Italy Upon Arrival: Pace, Pace, Pace

I was so very tired when I arrived in Italy. We had only about 3 hours of sleep when our mini cab came to take us on a 45 minute drive to the airport at Stansted, where we were required to arrive two hours prior to our 3 hour flight’s departure. The trains were not running on Sundays between London and Stansted as a result of improvements being made to the tracks. In London there is an express train that takes not much time at all to get from the City to the airport. But such luxury would not be ours. We wiggled our way through all kinds of serpentine streets and made our way to the airport where resourceful, and youthful budget travelers had made their way early and were camped out on all the free seats and had spilled over on to the floor everywhere in the terminal. We fled to the airport café, dragging our wheeled luggage in tow and waited for the window to open. Ah! A table with two chairs and something warm to drink.

firenze santa maria novella by ilmungo.

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The beautifully skylighted Santa Maria Novella train station, Florence

Riding the train from the airport in Pisa, Italy toward Firenze (Florence), I began seeing rainbow-striped flags hanging from the windows. I began watching for them and quickly saw that the word “PACE” was centered on them. Peace. After we changed trains in the amazing 1930’s Art Deco station in Firenze and headed toward Cortona, I continued to see these flags hanging from multi-storied apartment buildings, grand homes, overpasses, ruins and hung by farmers out in fields of grain. Sometimes there were six of seven flags hanging on the laundry lines on the side of an apartment building. They were everywhere! As we passed through amazing, long and dark tunnels through the hills of Toscana I saw more and more of these flags. Clearly, many of the people of Italy had their minds focused upon Peace and they wanted one another to know about it!

And I felt as if my prayers were being heard somewhere in a language that I did not speak. “Join me in this prayer for peace.” My meditation became “Pace, pace, pace…” as I rode through the ancient pastoral landscape, past the ruins of fortresses, towers, gorgeous vineyards and fields of grain, lovely gardens, orchards, olive trees and stopping at every station, where I saw more and more “Pace, pace, pace.” And then I saw Cortona and its glorious stone buildings on the hillside, imposing, powerful, overlooking the valley below it.

When we arrived in Cortona by taxi from the train station in the town of Camucia at its feet, we sat in the square at a café with our luggage all around us awaiting the key to our little apartment, it was 3:00ish as I looked up to see the time of our arrival on the clock tower which we sat beneath, and to the right, hanging from a Citta de Cortona office window there was another flag, I was home for the month: “Pace.”

Cortona Clock Tower by jschneid.

Florence

Pace by gremionis.

Pace Flags by GeorgePinecrest.

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Michaelangelo’s Lesson

“That which is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Roberto Lupetti was well known in Carmel, California.  Many local artists studied with him; he in fact taught for many, many years, even prior to coming the the Central Coast and he included teaching my ministerial teacher, Dr. Bill Little.  Teaching Dr. Bill to paint, and the examples of those works that I saw,  indicated to me that he could teach anyone to be a better painter than any expectation would have predicted.  It’s as if he infected people with a love of painting and the precision required for the romantic, Classical Realist style that he employed.

I only knew him very briefly before his 1997 death.  In my home I have two objects d’art that were used by him in setting up still lifes.  One a woven basket that resembles a duck, and a pot that was burned in an open fire in the way that Southwestern and Middle American pots were fired.  I treasure both of these for having been his possessions and the subject of works that I could not afford to own.

He shared with me a story of being selected to work on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel while he was still a student at Brera Liceo Artistico.  He was clearly and appropriately deeply honored to be asked to do such historically important work.

It was painstaking, slow and exceedingly careful work that seemed to go on and on, days on end, weeks pouring into the next endlessly.  One day he was high up in scaffolding, and to steady himself he put his hand against the fresco and his hand slipped right into an existing hand print in the ceiling, the hand print of Michaelangelo, who it was said was the only one who had worked on the fresco.  It wasn’t exactly duplicating the subject matter of the ceiling, but it did seem instructive to me in the way that follows.

