Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Peaceable Kingdom

When I was growing up, one of my favorite images was that of the Peaceable Kingdom..."and the lion shall lie down with the lamb," which is what inspired me to do this drawing. I guess my Quaker roots and the paintings of Edward Hicks were my main influence. Now, more than ever, the idea of a peaceable kingdom is always on my mind. What can I do to make this world a better place for the innocent children who are too often harmed by our grown-up religious or ethnic intolerances? Think kindness.

This year I opted out of the traditional holiday tree. Although I adore the scent of balsam or douglas fir, I wanted more simplicity and a tree that would live and produce for us for years to come.

So here is our wonderful espaliered apple tree. This tree has three different varieties of apples, the bottom two limbs are Dorsets, the center two are Gala, and the top two are Fuji, which are all fruits that thrive in this area. The day after Christmas, Jeff and I will plant this sweet tree in our herb courtyard where the thick walls will reflect the sun and help this tree flourish.

May the blessings of the holidays be showered on you and your loved ones,


Wednesday, December 3, 2008


The phone rang, and before I said hello, my friend Kary said, "Look out your window. I've got my cat in the kitty carrier and I'm ready to go. Flames are coming up over Terrace Hill." I ran to our front door and saw a line of smoke and flames licking up the ridge about a mile from our house. Fires were raging in Santa Barbara and Montecito, and it looked as though San Luis Obispo would be next.

Jeff and I gathered some boxes and began a short, very short, list of the things we would save if the wind changed and the fire headed our way. Funny, but I found that the only things that REALLY mattered were the very simplest things imaginable.

First, I grabbed a basket of photographs from the chest in front of our sofa. Instead of traditional scrapbooks, I keep the photos out and available to everyone and find that nobody can sit in the living room without pawing through the basket of memories. I'm no exception. I can't imagine losing the years of images of beloved people (and dogs) the basket contains.

Next, I took my Grandmother Lovejoy and Grandmother Clarke's framed recipe from the kitchen wall. They were both famous for their Heavenly Pie, and I feel so lucky to have their recipes written in their hands.

Great, Great Grandmother Mitchell's Pennsylvania sampler, Great Grandmother Baker's Pennsylvania sampler, my old teddy bear Patience and her side-kicks Acorn, Raggle-Taggle (the earless bear given to me by Beth Mather), and Tiny Tim, the fearless bunny followed.

Jeff, ever the practical and dependable, checked business records, computer files, and insurance papers off the list. I searched for my box of family recipes and pulled my orginal art work out of the storage cupboard as I reached for a stack of family letters from the late 1800s.

"No more THINGS," I said. Let's take photos so we can remember everything, but I can't handle any more stuff," I said as I closed a lid and tucked the four flaps inside. 

Within the hour, the 60 mph winds shifted, and the fire that raced down the hillsides did an abrupt turn and began to climb up the ridge. Borate bombers dropped chemical retardants and firemen from throughout the county fanned up the hill and fought it in a hand-to-hand combat style. 

We were lucky, much luckier than those who lost their life histories, but not their lives, in the fires that raged through our parched California landscape. The common refrain we heard was exactly what we said to each other, "as long as our family, friends, and animals are safe, we'll survive." In the end, what really matters are the intangible and immeasurable things in our precious and fragile lives.

Grandmother and Nonie's Award Winning (and delectable) Heavenly Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 eggs (separated)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon peel finely grated
1 pint heavy cream

Sift together 1 cup of the sugar and add the cream of tartar. Beat the egg whites until stiffy, but not dry. Then, gradually add the sugar mixture, continuing to beat until thoroughly blended, use to line bottom and sides of a 9 or 10 inch greased pie pan being careful not to spread too close to the rim. Bake in slow oven at 275 degrees for 1 hour, then cool. Beat the egg yolks slightly, then stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, the lemon juice and peel.
Cook in a double boiler until very thick, about 10 or 15 minutes. Remove and cool. Whip the cream, combine half of it with the lemon and egg mixture and use to fill the shell.

Cover with remaining whipped cream. Chill in refrigerator about 24 hours. Serves 6 to 8.

