• Inspiration

    A Garden Poem to Relax Your Spirit

    Garden in Hawaii, palm trees, araucaria

    I love how reading a poem can almost instantly alleviate stress. So I thought I’d share this sweet bit of verse from W.S. Merwin. Not only does it capture the beauty of an everyday moment, it tells us a little story. We learn about the narrator’s history, age, and how his garden exists with or without him. Merwin lived for many years in Hawaii, restoring a few acres of treed land he preserved as the Merwin Conservancy (not pictured above). Lucky for us he did.

    If you need a silent moment of relaxation, read this. You can hear the soft chiming as if you were there.

    Garden Music

    In the garden house
    the digging fork and the spade
    hanging side by side on their nails
    play a few notes I remember
    that echo many years
    as the breeze comes in with me
    out of the summer light
    they know the notes by now
    so well that the music
    seems to be going on
    all by itself in the shade
    of the roof I made for them
    half my life ago
    and I see the garden now
    far away in itself
    reflected in the polished spade
    as a place I have never been
    while the music goes on
    echoing the days

    –W.S. Merwin, from The Moon Before Morning, (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Copyright 2014 by W.S. Merwin.

    For another garden poem by W.S. Merwin, click here.


  • Plants & Gardening

    7 Outstanding Plants For Early Fall Blooms

    Silk Tree, 7 Outstanding Plants That Bloom in Early Fall, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/09/14/7-plants-for-early-fall, #plants, #gardening #earlyfall #blooms #flowers #trees #shrubs #perennials #fallcolor #garden

    At this time of year, most blooming plants have finished their show and are just enduring the heat until the rains come. Buddleia, phygelius, fuchsia, echinacea, and cistus still offer a few blooms, thank goodness, but late summer / early fall is not when they shine. Here are 7 of my favorite plants that bloom in late August or early September in my garden.

    Silk Tree

    Albizia julibrissin, or Silk Tree (above photo), is an elegant, feathery tree that has a broad canopy and delicate, divided leaves. In August, fan-like, wispy flowers of white and pink cover the surface of the foliage, providing a stunning, tropical look. I love how the flowers sit atop the leaves instead of hang beneath. There’s a purple leaved cultivar named ‘Summer Chocolate.’ Though it likes to bake in the sun, it does have a few drawbacks: the branches can break during strong winds, leaving wounds in the main trunk, and it’s susceptible to verticillium wilt. It also leafs out much later than other trees. But given it’s own sunny space, the tree is a graceful, eye-catching specimen.

    Bluebeard
    Caryopteris x clandonensis, or Bluebeard

    Caryopteris x clandonensis, or Bluebeard, is a tough shrub, hardy down to Zone 6. It matches well with our Mediterranean-like summers in the Northwest. It’s drought-tolerant but doesn’t mind our winter rain, needs little to no pruning, and in August blooms with pretty blue flowers. Sometimes branches can be brittle and twiggy but cleaning them out is easy enough. Caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ is a yellow-leaved cultivar that literally does glow like a sun. It will pop with color from far away. It has lighter blue flowers but the foliage really makes this plant worth growing.

    Harlequin Glorybower
    Clerodendrum trichotomum, or Harlequin Glorybower

    I have Clerodendrum trichotomum, or Harlequin Glorybower, planted not far from my patio so I can smell it when it blooms. The fragrance is strong and spicy! It’s known for spadal leaves that smell like burnt peanut butter when rubbed, but that smell is nothing compared to the white starry flowers in bloom. After the flowers fade, shiny, blue berries take their place for a beautiful pattern of pink and indigo. Drawbacks to this small tree include its running habit, where small stalks emerge near the mother tree and its weak, crunchy, breakable stems. Still, the scent of this tree in the heat of August can not be beat! Just don’t prune it, otherwise it will grow into an ugly mess.

