Ways Gardening Ups Your Zen

By Erica Browne Grivas

Maybe you’ve seen the meme “I garden so I don’t kill people?” While I hope you’re not in that space at the moment, there are many ways the garden soothes the savage beasts in our souls. See this post for my gardening-as-facial experience. You don’t even need a gravel garden to rake or a dedicated meditation/nap spot in your yard, although I’m all for them.

Maybe lock up the pruners?
Image, Blinkenzo.com

Get Moving

Movement and exercise go a long way to bevel the edges off our stress-sharpened nerve endings. This holds true whether your exertion is at a Tai Chi level, say choosing cast members for a table bouquet, or a triathlon level, like moving seven yards of mulch with one wheelbarrow.

Cultivate Mindfulness

Repetitive acts and those requiring close attention welcome our brains to enter the desirable “flow” state, which lowers stress and dampens our worrying Default Mode Network, the brain function that is questioning, criticizing, and looking out for danger signals. Instead of thinking ahead with anxiety about what’s to come or looking back with judgement, people in flow are just enjoying the moment, and it feels effortless. Time flies. We often see performing musicians, athletes, and public speakers in a flow state.

Paying attention sows the seeds of calm. Image, Wikipedia

In the garden, activities like sowing or weeding in rows, raking, refilling a line of pots, and deadheading are all flow-encouraging. For deadheading, may I recommend coreopsis, with a million blossoms dancing on thread-like stalks, or if you’re in a darker mood, decapitating spent rhododendron flowerheads. Pruning is of course an art of intense observation when done with intention.

You don’t need to recreate this gravel garden at Kennin-Ji Temple, Kyoto, but it could only help. Image, Wikimedia Commons

Mindful Ways to Put Your Art Into It

Maybe you’d prefer something less work-flavored. For fun, you can boost your observation skills by accessing your inner artist.

Some examples:

Garden writer Lorene Edwards Forkner has created a gorgeous new book out of her meditative practice that became an Instagram sensation and a gorgeous new book, “Color In and Out of the Garden“. Using flowers, twigs, stones, and shells as daily inspiration, she makes a 3 x 3 grid of squares in watercolor. This deceptively simple practice immerses the artist and the viewer in a mesmerizing wave of color.

Or, consider taking a page from Monet’s sketchbook – go out and observe the same plant (or haystack) every day for a month or once a month for a year.

Lorene Edwards Forkner’s watercolors became a meditative practice
Image, Slowflowersjournal.com
Monet’s haystacks through the seasons. Image, Artsology.com

Document the changes by:

  • Writing in a journal
  • In photographs
  • In sketches, or
  • Just enjoy noticing.

If you are a knitter or crocheter, a beautiful and simple way to cultivate mindfulness while appreciating your environment is making a scarf documenting the day’s weather, like this knitter on Ravelry.com who knit a few rows a day depicting the sky’s mood, which in Seattle would be 85% foggy skies sandwiching 15% summer sun. Others use colors to denote the temperature. Here’s one from knitter Josie George:

Breathe Deep

Lastly, and easiest of all, you can just go outside and breathe, perhaps lazily drawing your fingers through fluffy loam. Healthy soil contains certain microbiota that, when inhaled, encourage serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter antidepressants work to foster, but you can get it minus potential side effects by working in your soil. So spend some time with your soil, and your friends and loved ones will thank you.

This post is part of the #GardenBloggersChallenge sponsored by Gardencomm for the month of May. You are invited to join in and can see more details at gardencomm.org.

How to Garden with All the Plants – Designing a Collector’s Garden

Erica Browne Grivas

I always loved visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – still do. Growing up in Brooklyn, the frothy cherry orchard, the stalwart lilacs, hordes of bluebells, and the musclebound wisteria never disappointed. Yet I wondered – where’s the shazaam? It was more like a living library of plants than what I thought of as a garden. The plant families were laid out in neat categories, but dryly and nakedly, without groundcovers or companions. I remember thinking, that’s not the way I’d want to garden. I wanted drifts of color and texture playing off each other with syncopation and harmony.

