Guedí’s Garden: Part 1

Park Güell

View of Sagrada Família from Park Güell

Barcelona, Spain.  Spain has always been on my travel list of places to see.  Perhaps it still is.  After all, Barcelona is, but also is not Spain.  I found that out after booking a vacation.  

It was springtime 2021 and I had just received my first Covid 19 vaccination. I had been longing for a new adventure for some time and finally feeling hopeful that it would become a reality. So I messaged an old friend on a whim to see if she would like to join me on a trip to Barcelona. Many texts and a few hours later, we had booked airfare and hotel to the colorful city in Spain. We get things done.

A few days later, I realized that Spain was still closed to U.S. travelers. My friend and I decided to roll the dice and our gamble paid off since we were able to travel during our intended dates in August.

I spent much of my time before our departure researching transportation, things to do, and closely monitoring the CDC guidelines and the embassy websites of both the U.S. and Spain. I expected a colorful city with a touch of social unrest due to the Spain/Catalonia conflict. The city did not disappoint and we even witnessed a protest. What I didn’t expect was my love of the art.

I am more of a traditionalist at heart.  I love classical sculptures and life like landscapes.  I am not a fan of contemporary art and only like abstract when needing an adjective for my failed paint-n-sip projects.  So I was surprised at how quickly I fell for the vibrant work of Antoni Guedí that distinguishes Barcelona from Europe’s other grand cities.  

I didn’t know much about Guedí before our departure. Just that Barcelona would have some funky buildings we should see along with the grand cathedral, the Sagrada Família. I had no idea that nature in a creative cloak would be waiting for me to uncover.

While we only viewed the dragon exterior of the famous Casa Batlló from the opposing sidewalk along the Paseo de Gracia, we were fortunate enough to spend some time in three of Guedí’s other creations.  Each one either embraced the nature around or borrowed from it for  inspiration.  

Park Güell was our first excursion after learning to navigate the subway.  An urban hike from the subway stop rivaled the hills of downtown Seattle.  It left us sweaty from the morning Mediterranean heat at the park’s entrance.  Only, we were at the top of the park and not the main entrance.  I’m glad for our mishap.  I doubt we would have explored as much of the nature reserve as we did while looking for the famous, mosaic tiled promenade.  

Turó de les Tres Creus

One of the first trails we took within the lush park lead us up to 3 stone crosses perched atop a mound of stones. Turó de les Tres Creus. A bench at the base of it afforded us a quick rest. I took the time to scribble in my journal thanking the clouds for shielding us from the sun for a bit. It was hot and humid and my sun dress was sticking to me.

We set off again after admiring the view of the city below. I was in my happy place with the sky above me, fresh air in my lungs, and surrounded by fresh greenery. I wonder what this plant is? Look how that tree grew? How weird! I wonder if I could grow this at home in Zone 8? I love it! Can you smell that? Heaven.

Every where I looked there was something wonderful to see. Bright flowers exploding from glossy, green leaves. Palm trees stretching their fronds into the sky like bursts of fireworks. Sprawling ground cover and ivy that seemed to obey its’ masters. Pods that looked like vanilla beans on the ground. Bird music playing throughout the park.

I could easily have spent the entire day roaming the grounds and snapping photos. I selfishly and unabashedly enjoyed every single plant, flower, tree, and stone step of the garden.

Lost in paradise

However, my travel companion is a horse person and not a gardener. And if it were not for the cute, green Monk Parakeets we encountered along the way, I’m pretty sure she would have lost patience with me sooner. We were lost. In a 50-acre garden. My bliss, but we did have other things to see. And we were in Park Güell to see the famous promenade.

It was time to ask for directions. After some broken French and hand gestures at our map to another group of travelers, we were able to find our way to the promenade. It was spectacular. Palms and carved caverns. A formal garden to the side. Red hibiscus flowers.

A garden within a garden

Oh yea.…and mosaics!! So many mosaics! So much color patched together in a crazy, wonderful way!

There was a slight breeze that felt heavenly atop the promenade. The sun would peek through the clouds ever so often making the green tiles of a nearby roof sparkle. I feel like I could have spent all day at that park and not seen all the little details in the mosaics that covered the benches and topped the roofs of the surrounding buildings.

Park Güell’s Promenade

The promenade itself was a bit dusty with perhaps some sand fleas, but the view of the city below was well worth the bites. At least I think so…I guess I wasn’t as tasty to the little beasts as my friend was. The people were fun to watch as well.  Everyone trying to get the best selfie with the sparkling rooftops of the Park’s Guedí buildings below and Barcelona in the distance.  In true tourist form, we were no different. And the stone gargoyles watched us all.  

Amongst the tourists

Now, sitting next to my gas fireplace as winter looms, I long for the heat. For my sun dress sticking to me amidst the natural and architectural beauty of Barcelona. And now I know that Park Güell was not Guedí’s only garden in the city.

