Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of books, plant related and otherwise.

Book Review – The Collector by Jack Nisbet

The CollectorHave you ever had a book you’ve waited years to read? This is mine.  I remember seeing it at Borders Bookstore when it first came out in 2010.  I picked it up, read the back, and flipped through the pages.  It was in the Northwest Natural History section, right by the front of the store.  Near Wheedle on the Needle and Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. I loved the beautiful illustration of a Douglas Fir cone on the front cover.  It was about David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest.  The recommendation on the front called it ‘exhilarating’ and I was sold.  I really wanted to read this book.  Over the next few months every time I saw The Collector I would categorize it in my mind in the ‘to read’ section and would often touch it as I walked by.  I had already claimed it, if not bought it.  But then Borders closed and it was lost in my imaginary book pile for awhile.  Until last month when I visited Powell’s Books in Portland for the first time.  I was shocked at the size of the store. I was starstruck with the amount of books in one location. I was shaken with excitement and this book was uncovered in my memory.  I inquired about the Natural History section, located The Collector and it became mine after a $16.95 exchange.  Sometimes I get tired of reading about people and I just want to read about plants.  Enough with the character development, just give me a forest. Give me a cone!  Give me a leaf and a bud and a season and I have a story.  But it turns out that this book is more about the man and less about the plants. And that is just fine, because the man was all about the plants.  The man, David Douglas, was a Scottish botanist/explorer who described and categorized many plants right here where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.  He came to the Northwest in 1824 and since then his name is synonymous with this part of the country, as in the ever-present Douglas Fir.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

I don’t want to start at the beginning though, but rather at the end.  The end of the book.  (Spoiler Alert) He dies! It’s unbelievable.  It’s disconcerting.  It’s so sad.  In the middle of his travels, while exploring and observing and doing what he did best, suddenly David Douglas has a freak accident without any witnesses, and he’s gone.  No more Noble Fir, no more Salal, no more Brown’s Peony!!!  No more discoveries, at least.  I was not ready for this ending and actually had tears come to my eyes as I read it.  Just like that?  His life was over just like that? Yes, I know it was almost 200 years ago.  Of course he has died since then.  But the manner of his death was so shocking and unexpected.  He was so full of life and enthusiasm, with packets and cartons filled with newly discovered plants and seeds.  There was so much momentum in his life when it came to an abrupt end.  So tragic.

If you enjoy plant names, you’ll like this book.  It’s filled with references to men like William Hooker and Archibald Menzies, who were contemporaries of Douglas.  We get to find out the story behind the people behind the plant names, such as Pseudotsuga menziesii.  “When modern naturalists set out to study the flora and fauna of the Northwest, many of the names that roll off their lips and out f their field guides first flowed from the pen of David Douglas.” The author, Jack Nisbet does a satisfying job of telling the story of  Douglas.  This book is written from letters and journals written by Douglas and his friends.  One thing I would have liked was more plant information.  He told us where the plants were discovered, how their seeds were collected and shipped back to England, but I wanted to know how they influenced the gardens of England.  He briefly mentioned this with a few plants.  I would have liked a showcase of a few of his discoveries with more details about where they were growing, where they ended up, the importance in the retail industry and possibly how they influenced plant breeding.  Give me more!

The collector recounts the life of Douglas, giving his early history, but mainly focusing on his natural history explorations in North America. His first collecting trip was to the Northeast of the United States and this just whet his appetite. Soon thereafter he was sponsored by the Hudson Bay Company and sent by the London Horticultural Society to the Northwest.  David Douglas began collecting even before he arrived in the Northwest.  During the long ocean passage from England to the Northwest, his ship docked in several ports for supplies.  One stop was in Rio, Brazil where Douglas said “my pockets (were) filled with the granite of Rio; my hat outside and inside was pinned full of insects and both my arms full of plants.”   I like that the first plant he noticed when he stepped off the ship in the Northwest  was the leathery green leaves and pink blossoms of Salal, our ever-present shrub. He noted that the local pronunciation was not Shallon, as recorded by Lewis and Clarke, but rather Salal.  He referred to lupine as the “most magnificent herbaceous plants I have ever beheld.”

