Cecile Brunner, cooking, gardening, Julie Lary, Northwest Flower and Garden Festival, rajalary, Rich Lary, scribbles writing
It’s been many weeks since I’ve written anything about Rich’s and my recovery from our accident. While I have my next article sketched out, it’s been difficult to relive the trauma and heartbreak of last June when we returned to Coupeville and faced months of being in wheelchairs and downing handfuls of extra strength Tylenol to get through the days. To get my fingers typing, I’m going to switch gears to where we are now.
While I’ve been up-and-about for months, walking, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and tackling craft projects, Rich is still getting used to his prosthetic leg and the challenge of making tight turns, small steps when maneuvering around the kitchen, gardening, working in the garage on projects, and confidently walking in crowds. Because we’re both homebodies, we need to be diligent about planning activities that get us out of the house.
In the past few weeks, we’ve attended two events in Coupeville – a political get-together and seed exchange – saw a live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s Porgy and Bess in an Anacortes movie theater, saw The Joker, Parasite, and Midway at the Burlington AMC, wandered through the Whatcom County Museum in Bellingham, and spent a harried few hours at Pike’s Market in Seattle, following a CT scan I had at Harborview.
Afterwards, we had a delightful visit with friends, Steve and Jennifer, on Mercer Island. While Rich went with Steve and his son, Damien, to buy food, Jennifer treated me to a variety of teas in her charming backyard tea house. Driving back home, Rich and I were relaxed and happy, emotionally satiated and mentally stimulated.
In January, we got tickets to the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival, which gave Rich trepidations as the day approached. The weeks prior, however, Rich spent hours outside, building a trellis for Cecile Brunner, a magnificent climbing rose I’ve carted from house-to-house for the past 12 years.
I had a huge Cecile Brunner bush at my Sherwood, Oregon house, which sprawled across the front of my yard, and spewed onto the sidewalk. I regularly gave her a haircut, but she continued to grow like crazy.
In 2008, after we’d moved to Texas and then back to the Pacific Northwest, I bought a rather sickly Cecile Brunner for our 6-year wedding anniversary. I kept the bush in a pot, and one day, Rich got tired of her straggling stems and aggressively pruned her. I was furious, believing he’d snipped our relationship.
Fast forward a few years. I brought the same bush to our Mount Vernon house, and planted her at the bottom of the deck. She thrived climbing up the wooden lattice and stairs, and then cascaded over the second-story deck. Within a few years, she got so heavy she pulled down part of the deck.
Rich wasn’t amused and ended up having to rebuild the entire deck.
We’d already planned to relocate Cecile. Working together we whacked the bush down to size, wrapped her in a tarp, and brought her to Coupeville. I planted her on the southwest side of our house where she’d have plenty of room to grow. She was also in the direct path of ruthless Puget Sound winds and wandering deer who view roses as spring greens.
Darn close to dead, I once again relocated Cecile, this time inside our fenced vegetable garden. During our recuperation last year, she quietly perked up, sending healthy roots down into the rich soil, which decades ago was a potato farm. Starting in January, she began growing like crazy.
Queue the need to start building a support system for the revitalized and indominable Cecile Brunner!
It took Rich a few weeks to dig three large holes and use cement to secure three 4×4 posts, and then build the support frame with lattice in-between. The finished structure is attractive, and will no doubt produce a wall of spectacular petite pink rose blooms within a few years.
If he can build a sturdy structure for Cecile Brunner, he can easily wander through the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival!
Rewarding day full of unexpected delights
On Saturday morning, we were out-the-door by 7 a.m. and onto the Clinton ferry by 8 a.m. We’d originally planned to stop at Denny’s for breakfast – which we both love – but opted instead for breakfast sandwiches and iced coffees at McDonald’s. It was a smart move because we encountered little traffic on the way to the Washington State Convention Center and secured a parking spot by an elevator. While I anticipated few crowds, especially with the coronavirus percolating in Washington, it was packed with people, itching to get through the doors.
I’ve always enjoyed going to the Washington State Convention Center, which is an architectural and perhaps, engineering marvel with a 90-foot-wide skybridge straddling a four-lane city street, portion of the complex spanning across Interstate 5, and six-stories in height with 414,722 square feet of rentable event space, including 68 meeting rooms and an exhibition hall that can accommodate 1,105 booths.
Check out the virtual tour of the Washington State Convention Center.
At the entrance to the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival was Fleurs de Villes, a series of life-size mannequins adorned with flowers from elaborate hats to sweeping trains, and whimsical floral purses and shoes. They were like mini Pasadena Rose Festival floats with thousands of fresh and dried flowers, grasses, mosses, and leaves.
Unfortunately, maybe to keep it cooler, the mannequins were illuminated by spotlights so while you could see them, the uneven mood lighting was distracting and made everything look muted. Plus, the mannequins were on pedestals, so you had to look up. While people could see them from a distance, it was like looking up at someone’s nasal hairs rather than looking into their eyes.
