Friday, March 26, 2010

ramblings on an apple and a birdfeder

It is right outside the kitchen window. It is usually mobbed with birds - they got a sudden case of camera-shyness...or could it have been Boots, the neighbor's cat? Too big and too slow to catch anything.

A solo bird is cat food. Flocks of birds have sentries and are skittish  - I no longer see sad piles of soft feathers now that the birds are mobbing the feeders and travelling in packs.  They spook and are gone at the slightest movement.

The crabapple behind the feeder has finally opened its hot pink buds and is raining down soft pink petals. I have been paying more attention this year - one of the benefits of blogging. The peach was first, just after the daphne. Then the crabapples. Screaming pink buds open to almost white flowers, and they don't seem to mind some shade.

Gravenstein apple is next - possibly the most wonderful yummiest apple in the world. Check out Trees of Antiquity - horrid pompous name but great stuff. This is the company that used to be Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery. Remember Carolyn and Terry Harrison? Everyone's favorite normal kind wonderful grounded people. They started Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery and were always welcoming, attentive, engaging. Where are you now, Terry and Carolyn?

Did you ever go to one of their tastings? Not many things in the world will change the way you look at the world - their apple tastings would. They changed not only how you felt about apples but how you felt about humanity. If you went to their tasting you planted at least one apple, and every garden has room for at least one apple tree. For your health, to pick with your kids or grandchildren. Go get one. Now. They're on sale.

The world could use more Terry and Carolyn Harrisons. I miss them and hope they are happy, wherever they are.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What was I thinking?

I went to speak to a garden club today. I took nine flats of plants in little black plastic pots, plus a few dozen plants in bigger pots. Some were so heavy I could barely lift them. It took half an hour to unload my car.

I showed them how plants change when you put them together - a gray echiveria will look blue next to an artichoke, but next to a red-leaved New Zealand flax its red edges glow. I talked about having large, medium and small leaves in your garden. About how nothing blooms twelve months of the year; for color you need to think foliage.

I showed them how we all have a built- in color wheel in our brains. Don’t believe me? Stare at a hot pink circle on a stark white background for one minute. Now stare at something plain white. You will see a green circle - the opposite of hot pink on the color wheel. So if you want hot pink to pop in your garden, put some green with it. Yeah, like you have a choice in the is pretty hard to keep out. But hot pink looks better next to green than next to burgundy...

And I thought they would want to buy plants. I have been in the middle of a plant-buying frenzy at my garden club that makes the Nordstrom’s shoe sale look like a tea party with the Queen. I have been elbowed, stepped on, shoved out of the way. I have had precious plants ripped from my hands. It made a rugby match look civilized - and it was all done in ladies-who-lunch suits and pearls.

But these ladies live in an old town with long-established gardens. So I came home with great memories, seven flats of small plants, and all the big guys. Plus a serious need for cuticle cream.  And some place to put one hundred and twelve four inch pots.

What was I thinking?

Sunday, March 21, 2010


It is so green here it hurts your eyes. Remnants of the rural past dot the hillsides - the ones that are not covered with houses. Or power lines. Used to be more profitable to grow houses than cattle. Now, maybe not. Nice to still see some green.

Last week it was winter, this week it is screaming spring. Wish it would stay green all summer...but then we wouldn't have this fabulous cycling weather. This was the only flat section on a very long very hilly ride. What was I thinking? I am of course bringing up the rear...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

before and after

This is what the garden looked like after the lawn but before the planting....
and on the right after the placement but before things got planted.  Deer proof (we hope!) lots of foliage color and texture, and some of my favorite plants. The tall grassy looking things are New Zealand flax - the red is Guardsman, the gray is Pink stripe and the yellow is Cream stripe. Check out the selection at Sloat in Danville, Navlet's,  and Orchard Nursery in Lafayette. Great local nurseries, well worth a trip, and this is the best time of year to plant. Wait until the wind dies down; plant everything. You didn't have other plans for the weekend, did you?

More pictures  -after planting, and after a few weeks to follow. Celebrate our successes, feel smug over our failures. Follow our progress. Learn from my mistakes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pure Panic

Man, you do not know what panic is until you go to back up your computer (long overdue) and it just beeps at you. Long loud unhappy slightly snide beeps. With a big fat blank blue screen. I never want to go through that again. 

I am giving a talk on Monday morning, and all my handouts and notes were locked inside the beeping monster. In one of the lucky moments of my life I had just printed them out the night before so I could take them to bed and scribble on them. I'm still a paper girl. So worst case I could re-enter all that stuff...

