Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Peak at Paradise

"To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise." - Marina Schinz

Gardens aren't maintenance free. Like any meaningful relationship, they require interaction.

Unlike between lovers, hands on attention can be hired with no harm. But unless you are either seriously rich or handicapped, this simple beauty is easily attainable by anyone on their own.

If your vision of paradise is springtime at the Poppy Reserve in the Antelope Valley- then the most cheerful flower in the world sends you this recipe for joy.

First- choose a sunny spot barren of pretty plants, where big weeds rule. Yank the monster predator plants by the roots and banish to the landfill.

Spice up a bucket full of seed topping mix with handful of California Poppy Seeds. A handful at a time, toss the seeded topping mix like it were feed for a hungry lot of chickens.

When the bucket is empty, follow behind with the rest of the seed topper to give the seeds some advantage in nature's game of hide 'n' seek with the local birds.

Once ground has been seeded - other than watering the infant seeds lightly until nature is ready to take over- about the only duty is patience.

Photo by Gene Sasse. Used with Permission.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath Revisted

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes
a touch of genius- and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
--- Albert Einstein

Topsoil barren, blows away in winds. Their living in agriculture destroyed, a half million Americans are displaced. For his chronicling of the human toll of this avoidable tragedy caused by the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's in The Grapes of Wrath, author John Steinbeck earned the Pulitzer and the Nobel.

What happened in the 1930's should not be recurring. But it is. In a twist of irony, to where American refugees fled ecological disaster earlier this century: California. This photo was taken yesterday by Sue Maxwell between Sacramento and Los Angeles. Whipped by winds, the topsoil of some of the most fertile crop land in the world turned to dirty dust and choked the sky.

What clouds the air should be nourishing crops to feed and clothe people. If it blows away because we have allowed the political establishment to not put first things first, then fruit trees will continue to die, more families will lose their homes, more people will lose their dignity. The state will have less revenue, need to provide more welfare and import food we once grew ourselves.

Why? Because many intelligent fools in courts and legislatures have forgotten what can be accomplished when goals are simple, targeted and focused. Gratitude for, "Where water flows crop grows," needs to be rekindled.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Creating Heaven on Earth

In the mid-1960's, the pastor at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church gave a sermon where he described heaven to a congregation which included a very impressionable adolescent girl. Me. He promised in heaven is a garden filled with fruit and flower. Everyone has work.

That sermon planted a seed of believing there is no higher calling than to create heaven on earth with a garden.

I was introduced to Giant Squill (Urginea maritima) when writing the text for Gene Sasse's electronic newsletter. A quick inquiry to author Nan Sterman about the gargantuan bulb got her enthusiastic endorsement, "Urginea maritima is one of my all time favorite bulbs. All year long, it has nice, strappy leaves. Come June or July, the leaves turn gold, and the most amazingly tall, mahogany colored spear rises from the center. The spear is topped in a snow white, pointed column of buds that open from the bottom to the top in sequence. A mature bulb can be big as a basketball and the flowering spear reach six feet tall or taller. A field of them in bloom looks like a wonderland! "

Not needing irrigation, hated by rodents, as soon as the story was filed, the perfect spot for my 9.1 pound bulb was found way out back where its presence will clothe the naked land with elegant garb about the start of football season.

Speaking of football....

The sun and moon for the NFL Stadium to be built in neighboring City of Industry are lining up. When the landscaping goes in, it would be heavenly if Majestic Real Estate included a stand of the Giant Squill to light up the landscape at the start of the season.

The giant squill, as well as other premium bulbs for our warm weather climate can be purchased by clicking onto


This simple statement arrangement in my living room was created by Xavier's Florist of Diamond Bar.