Holiday blessings,


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Autumn Harvests

Autumn is my favorite time of the year, though it is both exciting and bittersweet. Bittersweet because we close our old cottage on the island and leave it shuttered and alone 'til spring, but joyful and exciting because we return to our family and the new-old home and gardens where we work from morning 'til nightfall.

Here, in California, my citrus trees, lime, kumquat, meyer lemon, blood orange, navel orange, Kaffir lime, and tangerines are in full scale production, the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), blazes with yellow, orange and edible red fruits. My guavas, which I started growing in pots 40 years ago, are drooping under their load of fruit, and even some tomato stragglers are still producing. Luckily, the basil, which hasn't suffered any cold, is flourishing and readily picked for meals.

Time to plant borders of cabbages and kale, clusters of rainbow-stemmed chard, and a few dozen spinach, mache, and arugula. I can't stop thinking of Virgil's words from 70 B.C. "And let no spot of idle earth be found, but cultivate the genius of the ground." I'm trying NOT to let an idle spot be found.

"The prospect of feeding a hungry world has to be answered with smaller, not larger farms," said Charles Wilber, (who grew a Guinness world record setting tomato. Just think, if we all grew a bit of our own food. It makes me feel so great to practice my daily ritual of ranging through our small garden to harvest herbs, fruits, my own saffron!, garlic, shallots-I feel a sense of peace and pleasure that far outstrips our tiny plot of well tended land.

We are settling into the rhythm of our new-old kitchen. Abigail (named for my Grandmother Lovejoy), our beloved 1950 O'Keefe and Merritt, is a double-ovened wonder. She is able to roast a big turkey, bake stuffing and sweet potatoes, and host an array of sauce pots and skillets on her commodious top.

The tall green enamel coffee pot atop Abigail once belonged to my Grandmother. I found the pot and a stack of iron frying pans (of every size), a dutch oven, turkey roasting pan, and so much more when I cleaned out my Mother's garage and uncovered a trove of family treasures stowed since 1954. All the iron was in perfect condition though a bit rusty and crusty. I simply rinsed them thoroughly with clear, hot water, scoured them with sea salt and a scrub brush, rubbed them with olive oil and set them inside a warm oven to be re-seasoned. They are better than any modern product, and I imagine they'll someday be passed on to my granddaughter Sara May who so appreciates family traditions and celebrations.

Blessings to all,


Gracie Allen's Recipe for a perfectly cooked roast

Buy a big roast of beef and a small one
Cook them both 'til the little one is burned to a crisp
The big one will be perfect.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Every Kitchen has its own Dance

Last year I was talking to a group of friends about my small kitchen. "I don't know how we'll all cook in there," I said. My friend, poet Sylvia Alcon, answered, "Every kitchen has its own dance!" She is right, every kitchen DOES have its own dance, you just wiggle around, thread through, juggle, side-step, duck, push, slide, and dance in harmony. What results is not only a great meal, but also great laughs, tastes, talk, and, most important of all, memories of those good moments.

Our kitchen in Maine was a complete non-functional disaster site when we moved in. The counters and back splash were covered with cracked, marbled-blue linoleum. Our cupboards were old plywood stained a dark orange brown. One tiny window allowed only a sliver of light into the room. Circles of fluorescent tubing were our lovely chandeliers. An ugly rusted water heater took up an entire corner of the tiny space, and a non-functioning stove arced a bolt of electricity across the room as we switched it on the first time.

It took my patient husband Jeff weeks to pry bar a thick coating of black linoleum glue off the floors and walls. Instead of replacing the old cupboards, we removed the doors, patched screw holes, and painted the walls and shelves delicious colors, an inexpensive and very do-able solution to stoking up the spark of life in a tired space.

We took our time to outfit the kitchen and chose only things we really loved. First, we visited antique shops, auctions, and flea markets in search of lighting, a stove, and equipment. Our local blacksmith, The Scottish Lion, fabricated hardware, hooks, and pulls in the shape of alewives, one of my favorite fish.  At an antique shop in Damariscotta, we found the perfect stove, a 1920's Hotpoint with a great shape and legs as shapely as my Grandmother Clarke's. I named the stove Augustine in her honor (in California, I have Abigail, short and stocky, just like my Grandmother Lovejoy).

