Life as I know It

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Won't you join me?

I'd love to see you at my talk on Saturday, April 2 at 1:00 p.m., at the San Luis Obipso Botanical Garden.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet and Southern Comfort

Our sweet mama Anna's Hummingbird made it through 60 mile per hour winds, relentless rain and cold, and she is still sitting on her two jelly-bean sized white eggs. Hurrah! 
Next week will be all about this wonderful flying jewel of my garden. Stay tuned.

Dear friends,

Where do I  begin? During the past week, we've been in a whirlwind of activity. First, the drive north to the Bay Area where we attended a peek press preview of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. It was great to view the gardens up close and to see the amount of creativity and energy that went into the installations. Amazing. I walked away with some good, do-able ideas for my own gardens. I think that is what we always want to gain from a garden show, not only the wow factor, but also the things we can master on our own. Sustainability was the star of the show, and one of my favorite displays was the edible garden outside under a tent, which included some Sunset Magazine container garden ideas,  a fabulous hexagonal bee hive, and a chicken coop and hen house with a living green roof.

I think this is gorgeous. Look for the hex hive at

The area below the hen house is screened for a run. Note the dominant theme of the garden show–a green roof of succulents.

An outdoor eating area with a living roof. I think I would make a wider over-hang.

A side view of the dovecote.

I am going to make this hanging chandelier. I'll use one of those wire formed moss baskets (they're inexpensive) and fill it with moss and soil, then plant succulents all over the top and sides. Finally, I'll just tuck candles into the soil or I'll use those green florist candle holders that have a long, pointed end. They wouldn't show and would work beautifully.

Sections of gutter mounted on the wall, filled with soil, and planted. Great vertical idea for people with tiny garden spaces.

Even trellises can be added to straw bale gardens. Look for directions on how-to create this garden in my new book Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars.

A dovecote studded with kazillions of succulents.

Repurposing corrugated tin for raised planters. Great ideas from the hort students at Foothill College.

Sweet Comforts Tom and Rebecca Style

After the preview, we attended a party at the home of author Rebecca Sweet (Garden Up!: Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces) who also writes for magazines and has a blog called Gossip in the Garden. Rebecca and I have known each other for years (she was a loyal Heart's Ease customer), but this was my first visit to her home, gardens, and studio – all stunning and worthy of a magazine article. Rebecca, her beautiful daughter Emily, and her adorable husband Tom made us all feel like royalty.

Rebecca's "shed," and I use that term loosely, is a heartbreaker. I love the use of old windows. Wouldn't you love your own shed for your creative moments alone?

Don't you love it that she used an antique mantel against her fence?

Rebecca told me I could spend the night in here. Ok, but where is the bathtub?

Kentucky Comfort and Hospitality 

The next day we flew to Lexington, Kentucky. What ever happened to the adventure of travel? By the time we arrived in Kentucky, we felt and looked like two deflated balloons. I had consulted the weather forecast for Lexington, but the temps dropped 30 degrees in one day and dipped even lower the next. Thank goodness that our energetic hostess Sue Fosson took pity on me and supplied me with a jacket and gloves. Thanks, dear Sue, not only for this kindness–for everything you did to make our trip successful.

Marcia (aka the Lady Tornado), Richard Weber, the landscape designer, and I discuss how to add some vertical elements to the children's butterfly and metamorphosis garden.

The auditorium was filled to capacity the night of my Founder's Lecture. Several people brought in copies of the Country Gardens magazine article that featured my little garden. Yea Country Gardens, let's all support them and keep the magazine thriving. The Spring issue features the fabulous gardens of my friend Tovah Martin, who lives in a tiny cobbler's house in Connecticut. A must see.

The cold weather was tempered by the gracious and warm welcome shared with us by the folks who organized my Founder's Talk, which was proposed and supported by Marcia Farris, a relentless force in the creation of the new children's garden at the arboretum. Marcia had an original (1991) edition of Sunflower Houses, which she said inspired her to begin this project. Hurrah! That makes the lonely chore of writing a bit easier for me.

The Bluegrass Herb Guild Luncheon and Tea

Jeff and I were the lucky guests at a tea hosted for us by the Bluegrass Herb Guild, a thriving group of creative gardeners. The event was held at the home of lovely Susan Daole, who lives in a storybook cottage overflowing with books and art. Jane Lowery (standing behind Jeff) was the original instigator of this luncheon. Thanks Jane and Susan. 

Lucky Jeff, oh, I guess this time he wasn't the only man. At the far left is author, photographer, potter, and garden designer Ezra Haggard.

