Garden Update: Pieris and Spirea

Warm weather and occasional rain is doing wonders for my garden. Just a couple weeks ago, I was staring at the tiny yellowish balls covering this tree/shrub and wondering what they were all about:

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Today, I stepped outside to a million tiny white flowers — they look a lot like spirea, although I’m not certain about that:

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I love how there’s always a touch of color around the garden. As one flower fades, another is always ready to show itself off. We rent our home, so we didn’t do any of the planning or planting — I just do my best to identify and care for these beauties.

In the front garden, some red valerian (Centranthus ruber) had taken over a section underneath the window. It was there when we moved in, so up to now I just left it, thinking it was intentional.

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Today I was finally brave enough to trust myself (and my discovery that this is a weed that grows everywhere around here if you let it) and take it out. I figured that if it looked terrible, I could just wait a few months and the red valerian would undoubtedly be back. I’m pretty happy with the result — you can really see the pieris that was hiding on the end before:

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Both of those shrubs are looking pretty scrawny, so I’m hoping the extra space and light will help liven them up a bit. We also did quite a bit of similar work in the back garden, cutting back shrubs and hedges that have grown an astounding amount in the past year and a half, and uncovering smaller shrubs that were mostly hidden. There is still more to be done with that, but I’ll be sure to take some pictures and share them once we’ve made more progress.

Getting Medicine in Germany

If you’ve ever lived in Germany, especially if you were simultaneously learning German, you’ll be nodding along and cringing with empathy while you read Firoozeh Dumas’s article “Foot Fungus Is Better in America.” I recall some immensely frustrating conversations with pharmacists there, trying to understand what medicine they wanted to give me and trying (but of course failing) to build rapport along the way. I hoped if I could just make them smile perhaps I could get the medicine I really wanted instead of the three medicines they were sure I needed. It never worked.

Not to mention all the home remedies I tried while living there. Because really, who wants to admit to a (tiny, very quiet) room full of strangers that you have foot fungus?


While visiting the British Museum in London recently, I almost gasped when I wandered into a side room and saw what stood there. Earlier in the day, I had sat with my parents and sketched out what we planned to see at the museum. The Rosetta Stone (of course), Ancient Iran, Medieval Europe, several short tours. We knew we would also wander a bit, but I was still shocked when I turned the corner and saw Heech in a Cage by Parviz Tanavoli.

Heech in a Cage, Parviz Tanavoli
Heech in a Cage, Parviz Tanavoli

Not only is it a stunning sculpture and a clearly identifiable Farsi word, but I immediately recognized the sculptor from his work Heech, which I saw the year before in the private library at Niavaran Palace in Tehran.

Heech - Niavaran Palace Library - Tehran
Heech, Parviz Tanavoli

I hadn’t expected to walk into a museum in England and find something so closely connected to my experiences in Iran. It felt incredibly meaningful, but maybe it was just … nothing. ;)

Curious about Tanavoli, his work, and the meaning of heech? I’d recommend the Longread’s article The Mountain Carver.

The Optician

“How long do you wear your contact lenses?”

I took a deep breath and braced myself for the optometrist’s reaction to my answer: “About 16-17 hours a day.”

Every day?!”


She gave me a disapproving glance, scribbled something in my chart, and launched into a mini-lecture on the importance of giving my eyes a break from my contacts. I revealed the shocking news that I don’t have a pair of glasses at all, not even as a backup, and her face clouded over. And then she asked if I knew my prescription.

I smirked. 

I have been wearing contact lenses for 20 years. I certainly know my prescription: about -1.75 in my left eye, and +1.5 in my right eye.

“Ohhhh, I see why you don’t have glasses.”

And suddenly the tension dissapated.

You see, I am both near-sighted and far-sighted. When I was a small child, I had a lazy eye (my right eye) and I had to wear a patch on my left eye to keep it from getting overworked and to encourage the lazy eye to work harder. At that point I was entirely far-sighted, but my left eye got better and better until it flipped and got worse in the other direction. 

When I wear glasses, I get dizzy. I had a wonderful optometrist in the States who explained it all to me when I was a graduate student, confirming what I already knew from experience. Basically, the two lenses in my glasses distorted my vision in opposite ways (one making the world bigger and one making the world smaller) and that confused my brain, giving me a slight sense of vertigo any time I put them on. Contacts are easier to handle because the lens sits right on my eye and doesn’t cause as much distortion.

I threw out my (completely unused) backup pair of glasses that day and never looked back. If a contact lens rips or comes out, it’s easier for me to just navigate the world with not-quite-perfect vision instead. If you ever see me scrunching up my left eye or covering it with my left hand while I look at a sign or peer at a presenter’s slides across the room, you know I left one of my contacts out that day.

And so I chuckled to myself when the optometrist encouraged me to take a break from my contacts now and then, taking them out early when I “watch telly in the evening.” I close my left eye to watch TV. I close my right eye to read a book. If I don’t have my contacts, and I don’t want to strain my eyes, the world is always just a bit fuzzy around the edges. But I guess I can deal with that from time to time — or at least I can agree to it when, after five visits to the optician, I was finally able to walk out with a prescription.

First British contact lens prescription and a year’s supply of contacts? Check.

An Afternoon at Bodnant Garden

While my parents were visiting last month, we visited Bodnant Garden. When we arrived at the garden, I noticed that a National Trust membership wasn’t too much more expensive than a single visit. And so, under the guise of repaying us for some things we had covered earlier in the trip, my dad gave us a couple’s membership for a year. We then proceeded to spend an entire day in awe at everything around us. (I still have a boatload of photos from that day that need to be organized and shared.)

So a couple weeks later, faced with a sunnier day than expected, my husband and I decided to swing by the garden for the afternoon. Something I’m sure we wouldn’t have done without that membership. I didn’t take as many pictures this time, but I tried to capture a few moments and soak in my surroundings. We sat by a pool and listened to a harp play. We wandered under the Laburnum Arch. We marveled at how much the garden had already changed. We literally stopped and smelled the roses.

And you know what? I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

One Week

What a difference a week can make. At the end of May, the buds on this rhododendron tree had come out of hiding but were still tightly closed. I had just visited Bodnant Garden and seen all of the flowering rhododendrons there, so I was anxious to see this tree bloom.

Just a week later, I walked into the garden and noticed that the flowers had burst open. The tree that looked a bit spindly and spiky at the end of May was full of fuchsia pom poms by June. I’m also learning to enjoy each of these phases in my garden as they come — because I know the blooms won’t last long.

Pink Blossoms

Remember the surprise flowers I found in my garden recently? These flowers were another sort of surprise.

I have been checking on this plant daily, waiting for the flower buds to open up. My vigilance was rewarded! So what’s the surprise? Until I started my gardening this year, I didn’t even know this bush was there. A patch of red valerian had grown up over it — I almost trampled this bush in my first round of weeding this year.

I also discovered the same plant near the back walk of the garden, but with deep red flower buds. I’m hoping those will be next …