okay, there’s disgusting

And then there’s disgusting.  I believe this falls into the latter category…

A slug on my window

A slug on my window

It was about three inches long.  Yes, it’s been raining a lot here in the last few days.

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Two weeks ago today, Day 4

Two weeks ago today I think I finally saw enough gardens to satisfy me.  Maybe.  At least for a while.

The Willamette Valley near Salem is an amazing place.  The climate and soils are such that it’s an ideal place to grow nursery stock of all kinds.  It’s very odd to come around a bend in the road and see an entire field of some exotic evergreen or shrub, let alone entire fields of garden flowers.

A field of nursery stock plants.

A field of nursery stock plants.

I live just down the road from a commercial dahlia grower (which is something of a joke because I can’t grow dahlias in my own garden to save my life), and up north of Seattle is where a large part of the nation’s crop of daffodil and tulip bulbs are grown by the acre (spectacular in early April).  But the Willamette Valley is something special, even by my standards.

My first stop, about five miles back north of Salem on the west side of I-5, was somewhere I’d been before, Schreiner’s Iris Gardens.  I have some Schreiner’s iris in my own garden, as a matter of fact.  Bearded iris are my alltime favorite flowers.  They look like enormous butterflies, come in every color of the rainbow except for true red and true green (they come in shades of both, but not the true color), and many of them smell fantastic.  Sort of like fruit punch tastes.  Or grapes.  If they had a longer bloom season, they’d be the perfect flower.

Schreiner’s not only has iris fields by the acre, but they have a multi-acre display garden, too, with hundreds of varieties.  I hit the garden just after peak bloom, and it was spectacular.  I spent the entire morning there, and took way too many photos.  Here’s a sampling of them.

One of the entrances to Schreiners' Iris display gardens.

One of the entrances to Schreiners’ Iris display gardens.

Raindrops on an iris blossom.

Raindrops on an iris blossom.

A view of Schreiners' display gardens.

A view of Schreiners’ display gardens.

And another.  Those red spires are lupines.

And another. Those red spires are lupines.

Two of the many contrasting colors iris come in.

Two of the many contrasting colors iris come in.

Iris and Korean dogwood.

Iris and Korean dogwood.

After pizza for lunch in the little town of Keizer (kee’ zer), I drove a couple of miles on the other side of I-5 to a place called Adelman Peony Gardens.  I’d never been there before, and I don’t think they even existed the last time I was down in this neck of the woods over ten years ago.  While they’re not quite to the scale of Schreiner’s yet (although I suspect they’re on their way there), they, too, have beautiful display gardens, with a far greater variety of flower forms and colors than I ever expected from peonies.  Yes, they’re primarily red, pink, and white, but they also come in creamy yellow and rusty peach, and range from a single row of petals to flower heads that resemble a cheerleader’s pompoms.  I wish I had room for a peony or three in my tiny garden.  Maybe someday.  In the meantime, here’s some more photos.

A view of Adelman's Peony Gardens.

A view of Adelman’s Peony Gardens.

A traditional pink pom-pom peony.

A traditional pink pom-pom peony.

A single-flowered white peony.

A single-flowered white peony.

A peach-colored peony.  I'd never seen one this color before.

A peach-colored peony. I’d never seen one this color before.

My last garden stop for the day was at a place called Sebright Gardens.  Here the emphasis was on green, as they specialize in hostas, or dinosaur plants as my sister calls the three I have in the shady part of my garden.  Hostas are primarily foliage plants, although they do put up stalks of purple to white bell-shaped flowers in late summer.  I knew hostas came in a lot of shapes and sizes, and they do, from cereal-bowl-sized to five feet across, mostly with leaves proportional but sometimes not.  But they also come in shades of green from almost blue to almost yellow, almost white to almost black, sometimes several on the same plant or even the same leaf, and those leaves come in a wild assortment of shapes, as well.

The gardens here had more companion plants than the other two, and were spectacular.  But it was the hostas that were so amazing.  Green is my favorite color.  What can I say?

Hostas at Sebright Gardens.

Hostas at Sebright Gardens.

One of the shady hosta borders at Sebright Gardens.

One of the shady hosta borders at Sebright Gardens.

I had no idea hostas came in so many colors, sizes, and shapes.

I had no idea hostas came in so many colors, sizes, and shapes.

