Fending Off Solutions, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:49am


I know I told you my tall old Chinese elm fell over this spring. Not that you needed to remember, of course. It kneeled down as I was looking out the window. No damage to our house, very little damage to anything, but we were suddenly treeless.

That tree had defined the yard, and to an extent, the house. I have so many windows that used to look out on leaves, through which the sun now streams and streams. My garden also depended on the shade. Hydrangeas, ferns, dogwood, phormium, dicentra, myosotis. Lots of plants have burned.

But I am not primarily sad.

At first, yes. The tree was alive, I felt I knew it, that it had a self. I mourned. But I’ve moved on to learning. I am not the Buddha, this is a cognitive practice of fallible humans. Learning what? How not to solve for beauty. How not to jump to conclusions. How to focus on the deepest problem.

By nature, I think visually and rapidly, inferring a whole from barely seen patterns. I let visual and barely processed cues guide me. No patience. I’ve had to sit with an unmet need, no blinking. It feels weird. I’ve made myself live through hot day after hot day. Not very happily. I water by hand so as to pay attention.

I hold up. I tell myself, “Wait. Do not assume you know how to screen the neighbor’s roof or where to move the purple iris. Focus on first understanding whether or not you will plant another tree.  Then save the plants you love. It’ll be beautiful again. Maybe next year.”

The elm fell about five months ago. Since then I’ve installed five olive trees in pots on the patio, to shade our windows. I’ve moved two hydrangeas and a fuchsia out of the direct sun. Fuchsia, meet daphne.

I’ve let another hydrangea die, I’ve weeded, I’ve planted succulents. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we have no choice but to plant another tree, exactly where the elm was. Well, we could put up a shade sail, strung from the house, but that’s not my style. I want to see green grow.

Meanwhile, butterflies, who don’t mind about the tree. A Gulf Fritillary in the side yard.

Where I also let thistles grow, then go to seed and down.

Turns out thistles are the larval food of Painted Lades. Yesterday I had four flapping around my big abelia hedge, at the same time. I suspect I also housed their caterpillars but too many prickers to be certain.

Here’s the new Cecile Brunner rose in my front yard. I put it in a year or so ago, when a large juniper died – the drought has been hard on us all around – it’s grown a lot in its first two years.

Even over the fence into the back. Above the thistle. The benefits of change don’t always announce themselves in advance.

 

Have a good weekend my friends. La vie est sometimes belle.

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15 Comments

  • Another thoughtful and eloquent post that says much about time and gardening and awareness…. We often think of gardening as waiting, but mostly that’s about waiting for plants to grow rather than waiting for us to know….and the latter can be just as important. Love your Cecile Bruner, your butterflies, and perhaps especially your thistles and their down. Happy Saturday!

    09/16/17
    2:31 pm
    Frances/Materfamilias said...

    Whoops! Cecile Brunner, two Ns, I know. . .

    09/17/17
    10:25 am
    Lisa said...

    @Frances/Materfamilias, Thank you. Reading your comment I understand that I am trying to be more like a tree and less like an annual;). And the thistledown was so lovely and I am SO going to pay for it when the rains come and the new thistles sprout up where I don’t want them:). I would have spelled Brunner right except that I Googled it of course…

  • I once owned a house very near where I live now which had two huge old Chinese Elms in the back yard, so that their shade covered the entire yard except where one spindly lemon tree struggled for survival and gave me one lemon every two years as thanks (or perhaps not-thanks) and a Princess Camellia that bloomed with hundreds of perfect blooms every year. I didn’t know. I refused to let my elms be pruned, because I thought they’d prune them down to nubs like they do the figs on Olympic, so first a huge branch went, and then I lost the trees – to age, like as not. And then I didn’t love my secret garden of a back yard nearly so much. I’m not much of a gardener, although when my sycamore in front had to be cut down (it had found sycamore nirvana, my sewer pipe, which it had completely filled with roots), I had a sunny spot and planted roses which for some reason having almost nothing to do with me thrived.

    I still miss having those mature Chinese elms with their lacy, willow-like trailing leaves making my back yard into a fairyland.

    09/17/17
    10:27 am
    Lisa said...

    @GAIL UPP, So true. The elm did have a fairylike quality. The movement of the branches, the light through the windows, the glimpses of the garden beyond. Do I need to simply replant an elm? Or can I go for a native riparian tree? Current thought process.

    But glad you had some happy time with roses, in our climate I think sun and breeze is all it takes. Lucky us!

  • Olive trees :-),they must be beautiful in pots on your patio,can we get a photo?-I love them,as well as your butterflies ( you did so well with their garden) and Cecile Brunner’s abundance
    Dottoressa

    09/17/17
    10:28 am
    Lisa said...

    @dottoressa, Thank you:). The olive trees are still tied to stakes, I need to get them straightened a bit, let them settle in, get saucers for the ones I tried to keep saucerless, in other words, let them come into their potential. Then photos for sure.

    I guess they require patience too.

  • Such a thoughtful post. We just lost five huge trees to Hurricane Irma, and while it will be days before we can even get them taken out due to all the emergencies our tree people are dealing with, I immediately started planning their replacement. Now I realize I need to take some time, mourn their loss and think about, first, if they should be replaced, and second, if replaced what should be planted. You have a beautiful garden.

    09/17/17
    10:38 am
    Lisa said...

    @Lynn, Oh my gosh I’m so sorry! It was difficult to follow exactly what impact Irma eventually had, from here in California. Five huge trees! So much loss, and also so many new possibilities, you may decide to simply replace but the time spent considering is probably well spent. Again, my sympathies for what you went through, and I hope recovery is not too difficult and long. xoxox.