Simple is easier for the eye to read. By using only two bulbs, a white scilla and two-toned muscari, the gardener has created a strong composition. Image: Erica B. Grivas

Botanical gardens have an excuse for what we call “collectoritis” – the “I must have that – it’s new!” obsession. They are supposed to have all the plants. When individual gardeners succumb to it, it usually looks like your kitchen junk drawer got upended.

Designers – and I technically am trained as a landscape designer by the Big Apple’s other botanical garden, The New York Botanical Garden – are taught to plant in substantial drifts of odd numbers, repeating plants, colors and shapes to create visual continuity that reads a mile away. Yet somehow in my Seattle garden, I have nine kinds of sage, seven kinds of echinacea, four agapanthus, two grevillea, and three kinds of scabiosa. Scabiosa is an annual, for goodness sake!

There are reasons – accessibility from working at a nursery and going to plant conferences, busy-ness from same as well as freelance writing and parenting, but they don’t matter. What matters is we need to Marie Kondo this place.

I picked a loose palette and then added plants as they came my way, doing my best to make them work – with mixed results.

Here’s what I would tell me if I hired me as a garden coach, starting with a nice, established hodgepodge.

  1. Decide your garden priorities – how much time you want to work it, water it, and renew annual flowers displays or vegetables.
  2. Look at existing plantings – assess what is working, what isn’t. Remove and give away what isn’t.
  3. Make a map including planting, play and entertainment areas.
  4. Note the soil and weather conditions for each planting area.
  5. Note any special issues to address like muffling noise, creating smooth traffic patterns, screening for privacy, decide on solutions.
  6. Have a watering plan – incorporate irrigation or soaker hoses and mulch or groundcover plantings to conserve water. Group plants needing water and attention closer to the hose and house, more drought-tolerant ones farther afield. Group plants with like needs together.
  7. Plan for views inside the house and winter interest.
  8. Decide on color palettes for the garden, or at least individual beds.

Then – and only then – add plants.

If you are in the happy place of contemplating a new garden bed, and love to collect, say, dahlias, there are ways to make that work.

  1. Corral plants of one type together, but within a strong year-round framework – like a raised bed, or a hedge of Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) in sun or fragrant winter-flowering sweetbox in shade(Sarcococca spp.). Feel free to go wild with color if you want.
  2. Use different varieties of one plant in the same color or palette to unify a bed. This works best with very few other types of plants and a limited palette. For instance, multiple echinaceas in white and yellow punctuating a wide river of Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima). Or try it with various-shaped echinaceas – some frilly, some reflexed. The textural change becomes a strong element, and the color changes are kept to a minimum.
  3. If the beds are far enough apart, you can have many colors.
  4. Combine collections that don’t compete – your tulip collection can share space with your summer dahlias.
  5. Containers are a great place for collections – ask my driveway. They will look best if a color, container shape, or plant is repeated.
  6. If you already have highly-mixed borders, add in some strategic repetition to tie them together. Triple up on key plants to lead the eye across the landscape.

At Ravenna Gardens nursery, displays always use strong color blocking to unify the scene. Image: Erica B. Grivas

Meta-Gardening? How do Gardeners Evolve?

evolution-gardening-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirtLet’s say for the sake of argument, that gardeners are the pinnacle of human evolution,  as this t-shirt says.

But what about degrees of evolution within gardeners? I know I have certainly changed.

The parade of seeing the garden’s moods change minute-to-minute is one of the reasons I garden now, and the better I get at seeing it, the more I get out of it.

Some plants are a dance unto themselves, beautifully morphing from leaf to flower and back again. Japanese maples and Physocarpus come to mind – they may be deciduous, but mesmerizing in the shifting colors of bark and leaf.


Credit Kat Westcott Flickr

I didn’t always see that parade. When I first started gardening (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) I was all about the flowers, which is kind of like saying, when I get dressed, I’m all about bling. My goal is to blind everyone who sees me with non-stop spangle.