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As you can see exemplified in the illustration, the color was eventually restored to the frescoes, and while there has been great controversy about whether or not these colors should have been used, we will not embroil ourselves in the arguments of art historians and restorers of great works.  Roberto Lupetti worked on the penultimate restoration about which there are no longer any arguments.

There are two principal ideas that I think we can take from this story.  The first being that history does reach over time and touch us in ways that are incredibly important for us. For Roberto it was the lineage of his artistic style reaching through the ages and affirming his life’s work at a time when he was very young and the encouragement of being selected to do this work in one of the most historic and beautiful places on earth, and then to have that sacred experience of slipping his hand into the handprint of Michaelangelo, as if a sacred trust was being passed along to him.  Through the years as a teacher he passed on ancient techniques and knowledge as a result of the culmination of his experiences as a significant artist himself, always remembering that moment of realization high up in the scaffolding as he carefully worked to return the fresco to its early glory.

The second idea that I want to share is that Roberto was always willing to be inspired.  It was as if he was a clearing in the forest awaiting the light of day to shine upon it, illuminating all upon which the eye could fall.  He was not embarrassed to be so inspired or to teach others to allow inspiration into their hearts as they worked alongside him.  Each of us, has the opportunity to live as he did, as a man who opened himself completely to the artist that he was, to the experiences that presented themselves and who was willing to go far from his home in Milan to live on another continent if it meant that he was able to express himself fully as an artist and a teacher.

He was a very humble man in failing health when I met him near the end of his life.  I understand from mutual friends that he had always been a warm and simple man with a wicked gleam in his eye, just as he was when I briefly knew him.

Through the years I remember sitting at the kitchen table at Dr. Bill’s house talking with Roberto and his telling me that story, and I was struck by the lightening, as if I, for that sunny afternoon, was one of his legion of students, enlightened by my brief contact with the story of his realization.


Roberto Lupetti was a master of Classical Realism. A graduate of the famed Brera Liceo Artistico in Italy, he assisted with the restoration work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the fresco “The Battle of Ponte Milvio” by Giulio Roman, a disciple of Raphael. Lupetti earned five degrees at the Reale Accademia di Belle Arti, receiving professorships in Art, Art History, Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture. A man of vision, Lupetti’s art is timeless.
Some examples of his work are at

Roberto 2

Robert Lupetti Biography at Simic Gallery, Carmel, CA



Lupetti Rabbi

It’s So, So Green at Toad Hollow Today …

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Cuttings (later)

This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it —
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.

Theodore Roethke


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Teaser loves to check out what’s going on down on ground level…


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While we call our home Toad Hollow, it’s also been called the house of the entwined cedars.  Behind the Aurora Dogwood is an enormous Douglas Fir.  Just beyond them up hill is a Stellar Pink Dogwood, shown in the very next photo.


Entwined Cedars & Aurora Dogwood


There is an Eddies White Wonder Dogwood in the foreground, and to it’s left is the Stellar Pink. Look at that Rhododendron color!

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The Rhododendrons are blooming one by one, we’ve bought different varieties with differing bloom times to extend the time we get to enjoy them.


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The Clematis have been blooming in successive waves and growing and growing and growing like never before up the posts that support our deck.


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My editor demands that I upload a photo of him too…


Firecat the OS Editor


There is so much to do.  This began as 15 square yards of 4-way garden soil.  It seems that we haven’t moved much of it yet …


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“Since childhood, since childhood!

Childhood is a toad in the garden, a

happy toad. All toads are happy

and belong in gardens. A toad to Diana!”

Excerpt from Romance Modern

William Carlos Williams 

Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me.

I am life.  I am Mystic.

  Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me

Hildegard of Bingen (1089 to 1179) was a notable figure in medieval Scholastic thought both because she was a creative and independent thinker & an influential woman in a time and culture we think of as dominated by the male-oriented Latin church.  She devoted considerable thought to understanding the natural world and was reputed to be a gifted healer.  Of special note is the impact of her visions on her own cosmology as well as on later thinkers. Even today, there are popular mystical groups associated with Hildegard, and one can buy current recordings of music she composed.   

