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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m a big advocate of journaling. Writing out one’s thoughts and feelings has enormous health benefits and helps us work out the problems of our lives. Psychologists say it helps reduce stress, boosts our mood, keeps our memory sharp, and even helps our immune system. So what’s even more interesting is how journaling in nature seems to be more powerful. Here’s why.
It puts you in a special, out-of-time place
Even if I journal in my backyard, I’ve taken myself out of the usual, day-to-day equation of work and my to-do lists. In nature, there are no to-do lists because nature simply exists to be what it is. So I find when I’m immersed in nature, I start to simply exist to be what I am too. I feel freer to allow my thoughts to wander and land on whatever topics they’re drawn to.
It heightens your observational skills
When we’re outside, we encounter a whole landscape of random sounds, sights, smells, and all else. It’s not the controlled atmosphere of an indoor environment where we’ve set the temperature and lighting. When we go into nature, we’re subjecting our bodies to a whole suite of stimuli to process. That stimuli heightens our awareness, which heightens our ability to observe and record our surroundings.
It increases mindfulness
Because our senses our heightened and our awareness is more alert, our ability to be mindful of our experience increases. We can smell that pine tree, see how softly the leaves wave in the breeze, hear a bird tweeting, touch the roughness of a rock, and so on. And so, because we’re more in the “here and now,” our attention begins to block out thoughts of the past or future. Our thoughts and feelings simplify, which helps us cope with whatever’s troubling us.
It lowers stress
And so, because our attention is more present and more focused on our immediate surroundings, we relax more quickly. We turn still and silent. There are no advertisements wanting something from us, no social media to make us feel anger or angst, no traffic getting in our way. The random wild thoughts zinging through our head weaken and a deeper sense of restfulness blossoms. That, in turn, reduces our heart rate and lowers our blood pressure, creating a soothing feeling of peace.
It creates more curiosity
If you’re journaling indoors, you may be in your home or a local cafe. This means you know your surroundings well. But when journaling in nature, you may notice a woodland flower you’ve never noticed before, or wonder about the lake you’re sitting beside. These features of nature may create questions. What is that flower? How deep is that lake? And the more curious you become, the more you’ll learn, thus feeding your mind and creating a tiny sense of accomplishment that boosts confidence.
I’ve found journaling in nature relaxes me much more than when I journal in my home. Even if I’m working out angsty problems that relate to my day-to-day work and life, I’m less sucked in emotionally by it. I gain a useful, detached perspective that serves me well when I go back in. Plus, whatever insights or conclusions I’ve gained feel like icing on the cake. And that in turn, makes me feel more grateful for the life I have.
Do you ever journal in nature? If you do, let me know how! I’m always looking for ideas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Seattle author and gardener Debra Prinzing knows flowers. In addition to writing books on gardening, Prinzing started the “slow flowers” movement. It encourages people to buy locally grown flowers rather than imported ones from faraway countries. Foreign growers often spray dangerous chemicals on their crops and employ low-wage workers in not-great conditions. Plus, the environmental cost of shipping flowers in chilled containers and planes across thousands of miles is massive.
But saying “I love you” is important, especially with a lovely bouquet that relaxes the soul. And Prinzing has found a more environmentally sustainable way to do that. So check out our chat below. We talked about the “slow flowers” movement and why a locally grown bouquet is a wonderful gift this Mother’s Day season.
Why should people buy Slow Flowers instead of supermarket flowers?
It’s simple. To me, sourcing local flowers is part of my moral compass. Our planet is at risk and yet the floral marketplace is based on an unsustainable model. We buy a perishable product (some would argue a “luxury” product) from one or more continents away that’s shipped on jets. Slow Flowers believes the production and consumption of a long-distance, perishable product is unsustainable and devours many valuable resources (jet fuel, packaging, water, etc.). Slow Flowers supports the alternative, locally and domestically grown flowers.
As an avid gardener, I know the flowers I love thrive in my own backyard. That’s another argument for not importing flowers. We can grow them ourselves with a much smaller footprint. And we support local farmers when we keep our dollars in our own community.
How did this movement begin?
The seeds of the Slow Flowers Society began after I wrote two books, The 50 Mile Bouquet and Slow Flowers. As I spoke to audiences and media around the country, people often asked, how do I find flower farmers and florists who supply local flowers? For months, I thought, “someone should start a directory.” Then, by the end of 2013, I dove into planning slowflowers.com. It’s a free national directory of florists, shops, studios, and farms that supply American-grown flowers.