Lupinus latifolius

 I didn’t realize how much work he actually did to make his trip possible.  He walked, he hiked, he climbed, he rode horses and often foraged for his food.  He suffered from cold and heat and physical exhaustion.  Nisbet reports that “Gathering seeds was not the only painstaking work at hand, for he also had to analyze each new plant he found, determining its genus and then comparing its characteristics to the limited species that had been identified in the botanical manuals of his day.  His primary references were Thomas Nutall’s Genera of North American Plants and Frederick Pursh’s Flora Americae.”  I admire his dedication and persistance.  He also recorded many of the native american customs and uses for plants.  Besides visiting the Northwest on two separate occasions, he spent several years in central California and was exploring the Hawaiian Islands on his return trip when he died so prematurely.

David Douglas—The Collector

According to a fascinating blog post I recently read by Naturanaute on Plant hunting, ” 15-30% of the world’s flowering plants (around 70000 species) are yet to be discovered, which means that finding, describing and even cultivating these unknown plants is essential to gain a better understanding of global biodiversity.”  David Douglas was a pioneer in this field and it’s exciting to realize that even in our day, new discoveries are being made.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  For any natural history enthusiast it was a well written and exciting adventure.  Hearing descriptions of the early flora and fauna of my country was priceless.  I’ll end with the beautiful closing words of Jack Nisbet “The thrill of such discoveries lifted him (Douglas) from the sagebrush summer into Blue Mountain snow squalls, where he could disappear in a riot of June wildflowers.  On the shattered basalt atop Mount Blalock, the collector knelt close to judge the progress of one season’s royal peony seeds.  During the course of some future excursion, when the elements had toasted them to perfection, he would gather a few.  That was one of the ways Douglas would share part of this place with the rest of the world: he would take those seeds home, and encourage them to sprout anew.”

Book Review—Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I just finished reading Gathering Moss and it was a lovely surprise.  Not what I was expecting.  I was expecting lots of pieces of science detailed and separate.  What I got was one whole.  A story, woven together with moss.  I love this book and I love moss!  I see it everywhere.  As I’m walking across a gravel pathway at work….there it is!  As I lift my eyes to gaze at the trunk of a tree….it’s there too!   As I look at at a distant stand of Maple and see a green fuzz, it’s too early for leaves….could it be moss? I betcha.  It’s on my roof, under my feet and over my head!   So prevalent that we don’t notice it any more.  So it was with joy that I read Gathering Moss  and began to really see it, this diminutive perfect plant.  The author teaches with simple instruction as well as analogy.  It was easy to discover the world of moss in these 162 pages.  But now I want more!  Suddenly I need their names, and it seems hard, as I’ve never identified individual mosses before.  Ms. Kimmerer, can you come out to Seattle for a field identification seminar?  She says:  Learning to see mosses is more like listening than looking.  A cursory glance will not do it.  Straining to hear a faraway voice or catch a nuance in the quiet subtext of a conversation requires attentiveness, a filtering of all the noise, to catch the music.  Mosses are not elevator music; they are the intertwined threads of a Beethoven quartet.  You can look at mosses the way you can listen deeply to water running over rocks.  The soothing sound of a stream has many voices, the soothing green of mosses likewise.

The author has a beautiful way with words.  She speaks of moss and rocks in the beginning.  Within the circle of stones, I find myself unaccountably beyond thinking, beyond feeling.  The rocks are full of intention, a deep presence attracting life…..The rocks are beyond slow, beyond strong, and yet yielding to a soft green breath as powerful as a glacier, the mosses wearing away their surfaces, grain by grain bringing them slowly back to sand.  There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure.  About light and shadow and the drift of continents. 

