Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blooming their heads off...

This rose came from the dead plant department - one of my orphans. It's climber, and when I remember to tie it up I can see the blooms from the high tiny window in the shower. It's close enough to Ian's peach that I'm hoping it will climb on...and that they will get along. Love the way it unfurls, getting paler. Love having a few buds on my bedside table.

Othello. Vicious thorns. Mine pouts if pruned. Looks awful in the fall. But the color!  I tie it to the fence where it really has to try if it wants to stab me as I walk by (and it does), and I lop off the branches that won't stay on the fence. I cut the roses on the garden side, the deer prune the back side.

It's a David Austin rose, and this is a great time to see roses in bloom when you buy. Have you ever bought a rose based on the fabulous photo in the tag, only to find it was scrawny and ugly and not at all that luscious color? Me too.  So now I buy in bloom. I know, I know, all the rose experts say bare root is better - but seriously? Better to know what you're getting into.

Pat Austin. Yup, another of the dreaded David's roses. But they are divine. Lousy for cutting but fantastic in the garden. And did I mention I don't spray?

This is one tough rose. It bloomed in half shade for years, and when the trees got too big and it had no sun at all  I yanked it out and moved it to the south forty. Heavy clay, marginal irrigation, sporadic feeding. And it refused to give up. So I built a watering ring and gave it some organic rose food, and look at that color! I promise I will treat it better this year. Even in the south forty.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lizard Lips

This lizard and I had a disagreement - he thought our garage was a fine place to live - free of cats and other nasty predators. I, however knew if he lived in our garage that he could give me a nasty surprise, and I was not enthusiastic about having him leap out of the cupboard or my garden tool basket when I was off guard.  When we first met he had just gone into the garden via the side door and was looking at me from the door mat as if to say "Yeah, and whatcha gonna do about it, huh?" 

I knew if I chased him he would move deeper into the garage, and I'd already been there with a tarantula (not my best day) so I went around. I opened the roll-up door and went to look for him. And the doormat by the side door where he had been just a minute ago was empty. Rats!

I began carefully lifting nearby things looking for him. I found him under my gardening boots. Thank goodness - the tarantula nearly caused me to move. I seriously thought about checking into the Lafayette Park Hotel and spa and putting the house on the market. How would you like to wonder if a spider the size of a Buick was going to leap out at you every time you went to your car? I am a big fan of wildlife in the garden - not so much in my house. Or the garage.

Fortunately I had thought to grab a broom. As he sat there where my boots had been, looking up at me with a challenge in his eye, I swung the broom (gently) and swept him into the side yard. Game over. 

He looked at me - I swear he accused me of cheating. I suggested he pick on someone his own size. Last I saw of him he was headed for your house - just kidding. Hope he stays in the garden - and out of the garage. He does look determined...and slightly pissed off.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rustic stairmaster

This is why the south forty does not get the same care as the rest of the garden. Forgot your shears? Need a shovel? or a drink of water? It's all up there - and then you have to come back down. And up. And down. You get the idea.

 I am planting the pumpkins down here, but not the zucchini - it needs daily attention or you know what happens - green baseball bats. Our friend John used to have a big vegetable garden, with lots of zucchini. His grandson's first sentence was "Good for stuffing!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Grain of Salt

I planted tomatoes a few days ago so, of course it is freezing cold and they are pouting. Who could blame them? I went out to check on them this morning and I was astonished. They are huddled close to the ground, but the rest of the garden is so beautiful! t is too cold to stay outside, it is sprinkling, I didn't have any tea, I didn't care. I stayed outside until the spring shower became a deluge. 

If I hadn't been checking on the tomatoes I would have missed it, for it is soggy and cold and who in their right mind would go out into the garden on a day like this?
The blue is a columbine; my friend Carol shared the seeds with me. She died more than ten years ago, but she is still in my garden. The yellow behind is Hakonechloa 'All Gold' - Japanese forest grass. It turns up the volume on all other colors. It makes everyone else in the garden look fabulous. Get some. Get more than some. Get a lot. Tuck it in in dark shady corners and watch it fizz things up.

The pink is the native redbud - Cercis occidentalis. Check them out at Sunset. Then go get some. Come to my house for columbine seed in about three weeks. This is a pass-along plant, it reseeds with abandon, it will remind you of the person who gave it to you, and when you pass it along your friends will think of you when it blooms in their gardens. Happy faces all around.
Victoria Falls - my favorite Iris. Used to have banks of mixed up colors of bearded iris, now only this one. It reblooms if you feed it -  the year I didn't feed because of water rationing it didn't rebloom. I learned my lesson, and this past year I cut blooms at Christmas. And I see it in the gardens of friends with whom I've shared, and I think of laughs and sad times shared, of a hug given when most needed, of how much I treasure my friends and how fortunate I am.

And there is that other category - you know who you are. The ones who say peonies and lilacs won't grow here, and sniff and look superior when I say but I have them and they are no trouble, and putting ice on your peonies is a waste of time because they bloom just fine without (check out the chapter A Grain of Salt in my book, Postcards From The Hedge - available now on Amazon - It's really funny).

So this is for you. Lilacs. Huge vases full in my house and still more down in the south forty. Peony photos to follow - when they are in bloom. Stay tuned. And wipe that smug look off your face.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I am astounded to hear people who live here have never been to Yosemite. It's three and a half hours away.

In the summer it is full of crowds and cars and unfamiliar languages being spoken by awestruck visitors from far away. Today it was not crowded. Walking, I met a monk from Thailand, a family from Korea, a couple from Indiana. I heard Spanish and German and Japanese spoken. People from all over the world come here, and it's right in our back yard.