What’s the horticultural answer to that? One would be a bed of annuals that flower non-stop until frost, like impatiens or geranium.  But in the 80s, that was considered cheating by the “serious” gardening world.

zinnias community garden EG

Dreaming in color is so easy with annuals, which are back in favor. This is at the Seattle Tilth Pea Patch (community garden). Erica Grivas

Annuals Need Not Apply

Perennial borders were the rage at that time, so botanical symphonies like Great Dixter in England were my inspiration. I consumed books by Gertrude Jekyll and made confetti out of the White Flower Farm and Bluestone Perennials catalogs.

Perennials need to save energy to grow roots that can live through winter, so they typically bloom three to six weeks. So to win at perennial gardening you need to plot successive blooms as surgically as if you are composing music for a live orchestra.

Except it turns out the plants dance to their own music, or more accurately, the music of timing and quality of light, weather and nutrients. (Not to mention regular assault by animals, and insects, and microbes.)

One summer day my father, a lawyer with the heart of a stage manager, was watching me go through reams of paper sketching potential combinations, suggested we build a rotating shelf system that would roll budding plants into view and passing plants out of sight. Thinking of all the time spent planning, deadheading, replanting failed plants, and dividing in those first years, his plan would have been a lot easier.

When I studied landscape design, I came to appreciate a bigger picture of a garden. Perennials are a) a lot of work, and b) offer little to no structure, especially when they leave the garden flat as a pancake in winter.  I learned the value of supporting perennials with shrubs and trees, long-lasting foliage, and hardscape – and the nearly effortless flower power of those formerly frowned-upon annuals.

As the seasons taught me more patience (read: Nature smacked me around), I began to take time to notice small changes in the landscape, like beautiful seedheads.

In addition to teaching you with tough love, Nature can turn your definition of beauty on its head. Take one of my favorite perennials: Echinacea (coneflower) which flower in neon sunset shades. I’m “trialing” a collection of Echinacea in my parking strip to see if they can withstand pollution, Moon-dust soil and being watered every other month.

In fall, Echinacea becomes a blackened husk with spiky cones and shriveled flower skirts – a skeleton. Newer gardeners, unless they have a Goth streak, run for their pruners. But leaving those ugly bones protects the drainage-loving plant from our soggy Northwest winters and the seed cones give sustenance to hungry birds.  I don’t see the ugly anymore. I’m sure many passersby see a Day of the Dead diorama.

(As a compromise, I plan to corral the wildness with an edging of evergreen dwarf Ilex or Euonymous, which will be neat and glossy year round. One of these days.)

Taking this long view has other benefits. Knowing what they can do for your soil can make you if not love, at least welcome, the smells of compost and liquid kelp fertilizer.

So I’m a little better at being a Meta-gardener these days. I imagine garden design enlightenment is a garden that speaks in pure shapes, using no color but green, with the possible addition of gravel as an accent. But I’m not there yet. I still need my gaudy echinacea.  What does your garden evolution timeline look like?

Echinacea Nov 2016 EG

Echinacea. Credit: Erica Grivas

Meditation – and a one, and a two…

A brief detour into meditation. So with all the research about mindfulness telling us it can reduce depression, increase concentration, and improve health, I am sure this can help me so I’m giving it a go, but starting small. When I wake up, I stay in bed and just count breaths until I max out. I tried without the counting but then my brain would go all over the place – snacks I regret eating before bed, what errands need doing tomorrow, Beyonce….

Nothing against Beyonce, but she has no relevance in my life, and is just the type of irrelevant thought that occurs then.

With the counting I still get useless thoughts in there but I have to rein them in to come back to the count. The idea is that you acknowledge thoughts, itches, the neighbor’s lawn mower, and move on, always coming back to your breath. I should note this is not advanced; it’s like meditation for kindergarteners.

Stone, fire, air, and water combine at Dan Hinkley’s Windcliff garden in Indianola, WA Image: Erica B. Grivas

 In today’s episode the cosmos sent our cat, Izzy, to me as a metaphysical challenge.

A little about her: Izzy is 12 years old, weighs about 12.5 pounds, so when she sits on you it’s like wearing a hot, furry bowling ball.

