Thursday, March 31, 2011

A thank you with cherry blossoms

Blushing petals of Yoshino-cherries, Prunus x yedoensis, opening up towards the sun peeking out between the leaden clouds.

At noon today, 70 boxes of children's clothing are being collected to be airlifted to an orphanage in northern Japan. Since the recent tsunami, they are in great need; instead of having 40 little wards, they now have 70, and the number is still growing. This operation was organized by a young marine biologist who is deployed in Japan by the US Army; during his leave at home in our neighborhood, he wanted to do what he can to ease the distress of the people in the catastrophe area.

Despite looking almost ancient, these trees were moved to the 'Quad' in 1964, away from highway construction near the Washington Park Arboretum. Cherry viewing has become an important springtime celebration at the University of Washington, for students and even other residents of Seattle.

I'd been reluctant to publish my pictures of the blossom-laden cherries that are just now opening up at the Liberal Arts Quadrangle ('the Quad') at the University of Washington in Seattle. After all, sakura, or cherry blossoms, are inseparable from Japan, where they have been celebrated for centuries with Hanami, cherry viewing parties, and where their fleeting beauty is considered a symbol for ultimate beauty and quick death, and a metaphor for the transience of life. Contemplating this felt all to literal, to insensitive, in light of all recent loss and sorrow in Japan.

Yoshino-cherries are relatively short-lived as trees; their expected lifespan is only 80 years. These trees are nearing the end of theirs, but still provide a luxurious show every spring, flowers sprouting out even from their gnarled, moss-covered trunks.

But disasters do happen, every day, on every scale, everywhere in the world. Ignoring beauty around us does not help anyone in need, just like empathy without deeds does not lead anywhere. As an older, (gardening) lady in the neighborhood said earlier when Haiti was daily in the headlines: "there's no use whinging, just count your blessings, and do something practical to help". Which is exactly what this young man did. So, I'm not congratulating here myself in public for doing good, I'm thanking him and his co-helpers, who did "something practical", and provided us others with an excellent chance to do so, too. With these cherry blossoms, I thank you all.

* Clouds of young blossoms, just starting to open up.

In just at couple of days, shell-pink cherry petal confetti will cover the brick-clad pathways and soggy lawns between the Gothic revival style University buildings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Messing with Messel

Early Magnolias, like 'Leonard Messel' above, are now in full bloom in Seattle.
I'm completely distracted. I'm trying to write about Nymans, the house and gardens of Leonard Messel and his family; I visited the place a couple of years ago, but nothing that I type down feels right. The only thing I have to offer are these pictures of his namesake Magnolia that I took this morning at the gardens of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library. I think I'll just leave it there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bloedel Reserve, revisited

The Reflective Garden with its magnificent dark pool filled with natural groundwater. It was built in 1970 with some advice from Landscape Architect Thomas Church. This garden was a favorite of the Bloedels; after their death, their remains were placed here.
Last weekend, I had an urgent need to wander through the mossy forests of the Bloedel Reserve and see if it is starting to wake up from its winter sleep. And yes, small shoots were emerging, sending out their tentative, green tips to the cool, moist spring air. I've written about this amazing garden twice earlier and visited several times more, but strolling through the woodlands at Bloedel Reserve never ceases to delight me with its tranquil beauty.

This garden never feels like it was imposed to the landscape; rather, it sensitively and respectfully heightens what already was magnificent. I've always loved the Bloedels' concept of "we provide the frame; nature provides the painting", which they had as a guiding thought for the famous Reflective Pool, but which could even be applied to the garden as a whole. It is a calming and thought-evoking place that restores one's senses with its peaceful, harmonious scenery. Let my pictures tell you more...

The moss garden - a magic playground for little goblins... this was planted in 1982 with input from Landscape Architect Richard Haag and Reserve Director Richard Brown.

The entrance gate to the Japanese Garden from two directions. I love the variation in the stonework and the surrounding dark Mondo grass, alternative moss carpet.

View from the guest house to the former pool, now a gravel filled Japanese Zen garden. The guest house, designed by Paul Hayden Kirk in 1964 in a hybrid of Japanese and Native American styles, was open to the public, which is very unusual. A pink Japanese cherry tree was already in full bloom just outside the Zen garden.

If I was a bird, I would move in here, out from the rain... I love just about everything about the Japanese garden, even these hand-thrown bird houses hanging from the pines around.

There are several large ponds at the Reserve. This one is in front of the main house, welcoming the visitors that suddenly emerge from the trail winding through wilder parts of the Reserve. The soft form of the weeping willow forms a wonderful contrast to the erect, evergreen conifers behind.

