Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Next Chapter

Posting this on a years-disused blog, like tossing a bottled message into a swamp.

Nevertheless, to all ye spectres lurking hereabouts, come visit me at my new blog: Fencebroke Promontory Gardens for a new chapter of gardening hijinks and windbag musings, this time set in my very own backyard!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Having The Time

I'll not dance around it; the recession has hit the gardening industry pretty hard. Our lobbyists are hard at work in Washington, but tulip bulbs and the promise of home-grown carrots don't grease the legislative skids as much as they used to. Consequently, I have discovered the recession paradox. Clients cut back on my hours because their gardens are deemed capricious things in the light of national and global financial angst, thus I have more time on my hands. Wonderful, this time can be used to pursue my own long-denied capriciousness... but wait! Without a steady paycheck, I can no longer afford such pursuits. With a job I haven't the time and without a job I haven't the means.
I like to think of this as one of life's practical jokes.
But rather than get hung up on it, it's arguably more productive to come up with alternatives to expensive hobbies and at least consider doing those instead. Here are some terrific, inexpensive uses of time that I have considered:

*Read more
*Keep in touch with friends and family
*Volunteer for charity
*Get organized
*Learn Spanish

And here are some that I have actually done:

*Catch up on all the TV shows I've missed since getting rid of TV by watching them online but still feel smug about not having TV
*Drink more coffee
*Get cluttered
*Play Facebook Scrabble until I cannot discern Scrabble from reality
*Look at things on my walls
*Walk into the living room and back again
*Wish I hadn't drunk so much coffee

So you see, the recession paradox only applies if your dreams are unlocked by money. You too can consider doing something worthwhile, inspiring, and free... right after your turn in Scrabble.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


No excuse for how 2 months slip by unremarked upon. New goals, new interests, a volatile employment, self doubt, are these the chaff or the very things we seek in life? And whether they are used or discarded do they change us along the way or do we sink like a stone through their wafting currents, to lodge once more in the mire of our status quo?
I am a gardener still... I think, but not the same gardener, not the same person. For that matter, I hope anyone out there still reading, still wondering, is not exactly the same as the last time we crossed paths. Change is odd, and difficult too, but without it we are just stuck. So here's to change, and its embrace. Whatever it brings, I'll always find the page once more.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Seattle, my city.
Merry Christmas fellow gardeners everywhere.
Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winter 1

In all this giving up
In the quick gloom
And drizzle
We unravel
But cannot become bare
Like the trees

We hold on

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Trees Are Just The Beginning

Have you noticed how Christmas brings out the hidden botanist within us? People who, two weeks ago, couldn't point out a Douglas Fir tree in a forest full of 'em, are now looking down their noses at the folks who are decorating a Pseudotsuga menziesii in their living room instead of the far superior Abies procera or A. balsamea. Suddenly the Pinaceae is fair game for casual conversation. Suddenly I'm not the only one in a given room who can tell the difference between true firs and Doug Firs. That means I'm not the weird one anymore! The world is speaking my language and I belong!
But alas, the season is ephemeral and upon the New Year the populace will undergo a bludgeoning repression of its collective memory until all those beautifully classified conifers become nothing but "pine trees" once again. And it's back to blank looks when I try to explain to friends and clients that really, there are only two common evergreens you see in Western Washington, Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars, and you can easily tell the difference by the way their leaves...

See, I bet you even trailed off while you were reading that.

Clearly what we need is a greater number of specific plant-related holiday traditions. You know, just to keep the nomenclature sharp (and, OK, to make me feel less like I spend half my time speaking an alien language). Therefore, please do your best in helping me to disseminate the following soon-to-be cherished rites.

*The New Year's Resolution-Maple: Everyone brings a maple leaf to their respective New Year's party and publicly (drunkenly is allowed, too) enumerates one resolution for every lobe of their leaf. Since different Acer species have different numbers of lobes, this will encourage people to find certain species that afford them a greater (or lesser) degree of optimism and resolve. The main challenge will be to find maple leaves at a time of year when the trees are bare. Big Box to the rescue! Next year, alongside countless Poinsettias at Home Depot, you'll find a sea of little maples just for the occasion!

