Spring Has Finally Arrived

PeonyGood Sunday morning! If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’re probably enjoying a gorgeous, sunny day right now. We finally made it through an unusually cold and prolonged rainy spring. Now the peonies are in bloom and I’m feeling inspired. So inspired, in fact, that I have made a change to my blogging life. If you’re a Gardening, Seattle Style subscriber, you may notice this mail came from the Karen K. Hugg website. That’s because I’ve streamlined GSS into this one, making for more frequent posts and richer content. I’ll be offering advice on gardening and posts about writing, motherhood, and Paris and Europe. If none of that interests you, you can always unsubscribe, I won’t be hurt, but if you stick with me, I’ll hopefully enrich your life.

For now, I have to say goodbye and get into the garden. I’m on a roll. I weeded the very back of my yard yesterday and today need to trim back several shrubs. I can’t wait to hear the sounds of birds chirping and lawn mowers buzzing. Feel that warm sun on my arms. How about you? What are you doing to enjoy this lovely day? Cheers.


An Excerpt from “The Scent of a Daphne”

Daphne 'Aureomarginata'I’m pleased to share a sneak peek of my piece, “The Scent of a Daphne,” that appears in Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. It’s about my time in horticulture school, my husband’s cancer treatment, and the unexpected gift I received.

“It was early September, my second semester of horticulture school, and class was about to begin. I stood outside the door on the narrow sidewalk that ran along the building. The day was warm and the door propped open with a wedge. Flies buzzed in and out. Students chatted and shuffled through notebooks while friends hugged at seeing each other again. I hadn’t made any friends yet, but that didn’t bother me. I had other things on my mind. Like the situation I had to explain to Tim, my professor.

He was an outdoorsy 50-something with wavy, gray hair dressed in boots and a canvas jacket. “What’s up?” he asked.

It was actually what was down. Down in my life. As in down and out, or beaten down, or in a downward spiral. My husband, Ethan, had just had an operation, not to remove an organ or clean out dangerous tissue or repair a ligament. The surgeon had installed a port in his chest, a small flat disc with a little tube connected to his artery so chemotherapy drugs could be injected into his bloodstream. He was about to be poked with a lot of needles a lot of the time and surgically inserting a port was easier on his body than poking the same veins again and again.”

Thanks for reading! There are so many amazing pieces in Rooted. When our editor sent me the galleys, I fell in love with the collection right off the bat at the first essay. It’s now available at Amazon and through the publisher, Outpost19. Cheers…

Skybridge Designs at the NW Flower & Garden Show

While I enjoy the large, involved displays at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show every year, I’m even more interested in the smaller displays housed in the skybridge. These are the compact displays using a 6′ by 12′ space meant to inspire condo, apartment, town home, and small yard owners. All NWFGS display gardens are there to give homeowners ideas but I’d argue the ideas in the skybridge displays feel more realistic and doable. They’re certainly more intimate. And because they benefit from the natural light of the convention center’s glassed atrium, they show the true colors and shapes of the hardscapes, furniture, accessories, and most importantly, plants. Here were some of my favorites from 2017’s show.

Rocky Bay Garden Creations in Gig Harbor, WA

This display was a standout for its groovy sitting area and unusual containers for plants. Also, vertical gardening…

Ma Petite Gardens, Snohomish, WA

Ma Petite Gardens focused on containers. Love the dark, ancient mood here.

Sky Nursery, Shoreline, WA

They won for best use of show theme: “Taste of Spring,” growing food and enjoying it.

Vireo Design Studio, Seattle, WA

Groundswell NW, NW Seattle Community Habitat Team, National Wildlife Foundation, and Vireo collaborated to create a garden area with habitats for bees and other pollinators.

Essence of the Tree, Potter Valley, CA

This California nursery featured unique stepping stones that look like trunk slabs but are made of eco-friendly, stone material.

My Escape to Italy with Donna Leon

Death at La FeniceWhat author do you turn to for predictability? For a story that’s not too unlike one the author wrote previously? Perhaps, it’s a fantasy series set in a particular world (a la George R.R. Martin) or a mystery series featuring the same protagonist (a la Agatha Christie). It might even be a literary author whose books, while featuring fresh characters and storylines, offer the same, quality writing and beautiful insights (like Barbara Kingsolver). For me, it’s the police procedurals of Donna Leon.

I’ve always read literary novels, the kind that are brimming with gorgeous, profound language but lack a substantive plot. These books are rewarding for what they are, in fact, in most ways, they taught me how to write with deeper meaning and still inspire, but when I discovered the crime genre works of Leon, I discovered an entirely new side of the novel. Leon’s books aren’t weak on sentences, but they aren’t there for the language and profound insights, they’re there for the story, all while featuring compelling plots and interesting characters and layered social commentary.

I’ve been working my way through her 25 novels about Commissario Guido Brunetti, a detective who solves crimes in Venice. When I read her first book, Death at La Fenice, I was struck by the serious, workaday style of her language, sort of like mine, and the deep love of a foreign city (in her case, Venice, in mine, Paris). I was immediately drawn to the practical, middle-aged detective with an intellectual wife and sweet kids whose personality shows quiet intelligence and fair reasoning. Secondary characters are colorful but not clownish, spawning my endearment. I thought it a kick that she often describes Brunetti’s lunch and dinner meals in great detail, so much so that there’s now a cookbook with recipes for the meals he eats.

The setting of watery Venice offers rich history and a portal to Italian life. I spent a long summer in Italy, just after college, and have fond memories of Venice. To go there via Leon’s imaginative stewardship delights me. That I can do it again and again through multiple books, delights me even more.

What’s most satisfying though is that Brunetti is never in intense danger. As I read in bed before sleep, I don’t stress that he might die. I’ve got enough stress as a mom of three kids with a job and house and pets and blah, blah, blah. Brunetti survives each case. Justice is only spotty in these stories, a commentary on the corruption of the Italian system, but Brunetti serves as its moral compass. The characters around him often don’t survive, of course, and some of the circumstances of the murders he solves are gruesome, but this is the nature of a crime novel.

And so, I’ve found a favorite author who I can return to again and again to counter the unpredictability of life. To remind me that, despite what hectic chaos I have to get through, I can always escape to live a brief life as an Italian on the trail of the truth amidst great art, deep history, dedicated religion, delicious food, and the warm sun.