Look for the Light

Do you walk through your garden each day? What do you see?

I took a leisurely stroll along our quiet country lanes a few days ago and was amazed what a difference just a few days had made. Last week there were fat, tantalizing buds filled with promise, yet the overall palette was still mostly a sea of verdant green. On this day, the neighborhood gardens were transformed with rhododendrons, appleblossom, forget-me-nots, fragrant lilacs, and nodding bluebells. Chickens were scratching and clucking. Bees were buzzing. I found myself stopping to snap a few photos with my phone to share with a friend, reminiscing as I did so about the memories several of these awakened.

Appleblossom – a gift of perfume today and the promise of a good harvest in the future

It made me think. I do walk through my garden every day – but I'm looking for problems; pests, disease, weeds that need to be pulled, vegetable seedlings that need to be thinned, grass that needs to be cut, and bushes that need to be trimmed. I'm focused on seeking out the negative.

In these surreal times where every day the world news is dire and full of frightening statistics, it is easy to lose a sense of perspective, lose our sense of hope, and fall into a place of despair and negativity, expecting and looking for the worst. Clearly, I need to reset my brain. I need to actively seek out the good, the positive; things that make me smile.

So early the next morning I grabbed my camera and went out into my garden with fresh eyes – looking for simple pleasures. As my (non-gardening) friend said when I shared my photos, "Simple stuff is good."

Yet what I got was far more than a few photographs. I found peace.

Even the humble barberry looks like a star when backlit by the early morning sun.

There is a magical quality to the garden in those early hours when the grass is still heavy with dew and all is still. There is a sense of anticipation. As I set up my tripod I was aware of the robins singing, hummingbirds flying around me, and the tree frogs croaking in the wetlands. The quality of the light is quite blue initially – something that always fascinates me. Yet as soon as the sun pierces the canopy of our surrounding woodland everything changes. Opaque leaves become translucent. Dull burgundy becomes fiery red. The garden glows.

I found myself smiling as I scurried from one 'garden moment' to another, capturing the light cast on bark, buds, and blooms. Here are just a few of those moments;

Emerging and Unfurling

Is there anything quite so magical as watching a fern unfurl?

We get so focused on the mature leaf or flower that we often overlook the small miracle that occurs as the bud swells and opens to reveal the hidden treasure.

Spreading Star Pacific Fir is loved for its blue-green needles – but look underneath the branches to see the tiny raspberry-like cones

Or what about those conifer cones? They are so colorful right now.

I allow some of my rhubarb to go to seed for the pure drama it brings to the garden

Tactile Textures

Contrasting textures in the woodland garden

Don't just look at your garden – reach out and touch it! Feel the fuzzy stem and notice how the velvety moss contrasts with the shaggy tree bark and wispy grasses.

Tiger Eyes sumac is known for its stunning foliage, just beginning to emerge. But take a moment to feel the stems which give rise to the common name "staghorn"

We can't hug our neighbors or our friends right now – but we can touch our plants!

An Ants-Eye View

Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) are in full bloom right now (I had to chase rabbits off this one).

Bend down – right down – look beneath the foliage. In a few more days these treasures will be hidden from view.

Solomon's seal is just beginning to bloom – this is the first year I've actually caught them!

Memory Triggers

Although these birch trees succumbed to woodpecker damage last fall, the bluebells live on!

My grandad (my dad's dad) lived next door to us in England. He was a funny old soul who loved his dogs and his garden, providing our family with all the fruit and vegetables we ever needed, just moments from harvest to table. Much of my childhood was spent in his garden and many of my garden memories can be attributed to him. Bluebells grew all around his large greenhouse. At age 5 when I had my tonsils and adenoids out (as was typical in those days) he cut me a large bunch and placed them by my bedside. Forget-me-nots self-seeded with abandon along the fence line between our homes as did lilac in shades of both purple and white.

Today, over 50 years later, I grow all these in my own garden some 5000 miles away from my childhood home – and they remind me of those simpler times and simple pleasures. Of love and acceptance. Of being outdoors. Of observing nature and the seasons and of embracing every moment.

What do You See?

Bleeding heart – a cottage garden favorite. This variety is Goldheart.

We will always remember 2020 as the year we were on "lockdown", the year we lost friends to the pandemic, the year we had our special event or trip cancelled, the year when stores counted us in and out to avoid crowding.

May I challenge you? Go out into your garden – you've got time this year after all. Time to actually watch the miracle of nature unfold before your eyes. You may never have this opportunity again – so embrace it. Take your coffee or your camera.

What do you see? What makes you smile? Bend down. Look more closely. Witness the small wonders in your own garden. Breathe deeply and take some small measure of comfort in the understanding that "simple stuff is good." Look for the light.

Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness~ Desmond Tutu

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  1. Linda Klose on April 28, 2020 at 3:53 am

    Wonderful reminder to look for the positive not the negative. There is so much to “do” in our gardens and weeds popping up everywhere that it is second nature to walk through looking for what needs to be done!
    I have enjoyed having less distractions and more time to enjoy spring unfold. Today I will look for beauty first. And there is so much!

    • Karen Chapman on April 28, 2020 at 7:57 am

      I'm sure you garden is much farther ahead than mine too! Enjoy your garden Linda

  2. Mary B Perez on April 28, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Inspiring words and photos. I'm normally quite modest about my garden, but this year, am encouraging friends to walk or drive by if they're out. It looks spectacular. There was a convergence of rain and sun this spring that has made all the plants in the area burst out in leaf and bloom. Roses everywhere and one of the main topics of conversation, at least in my circle, is who has tomato starts and where did they get them. Many of the Nurseries stayed open and the hardware stores with garden centers are open. Have to stand in line, suited up with face mask and gloves, but if tenacious, can find a few starts. Not skilled at seed starting, except for zinnias, but may give it a whirl…Am so grateful for my love of gardening…makes me plant- centric, so every walk is interesting and full of life. Probably annoying to power walkers, because I definitely stop to smell the roses. Best to you, Mary

    • Karen Chapman on April 28, 2020 at 9:38 am

      You used to have such a lovely garden here;I'm sure it is wonderful in Sonoma and I'm thrilled you are sharing it with others. I always loved your colors and had so much fun designing containers for you and helping with a few garden combinations. (And you made the BEST latte!)
      Many veggies can be started from seed directly sown into the garden; squash, beans, lettuce, kale, beet, carrots etc. Tomatoes are easy to grow from seed – but at this point you do need starts.
      Take care

  3. Coni Essinger on April 28, 2020 at 9:58 am

    What Beautiful thoughts and photos! Your words brought back memories of how my grandparents instilled the love of growing flowers for me. I have limited space to do it around my townhome but nevertheless every pot is done with loving care. I used your planting plans for pots last year and it was the most beautiful one I have ever done! thank you!
    You truly are a Light in some dark days. I appreciate you.
    Coni Essinger

    • Karen Chapman on April 28, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Coni – thank you so much for your kind words and I'm thrilled that you found my online container gardening course helpful! You've made my day 🙂

  4. Christine on April 28, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    So beautifully written, and an important reminder – thank you!

    • Karen Chapman on April 28, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      You're welcome Christine! I'm so glad that it resonated with you.

  5. suzanne Kalish on April 30, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Lovely words, lovely reminders– and, yes, so fortunate we are to have a love of gardening and all things garden during this time of isolation! and, I do walk through my garden (where I am able!! ha ha — crowded the way I like it!) daily and notice, notice, notice… Lots of time on my hands to savor.

    So thankful to not be stuck inside a small apt these days– thank you for this reminder, Karen! another year/ another trip to England hopefully.