A Dweller in Possibility

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“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
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The hollyhocks from Louise Beebe Wilder's garden at Balderbrae

In June She Reads Louise

“What a chaos of beauty there is upon a June morning! Standing in the midst of the garden one experiences a sort of breathlessness of soul.” (Louise Beebe Wilder, 1918)

This week I combined another botanical garden tour with a favorite gardening book. On this trip, I’ve brought along Adventures in My Garden and Rock Garden, by Louise Beebe Wilder.

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A selection of garden books by Louise Beebe Wilder

The garden, Leach Botanical Gardens, introduces us to another grand old lady of gardens—Lilla Leach.

I just discovered ‘Lilla’ a couple of years ago, and have visited her garden now several times since, but ‘Louise’ has been my garden companion and mentor for over thirty years.

There are many pictures of Lilla to be had, but as for the authoress of my book–Louise Beebe Wilder–? I cannot tell you. Her likeness remains elusive. Not even Google has the power to conjure up her image. [update: I have unearthed some glimpses of her]

She was described by contemporaries as ‘contagiously charismatic’, with deep-set eyes in a round face.

Yet her words are with us. The image of her garden is with us. Her passion, vision and enthusiasm is still with us. Continue reading

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

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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.)

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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.)

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a Camellia from the curated collection

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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.

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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…

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“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.”

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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)

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

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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’—

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‘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

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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.