Whimsical vintage kitchen towels were turned into curtains, old hanging lights with glass shades replaced the lovely fluorescents, and hefty slabs of soapstone became our new counters, backsplash, and sink, which Jeff installed. Instead of tile or linoleum, we opted for painted floors, which we can re-paint whenever necessary.

Our kitchen is the result of sweat equity, patience, and love. We did it with minimal costs liberally sprinkled with playful ideas and color, lots of bright, joyful color, which I love in every part of my life.  

Yesterday, I received an e-newsletter from one of my favorite places in Maine, Rabelais Bookstore  in Portland. Lining their walls, stacked on the floor, strewn across tables, and on restaurant trolleys, you will find the BEST selection of books for a kitchen lover. Cookbooks, world cuisine books, wine, gastronomic history, organic gardening and more...but back to their most recent newsletter.

I loved this quote, which is apropos of our times.  "Between the pending elections and the chaos on Wall Street, daily life is tumultuous...Cooking at home for our friends and family is the quiet eye of the storm. The crafting of a savory meal from whatever raw ingredients you have access to is remarkably satisfying and a pure pleasure that costs little and gives back so much." Thanks Samantha, beautifully said. Sign up for the Rabelais newsletter to learn about the best new and antique books available.

Spend time in your own kitchen, gather 'round your table, chew on food and good conversation and enjoy the simple pleasures of life!

All joys to you, 


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Art for Heart's Sake

My friend Ethel Pochocki, who is an incredibly gifted poet, novelist, and children's author, just spoke with me about the creativity, satisfaction, and inspiration she gets from picking a flower and watching it unfold or canning her famous plum jam or pickling cucumbers (as she was doing when I called). She creates art not only when she writes, but also by the simple pleasures and beauty she can infuse into her daily life. Ethel believes in art for her heart's sake.

I want to introduce you to some of my favorite Maine artists, women who have filled my home with a playful vitality and a rainbow of brilliant colors. Their spirits, though intangible, are evident in everything they create.

Sara Hotchkiss-weaver extraordinaire. I longed for this runner rug for months. When my dear friend Lynn Karlin (award winning photographer-see her new book Gardens Maine Style Act II ) arrived at my cottage for birthday tea, she presented me with a long package. When I opened the gift, I found MY rug, the one I had yearned for. I couldn't believe my eyes. Now it warms my studio with its happy design, great craftsmanship and artistry, brilliant colors, and Lynn's friendship. Take a look at Sara's web-site! You will be amazed by the range and quality of her beautiful textiles.

Suzanne Norton's studio-gallery is chock-a-block with finished works and partially completed commissions. I love visiting her to see what new brew of ideas are stirring about in her mind. I've seen her work in many homes, from tables and chairs to chests, beds, and bread boxes, and also massive murals from elegant to playful.

Suzanne has done some great pieces for our cottage, and they all reflect our interests and style. My favorites are these two tiny, children's chests of drawers, which belonged to my beloved neighbors Jane Wagoner and Barbara Albret. Both chests are from their childhoods in the early 1900s. Before I sent them to be painted by Suzanne, my friends signed inside the drawers and included their dates of birth. Suzanne's web site is Her studio is at 72 Courtyard above Weatherbird (behind Main St.,Damariscotta)

Across the hall from Suzanne's studio is the atelier of Dana Moses. Dana's gallery brims with paintings and whimsical works painted on tin. Dana was living on a Caribbean Island when Hurrican Hugo hit and lifted tin roofs off houses and hurled them across the landscape. Tin was everywhere and, like the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes, Dana rose from what looked like a rubble heap. She began to salvage tin and cut it into magical shapes, which she painted with her signature joyful colors.

When I first walked into Dana's gallery, I knew that I wanted one of her pieces near the front door of our cottage to welcome our guests. Our cottage is called "Fox Drink Ledges" for the ocean front ledges that hold pools of rain water. Late at night and early in the morning, the shy red fox laps at the fresh water and nips blueberries from our bushes. I told Dana that I wanted a sign for our home that would convey our love of nature (and especially foxes). You can see that she did it beautifully incorporating the amber-eyed fox and blueberries into a vivid and fresh design, the hallmark of her remarkable creativity.

