If you walk down the stairs in my backyard you’ll be headed southwest by west, toward the sunset if you time it right. When I built the steps, their angle was determined by the wall it interrupts—only now am I holding out a compass. In the fall, I was happy to see that in certain afternoon light, the steps cast sharp scalene triangles up the hill. And today I noticed that those shadows are just strong enough to protect a little snow from melting away.
“Part of the fascination of gardening is that it is, on the one hand, a practical excercise of the human body and, on the other hand, a direct participation in the ritual of birth and life and death.”
Last week the Northwest Flower & Garden Show took place from Wednesday through Sunday. Plenty of time to attend. I didn’t go. And I’m not sure why. A month ago ago when I saw an ad for the event I was certain that I would attend. It even fell on my birthday so what better excuse did I need to get out of the house? But as the show neared, and pre-sale tickets were available, I backed away. I lost interest.
I feel like the answer to why I balked unlocks a bigger question. It’s if not the key, then it’s one of the keys to understanding what really draws me outside in the first place. I’ve spent the past year devoted to plant identification, expanding my knowledge of gardening principles, and building walls and stairs in my backyard. So on paper, a celebration of gardens would be the place to be. In fact, at one point in January I even wondered if I’d need a two-day pass.
This post is meant to lay bare an open question, just so that I have it on the record. If my aim this year is to figure out why I need to garden, then I have to acknowledge that a major event like this didn’t draw me in.
The oversized displays, as usual, will be captivating, over-the-top whimsies of dream gardens, and the seminars will provide excellent information for gardeners. At its core, the event has always been a garden show for gardeners.
That’s from the Seattle Times. I took another look through the slideshow included with their story about the show’s 30th Anniversary. Of thirty-plus pictures, one stood out. A machine and seven people were positioning a large rock into place for an exhibit.
This year’s many visitors were surely inspired and vowed to buy new plants, structures, and rearrange their gardens. Their lofty ideas will carry them into spring and beyond. But I’m starting to think that I would’ve passed through the halls and mostly wondered about how all the materials ended up there. About how long it took to install the exhibits, how long it’ll take to load it back into trucks. Did many plans change, once on site? Maybe next year I can attend the pre-show, where clever schemes are brought down to earth in real-time.
A reading list and recommendations
I don’t get too excited about flowers, at least as a reason to buy a plant. But if there’s a time when it matters, it’s winter. Witchhazels flower early, beginning in January, and are one of the first things to remind you that better days are ahead.
On Arbor Day last year, I purchased a hybrid witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) at Wells Medina Nursery, after becoming intrigued by their spreading habit. Of the many colorful and fragrant hybrids available, my wife and I chose the ‘Diane’ cultivar for its red. They’ve just emerged for the first time—only about seven or so—and they’re as unique as advertised. Red-orange and papery, crinkled like a real life party popper.
Great plants and so many wonderful choices, but few customers are in the garden centers to purchase them. A dilemma, to be sure. Every garden needs a witchhazel. — Dirr’s Encylodpedia of Trees & Shrubs
Two weeks ago I spotted a spectacular witchhazel in full bloom, while driving to the University of Washington. Returning home I pulled over to get a picture. The tree is probably close to full-size, and it looked like it had been pulled out of the ocean, covered in yellow sea urchins.