Thursday, April 29, 2010

Such an impeccable little polyanthus....

Primrose, auricula, polyanthus... don't ask me about the differences between these little spring bloomers, as I'm not sure how they are classified correctly. They are all members of the Primulaceae family, and have been loved by gardeners and florists during the last couple of centuries. Penelope Hobhouse mentions them to have been bought to Britain by the Huguenots by 1700, and then having been popular florist's flowers during the 18th century. Those days collectors often displayed their finest specimens in so called Auricula Theaters, which were decorative cases with shelves for easy viewing of the plants. I found this little impeccable one in my friend's garden, here on the Eastside of Seattle (you know where, if you have been reading my posts lately...). Almost over its prime and petals already a bit tattered, it still looked like a vintage Chanel suit in black velvet with a perfect trim in gold.
The little primrose is very much like Gold Laced Polyanthus from Barnhaven Primroses, described as a "florist's polyanthus, bred to exacting standards for more than two centuries"; exactly the kind of plant one can expect to find in the garden it grows in. Barnhaven has an interesting history from the Pacific Northwest point of view: Florence Bellis, who developed a passion for primroses in the 1930s, founded Barnhaven Primroses in Oregon, on the west coast of the US. For a long time, she researched the subject at the Oregon University and was one of the founders of the America Primrose Society, working as a Editor of the Society for several years. In the end of 1960s she sold her business to a couple in the UK. Since then, Barnhaven Primroses has won several awards for its primroses, and it has been operating from North Brittany, France, since 1990. So my association to a vintage Chanel suit was not so much amiss, after all...
The New York Botanical Garden has an Auricula Theater on display, April 16 through May 9, 2010. Auricula Theaters have been used since the 17th century to exhibit collections of fine specimens of the species.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quote of the day

We don't express nature, we express our relations to nature.
The fact of creating is the expression of nature.

-Adaline Kent (1900-1957), sculptor-

Adaline created the human-like, reclining sculpture in the famous pool at the Donnell garden in Sonoma, designed by Thomas Church in the 1940s. This pool became the most photographed one in the world and articles with pictures of it were widely published in magazines and gardening books. Adaline's name was rarely mentioned in the articles.
I found a autobiography by her, published in 1958, the year after she died in a car accident. The quote above is from this wonderful collection of fragments from her notebooks and photos of her sculptures. There are several pictures of minerals, shells, pebbles and magic and primitive artifacts that she kept in her atelier; many of them functioned as inspiration to her artwork. Adaline's sculptures have strong, biomorphic forms; her language of expression had its roots in her close relationship with the nature, just as she writes above. Her smooth but powerful, abstract style reminds me especially of Henry Moore; maybe it is the strong connection with the nature that makes the work of both sculptors so calming, consoling.
Adaline Kent: Presence, 1947. Collection SFMOMA.
I photographed the logs above on the Ruby Beach at the western shores of the Olympic Peninsula; the glowing logs of redwood brighten up the leaden grey and murky brown tones of these cold, Pacific beaches. Adaline would probably transformed the essence of them into one of her sculptures...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh, baby, you are so beautiful...

Trillium gradiflorum 'Floro plenum' in full bloom in my garden. Every nodding flower is like a perfect miniature camellia - or not quite, somehow these feel a bit more sensitive...

I'm madly in love. With a White Wake-robin that grows in my garden. And there is nothing to do about it. And I swear I won't leave this place, ever, without it (not that I am moving anywhere for the moment, but so that you know, just in case...).

I've been kneeling besides my camellia-flowering Trillium grandiflorum 'Floro plenum', gazing into its pearly white, nodding flowers. It seems fully aware of its preciousness and quite reluctant have its portrait taken. Of course, my gorgeous Wake-robin was another invaluable gift from Marian, one of the few gardeners who had such priceless rarities growing around in her garden just like other people have tulips and daffodils.
Briefly, I wondered how I can ever thank her enough for all the treasures I have got, but I guess I do: I love and take care of every single one of them, with passion. And what more can you ask for when you have to leave your babies behind?

Almost everything in a Trillium - petals, sepals and leafs - grow in clusters of three, even if in the double forms this can be a bit difficult to see.

The double forms of Trillium gradiflorum are mutations, where all the reproductive organs have mutated to petals. These forms often possess a great beauty, and are highly sought after by gardeners and collectors. most double forms are sterile and must be propagated by slow, asexual division. Thus, if available at all, they command very high prices - a couple of days ago, Carol Klein called it "a holy grail for plant collectors" in the Guardian. Horticulturally, these forms have been given name 'floro plenum' or "multiplex', meaning "many petaled", which is not a correct latin name, but is used for convenience in trade.
"Trilliums", by Frederick W. Case, Jr, and Roberta B. Case, by Timber Press in Oregon, is an excellent book about this plant genus.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spellbound by magical mosses

The road to the Hoh Rainforest winds through the wet, moss-coated forests, giving a inkling of the wilder things to come...

