Friday, June 27, 2014

Three Hundred Ten Pounds of Table, or Table This

Our old table was wobbly and warped.  And no matter where you sat, it seemed, there was a leg in your lap.  It was also too low to cross your legs under.  So I searched and searched, and found just the right table.  Perfect for eight, big enough ten, for twelve at a squeeze.  A trestle, so no leg in your lap.  

I ordered it.

And of course I was at the grocery store with my mom when they called and said "We're here!  With your table!"  Half an hour early. 

It arrived in a box about four inches tall.  Clearly, some assembly would be required.   

"Where would you like it?" he asked.

"How much does it weigh?"  I asked.

"Three hundred ten pounds."

"Ha, ha, no really, what does it weigh?"

He showed me the bill of lading - 310 lbs. - and the third guy he'd brought to help unload.  Clearly mommy and I were not going to be able to get it into the back yard on our own.

"Come see where I'd like it, and tell me - if I pay you extra, will you carry it around the house?  No steps..."

He looked.  He agreed.  I peeled of three twenties, one for each guy.  He walked to the front of the truck where the other guys couldn't see the money, counted it, sneered, and held out his hand.

I was pissed.  It was clear the other guys were not gonna get their fair shares.  I almost snatched the money back, then I remembered:  three hundred ten pounds.  Oops.

"That's nearly as much as I paid to have it shipped from the warehouse!  That's all you're getting!  Take it or leave it!"

He took it.  On the back patio they propped the box with the new table against our old dining chairs and left, and when I came home later it had flopped flat.  Double oops.

Wally helped me set the table top upside-down on the cardboard lid so it wouldn't get scratched when I assembled it. 

I unpacked the parts, and started to put the legs together.  Except the parts, supposedly numbered so any idiot could put the table together were...mis-numbered.  Took a bit of vocabulary enrichment and several iterations before I figured that out...

Incredibly well built and thoroughly cross-braced...
with beautiful curved legs
when I finally figured out the mis-labeling it went together in a snap.
Even at three hundred pounds (there must have been ten pounds of cardboard and bracing) we managed to turn it right-side up.
It's perfect.  I didn't realize until we got this table how out of scale, out of balance our old table (now my potting bench) was.  This one looks like it was built for the space.  And since I built it, I suppose it was.  

The way you can tell if something is really well designed, really in the right place, is to ask yourself: "Does it feel inevitable?"  This does.  And the fact that table is part of the word inevitable just makes me smile.  

Come for drinks.  Stay for dinner.  Linger until the candles gutter out.  It's summer, and we have the perfect outdoor dining room.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


I've been thinking about art.  What catches my eye, what moves me.  Like Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.  
When I first saw it, at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I could not tear myself away.  I think the docent thought I was casing the joint, she stayed at my elbow.  I must have spent an hour just staring, moving forward to see the brushwork, and and back to feel the party come alive.  I swear I could feel the breeze, hear the laughter and conversation.  

My mom knows more about the Impressionists than anyone I know.  Walking thru a museum with her, she tells me stories of their lives, how Monet got so wrapped up in painting, he almost got washed out to sea.  Who were friends, who painted with whom.   And the docents drive her crazy.  "That's not true, he painted that just before his wife died, not after."  And "That's not where he painted that - it was Brittany, not Normandy."

I go home, I look it up.  She is right, the docents are...well, confused would be the kindest term.
 I have a passionate desire to own a painting by Ben Aronson.
  Especially this one.  
His work moves me.   How can paint - ground up minerals, mostly, be so transporting?   How do they do what they do - with just these?  And their incredible brains, of course.

I have a big painting by  Joseph Loria in my living room.  Sometimes I just sit and stare at it.   Sometimes I expect the dark haired woman to turn my way, the lady in the bathing cap to walk out of the frame.

Or Scott Prior.   In case you're looking for a gift for me.  Or something astonishingly beautiful for your walls. 

I can feel the sand in my shorts, taste the salt on my lips.  He does magical things with light.

I love whimsey.  I love the unexpected, things that are silly and grown up at the same time.  Like these acrobats:

Or the Water Mirror in Bordeaux.
I love watching people and art. 