My friend Yuki writes for the Japanese Herb magazine. We talked about the tragedies of the recent earthquake, tsunami, and now the devastating radiation leaks. 

The food was not only tasty, but also gorgeous. It speaks for itself.

Different herbs on each cracker. Love this!

A delicious rainbow.

The first asparagus of spring topped with the first sweet violets. 

Lavender cookies.

A tray full of bunnies and mice. Hilarious and delicious.

The group spoiled me with cards (thanks photographer extraordinaire Patsy Anderson), a landscaping book (thanks Ezra), Shaker cookbooks from the herbies, a letter press poem and cards courtesy of Deborah Kessler of October Press and Susan Daole. If you love the old fashioned look and quality of letter press, you'll love her exquisite works of art.

Warm Beans and Olive Salad

Patsy Anderson made this dish for our herbal luncheon and it was a smashing success. Everyone wanted her recipe and I am going to make it Wednesday night for some friends. Give it a try, I think you'll be thrilled with it too.

2  cups small cauliflower florets
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil-divided
1  cup diced celery
1  cup diced red onion
2   garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup white wine vinegar (NOT white vinegar, make sure it is white wine)
1    tablespoon honey
2    16 ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I'm using dried beans & cooking them)
1    7 ounce jar of halved kalamata olives
2    tablespoons of chopped fresh parley
1    tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1    teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Garnish with fresh sage.

Cook cauliflower in boiling water 5 or 6 minutes (until crispy-tender). Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain and set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add celery and onion; saute 3 minutes or until almost tender. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds. Stir in vinegar and honey till dissolved.

Combine cauliflower and sauteed vegetables in a large bow. Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, beans, and next 5 ingredients; stir well to combine. Serve warm. Yields a dozen servings.

Patsy added the fresh herbs to the sauteed veggies and cooked them for a couple of minutes, then she also added a dash of tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.

Thanks Patsy! Give it a try and let me know how y'all like it.

A Tuscan Feast

That evening we were hosted by artist Holly Salisbury at a special Tuscan supper. We got a sneak peak at the pastels she created plein air in Tuscany.

Holly hosted 18 with ease, graciousness, and style. Thanks dear Holly.

The Give-Away Winner & a Great Recipe

Jeff just said, "Ok Sharon, we agreed that you would write shorter postings." Uh oh, but how do I write a short one now and leave out all the wonderful people I've been with in the past week? Can't do it, but I promise to make it short next week when I focus on the life-and-death drama of my little Anna's hummingbird who is surviving despite all sorts of natural calamities. 

The winner of the From Seed to Skillet book give-away (chosen by the random number generator) is Thea! Thea dear, I do not have an address for you and need you to send one so we can tuck your book into the mail. Congratulations!

That's it for now – phew. I still haven't had a moment to catch my breath or catch up with gardening, house chores, and letters from friends. Forgive me if I haven't answered you.

Thanks for your caring thoughts and words.

All joys,


p.s. My Lowe's blog posting has finally changed. Take a moment to visit and read about spring flower fireworks, and please leave a valued comment.

Read my interview on and sign up for her giveaway.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the Grace of the World

A give-away awaits with a special bonus for members of the Grimy Hands Girls' Club.

"For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
Wendell Berry

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I just need to stop, brew a pot of tea, pick up a favorite book,  and settle into my kitchen 
rocker for peace...

...and the pleasures of one of my beloved old books, My Friend the Garden, by Fernand LeQuenne (translated from the French version). See the pieces of paper marking some of my favorite passages? Here is one of his old adages: "February warm brings spring with a storm." It surely did that today. Our first day of spring and brrrrr, it is cold and winter like.

So much is going on in our small and fragile world. I need to give thanks for the bounty and simple joys that keep me going, and I need to remember and offer up prayers for those who are not as fortunate.

Won't you join me for a few happy minutes in a small and well-loved (and used) kitchen? I'd take you out into the garden, but you'd want to hurry back indoors. The skies are dark, the winds are as blustery as a Winnie the Pooh day, and the rains have pounded my new seedlings into the ground.

I'll brew a pot of tea, take down the honey, and my Grandmother's pottery teapot, sugar, and creamer...

Slice and sautee some fresh-picked veggies...

...pull out the last of the cold-storage apples, pick a lemon, mix some sugar, spices, and berries...

...for a comfort food dessert.

I'll whip some cream with Zelda, my new/old mixer, a find from our local thrift store.  Zelda doesn't weigh much so she is easy for me to use, and she came with a selection of bowls and attachments for grinding meat and...

