A QUINTESSENTIAL RHODE(-y) TRIP

A WINTER VISIT TO THE WEYERHAUSER RHODODENDRON SPECIES BOTANICAL GARDEN

January 18, 2014: “There was something profound about the light today, the tint of it, warm and yet cool, a haze that seemed as if it might be practicing to become fog, someday, but was perhaps still not quite up to the task.”

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Today’s visit to the Weyerhauser Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden moved me a long, long way toward recovery from that strange, lingering malaise I’ve felt toward rhodies after decades of witnessing their torture and abuse, via those tens of thousands of spindly, garish-flowered, root-weevil-infested, mass produced, Home Depot-looking specimens I’ve driven past, each demeaningly planted right next to the bare concrete foundations of thousands of pastel-painted, cedar-sided, seventies-vintage, split-entry homes and bungalows in Northwest suburbia. There, I’ve said it.

“Ohh, thank you, thank you,” I whisper, “you wonderful garden creators, you amazing plant collectors and you painstaking gardeners who have each labored so carefully to create and maintain this wonderful botanic sanctuary! Visiting your garden is like being invited to bite into a dozen, no hundreds of different hued and shaped, delicious, amazing, old school, classic apples after years of mealy, flavorless, zombie-like, red delicious.”

20140118-DPP-609s What a wonder! What a humbling, quieting experience to walk through this botanical masterpiece, painted with more than 700 species of rhododendrons from all over the world, to see them clustered together and mingled with myriad other woodland plants upon a forested canvas, especially here in the chill and oft-rainy Northwest, in mid-January. What treasure to share this space with a large, confident, thick winter-coated coyote (Thank you Mary for making sure I didn’t miss him silently crossing that dew-laden meadow), and with those expansive, fragrant, backlit witch hazel trees (see the yellow one in the photo below?), in full pungent bloom, and practically no one else in the entire 22 acre preserve. Every one of my awed senses swirled and sighed in grateful overload.

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The air was hazy and cold, but the low-angled sun found ways to weave its cheering rays between the tree trunks and to pierce the winter-lush vegetation, warming pools of pungent, forest air and warming our faces, as well whenever we stepped into one of them. I surrendered, quite happily, dozens of appreciative gasps and muffled chuckles of recognition and delight, and I also discovered a new plant crush. Rhododendron arboreum ssp. cinnamomeum (below). Who knew?

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20140118-DPP-634I suppose it could have been the combination of that romantic light and the chill of the thick, witch-hazel-pregnant air. Or maybe it was something they put in the water fountain, but I’m telling you, Rhododendron arboreum ssp. cinnamomeum shot an arrow deep into my awareness today, looking like a million bucks with those long, elegant, jewel-toned leaves and their mysterious, dark, matte, cinnamon undersides, all strangely aglow. Va va Voom! And hooray for January, when we’re not so blinded by the beauties of  lush rhododendron blooms and other flowers that we can concentrate on their exquisite, if much quieter foliage!

For those of you who’ve never been, or if you just haven’t been lately, I highly recommend this botanic wonderland of gravelled paths and earthy smells to help realign what you 20140118-DPP-613sthink you know and feel about rhododendrons, and maybe, just maybe flush some of those scraggly, sick-rhodie visions from your own tortured consciousness, as well.  The eight dollar admission fee seems a worthy investment in oneself, even in January, especially when you consider the costs of developing and maintaining such a magnificent, world-class collection and keeping it open to the public, year round.

And as a total, extra super bonus, be sure to allow time to take in the wonders of  the adjoining, Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection which is mind bogglingly beautiful, wonderfully educational, and free.

Take the 320th Ave Exit off I-5 between Seattle and Tacoma, and follow the signs.

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Namasté

Winter’s Exquisite Palette

We are but one week from the bottom of the trough, less than a week, actually from this year’s longest night. And though the momentum of these shortening days slows perceptibly while many of nature’s colors continue to bleed and fade, there is still enough beauty and texture, even within the rumpled ruins of these last few days of the year to settle a fretful mind and inspire wonder. What the heart hungers for is out there. Trust this. You will not find it in stores or on the web. And it will not fit within the production schedule of a network or the pixels of a television screen. But it is there just as surely as the stars are there, even when you cannot see them.

