Friday, April 10, 2009

The Disenchantment

Zone 8 is not all it was cracked up to be.
At first, after moving to Seattle from zone 6, it seemed an impossible Promised Land. Here a Phormium stretching to the rooftop; there a gaggle of Hebe without a care in the world; Loropetalum? What prodigal son of the Hamamelidaceae was this? I thought I'd arrived in a city of fools... surely these horticultural aberrations would perish at the first sign of Winter and the comically misinformed gardeners responsible would slink back to the nursery, tails between legs, to buy boxwood and Euonymous like any self-respecting resident of the northern latitudes.
Then, after my first Winter here, I began to believe. Despite a long, cold season, the giant Phormium were still standing; 7 ft tall Nandina not only survived, but actually kept their leaves! Waterfront, outdoor-pizza-oven clients kept their picture-perfect gardens picture-perfect. Oh, what a wonderland. I ran through the hills (streets) and meadows (alleys) spreading the word:
Plant anything you want! This is an enchanted place! Rules of hardiness do not apply here! Sure, put in some tree ferns, why not!? This is free love, for gardeners!

Now, a year and one voracious Winter later, nary a Phormium stands in the city; Nandina leaves clog the gutters; Hebe skeletons jut from yards like the bones of some terrible plague.
This is the disenchantment.
Seattle got cocky and wanted the modern Mediterranean/California garden it saw in all the magazines. Our experimentation with marginally-hardy plants became a fetish without which we could not derive pleasure from our gardens. I understand the desire to constantly push the envelope of hardiness in order to expand our plant palette, but we should not strive to be something we are not. This is not a Tuscan villa; we are not sipping Cabernet on a veranda in Napa Valley. This is Western Washington, and it's time to relish our unique place in the world. Our climate fosters beautiful gardens, but only if we allow the right plants and maintain a healthy skepticism of those which seem too good to be true.
Zone 8 would do well to take a lesson from zone 6: don't get attached.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go run through the hills and meadows spreading some apologies.


  1. Damn fine storytelling, and painfully on target to boot.

  2. Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the sun of--

    Well, the Bard wasn't talking about gardening--or WAS he? There's a new production of Richard III--warring gardeners!

  3. You're right. It's a peculiar thing about gardeners - always trying to grow stuff that doesn't really grow where one's at. I'm guilty of it. Even though I'm in zone 11, I constantly find myself trying to grow stuff that requires frost. Crazy.

  4. I wanna hear you say 'Hamamelidaceae'