...for squeezing fresh orange juice. Oh, and when she is whirring along and doing a great job, she has an aroma that reminds me of baking with my grandmother.

Jeff will juice pounds of oranges; I'll mash the softening avocados into a spicy guacamole sauce and process the pears for freezing.

Just a few hours of quiet work helps mend the tattered and frayed pieces of life. I appreciate every minute at home, but also love the times I've shared with others. This past weekend I presented talks at The Kindergarten Forum in Saratoga, California. This was probably the fourth or fifth time I've participated in the Forum, which I LOVE for its attendees who are educators still filled with a childlike sense of wonder. These folks are the first nurturers of the spirits of our youngsters, our most precious resource.

I loved this gathering. We had people writing poetry, making wool roving dolls, knitting, drawing, doing needlepoint, and even...

...spinning! Nobody in this group wasted any time.

We sang children's songs, did rhythmic storytelling (even some African stories), and shared a bountiful potluck meal together. That is author-teacher Anna Rainville leading the singing.

Today is my peaceful, stay-at-home time, but starting tomorrow things change. Our favorite house-sitter moves in, and we journey north to the home of author Rebecca Sweet for a special party and celebration of the book Garden Up! written by Rebecca and Susan Morrison. It is a fabulous book and should be in the libraries of serious gardeners everywhere. We will also get a sneak peek at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, which we will photograph and share in a future posting. Then ONWARD to The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, in Lexington, where I'll be giving a special presentation on Thursday evening and a morning after talk on children's gardens. On Friday afternoon, Jeff and I will be the guests at a special tea hosted by the Bluegrass Herb Guild.

I'd love to meet some of you after the lecture. This should be FUN!

Here is the wonderful gardening/cookbook From Seed to Skillet, written by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger, that some lucky reader will win. Leave a comment to participate. Members of the Grimy Hands Girls' Club will have double-luck if their name is drawn–an extra gift, which will be shipped with the book.

Here are just some of the envelopes, which I've stuffed with goodies. Jeff will print the labels (thank goodness I don't have to hand print them), and when we return from Kentucky, we'll mail them out to you. The first 100 charter members receive extra surprises (sorry, we've already closed the charter membership). All other members are eligible for special prizes, too.

Back to my book, then packing and getting ready for an adventure. I hope to meet some of you in person.

All joys to you,


P.S. Thank you for featuring Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars in this video.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seed to Skillet

Farm dog on duty.

No clanging cymbals, drumroll, or trumpets sounded, but this morning when I stepped out to greet the first peep of day, spring had arrived. Robins chuckled and cheerioed in concert with the mockingbird, who called like quail, hollered like a red-shouldered hawk, and followed me through the garden. Goldfinches whistled their plaintive "tsee- er- eee," and the constant zip of hummingbirds stitched all these spring sounds together.

Throughout our little home, the twigs I harvested at pruning time are bursting with fresh, green leaves and  papery blossoms––shouts of spring joy.

Cause for Celebration!

I am so grateful for this time. My friend Chris has been declared clean and free of ovarian cancer. My friend Dawn, who suffered a heartbreaking loss a year ago, has a new life growing inside her. This morning I looked around and said, "O' joyous life," which is what I wrote on each hand-painted birth announcement I made to celebrate my son Noah. On that card was an acorn, a mature oak, and those words, which are a mantra of thanks to guide my every day.

Heartless Gardeners?

We finished ripping out our front garden parterre of lavenders. Sound heartless? Nope, they had grown into their dotage, flopping over and dwarfing dianthus and nepeta, and giving the entire front yard a gray pallor for most of the year. I've kept 8 lavenders in the herbal courtyard, but in the next month, you'll see how we turned our most boring area into a paradise. Stay tuned!

The Grimy Hands Girls' Club

Thanks for the overwhelming and joyful support. I am busily stuffing manila envelopes with garden note cards, Renee's Garden seeds, and my business card. We still have a few charter memberships available, so if you haven't already signed up, please do so now to receive your gifts.

Catching Up

I have been under water with assignments and am just taking a deep gasp of air and getting back in touch with my on-line friends.

We had a stream of friends who visited from out-of-state and California in the past month. Hotel California was open, and I was the chosen chef. We happily hosted friends from Albuquerque, Sacramento, San Diego, Indiana, and Iowa.

A Much Needed Break

On Sunday afternoon, Jeff and I visited our friends Barbara and Bill Spencer, who own and tend the famous Windrose Farm. Windrose is nestled into a river valley in a micro-climate unlike any I've ever known. Although they live only 28 miles north of us, their spring looks like it is a month behind ours. Sunday was chilly and damp, but our spirits were blazing as we turned on Cripple Creek Rd. and headed for the farm.