This morning, coffee in hand, I toured the raggedy perimeter of my garden simply to see and smell the damp, chill, outdoor world. I did not feel compelled to carry a fancy camera or trundle with a tripod. I did’t even bother to put a fresh battery in my point-and-shoot. I wanted to travel light, to pose a simple question and let the day answer as it would. “What have you got for me?” I asked.

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Turns out this day offered me the exquisite beauty of death; fallen soldiers, once green and upright, untouched and unappreciated since slumping ever so gracefully to Earth in my shade garden a few months back. Seeing them this morning quieted some much too busy part of me that has been scurrying and fretting in that crafty way the manufacturers and marketers want us all to scurry and fret this time of year as we try desperately to keep up, to measure up, to open our wallets up and buy, buy, buy that, ‘NEW’, ‘AMAZING,’ perfect ‘thing’ they want to sell us.

Having been practicing for decades now, a bumbling student learning to call my soul back toward center from the frayed edges of obsession and feelings that I am utterly lost, this humble jumble of decaying leaves was a faint beacon on the horizon helping me to navigate toward safety. I might easily have missed it looking for something much grander. A wet mat of decaying leaves? Seriously? Big whoop. What possible salve or redemption could they offer?

But here’s something you might not have guessed. Seeing those leaves and even recognizing them would have achieved little or nothing had I not stopped, pulled out my little iPhone camera and paid them the honor of my time and attention. It could have been any camera. Or a sketch pad. Or a the whispered first line of a poem. I could easily have kept moving, could easily have said “No. You’re just not that beautiful. You’re not that important. I’m gonna keep looking. I want something better than you. Prettier, maybe. More impressive.” Think how often we do just that. To decaying leaves, certainly and to myriad other minor miracles. And also to people, which really, are profoundly major miracles. Often, even to the very planet that is our mother and every manor of her children. We have been taught to think that there will be something better just ahead, so we foolishly try to live in that next moment rather than the one we have now. And the chase never ends. And we often feel lost. And in our mercurial, grasping wakes we leave trails of rejection and destruction. The world doesn’t need to be this lonely, but it is, because we are always, habitually looking for the next, even better thing.

In some delicious way, it was stopping and acknowledging them that transformed these leaves into something more. Into something magical. It was saying “You are enough. Your beauty is enough to get me to release my hold on all the petty little things I’ve been fretting over, and on those much grander things I often hope for. In these next few minutes, I am yours. You are what I choose to see, what I choose to bend deeply over, despite my achey back. You are what I will frame up ever so carefully in my little camera, what I honor with my attention in this moment and the one that follows.”

I give lectures and teach classes and workshops about such things. Some sense this essential, transformational secret before they ever enroll, hoping to become better practitioners while for others the light bulb comes on in some newly triggered ‘aha’ moment along the way. And there will always be some who listen to each lesson and complete each assignment, and still leave certain that the secret must be in the particular camera or iPhone app I am using. When a chef’s food is delicious do you credit the knife?

If you would like to find a family to practice your seeing with, if you’re achey for reminders of just how to find your own soulful north star, perhaps a class is just the ticket to help you define and explore your own visual path, or perhaps it would be a perfect gift for someone you love. My next class offering will be through Bellevue College, beginning on January 27 on their north campus. I also love to work with students individually either through coaching and reviews, or in guided shoots. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

In the mean time, try grabbing something as simple as the camera within your phone (the less complicated the camera, the better), go outside and give your attention to something none of your friends could possibly be jealous of (see photo above). Showy, exotic, far-off locales and pictures of swankadoo foods in swankadoo restaurants that most of your friends will never have a chance to visit are fine, as far as they go, but these are not the subjects that will help you find your inner quiet. To accomplish that, begin by looking for the simplest, least impressive subjects. Give your eye and your attention permission to become fascinated with whatever little thing captures its fancy, not worrying for a minute what others will think. Do this just for you, considering only your contented sigh in that one moment you stand within. This may feel awkward at first, and that is as it should be. You’ll get better at it. Just as you get better at finding your breath when you practice yoga. Just as you get better at hearing the chords and the harmonies when you give yourself to music. You’ll learn that you can trust yourself. If you’re not there yet then trust me, for now. Budget ten minutes. No more. Now, deep cleansing breath. Quiet your mind by stepping out of it. Search for a pattern, an intersection, a texture, a color that pleases you, that intrigues you. It need not be much.  Matter of fact, less is generally better than more. A  wash of sky, a few faded leaves. The visual equivalent of a whisper. A single word. A sigh.