She has never had a meow. When she tries to meow it sounds like the death rattle of a punctured rubber ducky – eep! Perhaps because of her inability to communicate this way, she has learned others to make her wishes audible, like licking her empty metal food bowl with all the power her tiny tongue can muster, so it jangles loudly against the legs of its stupid cat-shaped feeder painted with tabby stripes. Ba-donkety-DONK –donk –DONK.  She wheezes and snores all the time, and her purr is incredibly loud. You can literally hear her sleeping three rooms away.

In fact the whole reason I was awake at 5:21 a.m. was because she was doing the badonketydonk thing. I got up, perched the feeder up on a tall bookshelf and went back to bed.

Then my thoughts went like this: One: in, out. The heat pipes sound like marbles being rolled in a giant can. Two: in, Izzy is on my chest. Out, God she’s loud. Am I on three? Damn. OK whatever. Three.

It goes to show how passive I am, and how much I need this meditation exercise, that I just let the cat decide when to move. She finally scoots down to my shins, which makes the motor sound shift down to a distant rumble, like thunder approaching, but a thousand times closer – and just as unavoidable.

I ‘m proud to say I got to ten breaths – a personal record – and then she farted.

Izzy is a meditation master
Izzy is a meditation master

Myrna Loy and MacGyver Make Over My Porch

And now, some gratuitous plant porn.

Do I have your attention? (Common writer’s trick: throw an inflammatory word like “porn” in your lead if inspiration deserts you.)  To be fair, the only one naked in this story is our porch. Container plants are a garden’s fashion accessories, the final, glittering “lookatme” touch.  Our porch has been naked as a jaybird since we moved to Seattle last May.

For a full year, our porch has looked so sad, all unadorned.  My husband likely disagrees, but I don’t count the gas grill as decor. The floorboards were unpainted.  The doormat once had a design but now has only rubber gray stubble.  No chile pepper string lights, chinese lanterns or hanging baskets were hung.  We didn’t even get TP’d for Halloween.  That might have been an improvement.

That situation could not stand.  Call them what you will –  serendipity, feng shui, or Martha Stewart –  the forces of good taste and self-respecting pride of place took over.

Why I was forced to buy $hominahomina* worth of annuals:

*”homina homina” – A Ralph Kramden-ism: if your life has been bereft of “The Honeymooners,” move directly to  youtube .

  • Our landlady had the floor painted!  The color is commonly called “park bench green” or “porch green” – darkest green with a hefty glop of blue in it – to match the door.  The house is pale gray – an odd choice when the sky is that color 297 days a year.  *Dear Landlady, If you can’t change the house color yet,  please paint the door red next, please  please.*
  • A new doormat flew into my arms at a yard sale. It was porch green with red and yellow flowers. I don’t need an engraved stone tablet; I know a message from the cosmos when I see one.
  • My generous mother-in-law handed me down four empty hanging baskets and took me shopping at Molbaks – which is the Seattle gardeners’ equivalent of FAO Schwartz.

There was no turning back. (I was already at the nursery cashier.)

The existing colors limited my palette choices considerably – the way I saw it, with all that porch green, I could go pale lemon yellow or reds and oranges. I wanted to announce the entry, shouting a welcome from our hilly perch, so I went with red. Yes, green and red, like a Christmas card. Or a stop light.

Far from subtle, but it’s got a 1940s-honey-I’m-home-ooh-is-that-pie? vibe that makes me smile. I should be answering the door dressed like Myrna Loy in an apron with red cherries on it.

Anyway, back to the garden.

I usually go for multiple rainbow like combos of three – five colors (indecisive much?), but this time I went for an analogous look, sticking to one section of the color wheel.  I also loosely followed Keeyla Meadows’ color strategy from her book:  “Fearless Color Gardens: The Creative Gardeners’ Guide to Jumping Off the Color Wheel “.

Meadows recommends picking one main hue as a starting point then going to either side of it for supporting colors, and picking one accent to a supporting color.  The farther away the accent and supporting color are from each other, the higher the ooomph factor.

