How to Do “Cozy” in the Garden


In my last post I showed where the willow tunnel once was that was my safe and happy place as a kid. Well, it’s funny that I essentially recreated that space and feeling in my own back garden. This only came to my attention when a woman came to an Open Garden a few months ago. It was not the original concept, but it has morphed into it as I’ve needed that space in my life again during the last 10 years.

I was kind of stunned when she walked in and understood me immediately. “You design cozy. You made this space cozy. How do you do that with plants?”

I stood there stunned.

For months I’ve wanted to include a photo of the creek just so I could write here that I’m more of a storyteller than a garden designer, and I AM a dreamer too. This is why I don’t design for other people—not unless they have a story to tell.

I can help anyone with dramatizing a feeling or a memory with plants, but I can’t do matchy-matchy.

I designed most of my garden around feelings, and safe spaces from my childhood. It’s likely why I feel so awkward when adults are here, but coming to realize this, it’s all kind of fun now.

Yes, I do design cozy! I’m going to stick to it too.

Then there are all of the plants. The number of unusual plants is an improvement upon my childhood. I now have my library of seedlings, a revolving collection, and a jungle full of sounds and creatures. Sometimes it feels like the stories of the plants are all alive around me, and yes, of course my plants all have stories of their own.

I tried to keep some of my favorites nearby this summer, but it’s never just the right way. I’m always moving things around.

I’m still happiest with a cat in the “boat” with me—just like when I was a girl. Like Maurice before him, Felix is fond of the hammock. He jumps up to snuggle with me.

My books now are mostly on my phone since I listen to them.

Yes, this is cozy in the garden.

I just about lost my mind when I saw the community garden plot this week. My husband wanted to be “in charge” and clearly, uh, someone had to come and discuss what to do next. We’re now growing summer/fall crops. I’m in charge again and he has promised to listen this time.

We will see how that goes.

It is funny how much better I felt after John cleared out this mess. I felt lighter.

Maybe even a bit more confident, and yes, kind of happy.

It almost felt like I knew what to do and got it done quickly.

I came home and cozied up outside.

The last supermoon of 2022 was tonight and I went for a long walk. I’ve been doing that a lot for the last month. It’s been a good thing. Walking is good for so many reasons.

Just seems like everything is aligning well right now.

I wanted to write about cozy this week and looked up the origins of the world last weekend on my phone before falling asleep.

And maybe a superstar has a hit on her hands, and it’s called Cozy too. (That showed up on the top of my search.) Synchronicity.

Again, the stars seem so be aligning.

And yes, I design “garden cozy”—with plants, and I’m a storyteller.

The Garden Gayle Grew


Some time ago we visited this garden. It’s the only family home I’ve ever known other than the fishing “villa” at the coast. Mom and Dad built both homes, and Mom designed them both. I grew up here.

Yes, it was a charmed childhood.

This addition was added when I was a bit older. I envy the large covered porch area a lot.

In the case of this house, she also physically helped to build it. My mom is not shy with power tools and hammers. I was a toddler when she was working on finishing touches, but throughout my childhood, this was the 4th child. There was always something going on and there were many shenanigans with my two older brothers.

There were additions too, and various projects. It never seemed to end between the house and the garden—and us kids. There was always something going on.

I used to run around here with my cat Cleo in a baby carriage. She was the best cat. I know so few who’d tolerate that kind of thing.

To me this was my playground, my reading room, and my badminton court. We had parties here, we played so many games, slept outdoors, and played in the creek.

Dad was often away on business trips, fishing all over the region, in Alaska, BC, and for many years he visited Chile on a regular basis. So many authors stayed here too, or just visited. It was a busy and buzzing place. (Dad was a publisher.)

Unknown rose, she needs to look for a tag.

There are so many memories in a garden that’s decades old, and so many stories. People often ask if I learned to garden here, and to be honest, I really didn’t.

Mom did her own thing.

I was the child asking the never-ending why and how questions. This had me being sent off elsewhere. I usually ended up with my paternal grandmother and her neighbor. Asking them my strange questions worked well, and they showed me things that I needed to learn.

Mom pointing and asking me for the name of a plant.

But Gayle was entertaining. She kept me busy dragging me to nurseries. With no computers back then, I could spend a lot of time reading plant labels and learning about plants. We were rich with great plant shopping opportunities then, but it wasn’t as great as it is now.

Looking back I was bit of a sickly kid. I know now why. I often hid indoors and read a lot. My grades and getting into a great college mattered a lot to me. I would have loved to have had a little corner to myself, but when I gardened I kept potted plants, and they were in my treehouse.

There were houseplants too, but I often killed them.

Mom is 80 now and keeps up the garden mostly on her own. She’s a very strong and determined woman.

The spot where my treehouse once stood.

Long ago this was where my treehouse stood. Built for my brothers, I was the last occupant. Than one morning when I was 20 I woke up late and Mom was down in the garden with a chainsaw, cutting it all down. Today, there is this lovely sitting area there.

I think it was a nice change.

Where we played with our toy dump trucks and Hot Wheels.

This is the rockery. It is full of shade and always kind of was but in the 1970s Mom knew that a rockery was popular, so we had one.

This is where all of my questions began, and where I planted the space with plants in my mind when I was young.

I can’t remember when she decided to add on to the kitchen. That was a later addition but it makes looking out at the creek wonderful year round.

Mom always gardened with plants in mind that would not grow in the conditions she had and that’s the sad truth. But it kept her busy, and she regularly moved things around, or else replaced them.

Busy, busy, busy.

My badminton court.

She did well with what she had, but I always had other ideas. I mostly kept those to myself though and I dreamed of the day someday in the future when I would own my own home, and I could be free to do what I wanted—whatever that was…

I had a lot of dreams. Mom would have told you that I was a dreamer.

Where the native willow tunnel once grew.

When I was a kid, that area across the creek had large native willows, and they draped over the water. They created a kind of a tunnel, and I tied up my raft in there, with my books, and a radio. (Sometimes, I even had a cat with me.)

I would hide in there from my life and I would dream while the willows wrapped around me. It was my cozy safe place.

My childhood refuge. Couldn’t escape out of that window!

The other quiet place was my room. That dormer up there on the second floor was mine. It had a lovely view of the huge Doug fir, and I loved to watch it sway but was afraid of it during windstorms.

My other window looked out towards this camellia but when I was a girl, there was a native dogwood, a Cornus nuttalii. It was lost in an ice storm and I cried and cried. It broke my little heart since it (to my mind) was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

A shady sitting area in the front of the house.

Amongst the garden plants in Mom’s garden are a few oddballs. This Vitis coignetiae is one of them. Over the years though, she’s mostly simplified things. If a plant is too fussy, or doesn’t meet her performance standard, then out it goes.

She keeps nurseries in business.

For the love of foliage…

This vine though was one of the handful of plants she bought at Cistus Nursery long before I worked there. It was back when I first started to shop there.

She has it and a few other unusual vines that I still need to ID.

This was the lab where I grew, and I was safe in Mom’s space because she was vigilant.

I think that many mothers would love to be able to afford this kind of space and life for their children.

I can only say how grateful I am for it. If I’d had children, I would have wanted this for them too.