We were happy to tour the grounds of their bio-dynamic, organic farm, which has been a labor of love and work in progress for twenty years.

Luckily the creek wasn't swollen as we drove through. This could be challenging during a storm.

The long road to the farm. Since our last visit, they've planted rosemary all along the entry way.

Baaaaa, baaaaa, and they leapt around like...well, like lambs.

Ok, I PROMISE, no more lamb chops.

Bill Spencer leads some interested friends on a walk around the farm.

You can see that spring hasn't yet kissed this earth. This is an adobe paver pathway that was recycled from Bill's parents' farm in Paso Robles.

"Come on, Lovejoy!" That is Jeff on the right rear waiting for me to catch up.

The fruit trees are waking.

Oh, what is more beautiful than apple blossoms?

Uh oh, I think these are pretty knock-out beautiful too. These are lichens on the apple branches, and they're testimony to the clean air in their valley. Aren't they like a miniature faerie land?

Falling behind again. Look at those green hills. I guess I missed some of Bill's talk about how he is rotating crops, growing cover crops, and doing his bio-dynamic gardening.

Garlic, garlic everywhere, and so many varieties.

In the barn where they're drying their fabulous chili peppers. 

They offer many kinds of potatoes at both the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica Farmers' Markets. They also supply the top restaurants along the coast with their farm fresh and organic produce. 

Ok, good to know.

Drying allium heads for seed.
(My granddaughter thinks these are faerie wands.)

Seed selection in the barn.

Love these rosemary tossed in an old wheelbarrow.

Late in the afternoon, we gathered in their garage, which is more like one of their barns, and sat at huge tables where we shared a meal from the new book From Seed to Skillet, written by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger, both beloved and well-known gardeners, designers, garden communicators, and writers

Outside the "dining room."

Lettuce centerpieces with recipe cards for the guests.

I would've gladly sat right next to this magnificent Pozo Tomme cheese made by Christine and Jim Maguire of Rinconada Dairy. Wow, this is probably my favorite cheese of all time. Nutty, dry, a sheep's milk cheese that is unsurpassed. You need to taste it.

Susan Heeger and Jimmy Williams with their great book. 
Heck, I'd buy it just for the title, which Jimmy had incubated in his mind for many years.

We sat with Jimmy and Susan and like everyone who met them, fell under their spell. Their book is pure and shining truth about edible gardening. Jimmy is part Gullah from South Carolina and part Shinnecock Native American and Irish. His techniques and cooking sprout from the powerful roots of his childhood with his gardening grandmother, Nana Eloise.

Susan Heeger and her husband Rob care for a gorgeous edible garden in Los Angeles. Susan is not only a gardener, but a noted writer, with works appearing in newspapers, Martha Stewart Living, and many other publications. 

Susan and Jimmy visited with everyone. I think they were still in a spin after having a cocktail party hosted in their honor by old friend Michael Pollan. That is some endorsement.

Jeff eating and talking with Rob, who is a landscape architect and Susan's husband. You'll see his designs featured in the book's photographs. 

Susan and Jimmy said that I could share a recipe with you, so here goes:

Blueberry Slump 
(which I'm going to make in Maine with our blueberries,
if the birds leave any)

This is from Jimmy:

"We ate this traditional Shinnecock dish, fresh from the oven, for breakfast or as a warm dessert topped with vanilla ice cream. We even had it in winter, when my mother would make it using blueberries she had frozen the previous summer. The term "slump" refers to the fact that the dish tends to fall a bit when spooned out of the pan, and that makes sense to me. I love the smooth tanginess of the blueberries combined with the grainy sweetness of the cornmeal batter."

2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen thawed blueberries
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (My choice is GRADE B)
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking soda, and salt. Add the blueberries and gently toss together.
  • In a medium bowl, beat the eggs well, then stir in the yogurt and syrup.
  • Fold this mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring just enough to combine, with some lumps remaining.
  • Pour the batter into a buttered 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Bake until the top springs back lightly when touched and is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

Ok, have I worn you out yet? It is 11 P.M. here, and I am still stuffing those Grimy Hands envelopes. 

Sending love out to all of you and wishing you spring joys-you deserve them!


P.S. My new column "Small Blessings" in Farming Magazine just came out. This one is about growing gourds and crafting with them. 

Be sure to stop by my recent posting on Lowe's Creative Ideas.

The winner of our give-away of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is Marianne at
Until next time...