Some plants need the slant of the morning sun to be appreciated, others possess an intoxicating fragrance. The Dove Tree, or Davidia involucrata, is at its best when the wind rushes through the leaves, lifting the white bracts so they twist and turn and dance. They flutter. It’s like watching music. The rhythm sweeps through the branches, breathing life and creating patterns. It seems to come alive with the wind. Like when I’m playing disc golf and I throw a disc, it comes alive in the air. The breeze can give it unintentional purpose. Disc golf, Dove trees, discovery. I started playing disc golf last year and it’s not easy for me, but I love it. Slowly, slowly I learn new skills and improve my game, but it’s always two steps forward and one step back. Just like watching the wind dance through the leaves of the Dove tree, there’s nothing better than watching a disc fly through the air and glide through the trees. The breath of life.
The double pure white blossoms of the Mount Fuji flowering cherry opened last month and I knew that was my favorite tree. It called to me on my walks and I kept getting drawn to it. My dog tried to get me over where the grass smelled like several shades of pee, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of this tree. Petals so white, so light, they seemed to be made of some other-worldly matter that drifted down from the stars. The buds, slightly pink, opened to a clear true indescribable white. Well, let me try to describe. It’s definitely not just plain old white. It’s not snow white, or paper white or milk white, but maybe moon or star white. At a glance it appears a light joyful, carefree white, but upon inspection, it’s alive with colors. So many colors of the rainbow are swirling around those blossoms that they all crash into each other and explode into white. Light, bright, shining spring white. When I stand under that tree, gazing up at thousands of soft petals, the future and the past become irrelevant. There is only the here and now. It’s as if that Mount Fuji flowering cherry has the power to pull me into the present like no other life form. I am here, surrounded by color, and all I see is white full of light. But then the dog insists on pulling me over to the next clump of sweet-smelling grass and it’s back to the future. Hey, is that a Kwanzan Flowering Cherry? Those petals are so pink, like nothing I’ve ever seen before…
Entering the show there is excitement in the air. Air which is filled with light and fragrance and color. Soft colors, bright colors, spring colors and joyful colors. Leaving a cool and windy Seattle and walking into the show is like suddenly being in the southern hemisphere where seasons are turned around and it’s spring or summer. And then walking onto the main floor there is magic all around. When I stood in front of the Tetons garden I felt like I was in another place. Like I was very small and in front of me was a grand valley, with a meandering river, flowing down from a rugged mountain. It was an amazing feeling and I wasn’t the only one struck by this illusion, as there was a constant crowd gathered in front. Another favorite was the Hoh rainforest garden. Even though this garden reminded me of my own backyard here in Washington, it was so well put together. It had glistening wet moss and an enormous nurse log which appeared whole but was really cleverly disguised sections. There were so many other little pieces of wonder like Lewisia blooming in a desert and chocolate scented orchids. An octopus shower and a Japanese soaking tub. A new experience around every turn.
One of my favorite things at this show was the garden language spoken by so many. This is a language that is not written down or even acknowledged by those in attendance. But it’s expressed through a general glow on the face and with sparkling eyes, with pointing and exclamations of delight and smiles everywhere. This language isn’t sharp and fast, but rather fluid, following the natural lines of stone and wat. I didn’t notice it was going on all around until someone who didn’t speak this language entered the show. They moved quickly past the gardens and were more interested in sugar gliders and lunchtime than the green surrounding them. It was so fun for me to rub shoulders with others that speak my language. To be around all these garden lovers and plant geeks. There is always an abundance of conversation with fascinating topics to discuss and debate, such as how long bamboo lives before it blooms and dies and the epiphytic life of orchids with their tightly wrapped roots. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is a great place to immerse in all things green. It was another unforgettable year.
The Environmental Horticulture Program at LWTech has been involved in helping build the gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show for years now. It’s a mutually beneficial affair. The students get to rub shoulders with designers, learning about their design and helping in the creation, and the garden designers receive assistance during the 3 1/2 day build with the students and alumni putting in over 300 hours of volunteer service. Most of the students have never been on this end of the show, watching it grow from a bare concrete floor into artistic and beautifully crafted gardens. We could spend hours trimming dead and ugly leaves off of plants such as Carex grass or sweat a little as we spread sawdust and mulch. Some of us build structures, others paint or plant. It’s a miracle to see these beautiful gardens grow in such a short span of time. But with careful planning and hours of preparation, the garden designers help put on one of the best garden shows around. Here are a few pictures from the first day of the build.
Like any good member of the Hamamelidaceae family, the Parrotia tree has a lovely winter bloom. It’s so small and often high up in the tree that it often goes unnoticed. Thanks to a keen student observation, we were able to enjoy this surprising little dash of color in our school arboretum this month. Parrotia persica is an all-around good tree. Glossy green summer leaves, blazing autumn color and a fucshia pink bloom in February. Another favorite (there are so many….)
January begins with fireworks and resolutions. The first day is bright and promising, but by mid-month we grow tired of the gloom, the ice and those dark after-dinner dog walks. Have you ever tried to pick up poop in the pitch black nothingness? It’s tricky. But a walk through the school arboretum reveals wonderful textures and surprising colors. It reminds me that the plants keep growing. Some of them even put on their best show without the distraction of lush green foliage. The textures and lines are distinctive and startling. I love the little seed balls that hang merrily from the Dove tree, like decorative ornaments left over from Christmas time. I admire the twists and turns of the contorted filbert, snaking it’s way around like a puzzle. I adore the evergreen Salal, our Northwest sturdy native with it’s prizewinning green. And the witchazel and Dawn Viburnum give me the promise of Spring. January does have it’s moments.
This is a difficult plant to grow. It tempts you with its beauty, it tricks you with its size. And then when you plant a seed….nothing may happen. And then nothing may continue to happen. And then one tiny little plant will emerge. Then nothing. Then 5 or six plants will show up. And then nothing. A few months later you might get one or two more. And then you give up, repot the seedlings and dump the rest. Lewisia is one of those plants that have to do things their own way. They insist on a winter before germinating. It’s called seed stratification, which is defined as “the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to simulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination” (Thank you Wikipedia). Last year we had some success. After sowing we put the seeds in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. This year I tried a new strategy, sowing and then putting the seed tray outside to brave the oncoming winter. The results are in the photo. Six little Lewisia, growing valiantly. Not very successful considering over 30 seeds were sown. But we’ll see what happens come spring. The next experiment is underway. The Lewisia seeds are in the freezer for about a month and then I will sow them. Then we will see if this plant can be tricked. But it’s definitely worth the wait for the beautiful little blossom. More updates in the future on Lewisia.