Dana is above Weatherbird at 72 Courtyard, behind Main St. in downtown Damariscotta, Maine. View her work on line at

I am always inspired when I see new creations or share new ideas. I hope that you will find inspiration in all the beauty.

Keep on creating, dear readers, and let your children have their own area in which to create their art.

Blessings to all,


p.s. Join me next week for our small, vintage kitchen remodel project in Maine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

September Sunshine on Damariscove Island

I am happily painting many new illustrations for my upcoming book. I try to blot out the loss of the last 238 and just forge ahead. In my California studio, I have a quote about the people who succeed. "You can tell by the long scratch marks on the wall that successful people hold on no matter what!" That's me, not necessarily successful, but stubborn. I just hold on and try to keep creating with the foremost thought of reaching and somehow touching the lives of children and their significant grown-ups. Wish me luck!

Saturday we traveled from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to Damariscove Island, which was settled in the early 1600s. Luckily for all of us, Damariscove was purchased by the Nature Conservancy and is now owned by the Boothbay Region Land Trust.

The only remnants of the early settlers are some fragments of china and glass, old pipes and metalwork, and the lovely stone foundations of barns and homes.

Later buildings (late 1800s), clad in shingles and silvered by the seasons, house the tiny museum and caretaker's cottage. My heartfelt thanks go out to the volunteers and Board of the Trustees–caretakers of both the past and the future of our Maine history and nature.

That is me, hiking the island, but taking time out to have a heart-to-heart talk with my tender granddaughter Sara, who called me with a pressing problem. I could be President of the U.S. and I would still let my grandchildren interrupt me anywhere and anytime. My pleasure and joy!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Clean Sweep

The day before the tail-end of hurricane Hannah slammed into the coast of Maine was a blue and glittering light-filled dream. The wind sighed through the spruces, firs, and pines, and luffed my curtains like sails. For some reason, the approaching storm made me WANT to do some housekeeping.

I think that the late humorist Erma Bombeck would be proud of me. I opened all the windows on the ocean-side of the cottage, stepped aside, and let the wind sweep the floors and furniture clean. After fifteen minutes, I needed only a few brisk strokes of the broom to brush tiny windrows of dust, sand, and bits of leaves and needles out the front door and onto the forest floor.

I love this little cottage for its simplicity and purity. When I am here, I feel as though I am a wind-scoured seashell, both filled and emptied by the timeless cycle of tides and seasons.

Open your windows and pray for wind!


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mermaid's Tears

The crowds have left Christmas Cove and now when I walk the small sandy beach by Miss Rumphius' cottage, I have my pick of the mermaid's tears (smooth, luminous sea glass) that shine through the seaweed and stones.

Nature's offerings, from crab shells, pearly mussels, bits of fragile, fern-like algae, rocks, and mermaid's tears, are an integral part of our simple, seaside cottage. Even on the coldest, darkest day, I can look at my bowls of treasures and smell the scent of summer, and see the shine of sunlight on the sea.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rosehip Ramblings

Too much time has passed since my last entry, but so much has happened I know you will forgive me.

We are back at our beloved little seaside cottage in Maine and I am deeply involved in my new book. I took a short hiatus because of a shocking loss. Somehow, in shipping 238 illustrations to my publisher, they were inadvertently destroyed. My paintings are so personal and take me many hours to complete. I felt as though someone had tossed out the last year of my life. So now it is literally back to the drawing board for some new thoughts on how to produce this new book without the necessity of me trying to re do thousands of hours of work.

Tomorrow I will be co-teaching a rosehip workshop for the Pemaquid Watershed Association. The class will be held at the beautiful Pemaquid Beachcomber's Rest Nature Center. The classroom has a big barn door that opens onto sugar-white sands thick with hummocks of Rosa rugosa boasting globes of brilliant red hips. It is easy to understand how these roses have earned the name "Sea Tomatoes."

Author Jean Gordon, who wrote "The Art of Cooking with Roses," said, "One handful of rosehips provides the vitamin C of 60 oranges plus liberal amounts of vitamin A, phosphorous, calcium, and iron." Think of that, a tasty treat that not only tastes great, but also delivers a wallop of vitamins and trace elements.