She reminds us that:  Mosses are so little known by the general public that only a few have been given common names.  Most are known solely by their scientific Latin names, a fact which discourages most people from attempting to identify them.  I’m one of those people.  Moss names have always been distant and out of reach.  Not part of our vocabulary like salal or  mahonia.  Where have you been hiding dicranum, fissidens, tetraphis???  Let’s start at the beginning.  Definition.  A true moss or bryophyte is the most primitive of land plants.  Mosses are often described by what they lack, in comparison to the more familiar higher plants.  They lack flowers, fruits, and seeds and have no roots.  They have no vascular system, no xylem and phloem to conduct water internally.  they are the most simple of plants, and in their simplicity, elegant.  I found it very interesting that mosses are much more susceptible to air pollution damage than are higher plants.

Robin Kimmerer tells us the almost impossible, that most mosses are immune to death by drying.  For them, desiccation is simply a temporary interruption in life.  Mosses may lose up to 98 percent of their moisture, and still survive to restore themselves when water is replenished.  It’s like a plant with a little bit of magic.  And turns out to be very useful.  Native Americans used mosses for diapers and sanitary napkins.  Magic diapers!  Remember that, moms, if you find yourselves out in the woods in a pinch.

This book will also introduce you to the astounding world of the waterbear, or tardigrade.  A tiny animal, .5 mm in length, that roams the water ways of the mosses, sucking out the contents of the moss cells.  When the moss dries out, they do as well, going into a period of suspended animation.   In this state they can withstand desiccation, freezing, boiling, radiation and things that most life on earth can not.  They are unbelievable!  I found this really cute/ nerdy/strange video on The Featured Creature.  It will broaden your horizons.

In one section the author discusses how two different mosses can inhabit the same log.  Ecological theory predicts that coexistence is possible only when the two species diverge from one another in some essential way.  This theory made me think of men and women.  Maybe the only way that we can coexist is because of our differences, which there are many!  But in the case of mosses, she is referring to their reproductive strategy.  One moss only grows on top of logs she discovered, because this is a pathway for chipmunks who disturb the area and spread the tiny moss propagules along the way.  There are always many parts to a puzzle and how curious that moss and chipmunks are linked together!

I fully appreciate her answer to the homeowner who complains about moss in their lawn.  They always want to kill it.  Robin responds mosses cannot kill grasses.  They simply haven’t the ability to outcompete them.  Mosses appear in a lawn when conditions for moss growth are better than conditions for grass growth.  Too much shade or water, too low a pH, soil compaction–any of these things can discourage grasses and let the mosses appear.  Killing the mosses would not help the ailing grass in any way.  Better to increase the sunlight, or better, pull out the remaining grass and let nature build you a first-rate moss garden.  Hear hear!!!

Ms. Kimmerer poses a thought provoking question at the end of the book.  She reminds us of all the things that plants provide for us and asks:  In the web of reciprocity, what is our special gift, our responsibility that we offer to the plants in return?  I know what plants give to me, food, shelter, beauty, life, but I don’t often ponder what I can give to the plants in return.   A clean earth? Less pollution? Reduce, reuse, recycle?  I guess I can do all those good things not just for me, but for our planet and for the plants as well.  Interesting how similar those two words are, plant and planet, one is the other.  She answers her question with these passionate words;  Our ancient teachers tell us that the role of human beings is respect and stewardship.  Our responsibility is to care for the plants and all the land in a way that honors life.  We are taught that using a plant shows respect for its nature, and we use it in a way that allows it to continue bringing its gifts….We can live in such a way that our thoughts of respect and gratitude are also made visible to the world.

Book Review—A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

 A Memory of Light

Rand al’Thor The Dragon Reborn

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning. So begins the first chapter of A Memory of Light, the final book in the quintessential fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. I loved this book! Reading this series is all about commitment. Once you decide to join in this 14 book epic adventure, the river of imagination will sweep you off your feet. It’s not for the faint of heart, who only open a 150 page novella once in a while. This story, with it’s numerous plots and subplots, overabundance of characters and continual fight between good and evil will throw you into it’s weave, making you a part of it’s pattern. Holding you in with both air and spirit as you enter a world that is both familiar yet so very different from our own.

