as the armchair garden philosopher.
Our passion vine (Passiflora caerula ‘Blue Crown’) is a bit wild. I blame all of those young adult mystery books I read as a child. I think this might be called Scooby Doo Chic.

If there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s been taking on far too much. As a kid, I’d often have to give up an activity or two, but up until the last decade, I’d usually toss everything up into the air and over time, it would all work out.

When I was in college this nasty little habit of mine helped me to get my work done. Integrating unrelated information worked for me, but in the art history department I pushed beyond its unstaid envelope everyday and not all of the other students enjoyed or understood my work, and a few of the professors tended to think of my presentations more as mental acrobatics than as real academic work. And to this day, I will never understand why not a single art history professor ever assigned a philosophy book. Since the entire field has its origin in aesthetics, this was always very sad to me, but the same thing goes for garden design. Yup, it too is based on aesthetic theory and philosophy too. (Don’t groan. I can hear you and the chorus of other groaners out there.)

I am in the weeds.
And here we go, I’m at it again. I’m about to wrap this egg roll right up though so hold on tight.
I realize now that stasis (in a Greek philosophical sense) has always been important to me, but I didn’t know what to call it until I was introduced to Giovanni Bellini’s St Francis in Ecstasy and the study of ontology in high school. I could write a tome about this painting, but I will attempt to resist in this post, and save that for later.
I was able to go on a little pilgrimage to The Frick Collection to see this painting with an art history classmate while she was still living in New Jersey. She’d moved to the NYC area to pursue her graduate studies and I am so proud of how far she’s gone in her career. (I am also happy she’s now a gardener.)

I find that I now tire of the same thing in garden design that I used to find dull and problematic when I studied art history and that it’s not just illness and broken fingers which has led me to being in the weeds. Instead, what’s been holding me back is my inner battle with mimesis.

Internally, yes, I struggle, and with this post, as well as a few others, I’ve exposed myself as a bit of a navel gazer who prefers to build her castles in the sky rather than on dry land, but that’s because of my struggle with beauty, representation, design, art and reason.

Like that overwhelmed server in a busy restaurant, I am so far behind in my garden that our green customers have overwhelmed me and are attacking. Well, so what if I’m in the weeds in my garden? Maybe I want to be the oldest kind of garden designer of all, not a farmer, but the kind of person who let’s nature grow up against her. It just so happens I’m in a city though, but I’m not afraid of the chaos of nature and you shouldn’t be either. We’ve been mimicking her since to dawn of man and I’d rather mimic her than the newest garden design fads.

So that’s enough for now. We’ll flog this not yet dead horse again soon.

Things Fall Apart, Rereading the Garden

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Our willow arbor is beginning to fall apart.
I was introduced to the book Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe many years ago when I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College. Surprisingly, the book was not assigned, but instead, it was recommended to me by my boyfriend at the time, my first serious boyfriend, someone who’d lived in Nigeria for several years with his family and had greatly admired the book. Believe it or not, I often think of this book when I consider my garden.
In summary, the book examines the life of one African man as his traditional tribal culture rubs up against the culture of white Europeans and Christianity in his realm. The events that occur become increasingly more painful for the reader to read as the story progresses, and in the end, you are there, on the stage with them, confronted. Few books have ever left me so radically changed.
Things Fall Apart has stuck with me for many years, and I return to it often, especially whenever I feel stuck between conflicting realities. Let’s say radically so. Often, nowadays, I stand between the world of the healthy and the world of the ill and as much as you may believe these two places are the same, they are not. If you are healthy you can physically work and earn money or else take care of things like your health and possessions. If you are currently unemployed, that is not even close to being the same as unemployable. If you are ill you struggle with money, time, personal expectations you’ve placed on yourself, schedules and then there is always that nagging responsibility you feel to lessen the stress for those who care for you.
We all have to put on a productive happy mask, but what lies beneath it is always what matters most because beneath the mask and its design is what we call its integrity. That’s what makes some books great, while others miss the mark. It’s the unseen emotive element in design—and it exists even in garden design. Not surprisingly the designs with the most integrity are also those which inspire us the most, that’s why we say great works have soul. They live and breathe apart from us. It’s for this reason Dr. Frankenstein, like so may others, created his monster. Unlike them, I am not a literalist, or for that matter, a copyist.
When it comes to our garden, I am often asked what style it is, and up until right now, I haven’t really had an answer. It wears no mask, at least not one that fits into any traditional category—and we like it that way. When we get around to affixing a mask to it, I will let you know, but until then, I think I may begin to tell inquisitors that it is in the Style of Illness.

