Clematis Bower


‘A rural portico was seen,
Aloft on native pillars borne,
Of mountain fir with bark unshorn
Where Ellen’s hand had taught to twine
The ivy and Idaean vine,
The clematis, the favored flower
Which boasts the name of virgin-bower,
And every hardy plant could bear
Loch Katrine’s keen and searching air.
An instant in this porch she stayed,
And gayly to the stranger said:
‘On heaven and on thy lady call,
And enter the enchanted hall!”

— excerpted from The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott

Of bloom and blossom, blur and bliss… finding a bit of all of the above in my clematis bower on this beautiful Saturday. Of the blur effect, for the photography suggestion of ‘focus‘ this week, I was trying out my new portrait feature on the iPhone, as there are power lines just beyond that cross the background, disrupting my lovely Lady of the Lake ambience. The blur effect, in turn, created the illusion that a clematis bloom had catapulted itself away from the pack and was on its way to some wild adventure.

(go little clematis, go!)


A Dweller in Possibility


“I dwell in possibility.”  — Emily Dickinson

Oh Emily, what would you have said to today’s possibilities? What lifestyle choices would you have made? Your poetic turn of phrase, so ripe with optimism, might have been phrased differently. Perhaps… “I dwell in a multiplicity of distractions…?”

No one dwells more in possibility than a gardener. They say that is what keeps gardeners young–they are always looking to the future with excitement. (it must be said, however, that if a gardener’s heart is young, his/her hands look old!)

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Today’s–and yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s, distractions and lifestyle choices have, for me, to do with a garden. Flowers… tending… cultivation… tree care. Lovely preoccupations. The cherry trees are blooming, the lilac bush is awash with color and fragrance, the old-fashioned peony is just about to expand into a giant billow of bloom…I not only dwell in possibility, I am giddy with potential. Forgive me for posting pictures of flowers for the moment. It is spring, after all!

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‘I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –’
Emily Dickinson

One Frond, Unfurling

One frond, unfurling
Bright fern, quiet uncurling
Winter undoing

The world outside is nudging us awake. The nearby woods, the wetlands, the ferns…the daffodils….those sweetly voiced robins…they are getting on with business, and what a delightful business it is!


I have a particular interest in the unfurling of ferns. There is, perhaps, nothing else that better speaks to an awakening after winter than this welcome sight in the woods.  The first glimpse of that lovely, buoyant green appearing above the tops of decay is a burst of fresh happiness.


My own winter sleep went a bit longer than I’d planned, and was, dare we say…unscheduled. A well-stocked library is always a good place for hibernating, especially when one is immersed in the 12th century. Or Jane Austen’s footwear. Or the 18th dynasty of Somewhere Grand. Or pondering the mystery of one’s own great grandmother. Or toying with the idea of becoming conversant in glottal stops and fricatives just for fun, only to realize it’s not that fun.

Remember Frances Theodora Parsons? I’m enjoying her book a great deal for its quaint tone as much for its vigorous encomiums of the lowly fern, and before I know it I’m thoroughly immersed in her world of silvery spleen-worts, adder’s tongues, bulblet bladders and fruiting fronds. She was a champion, you could say, of this often overlooked species.


She quotes a great deal from Thoreau–being terribly fond of him–and I enjoyed these words, as I always enjoy a bit of ‘thither-ness’ with my morning coffee:

‘It is no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in  spirit.’ — Thoreau


Be not alarmed–these pictures of ferns and ‘moss-worts’ are from my own backyard, where I was quite present in the moment. We are a little behind in the unfurling stage, it is true, but I hope to bring you more pictures in a few days of the ‘big, woolly croziers‘, as Frances Theodora Parsons calls them with such affection.

Stay tuned, as we awaken and unfurl. The young lady responsible for many of the meticulous drawings in Parson’s books––as well as the riveting “descriptions of the Woodwardias“––Marion Satterlee; is a fascinating young lady in her own right. I’ll be sharing a bit more of her writing and art in coming posts.

Welcome back.

In Search of Wild Chrysanthemums


Ever since reading Wang Chien’s hauntingly lovely poem to the wild chrysanthemum, I determined I must see this elusive treasure  for myself.

The wild chrysanthemum
Late, its enchanting color springs out from the wild hedge,
Its cool fragrance clings to the autumn water.  

Wang Chien, T’ang Dynasty

November is a time of unusual color changes, increasingly cool nights, and the complete disappearance of something so elusive as a wild chrysanthemum.

This color change, these yellowing-to-brown tones, is a condition as much as a color, and one that used to be referred to as  ‘sear‘, or archaic, ‘sere‘. I write more about this November color palette—one that I particularly love, but it is a bittersweet love—in The Seasonal Mr. Rochester. (note: it is also a color that makes a lovely wool scarf; also note that there could be a fascinating etymological link between sincere and sere but I have not had enough coffee, yet…)

This picture of one of our local wetlands is from a recent walk, in which I set out with a sincere desire of finding, and photographing, wild chrysanthemums.

