My one real rose began life in one of those 4-inch pots, a gift from a visitor who came to do a Fiddle Tunes workshop. I stuck it in a planter box on the ground and neglected it. I didn’t take it seriously.

But last year transplanted into a good-sized pot and and crowded with a stargazer lily, the rose flowered until December. The stargazer bloomed and perfumed last summer and has two budded stalks now. Buds formed early on the rose and shapely pink blossoms followed. Of course I wish for more.

In one of her newspaper columns, published June 25, 1954, Vita Sackville-West wrote:

“Dead-heading the roses on a summer evening is an occupation to carry us back to a calmer age and a different century. Queen Victoria might still be on the throne. All is quiet in the garden; the paths are pale; our silent satellite steals up in the sky; even the aeroplanes have gone to roost and our own nerves have ceased to twangle. There is no sound except the rhythmic snip-snip of our own secateurs, cutting the dead-heads off, back to a new bud, to provoke new growth for the immediate future.”


The Bride’s Garden is made from dirt dug from the postholes for a deck built last summer. The carpenter said kindly: “There’s no organic stuff in that soil.” I said with confidence: “There will be.” (Though I had many doubts, as always when beginning a permaculture bed.) But it was only March, and we added compost and straw and surrounded the mound with a primitive “wattle fence” – short uprights cut from downed wood, with disorderly branches woven in between.

By late summer blue-purple nepeta and lavender set off many blossoms in shades of the wedding orange: calendula, calico hues of yarrow, poppies, and a beautiful crocosmia. Nasturtium spilled onto the lawn and path from the wattle “basket.”

Shirley poppies, like in this painting, filled many a bare patch in the last few summers, but are a lost cause this year. I think my friends, the towhees and sparrows, in their vigorous soil work discovered the poppy seeds.

But in the Bride’s Garden nearly everything survived: nepeta blooms, self-seeded nasturtium have leaves the size of small plates and trailing buds beginning. The orange poppies (a perennial variety) open and wave cheerfully in the wind.

I bring them in the house with calyx still tightly wrapped (singeing the bottom of the stems with a match) and enjoy their unfurling as they open and smooth crinkly petals.

The carpenter would approve of the Bride’s Garden now.


Thalictrum rochebrunianum is pictured here – and it’s the thalictrum I wanted to bring from my old garden to Washington.  But I dug up a baby Thalictrum aquilegifolium to carefully transport – and now it grows – oh well.

In 1911, garden sage Gertrude Jeckyll wrote: “But good gardening means patience and dogged determination. There must be many failures and losses, but by always pushing on there will always be the reward of success. Those who do not know are apt to think that hardy flower gardening of the best kind is easy. It is not easy at all. It has taken me half a lifetime merely to find out what is best worth doing, and a good slice out of another half to puzzle out the ways of doing it.”

Eggs for Sale

Summertime and the hens are happy – living on farms with names like Spring Rain, Wildwood, Solstice, or Maple Grove (where “occasional danger from raccoons, love and gratitude” are listed as part of the ingredients). In an enterprise resembling lemonade stands, kids here raise chickens and provide eggs to neighbors. A young garden writer/blogger came to stay and offered as a hostess gift six pale blue eggs, carried in a carton in her stylish purse.

My bookbinder friends have a small farm in the courtyard of their bindery with orderly healthy beds of vegetables and corn(!), teepees over planted beans with a ring of radishes underneath for now, berries and flowers – it’s all there. They also have beautiful chickens: Doris, Dahlia, Esperanza, and Lila. They live in an apple-green chicken coop with laying box and little run – but the delight of their days is the work they do for the bookbinder-farmers.

When offered an out-of-the-coop break, these eager chickens cluck and murmur their way into a “chicken tractor” without wheels. It gets carried or dragged to a new area to work – garden beds in the making or garden bed before planting. The ladies scratch and dig, sometimes shaping a hole to settle into, but most often searching for edibles – undesirables by our standards – and making fertility deposits.

The cadmium yellow yolks of fresh, free-range happy chicken eggs bear no resemblance to the pale lemon yolks of commercial eggs. With so many eggs available, we eat a lot.

Deborah’s Chard and Onion Omelet (Trouchia) is a beauty, it rewards the time to make it. Full of sweet onions and puffed to a golden brown, the chard and onions melt in your mouth after slow, slow cooking. But Mark Bittman’s frittata is a good compromise in a Saturday night pinch. You can make it with other vegetables, but with chard it respectably mimics trouchia.

