The Magnificent Secret Inside Notre Dame

Notre Dame Interior When my skeptical ten-year-old asked what we would see when visiting Paris, I said, “We’ll see Notre-Dame cathedral. It’s the most famous church in the world!”

“Really? In the whole world?” she said.

Kids often use the phrase, “in the whole world” to emphasize whatever thing they admire. “She’s my best friend in like, the whole world,” or “That place has the best smoothies in the whole world.” So I purposefully used it to emphasize the value of the trip. It worked. And in this case, I believed it to be mostly true. There are beautiful houses of worship in say, Russia or India or China, but I couldn’t think of a more recognizable church.

In a calm, reassuring voice, I said, “Yes. The entire world.”

“Cool…” she said.

Later in Paris, this specialness was driven eerily home as we waited to enter Notre-Dame. Three police officers stood amidst the roaming crowd, watching the square while holding the largest guns I’d ever seen in my life. They weren’t the machine guns I’d come across in movies or news photos, they were heavy, rectangular hunks of black plastic with scopes, the rectangular shaft, I assume, meant to store more bullets and perhaps greater fire power. I was both worried and grateful for their presence.

French Police at Notre DameInside the cathedral, the air was dim and cool, the pews packed with people. Mass was in progress and the choir stood in robes at the side chamber. They sang haunting melodies as the priest walked down the aisle, sprinkling holy water on attendees whose heads were bowed in reverence.

As we walked quietly among Asians, Europeans, Africans, and all else, we admired the great art, the soaring architecture, the serenity of the ceremony. Though this kind of stone hall creates a harsh echo any time someone knocks against a pew or drops an object, there was no audial disturbance. Just the sound of the priest speaking, the worshippers replying. Visitors wandered, some with hands folded behind their backs. I took a photo of a large Madonna and child rising over everyone in a plaintive blessing. When I finished, a Japanese woman nodded a “thank you” as I stepped aside. Two older ladies knelt at a small altar in a nook and prayed in earnest. A cluster of students pointed at the paintings of Christ on the walls, debating some feature I couldn’t discern. Near the nave’s front, an Indian man filmed a woman at the podium who was reading from the Bible. When he was finished, he shifted around so an Italian father could lift his daughter to see the altar. We all took turns rotating into the best viewing spots, then returned to waiting families or friends.

In Notre-Dame, you can make a donation and light a candle for the dead. I lit two, one for my father, one for my husband’s father. My daughter asked me in a whisper, who they were for. “My dad and daddy’s dad,” I said. She watched as I set the candles on the rack, each one glowing as a pure, silent tribute to life. I thought of how my father had never seen Notre-Dame, or Paris, or lived into a time when police guarded famous landmarks because a few hopeless criminals wanted to create destruction and despair.

Outside, the setting sun cast a gentle, orange light on the buildings and trees. I held my daughter’s hand, happy to have shown her the most famous church “in the whole world.” More so, I was glad to have shown her Notre-Dame’s best feature, not the church in all of its magnificent architecture but rather the good-hearted, peaceful people with whom we’d shared that magnificence.

Last Chance to Transplant, Seattle

It’s late May and our sunny, Seattle weather has lasted almost two weeks, but rain is on the horizon. I’ve been busy planting and weeding and transplanting. Some shrubs like camellias and daphnes are notoriously difficult to transplant and I haven’t had much success with those. I have had success with transplanting magnolias (another difficult plant.) But there are a few Northwest shrubs that are super easy to transplant and this holiday weekend is a great time to get in last-minute switches. They all share a kind of pancake of fibrous root system that makes for a smoother transition to a new home. They must be watered immediately after the move and then watered well and often, but if they get enough water, they’ll snuggle right in. I’ve had several not even wilt temporarily. So before the hot, regular stretches of sun approach, I recommend making edits to the garden now.


Rhodies are so tough. My most successful rhododendron transplant story happened a few years ago when my friend Angela and I transplanted about 10 shoulder-high shrubs to a shadier, woodland location. They all survived. It’s amazing how rhododendrons bounce back.




Who doesn’t love a hydrangea? Showy huge blossoms, either mophead or lacecap, an elegant leaf pattern, a graceful branch structure. When pruned and trimmed correctly, hydrangeas offer their gifts for many years. When I inherited a handful of hydrangeas in my garden, they were healthy enough but in hot afternoon sun. So I transplanted them to locations where they received afternoon shade and they’re thriving.



This photo shows a mature Hebe buxifolia, but, of course, there are several smaller species with white flowers, pink, purple, even dark blue. I use them for client homes when a more formal look is desired. They’re a wonderful alternative to the odd-smelling boxwood and rarely need pruning.




What plants are you moving this weekend in the garden? And if you’ve had good luck with a traditionally fussy plant, I’d love to hear about it!

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…