All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Creative Minds

I would not want to be the plants in my garden this past week. Its got to be tough freezing all night, thawing out and trying to grow. Each day I imagine its the end of the garden and each day their resilience amazes me. The remaining dahlias and basil died the first frost indicating that there is truth to warm season and cool season vegetables. The warm ones couldn't even last a night.

The cool season vegetables that I planted this year are: 

Romanesco Broccoli
Bok Choy
Sweet Peas
Lots of different lettuces
Brussel Sprouts
Red Cabbage

"You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That's a part of it."
- Denzel Washington

GARDEN TIP:  Protect your frost tender plants when temperatures are low. The single most important thing is to keep the soil moist. Fully hydrated leaves and roots are better equipped to endure the frost. 

A contrast to all this cold, harsh activity is the fact that my cactus plant is blooming delicate flowers that beam as bright as the California sun. Another wonder how this tightly compacted, lizard-looking plant can produce such beauty. Please someone, tell me the name of this gem. 

I went to the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and attended a class led by Jack Kornfield, who has taught meditation since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness to the West. If you've never been to Spirit Rock, you may want to experience it. It's a special place. In any case, during my Daylong Retreat with Myra, we sat and listened to Jack's wise words.  His voice is perfectly balanced between soft and strong and pulls you in like a warm hug. One thing that stayed with me was his focus on quieting the mind. He said, "Let the mind quiet and the heart will develop".

The other day Elaine, one of my garden gurus, invited a group of women to her house to make holiday decorations. It turned into a lovely afternoon of creating alongside these amazing women. I've gathered with this group a number of times as we all share a passion for gardening, but it was particularly special actually working together, learning from each other and appreciating each others' talents. We commented afterwards about how when a group of women come together to create, something magical happens. Our minds were quieted, our hearts developed and we created. Thank you, Jack for giving me the insight to recognize that. I liked it.

Succulent Wreaths

Materials Needed:
Two wire wreath forms
Sphagnum moss
Potting soil
Plant material - tip cuttings of small sized succulents, stems approximately 2"- 3" long
Greening pins

We started with a wide variety of succulents.
   Wire, straw, styrafoam, vine wreath forms.
Put the sphagnum moss (that has been soaking in water) into the wire form. Let about six inches hang off the sides of the form as you can see below.
Then top the moss with a mound of potting soil. Pack soil down well.This is a messy and wet situation. Remember what Denzel said.
Place the second wire form on top of the first and fold the excess moss (those six extra inches) up over the top of the second wire form. Tightly wrap floral wire around the entire wreath at 1" intervals.
Poke a hole in the moss with a chopstick. Stick the succulent stem into the hole and secure it with a floral pin. 
Work your way around the wreath designing an interesting collection of succulents.
It takes awhile to fill the wreath.
Nice use of color and texture, Mary!
Sue and Lori are high school friends. We loved meeting Lori and watching the two of them work together. Lori, I might add, is a fellow Timbukt2 fan. If you're looking for a great holiday gift, check out this San Francisco company. The bags are excellent quality and you can even design your own. Just reading their web-site is fun. 
The plants we used were douglas fir, bay laurel, variegated Ilex(holly), eucalyptus, juniper, incense cedar, redwood, spruce, and pine.
We embellished with dried pomegranates, pistache berries, pine cones, antlers, rose hips, and ribbons.
Quiet creative minds hard at work. 
Jill's antler swag looked amazing! 
Melinda led the way on the greenery wreaths using the holly and bay leaves beautifully.
Elaine made a stunning 36" Magnolia leave wreath for her front door.
 I accented mine with three dried pomegranates and an amazing bow (that Elaine tied). 

An early holiday gift: 


Try it. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Changing From One State to Another

I am not a professional writer so I am hesitant to say that I had writer's block, but I did. Maybe it was a seasonal transition writer's block. I came home from traveling with Jeff to England and Ireland and it took me awhile to get excited about my garden. Hard to believe, I know, but I speak the truth. My garden had been well-tended to by my mother-in-law, but the shortened hours of sunshine affected the plants. I looked at them and could envision the work ahead. Transition from summer to winter.

Garden Travel

This was the view from our hotel room. 

One of the most visited attractions in Ireland is Powerscourt Gardens, which include it's historic house, Italian and Japanese gardens and a pet cemetery. Oddly enough, the pet cemetery turned out to be my favorite part of the garden.

