Garden Muse

When I visit other people's gardens, I feel right at home as soon as they tell me about their troubles with plants. Recently, I listened to many stories of gardening angst, about verticillium wilt, bruises from gardening on a steep site, birch borer issues, burst irrigation pipes, deer and mole invasions and the challenges of gardening around the large root systems of big trees.

Raspberries were ruined by the spotted fruit fly, wisterias failed to bloom, daphnes keeled over for no good reason - all these tragedies can be daunting. Sharing the sorrows brings us closer and creates an instant bond.

My neighbor and gardening buddy Doug once pointed out that you can buy two plants that are identical, plant them in the same conditions, and one will thrive the other will die. Oh, yeah, it's not always our fault! This sparked a heartfelt discussion of the frustrations of gardening. As we exchanged war stories about mysterious losses, a comfortable rapport filled the air. We were in this together.

A garden expert whom I'd placed up on a very high pedestal once confessed that he had created a file of 'Dead Plants' where he listed all his fatalities. Whew, what a relief! I wasn't the only one who killed plants. More recently, a very close friend whom I consider to be a much better gardener than I am - she's way more scientific, pays more attention to soil preparation, and is generally more observant - mentioned she had lost some favorite perennial salvias. Sympathetic compassion filled my heart, replacing the envy I'd felt before.

But if you really want to be my friend, share your plants with me. Gardeners don't let their friends go home without cuttings of their favorite roses, without divisions of their choice daylilies or hostas. When you share your bounty, you live forever in your friend's garden and heart.

Plants come with memories

Many friends live on in my garden. Herb Orange, my first horticulture teacher at Clark College, showed us how to propagate fig trees from branches. We cut six-inch lengths of fig branches and packed them into a big box of damp sand that was then shoved under the bench of a cool greenhouse. A few months later, we took the rooted cuttings and planted them in potting soil. Propagating was magic!

That young 'Desert King' fig tree grew in my Northeast garden for six years. I took it with me when I moved to my second garden in 1986. Since then, every August and September it bears a huge crop of fruit, green on the outside, pink on the inside, and sweet as honey.

When I admired a hardy jasmine (Jasminum officinale) in her garden, Marian O'Connor gave me a small start of the vine.

'I'm not sure if it will winter over, but there's no harm trying,' she said. I planted it at the foot of an arbor by the front door, and there it blooms every summer. The ferny leaves are pretty enough before the white flowers appear, and it makes a nice combination with burgundy 'Julia Correvan' clematis that scrambles up the other side of the arbor. I always think of Marian when I catch the jasmine's light fragrance.

When 'Checkerboard' fuchsia begins blooming in my garden, I always think of Ron Monnier. I had admired its striking red and white flowers when he brought it to the St. Paul Garden Club where he was giving a talk.

'Here, it's yours,' he said, and I stood there with my mouth open.

'Wow, thank you!' I couldn't believe my luck.

Because 'Checkerboard' is not fully hardy, I move it in and out of the greenhouse each year, always thinking of Ron. His Country Gardens was a favorite destination for such a long time it's hard to accept that he's no longer in Woodburn. Ron and his wife Debbie moved to Milton-Freewater, but his fuchsias live on in many gardens, and are also sold at Fry Road Nursery in Albany.

I can hardly picture Carolyn Kolb of Wind Dancer Nursery ( without seeing her radiant smile. I wasn't that enamored of ornamental grasses until I met Carolyn and her husband Larry at their Salem garden 10 years ago. Over the years, Carolyn has handed me plant after plant, saying 'Try it!'

And before I knew it, grasses had become a big part of my garden. Her most recent gift was Magellan wheatgrass (Elymus magellanicus), which I've placed near a small sculpture of Buddha - they're both the same silvery blue color. So far, the clump is well behaved and shimmers with light.

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