I love to nibble the fresh rosehips straight from the bush. If they're dead ripe, you can use your thumb to break them open and nudge out the seeds. If they're a bit on the hard side, you'll need to slice them open and use a spoon, grapefruit knife, or peach pitter to scrape out the seeds.

I developed a new recipe today for a tasting we will have tomorrow at the workshop. Give this a try and let me know how you like it. As a measurement, I am using the small baskets in which strawberries and cherry tomatoes are normally sold.

1/4 cup of raw sliced or slivered almonds
Half a basket of washed and halved strawberries (if you don't have these try a couple of spoonfuls of strawberry jam)
Half a basket of washed, halved, and de-seeded rosehips
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. of pure maple syrup (the REAL stuff, not the high fructose corn syrup look alike)

Toss the almonds into your blender and pulse it 'til they're the consistency of bread crumbs
Add your berries and rosehips and pulse 'til blended (don't overdo this)
Sprinkle the cinnamon into the mixture and pulse twice
Add your maple syrup and pulse a few times

TASTE your mixture. If it is too tart, simply add a couple more strawberries or strawberry jam and a little more maple syrup.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

I tasted my rosehip mixture on small toasted rounds of french bread and sesame crackers smeared with cream cheese. The addition of almonds gives another dimension of both taste and texture.

Signing off from my island paradise and wishing blessings to you all,


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Contest Winners & Faerie Mailboxes

Wonderful, creative, heartfelt are just a few of the words to describe how I feel about your participation in the contest. So many good things were shared that we decided we would have to put our top ten favorites into the hat and draw a winner, but you're really ALL winners because so many viewers have dipped into your great ideas and utilized them.

We drew Carol's Maydreams Garden fairy doors and Kari and Kija's acorn top magnets on a cookie sheet. Now for the final draw and the winner is...both. I just can't choose! So both entries will receive the selection of books. Just let me know how you want them signed and I'll get them off to you asap. And thanks again to all of you!

I am including some photos of a garden tradition we carry on with our grandchildren. We found these tiny metal mailboxes at Michael's. We've spray painted them in a different color for each grandchild and hid them in appropriate spots in the garden. Asher likes to hide by the Honore Zephrine (thornless, but fragrant rose), Sara May is in love with the giant star jasmine, Ilyahna is wild for our oranges, so their mailboxes were mounted in those areas. Whenever they visit, they check to see if the flag is up, which means the faerie has left a surprise for them. Sometimes the gifts are peanut shell shoes painted silver and gold, acorns fashioned into animals or people, fraises des bois, tiny bouquets in miniature bottles, faerie furniture, mini-baskets filled with mini veggies and fruits, and sometimes even store-bought things.

The best part of the faerie mailboxes is that now our grandchildren leave thank you notes and gifts for the faeries. This is helping to teach them to give back. Such an important lesson for children.

I am sending my fondest wishes to you all and thank you too for all your fabulous personal e-mails. Check the blog next week for the "Food Art" dinner that was held at our friend's house last month.

Green Blessings,


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nature & Art in Our Children's Lives

I am working away at my new book and hoping for input from all of you committed educators, parents, grandparents, doting aunts and uncles, or just plain child lovers. Do you have any specific art projects or nature crafts or adventures you would like to share with me? I cannot guarantee that it will make it into my new book, but anyone who reads my blog will have ready access to your comments. I already have many pages of this section completed, but I am always searching for something magical that can change a child's life.

Here is an example of a craft that I consider magical; it is a skeletonized tomatillo husk that I couldn't bear to compost.

So I looked at it and thought that if I just added a handle and some beads, it would look like a faerie purse. It was difficult to photograph, but look closely. If you can see inside the lacy purse, you'll also see a tiny, tiny, beaded ring that I included as a gift from the faeries. I am going to tuck this purse and ring into my granddaughter's faerie mailbox, which will be the subject of a future entry.

To thank you for participating, I am going to choose one project and the submitter will receive a copy of The Little Green Island with a Little Red House, my blank journal, illustrated but waiting for YOUR words of wisdom, and a hardbound copy of Hollyhock Days.