It’s there, I promise. And it wants you to find it.

 

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I’d love to hear from you if this simple practice helps you. Send me a note or leave a message here. Include a picture, but just one. Choosing is part of the assignment.

COLORS WITHIN A SHADE OF GRAY

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Meditations On A Quiet Winter Walk

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A walk, pregnant with moments of recognition,

whispered koans, repeated…

insights settling into awareness,

affirmations of invisible truths revealed…

Wonders seem even sweeter,

shared.

 

(The type I’ve used here is intentionally small, and with its curvaceous script flourishes, asks you to slow your eyes and look carefully, just as I needed to do when framing up each shot. You may click on any image individually to see a larger and more legible version…)

Namasté

A Sudden Change In Appetite

A story about robins and juniper berries for my brothers and sisters who send their imaginations out into the garden to wonder and play…

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Please click on each image to see it larger.

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And in case your interest in juniper berries has been piqued by this little photo essay and you’re now wondering what delicious intrigues they might add to your own culinary world, beyond of course, Martinis and GinTonics, here’s a recipe that looks quite interesting: Quail with Juniper Berry Sauce

 

 

Mon Coeur En Hiver

My Heart In Winter

Meet the “Piglet” of roses in my garden, (as opposed to Tigger, Eeyore or Pooh.)

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Rosa ‘White Meidiland’ is one of the least showy roses in my garden, and yet one of the most reliable. Certainly that is true this time of year when the calendar is ready to start its cycle anew, for this virtually trouble-free rose somehow manages to hunker down during our damp, dark Seattle winters and find a way to do a few small things beautifully.

The picture above was taken just yesterday, three weeks to the day after the flowering stems you see were first cut from my winter-humbled plant and brought to my kitchen windowsill. Just below is the photo I made the morning I cut them, December 9th.

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Seriously, do you know of any other rose that will continue to push new blooms so generously for three full weeks or more after having been cut from the garden and put in water? (Two years ago, a few stems I cut for Mary’s kitchen windowsill kept blooming, quite contentedly for nearly six weeks.) I’m not just asking, rhetorically if you know. I’m asking because I’d really like to know and perhaps get a cutting.

Somehow, White Meidiland manages this sort of magic again and again, and just at that time of year when garden blooms for my kitchen windowsill are so very scarce and so much appreciated. Like little Piglet of Winnie the Pooh lore, White Meidiland does not let it’s diminutive physical size limit the size of its heart, its efforts, or its charm, which has led me to that grateful place where I think of this little rose as Mon Coeur En Hiver, My Heart In Winter.

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Think of roses as fussy? Not this one. Not by any measure. Absolutely my most reliable rose this time of year.

Rose and Workshop related news: Renowned rosarian, Paul Zimmerman and I are going to be offering some full day workshops together in the coming year (dates and locations to be announced). Paul will bring his storyteller’s charm and his immense knowledge base of roses and rose care, and I will bring my understanding of the art of seeing, storytelling and photography in a garden setting. Our current plan is to divide the class into two groups, one spending the morning learning all about roses from Paul and the afternoon learning how to make more magical photographs of them from me, while the other group begins their day learning to tell better stories through photographs with me and then, following lunch, spends the second half of their workshop under Paul’s wise tutelage. Stay tuned for more info, or subscribe to the blog so I can add you to my mailing list, which by the way I promise never to sell. (BTW, the photography part of these full-day workshops will include, but not be limited to capturing amazing pics with iPhones/iPads > learning to finess those pics with some of the grooviest of apps and then quickly and easily getting them out there into your social media stream, looking like a million bucks.)

