Monday, December 29, 2008

The Weight of So Much...

Pressed, pruned, encouraged by the strongest means available to grow flat; espaliered thin against some wall or other vertical artifice...just put there and told to thrive, scolded to succeed...
Whence the Euonymus japonicus outside my window, whence many others beside. Mildewed, parched beneath the eaves of this opportunistic fourplex where once a garden grew, it became everything it could, all things considered. It covered a bit of unsightly vinyl siding, placed as an apology, I suppose, for the stark appalling architecture with which someone covered a once sightly bit of Earth. It even bloomed... once, briefly, piqued flies abuzz.
But only for so long.
From compacted soil: weak roots; from drought and neglect: mildew; and finally, from the punishing stress and weight of one snowstorm, from one test of true strength: collapse.
For this plant, grown for a singular purpose, it is a decisive end. It is broken and cannot become something else. By my spade, or by my pruners' blade, it will be removed, an intolerable weakness, a failure.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Globe Plants

Appropriate now, after months of bewildered sky searching and furtive latitude checks on any nearby map, atlas or globe; that a strangely fair and mild autumn should be punctuated by the longest spell of snow and ice seen in decades. Prior to this arctic blast (connoisseurs of more continental weather please hold your tongues and allow me this, my moment of climatic hyperbole; I'm fully aware that a "winter storm" here bears little resemblance to, say, a Minnesotan "winter storm", keep this as a point of pride, if you like, it still doesn't make me want to visit Minnesota), roses, perennials and Summer annuals were lazily blooming into mid December. Spring bulbs were poking more than just their heads above the soil, deciduous shrubs were forgetting to be deciduous, and evergreen shrubs like Pieris and Nandina were competing to see just how much late, tender new growth they could expose to sure annihilation at the hands of an overdue frost (early reports indicate that Nandina may have eked out a victory this year).
Now, all are buried under 8 inches of snow and another 8+ inches are on the way tonight. Once again, this may not seem like much to anyone else in the country, but to us in Seattle, it's nearly apocalyptic. As a gardener, this means I have had over a week of luxurious, unpaid vacation, which in turn means I have been playing the broke tourist in my own neighborhood: "SEE BEAUTIFUL WEST SEATTLE ON LESS THAN $2 A DAY! WALK EVERYWHERE! LEARN TO LOVE SOUP! TREAT YOURSELF TO HALF A TALLBOY OF 'FINE' LOCAL BREW! DON'T DO ANYTHING! MAKE A PEST OF YOURSELF AT THE LOCAL NURSERY..." And so on. One thing this house-arrest has bestowed upon me is plenty of time for reflection. This I have used, not for working on long-overdue self-improvement projects or for voluntarily shoveling the sidewalks of elderly neighbors, but rather for deciding which plants look the prettiest in the snow. I have laboriously whittled it down to a handful of selections:
*Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus spp. the "redtwig dogwood" seems to encompass a number of species and an even greater number of cultivars, so I'll not belabor the latin here): More like an eery and beautiful crimson skeleton than any kind of flora, this plants' winter form inspires me more than almost any other, and when it's covered in snow, against a pure white background, there's no contest. I'll try to post a picture of the one currently buried on my patio.
*English Holly (Ilex aquifolium): No shocker here, this is more of a sentimental choice than anything. Yes, it seeds itself like a weed and yes, there's nothing more Christmas-carol-cliche than Holly in the Winter, but after actually seeing a medium-size tree in the alley behind my appartment dusted with snow, red berries peeking out cheerfully, I understand how this plant broke through the frozen monochrome of December and into some subconscious V.I.P place reserved for all things cherished enough to carol about.
*Coral Bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'): Much the same justification as for Redtwig Dogwood; I just love the colorful winter bones. The coral-pink of the bark is almost never seen in nature (least of all in the green-saturated pacific northwest) and what would be a garish hue on an annual seems delightfully unexpected when spilled across the textural continuum of tree bark.
*Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei): Initially I liked this just for the novelty of seeing a palm tree covered in snow, but I have come to actually appreciate how the soft snow tones-down but still contrasts interestingly with the spiky palm fronds. (Note: soak it up palm-lovers, this is likely the only time you will ever hear me speak praise of the Windmill Palm, the rest of the time I find them irritating at best.)

Those are my picks, let me know if you have a favorite snow- covered gem to add.