The waterfalls are full, the grass in greening, the sun is shining, it is not crowded. Go! Don't wait - there is magic in the air. (that white stripe in the background is not snow, it's Yosemite falls and it is awesome.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Art and the Garden

Have you been to Marcia Donohue's garden in Berkeley? Recently? Talk about thinking outside the fence...there are few things that change the way you look at the world. This is one of them.

She opens her garden - used to be every Sunday, check the link above for when, and go. It is fresh, mysterious, astonishing, and whimsical. Take the kids. But go!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In the Garden of Our Dear Baba

(say it fast and it makes sense)
Okay, so she's not Ali Baba and she doesn't have a cave. But she has a garage, and right now it is full of treasures.

They live in her garden in the summer, a glorious green and white garden in the deep shade of massive oak trees. There are little wandering stone paths, and a sly fox peeking out of a tiny summer house. There are geese and goats and bunnies and ducks tucked in among the ferns and impatiens. It is a magical garden snuggled into a slope, with walkways hanging over the canyon and the creek - like a pirate's lair. There is never a leaf out of place. She is quite simply the nicest and best gardener I know, and her garden has her spirit. I always expect to see fairies and leprechauns peeking out.

As soon as this drizzle and cold stop the animals will all move back into the garden for the summer, and altho the garden will look happier, her garage will feel empty. I'm not going to show you my garage, but take my word for it, it is not empty. Not even close.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ron Morgan

If you have never been to Ron Morgan's store Loot in Lafayette, CA give yourself a treat and go. Immediately. And if you have a Monday morning free, sign up for one of his classes. His demonstrations are inspiring, he makes half a dozen very different arrangements in about an hour and he is hysterically funny. My current favorite line - "Just because it has a hole in it doesn't mean it was made to hold flowers." He tells of going to speak at a very posh garden club where the ladies brought their own vases, and he was to show them what to do with them. An older woman in a proper suit with proper low-heeled pumps came up and said "Oh, Mr Morgan, this compote has been in my family for generations. What should I do with it?"
Ron said "Do yourself a favor honey. Just drop it and break it right now. That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen." And she did.

Barking Dogs

It’s the first thing everyone notices. “What is that?” they ask. There have been some strange guesses - magnolia, camellia, banana - banana? Seriously?

It’s Eddie’s White Wonder, aptly named, for it is the most wonderful dogwood. It is fast growing for a dogwood. It blooms for about four weeks in the late spring, the flowers unfurling from tight green buttons. At first they’re a creamy yellow, then dazzling white as they get bigger and bigger. 

Soft green leaves all summer, then a blaze of red in the fall lasting weeks, (the red leaves make great placecards, our dinner guests’ names written on them in gold) and a fine gray skeleton in winter, full of interesting twists and turns. Sometimes it even makes a few brilliant crimson berries. Sometimes it gets confused and blooms again in the fall. And even when it’s bare it has those tight buttons that are next year’s flowers and a wonderful sculptural form, its small twigs pointing upward and laughing at the storms.

The birds like it too - a few years ago we had a hummingbird nest in a crook of one tree. Much to our surprise - and hers - she built her nest at chest height. By the time we both figured it out she had laid two tiny perfect eggs, and was still as a mouse atop them when we walked by. 

We tried to remember to go around, not always successfully. In a few weeks the babies were flapping awkwardly out into the world. Some other hummingbirds came and recycled bits and pieces of the nest until it was just a rag in the tree. But we smile when we walk by that dogwood, remembering the teeny nest and the hummingbird so still and so close. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

 Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.  Check it out. 

Overheard at the ranch:
"She's got such big hair - it's even bigger than her butt."
Don't know who she was but I never let her get behind me.

"My husband's son is engaged, so I'm here polishing the trophy."
Beautiful woman from New York (and the fourth wife) when asked why she was at the ranch

"I don't know who he is but he sure smelled good. I wanted to sniff him up."
he was the governor of Baja and his bodyguards did not smell good. Or smile. Ever.

"I'm going home to Chicago to get warm!"
okay, so it was a little chilly two mornings. But it was beautiful...
...and peaceful. We hiked in the morning, went birdwatching and spinning and stretching plus all the usual pampering spa things. Tons of fitness classes or you can hang out at the pool. Had fantastic Mexican food in Tecate at a tiny taco stand. Fascinating guest lecturers and a movie every evening. Sigh. Miss it already. Great place to de-stress, to celebrate something, to have a girlfriends' week. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The yellow is narcissus February Gold.  it's the last to bloom in my garden, and it has the good sense to bloom with the lovely blue scilla campanulata - formerly scilla hispanoides - or do I have that backward? A messier and more durable form of bluebell, and one that is happy here in the Bay Area.

I got it from Sylvia -  her garden, an old garden in Orinda is a sheet of blue in late spring.  She shared the translucent potato-like bulbs with me (don't try eating them!) years ago when our dogs (sisters) were puppies. Cricket is in heaven, Lindsey is deaf as a post but happy, and now my garden is a sheet of blue in spring.

Just as the daffs are going off, the flowering trees are finishing and the roses have yet to start they are a welcome sight.  I'm happy to share - they spread by seed and by multiplying bulbs. Bring your trowel. And the foliage has the good sense to lie down as the flower stalks are beginning to open, from bottom to top. They last for a few weeks and are full of memories - of Sylvia's garden, of tumbling puppies, of my friend Carol who had them too and introduced me to Syl. I am not objective in my garden because there are no plants that are just plants,  they are all layered with memories. Our first year in this garden, friends who are gone,  our beloved Cricket...and the one silly raspberry tulip is a volunteer from many years ago. No one told him tulips are not supposed to repeat here. Shhhhh. Maybe he'll come back next year too.