I had the opportunity to take a class from the Northwest Horticultural Society this past week at one of my favorite gardens, The Streissguth Garden. It reminded me of how special this garden and neighborhood is. I love where I live now at Old Goat Farm but for the afternoon I felt at home.
Inspiration can come from many different sources. About 30 years ago I had a little lapse of sanity and moved into a condominium. I thought it would make life easier and it did but for me not gardening drove me crazy. After 6 months I was ready to find a house again. Unfortunately it took me 5 years to get out of that condo. There is only so much you can do in 700 square feet so we spent a lot of time walking the neighborhood. We were lucky to be living in the north end of Capital Hill in Seattle so it was a great walking neighborhood with lots of large houses and interesting gardens.
One of my regular and favorite walks was up and down some of the staircases, of which there are many. One in particular, Blaine Street, had this amazing hillside garden. There was this elderly gentleman tending the garden. He was probably about 60 which is younger than I am now so I guess it is all a matter of perspective. So this middle-aged man tending the garden started chatting with me about plants and telling me stories about his garden. I found Daniel and his garden both very interesting and made this one of my regular routes. Since this garden was about 3 acres, Daniel was often out in the garden. Over my condo years I learned a lot from Daniel and his garden watching it through the seasons. You see, at the time I was not a professional gardener but a railroad worker. I would not try to earn my living in horticulture until many years later.
After 5 years of condo life, quite by accident, I found this beat up old house on the next staircase over from Daniels and down 120 stairs. This ‘Quite by accident’ seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life but that is a story for another time. The house had one of the largest Dove trees, Davidia involucrata, in the front yard. It was 40 feet tall and 50 feet wide and in full bloom. I looked at the tree, then at the old house and garden in disrepair. Loved the tree, scared of the house. It actually wasn’t for sale. The old ‘For Sale’ sign was laying in the shrubs. I called the number anyway and was able to get in touch with the owner. After a very long time I ended up being the new owner of this old house. Actually I bought the tree and they threw in the house.
It wasn’t a regular sized city lot. Since it was land-locked, it was never able to be subdivided so it was 3 lots, a very large, old garden. The only access was the staircase. I spent much of my time on those stairs and a lot of time in Daniel’s garden trying to figure out what I was doing. Daniel was my inspiration. I figured if this older man could tend 3 acres I certainly should be able to manage 3 city lots.
Daniel and his delightful wife Ann tended this garden by themselves. I was fortunate that one or the other was usually out there gardening and didn’t mind my questions or others for that matter. Dan and Ann being the generous people they are, gifted the garden to the city of Seattle back in 1996. The gift of ’The Streissguth Garden’ came with the provision that they could still garden it for as long as they wanted. Kind of a win-win for the city.
Last month I was running ahead of time for a meeting in the city so I thought I would swing by and get inspired by Dan and Ann’s garden. To my delight they were both working in the garden, Dan was stuck in a rose bush pruning and Ann was further up the hill with knee pads on weeding. They both took time to walk with me through the garden pointing out plants I had given them from my garden or the Miller Garden after I started working there. I think Daniel remembers every single plant in the garden and also when and where it came from. Not only does he remember, he has a drawing of the garden with all that detail. That level of detail comes from his back ground as an architecture professor at the University of Washington. Ann was also a professor there but their passion is gardening.
This passion of these two older gardeners is never more obvious than in spring. It is the time of year when you can see all that you planned the years before coming alive. It makes you look to the future and get excited about the possibilities. If you happen to find yourself on the north end of Capital Hill search out Blaine Street and 10th Avenue and take a walk down the stairs. You will more than likely see Ann or Dan in the garden. Tell them I said hi.