03 March 2009

Lessons from herbaceous perennials

As both of my faithful readers have noticed, I haven't been blogging much lately. I've been reading, cocooning, trying to keep up with email, generally feeling more like taking in rather than putting out. I haven't shot many photos, either, in the last six weeks or so. I certainly haven't spent any time in the studio, unless you count mending clothes and teaching myself how to knit cables. I've felt like an imposter at the last several art quilt group meetings I've attended; you mean darning socks isn't a form of creative expression? Maybe it's just the late-winter blahs, but my creative impulse has been at what feels like an all-time low.

But I have been going to school. In January I began a master gardener certification course, offered online through OSU Extension. We're about two-thirds of the way through; this week's module happens to be herbaceous ornamental plants, both annuals (the single-season dealies) and perennials (the ones that come back on their own).

In addition to 12 weeks of coursework, including lectures, readings, discussions, quizzes, assignments and a final exam, we're required to put in between 60 and 70 hours of volunteer work. Last Friday I logged a couple of hours just handing out literature at the Yard, Garden and Patio show. Unlike last year, when I staggered out of the Convention Center under the weight of a Meyer lemon tree-let, a witch hazel sapling, and the mother of all aloe vera plants, my takeaways this time were modest: a pair of $2 gardening gloves and an a-ha! moment.

When we first moved to Portland, I noticed several low plants with ratty-looking dark-green leathery leaves growing on the east side of the house. In late winter they put out inconspicuous drooping blossoms in muted shades of pink, purple and cream. Eventually I learned that they were hellebores, prized hereabouts as shade plants. Whatever; they seemed happy on their own, and I was glad to see something thrive on that semi-neglected portion of the lot.

The Hardy Plant Society had a major exhibit at the garden show, several tables of specimen plants and cuttings, with identifying tags. There was a lot to see and absorb. On my first pass through, I noticed some exquisite, tropical-looking blossoms floating in a shallow bowl of water. On my second pass, I read the tag: Hellebores. Wow.

How could I have overlooked these stunners? Easily; the flower faces hang downward, coyly, on hook-shaped stems. From above you'd never know. I wonder how long it would have taken me to discover their beauty on my own. Thank you, Hardy Planters, for the inspiration. Sometimes you have to go beyond the obvious, make an extra effort, place things in a different context, look at them from a new perspective. All clich├ęs, but true -- in art and in life.

Yesterday was gorgeous; it felt like a foretaste of spring. I spent a couple of hours out back at my potting bench, transplanting and fertilizing house plants. The pushy amaryllis that died back to an inert bulb after its flamboyant show last winter has suddenly extruded -- overnight, it seems -- a pair of fresh green stalks. Plants know when it's time to start growing again. People sometimes need a reminder.


Terry said...

Our landscape designer introduced us to hellebores. She thought they would be great on the upper level of the front yard at our old house. They were perfect because as you came up the stairs from the street you saw them from below. Wasn't that brilliant? Since then we have become fans. We have no place at the new place where they can be viewed from below, but we will plant some somewhere for sure.

Gerrie said...

I have never thought of using hellebores in an arrangement. They are beautiful.