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

 1. The Source of All Being

“I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all the sparks of life. Death hath no part in me, yet do I allot it, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings.  I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields.  I shine in the water, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars.  Mine is that mysterious force of the invisible wind. I sustain the breath of all living. I breathe in the verdure and in the flowers, and when the waters flow like living things, it is I.  I formed those columns that support the whole earth … I am the force that lies hid in the winds, from me they take their source, and as a man may move because he breathes, so doth a fire burn but by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am of their life. I am wisdom. Mine is the blast of the thundered word by which all things were made. I permeate all things that they may not die.  I am life.”

Bust of Hildegard of Bingen

This is a profoundly mystical statement by Hildegard of Bingen.  Mysticism is defined below to get around the common use that the forms of the word ‘mystic’ suffer in our culture.

2.  Mysticism

    •  Mysticism emphasizes a direct, unmediated connection with a loving God and the spiritual equalityand/or unity of all peoples. This is a radical idea for its time:   no priest, shaman or other person is necessary to a direct relationship with the divine, for life is ever present in all.
    • Each of the major religions brought forth a mystical wing or subgroup in the postclassical period (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.)  For instance, Islam has its Sufis, Hinduism has scores of sects, many of them mystical, Vedanta for one comes to mind as having been much written about in English.
    • Because of its emphasis on non-hierarchical spiritual equality, mysticism offers an avenue to influence and authority to people otherwise excluded from political and religious structures.  This was true in Hildegard of Bingen’s time and it seems to be a consistent attribute of mystical religions through the centuries.

This final point makes mysticism, in its many different forms, attractive to Americans who seek a spiritual way of life, but find traditional religious practice and churches confining and patriarchal.  We’ve all been there.  Some of us became agnostic or atheist in the face of the power mongering and pettiness we have experienced in various traditional American churches.  Some of it has been downright mean and shameful in ways that good people just can’t stomach.

3.  The Challenge of Discussing Faith with the Unchurched

So the problem I always run into when discussing a life of faith with those who live without participation in spiritual community is that they don’t have a clue that there are those of us who don’t think we need anyone else to think for us about religion or to lead us.  It never occurs as a possibility to most people because the only religious people they hear about are the fundamentalist or evangelical Christians or the folks in other religions that can be equally fundamentalist in their point of view.  That is not who I am and I know a lot of people who have come to a similar spiritual path.

So what does a minister who doesn’t believe their role is to come between the individual and a direct experience of the divine essence of life do professionally?  We teach.  We leave practice to the individual.  We do have our experience to share and the benefit of a lifetime of scholarship, but we aren’t telling anyone how to live their lives.  We just don’t.  That doesn’t work anyway.  Look around.   Do you see that kind of leadership as ever having worked for humanity at large?

4. We think differently about Jesus

Another thing that many mystics believe, and I do believe this too, that whatever powers it is said that Jesus may have had, that those same powers reside in each and every one of us.  That’s one of the reasons that we can actually help one another. Hildegard of Bingen thought so too. It opens the whole wide world for exploration and adoration to us, just as it was opened to Jesus.  What might we do with our lives that matters, what choices might we make,  if all that exists is the body of God?  What indeed.

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When we see that God is all there is, there is nothing but what Love we can share with the Divine in the many parts that it plays.

Happy Holy Days

More than anything else, we want to send you our Love, & our wishes for Peace, Prosperity and all the Good Things for Each and Everyone on Earth. — Dan & Susanne

TOAD LAKE in the early Spring

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The bark on the trees at the Eastern end of Toad Lake transfixes my attention.  STD_2052a

Now we meander to the Western end of Toad Lake.  It’s more shallow and our trail runs along one side so our neighbors can drive to their homes…

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STC_2046There is a public dock on this side of the lake where the kids from further outside our neighborhood come to swim during the Summer. Kids from our neighborhood come in on our side of the lake, simply walking into the shallows.

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BEING ORDINARY: What’s the Point of Trying to Be So Special?

