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Get into garden zone and chill out

by: L.E. BASKOW, Hellebores grown from seed 20 years ago have crossed with each other to create a rainbow of tints to go with the rains of March.

In a recent movie, 'The Visitor,' a middle-aged American college professor takes piano lessons. He tries five different teachers before he finally gives up. For him, playing piano is hard work, and it's painful to watch him toil.

Later on, he meets a young Syrian immigrant who plays African drums with great joy. One night, the professor tries tapping gingerly on the drum. The Syrian teaches him how to hold the drum, how to play it, and they drum together.

'Don't think,' instructs the younger man, 'just play.' A big smile spreads on the professor's formerly gloomy face as he drums, at first hesitantly and later with growing skill. But mainly, it's with joy, with passion, even with anger that he eventually expresses himself.

That's what gardening is for me. It's a chance to play, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes skillfully, but most of all with a heart full of feeling.

For me, the creative fun is all about conquering the wilderness and painting new pictures with plants. Actual soil preparation, digging and planting is the sweaty part, the workout, while maintaining the garden is the most relaxing part.

Tending a garden is a chance to putter. Pruning and clipping, raking and weeding, deadheading and watering, soothes and calms me.

Some people like to fish just to be out on the water and unwind. For me, gardening is a chance to be out in the sun, the drizzle, the breeze, and just be. No thoughts, no worries, no plans, no regrets.

There's pleasure in puttering

Today, for example, on a mild winter day as balmy as April, I pull damp leaves out of the beds and fling them onto a big tarp I'll drag to the compost pile. Earthworms glisten beneath the leaves and slither away from the bright light.

As I'm cleaning up I see small green leaves of fall-flowering windflowers already up at ground level, tiny green shoots sprouting on the clematis vines, baby polka-dot leaves on the lungworts.

It's really hard for me to cut back the ferns in late winter - their fronds still look sweet. But if I wait too long, the new fresh green ones will unfurl and get mixed up with the older ones in a big hodgepodge.

So I brace myself and snip off the old, and there, patiently waiting, are the furry knots of spring's greenery. All that potential, about to burst forth - it's a marvelous sight.

Two hours ago my mind was scurrying around in circles, worrying about this and that. Now, thanks to the garden, my mind is clear and calm, my breath is steady and deep.

You could say that gardening is my meditation practice, that the damp earth is my kneeling cushion. I'm as happy as a person can be. As a matter of fact, when I go inside the house to wash up I look in the mirror and see a huge beaming smile on my face.

Enjoy the earliest flowers

One of my favorite books is 'A Flower for Every Day' by Margery Fish. Surely in our climate we can have something in bloom every single day, if even the most subtle white winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), a fragrant shrub that feeds the early hummingbirds.

But for me, it's the hellebore hybrids that make winter a season to celebrate. As I cut back last year's old leaves, I enjoy gazing at their pink, wine, white and cream flowers.

Some are so dark purple they're nearly black, while others have speckles of wine splashed on pale pink or white flowers. The contrast between light and dark colors make drifts of hellebores sparkle.

I grew many of these hellebores from seed more than 20 years ago, and they've crossed with each other to produce an abundance of tints. The taller Corsican hellebores also are in full bloom - they're a soothing shade of pale green. Leathery jagged leaves give these plants character.

Tiny snowdrops with nodding flowers bloom in little groups at the edges of beds, their white petals edged with green. Some are double, some single; each has its own beauty. These are the easiest winter-flowering bulbs to grow.

Hot pink cyclamen also are in bloom, surrounded by heart-shaped dark green leaves marbled with silver. Like the hellebores, they've spread around by seed and turn up here and there in the shady understory.

Why do you garden? I'd love to hear from you. Please tell me your stories. The passion for gardening is so widespread and the reasons so diverse.

Garden events

• Livingscape Nursery hosts Larinda Peterson presenting a Making Your Own Compost workshop, 10:30 a.m. March 22, 3926 N. Vancouver Ave., suggested donation $3. To guarantee a space, call 503-248-0104, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

• Northwest Hosta and Shade Gardening Society hosts Nadine Black of Joy Creek Nursery, presenting Planting Perennial Containers, 7 p.m. March 24, Smile Station, 8210 S.E. 13th Ave., 503-643-2387, free

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