Fortunately it was just a bad chip - thank goodness it has more than one and is limping along. A new one is on the way. And I have made a vow to automatically back up. Several times a day. Dodged a bullet. Taking the lesson to heart. Go back up your computer - now. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Apples and Oranges

I moved the apple tree - again. 

It  started life espaliered on the fence outside the kitchen window, until the neighbor’s trees got to be too much for it. Honestly, who plants a tree that grows to sixty feet tall and wide a mere twelve inches from the neighbor’s fence? And ten feet from the neighbor’s kitchen window? Oh, right...

Two years ago I dug up the apple and moved it from its dark and shady spot under the ever expanding neighbor’s tree. I put it in the south forty. It’s actually the north-east forty, but it’s the bit of garden furthest from the house, hence the name.

The south forty had the only sunny-ish spot left in the garden big enough for a tree, other than the center of the lawn. Hmmm, that’s an idea....

I planted it below the stone wall that holds up the lawn. It was not happy there - too much sogginess. It got the runoff from the winter rains and steeped for months while its roots suffocated. Then, just as things began to dry out a bit and its prospects were looking up, summer would come. In summer we have to water the lawn or it dies, and as the apple was downhill from the lawn it had soggy feet again. 

This winter it tipped over in a storm. Clearly the rooting thing was not going well. Just as clearly it was not a happy camper. So I looked for a new home for it.

One of the myrtle-leaf oranges flanking the front door had also fallen over. Too many oranges, some rain to make them extra heavy, and a howling wind, and down for the count. 

Since the rats were the only ones eating the oranges (bitter, good only for marmalade and we have blood oranges for that) we were not sorry to see it go. Well, except for the lingering guilt I feel whenever I take anything out. But it’s as if the garden shouted at me - “Over here! Put the apple tree over here!” So I listened - finally. I got rid of the orange and went down to dig up the apple.

It had only put out a few feeding roots since its last move a few years ago, and those were entombed in sticky gray clay. I washed off the clay and hauled it up to the front garden. Up all fifty seven steps and thank you for asking I should be able to walk upright soon. Sideways, but upright.

A bag of steer manure, a few bucket fulls of compost, and a small mound for the apple tree to sit on (that drainage thing again) and in it went. I staked it, spoke kindly to it, sprinkled  some starter fertilizer around, and went in to wash up and take a nap. I was wiped out.

This morning all the buds in the garden have burst except for the traumatized apple tree. I go out occasionally to speak kindly to it and assure it I do want it to grow, these moves are not meant to discourage it, and I did not know there was a hailstorm coming when I tucked it in.

Keep a good thought - if all goes well you will be invited over to pick apples.

Friday, March 12, 2010


It was so cold at skiing ever - fresh snow, you only had to think and you'd turn. Floating fabulous fast fantastic. Whee! And no, I didn't do a yard sale - you know, a glove here,  a hat there, skis all over the hill...

And it's raining too hard to go out in the garden, even to empty the compost.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


They're called volunteers,  plants that seed themselves in unexpected places. These two are tough! growing in gravel, at the base of a pot. The dark leaves are a labrador violet, a great plant for the shade. It's an evergreen perennial, which means it keeps its leaves all year. And they are beautiful, a deep shade of green, almost black. Violet flowers smell fantastic and are lighting up the shade on this cold spring day.

Its friend is a forget-me-not, an annual (grows, blooms, sets seed and dies all in one year. Maybe less) with stunning true blue flowers. Both are great in shade, not happy in sun.

Could these two have picked a more difficult place to grow? I'm guessing the mow blow and go guys blew the seed under the pot - it was the only safe place in the garden. Wonder where they will come up next?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Glory of the Snow

It's called ipheon - glory of the snow. At least that's what the label said. We don't have snow but we do have a carpet of palest blue flowers with greeny-yellow eyes. It's considered one of the minor bulbs. What minor person made these decisions? short people are not minor people, why are low bulbs considered minor? It has spread from just a few bulbs tucked into an open corner a couple of years ago. Not the right sun exposure, not the right soil, but it was an empty space and there was a rainstorm coming, so in they went. And they clearly didn't read their own planting instructions, for they are thriving. In fact, one came up in the lawn, braving the weekly beheadings inflicted by the mow-blow-and-go crew.

I know it's not what most think of as bulb planting season, but it is bulb-blooming season, and there are lots of summer blooming bulbs you can tuck in now, while you're thinking about it. And when you're thinking about it is always the best time to do it. Check out Van Engelen for bulbs - they have good prices and top quality. I've never had to take advantage of their fantastic guarantee but I'mawfully glad it's there

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Let them eat cake

It was on my birthday a few years ago. Wally asked my mom if she could pick up my birthday cake, and told her “I’ll give you the money for it, it’s sixty-five dollars. Can you pick it up from Katrina Rozelle?”