*Sweetheart Cuttings: Valentine's Day pretends to have a green thumb what with all the roses flying around, but the only thing people really learn each year is that roses are freaking expensive. So let's take it up a notch. Instead of a bouquet of generic roses, really impress your sweetie with a bouquet of hand-selected hardwood cuttings. The successful propagation thereof would serve as a symbolic reminder of your love... and if the cuttings don't take, then your love was never meant to be. Sorry.

*The Easter Viburnum Hunt: Why just scatter Easter Eggs randomly throughout the yard? Let it be known that the Easter Bunny only deposits goodies in Viburnum shrubs and within each species can be found a trademark treat of varying caliber. I'd like it if the quality of treat would correspond with my own opinion of a given shrub. Therefore, Viburnum bodnantense or V. plicatum tomentosum would be automatic jackpots, while V. tinus would be the equivalent of coal in your stocking.

*Blow-Up A Boxwood!: This sure-to-be favorite of the Independence Day festivities is a patriotic way to rid the world of one more Buxus. Just find the nearest ugly shrub smelling of cat-pee, insert a large illegal firecracker, light fuse and get away!

That should get us through the next half a year, anyway. Let me know if you've got any other suggestions. Keep in mind these traditions will take on regional and personal variations as they spread; but try to remember that the point of such special moments we share with our friends and family is to make me feel more normal. It can be so easy, in the midst of holiday chaos, to forget that. Thank you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Door To Door

I feel dirty. For a gardener, that's really something. Dirty is usually the norm, cleanliness being a fleeting and difficult condition aspired to with all the sincerity of a Holiday dieter. But it is no tangible dirt that makes me unclean this day; it is a soiled soul that won't be rinsed of its deeds; it is a stained conscience scrubbed raw in futility. In a cold sweat, I beg forgiveness, knowing none will be, none could be granted.

I have gone door-to-door.

One by one, I have darkened the doorstep of a neighborhood's innocent homes. I have crept, snuck, slithered about a cheery place leaving behind me a spoor of business cards and advertisements for the garden service which is my employer, hung around doorknobs and handles in the universally-recognized fashion of unsolicited marketing. Like junk mail, but creepier since an actual human being had the gall to tread each walk and step with the incriminating documents in hand. Like a door-to-door salesman who has nothing really to offer, who just shows up one day to point out that a random service exists, in case maybe you forgot how to use a phone book or search engine. It's not even a coupon for our garden service, it's just a piece of paper that seems to say: 'here we are, you clearly need help with your yard, so just this once, we're going to grant you the privilege of hiring us, it's your own damn loss if you fail to do so'.
I am put in this position because the economy and season have thrown our business on tough times, so we have taken to advertising in desperation. It is my humble opinion that advertising might have had its place a little earlier in this business plan. As it stands, it seems a Hail-Mary clause: Well shoot, what happens if we run out of money and no one knows we exist? Well then, and only then, we'll send out our crack team of gardeners/ninja marketers to flood random neighborhoods with business cards. Don't worry about incentives, people will be so impressed with the font of our cards and our well-spaced phone number that they will call and beg to pay for whatever it is we do.
One of the main reasons I like being a gardener is that I can usually convince myself that I am doing some kind of good; I am doing something which, even if it doesn't make someone blissfully happy, it might make them a little less angry at everything. Distributing door-hangers affords me no such reassurance. In fact, it goes a little bit in the opposite direction; I'm pretty sure that when people come home from a long day of work to find that piece of paper hanging from their doorknob they get a little angrier at the world, holding out maybe long enough to see if it's a coupon from a pizza place; but no, it's just some jerk saying their garden looks like crap and that means they're paying full price for pizza tonight.