California Gardener's Guide Volume II by Nan Sterman- "The ONLY book about low water plants and Mediterranean climate gardening written specifically for California" can be purchased at better book purveyors or at her website at //

HOT TIP- Call Nan for free advice on how to save water in your garden courtesy of The Water Smart Pipeline, (866) 962-7021 Tuesday mornings (8:30 am to noon PST) and Thursday afternoons (1:00 pm to 4:30 pm PST).

The Water Smart Pipeline is a project of the Water Conservation Garden and funded by the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust.

Images of giant squill are by photographer Gene Sasse. with permission.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn Abundance

Tonight's menu-

Tender slices of braised corned beef served over creamy saffron infused risotto, topped with caramelized cabbage drizzled with a Dijon and natural juice reduction with brandied apricots.

The oven was set very low. 225°F. On a shallow baking pan overlayed with a big sheet of foil , a rack is made from vegetables. Their flavor will add depth to the broth.

An offering of flat cut corned beef brisket is laid upon it. The foil is sealed like tissue paper over a gift. Into the oven it goes for a few hours.

Dried apricots are allowed to plump in a baptism of brandy.

An uncovered saucepan is the vessel into which olive oil and butter are melted before weighing out the Arborio rice; sizzling it for just a handful of moments.

I calculate the white wine and chicken broth needed to simmer soft the pearly grains

The liquid is almost absorbed, but the rice is not tender.

The rice is anointed with more broth.

Saffron is sprinkled about, clothing the individual hulls with its goldenrod hue.

When it is almost ready- the stove is turned off and the rice waits for the brisket to finish

Briefly, the brisket was taken from the oven.Unwrapped.

Dijon mustard were mixed in equal measure with apricot preserves: this masque slathered on the upturned face of the meat.
The plumped apricots and their brandy bath is poured around the meat. The package resealed and returned to the oven- which is turned up to 350°F until the salty broth bubbles free of the meat which is fork tender. About 1 more hour.

Wedges of cabbage are caramelized in butter with shallot, a sprinkling of pepper flakes and a dash of butter.

While the finished meat rests, the broth is poured off with a spoonful more of Dijon mustard stirred in, the liquid reduced by half as it simmers. Drizled across the platter- words do not need to be said.

Yes, it would be easier to have stacked all the ingredients into a crock pot. But it would not have been nearly so GOOD.

This is not just Autumn on the calendar. It is the autumn of our marriage. Of the time we will get to spend here on earth. In all of these, it is a season to celebrate the abundance with which we are graced.

When God says "yes" to prayers for gentle rain, it is time to thank Him for abundance by showing our pleasure. On days like today, when the heavens kiss the earth with wet kisses, I am compelled to go in the kitchen to show my appreciation by using His gifts.

When it rains, I play in the kitchen with no recipe> Just an idea of what I want the house to smell like when my hero returns home from work. I want it to smell like there is no effort I would not spare to spoil my partner of over three decades.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Unfinished Business

Unfinished business is an anchor which weighs one's spirit down.

Some things are out of individual control- standard fuchsias are not in season, so that will have to wait.

But this window. The one I designed in a past century. There is no good excuse that it isn't finished.

The custom design for my shed's transom is my celebration of the happiness I feel from nature's abundance.

A thousand reasons have stood in the way of it being finished. But the truth of it is they were all excuses. Obstacles I only needed to leap over to move closer to enjoying the beauty of sunlight streaming through hand-selected glass.

With the baseball playoffs in the background, I now listen to the sound of the wheel glass cutter zinging through jewel tone bits of glass like a ball slicing through the air. Rough cut, the glass edges are ground smooth, then wrapped in foil before carefully sealing sections solid with molten solder.

The work is painstaking. My fingers are as sore as my eyes are crossed. But my soul is refreshed. As the image comes alive- I am pregnant with joy that this creation will be born. Soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning from Pumpkinistas

Day 5 of homebody project.

I hoped I might have photos of a certain to-die-for fuchsia. But the garden teaches patience and priority. The local garden center did not have any fuchsias, let alone the perfect fuchsia. And really, meeting my deadline and sending off a query letter were more important than rushing through something that if it takes my lifetime won't be any less satisfying.

