Friday, October 31, 2008

Spread the Wealth

It is only natural that this close to an election, that thoughts turn to the spreading of manure.
In honor of Halloween and All Saints Day. I will spread this weekend some organic materials about the garden. I'm not going to work them in- just toss about and allow nature to take its course for a few weeks as the ingredients get to know each other and mingle a bit.

While I am not religious about organic gardening, organic supplements tend to be gentler on the garden’s digestive system, so I favor them the way the nutritionist who helped me find my way back to good health, Dr. David Wu, D.C., favors natural food supplements over the chemical variety.

This is what will be topping the soil on the vegetable path and about the irises.

1. Bat Guano- “Guano manure is an effective fertilizer and gunpowder ingredient due to its high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen and also its lack of odor.” It is also what I gave my husband as his gift for his 41st birthday- the year we had the best tomato crop ever.

2. Bone Meal
Gardens need good bones- sprinkling calcium makes sense to this irreverent gardener.
This slow release fertilizer is rich in phosphates, encouraging plant sugars to metabolize right down to the to roots' tipple-toes.
Because I have invested in the soil, I have the reasonable expectation that the garden will provide more wealth to share with me, my friends and neighbors.
Last night I was at a public meeting regarding the proposed new Los Angeles NFL Stadium. A former public official got up and proclaimed, " I believe in spreading the wealth. " followed by approximately what is in it for us?
It isn't that I don't think we deserve benefits from a facility being built in a neighboring community. We will be affected by it and we should expect it to be respectful and generous to the neighborhood it is moving into. However, it does take a little bit of gall to demand specific benefits from something you are not contributing to.
If I don't hoe, weed, fertilize, seed and water- my garden wouldn't give me much. If we want something for the stadium- we need to think about what we are able to give, articulate it- and follow through. So it is in the garden. So it should be in life.

* From Wikipedia
*Dr. David Wu, D.C. website-

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Magenta Mornings

The promise of the day is in the autumn sunrise.

On Magenta mornings, the glory of the day rises, coloring thoughts with optimism.

You are cordially invited to grab a glass of ice tea, apple cider- whatever refreshes your smile- and read about the autumn view from Sue Maxwell's front porch.

I've never met her in person- but from the words she sends over the Internet- I know I like her. You will, too.
This is the link:
This rose is a classic with a naughty name- Sexy Rexy. Surrounded by red Valerian (it must have been a guy who named it "red" because every woman knows that is a deep pink!)
Thank you to photographer Gene Sasse of Alta Loma for the top photograph. Popular Woodworking just gave his artbook on master woodworker Sam Maloof a great big positive salute on their blog. Read it at

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Haunting

Yoo-Hoo, West Hollywood "Installation Artists"
Someone forgot their Halloween Manners.

Halloween is not about you. About your political beliefs or mis-beliefs.

People who will hang in effigy- Governor Palin- you need to put an ad in the lost and found. You have lost your common sense.

Perhaps you don't have the compassion of my chihuahuas. When you put that noose around her neck- you may as well have put it around every middle class traditional woman in this nation. You showed contempt for every conservative woman in this nation. You think that kind of arrogance makes you look good? Think again.

Take the doll down. Or don't tell me your candidate stands for hope and change.
Don't tell me about the mean Republicans.

Senator McCain and senior spokespeople have been very clear to their supporters- treat Obama, Biden and the families with respect. I'm waiting Senator Obama. Where is your outrage about this? Or is it reserved for people who stand in the way of your ambition?

To the "installation artists"- I have posted these photographs so you can see the kind of Halloween party decoration that celebrates the holiday. Which if you aren't celebrating- you aren't participating in a holiday.

About the time I was married, a brother of a woman I knew was murdered. He was a teacher here in California. His sister told me it was a witches ceremony for Halloween. His body was drained of blood. So don't give me excuses about how what you did is "art". Art is not synonymous with hateful bad taste.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Inspiration of Trees

"Since I was a boy at summer camp... I have always felt like I was in a church when out of doors. The colors, birds and other animals and fish and the nature around me made me feel as if I was in God's Church.

We even had an outdoor Chapel with a blue sky as the ceiling...... the wind in the trees...

It was wonderful.
I was, and am, very fortunate.
I know that I am richer than most because of that start. No money, But Richer by far.