Can you dig it?

It’s Spring!  Which means it’s planting season.  Which means it’s digging season.  And digging is a bit like that Forrest Gump quote.  It’s ‘like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.’ 

I’ve found a few things when digging up soil in the past.  Mundane items such as large or brightly colored rocks, roots, nails, bottle caps, garden fabric (not a fan), and forgotten bulbs.  So far, I’ve never found a treasure chests though.  Disappointing, but I suppose I’ve never seen any X marks the spot on the surface either.  I’ve also never found someone’s pet cemetery, for which I am grateful.  Last week I found something suspicious though.

I was digging along side my driveway and fairly close to the street.  I was attempting to add curb appeal by planting some perennials in the barked strip.  I dug down a few inches and found some garden fabric that had to be cut away.  Underneath it was a nozzle looking item attached to what looked like a thin green tube.  I lightly touched the tube with my gloved hand and couldn’t really tell what it was.  I didn’t want to pull on it for fear of dislodging it or breaking it and possibly hurting myself.  I thought any utilities would be better protected, but I felt the need to be cautious just in case.  The safe bet would be to leave it alone until identified.

Unidentified line

I took a photo and sent it to several people. No one had a clue, but it was suggested that I call 811 and request the free locator service. This seemed like a good idea because I haven’t owned my home for very long. Other than the ugly electric box on the other side of the driveway, I had no idea where the utilities were or how far down I could dig. So I gave up for the day and decided to make the call a few days later.

I’m not sure how many people have actually destroyed utility lines in the past, but I figure it’s been enough for the companies to be aptly worried.  Worried enough to send people out within just a few hours of making the call.  

Still working from home, I went for a run on my lunch break and came back with just enough time before my remote meeting to change out of my sweaty workout clothes and into a pair of comfy sweat bottoms with a floral pattern.  Pants that I wear around the house and sometimes in the yard only.  Not enough time to change out of my tank top or take a shower.  

After my meeting, while I was fielding a work call, a knock sounded at my door.  It was one of the locators.  Since I didn’t have white spray paint to mark the places I wanted to dig, he needed me to point them out to him.  So I went outside in my unfit for public appearance sweat pants and crazy hair and proceeded to point to several places before just admitting that I would probably want to plant in most places except for the east side of my house.  He spray painted a bunch of lines for me and assured me that no lines would be in my back yard.  I needed to be careful in front though and not dig down more than a foot and to be sure to hand dig.

I remembered my real reason for him being out there and directed him towards the unknown line.  After explaining what I had found, I dug down to show him.  He was leaning slightly over and I was feeling a bit braver so I put my finger under the line in an attempt to lift it up for better viewing.  Unfortunately (this is debatable), the suspicious wire just popped right out of the ground.  

Nothing burst.  Nothing exploded.  I didn’t get zapped.  I just stood there in my flower sweat pants holding the broken handle of a rusted hand trowel.  It was rather anticlimactic.  Nothing was hurt except for my dignity.  That took a beating.  

But seriously?  Who buries a broken tool?  The garbage gets picked up every Friday.  Perhaps it was just forgotten.  I’ve almost buried tools before I guess.  I’ve certainly forgotten where I’ve set them down.  I suppose I should be thankful though.  I now know where my utilities are and how far down I can dig around them.  The only thing it cost me were a few minutes of my pride.  

Call before you dig. Even if it’s just an unidentified shovel. Happy Spring and Happy Gardening!

Sticks & Stones

That’s it. Just sticks and stones. And a measuring tape. And about 3 separate trips to Lowe’s, a bit of rearranging, a shovel, and minimal profanities. And Voilà! A garden bed!!

Ready to start this project for yourself?  Here is what you will need:

Supplies:

*12 planter blocks 

*maybe rebar to keep the blocks in place (I haven’t done this yet)

*6  treated lumber boards: 2 inch width by 6 inch height by 8 ft long (cut in half to make 12)

*A level(ish) area to accomodate the project

*A shovel and a level to help with leveling (not needed if leveling is not a concern or care)

*A non-rainy day, preferably, which is a bit of a unicorn in Western Washington this time of year.

*A smidge of patience

*A basic knowledge of Legos or Lincoln Logs

Estimated time:

*Depends on the person, distance from a home improvement center, hauling space within the vehicle, general funds, and the ability to stay on task.

Pros and Cons verses a kit purchased from Amazon (I also have a couple of these)

Pros: better quality and longevity than a purchased kit.  Also, bigger in general. The satisfaction of building your own bed. You can vary dimensions based on wood length and levels (stacks) of blocks.

Cons: You become your own two day shipping.  Or however many trips it takes you.  Also, the lumber yard is a foreign place.  Bring your passport.  Another con is treated wood may not be healthy for items grown for consumption.  If this is the intent, purchase a liner.

Unknown:

How many soil bags it will take to fill this monstrosity.