So simple, the process.   An internal earthquake when it works.  I've seen bad, or mediocre paintings by great artists.  As Potter Stewart said (and Oliver Wendell Holmes gets credit for saying) "I know it when I see it".  Don't we all?

I'm off to nap.  Sadly, not in this tent.  
Art is everywhere - if you're looking.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Genius At Work

It was his last class of the season, and Ron Morgan was on fire. Funny, witty: part stand-up comic, part creative genius.  He took piles of branches and buckets of flowers and made the most amazing things...
This low red Chinese buckety-thing didn't look promising when he started shoving brown branches in, but it became this gorgeous confection:
Orange dahlias, green aeonium, eucalyptus pods.  Perfect for a dining table, you can see - and converse - over it.  Do you know the rule for dinner party height flower arrangements? Put your elbow on the table, your arm pointing toward the ceiling. Fold your wrist down so your hand is parallel with the table.  No higher than your hand, please, unless you're British.  They think talking across the table is appalling, you're supposed to speak to the person beside you.  I know several things the Brits do that I find appalling, but in the interest of better international relations I won't list them here. 
Who'd think to put these colors and shapes together?  And yet they look fabulous, inevitable, even.  So comfortable together, so interesting.

It reminds me of a favorite quote about writing.  According to the novelist Elizabeth Bowen, a writer must move toward “ end not to be foreseen (by the reader) but also towards an end which, having been reached, must be seen to have been from the start inevitable.” A bit wordy, but it sums up Ron's gift.  I mean, what else would you do with these flowers?   I'd probably massacre them (remind me to tell you the flower delivery story some time soon).
 Ron glued this shallow glass bowl and bronze candlestick together, and with tall ornithogalum and the huge leaves of hosta, some variegated geranium and a few zinnias, he made this mostly foliage arrangement.  I always think I don't have anything in my garden for a flower arrangement.  But I always have foliage (or as Liz says, foilage) and I'm heading for the garden as soon as we're done here.  With clippers in my hand and hope in my heart.

He started this with a few sprigs of philadelphus in a low bowl: 
Adding some dusty miller and some huge proteas that looked frightening until they were nestled into the arrangement.  Then they looked great.

Some clumps of fuzzy grass, a few lamb's ears, and some white orchids.  Who else would put those things together?
 Fun.  Inspiring.  Different from every side.

And Loot, his shop on College Avenue in Oakland was a feast for the eyes.  
 You have to walk through, then turn around and walk back thru the other way.  You'll see different things each time, and you'll see something that wants to come home with you.
I love these birds,
 This gilded Chinese wood carving,
This Thai headdress.  With those gorgeous maps of Paris in the background. If only I were a Thai princess...or could dance.   Or had one blank wall left for Paris.

Alas, no.  But I am a much better flower arranger thanks to Ron, and I see - and love - my garden in a completely new way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Time and Tides In The Garden (with apologies to Andy Goldsworthy)

I used to have lavender on each side of the garage doors.  It looked very French, and it smelled great as you brushed past.  Then it smelled great as you drove by, because it overgrew the door and the incoming tires crushed the branches.  

I finally had to take them out.  It was either that, or park in the street.  There was a brief interregnum with an orangey climbing rose whose middle name was surely mildew, but that, fortunately, did not last long.   Sometimes you have to prune with a shovel. 

Now I have boxwood cones, neat and trim and formal.  In poor soil and with not a lot of water, they seem happy.  And mildew free, at least so far.  I have learned never to say never in gardening.

This morning as I was knocking the cobwebs off the boxwood cones (spiders are one of the plusses - and minuses - of organic gardening, but more about that later) I was thinking about how much my garden has changed in the 12 years we’ve been here.  And it's not just the trees getting taller.  

There are many things that didn’t make the cut (pun intended).  The Myrtle leaf orange trees I thought would look so great flanking the front door, and be so good for flower arrangements were in fact a scale factory, and they weeped.  Refused to hold their branches up.  A tree curling to the ground may look great on the other side of a pond, but right next to the front door it  just looked weird.  And don’t get me started on how much the rats liked those trees…makes me shudder just to think.