- George "Gator" Hill

I was not at a church or sitting at the foot of a monument. There is a building inside the gates at 70 Rincon Rd, Kensington- just four miles north of UC Berkeley- a stately mansion with shades drawn- the official residence of the President of the entire UC system. But it was not the building that filled me with awe and made goose bumps rise.

It was the property itself. Situated on a rock-rich bowl overlooking San Francsco Bay, 1200 species of plants call the Blake Gardens home. The diversity in country of origin for the plants residing here mirrors our California population. There were towering trees from Australia.
Rows of our native red-limbed manzanita. Hedges of Chilean bromeliads. Swaths of Mediterranean beauties.

This display captivated me. Just what were these balls on the base of the trees clothed in matching shredded parchment- like bark? Were they growths? A small patch of newsprint peaked from underneath a scrap of bark.

The intrigue stayed with me after I arrived back home. I forwarded the picture to the contact information at the Blake Garden website. Lauri Twitchell wrote back. Quickly and generously.

The tree decoration is a project by Master of Landscape Architecture design student, Erin Murray. Erin believed the immature Melaleuca trees deserved highlighting. She crafted paper mache balls, covering them with bark from another Melaleuca that was sheding, and attached them.

Erin Murray shared this wisdom in the statement which accompanied her installation:

"There is a value in the details of things, but often we let our eyes slide past and don't take the time to EXAMINE what is around us. The purpose of this installation is to INTRIGUE and INSPIRE the public by making them question what is human and what is natural, and how the materials around them can be altered, changed or transmuted into something new. this is achieved by utilizing the bark- in and of itself an amazing material- and attributing to it new characteristics and new forms. Only by utilizing nature itself can you really understand it. "

Information on the Blake Garden can be accessed at

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Ask What Ye Will, And It Shall Be Done"

Family & Friends:
As most of you know, Mariah played the daughter of Jennifer Hudson in the movie DREAMGIRLS. We would like to start a PRAYER CHAIN every day at 3:00p (CST) Central Standard Time for her and her family till the safe return of her nephew, Julian King and continued prayers thereafter for their family Please join me and Mariah as we unite and reach out to our holy father to bring this little boy home to his family. Please pass this along to your friends and family. We know, that when we pray in numbers our prayers shall be answered. Lorna
Mariah Wilson is a local girl. When I was Editor of our community newspaper, the Diamond Bar Windmill, Lorna Tate was lovely enough to send us press releases about Mariah's achievement. It was a pleasure to print good news of the fine people living in this wonderful town.
It was eerie yesterday, watching Dreamgirls for the first time, aware of how special that time was for Mariah and Lorna: wondering if there was someway I could reach out to them.
Then the note above arrived with the answer.
The sign and birdhouse decorated with a cross are what I see when I look straight ahead from my desk. Reminders, that in the end, faith sustains us and helps us through difficult times in ways nothing of this world will.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Truth Shall Set Us Free

There is something about tending the garden that opens the mind. That gives clarity to thought.

Yesterday was another delightful morning in the garden. The temperature was a little warmer than I like- the sky a bit hazy from the fires- but the butterflies enjoy it- so who am I to complain? Besides, I got to try out the new "floral" shovel. The smaller head is a delight to work with for most planting projects.

While I was outside raking in Worm-Grow and Harvest Supreme Compost to feed freshly scattered poppy seeds around the new yellow butterfly bush way out back, I thought about the invocation I was to give last night.
Once everything was watered, the tools gathered and hose put away, I showered away any cares and organized these thoughts to paper for my portion of the program:

Our Father in Heaven,
We thank you for Your presence in this gathering of your people. Open our minds and hearts to the words of those who have come to teach us. While we are to render to Caesar what is properly the government’s jurisdiction, may we be ever mindful not to let our decisions forget to honor that which is Yours and belonging to Your dominion. Grant us the discernment to know the difference.
Be with those who cannot be with us tonight. Please watch over those who have volunteered to serve in our military, and their families.
Grant peace to those who are in mourning. Strength to those in need. Courage and motivation to those with the capacity to help.
We are humbled by Your generous blessings to us, the people of these United States.
In the coming weeks, we will be tempted by the naysayers who do not understand the magnificence of this time. This is a nation where men and women have equal opportunities according to their skills and education. Where children have the right to education. We live in a land where the sick are not disposed of in the streets for lack of insurance, but are cared for.
Guide us to the courage to do what is right when it is not the same as what is easy. Let us be ever mindful that good results mean more than the beguiling promise. When we vote. Guide us that we will choose the content of character, not the content of words of false hopes.
As is the custom of my faith, I offer this prayer in the name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

The speaker for the Diamond Bar Republican Women Federated was the always interesting Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. His family never told him to hate. But the culture sent him a different message. His culture told him that he was a victim: that message sowed the seeds of anger. The anger grew, twisting his ability to deal with reality because, "When you hate it is easy to believe a lie."