Conclusion:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but they are very satisfying to play with in one’s very own yard and garden.  Have fun!

Christmas Tree Dreams

It’s Christmas Day.  It’s 2020.  It’s weird.  But…

I’m writing this in my new house next to my new Christmas tree.  New has been 2020s motto and it’s been hard to keep up. A few brand new ornaments adorn this pre-lit tree I procured on a visit to the FedEx that resides inside the Walmart in my new city.  This is the year we live in.  Where we improvise at every turn.

My pre-lit tree has plain white lights.  I chose this.  Perhaps it was because I had just finished a work errand and was feeling more grown up and thus more sophisticated.  I’ve always been a multi-colored light tree person in the past. Squinting my eyes to make the colors blend together had always been fun.  When I do the same with my new tree, it seems more like a precursor to a migraine.  Perhaps I’m still a multi-colored light girl after all.  

Should I be admitting to a fake Christmas tree on a garden blog?  Meh.  It’s 2020.  For several more days anyway.  After a year like this one, I don’t have it in me to feel guilty about the carbon footprint my fake tree has participated in.  I can feel good that I’ve left the live trees living though.  That’s something.

I’ve actually given a lot of thought to this whole tree thing.  There are plenty of tree farms.  There are also plenty of forests that have been devastated by fire.  So if I wasn’t invested in this life of accounting, I’d buy a tree farm for Christmas tree rentals. 

Rentals as in trees, live trees, borrowed for a price and returned when done.  Think of Blockbuster, but without the stress of rewinding the VHS tape…I mean DVD.  I’d grow trees from seed into little tabletop trees.  I’d rent them to people for the holidays and then grow them bigger each year when returned and then rent them out again at different sizes.  After a sufficient size, I’d plant them or release them into the wild as they say on those nature shows.  

People get Christmas trees.  Forests get trees.  Hopefully fires don’t get fuel – 2020 has left me a bit jaded after all.  Probably not feasible, but it does make me happy to think about reusable live Christmas trees.  Sort of an atonement for my fake tree.

There are 6 days left in 2020 and soon my fake tree will be tucked away in my garage. I’ll store the multi-colored strands that light my new garden too. The days will continue to get longer and longer as 2021 progresses. My garden will grow. It’s not big enough to grow live Christmas trees, but much bigger than the P-Patch I had in Queen Anne. It’s certainly big enough for get-togethers that will hopefully be sans masks, distancing, zoom, and (in the spirit of Harry Potter) that virus that,“must not be named.”

Hopefully, well before the time I decorate my fake tree next year, the world will be a much better, safer, healthier place.

Water Lily Summer

The French master Claude Monet created a large pond from a stream within the Japanese style garden he built in front of his home. It was here that he put brush to canvas to paint his final series called “The Water Lilies.” The most famous of those paintings, of course, was simply named, “Water Lilies.” His pond was full of Nymphaeaceae inspiration and so was my summer.

Arboretum

I didn’t paint this summer and I don’t claim to be an artist anyway.  However, this summer was a masterpiece for me.  It was by far the best one I’ve had in a very long time.  Nature painted me a beautiful picture day after day and, with the world slowing down due to Covid 19, I slowed my pace to enjoy it.   

My days were still filled with work, though from the safety of my home, but my evenings and weekends were often filled with simple adventures. Walks, hikes, and swimming under the sun. A few nights filled with star gazing and comet spying. I reconnected with my outdoor loving self and embraced the lifestyle coined by the Scandinavians as friluftsliv. It was this reconnection with nature that inspired me to take up a new hobby and thus admire and inspect the Monet foliage more closely.

I ordered the first reasonably priced paddle board that Amazon would deliver the fastest.  Summer is short in Seattle so there was no time to waste!  My teal blue board arrived shortly after summer officially began and I was able to embark on its inaugural voyage on a small lake north of the city one evening when the sun still remained high in the sky.  

Floating on the surface of Silverlake were water lilies.  Lots of them.  My first response was not the same as that admiring gaze that Monet’s masterpiece has always elicited from me.  It was more like panic as the wind took me, inexperienced and not yet steady on my board, closer and closer to the pretty patch.  

Lake Ballinger

Of course I love the bright petals that point to the heavens from their circular, glossy green pads.  I still look for frogs to perch on them and sing out songs like from a Disney cartoon.  However, the water lilies don’t just float on the surface.  They are attached to slimy tubes that root in the soil at the murky bottom of the water.  I feared falling in and getting tangled in the tubes.  I didn’t want to sink to their origin never to resurface again. So I fought many times to keep them at a safe distance.  I feared what lurked beneath.  I feared the unknown.  

