Life as I know It

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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Quiet Morning Walk

I can see why Monet so loved to see the backlit petals of flowers. 
The colors of borage always make my heart beat faster.

I was overjoyed to greet the sunshine this morning. After only a few days of cold, rain, and wind, I was ready to get back outside. (Sorry to all my friends in colder climes) No GRIMY HANDS GIRLS' CLUB for me today; we have more company coming and must prepare lots of food and comfy beds. But to start the day, I wanted to take you on a short walk around a very small, but life-filled garden. 

All the rosemarys are in full bloom. Most of these plants were started from plate-side garnishes I couldn't bear to throw away. On warm days, they are bee thronged.

Apples are blooming, but the cold is keeping most bees away. I used my paintbrush on dozens of blossoms. We'll see if my pollination worked.

The aloes have kept the hummingbirds happy.

Hollyhocks are already in bloom. I've been using some of the blossoms for appetizers. Stuffed with my homemade flower cheese, they're delicious. Sorry, bee, I won't bother these new blossoms.

Cactus preparing to flaunt its first fiery bloom.

Scabiosa, the old fashioned pincushion flower, is already attracting syrphid flies and butterflies. Saw  male and female dog-face butterflies in the garden on the last warm day. Also, flitting over the bronze fennel, two anise swallowtails. 

Aloe 'Pink Blush' has been faithfully flowering.

Native California Eriogonum. To the right is a tiny (barely perceptible) syrphid fly. They feast at these blooms constantly. I think syrphid flies (aka flower flies) are some of my favorite garden visitors.

The humble, yet eminently, butterfly friendly cosmos. These are self sown.

The nectarine is singing after all the rain. Can you hear it?

The plum is humming along.

This is the last of the pineapple sage. I'll cut it to the ground next week. This keeps the hummers happy during the winter.

Clumps of freesias spring up everywhere. They must have been planted decades ago. I adore them.

Love the light striping on the back of the freesia petals. 

Nutmeg scented Pelargonium. Don't you love those little bird flowers?

Apple scented Pelargonium. One of my favorites. I use the blooms of my scenteds (I have about 30 or 40 varieties) as an edible flower addition to my cooking.

Humble, but lovable, calendula–the ancient pot marigold. These are great in cooking and were once used in place of saffron, but honestly, NOTHING can replace saffron.

Pot marigold. I use their petals constantly. As their name Calendula (or calendar) suggests,  I can depend on them to be in bloom every month of the year.

Violas (edible) are tucked among strawberries and lettuces.

'Meyer' lemons in bloom. See the green lemon at the upper right? This was another housewarming gift from our friends Susie and Ellis Bassetti. I had to leave my big 'Meyer' behind in my Cambria garden. Now I have three and a Kafir lime, with lime leaves used for flavoring Thai, Chinese, and other cooking. They're fabulous.

Brugmansia. My grands know that these are poisonous, but they make great hats!

Blanket flower is already in bloom in the butterfly garden.

Apricots emerged at the worst time. Maybe some will set fruit.

A confused Christmas cactus. I think this one came from a start from Jeff's Aunt Connie.

Crocus 'Barr's Purple' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.

Mini daffodils. I love them. I think these are Tete a Tete. I have them in pots everywhere.

Muscari (grape hyacinths) are also tucked into pots everywhere. Some of the clusters have been in pots for 30 years. I adore them and their sweet scent of grapes.

If you saw the article about my gardens in COUNTRY GARDENS magazine, you know that I have planted edible nasturtium everywhere. I use them daily in salads, and I make bouquets of them for the kitchen. My seeds are from Renee's Garden. For cooking, I like to use the spurless nasturiums (the bugs like to hide in the long spurs). The spurless are 'Whirlybird.'


This is a rare California island Penstemon. I was so in love with it when I saw it in the container display on the deck at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. I begged them for a start. After a year, they sold me two. One survived and is now four feet wide and growing in a pot. Shortly after they sold me the plant, their gardens and that deck were destroyed in a huge fire. I better save seed for them.

'Frank Headley' Pelargonium.

The native California redbuds are doing their thing. These little buds are edible and can be pickled too. They're delectable.

Abutilons for the hummers and for their graceful ballerina blooms. The kids use these are faerie skirts. I have bad luck with Abutilons; I don't know why.

Moth Mullein that traveled with me from my Cambria gardens.

The gorgeous native California Ceanothus is dripping in blooms. I purchased these at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Nursery in a one gallon pot and planted them street side. This is now about 8 feet tall and bends gracefully over the wall surrounding our gardens.

The sweet garlic is in bloom and WOW is it heaven scent.

The grape twigs I planted a few years ago are starting to flaunt their leaves. Aren't they gorgeous?

California poppies are my favorite flower.  I've filled egg cartons with hundreds of seedlings and am beginning to transplant them throughout the garden. I also seeded them into containers.

This is the basket of our Vespa, which is always filled to overflowing when we stop at the local Miner's Hardware Nursery. I also have a big tote bag filled with plants, and Jeff has a plant-loaded tote bag dangling from a hook. I guess this is a great way to control spending.