Wash the chard and cut out the stem and chop, putting stem pieces to cook with the onions in a non-stick pan. Meanwhile steam the chard leaves and then add them to the pan. Beat five or six eggs, adding a little Parmesan or other cheese, salt and pepper. Pour into the onions and chard, push around with a spoon, and cook over low heat till firm on the bottom. A few minutes in the oven finishes it off.

A frittata is skinnier than a trouchia – but very delicious – and also good as leftovers. Chard keeps its red and green color in and amongst the rich egg yellow. Ease out onto a colorful plate and serve with a salad and bread.

Thanks hens!

Summer Solstice

The longest day of the year – a little frisson of dread – the gaining of daylight ends and the losing begins. But still, we have so much real summer ahead – more time with warmer weather in our gardens.

In the book “Gardens of Inspiration,” 15 gardeners, including favorites like Mirabel Osler and Anna Pavord, were asked to write about gardens that influenced them. The book is rich and thoughtful with photographs by Vivian Russell, who is also one of the gardeners.

After years of visiting gardens to take pictures she writes: “It is the process by which people arrive at the gardens they have made which fascinates me; the sources, references, connections and singular passions that seep into the well of the unconscious and swirl around for years, before ideas for a garden are finally ready to be drawn.” And adds: “The most inspiring thing about gardens for me is the way in which they make people happy.”

This painting of garden perennials, done in a rainy Alaska solstice week, still makes me happy – but so does thinking about Washington summer – due to arrive after the Fourth of July!


In “The Lost Gardens of Heligan,” the story of reclaiming a derelict, centuries old estate in Cornwall, Tim Smit writes:

“A garden is one of the ultimate human conceits and living architecture, perverting the course of nature to human ends. Leave it for a moment and the conceit is revealed for what it is, as the land reverts to nature’s rhythm and imperatives. A gardener is merely putting off the inevitable encroachment of the wild. It is in this that I can sense the real hold that gardens and gardening have on the imagination, with the inexorable rolling pageant of the seasons and all the attendant triumphs and disasters at the hands of nature. The relativity and transience of each success encourages humility.”

And sometimes it is hard to tell the triumphs from the disasters. Out of fondness for it, I want to include columbine here, even though I can’t easily find the columbine in the southwest bed where it was planted. It’s engulfed now by giant stalks of lilies and self-seeded foxglove (“the inevitable encroachment of the wild”).

I’ll find another spot for the columbine – triumph for the lily needn’t be disaster for the lovely columbine.

Wild Roses

Most days, when we can, we drive a few minutes to the low bank access at North Beach and walk a loop – the beach walk. Depending on the recent tide, the shore is hard packed sand, gravelly sand, or slippery cobble and kelp littering exposed clay. Only very high tides prevent our heading toward the lighthouse, at the point where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets Puget Sound. Whidbey island is to our left, the cliffs of Fort Worden to the right above us.

Winter wind and rain squalls give way in June to early sunshine, low, low tides and good footing. Crows, gulls, and eagles, nearly always keep us company. Some days we see a blue heron standing on one leg or a sanderlings scurrying on skinny legs. Seal heads might bob just offshore.

Before the lighthouse a trail through tall beach grass leads to the campground – completely full in the summer, sparsely occupied in January. While there are big motor homes – there are also little cars and little tents and kids so excited to be sleeping out. We smell pancakes cooking and get to remember camping with our boys when we see sleepy parents by the campfire clutching mugs.

The trail climbs a south facing, heart pounding hill through big maple trees. Winter wrens and robins sing above, fir needles and maple leaves carpet the path.

We reach the top out of breath, and walk back on the top of the bluff with glimpses of the sea on a wide trail, good for talking or companionable silence.

The route through trees opens into a perfect wedding site with the Strait as backdrop, the lawn spangled with tiny daisies, and surrounding hedges of wild roses perfuming the air. This time of year, weekend mornings find white chairs stacked up or set up in wedding day anticipation.

Our route drops down off the bluff through beautiful Washington forest: madrona, cedar, Doug fir, with understory of salal, Oregon grape, false Solomon’s seal, wild roses, and fern. It skirts a bunker blocked off these spring months – we assume because of the huge eagle’s nest above nearby.

The trail emerges into a meadow with lagoon and Olympic Mountains view, and the sweet fragrance of wild roses. We walk on mowed paths under the swoops of cliff swallows. White-crowned sparrows call from the top of ocean spray and wild rose near the parking lot.

What a privilege this walk is – and maybe best when the wild roses bloom.


Helen Dillon, the Irish garden writer, claims you must always have an uneven number of cuttings in a pot, or the fairies will get them and the cuttings won’t root. I am reminded of this when I see the self-planted foxglove around the garden. Mostly I pull the plants as the seeds begin to form, but some seeds escape to choose their place in the garden – usually in appealing clusters of uneven numbers.