After awhile, I felt secure on my board.  I no longer feared falling in.  If I did, I was prepared for the parts of the plant hidden under the surface.  I no longer thought I would be drowned by them.  I  even began to seek them out and paddled through the water lily laden Washington Park Arboretum.  It was beautiful.  So much life.  I explored a bit and even touched the slimy stems beneath the surface.  Not so bad after all.  Knowledge often conquers fear and so I learned to love real life water lilies with all their parts and not just the pretty flowers on pads that seem to float in paintings.  

Lake Washington

Summer is now over though.  My paddle board is packed away.  The lily pads have been dying back and I am very sad to say goodbye to them.  I take comfort in knowing that their essence, their roots, will live on below the surface through the winter months.  They will slumber until spring when their new leaves send champagne like bubbles to the surface and then follow with a beautiful display of flowers again in the summer.

Husky Stadium

I am already dreaming of next summer, water lilies, and the new adventures that surely await me.

The Stowaway Sun

A fire has been lit.  A perfect little fire framed by white bricks and contained with a glass accordion door.  It took no effort to light.  I just flipped a switch and the gas lit the fake logs with just the right amount of ash coloring.  Easy.  Predictable.  Reliable.  Everything a fireplace fire should be on a resume.  Except the smell.  I am glad it doesn’t smell, but disappointed as well.  It’s a little too perfect.

I lit the fire because it’s the first time I’ve felt a chill all summer.  It’s September 2, but summer in Seattle is on life support.  It’s still here and this week will be a prime example of why the Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  But tonight I felt cold while hauling water to my plot in the community garden.  I tried to sit outside as the sun went down, but it felt different.  Perhaps it was the wind or a combination of that and the sun disappearing before 8 p.m. now.  As a lifelong resident, I know the death of summer is knocking on our doors.  

The dinner plate sized heads of my sunflowers are beginning to droop. The yellow petals that fringe their seeded faces have curled inward much like the haircuts found on sculptures of Roman emperors. Unlike the Roman statues, they are wilting. However, further down on their sturdy stalks are smaller versions of themselves. Their offspring that have not served the overhead sun for quite so long. The bees seem not to care though. They love them all.

I wasn’t supposed to have a sunflower.  I didn’t plant any.  In the several gardens I’ve called my own, I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve pulled weeds that were actually flowers.  I’ve let weeds have their way.  I’ve experimented with propagation and plant/shrub relocation too.  One thing it’s taught me is that it’s okay to just take a breath and wait and see.  Sometimes the weeds are actually Western Bleeding Hearts.  The beautiful little purple bleeding hearts that love partially shaded gardens.  

I don’t have any Western Bleeding Hearts or any bleeding hearts in my little P-Patch, but I have had my fair share of weeds and most I pulled in the early spring before planting my summer crop.  When I say crop, I really mean cherry tomatoes.  Unlike most the other gardeners (perhaps all of them) in my community garden, I grow vines and flowers, and other pretty things.  I’ve had many compliments on my little plot and though I don’t grow food for the food bank, like other selfless gardeners next to me, I do take pride and enjoyment in knowing that my little patch may have brought a smile to a passerby’s day.  

Before my cherry tomatoes started overgrowing my two little blueberry bushes as well as the marigolds I planted to protect the tomatoes against insects, I almost pulled a little weed along the edge of my raised bed.  I had my hands around its little stem ready to yank it free of my soil.  Then I paused.  What if?  What if this weed had potential?  What if this weed was something I didn’t know I wanted?  What if?

So I released my grip.  I’d give it awhile to prove itself.  With enough time, everyone and everything in life will show you their real colors.  This is the truth that I know.  Just breathe.  And wait.   And hope it doesn’t take too long.

It took a few weeks for me to have my suspicions. The stalk grew sturdier and ever upward. A flower head emerged, but was too shy to open. Taller and taller it grew until it passed my 5 feet in height and still it grew some more. In that time, another had emerged along the perpendicular edge. I left it to its own purpose other than my watering.

When it was time to open up, I knew for sure it was a sunflower.  Its face is the poster child for summer.  I used to think they were named sunflowers because their flowers resemble the sun with their perfect disk centers surrounded by ray flowers.  It’s not from what I’ve read.  It’s actually because the flowers themselves follow the sun!  That is until they are too mature and then they continue to face east.  I suppose they are not unlike people.  When they get too old, they are hard pressed to take a different direction.  Fascinating flowers for sure.

My particular sunflower began to dwarf my hand by mid summer. Of course, being 5 feet tall, my hands aren’t that big, but still. If I could reach the top of it and compare its head to my own, I’m guessing it would be about the same. At this time, several smaller faces had sprouted along its now very sturdy trunk. I say trunk because I think of stems as delicate and this thing is about an inch and a half in diameter. Perhaps less. I’ve never been good with measurements, but maybe I’ll take my tape measure out if I can remember.

