The Man in the Marmalade Hat arrives

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fawn lilies

Well he’s here.

We’ve been expecting him for about three weeks now– he was late.

But as Nancy Willard wrote (and Alice & Martin Provensen illustrated), in one of my favorite picture books,  A Visit to William Blake’s Inn:

The man in the marmalade hat
bustled through all the rooms,
and calling for dusters and brooms
he trundled the guests from their beds,
badgers and hedgehogs and moles.
Winter is over, my loves, he said.
Come away from your hollows and holes.

I haven’t come across any moles or badgers or hedgehogs (how I wish for hedgehogs) but something has awakened the plant world, and I completely suspect it’s the Man in the Marmalade Hat.

leucojum or summer snowflake

He’s been through all the garden beds.

fern and wild ginger

I think Max might have glimpsed him, I don’t know.

Max the garden Westie

In a daze of marmalade wonder I looked around for Where to Begin.  Max suggested we dig something.

mimosa bed I dug the rock edge of this bed out of the earth into which it had about half sunk.

ROCK ALERT: I discovered that terrible frightening things live UNDER rocks, some of them quite evil looking and always slimy and wiggly or else dry and extremely quick-moving. (Max thought they were very cool but no.)

So anyway I lifted out all the stones and filled the holes underneath with soil then reset them up where they belong so they are tall and not underground anymore.  Let me just say that I KNOW the bed in the above image still looks like winter or worse. It is just getting going, with fern fronds about to roll open. And of course its crowning feature is the dazzling Mimosa tree–evident here as the scraggly bare stick in the center. (The mimosa is hoping to win the very questionable Last-Tree-to-get-Leaves-Award again this year.)

[Should I dig through the old photo files to find a frothy summer mimosa image, so my dear readers will see why I bother? No I’ll just distract them with another spring photograph…]

yellow currantThis is the Golden Currant (Ribes aureum var. areum), a terrific Oregon native plant. I love its soft sweet fragrance and party colors. I plant these against something, like a fence or post or a slow-moving person (Tillie supported one for two seasons once)–the plants sort of trail upward gracefully like this one is doing outside this very minute.

What did you say? Red currant? Sure.

red currant

I discovered I could propagate from cuttings this native shrub (Ribes sanguineum) so I have maybe eight of them dotted around. (I’m counting on not living long enough to regret these over-indulgences but I could be wrong and people will say, “She lives in the buried house, you know, the one surrounded by that horrible wall of red-flowered bushes.”) But I’ve already seen a pair of hummingbirds dancing around these rosey blooms, and honeybees as well (the Man in the Marmalade Hat woke up everybody) so it’s worth the risk.

And now for something completely different.

This is not part of my garden. It is instead a place I drive past on my way to anywhere west of here.  At the side of the road the ground drops off abruptly to a deep ravine where water flows through a little building that has a ferny roof. The land rises immediately beyond the building, so this area is nearly always in shade.

(If you click on the following images and WordPress is liking me today you might see larger versions.)


My favorite feature of this building, besides that water runs through it, is the roof.

fern roof

In addition, a garden of wild woodland plants flourishes all around the outside, including huge masses of native trilliums.

Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum)

Trillium ovatum wild

Giant White Trillium (Trillium albidum)

Trillium albidum

There are hundreds and hundreds of both types of trillium growing in this tiny ravine, along with ferns and a huge variety of other wild flowers and plants.

All very odd and it looks so abandoned, I expect it to become part of an HBO series any day now–something about rifts in time, portals to space and chlorophyll. Or it might become a setting for some other story, you never can tell.

Well you Oregon gardeners know what comes next–best take your vitamins. And be comforted by what the bear said:

I will keep you from perilous starlight
and the old moon’s lunatic cat.
When I blow on your eyes,
you will see the sun rise
with the man in the marmalade hat.

A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Nancy Willard

About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in Max the Westie, Pacific Northwest native plants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to The Man in the Marmalade Hat arrives

  1. Holleygarden says:

    I had never heard the Man in the Marmalade Hat, but yes, he’s come around! I love your red currant – and I think eight of them dotted around sounds lovely. Especially if the hummingbirds like it! I love the moss on the roof of that old house. I thought surely you were going to get some trilliums for your garden.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Holley!
      I used to be quite tempted by this mass of trilliums, but really I have several little clumps started, and it is very difficult to dig bulbs–they go deep–so I am happy just to photograph this gold-mine of plants.

      I love the Man in the Marmalade Hat and am so pleased to introduce you.

  2. I am completely in love with that roof! I do love ferns and mosses.

  3. Alberto says:

    This is my first time too with the Marmalade Man, I’ve only heard of a Lady Marmalade before… Some of them should have paid me a visit though, because the table was all sticky the other day.