When the Reverend turned 38, he let go of his anger and founded BOND- a program dedicated to turning the lives of angry youthful adult males towards hope and success. It is his passion to bring an understanding that a healthy community begins with a healthy family. Yes- the government can take care of you- " can control you... but it can't treat you right." That subtle difference is important if what we want is not just to get by, but to thrive.

The advice he gave, while the context of the evening was political, is a universal truth. "Love what is right...stand up for it... do not be afraid in the battle between good and evil... overcome the fear... when you are afarid of your enemy you empower them... when you know who you are, you're not afraid of what you're called. "

So be enlightened and speak with calm confidence. The truth is the only ultimate winner.

More information on the Reverend and BOND can be found on

The floral shovel is carried by Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar and selected Armstrongs Nurseries.

The photograph of Reverend Jesse Lee Jackson is with incoming Diamond Bar Republican Women Federated President Barbara Carrera.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good For Tree Lovers, Not Tree Huggers

Standing tall, the bulbous chartreuse trunks, studded with spikes - the Floss-Silk tree's prehistoric appearance would be foreboding if it wasn't for the tantalizing halo of gargantuan day glow pink hibiscus-like flowers.

I love trees- however- this one, aka Chorisa Speciosa is not one- I would climb. Not with that impaler trunk. It has a stubborn shallow root system- this is not a tree to argue with as it gets larger. It does not belong within 15 feet of a foundation or driveway you don't want lifted.

It was perfect placement that its beauty is usually appreciated from afar. It is planted at the rear of the lot. There it is the first signal to the monarchs to fly this garden corridor.
The tree was a gift from my mother's garden. It came here in a decomposing whiskey barrel when she sold her home of forty years. When our oldest son graduated from college. Between job interviews, we paid him to extend the irrigation system to the undeveloped canyon past the chainlink fence which slows down wayward skunks, fox and bobcats to our more proper garden. He was pleased to have the work. It meant he would be able to save up faster for the Diamond Ring to put on his college sweetheart's finger.

That was over six years ago. Many things have changed.

But every time I see that tree bloom I am reminded of the deep love for nature and for gardens my family shares.
I think of the movement towards native plantings. I understand the sentiment. Still: more of our ancestors were immigrants than natives. The diversity in our bloodlines and blending of cultures within the family is at times is a bit challenging- still, it is interesting and healthy.

Why wouldn't it be that way with plants also? As long as my monarchs and hummingbirds and scrub jays are happy with the new introductions- so am I. This immigrant tree whose bloodlines started in South America is welcome in my garden.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Plant Pilgrimage- Part 2

When you really have to have it: ask a travel agent to find it.

Once, I was longing for a specific bottle of wine. I didn’t have the name. Just a photograph taken of someone else in Spain and the opinion that the wine was GOOD. I hunted wine stores. They called their vendors. They called importers who in turn called exporters.

Who found it? The remarkable Patty Gee- Travel Agent Extraordinaire of Progressive Travel. She had the wine named, sourced and at my doorstep in less than 2 days.

I thought I could handle getting a room for my quick get-away up to Berkeley. Last minute searching on the Internet turned up names of accommodations- but no vacancies.
Thank Goodness for Patty! She understands that it is not perfection that I seek in travel. I follow the counsel of the late landscape architect Thomas Church, “Absolute perfection, like absolute consistency, can be dull.” I seek a quietly memorable adventure filled with beauty at a price that does not send my husband into shock. Using her services has never cost me a dime extra- I get a better trip with her help- now that's value.
I e-mailed my itinerary and she sent back a confirmation for the elegantly comfortable Mill Valley Inn.

Crossing “the bridge” over the bay transported me in minutes from the crowded city to a world where redwoods stand sentry over the understory of trees and ferns: the thousand shades of green filled me with wonderment. Enthralled by the ancient forest- the moist, fresh air filled my lungs with youth.

Timbers and old bricks fronted the business district buildings with Hansel and Gretel charm. Pockets of flower beds perked up streetscape. I was thoroughly enchanted when I reached the inn.