The dark mirror of the pond by the the Bird Marsh. This area provides a natural wetland habitat for countless bird species, from herons to kingfishers.

See also my earlier posts, Bloedel Reserve and Bloedel Reserve, once more.

Friday, March 11, 2011

European meadows, American meadows

A seaside meadow, technically really a pasture, by the seashore in Victoria, Australia.
I've had a long lasting love affair with meadows, which I've confessed earlier in a post called Meadows, meadows everywhere. And the larger community of gardeners seem to share my affection for meadows, judged by the steady flow of articles, books and blog posts that fill the media on all continents.
So as you can guess, it didn't take long to make John Greenlee's book The American Meadow Garden - Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn (Timber Press, 2010) the newest addition to my library. Based on Greenlee's decades long experience as a nurseryman and garden designer, and illustrated with Saxon Holt's lavish photographs from all corners of the US, this well-written book is a real treasure for devotees of all things grassy - lawns strictly excluded. Covering all bases from natural habitats and design tips to plant information and advice on cultivation, it will probably be "the classic American grass gardening book" for years to come.
Saxon Holt's pictures in The American Meadow Garden are both instructive and inspirational at the same time, not an easy feat to achieve. (I snatched this picture from the net, shame on me...)
Greenlee's language reflects his deep passion for his subject: "Grasses are sensual. You can smell them, and hear them, and watch them move. Meadows are sexy, just like lovers - they never stop changing, never ceasing to surprise." Likewise, it shows his contempt for lawns; according to him, traditional such are "huge, time-consuming, water-guzzling, synthetic-chemical-sucking mistakes". He shows no mercy for any historic or geographic considerations to nail down his point, which sometimes feels a bit simplistic. After all, in some climates, lawns can be maintained with little or no watering, in small gardens, muscle-powered reel movers are perfectly ecological, and using harmful chemicals is not a necessity. And anyone who thinks that a perennial-filled large meadow thrives with "minimal input" of anything must be dreaming. Still, Holt's pictures of Greenlee's designs show temptingly shimmering gardens that are sensual and hugely attractive, two characteristics that few lawn gardens can boast of.
A meadow in front of the old barn at Christopher Lloyd's Great Dixter. His book "Meadows" is still one of the best ever written about the subject.
I love Greenlee's enthusiasm and commitment to challenging the dominance of lawns in American gardens. Throughout the book, his designs are both beautiful and ecologically sound, and his deep knowledge of his subject makes the book both practical and instructive. There is only one thing that bothers me (and even then slightly), and it is the use of term meadow of Greenlee's gardens.
When I think of a meadow, I think of a delicate tapestry of breezy grasses interlaced with fleeting shows of dainty flowers. Probably because of my northern European background, my mind goes back to the Scandinavian meadows that carpet hills, forests sides and seaside clearings after the dark, frozen winters like small wonders (like the one below...). Or alpine flower meadows that look like a perfect background for Fräulein Maria and the von Trapp children to frolic on.

I know I've published this before, but this is still my favorite meadow...

So when looking at some of the meadow designs in this book, I have difficulties with thinking of them as such; especially when large specimens of Miscanthus grasses, sedges, and perennials are grown in well-positioned swathes, all arranged for the maximum effect. These gardens are well-designed and often stunning, but are they really meadows? Greenlee talks about them as "designed meadows", but rather than a carefully arranged design, isn't a meadow more a process with an amount of unpredictability to it, even when it has been created with a great care to its habitat? And isn't it just that unpredictability and randomness the reason why we are drawn to their natural or naturalistic beauty? Beautiful as they are (just like any well-designed gardens), I think Greenlee's grass gardens have too much control to really be meadows.

But then, Greenlee writes about The American Meadow Garden; just like when an European orders an entrée before and an American for his/her main course, we might think about and see meadows differently, too, having been influenced by the natural habitats of our continents (like most things in America, the meadows too are often more lush and taller than their European cousins). But whether or not meadows, Greenlee's grass gardens are often breathtakingly beautiful and always ecologically sound, and they are well worth to be studied by all gardeners interested in creating earth-friendly habitats.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Delivered today: an international appeal to save Pehr Kalm's experimental garden in Sipsalo

Sipsalo in late November 2009.
Today, March 7th, an international appeal signed by some leading researchers, garden historians and writers in the United States, Sweden and Finland was delivered to Aleksi Randell, the Mayor of Turku, to Minna Arve, the Chairwoman of the City Board and to Seppo Lehtinen, the Chairman of the City Council.

This appeal explains the concern of the fate of Sipsalo, site for Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens, where he grew seeds and plants from his botanical expedition to North America in 1748-51. The owners of Sipsalo are planning to sell the farm that includes the lands and gardens of Sipsalo during this spring, and if no institutional buyer is found, Sipsalo and its culturally important associations with Pehr Kalm could be lost forever. The appeal asks the city of Turku to consider taking action to secure a safe future for Sipsalo.

