Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is it a Hose or is it a Snake?

Plants are like people. Some days they like a deep drink. Last summer I left the hose running for a short while to quench a special hibiscus' roots. When I came back to move the hose- I reached to grab it. Fortunately I realized in the nick of time that I don't own a black hose with yellow stripes (like in the second picture) or it would have been the scream heard in 3 counties.
I know. Snakes are good because they eat rodents. And with fruit trees and shade- if I were a rodent and had the choice of living in my garden or roughing it out back- I would hang out here, too. Still, the thought of gardening is a hard sell when I see a snake.

However,I look across the blooms to the canyon beyond, and I know. I will garden here for as long as I am able.
Ths snakes- even two on the same day- brought to mind that many things are not so difficult as we imagine. Wouldn't the world would be a happier place if instead of spending so much time trying to make things "no maintenance" and "problem free" we spent our effort finding ways to layer on more beauty?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Romantic Gardener

“I draw with plants, soil and rocks.” – John Schoustra, owner of Greenwood Daylily Gardens and the Rancho de las Flores wedding garden.
All gardeners are passionate artists who work in different styles. There are realists and surrealists. Minimalists and naturalists. Myself, I am a romantic. Defiantly so.
A literal description of this vignette and how it came to be is that it is a small stand of two toned freesias planted beneath the tree ‘Tabebuia Rosea’. For several seasons, when the little flowers should have been at their loveliest, the weight of the blossoms on fragile stalks toppled their blooming faces in to the dirt. Rather than tie these stems to sticks, the variegated geranium, ‘Pelargonium Crispum’ was planted to provide more natural looking support. But it is so much more vivid in how it is framed by imagination.
I imagine bunnies hopping by at Easter time see the freesia as a necklace decorated with amethyst cabochons. The starched and tightly ruffled chartreuse leaves edged in cream and white are the lavish lace collar on which the necklace is displayed. Both are fastened at the base of the tree. Its slender trunk rises up as a long neck. The canopy, as though it is the regal profile of Mother Nature herself, holds high her pink tourmaline encrusted crown.
So splendidly adorned, the tree holds court out over the valley, beholder and beholden. She sniffs the perfume of the ruffle beneath her blooming crown and she names the geranium “French Lace”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Living on the Edge

John and Trisha Bowler have an incredible view of rolling hills. After years of drought, the hills were scorched. Nearby construction dislodged local wildlife,which then migrated in to the residential areas in search of food, water and shade. Trisha began sending a count of rattlesnakes that were found in her yard.

Trisha was clearly stressed. So I did the only thing a friend could to help. I found a recipe for fried rattlesnake: printed it out, put it on an envelope on her front doorstep, rang the doorbell and ran. Of course it was not a clean get-away.

John and Trisha have been very smart in how they've landscaped for living on the urban interface. There is a lot of clear pavement so that they can see what is keeping them company while they enjoy their pool. The hedges are low. And everything is impeccably neat. But as you can see, when the setting is so intrinsicaly beautiful, there is not a need for a lot of ornamentation.

Photo courtesy of Trisha Bowler

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Parental Warning

If you are a parent, or even if you are not, read the following story, but only after being warned to be prepared. Be prepared to be charmed, uplifted and happy to remember how good life is through the eyes of a spunky, smart and thoroughly adorable boy.

On March 3rd The Sacramento Bee ran that rare story- the one that makes you happy that you know how to read and that you read newspapers. One of those stories that makes you want to jump up and cheer. It was about a seven year old boy who runs his own weekly newspaper. This is a very short clip from the story written by Hudson Sangree

"Finn is 7 years old. His paper is called The Weekly Block and covers his own small part of the world in central Davis.

The second-grader with a mop of brown hair was inspired by the hero of his favorite tales, Geronimo Stilton, a storybook mouse and editor of The Rodent's Gazette.

"I was bored and thinking about Geronimo Stilton, and I said to myself, 'Hey, wouldn't it be fun to have my own paper."

Good Day Sacramento followed up with a televised interview. That clip may no longer be available, but this Friday, March 21 do what you need to so that you can watch Finn on The Live Desk with Martha MacCallum. According to Wrye Sententia, mother of the Editor-in-Chief, the littlest editor-in-chief is scheduled to be sharing his special brand of commentary on independent media. Information at this time is that the segment will be the last one, to air between between 10:30and 11AM here on the west coast.

Finns' newspaper can be found at
Martha MacCallum's show can be found at

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March 12th in the Garden

When we went shopping for a four bedroom home 21 years ago, I thought we were looking for a pool home. One weekend of showing us houses and our realtor told us that we could really care less if we had a pool. But we had to have a view and we craved privacy.
My first impression at the curb was "no way" would I buy a home on so steep a street. But for my husband it was love at first sight. He said the yard smelled like vacation. The canyon behind us was thick with chaparral and wildlife.

