From the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, 2010


“The longer I live the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and wonder of the world.  I hardly know which feeling leads, wonderment or admiration.”
— John Burroughs, from The Writings of John Burroughs, vol. 15, The Summit of the Years (written when Burroughs was age 70+)

“There is no other joy in life like mental and bodily activity, like keeping up a live interest in the world of thought and things.  Old age is practically held at bay so lone as one can keep the currents of his life moving.  The vital currents, like mountain streams, tend to rejuvenate themselves as they flow.”
— John Burroughs, from The Writings of John Burroughs, vol. 15, The Summit of the Years

The wonderment of Spring crocuses

The wonderment of Spring crocuses

Watercolor sketch of Spring crocuses

Watercolor sketch of Spring crocuses




Purple Daylilies

August 2, 2013

The filaments of these purple daylilies seem to soar out from a fiery furnace.







Ornamental kale with melting frost

Ornamental kale with melting frost

”  . . . the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing.”
— G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”
— G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

“O wonderful,
and most wonderful wonderful!
And yet again wonderful . . .”
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It

I spend altogether too much time indoors in winter and feel starved for nature and light.  I don’t know why I resist the outdoors so much, because once I’m in the rhythm of walking and looking — even in the cold — I’m always glad I made the effort.  My spirit seems to open up outdoors.

I almost always find things that I am moved to photograph.  Like this water-beaded ornamental kale in a neighbor’s winter garden.  Worthy of an attempt to capture in my nature journal.

My work table

My work table

Watercolor sketch of kale leaves

Watercolor sketch of kale leaves

Of Cabbages and Queens

October 7, 2012

“Each autumn the cabbages mock the raised-collar style from the time of Marie Antoinette.  Or Marie Antoinette had an eye for cabbages.  Who can say whether history is influenced by botany or vice versa? . . . Yesterday the market was full of decapitated Antoinettes.”
— Georgi Gospodinov, Natural Novel

Cabbage with focal black & white effect

19th century portrait of Marie Antoinette by Evert A. Duykinck

I just had to go out on a cabbage-hunting expedition after finding today’s quote!

Cabbage leaf in the raised-collar style

Detail of cabbage leaf

How about these extra-frilly collars on this ornamental cabbage?






Purple Clemetis

August 3, 2012

Clematis vine


Clematis (rear view)


Watercolor sketch of clematis

Another watercolor sketch of clematis






Wisteria in a Seattle alley

Purple wisteria

Dangling blossoms

Cascading veil of white wisteria

Detail of white wisteria in bloom

Looking down the street under a canopy of white blossoms

I pass this blooming golden chain on my walk to work.

Cheerful, yellow golden chain

There have been so many different flowers coming into bloom these past couple of weeks.  I feel compelled to jump from one bloom to another.  And for sure I had to do a post on wisteria and golden chain before they fade.  I lump them together not only because they bloom at about the same time, but because each glory under the prodigious weight of hundreds of dangling blossoms — a living curtain.  If I squint my eyes as I look at them, they remind me of impressionist paintings.

Among the impressionist painters, Claude Monet is perhaps most famous for his paintings of wisteria, which grew over the foot bridge in his gardens at Giverny.

Wisteria (Glycines) 1919-20 by Claude Monet from the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College

Monet Refuses The Operation
by Lisa Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Spanish lavender

“My aim is to take familiar things and make
Poetry of them, and do it in such a way
That it looks as if it was easy as could be
For anybody to do it (although he’d sweat
And strain and work his head off, all in vain).
Such is the power of judgment, of knowing what
It means to put elements together
In just the right way; such is the power of making
A perfectly wonderful thing out of nothing much.”
— Horace, translated by David Ferry

I love this quote, and I take its message as a personal challenge . . . to find the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of my day, to find the poetry in the commonplace, and to make wonderful things out of nothing much.

This week, for example, my eyes are drawn to the rabbit-ears topping Spanish lavender.  I am seeing this lavender in bloom now in borders, parking strips, and gardens.  Our lavender festivals in Washington and Oregon are not held until mid-July, and those fields feature other, later-blooming kinds of lavender, like Grosso lavender.

My watercolor sketches are my attempt to make something wonderful out of this common plant.

Watercolor sketch of lavender

Watercolor sketch of lavender arranged in a wreath

“I shall not be likely to go to town while the lilacs bloom.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Lilac bouquet

Lilac bouquet on the kitchen windowsill


Have you ever noticed the thin purple edge on a lilac leaf?

The scent of lilacs is such an ephemeral gift.  The lilac bloom in Seattle is in its last days, and I just cut another fresh bouquet while I had the chance.

Here are some tips for cutting lilac bouquets from Gretchen Hoyt of Alm Hill Gardens, who was featured in The 50 Mile Bouquet:

  • “Harvest lilacs when most of the florets are open, perhaps with a few closed florets at the top of the bloom.  They never open past the stage when you pick them.”
  • “Using a sharp knife, ‘shave’ the cut stem as if you are shaving a pencil.  This exposes the under bark, which creates more area for water to be absorbed by the flower.”