I keep wondering about that.  I have a fairly ordinary, normal life.  This is my most prized accomplishment.   I make dinner for my husband most nights.  Because I love him so much I cook from scratch.  That involves baking and fresh garden vegetables and cooking with those things I have canned from our garden.   I enjoy planning our garden during the winter and combing over gardening websites for ideas, amassing the seeds, bulbs, corms, peat pots and supplies I need to get a jump on the short growing season we have in the Pacific Northwest.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I am looking forward to seeing roses from here.

I like living well and my definition of that is fairly simple.  For us, living well means living in a fairly well-organized, clean home that delights the eye with both its beauty and its utility.  Home is a wonderful place to be for us.  The few times that I have been able to travel have been a great joy to me.  I want to travel more than I have.  I look forward to it.

I don’t much care for whiners, I appreciate folks who are solutions oriented and rather than complain, do what they can to improve on any given situation.  When I say that, I have to also say that many really HORRIBLE things happened to me in my life.  I don’t like to be called a victim.  I don’t like to be called exceptional either.  I don’t like to be called a survivor because what happened to me isn’t like being pinned under tons of rubble for ten days before a rescue crew pries the rubble apart well enough to extract someone who when they survive will return to life in a country where they live on $500 or less each year.

I don’t mean to deny or minimize the things that happened to me.  I suffered through my difficult childhood in Southern California.  The weather is pretty good there.  I still got to hike in the hills and go to the beach.  When you’re wearing a bathing suit at the beach, social class and poverty isn’t all that apparent to others.   It is hard to characterize such a childhood as something one survived.   When you live through hellishness sometimes it simply occurs as the way life is.  You don’t know at the time that other folks aren’t going through the same sadness, the same loss of innocence.  Certainly I didn’t know what it was to have a normal, ordinary life.

I was sexually molested, raped, beaten, blamed for the sexual activity by my relatives and the mental abuse was very difficult.  I didn’t have a lot of friends because we kept moving.  I was isolated in a variety of ways.  I spent nearly a year of my teens in juvenile hall or in a receiving home for kids who were waiting for foster care.  I went through five foster homes between ages fifteen and seventeen.  I ran off to Denver with a conscientious objector from Camp Pendleton and waited to turn eighteen so that I wouldn’t have to be bossed around by screwed up, careless adults anymore.  That decision was made after the guidance counselor rather importantly informed me that I was not living up to my potential.  It doesn’t matter if I was right about them.  It was my experience that the responsible adults in my life weren’t paying attention to what was in front of them and what was important to me was not on anyone’s radar.

I have a GED high school equivalency certificate.  I took the test about eight years after that trip to Denver.  Denver came after having changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school.  I still did well in every part of the GED test, except math, where the discontinuity of my education reaped its grim reward.  I got only 45% of the math questions right, but I was in the high 90th percentile on every other subject in the exam.  I was always curious and read a lot and I think that accounted for my scoring well otherwise.   I talked my way into University of Maryland as a special student with those scores and no SATs when I was 25 years old.

Symons Hall U of MD

I also have a doctoral degree in religious studies and a Juris doctor degree from a small law school in California in 1995.  I am still paying off educational loans.= (Note: paid off in 2012)  I earned all of these degrees and debts on my own.  No one in my family had the means or any interest in helping me go to college.  It was up to me to make of my life what I saw fit.  Maybe it was up to me a little sooner than that idea occurs to others; but it dawned on me at some time during college that we really are all on our own, and that is a good thing, to learn to make ourselves happy.

My education is one source of great happiness to me.  Education makes me feel rich.  No matter how much money I do or don’t have, the intellectual tools and experiences I have as a result of all of that work cannot be taken from me.  If I owe taxes, the government cannot take from me what I have learned.  They can put a lien on my house, but they can’t take the store of information and skills that I have collected.  Being able to solve problems and figure things out is one of my hard earned skill sets and I’m keeping it.