Steps away from the Fleurs de Villes were large display gardens, some of which were breathtaking with giant boulders, dramatic stone sculptures, full-sized trees and hundred-year old bonsais, stone pathways, flowing water features, greenhouses, light-festooned gazebo and pergola, playhouse, vintage teardrop trailer, and creative seating areas.
The winning display by Christianson’s Nursery featured the front of a two-story house with a rustic English garden complete with trees, bushes, rock wall, extensive vegetable garden, lawn, flower beds, and a split-rail fence across the front. It was as if you were standing on the sidewalk admiring an actual house and front yard.
Once again, Rich and I found the low lighting unconducive for viewing the gardens. It felt like it was nighttime with a handful of streetlights to illuminate the way between the displays. Although, having brighter and more consistent lighting would have compromised the allure and ambiance.
Check out this article from Pacific Northwest and Beyond, which provides great photos and a commentary from the event.
Awe inspiring booths
While it was fun seeing the displays, it wasn’t the best part of the show. There were hundreds of booths in the two marketplaces, at least a quarter were filled with amazing artwork and crafts from paintings and photography to handblown glass garden art, batik and hand-painted fabrics, charming aprons and handmade clothes, jewelry (galore), vases, pots and pottery, hand-painted garden stakes, handmade bird and bee houses, metal sculptures, and much more.
Hands down, the most impressive art was from Hudson River Inlay, which makes framed mirrors, panels and furniture with inlaid wood, shell, and stone. My favorite piece was called Lake Serenity Bungalow, which showed the front steps of a bungalow-style house with ornate glass on either side of the door, and two cats batting at two butterflies. On either side of the door are urns with pretty flowers and more butterflies. Through the door is a wooded area with a pond in front, home to a dragonfly, blue heron, and numerous birds perched on dogwood branches.
The piece is comprised of 1,122 pieces of inlay of 31 wood species, mother-of-pearl, abalone shell, and malachite. It was truly breathtaking.
The man at the booth said the company started as a group of men who did inlay work as a hobby. They were part of a club. One day, they pondered whether they could make a living doing what they loved. Decades of eating ramen noodles and refining their skills turned their hobby into a profitable business.
There was also upcycle artwork where items were repurposed, such as layering antique glass bowls and plates to create ornate garden flowers or cutting a hole in a silver teapot to produce an ornate birdhouse. The most impressive upcycle was by Douglas Walker who welded together musical instruments, copper pipes, and other nick-knacks to produce whimsical sculptures and fountains.
At least half of the marketplace was devoted to plants, trees, herbs, bulbs, seeds, fertilizers, pots, gardening tools, water systems and cans, pots and containers, and a myriad of other “things” craved by gardening aficionados. While I have all the plants and seeds, I need for this season, I longed to invest in more peonies. However, because I couldn’t verify whether they grew last year, I didn’t want to invest in buying more, which cost $20 for an inexpensive tuber.
Last year, I’d moved my peonies into a bed in our fenced garden along with dahlia bulbs. Because I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t get into the garden, and the dahlias took over the entire bed, there was no way to know whether the peonies even grew. This year, I’ll plant the dahlias in a separate bed, and only plant with the peonies less invasive flowers like calendula, hollyhock, balsam, and delphinium.
The rest of the marketplace was devoted to greenhouses, sheds, outdoor rustic, antique and garden furniture and nick-knacks, hot tubs, and miscellaneous stuff like lavender and other fragrant soaps and lotions, packaged foods like soup and dip mixes, and cookies and candies.
We purchased a cool mason bee house that came with several queen bees, which are presently in the refrigerator, and a hori hori garden knife for assaulting deep rooted weeds and digging up bulbs and small plants without harming them.
Check out the more pictures from the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival on their Facebook page.
Gardening and food go together
There’s no beating around the bush, Rich and I are cheapskates, especially when it comes to eating out. Rich’s philosophy, which taints everything, is why spend a lot of money on food when you’re just going to poop-it-out the next day.
How do you counteract that mindset?
With that said, I routinely delay starvation by packing food wherever we go. On Saturday, I packed four tangerines and a small bottle in my mini backpack. I asked Rich to bring granola bars in his mini backpack, so he put in two bars.
Our less than satiating lunch, therefore consisted of two granola bars, four tangerines, and a few sips of water! On the positive front, a lovely couple joined us at the table. I asked where they came from and they said, “Whidbey Island.”
I countered, “No way! Where?”
“Unbelievable!” There was 60,000 to 65,000 people who attended the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival – the second largest in the country — over five days, and we sit with a couple from Coupeville. Crazier, they live a few miles from us.