    You made me laugh with the ‘rock alert’, which is actually very very true! (and when you said Tillie supported your plants for a couple of seasons!)

    Your berries are terrific, do they produce any edible fruit? I won’t ask for cuttings though as I’m still waiting for last year’s ocean’s spray ones…

    • linniew says:

      Dear Alberto
      I think of you every time I look at the Ocean Spray, and feel waves of sorrow regarding the failed cuttings. I’m trying it again though and I will let you know. I do feel a great responsibility to provide your garden with an Ocean Spray and perhaps I’ll nip on the currants as well, although I don’t believe they produce significant fruit.

      If your table is sticky just think back: honey? syrup? jam? The Man in the Marmalade Hat does not leave a trail of marmalade!

      • Alberto says:

        May I assume there are men with honey hat? or syrup hat? or jam hat? This is shocking… I wouldn’t imagine there were so many people living in my house…

        Waves of sorrow. This is good. 🙂

        • linniew says:

          Oh dear. What have I done? A man in a syrup hat? Well in any case you might look around for the source of the sticky table, and certainly you should have some idea about who lives in your house. Shall I send Tillie over to help you search? Glad you are enjoying my waves of sorrow.

          • Alberto says:

            Look I’ve here my parents and another relative (plus there are Pepe and Book -the dogs-) until Sunday, I don’t need Tillie on top of that, please!

            • linniew says:

              Oh but I think she already left for the airport! Just kidding.

              And no one can crash a party like Tillie so I sweetly won’t send her over this week. I do like that your dogs are allowed to invite guest dogs when you invite guest people.

  4. Foxglove Lane says:

    As I am a cabin and shed lover I was delighted by that ferny roofed houseen. Maybe the man in the marmalade hat lives in there??

    • linniew says:

      Oh my gosh I hadn’t thought of that! Maybe. I took the photos with a telephoto lens but next time I’ll wear my boots and climb down the slope and peek inside the house. If not the man in the marmalade hat maybe the seven dwarves, or Tom Bombadil…

  5. Your writing and your photographs are just gorgeous. Your blog makes me so happy!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Love that little mossy shed…I’d give it space in a corner of my garden. If you could just post it to me that would be great! Never saw that Golden Currant, we only get the red one. Stick a slip of that in the shed before posting!

    • linniew says:

      Dear Anonymous,


      Really I think we all need one of these buildings in our gardens and someone should go into production of them. Now I detect a British leaning in your words, and I think we will need to produce the ferny-roofed buildings both in the States and in Britain so I will be in touch about our new cooperative business effort. Alternatively we could ship the one building around, with everyone getting a year or two with it before it moves on. Both fine ideas, very workable. Let me know what you think.

  7. Roberta says:

    Ferns and moss, how I miss them both! Did you say that water runs through that little structure? It must be teeming with life.

    • linniew says:

      After my experience with what was under the rocks I must confess that “teeming” scares me. I think maybe the telephoto lens was the right approach.

  8. b-a-g says:

    I’m pretty sure that if there was a shed like that near where I live, it would be demolished for safety reasons and the dip by the road filled in.

    • b-a-g says:

      PS. I was going to say that I really like your fern-filled rockery, it looks prehistoric.

      • linniew says:

        I suppose the rocks might be prehistoric. And maybe the ferns. So yes, in future I believe I shall refer to it as the Prehistoric Bed rather than the Mimosa bed, which also frees me from honoring that miserable little tree. Thanks b-a-g!

    • linniew says:

      In truth this drop-off by the road is quite common here. About twenty years ago I rolled a car down one such after sliding on ice and missing a curve in the road. when the car stopped it was upside down and was no small challenge to crawl out of… (I didn’t make any more sense BEFORE that accident than I do now, to clarify that issue.) But I do love the dangerous ferny building and especially its gardens.

  9. Linnie, I’ll have to start looking for that book! What a lovely way to think of Spring.

    I’ve just planted three Ribes sanguineum and I’m heartened that they do so well for you. Hopefully they can be happy in the Mid Atlantic too. I didn’t know about the yellow one…

    The green roof and running water shed is so cool. Perhaps the Man with the Marmalade hat has been staying there while he’s been slowly waking everyone up.

    • linniew says:

      I always enjoyed reading that book to my children. All the poems are wonderful, and the artwork as well. (I also like the poems and art of William Blake…) You will enjoy having those cheerful red currants in your lovely garden Peggy.

  10. Indie says:

    I’ve never read that poem before, but I loved reading the excerpts – what wonderful cadence and imagery it has! And what a storybook house. I love the green roof!

    • linniew says:

      You would enjoy all the poems in the book. The rhymes and imagery are like a vivid and memorable dream. It was first published in 1980, so there should be many copies about, and I hope sometime you get to read one.