By that point it was getting late in the afternoon, and I’d planned to visit the Oregon Garden that day as well.  The Oregon Garden was built by the Oregon Nursery Association, and is an enormous display garden full of ideas for how to use all those lovely plants in the landscape.  I’d been there before when it was new, and it’s really nifty.  But by that point my feet hurt, and my eyes were so full of color I’m not sure they could have held any more.  It did seem a bit like overkill at that point.

So instead I decided to drive the hour or so on down to Eugene, where I had some trouble finding a motel, involving crossing town twice and getting stuck in rush hour traffic, but I finally did, and settled down to make plans for heading over to the coast.  And back to research, which, after all, was the main reason I was making this trip.

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Two weeks ago today, day 3

And now we start having photographs.  Lots and lots of photographs.

I left the hostel fairly early in the morning, and drove up into the west hills of Portland to the Pittock Mansion, where I wandered around the gardens, then sat in the car and read for a while before the house itself opened up for the day.  The Pittock Mansion was built around the turn of the last century by the owner of the Oregonian, Portland’s newspaper which is still published today, who apparently had more money than he knew what to do with.  It’s perched on a site with views that reach clear to Mount Hood in good weather (which did not happen while I was there, alas, although I could still see almost all of Portland from up there), surrounded by beautiful gardens, and the house itself is incredibly elegant.  So he had taste as well as money.

Here are some photos, although I have to say the website does a much better job of it than I do.

The Pittock Mansion on a misty moisty day.

The Pittock Mansion on a misty moisty day.

The gardens behind the mansion.

The gardens behind the mansion.

The view from the back garden.

The view from the back garden.

The back of the mansion.

The back of the mansion.

The view from one of the windows.

The view from one of the windows.

The best view I got of the inside -- this is the entry and double staircase.

The best view I got of the inside — this is the entry and double staircase.

After I left the mansion I drove back down into town looking for an on-ramp to I-5 or I-405 southbound, and could not find one for love or money.  I ended up on U.S. 99E, down through Milwaukie and Clackamas County.  Which didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing, since I found lunch along the way.  I had originally intended to get on I-205 from there, but I discovered that staying on 99E was actually going to take me where I wanted to go, anyway.

That was the Aurora Colony, which I’d read about in the book Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft by Jane Kirkpatrick, who I met online through a writers’ organization I used to belong to.  I have to say I was disappointed in the Aurora Colony itself, which was mostly a bunch of antiques stores strewn along the highway.  Somehow, in spite of their website, that wasn’t what I was expecting.

So on I went.  Someone on the Hardy Plants email list had told me about a place called Heirloom Roses.  This place did live up to what I was expecting.  In spades.  Acres and acres of roses in full bloom, mostly heirloom and species and shrub and climbing roses, although they did have some floribundas and hybrid teas.  The whole place smelled like sweet tea tastes, which is the only time I like the way sweet tea tastes (despite having been born in the South, I prefer my tea with lemon and no sugar, thanks).  By this point the weather had cleared up again, too.  A perfect place to spend a perfect afternoon.

Anyway, here’s the pictorial proof of how gorgeous this place was.

Some of the roses at Heirloom Gardens.

Some of the roses at Heirloom Gardens.

A rose blossom.  I think it's one of the many kinds of Peace roses.

A rose blossom. I think it’s one of the many kinds of Peace roses.

A David Austen rose.  These are hybrids of old shrub roses.

A David Austen rose. These are hybrids of old shrub roses.

The miniature rose garden.  The roses were miniature, not the garden.

The miniature rose garden. The roses were miniature, not the garden.

A miniature climber.  I hadn't known there was such a thing.

A miniature climber. I hadn’t known there was such a thing.

And, on top of that, I heard a hawk crying over my head, and saw a California quail in the greenhouse, of all places.

The California quail in the sales greenhouse.

The California quail in the sales greenhouse.

After that, I stopped at Champoeg (pronounced sham poo’ ee) State Park, the site of some of Oregon’s earliest political efforts and a pretty riverside park.  I’d been thinking about camping there, but decided against it, so I drove on to Salem and ended up in a motel.  Which was fine, too.

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Off to see the Rhodies

We have a lot of unusual gardens here in the Pacific Northwest, and by unusual I mean they showcase plants most people have never seen nor heard of.

Now I can hear you saying, everybody knows rhododendrons.  They’re basic landscaping shrubs here, with their big leathery leaves and their clusters of flowers that can get bigger than a baby’s head.

