Archive for November, 2010

Changing with the Seasons

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I’m excited for the changes that are about to be unveiled at the Volunteer Park Conservatory! These past weeks we’ve been preparing summer and fall plants for a wintery slumber after pruning, repotting, and storing them. Yesterday marked the big switch over we’d been working up to in the Seasonal House. Grasses and Chrysanthumums were pulled to make room for Pointsettas and other ornaments of winter. Come celebrate the bright lights, beautiful displays, and warmth enjoyed with friends indoors! Opens tomorrow!

The Bloedel Family Reserve

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The Bloedel Reserve for many is an unknown entity, a vast garden on Bainbridge Island hidden somewhere in the perennial Northwest mist. It has earned a reputation as a kind of “secret garden”, with water and a ferry between it and the city of Seattle. It has no bombastic Rhododendron or annual collections to advertise like some other gardens of the region.

And yet to know Bloedel Reserve is to love it…

Those that have visited The Bloedel Reserve understand something that cannot be conveyed easily in a four by eight glossy pamphlet or captured by a camera. The secrets of the Reserve, quite simply, are too monumental and at the same time too subtle in how they work upon the psyche to capture in any other medium but the physical and visceral.

The Bloedel Reserve is most like music in its effect, something felt more than seen. As I write this, it is easy to go back to the vast meadow that you first enter upon visiting, and relive the essence of summer in my mind. Can you imagine with me what it feels like to move beyond hills of grassy meadow into the shaded woods of the the reflective ponds? If you do visit, you will then pass over a gorge and giant hand built bridge to eventually reach the manicured lawns and sublime architecture of the main house. What will work upon you like a name you are having trouble remembering is the simplicity of the setting. There is no giant Calder sculptures, no signage, only a booklet to guide. The lack of clutter is captivating. It’s always as though I am seeing more clearly and deeply into my surroundings. And when you open the guide book to try to put a name on this experience, you come face to face with the knowledge that the whole experience was orchestrated expressly for you by someone who did not know you.

“Who could do this?” is the question that began to echo in my mind and throughout the landscape at that point…

To serve as a comparison, if you are a fan of Jane Austen, this would be about the same place in Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy falls in love with Mr. Darcy. She looks back at his estate, full of the people who he is close to and love him, and she realizes how much she misunderstood him. At The Bloedel Reserve our own preconceptions of what a garden should be are worked upon by Prentice Bloedel’s heart and mind until we begin to see what he was hoping we would. It is difficult to encapsulate what this is at Bloedel, but it might be described as the sacred relationship of one thing to another.

When I felt the attention and love that both Prentice and Virginia had expressed in the landscape I knew that this was also no ordinary family. In fact, the Bloedel family built its wealth from a logging empire that spanned from Seattle all the way up to Vancouver B.C. That wealth (among many things) has curated the art and history of these major cities and even, it could be argued, defined the aesthetics and spirit of the Pacific Northwest. And yet, the Bloedel family — like the garden — remains quietly reserved. After all, the Bloedel Reserve is on the West Coast not the East Coast. The Bloedel family are not the same as the DuPonts. And that is perhaps another reason to visit. If you are curious about what it means to be from the Pacific Northwest, with it’s damnable drivers that don’t honk and always want you to go first at a four way stop, then Bloedel Reserve will have much to reveal there as well.

Recently, my sweetheart Seth and I were invited by the director Ed Moydell to enjoy a personal tour of Bloedel and to discuss the future of the garden. I recommend reading Seth’s reflections on the experience. Being that both Ed and Seth draw most of their life experience from the East coast their perspectives on Bloedel are a part of that understanding. My own perspective is different having grown up in the Northwest, and done work for Eulalie Scandiuzzi, the grandaughter of Prentice and Virginia. I’ll leave you with a few photos we took at the Bloedel Reserve. Imagine them as small footnotes to an experience that is much deeper and broader in real life.

Spring in February

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Curiously, when I think back to my earliest memories of plants I think of winter. I remember the butter yellow kitchen of my childhood and my mothers display of flowers forced from bulbs. Before anything had begun to grow outside and Seattle was an endless dreary gray we were experiencing Spring indoors in February! For my mom it was always Hyacinths and Paperwhites. Hyacinths in blue, purple, or white, with their delicious aroma, sitting in delicate glass vases on the window sill, light flooding past roots immersed in water. Paperwhites sitting primly atop gravel in ceramic pots, their smooth long green stems and white bonnets looking me quizzically in the face. I thought it was incredible that she had made them bloom… The technical name for this early display of flowers from a bulb is called forcing, but as an experience it always felt more like magic!

In order to pull off this trick, like any magician, you need to plan a bit ahead. In our house the mud room was where all the preparations took place. Three months ahead, just as we were peering out the window into the newly barren branches of trees, my mother would begin potting up the bulbs she purchased and storing them in the protected, dimly lit, uninsulated room. The basic principle is to allow the bulbs to grow their roots down into a medium that is kept moist (but not wet) and sets their internal clock for its natural display date. After three months you pull your bulbs from their period of cold incubation into the warmth of your house. Better than pulling a rabbit from a hat, the moment you pull the bulbs into the warmth they don’t cease to amaze, green stalks and leaves develop, and within a couple of weeks flowers will usually appear. If you stagger moving your pots indoors every week or two you’ll always have one or two containers coming into bloom!

Although my mother loved the classics a whole list of plants can be made to bloom early. Almost all take around 15 weeks; Crocus, Daffodil, Glory of the snow, Grape Hyacinth, Hyacinth, Iris danfordiae (14-20 wks), Tulip (15-17wks), and then Iris reticultata as well as Paperwhite narcissus which technically need no cold spell. Starting to sound tempting? Almost any container will do, only ensure there is adequate drainage.  Soil mixes should be equal parts sphagnum moss, perlite or vermiculite, and soil to keep bulbs damp but not wet. Fill containers three quarters full with soil mix and plant bulbs snugly together, no need to top dress the bulbs with soil. If you are trying out Paperwhites a dish with gavel is enough to get them started. In general planting in bunches of five or more bulbs is a suggested guide line as the slender stalks can use the support of a neighbor and look beautiful in groups. After planting water and set in a cold frame in the ground w/sawdust over it, in the fridge, cellar, or garage or any other protected cold location.

When you move the bulbs from their cold spell check the pots for adequate roots and then place in a cool indoor room. Once active growth is visible the bulbs can be moved to a brighter/warmer location. Forcing the bulbs slowly will ensure that the shoots, leaves, and flowers all develop properly which usually takes two to three weeks. Indoor displays won’t last typically as long as out door but you can extend the life of the flowers by setting them in a cool spot when your not at home to enjoy them, just bring them out like a new bouquet of flowers fresh from the market when you return! At the conservatory we just finished potting up our bulbs this fall. I hope you join in on some of the magic of a season spent mostly indoors, but perfect for appreciating the wonder of spring on a miniature scale.  It’s never too late to start a new tradition, or extend the season’s in life that pass already too quickly!