Jeff came outside late one night last week to track me down and found me working on my bird book. I find it tough to settle down and work indoors when the days are beautiful, so if I rob from the morning, I have to repay by night.

This started out as a short posting with few words, but then it morphed into this; there is always so much to say about the flowers that grace my life. I hope I didn't wear you out with this. Thanks so much for  the notes from members of my Grimy Hands Girls' Club. I've been swamped and dealing with some doctor's tests, but promise to pack things next week. Sending sunshine out to you all.



P.S. I am happy to be able to do a special give-away of this great and useful book about getting published. I get so many letters asking how to get published, and I think this book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, will answer not only the immediate questions about how to, but also what to do AFTER your book is published, which is something as critical as getting published. A book's success depends on the marketing and word-of-mouth. Good luck to all who leave a comment. If you don't want to be entered, just say so. I'll pick a winner next weekend. To enter, just leave a comment.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Handful of Promises

First thing every morning I peek out my little hall window and scan the hillsides for the silhouettes of bears on the ridge. They've been spotted around here lately, and I am convinced that they're up there scouring the hills for berries. Then, I peep into the herb courtyard to watch the Black Phoebe dip into the fountain and the hummingbirds nectaring at the aloe blossoms. Finally, I step out into the garden and am just as filled with wonder as I was in my childhood. This is "twig time," and it is one of my favorite  seasons of the year.

I'm holding a handful of promises. Scions soon to be grafted onto my existing fruit trees.

The interlacing twigs on my sleeping fruit trees have captivated me for the past few weeks. I love this time of year when the buds swell on the branches. On rainy days, the drops dangle from the naked twigs, each one highlighted and shining like a gem.

Twiggy pear tree decked in Spanish Moss. I planted this pear only 3 years ago. It has already grown a couple of feet. I'm training it against the fence.

A tangle of grape vines I started from one single twig about 4 years ago. Now the vine is ten feet tall and is beginning to roam across the big arbor over our farm table. I've planted these grapes at the foot of each arbor post.

The twigs pruned from nectarine, pluot, pear, and Santa Rosa plum were too beautiful to toss into the compost pile. I think they look gorgeous starkly outlined against the window. In a couple of weeks, they will bloom in shades of pink and white.

A sculptural Brown Turkey fig twig and shadow. 

This mid-1800's chart was the last gift from my Mom before she passed away. Tattered and torn, but I love it just as it is. So full of life, so full of wisdom, and so full of twigs!

Twigs in the little hallway alcove Jeff uncovered and restored.

Thick elderberry twigs. These are from Sambucus, the music tree. The center pith of the elderberry twigs is easily removed, and the twigs can be fashioned into flutes. These were a gift from Mardi Niles, and they're bound with together with old wire. I think they're fabulous. 

My twiggy painting of a nest (see the reflection of my Mom's chart?).

Twigs in the entry hall.

A twiggy wreath over the fireplace. That is my girlfriend Stephanie Roth Sisson. She is a FABULOUS illustrator and has probably done books you've enjoyed. She is currently doing the Princess Posy series of books. We had our Kiddie Writers meeting at my home this week. Steph is sharing artwork.

A perfect ending to this very twiggy week was the 17th annual Scion Exchange and Grafting Party of my local chapter of California Rare Fruit Growers. It is fantastic. Fruit enthusiasts from our area bring in bare root trees and scions. Seasoned grafters give demonstrations of various grafting techniques. They draw quite an enthusiastic crowd. The meeting is held at Cal Poly State University, which is less than a mile from our home. 

BYOB-you have to bring your own bags and then, as you peruse the tables with dozens of varieties of fruit trees, you simply slip the scions into your bag and REMEMBER TO LABEL everything. I flunked this one because I got so excited I forgot to make notes.

These grape cuttings are like the ones I started over our arbor.

I couldn't believe the diverse colors, shapes, and choices! There were so many knowledgeable people there demonstrating and helping with choices. That was my problem; I couldn't make an intelligent choice. I wanted all of them and I wanted a yard twenty times the size of the one we have, but I can barely keep up with this one.

The grafting demonstration lured in dozens of onlookers. He used a small wood plane to even out his "whip and tongue" grafts.

Such a miracle. 

Something for all ages.

Even something for my age...a bare root pomegranate, which is reclining on my patio until tomorrow. Oh, ok, I already have one, but can a girl have too many pomegranates? And this one begins bearing in September and is still bearing now. Thin skinned and a bush rather than a big tree. This has a great shape already and will look perfect against our blue wall. This is an 'Early Wonderful.' Good name. It is wonderful.

Here is my wish for YOU. Go outside, rain, snow, or sun, and look closely at your twiggy bushes and trees. They're packed with energy, life, and beauty. In just a few weeks, they'll burst forth and amaze you yet again. 

Sending love,


P.S. Anyone who wants to join my Grimy Hands Girls' Club must send me a snail mail address. A surprise will be sent to you compliments of me and of the fabulous Renee Shepherd. Seeds to test and please all you Grimy Hands out there...give us your honest opinion. Also, coming soon...a book giveaway for followers and a special extra for GHGC members.