This final book, A Memory of Light, brings all the stories together for the Last Battle. During most of this book the characters move in and out of this battle and we get to see the genius of military strategy in some characters and the creation of heroes in others as all gather to dance the spears. Towards the end I was feeling weary. I was so pulled into the story that I couldn’t help but feel the exhaustion that so many were going through as they fought so valiantly and unfailingly to save the world. If they lost this battle, all would cease to exist. There were no other options,this was the last battle! I could almost feel my muscles ache and the weariness enter my bones as I sped toward my goal of page 909, the end.

Now it’s a bittersweet feeling. The ending was complete, somehow hundreds of ingredients were thrown into a bowl, whipped furiously and out came a perfect cake. Fulfilling and finished. That’s what this story was like. Lots of action with many parts and pieces swirling around until the end, which left us with something bright and pure. I feel wistful, could it really be over? Has the wheel stopped turning for me? I miss Perrin and the wolf dream, Mat and his lucky hat, the Aes Sedai , the strength of the one power, Rand, Min, Aviendha, Elayne! I feel like I’ve just woken from the dream. But we know there are no endings, for the Wheel weaves as the wheel wills. Robert Jordan created an extraordinary world. Incredible lands, fascinating cultures ( I like the Aiel best) and an impressive system of magic. How many of us have sought the flame and the void as taught by Tam al’Thor? I know I have. I haven’t had success feeling the sweet power of saidar, maybe I’ll discover my own magic.

(Spoiler Alert) One of my favorite moments from the book was Egwene’s final conflict with M’Hael. I had found myself not understanding her character. She was so strong, she seemed to always succeed and didn’t have as many shortcomings as many of the others. But then when I started thinking of her as Ta’veren, it all seemed to fit into place. Ta’veren are special because they cause the fabric of the pattern to bend around them. When Egwene figured out how to defeat the darkness, it was perfect. The two streams of power sprayed light against one another, the ground around M’Hael cracking as the ground near Egwene rebuilt itself. She still did not know what it was she wove. The opposite of balefire. A fire of her own, a weave of light and rebuilding. The Flame of Tar Valon. And then she sacrificed herself in a quiet and beautiful explosion. She died. Tears filled my eyes and I felt like I finally understood her. Sniff, sniff.

When I reached the ending I felt a shift and I could tell these were Robert Jordan’s words. There was a warp in the pattern. Having been immersed in Brandon Sanderson’s words for so long, it was obvious that something had changed. I missed that Sanderson style. (Spoiler Alert) Having Rand just wander off in the end, like a carefree youth, didn’t work for me. That would have been fine in the beginning of the series, but after watching his character develop and grow into such a passionate individual, I didn’t find it believable that he wanted to escape. He loved, he lived, he unified the world, he worked so bloody hard and now he just wants to ride off into the sunset and sleep in a pile of hay? Hmmmm, I don’t think so.

However, I also realize that it is a fitting end, for it’s Robert Jordan’s ending. Robert Jordan began this story, he created it, and he should, and did, end it. Brandon Sanderson accomplished something that not many could have done. Completing the Wheel of Time series was a monumental task. Duty is heavier than a mountain. He did it with his own style, yet stayed true to the story and characters. Thank You!

Oh light! Now what am I going to read?????

Thank you Macmillan Audio for the following clip from A Memory of Light audiobook. It’s read by the talented Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, who have voiced the entire series.


Moraine and Nynaeve

Here is a video clip I took at the Seattle Brandon Sanderson book signing, February 12, 2013.  Brandon Sanderson did a fabulous question and answer and then Harriet read the wind scene, which is in all the Wheel of Time books.  It was an honor to meet her, and always fun to talk with Brandon Sanderson.  I asked him how could Rand just walk off like that in the end, and he responded, he wasn’t sure what RJ had in mind, but he thinks that Rand was off on a few Jain Farstrider travels to see the world, and then Matt and Perrin would probably find him again!  Another amazing author discussion!  I gave him some homemade cookies, I thought he needed a snack during this long WOT tour.  I’m already looking forward to the next book tour, Stormlight 2, due out next November!