My sister, Architect Hanna Euro delivered the signed document to the leaders of City of Turku. As a initiator of this appeal, I am greatly thankful for all signers for supporting this appeal. I would also like to thank my sister Hanna for all her research and work with the appeal, my brother Kalle Euro for helping with contacts within the management of City of Turku and the Finnish media, and Katri Sarlund from the Green Party of Turku for her support for this appeal.

I am very excited and hopeful for that this appeal will be an important step towards saving Sipsalo. I'll be back about all developments; keep your fingers crossed!

Latest news:

Vetoomus Pehr Kalmin puutarhan säilyttämiseksi Sipsalossa, (An appeal for saving Pehr Kalm's garden in Sipsalo), text and picture from the delivery of the address today, March 7, 2011

Turun johto saa vetoomuksen Sipsalon suojelun puolesta, (The leaders of Turku City receive an appeal to save Sipsalo), Turun Sanomat, March 7, 2011

Kansainvälinen adressi Sipsalon säilyttämiseksi, Turku TV, March 7, 2011 (Click on "Paikallisuutiset" dated March 7, 6:28 minutes into the sending)

Kalmin puutarha halutaan säilyttää, Radio Sata, March 8, 2011

Older articles about Sipsalo in Finnish press (in Finnish):
Kalmin salaisen puutarhan kohtalo auki, (The fate of Kalm's secret garden unclear), Turun Sanomat, August 28, 2009
Hirvensalon Sipsalo halutaan Ruotsissa Unescon listalle, (Sipsalo in Hirvensalo is wanted on Unesco's world heritage list), Turun Sanomat, November 30, 2009
My earlier posts about Sipsalo:
Save the forgotten gardens of Pehr Kalm, August 2009
Sipsalo, again, December 2009
Late November is Sipsalo, December 2009
Saving Sipsalo, one small step at a time, December 2010

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Now and Zen...?

My Japanese weeping maple...
One of my Azaleas...
My flowering Japanese cherry...
My Stewartia pseudocamellia...
My witch-hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia...
Another of my witch-hazels...
And another of my Azaleas...
I have strange feeling that my garden is trying to tell me something. Maybe I should just let go and watch as it evolves into a full-blown moss garden?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Seattle Chinese Garden - a work in progress

The windswept 'Knowing the Spring' courtyard.
Newest of Seattle's many public gardens, the Seattle Chinese Garden was opened a couple of weeks ago to a great publicity. Admittedly still long from being finished, it has already been lauded as a breathtaking garden, "soon to be one of the most unique gardens and cultural centers in the country." Having recently fallen in love with the Classical Chinese Scholar's Garden in Vancouver, I unfortunately must admit that none of the warm, fuzzy feelings from the Vancouver visit filled my breast while I wandered in this fledgling of a garden, despite determinately keeping in mind that most of it still awaits completion.
Tai Hu river rocks arranged in a corner of the 'Knowing the spring' courtyard; these water-carved rocks were very popular in classical Chinese gardens, their forms inviting for different interpretation depending on the changing light during the day.
Wondering where my disappointment had its source, I came up with some thoughts. The site of the garden on the top of a windy, clear-felled hill, felt too exposed to the elements, both cold and warm. Despite all assurances of it being 'especially auspicious" in the provided garden leaflet, there was none of the magical feeling of popping in to a secret garden from the bustle of a city, which I felt in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden of Vancouver. The 'Knowing the Spring' courtyard felt way too big and harsh as a space; there was nothing left unseen, no surprises unfolding behind corners, as there were no such around; this feeling was increased by the extensive paving made of harsh concrete, instead of the intricately hand-cut river stones often used in China (and in Vancouver, see pictures of the beautiful work there in my post of it). All walls and walkways were strictly straight, not bent and curved to fend off evil spirits like in Vancouver, which added further to the severe feeling of the building. A small water feature with jade-colored river stones was placed in one corner, but at least yet nothing could mirror itself on its surface.
Leak windows, also made of concrete, offering framed views in and out of the courtyard.
The Seattle Chinese Garden has been long in making, and it has a very ambitious plan; its goal is to be the largest, Sichuan-style Chinese garden outside China. When finished, the gardens will stretch over 5 acres of land, with lakes, bridges, pagodas, a banquet hall and a 70-foot tower overlooking the city. Despite the grand opening, only 0.5 acres of this has been carried out, and enormous resources are still needed before it will be finished. Luckily, being an important cultural symbol for the large Chinese community in Seattle and Washington state, there is a great commitment for completing the gardens.
Song Mei pavilion, the only finished feature in the large area that surrounds the courtyard building. The land is still filled with rubble and stones and the only greenery provided by large bamboos.
Strolling through the site, I appreciated the work that so many volunteers and enthusiasts had put into this garden during the many years the garden has been in making, but quietly couldn't help wondering why the plans had to be so grand and ambitious. When it comes to gardens, size never really matters, so wouldn't it had been better to make a smaller one, a little diamond that could instill the essence of a Sichuan-style Chinese garden, and get it done with lesser resources and time? As it is now, it will take several more years before this garden will be completed. Still, despite all my complaints above, I will be following its development with great interest and will be happy to see it evolve into what it was planned to be.
* The future garden will contain lakes, pavilions and several bridges, but it is still mostly filled with rubble and gravel.*