So put on your thinking cap and write me a note. I look forward to hearing from all of you in the next few days. Please enter your blog comment on or before July 10,2008. I will sign your books any way you would like and we'll ship them to you quickly.

Remember, it's still not too late to plant great things in your gardens or in a big container.

Green blessings to you all,


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lavender Custards & Sweet Scented Laundry

Since moving to our new/old cottage in town I've planted scores of wonderful lavenders-from the tiny Hidcote with its deep purple blooms to the small mounds of Munstead, the robust Spanish and French, and the wandlike Provence, Grosso, and English. Can you ever have too many lavenders? The bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies don't think so and neither do I!

For those of you who think that clothes-lines are an old-fashioned alternative to dryers, well, lavenders are an even older alternative. Picture the cottage gardens of days past with their lavender hedges strewn with drying clothing. Ladies believed that the lavender would permeate their clothes with its sweet scent.

I can't bear to cover my lavenders and exclude the bumblebees, so I capture the aroma another way. Whenever I harvest baskets of lavender buds for cooking, potpourri, sachets, and moth chaser and bath bags, I save some for my dryer. I fill small muslin bags or pieces of thin fabric with the fresh blooms, tie the bag closed, and toss it into the dryer with each load of clothes. I use the bags over and over until the scent weakens, then I empty the bag onto my carpet and vacuum it, which makes a musty vacuum smell fresh.

Whenever I trim or prune my lavenders, nothing is wasted. Stems are bundled with twine and used as fire-starters. Perfect florets are added to both herbal and black tea blends (go lightly or it will make the tea taste soapy). My own blend of herbs in which lavender figures prominently (herbes de San Luis) is great for salad dressings, as an addition to soups and breads, and as a mouth watering crust for cuts of meat and poultry.

Herbes de San Luis

One tablespoon marjoram
One tablespoon oregano
One tablespoon savory
Two tablespoons thyme
One half tablespoon lavender

Pick fresh herbs early in the morning and spread them on a screen or newspaper to dry.
After herbs are dry, put them into a food processor and pulse 'til coarsely ground.
(You may want to push the ground herbs through a sieve to further process them.)
Store your blend in a tightly covered or glass jar away from heat and light.

One of my favorite and simplest uses for lavender buds is to grind them finely into sugar. The lavender sugar can be sprinkled onto a custard and slipped under the broiler for a minute to make a crunchy and decidedly herbal crust.

Lavender Bath Bag

Handful of lavender heads
Handful of fragrant rose petals
A few lemon verbena leaves
1 ounce of rolled oats (this softens your skin)
Tie the herbs and oats securely in a bag, hang dry between uses.

Summer is nearly here! May you enjoy every day in your garden and home, and may lavender become a part of your life.

Green blessings,


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Urban Farming and Flourishing Faith

Just as I start feeling like city living is going to spell the end of my mental health, something wonderful and unexpected happens to reestablish my faith. A few days ago I was talking to my friend, and I told her that the toughest thing for me now is knowing that I'll never see quail or fox in my garden.

A few nights ago my husband and I were driving toward our home; we were about 300 feet from it and a beautiful gray fox ran across the road and slipped out of sight. I was ecstatic, but outside my garden walls is one thing, inside is another. I yearned for some of the birds and critters who used to visit my gardens at Seekhaven in Cambria.

This morning as I walked outside to putter in the garden, I was stopped in my slippers. A few feet in front of me, a male and female California quail couple skittered along the pathway. I stood and watched, my jaw nearly resting on my knees. How could they have traversed the busy network of roads and ended up in my tiny patch of paradise???

I ran indoors and told Jeff that he would never believe what was out in our garden. He rushed to the window and took some photos of the male who sat atop a pepper tree and guarded his plump mate who fed in the bushes below.

The old adage "Expect Miracles" doesn't work for me. I like the concept of don't expect miracles and they will surprise you all the way back to childhood. Instead of expecting miracles, I rejoice in them and roll around in each moment like a bumblebee in a hollyhock.

Hint for the week: I am in love with extra virgin olive oil. The grassier, greener, and more potent, the better! We use it for all of our cooking and baking and even pour it onto our morning toast. Recently, I bought spray olive oil to make the coating of baking pans easier.