Elaine, Brandon, the assistant who looks like Cadsuane Sedai, and Harriet
Seattle February 12, 2013

Book Review—The Little Messenger by Jon Rosenberg

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a very special book club meeting.  One of our members had invited her neighbor and local author, Jon Rosenberg, to talk with us about his book, The Little Messenger.  Patterned after Dante’s Divine Comedy, this story has a familiar theme.  We have to lose everything before we can truly find ourselves.  We have to descend very low into the dark dismal depths before we can ascend into the light and understanding.  Reading a book and then being able to talk with the author is priceless.  If only I had this occasion after every book, I would understand so much more!  How was I to know that Mr. Rosenberg had patterned his tale after a 14th century epic poem?  How was I to know how profoundly the author’s life was changed by his own autistic son?

He spoke with us candidly and openly, sharing not only his thoughts on the story, but also events from his personal life.  He accepted all of our questions, and we had many, and answered them with grace and eloquence.  He shared with us his personal philosophy that all of us must be sent through trials, the refiners fire, so that we can become stronger, better, and find peace.  We asked if he believed in God and he answered, no, he is not a religious man, although what he said was of a spiritual nature because it touched us and spoke to our hearts.  We asked how he got involved in writing and he answered that he had a story he wanted to tell and it took him eight years to write it.  He self-published his book and it’s available on Amazon.

Miraculously, he did mention plants.  He presented them as an allegory.  When things get really tough, we stretch and we reach and we grow, often quite painfully, until we get what we need.  If a plant needs water it will send it’s roots out into the soil searching for it.  The stems and leaves bend towards the sunlight, seeking out what they need.  Challenges mold us.  Just like the poem ‘good timber does not grow with ease, the stronger the the wind, the stronger the trees’ (Thanks Rachel!).  He also suggested that pleasure is not the opposite of pain, but rather comfort is the opposite of pain.  In pain we seek out change, with comfort we feel no need to make any changes.  When we are comfortable, why do anything different?  Yet in both situations, pain and comfort, we can find pleasure, or happiness.  It’s up to us to find happiness as we grow through challenges as well as in times of comfort.

I loved meeting the author, but what did I think of the actual book?  Mixed feelings.  It wasn’t my type of book, too much reality, I like fantasy… yet, I couldn’t put it down.  I didn’t relate to the the high-tech world of software engineers, there were no plants involved….yet, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.  I found some of the characters less than believable, yet my eyes filled with tears on the last page.  I felt like he had something there, something good, but it could have been even better with a few changes.  There were two stories going on, one of espionage in the world of silicon valley and the other of raising an autistic son.  The two never meshed well for me.  I just didn’t like how they fit together. I wanted more character development.  Who were these people and what drove them to who they were?  For instance, the character Carolina.  I was not convinced of her motives.  I needed more to help me understand her devious ways.  I just didn’t believe it.

Parts of the book were confusing.  From the opening chapter I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.  I take it as a bad sign when I have to re-read the first few pages, trying to understand what the heck is going on.  I’m not sure I ever did.  Who are these people?  Why were they doing this?  These were a few of my questions as I read the book.  But, like I said, I kept on going through all 440 pages.  I was invested, I wanted to find out what happened.  I did care about some of the characters, Dan for instance.  So it’s a mixed review.  I’m impressed with anyone who can actually write and publish a book and I look forward to what Jon Rosenberg has to offer us in the future.  I really admire him for what he has done and his beautiful philosophy on life.  He is an amazing man and I wish him the best of luck!