Wherever I go, having done what it took to educate myself both academically and socially I feel prepared.  No matter who I may meet, whatever the accomplishments of another, they didn’t do it coming from a background like mine and I feel like the challenges I faced and mastered gave me a confidence that puts me beyond commonly used measures.  Folks might be smarter than me, and often are, and they can be more accomplished in some way, but they are never worthy of more respect than I give or demand for myself.  At some point, I no longer felt any need to ‘measure up’ because there is no ‘up’ from where I stand.  And because of a few stellar people who crossed my path I learned the importance of kindness and generosity, in addition to the practice of respect, so I’m good.

And yet, all this post childhood educational work made me happy to be sort of ordinary.  Being ordinary is also an accomplishment when the life you were born to is one that asks you to suppress your gifts and become invisible.  Learning to write so that others could get on the same page with me, that was an accomplishment.  Perhaps I don’t write like a published literary genius, but being capable of being understood by a wide variety of people, that is an accomplishment that brings me tremendous joy.

I don’t think anything that I have done is particularly extraordinary, even though I have done lots of things no one would have expected.  I was not trying to be better than anyone else, I was, and continue to try to be better than myself, to expand my understanding and experience.  Sometimes I have done things faster than some of my peers, but it was because I had some goal in mind for myself.   I took more classes than I was required to in law school out of curiosity.  When I was about to graduate I realized I had taken about one extra class per semester.  I took more classes than anyone who graduated with me.  Even then I had a garden and I cooked for my family because I was in my forties when I did my graduate studies, and families need to know that you appreciate them.  Food is a wonderful source for the demonstration of love.   And sometimes, just lolling around without any purpose with someone you love is the best tonic on earth.

Every life has its challenges.  My life started out with more of them than most Americans.  Even so, most of the time I find that I forget everything I surmounted in the past and my life is merely about what I am going to make for dinner tonight and that feels like having a tremendously privileged life.  I am free of worry about having enough money or food.  I can think about things I never knew existed or had time to consider as a girl from a family who got food stamps.

I read Heidegger, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Sartre, W.E.B. DuBois, Shulamith Firestone and so much more.  None of which I could discuss with anyone in my family to this day.

I read poetry endlessly for a few years and fell in love with both Frank O’Hara and Sam Hamill.  I learned to meditate and to teach meditation and spiritual practices.  I learned to share the stillness I had found within.  If I had followed the expectations of my family I probably would have been a waitress for a long, long time.  And certainly, it helped me pay my tuition to be a good waitress who could remember a lot of disparate information.  But that would have been it:  I would have missed the opportunities of my life.  I would have struggled with poverty and would have missed all the things that I love the most:  All the ordinary pleasures, all the normal day to day things that come of being who I am.

I would have missed my ordinary life.  In the same way that the low expectations of my family would have held me back, I feel that so much striving to be special is an equally and tremendously crafty thief of our day to day lives.  For a long time I struggled to excel at things that other folks simply did with greater ease than I can.  Other people were intrinsically more interested in the law than I was.  I wasn’t fascinated.  Other people were more interested in being heroic than I was.   And I tried to find work that was centered on my greatest skills, but there really wasn’t anything that required that skill set but me.

And so I found work that took advantage of my best skills, not all of them, but enough that at the end of the day I had time to use those other parts of me to amuse myself and benefit my family.  And the stress of striving for some acknowledgement of my specialness began to die away and I was left here living in this wonderful home with this wonderful man who appreciates my intelligence and creativity and who could listen to every awful thing that happened to me without awe or false sentimentality so that I could have an ordinary life and put away the burden of being special.   It’s nearly impossible to relax when you’re busy trying to be or avoiding being special.

My husband, Dan McMullen, has been more transformative in my life than anyone else I know. The way that he stuck with me through thick and thin helped me understand myself in ways that nothing else could.

I’ve done all kinds of spiritual, psychological and ontological work and he has done some of it with me, including even being an excellent student in classes that I have taught as a minister myself.

There is no substitute for being loved from the hair on your head to the soles of your feet, inside and outside and even when there is stormy weather in the relationship. Dan has never, ever made me feel that I should doubt his dedication and love. That kind of love leaves me free to develop myself as fully as I am able.