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pssst - it's official...

Today, it is the first of March and officially the first day of spring. I can't think of a better day for Karin Boye's poem Yes, of course it hurts. One of the most quoted poems in Sweden, it is a touching and insightful allegory of one's search for perfection and insecurity in front of the unknown.
Yes, of course it hurts
when buds start bursting.
Why otherwise would spring hesitate?
Why would all our fiery longing
be bound in winter's frosty haze?
Yet, the casing held the bud all winter.
What is this new that chafes and breaks?
Yes, of course it hurts
when buds start bursting,
hurts what grows
and hurts what wanes.
- Karen Boye, from collection "För trädets skull", 1936 -
As I've always loved this poem, I decided to translate it myself. The Swedish original poem, two English translations and much more about Karin Boye can be found here. The light will be back soon - I can't wait...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Browsing the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle

A painting with Sedums and Echeverias at Ravenna Gardens display; nothing new, but still completely charming!
I do understand that fixing dates for a major garden show must be a logistic challenge, but staging one in the middle of winter school break period is still quite naughty. So I was a bit grumpy when I realized that Dan Pearson from UK would be visiting, and holding his presentation at the same time as I would be sliding down the hills of Whistler! A longtime fan of Dan's writing, I had hoped to get to hear him in person, and maybe even to get my copy of his extraordinary book Spirit - Garden Inspiration signed. Instead, was forced to take this as an good opportunity to build character... and as the skiing was great, I guess I shouldn't complain too much.
*Christianson's Nursery and Greenhouse had installed an abundant display with great attention to details. The plantings were a symphony of greys, whites and pale pinks, very traditional and pleasing without being boring...
Sunday was the last day of the show, and luckily, I was able to tempt my whole family there. The girls were eager to see show gardens representing stories as Wind in the Willows and Rapunzel, and my husband generously agreed to look after them, kept happy with a good magazine and a large, hot coffee. Myself, I wanted to get a short peak of the show gardens, even if they always tend to be a bit exhausted on the last show day. And as I had read the Seattle Times Garden Show special issue from February 20th that highlighted edibles, kitchen gardening and outdoor living, I was curious about seeing how this would play out in the show garden designs.

The Christianson's show garden from another angle, with a huge white wisteria in full bloom to the right; they had done a great work in forcing hundreds of flowering plants to bloom for the show. I would love to get some rhubarb forcers (terracotta pots in the front) to my garden in Saltsjöbaden...

Many of the show gardens were executed with great skill and resources, but I couldn't really warm up to most of them. Same color combinations and plants from evergreens to flowering perennials were in the limelight, just like at countless shows before. Lots of recycled materials were on display as can be expected, from pots and pans to a whole cargo container that served as a garden shed in one of the show gardens. Green walls hang down in many gardens, but not in any way out of the ordinary. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I don't' think much at the show felt new. Based on the articles at the Seattle Times special issue, I had expected at least some clever displays incorporating edibles in unexpected ways to a garden. An edible flower border or an edible meadow, combining perennials and annuals with "victuals" would have been so exciting to see! Alas, no luck at that front.

The Ravenna Garden Sedum painting, once more...

A bit lazy with my camera, I took pictures of two show gardens that I liked, even if they comply with my quibbles above. Still, these two show gardens were skillfully carried out and nicely, albeit very traditionally designed. And even if I didn't get my kick of the avant-garde, it was a pleasure to take in the wonderful scents of all hyacinths, daffodils and even huge flowering wisterias blooming everywhere at the show, like a teaser for what will be out in our gardens just in a couple of weeks. I just hope for a better timing for the show next year...

The Ravenna Garden display called A Passion for Purple. Recycled containers filled with plants in contrasting colors. The little, portable meadow to lay down one's feet on is really cute, too. Ravenna is Seattle's answer to San Francisco's Flora Grubb...