A never-ending sound of water: dropping, drizzling and splashing everywhere. And a smell of drenched, soaked earth, combined with the aromatic fragrance of water-dripping conifers. The Olympic National Park in western Washington state might seem like an odd holiday destination for winter weary Seattleites being a place four times wetter than our drizzly hometown, but it is nevertheless the place where we spend our spring break, hiking the forests and beachcombing the shores of the Pacific ocean.
Waterfalls run through the soaked slopes of the mountains.
On these western slopes of the Olympic mountains, the storms from the ocean drop off their wet cargo drenching the area with up to 170 inches (almost 4 meters) of rain per year and creating perfect growing conditions for fertile temperate rainforests. Once, they covered the land between Oregon and southern Alaska, but today, only the lush valleys of Hoh, Queets, Quinault and Bocachiel protected within the National Park remain as a testament for how the landscape looked like before logging took over. In the tiny town of Forks near the Hoh Rainforest, there was no escaping from commercial buzz created by the "Twilight" vampire sagas, but for once this felt like a stroke of luck, as the place (the village, not the surrounding nature...) seemed to need all the help it can get to be any kind of a magnet for visitors.
Mossy trees and ferny banks by the shallow, stony Quinault river.
Walking through the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests, the landscape felt spellbound and almost unreal in its magnificent, great wildness. Everything was dripping, drenched, saturated with water, and all things growing seemed to be involved in a slow but ceaseless competition for light and space. The ground was filled with older generations of giant trees, now gently nursing the younger ones with nutrients from their gradually decaying huge trunks. An earthy, rich smell of decomposing wood lingered in the air, competing with the fragrant scent of the conifers. With their canopies almost 300 feet above, the great, straight stems of Western redcedars, hemlocks and Sitka spruces formed a cathedral with only two colours, emerald and rust, in its stained-glass windows.
Beard mosses hanging form the old sugar maples.
A thick coat of mosses and lichens clung to every surface. These usually humble background players seemed almost have taken over the scene, celebrating their triumph by forming intricate tapestries in olive and coppery tones, hanging like wet rags from the branches and covering everything on the ground with billowy mounds. Burrowed in these moist cushions, small seeds had germinated and peeked up their heads, ready to begin their long journey upwards guided by the thin threads of light peeking through the greenery from the distant sky.

The bright leaves of common wood sorrel carpeted the ground together with mosses everywhere.

Even the river bottom was covered with bright green mosses, swaying gently in the cold, glazier-fed water. Careless of our excited glances, a flock of deer grazed on the adjacent meadow, only interested in the fresh new shoots that poke up from the waterlogged soil.

Tiny spruce saplings sprouting from the fallen trees.

In the evenings, we huddled around the fireplace in our room at the lodge. Listening to the pounding waves outside the windows, we thought of another favorite hiking place of ours on the other side of the same ocean: the Otway National Park with its temperate rainforests of tree ferns, gumtrees and tiny frogs in southeastern Australia. So different, and still so similar. Contented with our visit to these stormy, mossy shores, we couldn't help sending our longing regards with the waves to the gentle, southern sister of these wild northern forests.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Erythronium time

The lemony white Erythronium citrinum, citrus or cream fawn lily, is native to Oregon and northwest California.
I've been sneaking in, protected by the adjoining forest, to a garden where a great gardener lived. Her house and garden were sold and stand now empty with a "For lease" sign in front; later, the place will be demolished and built over. After a late November plant rescue when thousands of rare specimens were lifted up and sold for charity, the garden looks like it had an organ transplant.
*The beautiful, innocent looking Erythronium oregonum, also known as the giant fawn lily, has pearly white tepals with yellow bases.
Still, hundreds of bulbs and deciduous perennials emerge from the fertile soil, peeking up their heads to a scary new reality. I have been adopting some of them, trying to give a new home in my garden for at least a few, before the bulldozers arrive and the inevitable lawn turf will be rolled over.
Erythronium revolutum, the pink or coast fawn lily, is native to the west coast of North America, from California to British Columbia.

Today morning, I dug up some Erythroniums and carried them carefully to my garden and found them a shady spot under three large Korean dogwoods. With pictures of the abandoned, battered but still enchanting garden in my mind, I couldn't stop thinking of the all those years of love, enthusiasm, knowledge and hard work that went into creating it. And now, there's only me, carrying my camera and my spade, picking up the leftovers.

Erythronium tuolumnense, the Tuolumn fawn lily from the Sierra Nevada foothills in California.