Ugh, I can't stand it. I've got to go take another shower.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Breathe and Count To 10

It just doesn't stop. Raining that is. Now, I'm not going to complain about the rain, per se; because after all I live in Seattle and chose to become a gardener, so whose fault is that? But the problem is, being outside in the rain for 8 hours a day takes a certain amount of patience, or resilience, or stubbornness, or stupidity or something... anyway, I find that I have a limited reservoir of that something and this can become severely depleted during a month like November when Seattle averages about 20 days of rain. There is a whole mess of rain-related irritations (donning and shedding rain gear, swapping wet gloves with dry gloves until they're all wet, trying to sweep leaves across wet sidewalks when they are glued by suction to the concrete; just to name a few), each of which takes a little slice of my patience so that eventually, there is nothing left to deal with the normal, everyday irritations of being a gardener.
Thus I find myself in situations where the slightest nuisance can become so amplified rattling around inside my empty tank that a feedback screech of cartoon-like anger erupts within me. I am not an angry person in general, which I'm sure makes it all the more startling to watch me calmly raking up leaves, leaning my rake against something, rake sliding, sliding, falling and hitting me on the head, me pausing for a second, wait for it... then me lunging after the offending rake like a beast awoken, tongue ablaze with language usually reserved for the culminating target of a life's vendetta, promising to wipe the Earth of the rake's spawn and spit on their graves then spread tales of the dastardly rake, its dastardly deeds and it dastardly seed. Then, while throttling the rake's scrawny neck with one hand, I'll usually give a good long look around the neighborhood to see if there are any car windows I can inconspicuously slam the rake into a good 3 dozen times or so. Nope, just the tempting windows of my own car. Then back to yelling at the rake for making me think destructive thoughts towards my own car.
Fortunately, these rages burn hot, bright and quick, usually spent before they can be applied towards any explicitly illegal acts. Wait another 10-15 minutes though, and I'm sure to jab myself with my Hori-Hori or tip over my tool bucket, and then it's back to livid, nonsensical anthropomorphizing and detached wonder that people consider gardening a low-stress job.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Call Me... John

Don't call me John.
It's not my name.
I know that on this blog I've not used my real name, but rest assured that it is not Maranta... nor is it John.
Only one person is allowed to call me John and that is because he thinks it is my name and has been using it for some time now. It's my own fault really.

I am not generally on a first name basis with my clients, that is, I know their names but they do not know mine; most would not even recognize me if I showed up on their doorstep in full gardening attire. To these people I am not a gardener, I am the gardening fairy. Sometime when the leaves begin to pile up, or the perennials are full of dead-heads, they rest a finger idly upon their chin and think: 'Hmm, now that's not right, something usually happens to prevent all this clutter. It'd sure be nice if that something happened again.' And they go about performing various superstitious dances, chants, prayers, and sacrifices to the gardening pantheon in hopes of incurring some sort of miraculous garden cleanup event. And then, while they're gone at work someday, the leaves disappear, the weeds disappear, and all is right again. Little do they know there is a man behind this phenomenon, that he is not currently a member of any pantheon (though he is accepting invitations), and that there is a direct link between the bill they receive in the mail every month, its being paid, and how likely he is to sneak in and answer their prayers while they are away.
Not a high profile gig, in other words. I don't spend too long planning my outfit in the morning or talking to my P.R. person. In the event that I am accidentally seen or stumbled upon by a client, there inevitably follows a myth-shattering and awkward disenchantment (think kids catching Mommy or Daddy putting presents under the Christmas tree instead of Santa), heightened by a decided lack of casual conversational skills on the part of yours truly. I have tried just freezing on the spot when seen, to promote the fable that gardeners turn to stone when seen by mortals, but for some reason this seems to creep people out rather than to re-enchant them. Also, just turning around and sprinting out of sight doesn't work either; apparently gardeners and thieves share a common mystique when fleeing.
So I'm fine with keeping a low-profile most of the time. There are, however, a small handful of clients who insist on being friendly, appreciative people; these will occasionally go so far as to openly acknowledge my existence and look me in the eye. To date, two of these have bothered to learn my name; one has successfully ascertained my true identity and one calls me 'John'.
This is because, one dull morning while I was more or less zoned out working in a sidewalk bed, I suddenly heard a loud, friendly "How's it going, John!?" directed right at me. Looking up, startled, I saw my client emerging from the front of his house, looking towards me. I briefly looked around, saw no one else near me, and started to become giddy. Someone was acknowledging me! Who cares if they were calling me 'John', maybe someone told him that was my name, maybe I had a predecessor whose name was John and he just mixed up the names, maybe he just calls everyone John! Who cares!? So I replied, as loud and friendly, "Going good, how 'bout you!?. Exactly as I was saying this, I heard a voice from about 6 feet behind me expressing much the same sentiment. Turns out 'John' was a real person, a friend of my client, and he was standing directly behind me. So then my client, with a slightly puzzled look on his face, but ever friendly, attempted to continue the conversation with both 'John's simultaneously, all the while permanently etching in his brain that his gardener responds to 'John', so that must be his name! Fabulous, now we can converse on a first name basis!
(Sigh) And we do! It's just the wrong first name... But who am I to correct him, one of the only clients who ever bothered to discern that I am a real person with a name, not some benevolent and whimsical garden sprite who visits unseen then flutters away to have lunch with the garbage fairy and the house-cleaning elves.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