My mom said she would, but didn't have room in her refrigerator and asked to drop it by on her way home from the bakery.

Knowing my mom and her always well-stocked refrigerator, Wally of course agreed.

Next my mom called Katrina Rozelle.

Katrina Rozelle is a wonderful (and wonderfully expensive) pastry shop in Alamo, CA. My mom is a retired school teacher. School teachers get their birthday cakes at the supermarket, and for sixty-five dollars you get a cake the size of the kitchen table. Maybe even the size of the kitchen.

My mom called Kartina Rozelle and said “This is Mrs A, and I’m picking up a cake today.  I have a very small car and I need to know - how big is the cake?”

They checked, and said “It’s a fourteen inch round.”

Mommy said, “Oh. Thank you. I will send my housekeeper to pick it up.” Retired teachers don’t have housekeepers.  But they do have their pride.

She didn’t tell them who she was when she went to pick it up. And they didn’t let on that they knew. 

Today we stopped into Katrina Rozelle for a cookie, after going to the market together. I didn’t call her by her last name and she pretended to be someone else. The cake has become a bit of our family’s story, a chance to laugh at ourselves. And we could all use more cookies and more laughter.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ian's Peach

Ian's peach is blooming - the one he and his mom started from a pit. The whole story is in my book, Postcards From The Hedge, available soon on Amazon. The bees are busy, the soft sweet fragrance fills that corner of the garden. I can see the flowers out the bathroom window, and a hundred times a day I walk by and smile.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

One good urn deserves another

It's a flax, Cream Stripe. It's been in this Haddonstone urn for ten years, and it's still happy. Watch, tomorrow it will begin to pout. It's been through one move, two dustings of snow, one whack job by someone I hired to help me clean up the garden. It's crown has grown so high the drip irrigation runs off. No food, not nearly enough water, this level of neglect cannot be considered benign. And it still looks good all year. Plus it keeps us (and our guests) from falling off the corner of the terrace and landing on the stairs. That's Loropetalum 'Plum Delight' behind it. Aren't they stunning together?

I highly recommend investing in at least one really great urn - check out Haddonstone, they are pricey but they make gorgeous stuff and it lasts and lasts...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The neighbor kids came over today - I thought to make gift tags and bake cookies, but the main activity seemed to be pairing corks from our extensive collection (it's been a busy week) and discussing the mushroom shape (champagne is still a foreign concept to them - lucky parents! more for them) and the fascinating little wire baskets. The kids see hours of fun to come, what with stacking and sorting, finding twins and double twins, while I see reminders of hours of fun. Some of those hours were even shared with others.  Just kidding - where did you leave your sense of humor?

Too wet to go outside -  even the birds look a bit waterlogged. The garden will have to fend for itself. I got a handy tip today from a very English garden designer and author, David Stephens. He said to grow hosta in pots, on pot feet (to keep it safe from the snails and slugs, the only creatures enjoying this beastly weather), and put a bit of vaseline around the rim. Of the pot, not the snail. Anyone tried this yet? If it ever dries up enough for the vaseline to stick I'm giving it a go.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Parma Violets

I finally found them - the violets I wrote about in Where The Heart Is - available at this link:  ABE books online  They were at Sloat Nursery and they filled my car with their sweet gentle fragrance. It is raining so I can't plant them, but I may bring one in (in its ugly nursery pot) and set it by my bed. I will fall asleep to the scent of violets...and wake to their sweet ruffled lavender faces. Go get some!

Monday, March 1, 2010

When we were building our house he would ride his horse up the hill to say hello, to chat. It would be at dusk, as he and Max were finishing their ride, and it would eventually get too dark to see and he and Max would pick their way down the hill and across the street, and we would go home to our old house.

When the fence went up he and Max would ride up to the fence and he would holler at us. We would come out and talk when we could, when we weren’t doing something like holding the lamp for the tile man who was trying to finish the job in the dark.

There was a flurry of long busy days when we were moving in - first it was “Where does this box go? How about this chair?” Then it was “Where shall we put the silverware? The coffee maker?” It was several days before we saw him. We were walking our dog -  he was lying in wait.

“You sure have one stubborn horse” he pounced as we walked by. “I stood at the fence with carrots for ten minutes, talking and clicking. He wouldn’t budge. Can’t believe you’d keep such a cussed stubborn animal.”

We looked at each other, stupefied. At first we couldn’t believe he was serious. Then we couldn’t believe he had been sober. 

One of the big moving-in decisions had been where to put the metal horse. The life-sized metal horse. He was a blue-gray color, and apparently we had put him too close to the fence. Or not close enough.