Grey and Green. Dark and Colorful. Alive and Dead. 
Beautiful Transition.

One last vacation share. We went to Glendalough in Wicklow County.  It is a 12th century monastic city.  More of that wonderful green and grey color combination and more intriguing headstones. Wicklow County is considered the garden county, but I think they could make a case that Ireland is the garden country.

We can complain
because rose bushes
have thorns, or
rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

Something Old, Something New

I am still feeling the effects of one child now in college. While I am thrilled that Jeffrey is off to a good start, I am faced with the reality that in a couple more years my job will be dramatically different. I was at a gathering the other night where a nice couple asked me, "What do you do?"

Over the years, I've gained confidence in proudly stating, "I am home with my children". When I heard myself answer the question with my staple line, I knew the next question would be, "And how old are they?"

Apparently, the time has run out for that standard party line.  I can't "be home with the kids" who aren't home! In light of all this transition, I am proud to tell you that I was accepted to the University of California's Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Santa Clara for 2011.  The first class is in January.


Ever get tired of cleaning your bird bath? Two wonderful gardener friends shared these alternative ideas for a bird bath for those times when you want to shake things up a little.

1) Create a butterfly drinking pool - "Some butterflies take in nutrients and salts from mud puddles through their long, straw-like mouth parts. You can make a permanent mud puddle with a plastic or terra-cotta saucer. Fill it with half sand and half composted manure. Pour water in, top it with an overripe banana, and watch how many butterflies stop by." - From Sunset Magazine.  I am going to do this in my birdbath and disguise the dish with rocks, sticks or other natural items. That way the activity is eye level and I can move the birdbath to a place that we can watch butterflies.

2)  For winter:  How about placing the birdbath outside your window and filling it with votive candles? The light coming in from outdoors will be a party stunner and you can show off your beautiful birdbath while sitting inside.


transition |tranˈzi sh ən; -ˈsi sh ən|

the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another 
That's me. And my garden.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Get Down and Dirty

If you've never known anyone who is proud of their dirt, you do now. I put a lot of energy into my dirt and I am not talking about the things I've done that deserved a hand-slap, a detention or a policeman. I'm talking about the soil that nourishes the plants. It's soil plus my compost, my worm castings and various other amendments that provide nutrients and texture. Soil has its own ecosystem full of life such as: earthworms, insects, bacteria, and fungi. It is all necessary for a successful garden.

The circle of soil's starting point is hard to determine. Is it the tomato peel that's thrown into the compost pile? Or is it the compost that's thrown into the garden bed? Do you see what I mean? It goes on and on and on. It's sustainable. Imagine these pictures in a circle:

Get it? I love my dirt.

End of Summer - Start of Fall

By the end of summer, I started seeing some powdery mildew on the zucchini and cucumbers. It looked like a light gray or white substance on the leaf. 

There are several different types of powdery mildew and it can even be found on ornamentals. To prevent it, the plants need adequate space, a lot of sunlight and not too much water or moisture. This is hard to do as our daylight gets shorter and evenings cooler. I chose to just cut out the leaves on the larger-than-life zucchini plant. However, my cucumber was so covered with it and the leaves became so brittle, I pulled the whole plant out. Poof, done, it's out of the game. There are some sources that say to use a neem oil, if you're into that, but I chose to see it as a symbol of the end of summer. It's time to move on to cool season vegetables. 

Garden Goal
I am working towards a year-round garden so instead of pulling everything out and starting with four, empty beds, I planted several winter vegetables alongside the remaining summer plants. For example, I planted a row of different varieties of lettuce underneath a billowing, leafy collard plant. It will provide adequate shading during the heat of these early Fall days. I also planted broccoli and cauliflower amongst the still-producing peppers. It's a bit of a puzzle right now, an art project. I like how it looks with colors and sizes blending together. It will be interesting as the new plants grow and the old plants wither. You know I can get fussy about the visual. 

Below is a list of some of the cool season vegetables I will plant. I like to plant a few in succession so each harvest isn't ready all at the same time.

Brussel Sprouts  
Bok Choy
Peas (Sugar and Snap)
Lettuce/Salad Greens

Don't forget herbs for upcoming holiday cooking: Parsley, Rosemary, Tarragon, Thyme, Sage.
And don't forget spring-flowering bulbs and edible flowers such as pansies and violas. 