I didn’t plant the sunflowers. I didn’t have any in my P-Patch when I was granted it in August of the previous year. It was barren save for a rather large thyme bush that shows off little purple flowers in the spring and spidery webs the rest of the summer. The webs (and their creators) is why I haven’t given it much attention and I am considering its removal or at least partial removal in the safe, spider free, months of winter. To be decided.

The plot had a few spiders last summer, but no sunflowers. The plot next to mine had a couple of wild looking ones though. I never saw the person who attended (or not) them.

Last fall I planted a few shrubs that my dad was babysitting for me during my transition from house to city condo rental.  I also purchased a couple little blueberry bushes to pop in there.  I remember going out to water and check on my newly planted items to find a large sunflower head in my plot.  Decapitated.  I suppose it posed too big of a burden for a bird (crow or seagull I bet) to carry off and was dropped.  Gardening in its natural form I guess. 

Nature is a great teacher if one pays attention. Life presents us with so many weeds. Do we pull them? Do we let them grow? Do we nurture them? My experiences have taught me to observe them. Let them show themselves for who or what they are. Pull them if needed. Let them grow if they prove potential. But always observe and reserve judgement for a time when enough information has been gathered. Don’t just pluck or leave to spread wild. Observe and the answers will come.

For my step-mom who just recently passed away…you were a sunflower and may that fiery red head of yours always follow the sun.  I observed you for about 26 years.  You were a flower and not a weed.  You are forever a sunflower in my memories and I will continue to water you.

This year has been a hard one.  Weeds abound.  Perhaps the seeds that lay to rest this fall will bring us sunflowers come next summer.  Until then, enjoy all the flowers big and small before the fall takes them away and never forget that the weed you first see could possibly be a stowaway sun.  

If you don’t water your garden, it sure as hell won’t grow.

Summer seems to have arrived on time in the Pacific Northwest for once.  It’s been warm enough this week to kick on my air conditioning unit.  It’s the free standing kind because most homes in the Seattle area have not needed air conditioning until the last decade it seems.  What used to be a handful of too hot days at the most has turned into too many to rely only on closing blinds in the morning and opening windows at night.  The world is changing.

I read that Siberia recently hit 100* F!  It’s not only nature’s climate that is too hot though.  The political and social climate is burning the country as of late.  It’s a stressful time and full of anxiety for so many people right now.  I have felt it myself and it’s always during these times that I try to connect a bit more with nature.  So today, after being worn out from work, a run, and a CrossFit workout, I filled water jugs, grabbed my watering can and hauled the lot down to my plot in the community garden.  I needed to take care of my little plot of nature that helps takes care of me. 

I was the solo gardener tonight.  I suppose it was a bit later than usual.  My earbuds kept me company though.  A playlist from 2017.  I was living in my favorite home, other than my childhood one, when I made that music list.  I was proud of the landscaping I had done and the  various shrubs and flowers I planted.  I made (okay, with the help of an Amazon kit, but I put them together) raised garden beds and planted things I actually ate!  

It was a lot of work keeping everything alive in the summer.  Not so much the native shrubs that were already established, but any new plantings plus the vegetables and shallow rooted shrubs like the azaleas.  I thought about that today as I lugged the 5 gallon jug from my garden cart and swung it onto the bench in my plot.  What a pain!  

When I lived in the little blue house, watering was a chore, but relatively easy.  I had a hose in the front yard and the back too.  I set up a soaking system for some of the plants that worked fairly well.  For the others, I would walk around with a glass of wine spritzer (some may scoff at this, but it’s what some Parisiennnes drink), in one hand and the other hand wielded the garden hose with its attachment of various watering strategies.

Just me.  Out in the yard.  By myself except for a wave or brief conversation from a neighbor.  I knew them all.  Not well, but enough to look forward to the exchanges.  Some nights I didn’t feel like it, but I went out to water anyway.  Most nights I enjoyed the ritual.  Alone with my thoughts, the smell of flowers and the sky changing colors overhead.  Stress seldom followed me around when I was out there.  

These memories flooded me tonight.  I don’t often think of how much I missed that little house with the whimsical yard.  I still miss it a little, but as my wise cousin once told me….It’s just walls.  And it was.  Just walls.  Walls enclosed the home inside.  Nature surrounded the house walls outside.  I suppose even the fences were walls including the one I painted once.  Walls.  Just walls.  Not my walls anymore.  They no longer contain me and I no longer maintain them.   

As I was slowing the progress of the water weighted garden cart on my decent to my garden, wine tumbler in hand, I thought of my days watering the yard.  The grass and shrubs and flowers and veggies.  And here I was again.  Alone.  Watering.  Absolutely no walls.  I sipped my cold beverage from my tumbler.  It was actually a cider.  And yes, I realize that’s not exactly legal.  A friend of mine pointed this out.  I dare anyone to ask me if I care.  I’m the kind of person who doesn’t jay walk and uses (pre-covid) the bright orange flag in cross walks.  I am not a menace to society.