The back yard is nice; but the inside is full of mold, damp chills, spiders and futility. Our home, that is. So it's time to go, to weasel out of this rotten lease and find a bit of air we can breathe without the aid of a high-tech oscillating quadruple filtration system; to talk to a landlord without the need for legal counsel; to sleep without fear of a mycotoxic silt bringing unkown disease in the still night; to drop these ugly thoughts about the evil lassitude we all suffer and inflict upon our fellow human beings.
And, hopefully, to take a lesson or two with me.

A lot of our belongings are ruined... one by one discovered lousy with mold, to be tossed into triage piles of things we never thought we'd have to clean, to throw away or to keep as priceless but with the caveat that spores spare not the sentimental.
So, too, in moving plants to a new rental with no backyard. This pile for plants I cannot part with: Hamamelis, you get to stay; little Sango-Kaku Japanese Maple I've had since a twig, you get to stay; Fuchsia, Hydrangea, Stewartia, too beautiful to leave behind, you're in; contorted Chamaecyparis obtusa, you're in but I'm sorry you're going to have to stay in that small pot for another year.
This pile for giveaways - plants I cannot throw away but lack the space or sunlight for: all my delicious berries, you'll be in good hands with my parents; Sambucus nigra 'guincho purple', I hardly knew ye, but my coworker will take good care of you (if she doesn't you tell me and I'll come rescue you); sentimental lilies, we'll be together again someday, I promise!
And this pile for those who didn't make the cut... let's pour out a watering can on the curb for the fallen, we got dead plants walkin' here: miscellaneous conifers I lost interest in, you deserved better than me; Coreopsis, your summer sunshine will shine no more; Portuguese Laurel, I promised so much and delivered so little, you were going to be my beautiful broadleaf evergreen tree, together we would show the world that laurel could be so much more than just a hedge - but nevermore; big unknown Japanese Maple that always fell over because you grew too fast for the pot I gave you, sorry, but this is what you get.
It feels strange to be playing God with all these plants I took into my care; but then, as gardeners, isn't that what we do?

Often, it can be difficult to make the decisions necessary to live more simply. It is so easy to accumulate and justify and tuck away and hold on that our lives become a clutter of half-remembered excuses and the objects they excuse. We become fiends for the vague sentimentality of things that connect us to our halcyon past, for the little glow of anything familiar. So when life shoves you aside and insists upon itself being lived more simply, i.e. by ruining your stuff and disallowing plants you've held for too long, I figure we may as well embrace the opportunity and be grateful, if we can.

All right, I'm outta here...