For more info on Paul Zimmerman:

http://paulzimmermanroses.com

http://www.finegardening.com/blog/roses

For more info on unfussy roses:

http://rosesfromatoz.com/sindex.html

http://markofexcellenceroses.com/buy-roses-online/types-roses/Shrb0156.html

Differentiation

Looking to create the next great garden “it” thing…

Knowing how important is it to draw proper attention to oneself in this crazy, loud, busy internet-freeway of a world, I’d like to announce my latest garden product, the HOSTA LUEGO, a trend-setting new pot design that I’ve developed for retail nurserys everywhere in an effort to move those tender plants that didn’t sell during the growing season, make tons of money, prove that I’m cooler than Bud-Light in a 16oz. can, and duh, that I can think way, way outside of that proverbial old box.

You’ve probably come to expect pot designs that feature living plants and the aesthetically pleasing textures and color palettes they bring to your little bit of garden heaven. OK, fine. But I would submit that that tired, worn out approach is like, so   . . . September, 2012. Furthermore, I would submit that the really cool kids are ready for something totally different this holiday season, something that won’t require any care on their part while still making them look both natural and trendy. And don’t forget, Zombies are totally cool. Dig?

Enter the Hosta Luego, the hippest new form of merchandise ‘cool’ is a colorful pot containing a hosta that has succumb to the rigors of approaching winter. Just look at those lines, the textures, the subtle colors. Add a simple red bow and ZOWY baby, these uber-hip gift pots will literally fly out the door like those monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

And then, come springtime, SUH-PRISE!!! Just imagine it, an actual, bright-leaved, living, growing plant will emerge from the architectural ruins of this lovely designer gift-plant corpse so that its loving owner can anticipate its demise all over again. Love!

Or, if you’re one of those hipsters who wants to give something totally unique but are a little afraid of the stigma of paying to ship dirt to your Aunt Marge down in Texas or your nephew Marvin in Moline, perhaps you should consider sending each of them their very own custom-cool version of this: Personalized video greeting and signed book. You supply the name and a few details, I’ll supply the smiles. Guaranteed!

Here’s a link to that sample video once again, in case you missed it.

Seriously, how much cooler & more personal a gift could you possibly give? For reals?

 

 

A ‘Ground Up’ Point of View

A pretty bold, if small gesture for one lonely little strand of Vinca.

It’s natural enough to want to be impressed, to want to be amazed, stunned, made speechless      . . . blown away. And really, in this day and age of continual visual and aural bombardment we are probably all a bit jaded, and if we’re honest, addicted, to the bold promise, the over-the-top gesture, the “IN YOUR FACE” attention grabbing smack down.

Fritillaria meleagris (Snakeshead Fritillary)are just beginning to push skyward, but their stunning, checkered blooms are as yet, only promises.

Which means that little things, not-yet-showy things don’t, maybe even can’t capture our attention and help us remember what ‘amazing’ really looks like anymore.

'Tete a Tete' Narcissus emerge from within an insulated bed of conifer needles.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . come back when you’ve got five hundred of those guys in bloom, all in one big, bold swath. Until then, I’m busy chuckling and re-posting a link to that latest Jack-In-The-Box bacon-cheeseburger commercial, and you’re boring me!” (Actual imaginary quote from imaginary Homer Simpson type person who just doesn’t get it.)

Noble, generous, longsuffering, Hellebores of many shades offer extra beauty to those willing to pause, bend and kneel for it.

‘Detoxing’ seems to be a pretty big deal in many circles these days. Ever consider ‘detoxing’ your eyes, your imagination? You won’t need to run down to your local supplements store for the latest forty dollar jar of chocolate flavored smoothie powder or stick special, toxin-absorbing pads on the soles of your feet. Just put on some shoes and a jacket, and wander out into the garden, or the woods, and get down low to the ground. And then, wait. Wait long enough to really feel the cold in your toes and your knees. Wait until those chattering monkeys in your head begin to grow quieter and you can actually hear birds’ voices in the distance, and the wind in your own hair. Wait until you begin to notice those little things that are going on all around you, even if it is still so cold where you live that those ‘little things’ are merely the swirl of snowflakes on the ground, or the drip, drip drip of melting icicles.

And while you’re down there looking, listening, don’t forget . . .

Namasté, friends.