Here is a look at the final days of my summer garden. 

The garden at the end of the pool - fully grown-in! 

The vegetable garden entrance


Even Hotter Peppers

The Basket - Peppers, Eggplants, Tomatoes, a Lemon, Basil and Dahlias! 

As you see, I am proud of my dirt. It's how we grow. It's what builds character. It makes us who we are. 
Be proud of your dirt! 

Still wondering about that policeman?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mixing a Little Personal With Business

My garden looks like a scene I saw in Costa Rica years ago, a jungle with oversized leaves. Or perhaps a scene from a sci-fi, like Jurassic Park where a prehistoric creature will peer out from behind the Collard Greens.  Mother Nature was busy this week. She must have known that I'd need a distraction when I returned from Boulder. Love her. She's always looking out for me.  I don't need a church to pray and express gratitude. I have my own sacred place.

One of the challenges with this time of year is what in the world to do with all the harvest? I am always looking for recipes that utilize a large amount of what I pick. A good bang for your buck recipe is Ratatouille. I was worried that the dish was too outdated to serve at a luncheon I had. Was it like walking downstairs in an old, frumpy dress? Nice, but been-there-done-that years ago? Lorin, who is an exceptionally good cook, counseled me that it was a classic and classics don't get frumpy.  I wasn't entirely convinced until she told me to top it off with some toasted pinenuts and a bit of goat cheese. Voila! That's what I needed... a little trendy to spice up my classic.  I serve this and people often tell me they don't know if they really like ratatouille and then I watch them go for more! I think some people are afraid of that many vegetables all together.


4 large tomatoes (I used a variety)
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1c chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 c chopped basil leaves (I love basil, so I add more)
2 lb eggplant cut into cubes
2 large red onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
3 assorted bell peppers (1-1/2 lbs) cut into 1 inch pieces
4 medium zucchini (2lb) quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/4 inch thick pieces
salt and pepper

Blanch and peel the tomatoes. Coarsely chop them and transfer to a heavy pot with garlic, parsley, basil and some olive oil. Simmer partially covered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. About 30 minutes. By the way, this makes an excellent quick pasta sauce as well. 

While the sauce is simmering, toss the eggplant with 1/2t salt and let sit in a colander over the sink for half an hour at least. Pat them dry before cooking.

Once the eggplant has sweat out its needless liquid,  saute the onions, eggplant, bell peppers and zucchini over medium heat until they soften - about 10-15 minutes. Epicurious suggests cooking all these vegetables separately. I do not see the reason other than to add to your dirty dishes. Just make sure to stir occasionally. But, if you're a rule follower, you can saute them separately.

Lastly, add the softened vegetables to the tomato sauce, simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about an hour. Cool, uncovered and serve warm or at room temperature. 

I can also tell you that the flavor is unbelievable the second day! And don't forget to top it with the pinenuts and goat cheese. No frumpy ratatouille here.


Yes, my Green Zebra Tomato, the very one from Love Apple Farm did have mites. I bought a 3x loop just like Love Apple suggested we do and sure enough, I could see them crawling on the leaves. Not too many per leaf, but enough to see that they had taken up residency and were not going away.  There are several remedies that you can find on the Love Apple site (see my most recent posting), but I decided that I have enough tomato plants and I just want it out of the box, like a broken toy. 

Who needs Sonoma?   If you're under the impression that you can't grow grapes in your own backyard and you have to go to the wine country to witness such a feat. Think again.

I grew these Champagne grapes and they were delicious and impressive on a cheese platter. I love when something really works in the garden! 
And, P.S. I still need Sonoma, honey. Don't worry.

And another first... I harvested beets!



The annual Bonnie Addario Walk for Lung Cancer is coming up, September 12 at 5:00pm in Golden Gate Park. If you can join me and our Team Xhale, please sign up here. We had a fabulous and meaningful time last year with a team of over thirty people. This year, the race is in honor of Jill, a student at UC Berkeley who lost her life to lung cancer and never smoked a cigarette in her life. Please help me support the efforts being made to eradicate this disease that is affecting too many people. Three of my loved ones have died from lung cancer, my father, Liane and King. Please help me help Bonnie.


