Long ago, as an undergraduate, I spent a summer living out of a small tent in the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains. I was the field assistant to a woman who was working on her Masters degree in geology. She was working on one particular mountain, its strata folded over to form an “anticline”. It was a simple existence for me, enjoyable in every way except for a vague fear of grizzly bears. You’d think that the presence of two humans would scare off the animals in the area, but deer or mountain sheep tended to wander by the tent in the early hours, we’d spy an occasional marmot, and there were plenty of ground squirrels. One day we had to take a wide berth around a wolverine. And late in the summer I learned that an elk bugling not far from your tent will really rattle your bones. Luckily the grizzly bears at least were sensible, and did not come anywhere near us (as far as we knew!).
Each day up the mountain we would go, climbing ever higher and higher, one of us taking measurements all the way. I don’t remember doing much work at all. I hammered away at the limestone to dig out fossils. I became fascinated by the wildflowers that grew in abundance around our tent and up the mountain. I knew nothing about flowers or gardening at the time, but I was amazed at the sheer variety of plants that grew in the alpine meadows and in the rock crevices. Now I recognize that many of the plants were variations of plants that we grow in our gardens today, such as pentsemon, saxifrage, yarrow, and phlox. My favourite wildflower was, and still is, Indian paintbrush Castilleja miniata. Near our mountain this flower took on a beautiful purplish hue, instead of the bright red I’ve seen elsewhere (perhaps it was a different species). I considered the idea of becoming a botanist. And I learned that I loved the alpine.
Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains in BC and the Yukon, and have never lost my interest in alpine flowers and plants, and their amazing ability to adapt to high altitude and harsh conditions.
I think the most extreme example of plant adaptation I've ever seen was on Maui at the Haleakala Volcano. The ahinahina plant, or silversword, is an endangered plant that grows only at high altitude on volcanic "soil" in Hawaii. A gorgeous plant, its silver foliage stands out strikingly against the dull volcanic landscape. Somehow this plant survives the relentless beating of the sun and has worked out a way to get nutrients and water from its harsh environment.
That first summer in the alpine of the Rocky Mountains was a life changer for me. I developed a true love of plants and realized that they are happiest in a place to which they are well-adapted. After that I worked three more summers in the mountains. During one of these summers, in the Cassiar Mountains, I met my husband. He's always been more interested in the rocks than the flowers, but they go together well.
* This post is in response to #GrowWriteGuild prompt #6 "Landscapes".
One of my favourite garden bloggers and authors, Gayla Trail (yougrowgirl.com, @yougrowgirl) recently launched a new concept on her website, the “Grow Write Guild”. The purpose of the guild is to provide some inspiration for garden bloggers (let’s face it, there are a few of us out there). On first glance, the initial prompt seemed straightforward enough: to write about your first plant. Not too difficult, right? Somehow, though, it seemed to get all messy and complicated….should I write about my first house plant? first garden? first rose bush? etc etc. You get the picture. That went nowhere and everywhere all at once. I moved on to Gayla’s second prompt, to write about a fantasy or dream garden. This was an interesting topic for me. I don’t usually think about gardening in these terms. I have wonderful days in the garden, and days when I anguish over it, but I don’t really think of it as existing in an ideal state (it’s a bit like motherhood that way!). That’s not to say my garden couldn’t be improved. It’s a tiny garden, more urban than suburban in scope. In the end, my ideas for a dream garden boiled down to three wishes:
Wish #1: My current compost pile is not so much a pile as a plastic bin. And while the plastic bin makes quite beautiful compost, it just doesn’t make that much. Wish number 1 would be to have a real compost pile. I recently saw a picture of Martha Stewart’s compost pile, which was huge. Yes, I actually felt compost pile envy.
Wish #2: Wish number 2 would be to have a garden shed (with a window!). To have a space to hang out, plant seeds, dream about the garden….truly that would be garden heaven. Of course there would be a climbing rose growing up the side.
Wish #3: I love plants and I love trailing through my favourite garden centres. Roses, perennials, edibles - there are always new ones I want to try. But where to put them? Wish number 3 would be to magically have room for the new plants that capture my attention. A lilac tree? Plenty of room! A few squash plants? No problem! A peony? I’ve got just the spot! You see how this is going.
These are the things that would add up to a dream garden for me. So, if there are any magic genies out there, with a bit of spare time, you know where to find me…..