“It was another miracle.  The flowers were turning into bean trees.”
— Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Wisteria seed pod

Wisteria seed pod

Ever since I reread Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees for my Armchair Arizona blog post, I am reminded of her novel when I see wisteria.  In the book, Taylor’s little daughter calls wisteria “bean trees” because the seed pods do look amazingly like hanging beans.  I like how Kingsolver looks at this plant with fresh eyes and calls it “another miracle.”

The wisteria is flowering here in Seattle.

The wisteria is flowering here in Seattle.

Wisteria blossoms

Wisteria blossoms



A couple of seed pods from last year still hang on amidst fresh blooms.

A couple of seed pods from last year still hang on amidst fresh blooms.

Last year's wisteria seed pods, pencil sketch

Last year’s wisteria seed pods, pencil sketch












From the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, 2010


I always thought of wisteria as a spring flower, but this year I swear this plant has bloomed three different times.  How can this be?  I will take this phenomenon as a message from the Universe that it is not too late for second or third chances.

Wisteria with blue summer sky

Wisteria with blue summer sky




Wisteria vine framing a porch

Wisteria vine framing a porch

” . . . twenty clusters of wisteria are hanging right outside my bay window, each one a tidy tumble of gray-purple faces with lavender bonnets.  I think they look like turn-of-the-century ladies seated in church pews.”
— Diane Ackerman, One Hundred Names for Love:  A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing

The wisteria is now past its bloom.  I took these photos last month when Seattle’s yards and gardens were graced with the purple clusters.  I wanted to try my hand at painting them, and I just now got around to it.  Enjoy!


"Turn-of-the-century ladies in bonnets"

“Turn-of-the-century ladies in bonnets”

Watercolor sketch of wisteria

Watercolor sketch of wisteria



The formal Baha'i Garden in Akko

The formal Baha’i Garden in Akko

The center walkway, Baha'i Gardens, Akko

The center walkway, Baha’i Gardens, Akko

The Baha’i Garden in Akko was a quiet, open and contemplative oasis after the beehive of activity in the Old City’s port and market.  This garden, along with the one in Haifa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of pilgrimage for followers of the Baha’i faith.  The general public was allowed entrance only to the large formal garden; the mansion and inner gardens were off limits.

Old olive trees in an adjacent park

Old olive trees in an adjacent park

Wisteria graced the entrance

Wisteria graced the entrance

Sculpted hedges framed red geraniums

Sculpted hedges framed red geraniums

Pink hibiscus

Pink hibiscus

Orange hibiscus

Orange hibiscus

Blue doors

Blue doors

Well-groomed gardens

Well-groomed gardens

My sister called this "rooster comb"

My sister called this “rooster comb”

Baha'i mansion and grounds

Baha’i mansion and grounds

Layered plantings

Layered plantings


Gate to the inner gardens

Gate to the inner gardens
















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.

Old wooden wheelbarrow, Lakewold Gardens

If you are looking for serenity in a natural setting, I highly recommend the Lakewold Gardens about 10 miles south of Tacoma.  It is just a few minutes off of I-5 between Seattle and Portland, and I can’t believe that no one has told me about it in the 30+ years I’ve lived in this region. It’s definitely worth seeking out this “undiscovered” gem.

The gardens are on a formerly private estate, and they were the creation and vision of Eulalie Wagner.  The gardens unfold in a series of “rooms” or nooks — a rhododendron path, open lawn, fern garden, tea house and cherry trees, pond, rock garden, knot garden, etc.  At the center is the Wagner House, where visitors can enjoy a wisteria-covered veranda and peek into the elegant rooms on the ground floor.

Here are some photos to give you a sense of this special place:

The wisteria-covered veranda of the Wagner House, Lakewold Gardens

Staircase, Wagner House

Wallpaper mural covers the wall in the foyer, Wagner House

Veranda scented by white wisteria, Wagner House

Himalayan Blue Poppies, Lakewold Gardens

Rhododendrons along Circle Drive

Tea House with lattice roof

Moss-covered branches in Lookout Peace Garden

Foliage against towering evergreen trees

Allium in thee cutting garden

Unusual purple stems with leaves fanning out

In the Garden Shop, Lakewold Gardens

In the Garden Shop

The wisteria is blooming, displaying cascades of purple.

Wisteria starting to flower

Three petals

Detail of wisteria petals

A profusion of blooms on a neighbor's front porch

Wisteria in the sunlight

Looking up into an impressionist landscape

My neighbor's porch

Watercolor sketch of wisteria

Another watercolor sketch of wisteria

Texas bluebonnets

We saw our first Texas bluebonnets in a ditch from the windows of the car rental shuttle at the Houston airport, but we couldn’t stop for photos.  That first sighting whetted my appetite, so the hunt was on.  I next saw some at a nursery in Chappell Hill.  Chappell Hill is on the “Bluebonnet Trail,” and I had read that one could sometimes find early blooms along the trail at Old Baylor Park in Independence, so we made a point to stop there.  We were in luck.

Potted bluebonnet for sale in a Chappell Hill nursery

Bluebonnets and white wildflowers at Old Baylor Park

Wildflowers in bloom at Old Baylor Park in Independence, Texas

 After Independence, bluebonnets proved elusive until later in our trip when we drove south of San Antonio.  Suddenly we saw bluebonnets growing in profusion in huge patches along I-37.

Texas bluebonnets along I-37 south of San Antonio

Bluebonnets along I-37

We saw plenty of other wildflowers along the roadsides of Texas.

Coral-colored Indian paintbrush near Old Baylor Park

Butterfly and wildflower

Flowering plum and butterfly

Tiny blue wildflowers

White wildflower

Cactus in San Antonio

Patch of evening primroses growing wild in a ditch

Coreopsis growing close to the ground, North Padre Island National Seashore

Prickly poppies, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Huge thistle near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Wildflowers in a meadow near Brazoria

Wisteria in bloom on the drive to Huntsville, Texas

Bee in the wisteria blossoms

Wisteria, a shower of purple blossoms

Ancient wisteria twines around a patio

Wisteria bloom from below

Wisteria blossoms

The Old Neighbors
by Katha Pollitt

The weather’s turned, and the old neighbors creep out
from their crammed rooms to blink in the sun, as if
surprised to find they’ve lived through another winter.
Though steam heat’s left them pale and shrunken
like old root vegetables,
Mr. and Mrs. Tozzi are already
hard at work on their front-yard mini-Sicily:
a Virgin Mary birdbath, a thicket of roses,
and the only outdoor aloes in Manhattan.
It’s the old immigrant story,
the beautiful babies
grown up into foreigners. Nothing’s
turned out the way they planned
as sweethearts in the sinks of Palermo. Still,
each waves a dirt-caked hand
in geriatric fellowship with Stanley,
the former tattoo king of the Merchant Marine,
turning the corner with his shaggy collie,
who’s hardly three but trots
arthritically in sympathy. It’s only
the young who ask if life’s worth living,
not Mrs. Sansanowitz, who for the last hour
has been inching her way down the sidewalk,
lifting and placing
her new aluminum walker as carefully
as a spider testing its web. On days like these,
I stand for a long time
under the wild gnarled root of the ancient wisteria,
dry twigs that in a week
will manage a feeble shower of purple blossom,
and I believe it: this is all there is,
all history’s brought us here to our only life
to find, if anywhere,
our hanging gardens and our street of gold:
cracked stoops, geraniums, fire escapes, these old
stragglers basking in their bit of sun.