Until that time, Susan Maxwell gave me permission to share photos of her favorite pumpkinistas- her grandchildren: Samantha and Tucker.

These photos reminded me not just of the glorious bounty of the season.

When my sons were in elementary school they were asked what was their favorite season. They both picked the hunting season. I would have probably called it pumpkin season.

The images remind me of one of my favorite Bible passages Luke 18:16-17

16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

What does this mean? Surely not that if someone does not have the opportunity as a child to know Christ that he is parted from eternity.

Rather, what do we know of the nature of children?

Children make up for in love what they do not have in knowledge. This must mean that love is more important than knowledge. Children are also endlessly curious and innocent. So while we rightly seek knowledge, we must block cynicism and jadedness.

Any other thoughts?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Money Tree

Day 4 of homebody.

67° was today’s high. With gossamer clouds sailing by, it was the kind day the miniature pine tree would have liked if it hadn’t succumbed to the heat wave that comes in each year with the Los Angeles County Fair. The tree was only a year old when it passed on to the compost pile.

I had kind of the horticultural equivalent of an Irish wake for it. I looked at the photos from last Christmas and wondered if in this warm climate- would the patio table would ever be so festive again.


It already is thanks to Molly at California Cactus Center.

She has 16 inch moss- lined cones which fit the 16 inch circumference of the now-lonely bowl perfectly. I took her advice in the selection of succulents

. .

Back home in Diamond Bar, when my husband’s attention was diverted, I snuck the cardboard flats of planties to the patio table. When Gerry left for work- the assembly line was set up, starting with a big towel to shorten the clean up. A bucket of water to soak the form and extra moss for stuffing. Potting soil to level the soil. Push pins to anchor the rooted cuttings safely.

The whole topiary production took about 2 hours start to finish, but it is worth the effort. It will last longer than the dearly departed pine. My husband- who had this look his face I imagine is him wondering if plantaholicism is something for which someone can be committed for- I explained to him that this newest addition is quite practical. Because as it fills in it becomes a little cutting factory. Kind of a money tree from which future gifts will grow.

More info on California Cactus Center in Pasadena can be found at http//

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Garden Style

Day 3 in this life chapter is more about looking back than letting go.

I don't remember which earthquake it was. I only remember that it took about 6 months before Gerry installed the ceramic address plate with construction adhesive. Duct tape held it in place. When the earth shook, I remember thinking, if it isn't still up on the wall when we checked for damage, it just wasn't meant to be.
Please don't tell anyone I may have been as happy to see it up on the wall as I was to see the wall up. But I was.

To be totally honest- it wasn't just that I was tired of fighting diseases that I wanted to get rid of the poodle bushes. Medical reasons are something a man understands at a molecular level. 33 years, 11 months of marriage have taught me to remember to put what he will think is the best argument when I want him to agree with me with as little fuss as possible. So when it was put to him that the plants were sick and should be euthanized to put them out of their misery- what choice did my husband have but to agree?

To be totally honest, I should confess that I never tried that hard to heal the bushes because I love this sign more than a bush which reminded me of Marie Antoinette's hairdo. Too big. Too tall. Too much maintenance for something I didn't love.

What will take its place is obvious. When the season comes, a fuchsia should be lovely. As much like in the plaque as possible. The bell shaped flowers will please the hummingbirds. They will blend right into my garden style.

Looking at vignettes is a good way to read individual garden style. On the end of gracefully arched stems, 'Ballerina' roses bow from the weight of adorable hydrangea-like bouquets .

Four little fan trellises were turned upside down to make a pedestal for this stained glass globe. Before this afternoon, it was installed on the edge of the picture window- but the edge of the property needed somethingwhere the New Zealand tea tree had succumbed to shade to define it . Don't you love the informality of how it peaks from behind the purple-robed whorles of commonly available Mexican Sage?