Book Review—Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

I first heard about this book when a friend told me I had to read Gaia’s garden!  She said the garden layout and design described were unlike anything she had ever heard of before, and she loved it!  After several other endorsements from friends,  I bought a copy and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  This book shows us how to take all those fragmented parts of our gardens and ‘integrate them into a vigorous, thriving backyard ecosystem’.  Hemenway tells us that the word permaculture is a contraction of ‘permanent culture and permanent agriculture.  It is a method of designing landscapes that are modeled after nature. I love the idea of copying natural designs and quoted Hemenway’s thoughts on this subject in an earlier post.

He reminds us that ‘nothing in nature does just one thing’, yet we plant a tree for shade, a shrub for berries or a trellis for support only.  We can design our gardens so that each piece plays many roles, letting nature do most of the work.  Less work for the gardener?  Sounds like a good plan to me!  Hemenway provides us with a list of the roles that plants play in the ecological garden.

  • Mulch Makers—Composting in place by soft-leaved plants such as comfrey, ferns, reeds, nasturtium and ‘green manure’ cover crops—clover, vetch, grasses and grains.
  • Nutrient Accumulators—These plants draw specific nutrients from deep in the soil and concentrate them in their leaves.  Included are yarrow, chamomile, fennel, lamb’s quarters, chicory, dandelion and plantain.
  • Nitrogen Fixers—Another soil-builder, these plants convert nitrogen from the air into a usable form.  Most plants in the pea and bean family are nitrogen fixers, as well as ceanothus, eleagnus, black locust, alder and acacia.
  • Soil Fumigants and Pest Repellents—These plants secrete compounds that repel specific pests that live in or just above the soil.  Examples include nasturtium, false indigo, elderberry, and certain marigolds.
  • Insectory Plants—Attractive to beneficial insects to improve the garden’s health.  Almost any pollen or nectar producing flower fits into this category.
  • Fortress Plants—Species that prevent invasive plants from coming into more delicate areas of the garden.  Comfrey, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lemongrass, Red-Hot Poker and Maximilian Sunflower.
  • Spike Roots—Plants that have deep, soil-busting taproots can restore tilth to compact clayey soils.  Examples are daikon, chicory, comfrey, artichoke and dandelion.  Mustard, rapeseed and alfalfa have fibrous roots system that performs the same job.
  • Wildlife Nurturers—These plants shelter and feed birds, mammals and butterflies.  Dogwood, elderberry, chokeberry, blueberry, native roses, hawthorn and ceanothus.
  • Shelterbelters—Plants that create windbreaks and shelter and keep out unwanted browsers or unwanted views.  Also to create u-shaped sun traps.

Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute

I really enjoyed reading a description of permaculture in action from the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute in New Mexico.  This is a hot, dry landscape, but, in Hemenway’s words….”I entered the yard through a gap between arching trees, and the temperature plummeted. The air here was fresh, cool, and moist, unlike the dusty, sinus-withering stuff I’d been breathing outside. A canopy of walnut trees, pinon pine, and New Mexico black locust sheltered a lush understory of pomegranates, nectarines, jujube trees, and almonds. An edible passionflower swarmed up a rock wall. Grapevines arched over an entry trellis. Two small ponds sparkled with rainwater caught by the adobe house’s roof. Winking brightly from under shrubs and along pathways were endless varieties of flowers, both native and exotic.”  ‘The gardeners had rejuvenated a battered plot of desert, created a thick layer of rich soil, and brought immense biodiversity to a once-impoverished place.’ This sounds like gardening at it’s best and I want to learn how to create such a sanctuary.

There is so much information packed into this 313 page book, it took me quite a long time to make my way through it.  I treasure all of these words as a reference and wealth of new ideas.  One idea that was new to me is the keyhole bed, or herb spiral.  After I learned about these, I thought, duh! Why haven’t I been doing this for a long time?  It makes so much sense!  The idea is to take a row of plants and fold them up so they take up less space.  The herb spiral coils up 20 or 30 linear feet of pathside plants into a helical pattern about 5 feet across and mounding. ‘The three dimensional helix does more than save space and effort. It’s mound shape means the herb spiral has slopes that face all directions.  The sunny, south-facing slope will be hotter than the north and can be planted accordingly. Brilliant!  I highly recommend Gaia’s Garden for anyone who lives on this earth. Not the type of book to read quickly, but rather a reference to follow you through all the gardens of your life.