Mixing in some black sweet potato vine and dark coleus  for spice, and some honey-scented white alyssum for leavening,  here are some of the container combos I came up with.  I found a Martha Washington geranium with excellent gray-green leaves edged  in cream, and some coral diascia, and I was off and running.

Geranium, red verbena, white alyssum

After choosing those two at the pricey nursery, I headed to the other side of the tracks for fillers.  As an anti-clash measure –  not because I’m a borderline OCD perfectionist – I brought samples of the geranium in a baggie for comparison.

“Mango” verbena, orange calibrachoa, & red “Wave” petunia

Scarlet was my main  color (red verbena),  gray-green was my accent color,   and coral my supporting color. Since blue-green is the complement to orange-red, so this was a near-complementary combo.  Stand back, you might get  blinded by the boldness!  (Thank you for taking me outside my color comfort zone, doormat – I’m liking it.)

When I ran low on supplies I poached from my in-ground perennials, taking emergency divisions from sprawly sedum and purple-leafed geranium “Victor Reiter.”  It wasn’t a “M*A*S*H-style tracheotomy with a pen, but it made me feel bold. I was a MacGyver Gardener – although if the divisions croak, my efforts were more like Macgruber.

Sedum siebodii and diascia

See how the coral diascia picks up the cherry red edging on the sedum? As a muse, Myrna is genius!

No, I don’t know what’s with all the nostalgia and  old TV references.  Perhaps because we haven’t seen the sun in a week – after being spoiled by a great winter and a lovely spring.  I’ve gone all misty.

[Music up, roll credits]

Will I be able to stop? If not, what characters will I stoop to mentioning? Will Arnold the Pig or Eddie Munster show up?  Tune in next time to find out….

[Fade out]


Look What Gardening Did to My Face!

Recently my husband and I were shopping at a nursery for vegetables.  In the middle of a discussion about the benefits of the little-known “Italian Heirloom” tomato versus the famous but longer-season “Brandywine,” which is a clear risk in Seattle’s iffy summers, he interrupts me.

“What’s that on your face?” he says, rubbing my forehead as if I were a toddler with paint on my face.  “Oh, it’s a worry line.

Wow…it’s just so deep it looks like it was drawn on.

Putting aside the rating I’d give that comment on the tact-ometer, I have to admit he was right.

Checking the car mirror, I saw a large vertical crease, at least 3/4 of an inch long, edging to the left.  Apparently the left side of my face, and by extension the right side of my brain – which handles creativity, visual learning and art appreciation – does all the heavy lifting, leaving the left, number-loving, logic-oriented side to nap poolside.   This will not come as a shock to many who know me, particularly my seventh grade algebra teacher.

What did I have to worry about? Well, there was the chance my husband could choose a non-approved (by me) tomato variety, and the fact that we had only 20 minuntes to shop, check out, and drive five miles in construction traffic to our neighborhood for school pick-up.  Note: remember to apologize to Mom for cutting her off like a New York City cabbie when she called right then.

Successfully retrieve full complement of kids (two) from school, then home to start digging and pulling.  A neglected bed, running the length of the house – about 25 feet worth – needed clearing; the weather service predicted the long-delayed spring rains were due to hit Seattle all week starting the next day.

Among the archeological finds uncovered were:

  • a tester-size vial of perfume (perhaps a former gardener worried she’d fall in the manure),
  • a double-pointed pencil, and
  • a plant tag proving that this easterly bed had been home to vegetables before, or at least one “Black Beauty” zucchini.

But my husband, planting tomatoes and peppers on the south side of the house, definitely found the coolest artifact: an old garden glove that had become so enmeshed with the earth it was conpletely covered in roots!  There’s a metaphor in there,  something about the hand of man being consumed by the jungle, but I am without latte, and cannot think of it.

Two hours later and fifteen minutes later, I had reaped bare soil, and planted lettuces, cabbages, three kinds of mint, dahlias, and alyssum seeds skirting the feet of the dahlias. My husband always goes crazy mint-buying; I like to change my craziness up; this year it was heirloom tomatoes and dahlias.  I never imagined I’d be a dahlia person, but I went to The Puget Sound Dahlia Association’s sale earlier this spring and caught the fee-vah, netting new seven dahlias for the garden.  As renters who have no excuse to be putting any money into the garden, and considering the space they take up, I’m pretty sure that qualifies as crazy.