Here's more feverfew popping up along the pathway. It mixes so merrily with the little geranium and alyssum. No sunny garden should be without alyssum. It reseeds with such abandon that it is taken for granted. It shouldn't be. It smells of honey. The first time I noticed this was the day Sharon Shepherd let me accompany her to her appointment at City of Hope. The entryway to the hospital was full of the scent from a groundcover of it. Since then, the sight and smell of alyssum, I am filled with the memories of this truly great woman.

Sharon loved her family and her Christian faith never waivered. An elegant woman, she loved beauty and simplicity. She taught me to love any flower that looked like a daisy.

And finally the orchid. My mother's favorite flower. This one sits on the western edge of the patio. Its bright yellow color cuts through even thick fog. When I look out the kitchen window when it is in bloom, I know how lucky I am still be able to talk to her almost every day. Someday she will be gone, but I will have the orchid to remember her bright smile.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bloom Where You Are Planted

What is home but the place where we spread our roots?

I remember the day trip to the South Coast Botanical Gardens. This 87 acre horticultural Nirvana is located just 10 miles, as the hummingbird flies, from one of my nominees for ugliest spots in the universe: Los Angeles International Airport. Visually, the 87 acre botanical garden is a universe away. In the Eden named the Palos Verdes Penninsula.

It was a warm southern California morning. Strolling the hillside walkways, I became enchanted with a charming daisy-like flower. It popped up everywhere, an informal floral punctuation scattered haphazardly throughout the landscape. I wanted so badly to pluck one and pull out the delicate white petals one by one. I wanted to play as a child, "He loves me. He loves me not."

I didn't that day. But two decades later, I can just about any day. The dainty appearing flower I now know as "feverfew" must have hitchhiked home on the soles of my shoes. At first there were just a few volunteers. Now decades later, the feverfew seeds itself in any barren sunny spot or unoccupied cranny.

Feverfew blooms with abandon wherever it plants itself. And I hope that I have, too. It came to Diamond Bar, not knowing where the shoes I was wearing would deposit its seeds.

I came here, knowing where this place is, but not knowing who I would become.
Over the years I have been a student, a merchant, a community activist, a parks and planning commissioner. I have been a wife, a mother, a newspaper editor and a business owner. And in this journey of my life I feel like I am finally home. I am a gardener and a garden writer. This is where my roots are planted, and this is where I shall bloom.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pay it Forward

"By how do we define a human being? There are a number of traits that distinguish human beings from other forms of life. One of the distinguishing features is that man has the ability to do chesed (acts of loving-kindness). Man can do for others even at the cost of his own comfort. With the exception of pets who may adopt human traits, animals are incapable of sacrificing themselves for the benefit of others. No tiger has ever left over a carcass so that a hungry jackal might have food.
All living things act in their own interest. Man can be unique in one of two ways. (1) He can sacrifice his personal comfort in order to help others. (2) He can alter his character so that other people's discomforts become his own. Even if one does not achieve the latter, the minimum criterion of humanity is to be able to set aside one's own comfort for the benefit of others."

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski published these words in the Jewish World Review
His words brought me back to a Friday afternoon right after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. At the time I was the editor of community newspaper "The Windmill". Diamond Bar High School Counselor Tisa Shavers asked if the paper could be at the school the following Monday. Members of different groups on campuses within the Walnut Valley Unified School District would be phoning over the weekend. They hoped to raise $20,000 for the American Red Cross.
There was no one available to assign, so I took on the story myself. Arriving at the high school late that morning, it was clear that expectations had been exceeded. The "press prop" check tallied $51,000. However, by the time it was presented, the check was outdated. Over $68,000 was raised by the time the story was written later that day. In the words of Tisa Shavers, " Americans are the most generous people on earth."
The photo above was taken at the lunchtime pep rally. The joy is palpable. Not from anything those kids received. From what they gave. They "paid it forward".

Pay It Forward Challenge.
So it was a happy circumstance when on one of my favorite blogs- was posted: "Here's a chance to get a surprise from me, on a surprise date, in the next 365 days. I'm responding to this through Rachel's Blog: Sliding Through Life....Some lovely surprise will be coming from her to me in the next 365 days....!"

And now, I offer the same chance to you. The first three bloggers who let me know they want "to play" Pay it Forward: send me a note and offer the same opportunity to their readers, and sometime in the next 365 days, I will send the first 3 responders who follow these simple "rules" a gift- from me. If I don't know the contact info needed for me to do my part- you can send a note over as "anonymous" and I will read it without posting. Have fun!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Flavor Begins With Color

In March, thousands of kumquats hang from the tree. Not much bigger than quail eggs, their bright orange shapes fill the tree like stars in the Milky Way: too many to count.
I sometimes leave the window nearest the kumquat tree open so even inside I can enjoy the chattering of hummingbirds enjoying a rest within the protection of the kumquat’s twiggy branches. They chirp in auditory dashes and dots. In this avian Morris Code, they sing out an hallelujah chorus. The search is over. No need to wander in search of Eden. Food, water, shelter: all their needs are abundantly met here.
These darting darlings are not just beautiful winged acrobats. They are as practical as they are ornamental. They eat aphids and fruit flies. As they swoop in to flowerbeds to drink in sweet nectar, they pollinate the flowers they visit. The tiny hummingbird comes by this tenant of a very good life without effort. It gives back, without thought of reward, at least equal to what it receives.