When I was done watering, I abandoned my cart for about a half hour to sit in the aqua colored, plastic Adirondack chair.  It’s one of 5.  None of them match in color and I think that’s what endears them to me.  Perhaps it was a set of multi-colored chairs.  I suppose I’ll ask the fearless leaders of the garden next time I see them.  Maybe not.  I like to think they were all purchased separately,  The faded, cherry popsicle colored chair.  The lime chair.  The cobalt blue.  And, quite honestly, I forget the color of the fifth one.  Maybe yellow.  Tonight I am making 5th a color.  After all, usually 5th avenue is one of the prettiest streets of a city. 

Chair colors aside, I took this time to compare my life now with my life then.  I am still ritualistically watering my plants.  I am still taking time to myself to be in nature.  Though I didn’t encounter any tonight, I still have neighbors to wave at and chat with.  I still relax and let my stressors stay where they belong.  Within the walls.  They all seem like they have walls.  

Life is what we make of it.  I could lament the loss of my walls or I can embrace the happiness I find in the everyday.  The journey of taking the water from my borrowed walls to my borrowed garden.  We are all borrowed.  Things come and go.  It’s important to take the time to appreciate what we all have and to make the best of what our lives have to offer right now.

After all…if you don’t water your garden, it sure as hell won’t grow.   

2020 Peas be Better!!

It’s mid June and just brushing 70 degrees tonight.  I sit outside on my veranda in a sun dress and flip flops taking in the sights and smells.  To say Seattle is beautiful this time of year is a gross understatement.  All of nature is robed in green with splashes here and there of all the colors of the rainbow.  At least all the ones our eyes can see.  It’s too bad Professor McGonagall isn’t here to transfigure me into a hummingbird so I could see the world as a much more colorful and brighter place!

It’s been fairly gloomy here in the Pacific Northwest and not just from the months of gray and cold we’ve recently shed.  The world is not what it used to be.  2020 has been a record year for unemployment, people forced into working essential and risky jobs, and the rest of us working from home and refusing to wear pants.  Masks are slowly starting to become fashion statements and travel further than one’s own neighborhood is frowned upon.

All this has resulted in we Americans having a lot of extra time on our hands.  People have embraced exercise and developed what seems to be a new found enthusiasm for anything outdoors.  No one wants to stay home.  Maybe a few introverts, but I would say the majority of us want to be out and about.  Many have even found a new passion for gardening! 

It certainly feels like we’ve been grounded and I’m definitely guilty of sneaking out.  I’m not the only one either.  The nurseries and garden centers have been packed!  The masked vs unmasked population varies and seems to favor one or the other depending on the proximity to  a big city.  In my experience, the majority of the unmasked are people in the more at-risk older age group who don’t seem to give AF.  To each their own.  

I am a religious mask wearer in any business establishment.  I’ve also been wearing my glasses more because I tend to rub my eyes a lot when wearing my contacts.  This is a problem because my breath inside my masks fogs my glasses.  I take my glasses off to wipe them clean of condensation, but they catch on my mask, pull it half off and then a chunk of my hair never fails to get tangled in both the glasses and mask.  It’s just not dignified.  

I wear it anyway though unless I’m out in open air.  When I run outside, I pull my mask up when I pass by people.  When the coast is clear, I lower it so I don’t pass out.  It’s actually good training for my lungs I think.  I guess time will tell.

I don’t include nurseries as open air because of all the people loitering over the foilage (myself included).  I only have a few new plants from my nursery trips.  My nursery trips have been well beyond my neighborhood too.  I fancy myself as a rule bender, but not breaker.  I also have plants that I acquired through other channels.  More creative channels I think.

When things first shut down, I became a hermit.  I used a cleaning wipe to open all doors around my condo building.  That was short lived due to the short supply of cleaning wipes even after using scissors to cut the damn things into quarters.  I replaced that with paper towels and then washed, washed, washed.  I had groceries delivered through Instacart and after a debacle of whether or not I paid for the flowers that were left with my groceries (I did not) and after feeling bad that I was putting someone else at risk for picking up my groceries (and if I’m really honest with myself…it was expensive too), I decided to mask and glove up and start going to the store myself.  Like a big girl.  But that was it.  Essentials only!  

And then my friend Jennifer offered to pick me up some cherry tomato plants at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  She was going anyway and this was before I ventured out to go to a nursery myself.  Yes!  Please.  And thank you!!  So she dropped off a red and yellow cherry tomato plant, which I bartered with a few packages of top ramen, some chips, a few items I can no longer remember, and a single fruit by the foot.  

I never thought I’d see the barter system come to life in my lifetime, but there it was.  And it was beautiful.  I also received some plant charity from my friends Kyle and Clancy.  Kyle had started some sugar snap peas from some seeds he obtained from the previous year gardening.  That’s some level up shit right there.  He nurtured those little plant babies and then they delivered them straight to my community garden for a no contact drop off/pick up.  I planted them immediately.