Sadly, however earnest my efforts, there are no wild chrysanthemums to be found on my various treks. I did find a few straggling fall asters. Related in species, not in poetic aspect.

Autumn asters, H.E. Bates

Still, the haunting images of enchanting color, the earnest pursuit of a glimpse of wild hedge, with a cool fragrance wafting up from autumn water, was sweet in itself.

For that, I can thank the elusive wild chrysanthemum.


Poetry reference taken from Flower Cookery–The Art of Cooking With Flowers, by Mary MacNichol; worth finding if you can…copies of this book are about as elusive as wild chrysanthemums.


Stony Response (August Poem)

“Is it hot enough for ya?”

The question;
as common as sweat
in sultry August
So often asked
(when it is clearly
too hot for anyone)

Heat stupored bees
refuse to budge
from their sticky perch
on the silken lily
to make room for your nose

The garden bares its secret pools
of brackish disquiet
an uneasy refuge
for languid birds with wilted wings
who float in brine

Too hot for even the statuary
Normally so composed
in their chiseled tranquillity
The breeze carries their stony sigh
(they hate the question, too)

A whiff of cologne
ruffles our hair
as the loud inquisitor
bounces past
in checkered bermudas

“Is it hot enough for ya?”


Soft Music of Shining Water

‘When wet it is like a nest of exquisite brocade,

Fragments of clouds on rich coifs of fairy hair.’

Sung Ch’i, Sung Dynasty


There is beautiful gem in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. In a city that is known for being green, clean, and stylishly caffeinated, it should come as no surprise that there is a jewel of a green space enclosure right in the center of downtown. Tea is also served, exquisitely. (This may be the only city block in Portland where you cannot get a cup of coffee.)




There are many portals for viewing provided; some you walk through, some you waft through.

The garden is Lan Su. Called ‘the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China’, it is worth every penny of the admission. An entire city block has been made into a walled enclosure, a secret retreat from normal space and time.

Famous plant collector, E.H. Wilson once referred to China as the “Mother of All Gardens.” (Note: In my post ‘Heart of a Gardener’, I wrote about famed British gardener Ellen Willmott, who sponsored E.H. Wilson on several expeditions China for plant exploration. Many of his discoveries he named for Ellen Willmott.)


a Camellia from the curated collection


The teahouse is in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, the two story building in the background

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Portland is also home to the justly famous Japanese Gardens, up in the west hills. Comparisons are inevitable, but certainly not necessary. Both gardens are tranquil and nourishing to the harassed heart. My one comment on style difference is only because I am such an enthusiast for any type of filigree, particularly that which is used in architecture. I noticed that the Chinese Garden has an abundance of gorgeous wood-carved filigrees and screens, as well as plaster filigrees.


Many of the wood filigrees are carved from gingko

Really, really lovely. I found myself taking more pictures of the architecture in Lan Su garden than the plantings. Which I intend to go back and remedy, because, as the Lan Su website brings out…


“Lan Su is home to more than fifty specimen trees, many rare and unusual shrubs and perennials, and curated collections of Magnolia, Peony, Camellia, Rhododendron, Osmanthus and bamboo.”



There is poetry here at every step. Even the garden’s name—Lan Su— can also be interpreted poetically as ‘Garden of Awakening Orchids’.

‘In the deep forest it stands silent, guarding its chastity,
Trusting the light breezes to scatter its fragrance far and wide.
It does not refuse to bloom beside my mossy steps;
When plucked, it does not hanker for a vase of gold.
Singly superior, it may serve as company to a book of odes…’
(Liu K’ o-chuang, Sung Dynasty, Fragrance from a Chinese Garden)


An unusual evergreen shrub (a type of juniper?) where the soft spring growing tips look like blossoms


Walkways are of pebble mosaics, painstakingly placed, and made of softly rounded stones, so as to feel kindly therapeutic to bare feet

Besides tranquillity, fragrance, and the soft music of shining water, there is history. Where else can you stand in the figurative shadows of master curators who tend 1,000 year old camellias to guard their loveliness for future generations? Or master poets with their ‘books of odes’ in praise of peonies—‘the King of Flowers’—


‘Embroidered curtains embrace the king of flowers,
Its gorgeous hues challenge the beauty of sunshine.
All its branches take color from the sun.
Every petal is filled with heavenly fragrance…’
Sui Shih, Ming Dynasty


Occasionally, instead of reading the gardening and nature notes of others from two hundred years ago, I create a few notes of my own. Perhaps I was inspired by the fact that I was in a garden that took me back through centuries of gracious time. A place where beauty, eternity, and peace are not at all a far-fetched concept.