Inside, scrubbing up in the bathroom to divest myself of the Pigpen-like aura of soil dust I’d acquired, I looked up in the mirror to check out the @#*&! worry line.  It was – gone!  The avenue between my eyebrows was as flat and smooth as fresh pumpkin pie.

Some digging and weeding al fresco took me from this:

to this:

Who knew gardening was better than Xanax?   So maybe I don’t need to spend scary amounts of money on skin-toners and wrinkle creams.  I just need to spend more time in the garden!  Plus there’s the added bonus of burning 600-plus calories in two hours, which is about the same burn rate I get on our basement ellipical exer-marcher, but I can only ever stand to slog through 25 minutes of that, even with a really snappy podcast queued up.

I know what you’re thinking, but no, honey, housework will not do my face any good.  If you want to see the forehead you married again, take up the vacuum cleaner and pass me the trowel. Too bad garden shopping was apparently so stressful, but I have a hunch that knitting, as long as I stay away from lacework, will be beautifying too.

For Gaudiness

Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Wonderful Mae West

Maybe all my post titles should be taken from anti-bot software  – i.e., the warped-looking letters you have to copy when registering on many sites to prove you are “human” (my faves use actual words).  “For gaudiness” was my ticket into blotanical.com – a gardening blog review site, but I liked the concept, so here we are.

gaudy: Gaudy or Gaudie (from the Latin, “gaudium”, meaning “enjoyment” or “merry-making”)

stridently colored … tastelessly showy….tacky.

Surprising that Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi has nothing to do with it – his no-holds-barred use of color and form fits all of the above.  I like to think he enjoyed the aural association, and that he tended toward the “merry-making” rather than “tacky” end of the spectrum.  Naturally, loaded words like “strident” and “tasteless” are going to muddy the waters of our discussion.  What pains you to look at, especially after a night of too much liquid gaudiness, might be just the jolt I need to wake up in the morning, or vice versa.   If we can evade the Pit of Judgement, and focus on the colorful excess, that may help.

What’s Your Gaudy Number?

We each have our own gaudy-meter, the line you fear to cross.   I met a woman from Texas at the nursery this weekend, and I asked if the grey licorice plant in my hand would look crazy cool in a pot covered in grey beach stones (as my inner Martha hoped)  or boring (as my inner Little & Lewis feared).  No contest for her. “I go for punch,” she said, punching the word like she was pitching Suds-O.

Do you have the guts to put crimson and cerise together? Primroses at Roozengaarde bulb farm, Mt. Vernon, WA.

Sometimes gaudy is in the context, as I saw moments later when I brought a magenta-edged purple Martha Washington geranium too close to a chartreuse Lysimachea aurea – a full-tilt complementary combo.  “STEP AWAY FROM THE LIME,” the geranium intoned to me, in an oddly mechanical voice.  “TRY A PEACH VERBENA.”  I understood; I was not ready for it.  Only experienced colorists should attempt to drive this course.

Sometimes gaudy is just built-in – the phrase “Velvet Elvis” comes to mind – and like art that skirts the fringes of propriety, many plants have been feted and successively frowned upon thanks to that showiness.   Dahlias, coleus, cannas, and hydrangeas have each hit the horticultural skids at various times,  scorned for  being somehow “too much”.  (The large-flowered Hydrangea macrophylla probably got its nickname during one of those periods – “mophead” is hardly a name for a popular plant.

Does this make your heart sing? Or give it palpitations? “Mophead” hydrangea bustin’ out.

With some its size that matters – it’s difficult, as a flower, to aim for the demure look when your blooms are 10″ across.  Like the well-endowed girl in the sixth-grade class, there is no bushel under which that light can hide.

pink cactus dahlia

Dahlias: “Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful”

Others, like coleus and cannas with dramatically painted or variegated foliage, are the plaid chintz of the garden – they pack pizazz, but add one pattern too many and you uncork visual chaos.

