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WHEN MOM AND I WENT TO VISIT DEB FOR HOSTA DIVIDING we took a tour of her two acre garden in progress. When Deb and her family moved to their house in Snohomish, the areas around the house were a wild tangle of salmon berries, red alders, maples, cottonwoods, willow, and blackberries. Slowly, over the past eleven years she and Vance have removed the blackberry vines, most of the old and brittle cottonwoods, and thinned out the red alders and willow to reveal a small wetland with a tiny stream. Vance is slowly adding conifers to fill in where alders have been. Most of the property is informal and natural looking. This recently completed dry stream bed channels water from a low spot near the driveway down to the wetland area below.

One of Deb’s art in the garden surprises.

There is an easy rhythm as we move through the lower wetland area and on around to higher ground where a long path meanders through plantings of azalea, rhododendron, bleeding hearts, and other native type plants on our way back toward the house. They have created a park-like calm, tall trees overhead, dappled sunlight sprinkled over the paths.

The western skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, was in its full glory. I love the sheer size and boldness of this plant. It makes me happy when and wherever I see it in spring. There is something very wild and slightly grotesque about it, the eye-popping green and yellow as the sun strikes the leaves and sphathe. It is part of the arum family and altogether different in appearance from its eastern relative. Here, it sits among the naked legs of salmon berry, which along with red currant were also in bloom.

A pulsatila along the path back to the house.

Closer to the house Deb has several large and small ‘islands’ for perennials and shrubs, many from our grandmother’s garden. She is partial to rhododendrons and is creating quite a collection of them. She is lucky to have just about all the right conditions for a great garden: distinct areas of wet, dry, sun, shade, and a good eye. She has done a brilliant job of weaving the natural and the imposed together. What will it look like as a mature garden in another five or ten years?

BACK ON THE HOMEFRONT, I continue to record the unfolding of spring’s largesse. This azalea, ‘Marie’s Choice’ was planted thirteen years ago and amazingly has lived up to its size description: 2.5 ft tall x 3 ft wide in ten years. It it pure white with a light fragrance. It has summer shade below a tall pink fucshia magellanica var. molinae (the topic of post to come).

And just beyond the azalea is a lovely white bleeding heart, dicentra spectabilis alba, a graceful necklace of little charm sized flowers along a thin, green stem. Also nearby is trillium sessile. This trillium is not native to the northwest but hails from the midwest and southeastern U.S. It lives up to its reputation of being fussy and now the lonely one of three originally planted. I hope it will eventually form a little colony here, under the mountain ash and rhododendron. Certainly seems like the right location.

These plants pictured above are part of a small plant community in one little area of about 12ft x 15ft on the southeast corner of the house that I look out to from my office. The sheer number of plants packed in here is astonishing when I stand back and really look at what’s here. As the garden has developed over the past fifteen years there have been fits and starts, successes and failures. But now, this spring it looks really vibrant and full. Can I possibly squeeze in another plant?  The anchor is a mountain ash that was only about twelve feet tall when we moved to the property in 1992. Now it is over thirty feet! Growing around the base of the mountain ash is an old pink rhododendron, about eight  feet tall, then a succession of smaller shrubs and perennials. A dry streambed channels runoff from the sloping driveway and away from the house and breaks up the garden visually.

Within the framework of what was established before I started my tenure here, I have tried my best to plan for year round interest combining size, color, texture, and water and light needs. This garden has morning sun and early afternoon sun most of the year and full shade after 3:00 p.m. in the summer. It also tends toward the dry side in summer and is challenging to compete with the extensive feeder roots of the red cedars.

So, in the confines of a city lot this small area could pass for a complete garden, but is just one of many on the property and in this context shares some similarities with my sister’s two acre park. We are both creating gardens for the same and different reasons. It is at once relaxing and work, a way to unwind and think of nothing else; it brings joy and serenity and is pleasing to look at the finished work; it brings color and texture to life; and, gardens are refuges for birds, animals, insects and people–all important to improving the quality of life. I think we learned this inadvertently from our grandmother by having the opportunity to observe the beauty of her efforts. And on that note, time to close out this rather long post.

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