But those are hybrid rhododendrons, created by crossing and recrossing plants found around the world.  The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington, just north of Tacoma across the King County line, is sort of a botanical savings bank, with seven hundred different kinds of rhody species growing on acreage owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, next to their headquarters campus.

Most of them aren’t as showy as the garden varieties that are their descendants.  And even on my visit in May the companion plants almost outshone the main attraction.  But some of them were dropdead gorgeous, and others were so different from garden-variety rhodies as to not even seem the same species.

Anyway, here’s some of what I saw:

First, the rhododendrons:

RSG 11

Some rhododendrons (see the white one in the sunbeam) are more tree than shrub.


Some species rhododendrons don’t need any botanical tweaking to be as gorgeous as the garden hybrids.


I love the bell-shape flowers on this rhody. Pink’s not my favorite color, but these were just so pretty.


Splotched rhododendron blossoms are my favorite kind. This cluster is about the size of my open hand, and the golden splotch is the finishing touch.

And the companion plants:


This, believe it or not, is a kind of dogwood called bunchberry. It makes a lovely little ground cover, and blooms for several weeks in spring with blossoms that look just like miniatures of the ones you find on the tree-sized version.

RSG 15

I have a thing for columbines, and for blue flowers. Aren’t these gorgeus?

RSG 14

These chubby dwarf columbines were in the alpine section of the garden.

RSG 12

This is a Himalayan blue poppy, which is sort of the Holy Grail of blue garden flowers, and notoriously difficult to grow in most climates. But not here…

RSG 10

These are jack-in-the-pulpits, an Eastern North American woodland flower. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any in person before.


These are candelabra primroses. If I had any luck whatsoever at growing primroses from seed, I’d like to have some of these in my garden.


This is a tree peony blossom. It looks more like an Oriental poppy on steroids.


This photo should be called “survival of the fittest.” The blue blossoms are Ajuga reptans, aka carpet bugle, and the white flowers are Galium odoratum, aka sweet woodruff. Both are aggressive spreaders, but they really do look lovely in spring as they duke it out.


This is the patio outside of the conservatory (yes, there are rhody species which are too tender even for this part of the world). The two enormous white shrubs are doublefile Viburnums, and were absolutely covered with bees.


And, last, but not least by any means, if there’s an iris, I’m going to take a picture of it. They’re my absolute favorite flowers of all time. I’m not sure if this one is a Siberian iris, or if it’s an Oregon or Louisiana variety, but it’s awfully pretty.

All in all, I highly recommend a trip to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in the spring.

And, since I haven’t mentioned it in a while, if you like my writing here, you may enjoy my fiction.  My two novels, Repeating History and True Gold, are available from Amazon and Smashwords and most of the other usual suspects.  I hope you take a look.  And the third book in the series will be coming out this summer.

Categories: exploring, gardening, outdoors, parks, plants, self-publishing, travel, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

I’m going to miss this place

A sad story aired on the local news here about a month ago.  Van Lierop Bulb Farm is no more.  They’re closing down operations due to the owners’ retirement, and the shop, and more importantly, the display garden, will be closing for good at the end of May.  This leaves the Puyallup Valley, about an hour south of Seattle and once one of the world’s pre-eminent daffodil growing areas, with only one active bulb farm where their used to be over a dozen.

Change can be good.  But this change sure isn’t.

I mean, I understand about wanting to retire, and I understand about children not necessarily wanting to work in the family business, and I also understand about how it’s at least partly land values that have pushed farming out of the fertile valleys within commuting distance of the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At any rate, I made one last daffodil-season visit to Van Lierop’s a couple of weeks ago, and took pictures of the display garden.  While it was really obvious that the annual bulb-planting did not happen this past fall, daffodils are perennial bulbs, as are several other kinds.  And the trees and shrubs were still beautiful.  But the patches of ground where tulips and hyacinths, which aren’t as reliably perennial, used to crowd in past years were so bare.

Van Lierop’s was the place for Easter pictures in my neck of the woods, and a beautiful place on any given day between early March and early May.  And I’m going to miss it something fierce.

A view of the display garden at Van Lierop's.

A view of the display garden at Van Lierop’s.

And another view, with weeping cherry trees.

And another view, with weeping cherry trees.

Traditional yellow daffodils.

Traditional yellow daffodils.

One forlorn clump of tulips.

One forlorn clump of tulips.

A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.

A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.

And another.

More daffodils.  These are called Ice Follies.

Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.

Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.

That's a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.

That’s a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.

A bed full of daffodils.

A bed full of daffodils.

An artsy view of the flowers.

An artsy view of the flowers.

Daffodils don't have to be yellow.

Daffodils don’t have to be yellow.  These are descendants of a pink variety called Mrs. R.O. Backhouse.

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Happy New Year with flowers and cats

I usually end up at the Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington, at some point every January.  For all that our forests are primarily evergreen, and for all that our grass stays green even through our relatively infrequent cold snaps, I get hungry for color this time of year.

When I lived in the Midwest, I used to know the location of every greenhouse or conservatory in a hundred-mile radius, and spend most January and February weekends visiting them.  There is nothing more depressing, in my book, than brown grass, leafless trees, and cold, cold weather for weeks on end.  Which is a primary reason why I no longer live in the Midwest (there are many others, but I won’t get into them here).

But still.  It is January, even here in western Washington, and our highs have been in the 30s and lows close to 20 for the last week, so I decided to go to the conservatory.

Seymour Conservatory celebrated its 100th anniversary a few years ago.  It’s a classic Victorian-style glass greenhouse, and after they take down the Christmas poinsettias, etc., every year, they pull out the cyclamen and primroses (why does no one ever mention how good primroses smell?).  Add in the orchids and Christmas cactus and hibiscus, and all the greenery, and it is the perfect antidote to winter.

I might make it to spring now.  Esp. since my hellebores are budding in spite of the weather, and my crocus are sprouting!

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That last photo is a complete non sequitur — the cat’s still in the bag [g].

Categories: cats, exploring, gardening, parks, plants, weather | 2 Comments

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 18

 Anchorage, Alaska

Monday, July 2, 1973

 We left Mt. McKinley early the next morning, after discovering the trailer’s tank was out of water and stopping to fill it up and dump the septic. 

 My entry for this day is filled with road construction, and, given my vivid memories of the highway between the park and Anchorage, I’m not surprised.  Twenty-one miles (according to my diary) of boulders strewn across the road, for starters.  And machinery with wheels taller than our trailer.  Of course, I suspect my heroine Karin would have thought it a vast improvement given what she’d had to travel on.   But still, it went on and on and on…

 Then suddenly we hit the end of the construction, and the road was like glass.  I think we were all afraid to go inside the trailer after that, figuring everything would have been shaken up like James Bond’s martini, but my diary doesn’t say whether it was or not.  At least we’d latched all the doors and cupboards closed, including the refrigerator.

 The rest of the drive wasn’t very exciting.  I do remember the Matanuska Valley, which was famed then for growing enormous vegetables.

A very large cabbage. I don’t know who the man is, but the photo is clickable if you want to find out.

 And, of course, now it’s famous (or infamous, depending on your political persuasion) for being the home of Sarah Palin.

 It was odd, after driving through so much untamed country, to suddenly find ourselves in what looked like transplanted Iowa, plowed fields and plants growing in neat rows.  But we only had to look up at the mountains to see that we were still in Alaska.

 We arrived in Anchorage late in the afternoon, and called my Aunt May from a pay phone, but no one was home, so we found ourselves a trailer park along the side of the highway and listened to the traffic rushing by all night.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

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Three weeks ago, Day 4

From the state capital to the first settlement in Montana, in 132 easy miles.

I guess I should have expected a road through something called the Gates of the Mountains, named by Lewis and Clark no less, to be more beautiful than I thought it would be.  But for one thing, Helena’s geographical situation is rather like Denver’s, right where the Rockies start to rise out of the Great Plains.  And Great Falls is even further east, along the, well, Great Falls of the Missouri River, which were (they’re mostly tamed by hydroelectric dams now, to the point where one of Great Falls-the-city’s nicknames is The Electric City) really more cascades than falls.  So, logically, I should have been driving through flatlands between the two cities.

But no.  I had a hard time getting photographs — there weren’t many places to pull over, and while I have been known to aim the camera through the windshield on occasion, a) the windshield was fairly bug-pocked by that stage, and b) it’s not the greatest, or safest, technique in the world.  But there was a shiny new rest area at one point, so what pictures I have of a road that must have been quite the engineering feat were mostly taken there.  It almost reminded me, the way it was carved through the canyon, bridging and rebridging the Missouri and cantilevered out in places from the cliffs, of the Virgin River Gorge portion of that selfsame I-15 in the far southwestern corner of Utah.  Quite spectacular.