A young friend (who has visited during many summers of her 11 years) decorates fairy houses with fallen foxglove blossoms. In “A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature” by Bobby J. Ward, I read that fairies and foxglove have long ties: “The English name foxglove appears to be a corruption of folk’s-glove, the glove of the fairies or wee people.”

Another story suggests “the flowers are the gloves worn by foxes to keep dew off their paws.” Still other folklore holds that the shape resembles a bell, and when worn by a fox, a “fox-bell,” the eerie sound of the bell will scare away hunters who chased the fox.

Spires of foxglove surely add magic to the garden as blossoms color and open from bottom to top. Each is pigmented in delicate ever-different shades of white, apricot, pale pink, or burgundy. Their speckles – freckles, the dots leading into the blossom (often darker, thickly or thinly sprinkled) – create a landing zone pattern for insects – and delight for us.


Beloved by bees, nepeta blooms in the Bride’s Garden. When I picked a couple of stems to bring in to paint, I got halfway in the house before noticing I had a little bee aboard. Not so tiny as a mason bee, but barely half an inch long, a dozy slow-moving bee grasped the blossoms. Taking it back to the garden, I noticed another – much more vigorous, even on such a cold and rainy day – working one bloom after another.

Ann Lovejoy calls nepeta a “workhorse” perennial – a border stalwart. In the northeast quad of the courtyard garden between cherry and plum trees, a well-behaved nepeta (N. ‘dropmore’) blooms from the end of June well into fall – it doesn’t spread much or self-seed.

In the Bride’s Garden, a more robust – some might say too vigorous variety (N. Walker’s Low) blooms early and grows large in this second year.

On a sunny day, both beds buzz with bee business.

Spinach and Leek Scapes

So much spinach! A big produce bagful from the CSA, when balanced on my tiny scale, weighed the perfect nine or ten ounces for a Spinach Feta Rice Casserole suggested by the farmer in the CSA newsletter. The farmer (Karyn Williams, Red Dog Farm) wrote feta in the title, but calls for cheddar in the recipe. I used Cotija – it’s that sort of forgiving casserole.

Planning ahead for a change, I made brown rice the day before. Then, while all the spinach (along with one tablespoon of water) wilted in a big pot, I mixed the rice with two beaten eggs, a third-cup of milk, two leek scapes (cut into half inch pieces), and a half-teaspoon salt. The recipe called for a cup of shredded sharp cheddar and half-tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (I used less cheese and Tamari sauce).

When the spinach is wilted, it’s added to the other ingredients and poured into an oiled baking dish. Bake at 325° for 40 minutes or so – till golden brown and set firmly.

We don’t eat so many casseroles these days as in old cooking-for-kids’ meals. I like popping the dish in the oven and having free time – happy as the aroma drifts upstairs to my worktable – but this time I gave in to the partially finished jigsaw puzzle left by departing houseguests. I wanted to just put it back in the box – but how can you leave all those jagged holes in blue sky?

Later, the blue sky intact, we ate the casserole (and discovered leek scapes, crunchy and flavorful in a salad, turn tender and flavorful when cooked) along with a salad layered with CSA fresh red butter lettuce, Haurei turnips, and pea greens.

Beach Strawberry

Following a wandering path in Memorial Day weekend rain, I read through a plastic folder of index cards with notes jotted down when reading gardening books. (Alaska winters are long.) Garden writers’ pronouncements are fodder for reflecting, comparing and contrasting, and it’s interesting to see what caught my attention then.

In Russell Page (“Education of a Gardener”) I read about the book “Spanish Gardens: Their History, Types, and Features” by Constance M. Villers-Stuart. Published in 1929, it was long out of print. I requested it on an interlibrary loan and enjoyed Villers-Stuart’s tale of a journey in search of Spanish gardens. Villers-Stuart writes about El Patio de la Reja in the Alhambra (which she describes as “this Moorish fortress-palace left on southern Spanish soil, like some beautiful and curious shell stranded by a far-receding tide”):

“The planting in this patio is simplicity itself. It follows the usual Eastern plan of using one or at most two, flowering plants to each little square or small enclosure – a plan that might be copied sometimes in restless modern gardens where the effort to please at all time and everywhere at once is apt to defeat its own ends, destroying that unity of effect, the aim of all the arts be they writing, painting, or gardening.”

I like to think about those words in spite of my courtyard garden’s questionable “unity of effect.” Lots happens in that small space – it’s overcrowded and restless – and the beach strawberry rampages.