Plus I am not the flower arranger I thought I was when I planted them.  I love the first day or so, the surprise of that fresh green on a table, the fragrance that fills the room.  But then having to fill the arrangements with water (when there's almost no place to get the spout of the watering can in, when you also have to find a way to stick your finger in the vase so you don't overfill and ruin your table) - it takes the fun out.  And then there are the dying flowers and, if you're not careful, stinking water...not fun.  

My mom prefers her flowers in the garden.  She has a point.

I agonized before I took the oranges out.  I always agonize - those are living things.  But I have realized that once they’re out, I don’t look back.  Not a twinge.  And that’s making it easier to contemplate taking down a tall skinny curly willow that lists badly and is rubbing the eaves.  

It also made the decision to take out a diseased Quince simpler -  I didn’t want the disease to spread, so out it came, roots and all.  And that has been a gift, for it has opened up a view all the way across the garden, to the old oak in the furthest corner, and that view has made the garden feel both more intimate and more expansive.  I don't know how that's possible either - one of the ineffable mysteries of gardening.

Sometimes the things that look like disasters at the time are really gifts in disguise.  That’s a good thing to remember in the garden.  And it’s a good thing to remember in life.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dry Times and True Confessions

That phrase has always puzzled me.  I mean, if it's not true how can it be a confession?  Is there such a thing as an untrue confession?  Isn't that just another word for lie?  And how do the Catholics feel about that?  Since they have far more experience with confession than I...

But on to the confession:  My friend said, "I saw your blog post, your garden looks amazing, I think those of us who struggle with gardening, especially in this drought year should give our water allotment to people like you who have real gardens. "

As temping as that offer is, here is my confession: My dear, we do not photograph our mistakes.  We do not put them proudly on display, or feature them in magazines.  Or brag about them to our friends, "Oh, you should see my hostas - they have been devastated by snails this year!"

We put only the beautiful on blogs and in magazines.  We don't put ugly children on cereal boxes.  So here are some of the ugly children in my garden.  I love them no less; they require vastly more work - mental and physical.  Do I cut it back or pull it out?  Do I feed it?  Spray it?  Organic only, of course.  Or do I plant something else there?  Oh wait, it's a drought year.  I'll be lucky if the established plants make it thru the summer.  And I am giving up entirely on the hydrangeas.  

So there will be no water for new things, not until the rains start.  I will have the ragged leaves of the hollyhock,
One of my favorite flowers from childhood, alas not at its best, and of course the first thing you see when you pull up to our house.
 The acorus was happy and beautiful next to the lawn, all that lovely water.  And then I turned the lawn water off.  Oh well, at least it matches the hollyhock.   If you have a bog, I have a plant for you.
 And the boxwood cone that cost the earth, and got planted too deep, next to another cone that hogged all the water.  I've put in a riser extension.  I'm hoping for a full recovery, but with the drought I'm thinking maybe green spray paint?

And lest you think it's all gloom and doom here, there are some sweet surprises.  
There is the Chilean jasmine that was not supposed to make it thru the winter, fragrant and fragile looking, just slightly exotic and so much prettier than the dreaded and overdone potato's covering the arbor outside the kitchen; it cheers me when I open the door.  I swear it's happy to see me.  Me too it.
The morning glory that was also supposed to freeze is up to the roof and still going strong, its clear blue flowers framing the entry.   I know, I know - it looks purple here.  It. Is. Not. 

I have a feeling I'll be singing a different tune in August when I'm trying to find the window to my office.  Go away for a weekend and the front door might disappear.  But today?  So happy it's here.

P.S.  Just after I wrote this I cut the hollyhock right to the ground.  But I saved the seeds.  Hope springs eternal.  And that, after all, is the whole point of gardening.

Friday, June 13, 2014

June Postcard From The Hedge

I promised, and I always keep my promises - so here is the to-do list for June courtesy of Sloat Nursery.  Check them out, sign up for their newsletter.  Shop there.   They have the most delicious plants - and the most delicious photos on their website.  

Remember - you vote with your wallet every day; you only vote by ballot every couple of years.  Vote often.  Vote local.