A few weeks ago I noticed that my small Fremontodendron (aka flannelbush) was covered in ants (this is always a bad sign for a plant) and that the upper branches were knobbed with big black scale. YIKES. I have nursed that flannelbush for over a year and wasn't about to let the ants and scale win. So, before the sun rose, I sprayed the stems, ants, and scale with my treasured olive oil spray. The next day the plant looked great, the ants were gone, and the scale, well I don't know what happened to it, but they sure weren't on the plant. Today I used olive oil spray on ants and scale that attacked my treasured Abutilon. Already the fat scale look deflated and the ants are gone. Hurrah! A simple victory for an organic gardener.

Remember, NEVER SPRAY on a hot, sunny day. Do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You will literally cook your plants if you do it in hot sunlight.

Green blessings to you all,


P.S. So many of you have written me fantastic letters and e-mails and I treasure every one of them, but can't always keep up with the answers. Please know that your thoughts and good wishes and suggestions are appreciated!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sunshine and Berries and Gardening in my Nightgown

(Page from my journal with one of my favorite quotes)

This morning when my granddaughter Sara was helping me in the garden, I realized that every child needs a patch or border of strawberries. Plant the berries in a sunny plot of ground, a large pot or half barrel, and amend the soil with compost. Top the berry patch with mulch or shredded bark.

I planted borders of Fraises des bois, which my grandchildren call "Faerie Berries," and I also planted a circle of 'Sequoia' and 'Fresca' strawberries under our Fuji apple tree. The strawberries are thriving and happy to shoulder in among the dianthus and nepeta 'Walker's Low.' Every morning for the past few weeks, I have picked a little basket of berries for breakfast and to give to Sara for snacks.

Last week, I scoured the neighborhood for pine needles and found some under my friend Kary's pine tree. I gathered a bag full, and, in the morning, tucked them around my plants. The needles discourage slugs and snails and elevate the berries above the soil to prevent rot. A thick mulch of pine needles excludes weeds, conserves moisture, and as they break down, they feed the soil.

For all of you readers who are planting your sunflowers now, let me give you a simple piece of advice. Instead of direct sowing your sunflowers, plant the seeds in a paper cup filled with good soil. Poke lots of drainage holes in the bottom of the cup, which will disintegrate after awhile. Set the cup wherever you want your sunflowers to grow; bury the cup with at least 2" protruding above the ground. The cup will protect your young plants from a multitude of hungry critters.

Good growing!


Monday, March 24, 2008

Ah Spring–Nursemaid to My Garden Dreams

Every Spring morning is full of adventures and discoveries. My wall of single (for the hummingbirds) Indian Spring hollyhocks is thriving, but in my tiny herb courtyard, the hollyhocks have a bad case of rust, for which, I have to admit, they are famous.

I turned to my friend Nancy Hillenburg's recipe for healthy hollyhocks, which I included in my book Trowel & Error.

Early in the morning (before the sun is high and hot) make a mixture of:

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 Tablespoon canola oil or horticultural oil
1/2 teaspoon of soap
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1 gallon of water

Blend all the ingredients, pour into a spray bottle, shake thoroughly, and apply to the top and bottom of leaves. I remove diseased leaves and throw them into the trash, not the compost or worm bin. I don't want the problems spread throughout the garden.

Beds of lavender and California poppies bordered by nepeta are thriving and filled with the sound of bumblebees rolling around in the poppies' golden blooms, like kittens in catnip. Many of the new fruit trees are in bloom now, including the diminutive Pink Lady apple, the Bonanza peach, quince, Fuji apples, Panamint nectarine, plucots, citrus, Kafir or wild lime, the Shinseiki Asian pear, Tropical King peach, and too many more to name. It feels like Paradise here, and I appreciate it more each morning when I step outside.

I have already written over 100 pages of my new book and have completed about 100 illustrations. It is a joyful task for me because I know that many parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors will share my cooking, growing, crafting, and traditions with the special children in their lives. Our hopes and future depend on the healthy and well-rounded children we nurture and love.

Sending Spring blessings out to all of my family of nature lovers and gardeners. Dig in and Grow!