Never mind how many years I’ve been digging in this garden I still don’t think of myself as an “expert.” Experienced, long-suffering, and a relentless optimist, yes. Expert? Not even close. Yet, compared to my digital life, I’m a freaking genius in my analog garden. The closest I get to technology in the garden is a drip system — and timer (!!!) — that I set up a few years ago when my husband had Covid and I was forced out of the house.

I’m not going to say how long it took me to lessen hours and hours at the end of a hose to finally make my life just a tiny bit easier. Hint: think time in double digits… then put a 2 in front of that number. I still spend plenty of time on hose duty, whatever you’ve heard about the rainy Pacific Northwest likely leaves out the part where the dry season descends in early summer and often lasts well into fall, leaving the garden parched unless you intentionally plant for our fickle wet/dry climate. I’ve come to revel in spring ephemerals and embrace summer dormancy.

For instance, Dicentra formosa ‘Langtrees’ has lived in the dry shade of a conifer for almost 15 years; even during the wet months, the soil remains lean, both in nutrients and moisture. You’ve gotta love that sort of independence in a plant. Of course, there is the matter of the sad blooms. When I’m feeling generous, I call them ivory, but really the flowers are the exact color of several tired dishtowels in my kitchen. But that foliage! Blue-green, turquoise, patinated copper, undersea green, celadon, verdigris, bottle-green  — in case you missed it, I collect color names because it helps me expand what I’m seeing in the garden.

I’ve written about my #seeingcolorinthegarden daily practice before. For 6 years I’ve been painting a color study of a botanical or a piece of nature and posting it to Instagram every day. Now I know, and you know, that social media is the spring ephemeral of the digital world. Here one minute only to vanish at the whim of an algorithm or internet overload in the next. That’s not quite the right analogy – maybe social media is like eagerly waiting for the strawberries to ripen, looking forward to their sweet fruit still warm from the sun, dunked in sour cream and brown sugar or whipped into strawberry milk, a delicious concoction that I obsessed over last summer. And yet, just when I’m ready to reap the fruits of my tending, the berries vanish when the birds/snails/rabbits show up ­— again.

Vanished is what happened to my 2,000+ color posts on Instagram when my account was hacked a couple of weeks ago. I got a creepy WhatsApp text saying – I’ve got your account do you want it back? – which added a layer of ick to an already wrenching experience. As of today, @gardenercook is still in the wind. I’m still painting and posting, because this practice is how I mark all my days, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve gotten several sweet messages from friends commiserating and encouraging me to rebuild, which cracks me up because that’s always the line at the end of every stupid summer disaster movie: “We will rebuild.” Don’t get me wrong, I love summer disaster movies.

Every time I think about the loss of my digital content, I am both enraged and sad, which coincidentally is exactly how I feel every year when the strawberries fail to produce. A few weeks ago, in a fit of pique, I dug out all my strawberry plants under the theory that if I’m not anticipating the crop then I can’t be disappointed when it doesn’t show up.

As a garden writer I’ve spent years telling anyone who will listen that fundamentally garden making is about learning to begin again — in each new growing season, after the loss of a plant or move to a new garden. So that’s what I’m doing, it’s harder than it sounds. Last weekend I stopped by the nursery to pick up some compost and a few herbs. Somehow, three strawberry plants found their way into my cart and followed me home. I love the optimism of spring. Meanwhile, I’m still posting my color studies, which you can find @seeing_color_in_the_garden – or not.