June to-do list from Sloat Garden Centers


  • Warm season annuals are here! Plant zinnias, salvias, cosmos, lisianthus, portulaca.
  • Plant herbs for use in the kitchen. Re-seed greens, cabbages and kales.


  • Your spring plantings are getting hungry. Feed with all-purpose fertilizers such as E.B. Stone Organics and Maxsea.
  • Feed your lawn with high nitrogen organic fertilizer like Nature’s Green Lawn Food.


  • Continue to deadhead roses, shrubs and other flowers with a new pair of Felco pruners to encourage new blooms.
  • Mulch shrubs and beds to conserve moisture. Try GreenAll Microbark for its beauty and utility.
  • Make sure vegetables are supported with cages, stakes or trellises.
  • Check early-bearing fruit trees for heavily laden branches. Thin fruits now to prevent branches from breaking. Harvest vegetables to keep them producing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Snipe Hunt

When I answered the door, I could see just a few wispy blond curls peeking out from behind my neighbor Deidre’s legs, and the edge of a frilly pink skirt.  And a dusty plastic food container clutched in a tiny hand.

“Snelks!” she said softly as she looked up to her grandmother, tugging on her hand and shaking the container.  A round face peered past Deidre’s knee, and I asked: “Would you like to look for snails in my garden?”  With a solemn look of reproach she disappeared behind Deidre’s legs again.  Apparently I’m not authorized to speak to her.  

Taking her by the hand, Deidre led her into my garden.  I tagged along.  If there’s one thing I have plenty of in my garden, it’s snails.  I mean snelks.   Plus, I have a big soft spot in my heart for shy children (and scared dogs).

Knowing that a shy child is like a lot like a scared dog, I kept my distance, and didn’t look directly at her, just kept up a calm steady conversation.  

“You know, snails like to sleep during the day, in a dark spot that’s nice and damp.  Let’s turn over this log, and we can see if there are any snails underneath.”  We struck out on the first log, but under the second there were two huge snails.  I had to point them out - snails and dead leaves look a lot alike.

With two more snails we headed for the compost pile.  An old rotting doormat provides a mostly mud-free place to stand when emptying the compost.  That’s helpful because we’re usually emptying the compost in the  pouring rain - but that. as Des says, is a whole ‘nother Oprah. 

I pulled back the edge of the doormat, and there were several fat shiny snails.  And some even fatter slugs, but she thought they were disgusting and slimy, and she was not interested.  Plus they don’t rattle together like snails do.  Pity - I thought I had found an organic solution to the mollusk crisis and a way to preserve what’s left of the basil.  Alas, no.

A few more stones overturned, a few more snails rattling around in the plastic, and still I was not allowed to speak directly to her - she didn’t disappear when I did, but I did get the “I’m disappointed in you” look every time.

I have learned with dogs and small children that patience is required.  And I’m getting some.  I have patience with children and dogs, just not with idiots.

After lunch the adults were talking books - grown-up books, and I could see her eyes glaze over (grown up talk can be so boring) so I brought out my copy of The Day The Crayons Quit, a book that should be in every library.  Adult or child.  And I started to read it to Deidre, and show her the pictures.  Making sure, of course, that my shy young friend could see too.

A few moments later there was a soft blond head nestled under my chin, and a pair of serious eyes looking at me.  

“Read!” she commanded.  And read I did.  Putting on all my best crayon voices, and using acting skills I didn’t know I had, I read that book.

“Again!” she commanded.  By now the grown ups were talking about us, and I was afraid they would jinx it, this precious chin-tickling moment.  

After the second reading she climbed down and went off to explore the garden.  Beyond snails.  I watched the frilly pink skirt disappear down the steps, and scratched my itchy chin.  

I will always love that book.  And I will always treasure the memory of that solemn face and those wispy curls.  

Jill’s rules for dealing with children: 

Don’t talk down to them.  They’re young, not stupid.

Don’t try to grab them.  If someone twice your size tried to grab you, you’d freak out too.

Be patient.  This is perhaps the most important.  Hint:  works with more than just children.