  • Lovely piece and place. I’ve had my heart broken several times by the sudden loss of a big tree or two in our gardens as we moved around the country. Quite a blow – hundreds or thousands of dollars to remove, and you’re left worse off! Even when you plant a good sized tree, you have a changed and sunny space for quite a while. I always planted one or more new trees, and always chose some hardwood destined for big size well after I’ve moved on. Avoided pretty little ornamental things. My research for the appropriate tree in each place seemed to add a bit more heartache as so many species are stressed by invasive pests and weather. But still, when those new trees went in I felt like a good steward and I loved watching them take hold. Enjoy finding your new tree!

    09/18/17
    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    @Wendy, Thank you for the preview of this choice process. To learn what I cannot plant, as our climate changes, and what I want to plant as I try to move more and more to native species. I absolutely want to plant something that will grow pretty big – I have to, or its shade will not reach my windows!

  • My favorite part of your post…”The benefits of change don’t always announce themselves in advance. ” How very true in so many situations. Peace.

    09/18/17
    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    @Lee, Thank you. It’s always the thoughts that come in through the side door, right?

  • Beautiful, thoughtful post, Gorgeous photographs. I too tend to impatience, to rush to solutions, so I know what you mean. I love the olive tree in pots idea. I also think choosing a new tree will be lovely. The details of your yard and your butterflies, what you are noticing, is moving. Your Cecile Brunner is gorgeous and clearly happy. There was a Cecile Brunner near my house in Palo Alto that looked like it had been there forever. I used to walk specifically to visit it, to stand on the sidewalk gazing at its profusion of pink buds and flowers. Happy tree shopping. Thank you for sharing the beauty in your yard.

    09/18/17
    7:51 am
    Lisa said...

    @Katherine C. James, You are so welcome, and thank you for the kind words. The Brunners grow like weeds around here, and I almost stopped appreciating them until this one grew unexpectedly over the back fence, so gracefully.

  • Missed you this week although I know you are only posting Saturdays now. If you have reasonable access, you can plant a relatively large tree…esp since you are coming into the perfect season. I loved my jacaranda and they grow so quickly…but you have so many choices…

    09/18/17
    7:52 am
    Lisa said...

    @JB, Aw thank you for missing me! My current thoughts are a cottonwood or maybe a birch? If I go native I have to find a species that can take water on the roots, as I would like to keep this small lawn.

  • That Cecile Brunner rose is amazing! I am envious. Here, at home, my dogwood died and, after over 30 years, all the beautiful Hershey Red azaleas which surrounded it. Don’t know exactly why this happened but I am sad for the loss. Hope you come up with a good solution for a replacement for the Chinese elm.

    09/18/17
    7:55 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jane, Thank you. I am learning that I need to appreciate our rose-growing climate more enthusiastically! Sorry you lost your trees, these things can be so bewildering.

  • Your garden looks beautiful and I admire your patience about the tree. I always rush into “solutions”. Would love to see the photos of your olive trees in pots.

    09/18/17
    7:56 am
    Lisa said...

    @KSL, Thank you. As soon as the olive trees are happy to make an appearance, and I will keep asking them, I’ll put up a photo!

  • Lisa, your plantings are beautiful. So sorry about the loss of your elm. Of all the plants we live alongside, I believe trees are the most emotionally evocative. They move us and we become attached. Please do replant I don’t know the prime planting times in your area, but you’ve probably got between two to four months to carefully consider your choices. I like Wendy’s philosophy: planting for the future. But you might decide you prefer something that will grow big and tall quickly. And that’s good, too.
    Lynn, sorry about your Irma damage. That storm was a you-know-what. Hope you’re safe, dry, and well-fed at this point.

    09/18/17
    7:57 am
    Lisa said...

    @BethF, Thank you. Trees do compel us, they feel so much as though they have selves. xox.

  • A large tree really does define a garden space. Sorry about your loss. Your roses really love their space and the flowering is abundant. Beautiful. Your olive trees sound delightful. How nice to attract butterflies – your thistle is doing well. Finding a new suitable tree will be a project.

    09/18/17
    7:58 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan, Thank you. It is SUCH a project. And my olive trees right now are cute, but kind of disorganized in their habits. I’m coaching them along;).

  • That Cecile Brunner rose is so beautiful! How big are the olive trees that you planted in pots? Would you be able to share a picture of them?

    Your thoughts of patience and butterflies come across as poetic…such a calming and peaceful post.

    We had a huge acacia tree in our back garden once…it provided oodles of shade and I planted accordingly…when it came down I had to rethink everything…it was an opportunity to redo that space…no other tree has been planted but many roses now reside happily in the sunshine.

    09/18/17
    7:59 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bungalow Hostess, They were 15-gallon pots, if I remember. So they stand about 10 feet high in the pots, because I have them on rolling trivets so I can move them together if we get very windy storms in the winter time. I didn’t know your roses were living in sunshine given them by a tree! How lovely.

  • I am stunned by the beauty of that rose. It is magnificent. We lived in Seattle for decades and nothing did well. Nine months of rain in the fall/winter/spring/early summer really did a number on it all. Your yard is lovely. I, too, would like to see the olive trees in pots (when you’re ready) to show them.

    09/18/17
    8:01 am
    Lisa said...

    @Allison Mohr, Trees in pots promise to appear when ready. And I thank you for reminding me that one climate’s taken-for-granted plant is another’s star. xoxox.

  • Is that Scotch thistle? In our area (not California) it is considered a noxious weed, and we’re required by law to eradicate it, to keep it from spreading.

    09/18/17
    7:39 pm
    Lisa said...

    I don’t think so, I think it’s bull thistle, which is also non-native but so, so common around here. If someone reported me I might have to remove it. But it’s in my back yard, and so much of the down was caught here rather than flying away, I hope I am forgiven for the sake of the Painted Ladies.