The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Creating beauty in the bare spots of life

I feel all Little House in the Big Woods-ish as I dig up the ugly area right off the street in front of my house and replace the spotty grass with steppables.


Such delicate leaves and interesting shapes.  A blogger called one of the plants I bought an “iddy biddy ferny thingie,” which gives you the idea of the kinds of things that have made my heart go pittery pattery this spring.

I first got interested in what I could grow in my new space when the Friends of Trees folks hung a flyer on my door not long after I moved in.  The tree they planted pretty much looked like a stick at that point, with instructions about how to take care of it.

Since it was late summer in Portland when we moved, we inherited plants that were already blooming in the front yard, including giant sunflowers and dried-up sticks of Greek oregano.

Magically, this spring, the stick trees leafed out, the Greek oregano (that had looked so shriveled and ugly the year before) turned into a luscious bush, and the seeds that the sunflowers had flung into the ground popped up as baby sunflowers.  I started simply by spreading the seedlings out a bit so they could have some room to grow and not be all smooshed together.  By now, though, they need even MORE room.  I’ve transplanted some of them into other parts of the yard that I thought I’d be ignoring for several years.

Have I mentioned that I’m in love with the way plants in Portland come CHARGING back in the spring?  I’m planting mostly things that spread and will cover the ground with beauty without being babied or coaxed along to do so.  Now I can’t wait for them to spread.

When I was working on the Lanie books, the concept of local plants supporting local insects supporting local birds got planted in my brain.  So the first plant I bought this spring was a local stonecrop.

Recently, I got another local plant called kinnikinnick.

Who could resist that name?

How about firewitch?

Candy tuft?


White Star Creeper?

Charmed velvet?

Delicious names.  It’s enough to make a body want to put a garden in my next book, too.

I’ve also been learning about the plants (some of them in my own little space) that are grabby and rude and shouldn’t be encouraged.

When my dad introduced me to the joys of dirt in his huge vegetable garden in Ethiopia, I had no idea that I would someday think of him every time I turn over the dirt, every time I tuck a plant into a spot, every time I  find a rock that looks like a potato and love its oval, smooth shape.  (I also remember how he would dig up a potato and take out his knife and carve out a piece for us right there…can still bring back the taste of dirt and raw potato in the sun.)

Rooted where we find ourselves.  Looking around for how to create new beauty and new life there.  Grateful that we can make a difference in our own back yards and around the world.

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