Finding happiness in the garden
- Barbara Ashmun
- Portland Tribune - Features
Recently my 12-year-old neighbor, Grant Vesely, sent me a photo of his younger brother Ian sitting amid 'Rainbow Blend' carrots, looking very happy.
Ian started them from seed (compliments of Ed Hume) this past spring. Carrots are Ian's favorite vegetable, and he helps his mother Sue-Ann peel them for cabbage beef casserole.
Now, who would think that simple vegetables like carrots could stir up so much joy? But growing your own and starting them from scratch is another story. Watering them, weeding around them and tending them made Ian's carrots his own personal bounty. Ian looks like the carrot king, sitting on his garden bench with a lapful of carrots.
The garden does this to us. It gives us a chance to connect directly with the amazing process of growth. We put a little seed in the dark soil and wait. Sometimes we get impatient and dig around to see if anything is happening down there!
Eventually, if the seed doesn't get eaten by birds, or rot in the cold damp spring weather, a little seedling pops up through the soil, bearing two infant leaves. It's an every day occurrence in the natural world - dandelions germinate this way only too often - but when it's our carrots we're watching for, it's exciting.
Recording Joys of the Day
This spring I started a file called Joys of the Day, a kind of journal of the small events in the garden that make me smile. Spring, of course, is a quick succession of delights as everything is rising and unfurling. It's the great launch of the growing season.
Often, it's how plants emerge that delights me. I watched Solomon's seal rise taller each day, and anticipated the day when small white buds would form and then open, dangling below the green stems like little jewels on a necklace. When the flowers became substantial, their collective weight made the stems arch and curve downward like wings.
Many of my 'Joys of the Day' entries are about witnessing wild creatures as they come through the garden. On April 17, I felt a vibration in the air right beside my head, heard a buzz, and watched Anna's hummingbird dart into the new red and yellow flower chains of Ribes gordonianum, a flowering currant that I love. The very next day, I heard mourning doves call to each other and spotted them on the roof, hoo-hooing their hearts out.
Sometimes it's the way flowers and insects collaborate that's intriguing. In June a flowering onion, Allium Christophii, opened its iridescent metallic lavender globes, and a dragonfly with transparent iridescent wings landed on it, as if they were made for each other. Both looked so ephemeral in the morning light.
Occasionally, a visitor discovers beauty in the garden that I've overlooked. On a summer day, my friend Charlotte Klee stopped to admire the 'Compassion' rose that was climbing the grape arbor. I hadn't noticed its subtle fragrance until she took a sniff and appreciated it.
When watercolor artist Jeanette Mullane strolled through the garden, she discovered 'English Elegance' rose, with peach flowers, unusually twisted petals, and a soft perfume. I thought it had died, but sure enough two canes had made their way through a shrub and were blooming on an October afternoon! It took an artist's eye to find the flowers, hiding inside a tangle of branches.
Still blooming in autumn
Right now, autumn is the great winding down, making its grand finale. Still there is so much beauty in this waning time, when the plants take their curtain call. The American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) that only weeks ago was green has turned brilliant coral. Mine grows in a big container, and is a modest size, but driving along Skyline the other day I caught sight of a full-grown tree and almost swerved off the road. The leaves seemed to glow with an interior light.
Why isn't this gem planted more often in gardens? If you can't find it at your local nursery, a quick Internet search shows that Whitman Farms (www.whitmanfarms.com) and Forestfarm (www.forestfarm.com) both carry it.
Then there are the lovely rebloomers that keep on flowering until frost. At the end of October, I was surprised to see Buddleia globosa still in bloom. Its orange flowers shaped like pom poms have a heady fragrance that reminds me of fresh honey. Rozanne cranesbill was a sheet of blue-violet at the feet of the 'Coral Floral Carpet' rose, also still covered with flowers. Blue-violet 'Elsa Spaeth' clematis decided to bloom again after I cut her down to the ground at the end of summer's scorching heat.
So many garden delights keep us happy, throughout the seasons.
• Introducing Native Shrubs to the Established Woodland Shade Garden, Northwest Hosta and Shade Gardening Society, 7 p.m., Nov. 23, Smile Station in Sellwood, 8210 S.E. 13th Ave., Portland. Event free, open to the public. For more information, contact 503-643-2387.
• Growing Herbs Indoors, 1 p.m., Nov. 14, Al's Garden Center, 7505 S.E. Hogan Road, Gresham. Event free, open to the public. For more information, contact Patty Howe, 503-726-1162.