The Victorians, known for quite a bit of restraint inter-personally,  went a little nuts on exteriors  – in fashion, architecture, and gardens.  No need to text Dr. Freud for his take on that one. Bedding schemes recreated intricate Bokhara carpets, weaving with coleus and pansies instead of wool.  It was the golden age of the plant-hunter.  Conservatories brimmed with the biggest, weirdest, smelliest exotic discoveries that explorers like E.O.Wilson could find.

Gertrude Jekyll, octogenarian queen of the mixed-border,  exploded the Victorian stranglehold on garden design. She favored naturalistic drifts of plants in micro-engineered color sequences.  Unlike the sports-franchise contrasts popular with the Victorians, Jekyll’s borders were soothing lullabies made up of bass notes of grays and blues with high notes of pinks, whites, and purples.

Much like my mother’s fun orange  leather club chair had no place in the dusty mauve/slate blue world of the 1980s, eventually the loud bedding plants, palms and outsized cannas came to look brash and bizarre amid the pastel schemes of Jekyll.

But today tropicalissmo has taken hold, thanks to pioneering designers like Richard Hartlage , Marco Polo Stufano and Piet Oudolf, and prominent gardeners like Thomas Hobbs and Linda Cochran. Bold is the new black. Actually, in gardening, black is the new blue, but that’s a post  for another day.

Dahlias and canna cultivars are increasing like very happy rabbits; compact dahlias, called “border dahlias,” are even allowed to play reindeer games with the daylilies and bee balm.   Coleus, once sold as nameless mixes, have leapfrogged into botanical garden borders, and sport actual names.    The memory of the stigma lingers, however: Stainedglassworks.com, retailer, writes: “The handful of plantsmen still pretending to disdain COLEUS simply have not caught up with the Victorian gardeners!”

Meanwhile some plant publicist is trying to prove these are not Queen Victoria’s coleus; the names definitely depict life on the wrong side of the tracks. For example: “Hit and Run,” “Private Dancer,” “Rising Temperatures,” “Devil’s Seed,” and “Satanic Embers.”

These flamboyant baubles can add just the right sparkle to containers – as designers have discovered.   A bit of red blood grass (Imperata cvs.), purple-leaf canna,  or lime sweet potato vine (Ipomea batatas) will add pop and instant street cred to your geraniums.

Gaudy may be in the eye – and maybe the inner recesses of the beholder’s psyche – but, like wearing spandex, pulling it off is all about attitude!  Show your joy, your gaudium, and the world can’t help by smile – even if  for some it’s only the inside.

Stealing Beauty Everday

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris

Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keefe

I still remember the revelation of college (no, not beer pong) when the art history professor showed slides of Buckminster Fuller roadsters alongside art deco toasters to illustrate 20th century humans’ views of nature and industry.  Even a lowly toaster, with integrity of meaning and lines, can speak to our souls.

My first gardening article, for the Op-Ed page of a local Bronx paper, was inspired by the Japanese observance of Cherry tree blossoming, called Hanami.  In years past, families moved the futon under the backyard cherry tree and camp out together watching the tree transform above them from bud-break until spring winds  showered silky blossoms on their faces.  What a way to wake up!

Today’s modern Hanami festival involves colossal picnics in public orchards, spots for which are brokered like World Series box seats by prominent corporations to impress clients.  I’m sure there’s a strong consumer element, and the youngsters use the time to scope out the hotties, but still.  In the days of the New Busy Global Village, so much time set aside to look at flowers.

Some of my most contented moments are the ones absorbed by looking, feeling, and touching the moment with five, six senses on a good day.  Could be weeding in the garden, having to touch every blade to see if I’m pulling crabgrass or drumstick allium, feeling a decadent yarn slip through my fingers, or enjoying the the warm weight of my 6-year-old son curled in my lap.   (My 8-year-old son only cuddles these days when he’s lost in a fever.)

These all are fleeting moments, as irretrievable as a missed bus, but as wonderful when savored as warming feet by the fire or an ego-melting kiss.  But it’s up to us to steal them from obscurity.