At its feet is now a South Seas Daylily.

Puttering about in the garden, I thought about what Trisha Bowler wrote about the front entrance should speak to visitors about who lives inside the home. What my garden speaks of is beyond cottage style. We are Romantics, with a capital R.

What does your garden say about you? If it isn't accurate, it's time to change.

This image of South Seas Daylily was found at mail order source Dutch Gardens. Locally, I picked up mine at the Cal Poly Farm Store.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Aging Gracefully

Wahoo! Gerry finally gave his okay to take out the poodle bushes.

Today was a second day of letting go in the garden. The poodle bushes have stood guard over the front door since the house was built. They added living structure to the garden- but they haven't been right in a long time. They didn't fit the space any more. They were fraught with leaf disfiguring diseases-hanging onto them was much like hanging onto an old outfit when it no longer fit or is flattering.

The only reason they didn't meet the ax sooner when my husband wasn't home to defend them, was for how they could be used to light up the entrance at Christmas time. But to live with their awkward sad close up greeting fifty-two weeks a year for how they hold strands of lights for two, is really not allowing the garden to age gracefully.

Gerry is going to spruce up the front post with some classic detail- and that was just the opportunity to suggest his craftsmanship would show off better without hiding it behind a bush.

The little handsaw and I got a bit of a work out. Off with their heads. cut them at the waist and then saw right through their ankles. In just under forty five minutes, our two green waste containers were stacked with remains of the dismembered bushes.

What will go in their place? It isn't always necessary to have concrete plans to know that something isn't right. When what will welcome visitors shows its face- now these poodled pom-poms do not stand in the way of a good change.

Aging gracefully is what I've always wanted to do. Now my garden can join me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Things Change

Driving home from jury duty provided the opportunity to swing through the neighborhood where I grew up. It was pleasing to see the old homestead so well taken care of by the people who bought the house from my widowed mom when we had to face that she was no longer able to live alone.

Some of the details are just the same as when my parents moved in the summer of 1960. Like the original paint colors.

But other things have changed. Drastically. My mother was only 5'1" and grew up in the jungle island of Puerto Rico. Afraid to fly- she never returned to her homeland after I was born. Instead, she brought the jungle home to Whittier. When she moved out- you couldn't see the house through tangled vines she cut a a 5'2" tunnel through to the front door.

As mom grew frail, the emergency runs to the hospital came too frequently. Not even with live-in help on weekdays and her coming home with us on weekends, was it a safe situation.

It wasn't easy for her to leave the garden she loved for 40 years, but her life depended on her rethinking how she gardened. We made her room garden-like. An arbor festooned with silk flowers became a headboard. A garden bench a TV stand. She became head gardener, directing her crew (me) with what to do with the plants on her patio. It took time- but she is happier and her mind grew keener the last decade.

The new family was right about the changes they wrought at our former family home's landscaping. They saved a few of the big trees for shade. One has a bench swing hanging from it. My mother will be pleased to see it is a garden which beckons visitors.

This photo in my backyard was taken at 7: 10 this evening. I could have sworn last week it was still daylight at this hour. Time passes. Lives change. If we don't adjust, we will never know the happiness which is possible.

Since that visit past my childhood home, I have been looking at my own garden and observing the need for some changes here.

Today I took the saw to the New Zealand Tea Tree. When it was first planted, it was happy in blazing sun. But trees grew tall around it. Their arms shaded it so much, the sun- loving shrub no longer smiled.
The space where it was is prettier now in the way a window is when a dingy drape is taken down and the sky is seen through a clean window.

Things change. Thinking about change can be a bit unnerving. But if I can just be brave and change what no longer works, then what is better suited to the ever changing landscape will have the opportunity to bring more happiness.
To that, I am committed.

God Bless You , Dear Readers. I look forward to hearing about the changes which bring you joy.