The time in between planting those tomatoes and snap peas and today has been only a couple months, but the rate of change and growth in them has been substantial.  And the world has seemed to keep up with that pace.  

Every day something new.  The tomato stalks grow taller.  Only old people are dying of COVID.  The peas snake around anything they can touch.  Anyone of any age can die of it.  New leaves emerge.  You could be asymptomatic.  A flower bud.  Don’t touch any surfaces.  The flower opens.  Surfaces are not as contagious as previously thought.  The days grow longer and solstice nears.  The light shines on social injustices.  Flowers emerge.  Cities burn as protests are infiltrated and turn violent.  The bees return to the garden and the “murder hornets” are forgotten.  Curfews.  WTF?  Curfews?  The peas reach ever towards the sky.  CHANGE.  It’s everywhere.  

I visited the snap peas and cherry tomatoes in my garden patch just a few short hours ago.  I love this community garden.  Many plots.  All are different.  Different sizes and different shapes and distanced enough not to require a mask.  The plants that grow in the garden vary from plot to plot.  It is a sanctuary.  The Gardners say hello.  There are very few rules (no planting mint or trees and do your own weeding), and everyone seems to get along.  One man built a whole plot to grow produce for the food bank.  I am not as selfless.  Just blueberries to snack on and peas and tomatoes, though I did agree to let a man, who gave me gardening advice, pick a few of my cherry tomatoes if he was passing by.  

I’m still here on my veranda.  The sun sinks lower, but my solar lights stuck in my planters still have time before their show.  The honeysuckle is starting to emit its fragrance to tempt the nighttime fliers.  It’s my favorite time of night.  If I lived on the other side of the building that could see the Puget Sound, my view would be the waters that glow turquoise at dusk.  It’s the perfect time to pause and take things in.

There is so much going on in the world right now.  So much shit.  My one hope is that, like in our garden, the compost will turn into something beautiful and nurturing.  Something for everyone to enjoy and take part in.

Winter in Spring

It’s spring.  The parts of nature that have slumbered through the winter are in various states of opening their sleepy eyes.  The winter has been harsh though.  Perhaps not so much for nature itself, but definitely for human kind.  It is spring for nature, but winter for us it seems. 

Blanketed by Covid-19, we humans are all but snowed in.  Only there are no joyous sled rides or snow ball fights with friends.  Just creative ways to entertain ourselves especially if we live alone like I do.  

My meager wine collection has suffered a bit from this pandemic as well.  Though many bottles were consumed during virtual happy hours with friends, my wine wall is still standing.  And with most of the bottles still in residence.  I thank a break in the Seattle rain for this.  I am trying to get outside more. 

Being both outside and living in a crowded city makes social distancing a bit harder and a whole lot more awkward.  Two people, or me and what seems like a couple or family each time , play this game of chicken to decide who will exit the sidewalk into the road to keep the proper distance.  Most of the time I do, but I’m stubborn at times.  Kids?  Old people?  Most people?  I’ll take the street.  Happy couple holding hands and flaunting their togetherness that all but screams John Cusack holding a boom box over his head?  The crosswalk is mine bitches, move!  I still need to see that movie.  I suppose I have plenty of time now.  

I also have plenty of time to miss my old yard and garden.  I know I would be a lot happier being able to tinker in the yard.  I’d be calmer for sure.  I’d love to be sweaty from planting, mowing, weeding, and building things with the sun over my head (I’d take rain even) and fresh air in my lungs.

I don’t have the sun over my head.  Not on my shaded veranda anyway, but I do have fresh air and several potted plants and flowers that I am watching come back to life.  The sun I do get is either from visiting my P-patch nearby or from going on a walk or a run.

The Seattle neighborhood I live in has beautiful old houses with mature gardens of all varieties.  Perfectly manicured, whimsical, wild, neglected (though this is rare), creative, duck inhabited (seen the sign, but not the duck), sunny, shaded, steep, and out of place (hello palm trees), but all bring me great joy as I venture outside.  

Walking is my favorite.  Partly because this neighborhood has hills from hell, but mostly because it allows me the time to meander more and really take in the scenery.  One thing I have noticed whether walking or running are the signs posted in these pretty yards.  I’m not sure if they are always there or if they are new because of the world’s current happenings.  I know I haven’t noticed them before.

They are simple little signs that have the same basic design has campaign signs.  Only the campaign is not political at all.  Just plain white signs with black letters arranged into uplifting messages.  

“ONE DAY AT A TIME”  

“DON’T GIVE UP”

“YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE”

I have seen more of these signs.  If I had a yard here, I would definitely put one in mine!  What a great way to tell people that we are not alone.  Not really.  Inspirational signs in beautiful yards and teddy bears in windows.  We will be okay.

It is Spring for nature and it will be Spring for all of us again.  The sun will shine on our faces and we will grow together again.