A few years ago, they moved to Coupeville, and like us, created a large garden space for flowers and vegetables. We talked for about half an hour and will probably run into them again at the Whidbey Island Garden Show in a few weeks.
We left the show at 3:30 after being there nearly 6 hours. After discussing our options, we headed to Uwajimaya, a large Asian specialty supermarket at the heart of the Seattle Chinatown-International District. Uwajimaya has a food court with a variety of foods, which include Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs.
We headed straight for Aloha Plates. Rich got his usual kalua pork with white rice and macaroni salad, and I ordered loco moco with brown rice and macaroni salad. Loco moco is a ghastly combination of a hamburger patty on rice with a fried egg on top, gloopy brown gravy, and chopped scallions. If Stacey, Rich’s daughter, hadn’t pestered me about ordering it when I was in Hawaii in October 2018, I never would have tried it.
And even though I don’t eat beef, loco moco is an excuse to pretend I’m a red-blooded carnivore. It’s insanely good because the overcooked hamburger, verging on crunchy, mingles deliciously with the rice, and a bit of sloppy egg and gelatinous brown gravy.
We each ate half our meal, then grabbed a grocery basket to start voracious shopping. I should point out, Uwajimaya has exceptional produce, meat, fish, dairy, and packaged foods. Everything is picture-perfect and of the highest quality.
We started down the first aisle with prepared foods, grabbing bowls of salmon poke over rice, Spam musubi onigiri, and fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste. In the fish aisle, we got a lovely slab of yellowfin tuna for sashimi. I also grabbed a container of fresh pickled ginger.
On the way to the produce aisle, we got two packages of daifuku mochi, scrumptious sticky rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste. I also grabbed a package of fresh wide, rice noodles to make chow fun with tofu as the protein. The vegetables I got was baby bok choy, choy sum, and spinach. The latter was gorgeous with stems lined up and neatly chopped at the end.
In the packaged foods aisles, we got seasoning packages for char siu, tandoori chicken, kung pao chicken, and shoyu chicken, along with two cans of coconut milk that were on sale.
With our goodies in hand, we returned to the car to find the entrance to the new SR99 bridge, which replaced the viaduct that bordered the Seattle waterfront. It took almost four years to drill the 4-lane, 1.7-mile-long tunnel using Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel boring machine.
Not overly familiar with downtown Seattle, Rich drove too far south, and ended up going down W. Marginal Way in West Seattle. I pointed out that I recalled taking cabulances down W. Marginal Way to and from Providence Mount St. Vincent where I spent over a week in their rehabilitation unit after being discharged from Harborview.
Rich commented, “I didn’t know you went to rehabilitation.”
It was a surreal moment.
Not only did he not remember that I didn’t go home immediately after leaving Harborview, but he didn’t realize I was quite a distance from where he was recovering. While my stay at Providence wasn’t idyllic, I have warm memories of TJ, the ginger, polydactyl cat who regularly snuck into my room, the compassionate caregivers, healthy food in the cafeteria, and friends who ventured from Whidbey Island, Auburn, and Bellevue to visit.
After a bit of turning, Rich made his way to the start of the new 99 tunnel. I’m not sure what I expected, which is good because I would have been underwhelmed. It’s kinda’ creepy with large diagrams inside, identifying exit doors and the distance to each one. It’s almost as if they expect something to go wrong inside the tunnel, and people having to abandon their vehicles and race to the exits.
I was glad when we came out the other end!
We had an uneventful drive home, arriving around 6 p.m., just in time to eat the rest of our Hawaiian food, nibble on some mochi, and watch TV.
It was a fabulous way to spend leap year, providing the buoyancy to weather the rest of the week, and continue moving towards a new normal.
Cheri Anderson said:
Glad you enjoyed the show. You were one of many that made Saturday on of the most successful days in the history of the show. I was there with other volunteers for 5 days with Meerkerk Gardens. We had a great show and it was fun to see Whidbey represented with 5 vendors. We are an educational vendor so sell no product but encourage and explain to people the benefits of having a state flower license plate. When your ready for your next adventure ( on a smaller scale and close to home) let me know and I’d love to give you a private tour of the gardens. Check the website to keep track of the bloom. They have started but peak bloom is stunning!
Cheri, thanks for your note. I may have spoken to you at the show. I was whining about my rhododendron because I lived on West Beach, and my bushes have been thrashed by the merciless wind. They were probably planted when the house was built in the 1980’s, and look like twigs with a few blooms on the top… and pruning them doesn’t seem to be helping with getting them to fill-out.
I’m replacing many of the plantings with more sturdy lavenders, salvia, and other xeriscape and native species.
We haven’t lived on the island long and were going to visit Meerkerk Gardens last year, but got in a horrific accident, which left us in wheelchairs for months. This spring, we’ll definitely visit Meerkerk and admire the plantings.
Enjoy the coming spring and the start of bulbs.