    Crepe Myrtle
    Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Zuni,’ or Zuni Crape Myrtle

    Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Zuni,’ or Zuni Crape Myrtle, is one of my favorite trees for a Seattle yard. You can spot it from a mile away. Stunning magenta flowers, pretty mottled bark, and tight glossy foliage. It’s a smaller, multi-stemmed tree that fits nicely in the corner of a city yard. It needs little care save for a hot sunny location and good drainage.

    Black-eyed Susan
    Black-eyed Susan, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/07/01/best-perennials-for-sun/ #perennials #blackeyedsusan #rudbeckia #goldsturm #flowers #plants #yellow #sun #easy #best
    Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’

    Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susans, are an oldie but a goodie perennial. I love the bright, cheery daisy-shaped flowers and sunny color. When happy, Black-eyed Susans, spread voraciously so watch out. But it’s easy enough to put a spade in the ground, cut some out, and pass them onto neighbors. My only complaint generally with Black-eyed Susans is in winter they leave stringy threads about. There’s a cool cultivar called ‘Cherry Brandy’ that has cherry-colored petals with a blackish center. This is more of a bushier, self-contained perennial, rather than thin-stemmed and spreading. It has bold color. If you’re a newbie gardener and want to grow something low-maintenance, any Rudbeckia is a great choice.

    Stonecrop
    Sedum, The 10 Best Perennials for Sun, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/07/01/best-perennials-for-sun/ #perennials #sedum #stonecrop #brilliant #droughttolerant #flowers #plants #pink #sun #easy #best
    Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’

    Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’ is a succulent perennial that grows in poor soil with little water. It starts out with cute rosettes in early spring that then elongate into rubbery stalks whose flat flowers turn from bright pink, to red, to maroon, and finally brown. Even though the stalks dry during autumn, they hold their shape, offering nice structure for winter. And birds feed off the seedheads. Sedum ‘Brilliant’ is an easy care perennial that I do little to except for cutting away dried stalks in early spring. If you plant Sedum ‘Brilliant’ or ‘Autumn Joy’ and the stalks flop over, it probably means your soil is too rich. Think desert conditions with these plants. Sun, well-draining soil, rocks, etc.

    Chaste Tree
    Vitex agnus-castus,’ or Chaste Tree

    Vitex agnus-castus, or Chaste Tree, sends out spikes of a long, blue inflorescences during the hottest part of the season. This tree likes to bake in the sun, and though I call it a “tree,” it’s really more of a tall shrub, forming a rounded habit that will bounce back surprisingly even after the toughest winters. It also loves dry conditions. Good for a parking strip.

    For more information on these plants, check out the Oregon State University landscape database. Happy gardening!

  • Plants & Happiness

    Green Scene of the Day: Contemplative Cat in a Garden

    The Garden Cat, Green Scene of the Day: Contemplative Cat in a Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/25/cat-in-a-garden #garden #cat #plants #happiness #meditation #stressrelief #perennials #gardenposter

    Last winter, I often felt scattered and anxious before starting my day, overwhelmed by all there was to do. I needed a way to center myself for the tasks ahead. While I’ve occasionally meditated in the afternoons to reconnect with my creative self, I tended to overlook it in the morning. So I promised myself I’d set aside fifteen minutes a day to meditate. Just fifteen minutes with closed eyes, breathing. Through this technique, I found my mind calmed nicely down and I sorted out my main priorities. I was able to organize my day and felt more grounded heading into it.

    A Gorgeous Garden to Focus on

    Nowadays when I feel particularly scattered, I don’t close my eyes but rather focus my attention on a favorite scene from nature. Because scientists tell us that gazing at flowers and plants calms our nervous system, I thought I’d give this a try. So I started sitting in front of a favorite poster. I found it years ago at a craft store. I love this poster so much that when the original had faded, I bought a new one online.

    It’s a photo of a little black cat in the aisle of a lush garden. The little guy or gal simply sits there, dwarfed by the colorful perennials and lone tree at the path’s end. He or she seems content with the day. Its tiny dark body mirrors the dark tree trunk before it. This moment, this snippet of grace, somehow allows me to believe that everything in my life will be okay. It’s a miniature escape from the real world, and gosh, with all the sadness of the real world, do I need it.