  11. Grace says:

    I’ve only heard of Marmalade Skies…and I’ve seen a few too but we won’t discuss my foolish youth, thank you very much. 🙂 I own a few books by the illustrators, the Provensons. It looks like they received the coveted Caldicott award for this book. Bravo for them. Such talent!

    I love all your ephemerals. And that shed is WAY cool! It makes a thought-provoking story muse, don’t you think? All that water streaming through it, could there be water nymphs living there? And what about that roof? Perhaps the very first GREEN roof, the perfect prototype for what is now (dare I say) a fad.

    Those delightful clusters of trillium just prove that Mother Nature, (or perhaps the water nymphs?) is the most skilled of all gardeners.

    Love your posts!!!

    • linniew says:

      Oh Gracie, “tangerine trees, and marmalade skies” — thanks for helping me remember that song. And I hadn’t considered a water nymph, but why not? Yes we take our muses where we find them. xo L

  12. cynthia says:

    I have read that book, but not since my boys were small. You’ve made me want to track it down. What a wonderful little building being swallowed by nature!

    • linniew says:

      That little building has looked like that for years, so I don’t think nature is crunching it very quickly.

      Yes you may need that book, especially in the event of any future grandchildren Cynthia.

  13. kininvie says:

    Dear Linnie,
    You have hummingbirds? This passes belief. What wouldn’t I give for a hummingbird! But what do they do when it snows? Also you have trilliums growing wild. This is beyond unfair. On the other hand, most houses in Scotland look like that thing with the roof, so there’s no envy there. But on the whole, I think you are relatively blessed, so I shall return to contemplating my neep seedlings in dudgeon….
    BTW: Did you know you are becoming increasingly whimsical with age? First space, now marmalade hats. What next?

    • linniew says:

      Hi Kininvie
      Oh yes, we have hummingbirds every summer. They love the native flowers and are amazing, hovering like little helicopters and zinging around really fast. I believe they migrate in winter to warmer places.

      I am very excited indeed to hear of your neep seedlings and if you will post photos of the little dears I’ll attempt to tune up the transporter machine and send you a few hummingbirds. (Being whimsical may be more fun than being in dudgeon.)

      • kininvie says:

        I meant to ask what the white flower in the top photograph is. If it’s a leucojum – it’s a very nice one. I didn’t find a mention of the wild ginger…..or are you just tagging your posts at random? Is there nothing you won’t do to get more readers? Maybe you should tag the next one Justin Bieber.
        There is usually a hedgehog or two in my garden – but I don’t think they have emerged from hibernation yet. I’m sorry you don’t have one, even though it would drive Max wild. Nothing is more frustrating to a dog than a curled-up hedgehog.

        • linniew says:

          Dear Kininvie
          Yes I believe the bulb is a leucojum. Some previous gardener planted it so I don’t know more. Volunteer offspring have grown nearby a couple of times and so I’ve been able to move them to other garden areas too.

          Below the image of the leucojum is the wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) growing with a lady fern. I didn’t mention the ginger in the text because I was certain you would recognize it. But who is Justin Bieber?

          I just spent a pleasant few minutes reading about hedgehogs. It is, as you would say, beyond unfair that you have them in your garden and I don’t. In addition to being charming they are apparently quite useful, eating slugs! I read too that they can live for 10 years, and that curling up behavior you mentioned sounds like quite an excellent defense against predators. So I thank you for the hedgehog-research-inspiration. (I don’t think Justin Bieber sounds as interesting so I didn’t read about him.)

  14. Alistair says:

    I honestly think the man in the marmalade hat has eloped with Tillie. I do like the picture of the Trillium Albidum, I have it in the garden and listed it on my site as grandiflorum, dont tell anyone.

    • linniew says:

      We keep deep dark secrets here Alistair, no worries.

      You could be right about the Tillie/Man-in-the-MH elopement. He WAS late arriving and offered NO explanation for that. Still I expect he is wiser than to make such a mistake. And just yesterday I found an empty wine bottle on the porch so I suppose Tillie is still around here somewhere– I’ll let you know.

  15. We had hedgehogs in our garden in England, I really miss them! Although one year, one got tangled in some strawberry netting, and my poor father spent over an hour untangling the poor thing before setting him loose in the garden again. We stopped using netting after that. Your Ribes are beautiful, I wish mine looked that good! That fern covered roof is fabulous too. The living roof is becoming quite popular these days, but this naturally occurring one is lovely!

    • linniew says:

      Hi Clare!
      I have freed birds from the netting a couple of times– much easier than hedgehogs I expect. The netting is important against deer, which sometimes get through our defense efforts and can eat all the leaves off everything in one visit. But don’t you think hedgehogs should be in our gardens here? I wish they had been imported instead of ‘possums…

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