Staff was professionally friendly, directing me to the well-insulated little room that delightfully lacked the corporate dullness of so many lodgings. The bathroom was softest buttercup yellow. The desk vanity and mirror are finished with a green distressing technique. The door to the balcony really opens: you can hear the jays clacking in the trees. Underneath the vaulted ceiling was the most comfortable bed covered in fine, crisp white linens.
Over a complimentary glass of wine I perused the list of local amenities. It can be awkward dining when traveling alone. But Mill Valley offers safe streets with a dozen or so restaurants within comfortable walking distance.
Piazza D’Angelo is one of those upscale Italian neighborhood restaurants that appeals to my inner-foodie. The fact that mentioning my lodgings would score a complimentary glass of champagne made it an irresistible dinner destination.
What to eat? The Insalatinadi Spinaci e Gorgonzola intrigued. It is a variation on the simple spinach salad. The unusual topping that tempted me was the caramelized red onions. That, and it offered a chance to taste the roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette.
The salad was satisfying in its own right- but travel is about discovery. I needed to explore a bit more the riches of this particular culinary stop.
On the waitress’ recommendation, I made room for the Tortelloni della Casa, the simple house made pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses coated gently in a creamy tomato sauce. Shavings of fresh basil is the simple touch that made the meal magnifique. After the complicated salad- this was comfort food on the first order: simple, filling and fulfilling. It made me dream of returning to my own kitchen, to putting on my apron and gathering my family together to share with them what I learned on my trip.

Helpful Websites:

Patty Gee and Progressive Travel

Piazza D'Angelo de Vivre Hotels

Mill Valley Inn is a member of the Joie de Vivre Hotels

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Plant Pilgrimage- Part 1

"…It is clear that the crisis has a moral component- in particular the severing of the relationship between productive activity and wealth.”
-Jonathan Rosenblooom

It is a sin to own a comped airline ticket and not use it. In just a week, the Southwest Airline ticket won at the Youth Science Center Gala would expire. It would become as valuable as milk left for weeks on the counter.

Where to go? The week was packed: two deadlines, two events and one doctor’s appointment smack in the middle. There wasn’t time to be tempted with thoughts of “what should I do which will make me the most money as a writer.”

Instead I focused. This would be a plant pilgrimage. I was on my way to pay homage to a business where levity and bold optimism grow in opposition to a fading economy. I brought an
empty suitcase and the money saved because I didn’t have to buy an airline ticket.
First stop would be to Annie’s Annuals and Perennials in Richmond, California. This 2.5 acres of plant heaven floats in the middle of an industrial neighborhood just north of what my friends call the “People’s Republic of Berkeley”.
I met Annie once. At an unforgettable chat she gave at the Huntington Gardens and Library. She enchanted us with bubbly visions of storybook bright blue perfumed flowers and other rarities. She is the Fairy Queen in the Land of Gardening Imagination.
She was just as effervescent the day of my visit to her garden- a few words with those who venture into the unchartered waters of business is always an honor for me.
Meet Robin and Pixie. These two plant tenders are the type of people who are the true wealth makers of this nation. People who exude cheerful love for their product. Their vitality is infectious. With their advice, the little red wagon filled with plants to stuff my empty suitcase with.

Even if you can’t make it to her garden, flipping through the pages of Annie’s charming catalog, you can learn joy looks like. It looks like a garden full of Annie’s plants. Since we all live in a world starved for an injection of levity and brash optimism, order a copy. Sign up on their “wish list” for out-of-stock delights. I have used this service a few times- and in a word- “Wow”. .
At first glance one might think that what Annie and Company sell is flowering plants. But what they really sell is HAPPINESS.

Annie's Annuals & Perennials can be found on the web at
Some of her plants can be seen in Southern California at The Garden 845 N Garey
Ave, Pomona, CA 91767 phone (909) 731-2435
or at
Roger's Gardens 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd Corona del Mar, California 92625 949- 640-5800

Friday, October 10, 2008

Barking Up A Tree

“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
President Franklin Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, called for what might have viewed at the time a bit irrational. Our great nation was deeply mired in the bowels of the deep depression.
I believe that the measure of his thought that day is worth more in wisdom and outcome than any government program, then and now .