    The photo is by Greg Gawlowski, who I unfortunately don’t know much about. His website seems to be offline. Here’s his instagram (I think) in case you’re interested in exploring his work. I wish I knew where he’d taken this photo, whose garden it was and where that little kitty lived. Regardless, it’s given me a huge gift: not just immense pleasure, but a regular dose of much needed relaxation and health.

    Do you have a favorite green scene you like to rest your attention on? Let me know!

  • Plants & Gardening

    The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden

    Karen Hugg Back Garden, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #lawn

    Last weekend, I opened my garden to the public. I’d agreed to share my large, albeit imperfect, sanctuary, because I’d wanted to help people be social again and get things back to “normal.” But that simple yes meant months of weeding, digging, transplanting, and all else. Lots of hauling. I also stressed every night about the garden looking tidy and cheery for visitors. All this while my back slowly tightened and my body created a fiery pain I’ve never experienced before.

    In the end, the tour went well. Hundreds of visitors came through and I even sold a good number of my books, including my newest, Leaf Your Troubles Behind. I got to chat about gardening all day, helping people discover cool plants while meeting plant aficionados. It was lovely. I went to bed relieved and tired.

    A couple friends who couldn’t make it asked me to post photos online. So here’s how the garden looked in June of 2022.

    The 3B’s Island Bed

    I have a flame-shaped island bed near the house that gets full sun. A long time ago, I planted a spine of shrubs down the middle for winter structure. Then I planted perennials and low shrubs along the spine.

    Perennials in Island Bed, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #perennials
    Shrubs and perennials in the island bed

    Each plant I chose to attract bees, butterflies, or birds. These include butterfly bush (buddleia), blue-leaf rose (rosa glauca), smokebush (cotinus), escallonia, spiraea, weigela, false indigo (baptisia), coneflower (echinacea), sage (salvia), crocosmia, and more.

    The 3B's island bed, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #islandbed
    The 3B’s Island Bed

    I also have a border that gets shade from an oak in the morning and a blast of hot afternoon sun. At first, this area plagued me as I tried plants that I thought would work but didn’t. It was either too sunny or too shady. So I tried hardy fuchsias. They thrived without much help from me at all.

    Foxgloves in Oak Border, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #foxgloves #variegated dogwood
    Volunteer foxgloves in the oak border

    Then, to play off those deep purple and magenta tones, I planted blue star junipers (juniperus) and blue surprise false cypress (chamaecyparis). I contrasted these with a purple-leafed hyndrangea (Hydrangea ‘Plum Passion’), purple coral bells (heuchera), and fringe flowers (loropetalum). Finally, I filled in with crocosmia, Japanese forest grasses, and hostas. A gold variegated dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Summer Gold’), pictured above in background, anchors the whole thing.

    The Oak Tree Border, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #purpleplants
    Path through the oak tree border

    My most prized plant is my Chilean fire tree (embothrium coccineum). It’s native to the mountains of Chile and blooms in bold orange flowers. Hummingbirds love them!

    Chilean Fire Tree, The Oak Tree Border, The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #chileanfirebush
    Chilean Fire Tree

    My front border is mostly shady and I’ve had decent success with it outside of when the deer find my one large hosta. It’s a mix of aucuba, hydrangea, fuchsia, heucheras, and rhododendrons.

    My front woodland border

    Oftentimes, when people visit my yard, they ask about my favorite hosta in the whole world. It’s not only blue, gold, and chartreuse, it’s also slug-resistant since it has corrugated leaves. It’s hosta ‘June,’ a low-maintenance hosta that needs shade, water, and not much else to look stunning.

    Hosta 'June,' The Joyful Struggle of Creating a Beautiful Garden, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2022/06/24/Karen Hugg's garden, #KarenHugg #garden #gardening #plants #hosta #june
    Hosta ‘June’

    Now, that the tour is over, I’ve been relaxing on my patio and enjoying the tidy garden. I realized that sharing it inspired a lot of folks. Several people, with sparks in their eyes, told me they were ready to dig into a new design or seek out the unusual plants they’d seen. Their excitement makes my long hours of backbreaking work worth it.