And then the canyon walls opened out onto the northern Great Plains and someone laid the highway out with a ruler the last few miles to Great Falls.

Great Falls is a brick city (the third largest city in Montana, which really isn’t saying much) with one-way streets downtown and shady trees and a charming park lining the Great Muddy (the Missouri’s other name) for several miles.  With gardens, where the iris were blooming, and a pond with fountains, and lots of big shady trees.  And geese.  I stopped for a bit and walked around, then drove on along the river out of town until I reached the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. You cannot stumble over a rock in many parts of Montana without figuratively falling over Lewis and Clark.  And I can’t say I’m overly enthused about the term “interpretive center.”  What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned “visitor center”?  But I was charmed by the native blue flax growing even in cracks in the parking lot, and, when I went inside, by the breadth and depth of the exhibits.  And I must say, just looking at the prickly pear cactus and rocks over which those men hauled their canoes during a twenty-plus mile portage made my feet hurt.

After that, I only had another hour’s drive to go to reach my destination for the night of Fort Benton.  I will write more about this most historical of Montana towns  in tomorrow’s post.  Suffice to say today that I arrived, ate a delicious hamburger in the VFW hall, which was the only restaurant in town open after 5 pm, and camped that night in a municipal riverfront campground, which was just about all I could ask for.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

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Three weeks ago today

I hit the road for my first long trip alone in five years. Not that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the trips I’ve taken in the last five years, with my friend Mary and my friend Loralee (oddly enough, the three of us all have Mary as a first name — Loralee and I go by our middle names), but it was time, and past time, for me to take off on my own.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me how brave I am to travel alone, I could probably finance one of these trips, but you’re only brave if you’re scared first. And I’ve never been scared of traveling by myself. Traveling alone is an entirely different experience than traveling with a companion. If you enjoy your companion, it’s fun to share what you see and do, but when you’re traveling alone, you’re more open to what’s around and about you, to meeting new people and absorbing new things. And there is an abundance of time to think.

Even on the first day and last day of this trip, which was basically the only bat-out-of-hell driving I did, to get across Washington and northern Idaho — someday I need to explore northern Idaho instead of flying past it to get somewhere else — into Montana or to get home, I didn’t listen to anything except my thoughts. No radio except the occasional search for a weather report, no CDs, no nothing except peace and quiet and time to think.

I’ve said this before, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing like being behind the wheel of a car. Being between places, neither here nor there. It’s why I fight so hard when other people say we need to get away from private transportation. For one thing, many of the places I long to go will never have public transportation. It simply isn’t cost-effective when you’re connecting towns of less than 2000 people a hundred miles from each other, or getting people out to places where they can get away from people altogether — to the edges of wilderness areas where they can really renew their spirits. What we need is a way to run private vehicles that is renewable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. Not to get rid of private vehicles.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. The bat out of hell first day. I will admit that sometimes it would be nice to be able to transport me and my vehicle (which carries more necessities and is cheaper and, really, faster, to transport via driving than I am by flying and renting a car) across the wide-open spaces of eastern Washington. Getting off the Interstate and exploring there is one thing — I’ve done that before and enjoyed it. But it is not attractive or interesting from the freeway.

Snoqualmie Pass is beautiful, with some snow still on the ground. The wild horse sculptures on a butte above the Columbia River are striking. There’s a terrific fruit stand in the tiny community of Thorp in the eastern foothills. After that? I’m just waiting to see the first pine trees west of Spokane.

Spokane is a lovely city at the foothills of the westernmost stretch of the Rockies in the continental US, and it happens to possess Manito Park, one of the nicest traditional public gardens in the inland Northwest, in my humble opinion as an amateur garden fanatic. I spent about an hour there, admiring their signature lilacs as well as the first iris and peonies and the landscaped beds just beginning to come into their own for the summer. Then it was on to 75 miles of northern Idaho, past Lake Coeur d’Alene (heart of the axe is what I was told that means many years ago — I have no idea if that’s right) and over Lookout Pass and down into Montana.  About 500 miles that first day.

I spent my first night on the road in a forest service campground along I-90 just west of Missoula, under the pine trees with the early flowers — balsamroot and serviceberry and bistort. And got snowed on just a bit that night Yes. In late May. Welcome to the Rockies.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

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Welcome to my new digs!

I hope to have more content soon.  In the meantime, please, have some spring!

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