Herb Spiral

Encore Azalea Autumn Moonlight


Autumn Moonlight Azalea

This beautiful azalea, Autumn Moonlight is going into it’s autumn blooming stage and it’s amazing.  Watching plants like this Encore Azalea that repeat blooms and the Bloomerang repeat blooming lilac, I wonder.  As we manipulate and change these plants, is there a consequence?  Do we give up hardiness or a sweet beautiful scent for a profusion of flowers?  Why do we need so much more, when plants already give us their simple, delightful gifts once a year?  But that is our nature, to create.  Here is a post I wrote in 2010 about my Encore Azalea.

Plants surprise me.  They change me, manipulate me and make me do their bidding.  Sometimes I am their slave–plucking, mulching, planting and pruning.  Innocently responsible for the continuation of their species.  This plant surprised me like a spark in the dark.  Encore azaleas are known as repeat bloomers—spring, summer and fall.  The first season in my garden (2009) produced a few sparse blooms in the spring, with nothing else all summer and fall.  I was discouraged.   This year I witnessed, again, a small amount of blooms in the spring.  As summer progressed I began to lose hope.  There were no buds, there were no blossoms.  I spoke poorly of this plant, muttering words I will not repeat, kicking dirt, even glaring in it’s general direction.  From July through September this continued.  Then, during the October drizzle, this plant surprised me.  Suddenly– pop– it was covered in buds.  And now, at  the end of October, my ‘Autumn Moonlight’  is one of the few plants blooming in my garden.  It’s the end of October winner!  There are a few faded roses, the geraniums are trying to hold their own, but this azalea is covered in soft white blossoms and my faith is restored. 

Here are the requirements for this evergreen autumn magic.  Full sun for best blooming (mine only got afternoon sun which caused me to worry) and well-drained slightly acidic soil.  These azaleas are cold hardy to zone six and need adequate water during our dry summers.  My variety ‘Autumn Moonlight’ has a pure white semi-double bloom and will eventually average 5 feet high and four feet wide.  Check out  the entire collection of  colors, heights and foliage at  This plant will bring color and interest to a fading fall garden.  I’m a believer now–go get one! 

Do you want to find out more about the relationship between people and plants?  Read The Botany of Desire–A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.  I really enjoyed this book– it gave me new ideas to weave into my brain.  Here is a quote from this book about early Americans planting apple seeds (pg. 42) “Looked at from this angle, planting seeds instead of clones was an extraordinary act of faith in the American land, a vote in favor of the new and unpredictable as against the familiar and European…This happens to be nature’s wager too, hybridization being one of the ways nature brings newness into the world.”   Faith and newness, that’s what this bright azalea will bring into your world and your garden.  (Written in October 2010)

Update on that plant.  The winter of 2010 came really early with a hard November frost.  That was too much of a shock for my still young Azalea and it died. I still remember the joy those pure white blossoms brought me in October and will get another one someday.  It’s worth it!  Update on me.  I haven’t been posting often because, besides working a lot, I’ve been spending extra time with my son before he left on his two year mission for our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).  He’s going to the country of Colombia and finally left last week, after weeks and weeks of preparation.  I’m going to miss him, but he will be sending e-mails and hopefully I’ve talked him into sending pictures of South American plants for me to post!


My son Zander and I on the Oregon Coast this summer.

Good Luck Mothers “Gitten ’em Brung Up”

“Ma adhered to a  more primitive philosophy, holding that a child will educate itself and that a parent’s job is to simply “git ’em brung up.

The River Why by David James Duncan

Mothers Love Flowers!

Mothers Day 2012