Garden Muse

I can't send you chocolate, but I do want to send out love to the many people who feed this column. Without you, dear readers, there would be no column, so you come first. Here goes:

For my readers

Since 2004, I've been enjoying a growing sense of connection with many of you. I love your letters and e-mails, sharing your interests and concerns. You ask where to find a particular plant, or a garden tool, or the best compost. You send me a poem, or the title of a book you love, or a story about your garden.

One reader e-mailed an urgent message asking what would grow quickly to screen a neighboring property that's become a junkyard. Even though we may never meet in person, we reach out to each other through this love for the garden.

Some of you don't even garden, but love to read about it. Maybe you're considering the possibility of gardening, or don't like getting your fingers in the dirt, or enjoy remembering past days when you gardened. One reader said she simply enjoyed the delicious descriptions of plants. Hearing about the pleasure you get from this column thrills me.

Thanks to my photograph in the paper, some of you have greeted me in person - at the symphony, at the market, in the movie house lobby, or more often, at a garden event. I love your words of appreciation, which encourage me to keep writing. Please understand how much you make my day.

For my husband Tom

Even though he's not a gardener, Tom is my first reader, the one who carefully checks the column for bloopers or awkward sentence constructions. I can't bear to listen to him commenting on my writing out loud, as I tend to get defensive, so we've agreed that he'll write his comments in the margins while I'm in another room.

When I hear him laughing out loud, I breathe a sigh of relief. When he hands back the column with tears in his eyes, I know I've written from my heart.

When we first got together I thought I might inspire him to garden, but I learned it was not to be. Tom's passion is music, and his gift for playing trumpet, keyboard and singing is amazing. Naturally, I don't sing or play an instrument. We each admire the other's gifts, without sharing them.

I know a lot more about chords now, and Tom knows plenty about Hellebores, Euphorbias and Phlomis (which he calls the elevator plant for the yellow flowers that travel up the stem).

For the growers

To those of you who start plants from tiny seeds, from little cuttings, tending them until they're ready to send out into our open arms, I send buckets of love. Without you, I'd still be looking out the window at a field of grass. Instead, I enjoy drifts of color from cistus and roses, mock orange and ninebarks, clematis and cranesbills, hostas and ferns, almost all grown in the Willamette Valley.

You growers not only produce plants, but create gardens for us to visit. How do you do it all? Ferguson's Fragrant Nursery, Heirloom Roses, Joy Creek, Cistus, Dancing Oaks, Sebright, Terra Nova, Edelweiss, Northwest Garden Nursery, Eclectic Gardens, Midnight Gardens … on and on I can keep listing these evocative names, summoning up memories of fantastic field visits.

For my teachers and mentors

When I first began gardening on a city lot in Northeast Portland, several people fanned the flames in my heart into a blazing bonfire. At Clark College, Herb Orange taught me to carry a little notebook to list all the flowering plants as they opened. So began my Calendar of Color, a wonderful way to notice the sequence of bloom.

Between semesters Herb led us students on eye-popping expeditions to gardens and nurseries in Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. He turned me loose to design a perennial border on campus, then encouraged me to print up business cards.

Gone now, but never forgotten are three more mentors. Edsel Wood, perennial grower extraordinaire, took me around his nursery introducing me to perennials, as I wildly scribbled botanical names - Campanula, Primula, Cyclamen. … On each visit he sent me home with seedlings. Faith Mackaness shared slips and tips from her huge perennial border in Corbett, and Loie Benedict dug up runners of her purple filbert tree and rugosa roses at her country garden near Kent, Wash.

From my heart to yours, to all of you present and past, I send a valentine message of deep gratitude on this day of love.

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