The Lilac Propagation

I grew up in a house with very large yard that I would run, skip, monkey bar, build forts, cartwheel, and even ride horses through.  I had so many imaginary adventures in that yard.  I wasn’t one for stopping to smell the roses when I was young, but I’d always pause as I passed by the tall lilac bush.  I’d pull a pliant branch down until the grape bunch-shaped flowers tickled my nose.  I can close my eyes in winter, even now, and still smell the sweet, purple, spring blooms of my childhood home in my memories.  It was a wonderful smell.

Maybe that is why I love lilacs so much.  They smell of home.  The home of my youth.  A simple place I lived with my parents, sisters, cats, dogs, legos, barbies, and horses.  So much has changed since then, but that smell still takes me back someplace safe where my imagination ran free.  

I cried when I found out my dad was selling the house.  I was living in the city at the time and the thought of never being able to go back to visit those memories hurt my heart.  On one of my last visits before the house sold, my dad suggested that I take a clipping of the lilac.  It was a somewhat brutal and messy process of just tugging the shoot until it broke away from the parent species.  I dug below the surface first so I’d be sure to get enough roots with the shoot.  I then wrapped a wet paper towel around the exposed roots and took my lilac babies back to Seattle.  

That was the first time I propagated a lilac.  The bush I took it from was actually propagated from my great-grandmother’s lilac, which I remember visiting in her yard when I was young.  I have no idea where my grandmother got her lilac from.  Maybe it was native to her yard.  

A quick Google search of native lilacs indicate that they come from Eastern Europe and temperate Asia.  My great-Grandmother was Scandinavian so I suppose where hers came from will remain a mystery to me.  However, I did discover (via distracted Googling) that there is some mythology associated with lilacs.  

Syringa, the scientific name for lilac, is derived from the Greek word for Syrinx.  Syrinx was a beautiful nymph who was at her local watering hole just minding her own business.  One day a pushy, god of the forest and fields, named Pan showed up, took one look at Syrinx and tried to make a move.  She turned him down, but he didn’t want to take no for an answer so she changed into a lilac or a reed (depends on the story) to avoid him.  She basically gave Pan the mythological wrong phone number.  He then pouted and started making music with a flute made of reeds.  Typical.  

As John Oliver would say, “moving on.”

I was living in a little studio apartment with a disproportionately large deck dotted with a few potted plants.  I stuck my lilac starts into the soil of a newly acquired pot with much skepticism.  Then I forgot about them for a bit.  I can’t remember what season it was, but I’m guessing not summer because the little guys survived living off the water of the sky.  

My lilacs leafed out and grew quickly.  They even produced new shoots the following spring.  Flowers eluded me though.  And the spring after that?  Still no purple floral blooms.  The lilac may have been the first plant I ever researched.  Three to seven years to bloom, I read.  Unfortunately, they tend to outgrow their pots and my deck by then.  

I put my lilac up for adoption after taking a new start.  I had to start over.  This process occurred once more before I had a yard my lilac could call home.  I believe it was the second year of permanent residence that my second generation (from my start) lilac decided to gift me with fragrant blooms.  Turns out to be about 5 years to bloom for my species.  I was ridiculously happy.  So many years after that first start and I finally had blooms of my own.  I was home again.  

I didn’t stop propagating though.  I used my newly planted old lilac to propagate new lilacs starts for family and friends too.  I like knowing that that lilacs in loved ones’ planters and yards are connected to mine.  It’s like when someone gives you that baggy goo of friendship bread only it’s not gross and I make sure the offer is accepted first.  It’s a lilac, not a damn chain letter.  Real friends give you fully baked bread or fully functioning (besides the flowers) plants anyway.  

The following year I made the mistake of feeding my lilac plant food made for azaleas.  It was a rookie mistake that I was really too good for at that point.  Too much nitrogen and so no blooms for me.  Sad!  I’d just have to wait until the next spring, but that was not meant to be.

I moved to a new house the next year so my bloom clock started over once again.  I brought a lilac I had started from the one I planted at the previous house.  It was already a couple years old and about 3 feet high.  Out of habit, I propagated that one straight away and stuck it in a pot.  That little one I took with me after I moved out a little less than a year later after my marriage was over.

My hardy new little lilac has survived my shaded veranda through a freeze and snow storm and is now showing buds for the upcoming spring.  Not flower buds.  That’s still a few years away.  Leaf buds.    

Lilacs are hardy and thrive here in my experience.  They look ugly and dead in the late fall and early winter.  They’re not dead though.  Perhaps a bit unsightly, but not unlike a cocoon waiting to unleash a butterfly.  It will be a few years until I see a lilac butterfly again, but when I do, I won’t feed it nitrogen!  Perhaps by then it will trade its planter for a garden.    

Until then, I’ll watch my little lilac grow and use my imagination to smell the blooms of my past.