The Alaska Recap
Pull up a chair. Dim the lights. It's time for my Alaska slideshow.
As a general policy I do not subject innocent bystanders to vacation pictures. I'm a middle child, after all. I realized long ago that every little move I make is not necessarily as fascinating to others as it is to me. So why the change of heart?
First, several people told me that they were considering trips to Alaska and actually asked to see my photos. What they did not realize is that Ron got a little carried away and shot more than 1500 pictures. Not even my mother could sit through that. So this post was the perfect excuse to do some editing.
Second, if you are reading this blog not because you know me and feel obligated but because you actually like to garden, then I am gambling that you will find Alaska interesting. Gardeners love nature; Alaska is all about nature; ergo, gardeners would love Alaska. Or so I rationalize.
If you are the adventurous type, and you are in great shape, and you have all the time in the world, then there may be a better way to see Alaska than on a cruise. By all means hike through Denali or visit the North Pole. For the rest of us, though, there's the traditional seven day cruise of the Inside Passage.
I had never been on a cruise before, so naturally I had all kinds of ideas - none of them good - about what they were like. The way I looked at it, if I didn't die from shipwreck or salmonella, I would probably die of boredom. Imagine my surprise when I found that staring blankly at the water puts you into a hypnotic state, and that the motion of the ship is the most relaxing thing on earth. By the end of Day Two I was in a trance.
Of course, I didn't come to Alaska only to stare at the ocean. I came to stare at the land, too. There was just so much of it - and everything was so big! The overcrowded Northeast, where I grew up, has nothing on this scale. When I lived in New York, I would smile benignly at wide-eyed tourists, all pointing up in awe at the Empire State Building or gaping at the carnival of life that is a New York City subway ride. Now it was my turn to be a stranger in a strange land.
To me, Alaska is a place unto itself. I wasn't surprised that the mountains and the glaciers would make me feel so small. What I didn't expect was that the cities and people would make me feel so weak. For instance, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the only way in or out of Juneau is by plane or boat. And that being cut off from other cities, and having to hop into a boat or seaplane every time you want to leave town, is no big deal for Alaskans. This is no country for wimps.
Then there is the wildlife. Our cruise was in early May - too early for salmon and, consequently, for bears. No matter. Cruising the waters, we saw plenty of eagles, killer and humpback whales, and porpoises. I was in heaven. Ron left his zoom lens at home - a big mistake. At least I had my binoculars.
I could go on and on, but I won't. The slideshow below has more images if you are so inclined. I'll close by saying yes, it was definitely worth it to miss my peonies. As it turned out, the gods were smiling - there were actually a few still blooming when I got home. But after Alaska, they were pretty anticlimactic.
Still Life Lessons for the Garden
The North Carolina Museum of Art's current exhibition, Still Life Masterpieces: A Visual Feast from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, got me thinking about the myriad connections between art and gardening. Of course no gardens were on view; the show is about still life, so only inanimate (or once-but-no-longer-animate) objects make an appearance. It's beautiful to look at and just plain fun, especially the sidebar display by members of the North Carolina Garden Club. And it was surprisingly full of wisdom for the garden.
Lesson One: Composition is king. Cézanne meticulously arranged his still life compositions in a quest for perfect balance and harmony. If he was dissatisfied with one arrangement of peaches and lemons, he would try another until he got it just right.
A little of Cezanne's discipline would do me a world of good. The sad truth is, my garden has no governing principle. It began haphazardly and expanded opportunistically. Eight years later, my design philosophy is, "Where does this fit?" Time to grab a shovel and rearrange those peaches.
Calling All Gardeners
Does your garden look like this?
No? How about this?
No? What a relief.
Very few of us could ever aspire to anything like the lush and elaborate gardens of L.A.'s Getty Center and London's Hyde Park. I loved visiting both, but as beautiful as they may be, they are, like most public gardens, of limited utility to a galloping horse gardener like me. All I ever seem to learn from public gardens is that mine would look a lot better if I had a grounds crew.
The same goes for those picture-perfect private gardens featured in newspapers and magazines. Fine Gardening and Horticulture are fun to read, but they need to go easy on the stories about how some homeowner transformed a miserable, barren swath of land into a showplace. Inevitably, the enterprising homeowner turns out to be a Wall Street baron or a celebrity designer with a historic home on five acres. What on earth am I supposed to take away from this, except that having $100,000 to spend on landscape design would do wonders for my yard?
The truth is, the experiences of real-life gardeners are far more relevant. They help you see what is possible back here on the planet Earth, where gardeners have jobs, small children, and needy dogs, not to mention poor soil, money issues, and bad knees.
In that spirit, this month I am introducing Guest Gardens, which highlights the real-life gardens of Galloping Horse Garden readers. The debut feature is a look at my mother's garden in White Plains, New York - the standard by which I judge my own garden (and find it wanting). In her garden, I discovered my favorite flowers. In mine, I killed them. It seems that Cary is a bit hotter than White Plains.
Please share your pictures, and your tales of triumph or tragedy. Both would be instructive, I'm sure.
“We must cultivate our garden,” says Voltaire’s Candide - sound advice perhaps, but completely contrary to human nature. We like peering out from behind the curtains and looking into our neighbors’ yards. Thank heaven for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days, when passionate gardeners and aspiring Martha Stewarts are invited to view some of the country’s most beautiful private gardens. There, enquiring minds can openly converse with the owners, take pictures, steal ideas, and generally drool with envy. Voyeurs, rejoice.
The 2012 Raleigh area Open Days took place last weekend. I popped in to three gardens and, of course, found them all quite lovely. Each displayed a dazzling assortment of sensational plants, many of which I had never seen in person. Each had picturesque architectural elements – fountains, trellises, gazebos - and each was impeccably maintained. My favorite, though, was Dennis and Georgina Werner’s garden.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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