Dan the Man

This song is for him…



Ray LaMontagne

SHELTER

I guess you don’t need it
I guess you don’t want me to repeat it
But everything I have to give I’ll give to you
It’s not like we planned it
You tried to stay, but you could not stand it
To see me shut down slow
As though it was an easy thing to do
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
And I will shelter you
I will shelter you
I left you heartbroken, but not until those very words were spoken
Has anybody ever made such a fool out of you
It’s hard to believe it
Even as my eyes do see it
The very things that make you live are killing you
Listen when all of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
Listen when
All of this around us’ll fall over
I tell you what we’re gonnado
You will shelter me my love
I will shelter you
If you shelter me too
I will shelter you
I will shelter you

FOR LOVE OF A GARDEN: Autumn Leaf Color Even in Summer

 “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of
strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something
infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature— the assurance
that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Rachel Carson

Dan replanted this minature lace leaf Japanese Maple the second Spring after we moved to Toad Hollow because it wasn’t in a good location.  Now it’s size and color contrast with the enormity of the Douglas Firs, Cedars and Alders that grow here naturally.  We love that contrast found in the Fall, its bright, clear red against the deep greens of the needles, the grey brown of bark and the brighter greens of the moss.  That color contrast is our inspiration for many of the plants we continue adding in recent years to the garden.

Tiny lace leaf red maple

Just yesterday, I helped Dan, a little, to plant one of these Emperor 1 Japanese Maple trees in the front bed with the enormous, shiny leafed Rhododendrons.  Emperor 1 turns bright red in the Fall and will stand out against the brown shingles of our house.

Emperor 1 Red Maple

We live on a corner lot.  The mailboxes for our neighbors are congregated in front.  The trash and recycling bins are collected just around the corner of our lot from those mailboxes, also in front of our house.  This is what we see from our front window on Tuesday night through Wednesday when the trash is collected.  So we need screening.  Already we have a beautiful lilac and Forsythia that we planted there the first year.  They were bareroot plants and it took them some time to get some size.

As I get older I don’t think I have so many years to wait for things to grow.  I have moved on to 1 gallon to 5 gallon potted shrubs in hopes of seeing a beautiful multi-colored screen of plants such as this Golden Ninebark, which will grow to be about 8 to 12 feet high eventually.  Love the color!

Golden Ninebark

We also planted a Diabolo Ninebark, and a Black Lace Elderberry as well, an example is shown second below.  When I buy plants in pots I still need to research their eventual size and I search the internet for pictures so that I can imagine how it will work out in the future.  The pictures I am posting here are all but the very first, examples from my research.

Diabolo Ninebark

This is the type of Black Lace Elderberry we planted along with the two Ninebarks.  I am hoping it’s branches will arch out over the others gracefully.

Black Lace Elderberry

The first year we were here I planted two of these Sutherland’s Gold Elderberry in a fairly shady area of the garden and we planted Rhododendron and Azalea beneath them.  The color is a standout, especially in the low early evening sun.  I added two somewhat shorter Black Beauty Elderberry just adjacent to those a couple of years later.  These provide both a backdrop to the garden and some colorful, taller structure.

Sutherland's Gold Elderberry

Black Beauty Elderberry

 The type of Ninebark below is called Coppertina. She is progressing very well near a Karmijn de Sonneville Apple and an Australlian Pear tree since we planted her last year.

Coppertina NinebarkIn the perennial garden I added Euphorbia and Spurge, which are really from the same family and are often noted for their crazy neon green flowers.  This low growing, ferny leafed variety really appealed to me.  I also got another variety that has striped leaves, red, yellow & green, with similar neon green flowers.  Nice addition to the garden for being a bit unexpected. The various Rudbeckia will look wonderful alongside these.

Spurge or EuphorbiaIrish Eyes, My Favorite!

   Cherry Brandy Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia Goldstrum   “If you have a mind at peace, and a heart that cannot harden,

Go find a door that opens wide upon a lovely garden.”

Author Unknown