With all the dour financial news shoved in our faces: no wonder so many are depressing into recession. We are giving in to the temptation to pull back. To retreat to safety.
But safety in life is an allusion.
We can choose to stand on the side lines and let others take the blame. God knows there is enough of that to go around. But that wastes the commodity greater than any coin or commission: time. Wasting time and wasting money is wasting life.
The very best thing we can do is to live life on purpose. If you want to watch your assets to grow- plant a tree. That is an investment in the future. One which will give dividends no stock market decline can take away.

Have fun deciding what tree to plant. Trees are all around us: make a date and take your camera. Open your eyes not just to size, shape and canopy. Look at the beauty of bark itself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Go Clubbing!

Meet Amy Sitze, Executive Director of the National Home Gardening Club (NHGC). She is holding up a copy of Gardening How-To, the perky publication of the organization. If the magazine’s name is unfamiliar- it is because it can’t be bought at the bookstore. It is a benefit of joining NHGC.

I just got off the garden club website- and I have to say- joining the National Home Gardening Club is one of the best values for education, motivation and inspiration in America.

The website is easy and quick to navigate. The information is useful. The ads are enjoyably displayed where they can be perused- not irritatingly in the way of the information like some other gardening websites.

Being a gadget gal, I was excited to find a product review section. One item reviewed was PotLifter: a strappy gadget I tried out with a little skepticism at the GWA Garden Product Exhibition . It made my muscles act like they had been working out much more regularly than I have lately. Yahoo!

This compact device left me wondering “Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?”

I LOVE my BIG pots. But I always stress before they have to be moved. There is the worry that a pot will slip: the finish might chip. Or not just the pot: my helper or I could slip and break. But now that Santa is going to wrap up a PotLifter for me, I’m looking forward to one of the heavier jobs in the garden.

To learn more about NHGC go to

The PotLifter can be seen and ordered from

GWA stands for the Garden Writer's Association

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Uncomplicated Pleasure

“Food is our common ground.” James Beard
No, its not an Airstream trailer. It's the barbecue of my husband's dreams. Stainless steel grates and infrared heat to sear the juices in the meat.

In my dreams was the decoratively demure enamel clad cooker. Such models in a brand trustworthy to be around when parts need to be replaced is against every economic ethic. So my husband won this battle.

This is a story that ends with the pleasure possible in surrender. Our visual aesthetic may differ: but food is our common ground.

Food does not have to be complicated to be a feast.

Last night the Italian sausage were marinated in just a tiny bit of red wine.

The red stems of chard were sauteed in a bit of butter and olive oil. The chopped leaves added a minute later with a ladle of chicken broth. When the leaves were just beginning to wilt, it was splashed with red wine vinegar and pulled off the heat.

Soothing comfort was provided the tongue by the oozing of fresh mozzarella cheese stirred into a simmering hot pot of polenta.

Baby Portabella mushrooms made their own sauce when warmed in a tiny bit of butter with leaves pulled off a stem of thyme.

A simple salad added the crispness to the meal we can now feel in autumn air. Humble iceberg lettuce, an heirloom tomato and green onion are the humble trinity that is the base of our "house salad". Tossed in was just what was on hand in the refrigerator: sliced olives, chopped egg and sunflower seeds. Uncommon richness was added by a basil chiffonade of few leaves plucked from the waning wands in the garden.

I suppose we could have gone out for a Friday night on the town. But no meal could have been better than the one enjoyed on my own patio, with my husband, with our garden at hand. No grand bouquet more appreciated than the glow of Betty Boop roses in the moonlight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bring It Home

A thousand shades of green. Skies the color of molten silver. Air-cool and moist. This aura of a fairytale forest is what I hold dear of Oregon. How do I bring that home to my Southern California garden?

My fairy godmother must have sent a hint to the wonderful folks at Iseli Nursery. The wholesale grower in not-at-all Boring, Oregon made it easy for us lucky enough to meander their paths during the GWA Symposium. They packed up the cutest gift bags with a quintuplet of sampling saplings. The nursery was so thoughtful- they provided individual phytosanitary permits (plant passports). Yahoo! I could legally import the diminutive forest over the California border. THANK YOU.

My little forest is officially adopted now that it is planted in a Malaysian Bowl from Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. An African Violet adds color. A lawn of sheet moss prevents run-off from becoming a miniature mudslide.
When times are troubled, souveniers such as these are not just things. They are memory keepers. When I look at these plants, I won't just remember lectures and plants. I will think of kind and knowlegable people who shared a wonderful week in this life. And I will smile.