The directory was intended to serve consumers but it also created great connections between growers and florists. Before creating it, I launched the Slow Flowers Podcast in July, 2013. I featured conversations with people in the directory. Those two channels brought people together. And in ensuing years, we created a vibrant, diverse community of creatives, farmers, makers, and floral artists who gather under this inclusive idea.
Even though verification programs for organically grown flowers exist, here and abroad, growing and certifying organically grown flowers can be tricky. How important is it for someone to buy an organically grown flower?
The USDA’s Organic Certification was originally created for food agriculture. Flower farmers who use organic growing methods often produce more than 100 distinct floral varieties in a given season. So their diversity actually makes the USDA application cumbersome. Most small-scale farmers are committed to sustainable, aka organic, methods such as no-till agriculture practices, planting cover crops, attracting beneficial insects (good bugs), no use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, and more. For these reasons, I feel very comfortable buying local flowers from a boutique grower.
In some regions, like here in the PNW, there are unique, third-party certifications. All of the flower farmers who are part of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market are “Salmon Safe Certified.” That means their farming practices have been evaluated to make sure there are no fertilizers or other amendments harming our salmon habitat.
Another national organization, based on a peer-to-peer verification, is Certified Naturally Grown. Many flower farmers pursue that type of outside verification as an alternative to USDA Organic Certification.
My advice? Get to know your local flower farmer. If it’s possible to visit the farm on an open day, do so! Ask them about their methods and you’ll learn how passionate they are about enhancing their land with earth-safe practices.
What are some of the more commonly available “slow flowers?” Does it vary by region and what’s most native to an area?
OMG, the list is endless! Each region certainly has its unique growing conditions. For example, the humidity in the south is hard on crops like dahlias. The lack of sustained hot weather in the PNW means some summer annuals don’t hit their stride until September.
Here are some of the popular seasonal “stars” in the Slow Flowers Movement:
Early-to-Late Spring: flowering bulbs (tulips, narcissus, anemones, ranunculus); flowering branches (forsythia, quince, cherry, plum, etc.)
Late Spring to Summer: perennials including peonies, columbine, lady’s mantle, foxglove, poppies, hellebores; ornamental shrubs like viburnum and lilac
Summer: garden roses, lavender, all the annual crops (sweet peas, sunflower, zinnia, celosia, snapdragon, stock, marigolds, rudbeckia, strawflower)
Late Summer: Dahlias, dahlias, dahlias, more annuals, like amaranth; flowering shrubs like hydrangeas; ornamentals shrubs for foliage like cotinus and physocarpus (ninebark).
Fall: heirloom mums
Oftentimes large commercial growers dunk roses in fungicide to preserve their appearance. How can people find roses that are grown with fewer fungicides and pesticides for this Mother’s Day?
It’s nearly impossible to find “safe” roses for Mother’s Day unless you plan ahead and order in advance. The California rose growers who are shipping for Mother’s Day probably already have a cut-off date of 5/4.
Here are two members shipping roses at this time:
Other advice? I recommend giving your Mom a rose plant, plus a copy of our wonderful new BLOOM Imprint book about garden rose growing called Growing Wonder.
Who is Slow Flowers Society for?
The Slow Flowers Society is for flower lovers, both enthusiasts and professionals. It’s for anyone who cares about supporting domestic floral agriculture and sustainable design practices in the floral marketplace. Learn more at slowflowerssociety.com.
The Slow Flowers Society challenges assumptions about who can be a farmer. Also, we see flower growing as a legitimate form of agriculture. Flowers can be an economic engine for positive, sustainable change. The Slow Flowers Society is redefining what is beautiful in floristry. We embrace seasonality and show respect for the environment. Our progressive society wants to radically prioritize inclusivity, equity and representation in flower farming and floral design.
Who is Debra Prinzing?
Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and leading advocate for domestic, local and seasonal flowers. She produces SlowFlowers.com, the online directory to American grown farms, florists, shops, and studios who supply domestic and local flowers. Download her “Slow Flowers Podcast” for free at debraprinzing.com, or on iTunes.
In 2016, the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market honored her with the Growers Choice Award for her “outstanding contributions to revitalizing the local floral community.” She is a 2016 inductee to the Garden Writers Association Hall of Fame and Professional Floral Communicators International. Debra has authored 12 books, including Slow Flowers, The 50 Mile Bouquet and Where we Bloom.
Photo by (c) Missy Palacol photography