My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to "count my blessings". Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.
The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones, political uncertainty, financial concerns. I'm not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.
So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I'd like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.
Is there any greater gift than love?
We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg's Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren't cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn't even going to be in the country, and……
This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.
And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very 'grown up' patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying "Well done Karen".
Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one's own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There's also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.
When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid "by the gentleman with the blonde hair". Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier! So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.
I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer's Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn't great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just 'hanging out'!
I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.
While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.
Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.
Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn't need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)
Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.
As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I'd love to hear them
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." – John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.
May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.