When Life Becomes Foggy


Our aim with this blog is to inspire you to try new foliage combinations and teach you how to accomplish them. We draw ideas from gardens that we visit and photograph across this country and beyond and occasionally we show you both success stories and embarrassing failures from our own private gardens.

Today’s post is more personal. This fall, while Christina has been single-handedly managing our Facebook posts I spent two months in England. For three weeks I sat vigil at my mum’s bedside as she slowly slipped away. The remainder of that time was spent taking care of her funeral, completing the mountain of legal paperwork and selling my childhood home which Mum and Dad designed and built brick by brick. For those of you who have been through this you will now understand the title of this post, because my life became a surreal grey fog.


Spires of Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) grew under a canopy of well limbed up pine trees, their tropical-esque nature seeming at odds with the woodland setting

On one particular day my husband and I decided to take a few hours away from all the ‘doing’ and visit Ness Botanic Gardens. Boasting 64 acres of mature plantings in a naturalistic setting it was the perfect place to stroll even though the misty maritime climate seemed to mirror my mood.

At first I feared that taking photographs would be pointless in such poor lighting but I quickly realized that the rich colors of the fall foliage and berries seemed to intensify in such conditions.


Water-loving bald cypress (Taxodium sp.) stands sentry, the amber needles glowing like a beacon in the fog

Rich gold and orange tones pierced the grey fog with ease, the glowing foliage appearing as lanterns to help the visitors navigate their way. Notice how repetition of a key fall color becomes an important design feature – a lesson we can all take home, regardless of our climate.


My favorite scene from this visit; the burnished copper colors of imposing conifer and smaller smoke bush, balanced by the weathered stone wall and simple gravel path

Or try framing a favorite specimen such as this Japanese maple below with softer colors.


Framing the smoldering Japanese maple with shades of gold and green – an easy design trick to plan for.

Fall/winter blooming flowers can also be incorporated to bring additional layers of detail. The bright yellow shuttlecock-type blooms of Oregon grape (Mahonia sp.)  shine more brightly thanks to the ruby foliage partners


Ruby deciduous foliage enhances the yellow flowers and evergreen foliage of an Oregon grape (Mahonia)

I also loved this Mediterranean-inspired combination, the bold leaves of the peanut butter plant (Melianthus major) underplanted with a swathe of cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) interspersed with Gartenmeister fuchsia. Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) adds a dramatic finishing touch.


The Melianthus major foliage may be the star but the sweep of fiery, late blooming annuals is what helps this scene have true star quality.

As I slowed my pace to enjoy the moment and appreciate the colors of nature I was reminded that even when unbidden grey clouds obscure the horizon there is beauty to be found if we take the time to look.

As we enter into the Holiday season, many of us will be mourning the loss of a loved one. Whether that loss is recent and the intense mental fog is still swirling or whether time has afforded some level of acceptance my wish for us all is that we can seek and find beauty and for me there is no better place to look than the garden. Step outside and breathe in the crisp air. Walk slowly allowing your eyes to focus on small details. Look for a special leaf, berry or bud – Perhaps it is the way frost crystals cling to its form or a drop of dew reflects your gaze? Maybe the color captures your attention? Share it with us on our Facebook page or just tell us about it here.

Let’s help one another.


Remembering the happy moments – miss you mum x

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20 thoughts on “When Life Becomes Foggy

  1. Barbara

    Oh Karen, such a beautiful and moving post. Thank you for this very special message at this time – there are so many, for whom the holidays are exquisitely painful. Your thoughts and advice will offer moments of solace to them …. what a gift ! And your Mum is part of that gift – she lives on in you and all that you do. Though we have yet to meet, I have been keeping you in my thoughts, and I’m sending a big hug. Barbara of London Landscapes.

    1. Mary Perez

      Karen, so sorry to hear about your Mother. The vigil and her dying more than enough to bear– and then handling the paperwork and possessions–ugh. Think we turn to nature for comfort and to make some sense of it. Best wishes to you, Mary

  2. Mary Palmer

    A beautiful blog of one of, if not the hardest parts of life’s journey. What a beautiful walk through that garden, so glad you decided to take that break as your photographs are enchanting with the fog. I hope your personal fog will lift in time and only the good memories will remain. Hugs Mary

  3. margist

    Thank you for a lovely and comforting piece. It was particularly timely for me, in that today would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. It was mom who inspired my love of gardening. We lost her 2 1/2 years ago. Like your mother, we sat by her side for her last weeks, knowing these would be her last. My heart goes out to you for your sad loss. Two plus years out, the pain is not quite as sharp, and we are beginning to be able to smile at memories of her. I pray that you will find that peace sooner rather than later.

  4. Linda Lehmusvirta

    Dear Karen, this one hit home with me since I went through this same thing with my dear old dad this past year. I took lots of pictures, too, on my last days in Dallas–when every bit of fall color and the mockingbird on his yaupon holly became poignant and ever memorable. Your pictures capture my fog this past year so beautifully. Hugs to you, Linda

    1. Karen Chapman Post author

      I didn’t know your Dad had passed away this year Linda, I’m so sorry. Interesting that you too looked to the colors of Nature during that time. Hugs back to you

  5. Bsiegelallison@gmail.com

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Karen. Your posts are always so beautifully photographed and well written. This was especially poignant with a lovely tribute to your Mom. Thank you for sharing that with us. God’s peace.

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