The kumquat tree is an excellent choice for home gardens in temperate zones. Situated in a narrow side yard, mine thrives despite benign neglect. It doesn’t need more water than the red apple on the adjoining neighbor’s yard. Their bougainvillea frequently reaches up across the property line fence. The thorny stray arms embrace the fruit laden branches. It is a colorful lesson that some rules are wonderful when broken, Who knew hot pink goes so well with orange. It does in nature.
For many years, we picked the kumquats and popped the oblong fruit whole in to our mouth, never certain when we bit down, if the squirt would be predominantly juicy sweet or vividly sour. No matter, this fastest of food always delighted as it nourished.
And this single tree, which as it reaches towards its 30th birthday is only one story tall, always provides more than enough to share both with visiting wildlife and neighborhood children.
Kumquat Marmalade is not the fastest of recipes to make. But it is a worthy way to slow down. There is a gift that comes from being intimately more involved in the process of actually making the food eat. It slows us down so that we can appreciate the details that prove effort is rewarded. The clarity of color in homemade marmalade promises a fresher taste, without the unappetizing bitterness associated with what is found on the supermarket shelf.
While the instructions on the pectin read that marmalades can take up to two weeks to thicken, I have made this version three times and been able to use immediately and for months afterwards with equal success.
Kumquat Marmalade

Sterilize jars and new 2 part lids by running through the dishwasher. Try to time the cycle so they are still warm when the jam is ready to go in the jars. The preparation and cooking takes about an hour.
2 cups chopped kumquats

Wash fruit. Cut in quarters, removing seeds. Rough chop until you have enough. Set aside.
2 oranges
Wash. Grate the zest.
Remove the pith from fruit and chunk up the segments
Add oranges and zest in to the kumquats.
1 cup orange juice
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 pkg. Certo Liquid Pectin
In a large pot (6 quarts or so) stir in the fruit mixture, juice, sugar and Certo Jell. Over medium heat, stir until the mixture comes to a boil that cannot be stirred down.
1 Tbsp. Butter
1/8 tsp baking soda
Stir in. Lower the heat and simmer for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle in to sterilized jars up to level or slightly above with the bottom of the thread marks on the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth or wet paper towel so that any drippings will not affect the seal, which is very important to prevent dangerous spoilage.
The pot to sterilize the jars must be full of boiling water deep enough to cover the jars plus an inch or so. Put the lid on and allow the jars to simmer for 10 minutes.
The jars at this point will be vey fragile. Lift carefully and place on the counter where cold drafts won’t break jars as they cool overnight. As the seals compress, you will hear a little popping.
Here are the warnings that while rare, you need to be aware of. Any jar when touched after it has cooled where the lid does not suck down tight needs to go in the refrigerator to use right away as this indicates the seal is not airtight. If a lid on a jar you open has any “give” before breaking the seal, toss the whole thing in the trash.
In 25 years of jam making, I have only had to refrigerate a couple of jars right away and only had to toss one. So it is rare, but worth noting.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Moe turned 42 today. A Chimpanzee, he isn't with the couple he loves most: Jim and La Donna Davis. He's living in an animal preserve near San Bernardino.

Moe can't be with Jim and La Donna Davis because in the summer of 2005 other chimps mauled Jim. In the attack, the renegade chimpanzees ripped off his nose, an eye, most of his fingers, both testicles and much of the flesh from his buttocks and face and left foot, leaving him near death when he was rescued.

It wasn't expected that he would survive. But he has. That was the first miracle. Another miracle:his mind is clear. But unable to return to work, the former stock car racer and auto body shop owner racer have fallen on very hard times. Left badly disfigured, Jim and his wife have been grateful to the doctors and staff of Loma Linda Hospital who have often volunteered their services. However, as anyone who has had their life so critically interrupted will tell us, medical expenses are not the only expenses one has to meet at such times.

This Saturday, March 8th at 2 PM, a benefit concert featuring Eleanor "C-Pass" Jones will be held at the Dean's Swim Club, 1010 Overlook Ridge Rd, Diamond Bar, CA 91765. 100% of proceeds will go directly to help Jim and La Donna with their daily living expenses.

The cost of the event is only $20. Checks can be made out to Jim or La Donna Davis and may be paid at the door. If you would like to make a donation in lieu of attendance, please make checks or money orders payable to Jim or La Donna Davis and mail to C-Pass Enterprises, Inc., P.O Box 2418, Inglewood, CA 90305.

For a preview of the talented Eleanor Jones- please go to

Hugs and Thank yous to Al Rumpilla for the information on this event. Jim and La Donna are lucky to have you as a friend.