  • Plants & Happiness

    Why Do Plants Make Us Happier? Five Fascinating Reasons

    Part-shade garden border, Why Do Plants Make Us Happier? Five Fascinating Reasons, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/11/08/plants-make-us-happier/(opens in a new tab), #plants #happiness #plantsmakeushappier #garden #mentalhealth #stress #destressing #stressrelief

    When I was a professional gardener, I made a lot of people happy by helping them with their gardens. Usually, I either created and installed a new garden or maintained the one they already had. Regardless, after my work was finished, my clients often told me their garden was their happy place. It relieved them from stress. Reset their energy. I understood this since my own garden made me happy too, even when there was a lot of work to do. So I started to wonder: why exactly did plants make us happier?

    I knew the reasons that applied to me: they were beautiful, soothing, diverse, silent, expected, honest. But I wanted a deeper answer.

    Why did they make me feel so good and restored? What is it about the human body and its reaction to plants? Now, after more than a year of research, I’ve figured out five reasons.

    1. Plants were our first evolutionary home.

    For thousands of years, people were immersed in nature. We relied on plants for shelter, food, clothing, furniture, boats, medicine, weapons, and so much else. It’s only natural that we feel a deep, innate connection to them. That connection was termed biophilia by biologist E.O. Wilson. He proposed that humans are innately drawn to natural environments and other living systems. Many studies have proven him right.

    2. Plants grow in patterns pleasing to our visual system.

    Have you ever looked at a leaf close up? There’s always a few thicker main veins from where smaller veins branch out, then smaller ones, and so on. This pattern that repeats and is often equally sub-dividable is called a fractal. They occur in leaves, tree branch structure, overlapping greenery, and even how flowers spiral. Our eyes are anatomically built to explore visual material in this way. So when we look at plants, we lock in to our natural way of seeing the world. In turn, this correlative experience makes us feel at ease.

    3. Green colors soothe our nerves.

    Studies show muted green colors negate arousal in our bodies. It has shorter wavelengths so our eyes don’t need to adjust to it. Also, because green evokes the natural world, we feel centered and relaxed when immersed in it. That in turn lowers anxiety. It also makes us feel optimistic and refreshed. All this is why actors and celebrities always prepare their performances in a “green room” before they go onstage.

    4. Plants release physiologically restorative scents.

    Of course, we all love to smell roses or lilies or any other sweet flower. That inhalation brings us a sense of joy and hope. But some plants, mostly coniferous trees, release their natural oils, which not only evoke positive feelings, but literally heal our bodies. Several studies out of Japan show that inhaling the scents of trees lowers blood pressure and heart rate while boosting our cancer-fighting cells. Wow! So a walk in the woods isn’t just a nice outing, it’s actually supercharging your immune system.

    5. Plants change and surprise us.

    We often think of plants as the static background to life, but they’re hard at work growing, healing their wounds, and trying to reproduce. They also grow new tissue, change colors, fight off disease, and most noticeably, bloom. These changes add a serene complexity to our lives. When we see a new leaf unfurl on a houseplant, we can’t help but feel hopeful. When we see leaves change color on trees, we feel a simultaneous joy at the bold colors and melancholy at the approaching winter. When a plant we’ve struggled to keep alive suddenly blooms, it sparks surprise and wonder. Plants quietly progress and that slow but noticeable activity provides us with a richer daily life.

    The natural takeaway

    So, if plants do literally make us happier, then what should we do? Well, even a city dweller who works in a skyscraper can access nature with a few easy changes.

    Next week, I’ll offer some of those easy changes. In the meantime, here’s one simple thing you can do: find a nature-related wallpaper for the device you’re reading this on and set it for your home page. Every day, when check your phone, tablet, or laptop, you’ll be greeted by the reassuring color of green and lovely patterns of your most ancient but familiar friends. And that will, if even for a minute, make you happier.