Tiny blossoms of the native variety and a thicker leafed, creamier white selected variety serve as living mulch, help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds, and provide habitat for frogs and small critters. The berries (when they get sun), tastes delicious and their sweet fragrance overwhelms  – tempting squirrels to enter the patio de la Francesca.

Beach strawberry seemed temporary at first – but there would be no ridding this garden of it. It softens edges of piled up rocks and broken concrete, it grows under the fruit trees and blueberries. Sometimes I clear a circle for adding compost, or coffee grounds in the case of the blueberries.

Villers-Stuart says the word glorieta “meets one at every turn in the Spanish garden.” She translates it as “tiny paradise” or “private glory.” Perhaps, even with beach strawberry, the courtyard is the “glorieta de la Francesca” – enjoyed by all.


Here for the yearly check, the furnace guy wiped his forehead and said: “It’s muggy today.” A hint of languor – born of heat and humidity. It’s early to feel it – and delicious – but it’s just a preview.

Soon enough we will encounter “Juneuary” – when June replays Northwest winter, also known hereabouts as “June gloom.” We know we should always “seize the day, make every moment count,” and in June that’s imperative. With light and color June transforms ordinary life.

This preview day began with a 50° morning, scents from plants and earth released by a gentle rain in the night. By mid-morning, in one moment all at once, like characters from the next scene blown in on a warm breeze: a hummingbird and the first butterflies: a large yellow swallowtail on wallflowers and a tiny blue one on forget-me-nots. New birds: a male finch with rosy-red head and a crowd scene of flitting little-yellow-jobs.

I planted scarlet runner beans, some dianthus, and divided a gift pot of gloriosa daisies into bigger pots, but ignored the could-dos and should-dos rolling around in my mind. Many seed heads of dandelions dot the lawn, and I watched with gratitude a rabbit gobble a whole round puffball.

The thermometer read 72° when I sat in the courtyard to have a cup of tea and savor the moment. My shadow frightened a bright-green frog basking on a succulent – it leaped onto heather, which can’t be quite so comfortable. Soon enough the wind stirred leaves, the quarter-inch green cherries, and miniscule plums. The temperature returned to a more familiar 52°.

June is rich in joy – visitors and travel – garden work and June bloom to paint. It will be fun this month to treat blossoms like birds – with pictures and field notes – leaving all of us time for summer pleasures. Enjoy!

Empanadas and Books

As a sure sign of summer, I’m making Deborah’s Empanadas with Greens and Olives. These little turnovers use up bounteous CSA greens from turnip tops to chard.

I like to use Deborah’s Yeasted Tart Dough with Olive Oil, dividing it into small circles instead of the big one for a galette. The filling smells good cooking: sautéed onions, garlic, red pepper flakes and bay leaf and greens. Mix in a little Fontana or Gruyere and an egg, and plop the filling on each circle stretching the dough to cover. Pinch to seal into the traditional crescent shape.

They’re portable little pockets of savory food and rarely seem a regular meal to me – they taste of travel.

We often take empanadas on hikes – they keep their shape and taste good at backpack temperature. And they remind me of walking a piece of the coastal trail in Cornwall, dropping down from headlands on a rainy September day to find a perfect English pub (and a red phone booth, just when you needed both) serving flakey pastries filled with potatoes and meat, with “veg” version also available.

This time I’m making them for the book group I’ve belonged to since my first spring here. Rather than reading the same book – we read what we read and report (the founding mother’s unusual concept).

We also bring vegetarian dishes to share, which come together as feasts in spite of no planning ahead of time. People make complex things when they have time and simplify when they don’t. I always wonder if we will end up with just desserts (never have). We taste new things: coconut rice, an interesting masala, black beans and rhubarb together.

Love of books is the only complete commonality. People have dropped away and new ones joined, but once a month some seven or eight gather at a different one of our houses.

Food first. Around dining tables we tuck in and tell catch-up stories – what’s happened in the past month. For a while we set a timer – but now we go efficiently around the table laughing and learning about one another (unless special events require longer tales – a thrilling later-life romance, trips, or children’s weddings).

Book talk happens in living rooms – coffee tables piled with books, a couple of Kindles, and after-dinner teacups. I’m fondest of the quick reports – I like to know what people are reading and why, but dislike too much detail, summations of whole plots.

For months I read the new translation of “Anna Karenina” – with a few pages at night, it takes a deliciously long time to read a Tolstoy tome. It doesn’t make for fireworks at book report time.

But book group isn’t about fireworks – it’s about sharing love of reading and food. It’s travel in a way – appropriate for empanadas – armchair travel like you do with books and people.