No one can prepare you for the awe of your newborn laying on your belly breathing simultaneously with you, no one can prepare you for the seemingly endless sleepless nights that occur, no one can prepare you for the pride you feel in the nucleus of your cells numerous times throughout their childhood, no one can prepare you for the joy you feel when you hear them laugh from the belly... you know where I am going with this... no one can prepare you for the feeling you have when you walk back in the house after you return from taking your child to college and realize that their returns to home will be temporary forever more. It's a daunting feeling that you cannot prepare for. Don't get me wrong, the happiness I have knowing that Jeffrey has transitioned with ease into his new adventure gives me the required strength to carry on, I just wasn't prepared for the range of emotions that roll in and out like the perfect wave.

Life is Good

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Flying Through Life

It's August and the vegetables are peaking. I picked my first harvest of tomatoes and even made a batch of Gazpacho, which symbolizes summer garden success, in my opinion. The peppers and eggplant are producing in bulk. The zucchini is tapering off. One plant seems to be just enough. The cucumbers are a bit tricky. I planted Fanfare imagining that I would like the longer version, but they are bitter. I haven't quite mastered just when to harvest them to get an optimal taste. Perhaps my largest accomplishment is the Yellow Watermelon. I picked one yesterday and everyone was impressed at breakfast. I have three more and I am going to leave them on the vine a bit longer hoping for an even sweeter treat.

Remember my last post I mentioned that one of my tomato plants turned brown and I had to pull it out? Well, Love Apple Farm's Website features an explanation, the Tomato Russet Mite.  I haven't purchased a 3x Loop to examine the leaves, but its quite possible that my tomato plant was infested with it. Its also interesting to note that it was the only plant I purchased from Love Apple Farm.  If your tomatoes are showing signs of browning and fatigue, read Cynthia's web page and act NOW! 

According to Pam Peirce from Golden Gate Gardening (my bible), "When you pick a tomato, try to break the stem at the natural separation point about 1/2 inch above the fruit, leaving the stem and little green cap attached." Also, store fruit out of direct sunlight at room temperature. Refrigeration ruins the flavor. I keep mine in a large bowl on the counter and admire the strong blast of red. Speaking of red... if you have to pick some tomatoes before they are fully ripened, you can force the ripening by putting them in a brown paper bag and rolling the top down pretty close to the bundle of fruit. In other words, don't leave a lot of space in the bag. You can't leave them in the bag for too long for obvious reasons, but they will ripen quicker than leaving them on the counter. Tomatoes give off ethylene gas, which is needed for ripening. The bag holds the gas near the fruit. Pam suggests wrapping each tomato with newspaper. That's too much of a process for me. Plus, the one, weekly newspaper I get, I feed to my worms. Did I just say worms? 

It never occurred to me that you may be worrying about my worms. Well, they're fine. They are enjoying the shredded newspaper, food scraps and a sprinkle of water,  I add to the box each week. There is a fair amount of worm castings, which will be my compost, already accumulating in the box. I haven't quite figured out how to completely separate them from the compost, but I will. So far, I would deem it a successful science experiment. 

Don't forget to fertilize your flower pots. The soil loses its nutrients quickly from all the watering during these hot summer days. I add a couple tablespoons of fish emulsion to my gallon jug of water (when I remember) and I believe it makes a difference. I also add new flowers to the pots occasionally to keep things colorful and fresh looking. Yet another reason to move towards replacing everything with succulents! 

I usually don't post other peoples' photographs, but I couldn't resist this one.  Russ, a high school friend of mine is an artist, gardener, nature-admirer and all-around great guy. He often goes on hikes around his property in Ohio with his dog, Butchie and sends pictures and fabulous stories.  He sent me this picture, titled Thirsty Butterflys.

If you've been following this blog, you know that I had baby Mockingbirds who left their nest the day of my son, Jeffrey's graduation party. We've had another significant flight happen in our house although this time it wasn't created by Mother Nature. This surprise was carefully crafted by Mother Whitney. 

Happy Birthday to my darling, daring daughter! She Soared in her Sweet Sixteen at iFly, an indoor skydiving experience. Another flight...through life.

There was a quote on a sky-blue colored wall at iFly that caught my attention:

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always be."
- Leonardo Da Vinci

Perhaps it makes me think about Jeffrey tasting his flight as he goes off to college next week. 
I better go back to the garden and find comfort from Mother Nature and ... my Buddha, who reminds me to slow down when I glance at her standing tall against the Phormium. 

P.S. Did you like the music?