Figure out what they want to do - unlike most grown-ups, they will actually tell you.  Then do it.  You’re the adult here, it’s up to you to act like a child.  Don’t expect them to meet you on your level.

Be genuine.  Children can spot a phony a mile away.  (Maybe we should put some children on the Supreme Court?  Or sign them up as congressional staffers?)

Don’t forget to have fun.  That is, after all, the point of childhood.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Garden Open Today

Beverly Nichols, the hysterically funny British garden writer of WWII vintage, more or less, has a series of books about his gardening adventures and mis-adventures, including Garden Open Today.

Those words came to mind today.  "What's blooming in your garden?" is the question I hear most.  Come see for yourself.   These are mostly in alphabetical order thanks to iphoto.  

Alchemilla mollis, lady's mantle, lights up the shade.  It's brilliant under blue hydrangeas, they bloom at the same time.  And in a dark corner the foamy yellow flowers perk things up.  Try it with Caitlin's Giant Ajuga.
Blue chalk sticks.  The first time I saw this I was bowled over.   Had to have it, and that's not usually my problem, I am mostly content to admire from afar.  But not this one.
 Little water, tolerates some shade here, has decided to trail down a wall.  Brilliant.  And I'll share.
 All my buddleia are volunteers,  all in shades of purple, all swarmed by hummingbirds, the fearless dragons of the garden.  I have extra seedlings.  Bring a shovel.
 Chilean Jasmine is supposed to be frost tender.  That's gardener speak for turns to slime in the winter...but not this one.  It grows from under a boxwood hedge up onto a trellis.  I have heard lots of theories about why it survives, all conflicting.  That's gardening.  And it smells fabulous, but only at certain times of day.
 Dahlias are my new darlings.  Tough (if you protect the new shoots from snails and earwigs), and in fabulous colors, they come back stronger every year.  Other than crabgrass, that's a pretty rare thing in the garden.  I'm thinking of the coral bells that are in desperate need of dividing, of the narcissus who have multiplied and are now as crowded as a tenement.  And about as attractive.
 Despite the drought the hydrangeas are happy.  We are not looking forward to August, the hydrangeas and I.  
 If I don't put True Blue on them they are this insipid shade of pink.  These should be blue soon.  And ignore those who say at this stage it's too late to change the color.  It Is Not.
 White hydrangeas are a gift to the shadiest corner,
 Lychnis has seeded itself all over and raises the hottest pink flowers over low gray leaves.  It is most welcome, tough as nails and appearing in the most unexpected places, the flowers waving high above the foliage.  
 Blue morning glory, also supposed to die in the freeze, did not get that memo and climbs the post opposite the Chilean jasmine.  I hope they meet in the middle this summer.
 Sweetly scented Philadelphus is a spring bloomer.  The one at the bottom of the garden is still blooming; the one by my bathroom window finished weeks ago.  Plant the same plant in different places and watch the fun.  
 I'm not a great rose gardener - I won't use poison.  But this rose (name unknown) seems to get on okay, and it lasts for 2 weeks in a vase.  That's enough for me.
 Salvia 'Black and Blue' (guess why) spreads beneath the orange trees, and below the tall white birdhouse.  Sun, shade - it doesn't seem to care.  This intense blue is rare in the garden - I cherish it.
 You can break the rules in pots.  Aeonium (red) and scaevola (purple flowers) love sun.  Key Lime Pie heuchera (lime - duh) needs shade.  And here they are all getting along in a pot.  Some people I know could take a lesson from these plants.
 Star jasmine cascades down a wall by the pool, and climbs the wall by the barbecue.  Makes a great ground cover, will disguise an ugly fence.  And the fragrance takes me straight back to childhood summer evenings.  
 Tradescantia, after John Tradescant.  John Tradescant The Older or John Tradescant The Younger I do not know, but if you know enough to ask that question then you know enough to find the answer.
Ivy geranium trails down a wall.  If you have a concrete wall, I highly recommend some lovely finials from Haddonstone, and some ivy geranium (actually you know it's a pelargonium if you've been paying attention, but you're more likely to get what you want at the nursery if you ask for ivy geranium).

So what's blooming in your garden?