Garden Blogs Flinging Themselves upon Seattle! (Pre-Fling Prep Course: Kubota Garden)

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Grrrrrrr. I’m an anatomically incorrect stuffed eel toy and I’m about to take Seattle! I’m a lean, mean, green, garden stalking machine.

The Amateur Bot-ann-ist has never been a flinger, but I’m flinging this year to give it a shot. I’m almost always open to new garden viewing opportunities, especially when my cohorts are not kids groaning in the backseat. Garden Bloggers Fling 2011 (Seattle).

My husband needed a break from California so he came with me. After our arrival, I tagged along while he accomplished some work. There is a tasting planned for this Saturday so first we dropped off several cases of wine at the Fremont Wine Warehouse. Then we jumped back on the freeway and headed back to another shop. I marveled at the greenery both times we passed through downtown. Due to our wet and mild summer it is looking even better than usual.

While he was pouring samples at another shop in West Seattle I sat in the car and played with my new camera. It’s a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS and I think I’m in love. Seriously.

While I was in the car I realized that on our way back into the city we could revisit a garden that I’d only seen once during a winter trip to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show: Kubota Garden.
We bloggers will be visiting the Bloedel Reserve on Monday so the least I could do was revisit the garden left behind by Fujitaro Kubota. He was a Japanese immigrant from the island Shikoku, a self-taught gardener, and a man who became a keystone to what is called the Northwest Garden Style. He also designed the Japanese garden at the Bloedel Reserve.
An island of Bergenia cordifolia.

After having seen the Kubota Garden during the winter, I have to admit that today it felt like an entirely different place.

Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo.’

This Japanese maple, known in Japanese as the “Floating Cloud Tree” took my breath away.

The green canvases he painted with a textural brush are so calming and peaceful.

As you walk through the scenes, experiencing the layers, it feels cleansing and refreshing.

There are nooks and paths that lead to views.

You may even find a place to rest in the small forest. It was planned and planted in such a way as to make the space seem larger and longer. This is very pleasing to the eye.

There are two red bridges. One bridge is lower and wider.

Red berried of a Vaccinium parvifolium.

There were native red huckleberries.

The other bridge is higher and is more of a Moon bridge.

As we left the garden we both noticed the construction that we’d seen several years ago was now complete and that they’d added a new wall and passageway into the garden. The contemporary construction includes “tiles” made of rusted metal rectangles which truly enhance the garden with their weathering. Additionally, the concrete blocks reminded me a great deal of the Gordon House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, where I used to work. Do you like the wall finished or unfinished? I love either, but I think that the raw and unfinished wall could look a lot worse. It truly is kind of interesting.

I’ve not yet met any of the other garden bloggers, but I certainly feel as though I’ve arrived. I look forward also to deeper contemplation of the Northwest Garden Style that means so much to me. Cheers to you Seattle!

Garden Flaws: How to Improve Aluminum Windows Blocking Your Complete Garden Vision

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Our home was built in 1911, and during the last 100 years, some things have been changed. Sometimes these changes don’t sit well with the real integrity of the house, and for me, one of these many beefs I have is with the aluminum windows on the back of the house. They just don’t fit in with the rest.

Originally, the back of the house had a large sun porch and a butler’s pantry. Much later, the wall between these rooms was removed, the door to the kitchen was covered up, and the large windows were replaced with these cheap aluminum ones. I love the extra back room, and the lack of kitchen storage space is something we deal well with, but the windows drive me nuts.

In a perfect world, I’d replace them and put back the appropriate windows, but this is not that world. Usually, each summer I hide the windows with plants from the outside, and this year is no exception. I intend to grow all of my Christmas cacti in these old hoops soon. The sight of the plants is almost always distracting when you have them all hanging in a row, but what about a solution? I need a solution I can afford!

Then I noticed this amazing window treatment at the Portland Japanese Garden last weekend at their annual plant sale while I was standing in line. It’s brilliant and I think it would look great! Our garden is a mess right now, and it is hard to see all of this clearly through the debris, but I think this is the new plan.

Don’t you agree? (I should add that we have plenty of other Japanese elements in the garden and this might actually begin to tie them all together. So often the details are so easily overlooked.)