Where the Wild Things Are

>> Saturday, October 3, 2009

I've always been a "color outside of the lines" type. Long before (decades actually) it was trendy to decorate with bold colors, my adolescent room was painted hot pink, orange, and some paint color called kumquat. My early foray into oil painting brought forth a lavender city skyline drawn with a torn paper towel roll instead of a traditional paintbrush. So, it comes as no surprise that my gardening style is a bit unconventional.

I love looking through seed catalogs searching for the most unusual, exotic looking specimens. Because my current garden is a preschool learning environment, I am always on the lookout for plants with unusual texture, color, structure, and smell. My new favorite is Dutchman's Pipe, recommended by my plant buddy, Chad. It is a climbing vine with beautifully formed heart-shaped leaves. That alone would be enough, but the bonus is the transformation of the flower as it blooms. It is at once, exotic, erotic, and enticing.

Another favorite is Hairy Allium. It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character, very whimsical in structure. It was a bit weak in the first season, but spread generously the next year. Fireworks Allium is also fun, but I, personally, did not have good results.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is another exceptional one to watch as it transforms. It provides visual interest in all stages, from the striped canopy covering "jack" to the bright berries at the conclusion of it's growth.

One year, we grew loofah gourds on a trellis and were amazed at the size of the fruit. The real fun started after the gourds dried. The children whacked the gourds on the ground to loosen the skin and expose the dried pulp. The sound was great, and the large black seeds exploded in all directions. It was like a natural pinata! We were left with wonderful loofah sponges, which soon became my favorite dish scrubbing sponge.

Cardoon is a striking addition if you have a large, sunny space. I planted three, small, pitiful looking specimens and ended up with a dense cluster approximately 4 foot wide by 5 foot tall. The leaves measured up to 24 inches long. The flower head resembles an artichoke, then bursts with a cluster of purple filaments. When it goes to seed, the head pops open and black seeds are carried on the wind like fairies. The stalks are edible and have a texture similar to cooked celery.

Hope you enjoyed my walk on the wild side. I'd love to join you on yours.


Rounding up Volunteers

>> Friday, September 4, 2009

Still trying to hang on to the California state of mind. When I returned to the garden after being gone for a week, well let me just say it was not a pretty sight. But, I approached the "jungle" with my new attitude about the abundant "volunteers" (see previous post) that arrived while I was gone. As I worked small areas, I assessed which of the plants were edible and which were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was such an abundance, that I started a second compost pile specifically for the buckets full of unwanted weeds. I do admit that some of the purslane found its way into a salad or two. But, for the life of me I cannot find a good thought about the nut sedge that seems to have multiplied faster than a rabbit. After days of solitary work rounding up these "volunteers" , I realized that 'volunteer" plants are a lot like "volunteer" people. It is better to work with them than against them. They both have positive contributions to offer the garden if the systems are in place to maximize their potential. So, my new task is to establish a drop-in "volunteer" (people) program that will assist me with the "volunteer" plant problem. One section of the tool shed will be equipped with hand tools, gloves, and kneeling pads. There will be a clipboard with photos of the "uninvited volunteers" which will find their way to the compost pile, and photos of the "invited volunteers" for use in cooking, herbal sachets, or flower arrangements for the teachers. If anyone has suggestions on how to make volunteering in a garden both successful and enjoyable, please let me hear from you. This is a huge step for me...I am more comfortable doing things on my own, instead of asking for help.

But, I am realizing that the garden is not only a place for sharing beauty, but a place for sharing the honor and pleasure of tilling and tending.


California Dreamin

>> Monday, August 17, 2009

Well, I'm back from California, physically if not mentally. The ecology center where I spent the week is 80 acres of natural beauty in partnership with a group of inspiring people committed to living with nature instead of trying to bend it to their ways. I immersed myself in this community learning their approach to gardening - organic of course - and dining on vegetarian gourmet meals.

We harvested from the "cut and come again" bed to create a salad more colorful than a patchwork quilt.

As I strolled down a path, I could pluck a fresh asian pear from the tree. I learned to think in terms of "volunteers" and not "weeds", so many of which are delicious in salads or stir frys. The soil is what is gardened. It is not simply the planting medium, but the essential life of the garden.

My fellow attendees were mainly from the Bay area and all selflessly committed to gardening with children. It is a powerful force when you combine a passion for gardening with a commitment to enriching a child's life. Kudos to all of you.

Upon returning, I walked through my garden with fresh eyes, new energy, and a California state of mind.


Good News and Bad News

>> Friday, August 7, 2009

The good news is that I am the proud gardener of two new planting beds. Can't wait for fall planting.

The dog days of summer are here. The heat has taken a toll on everything including me. This is my meager harvest for today. You'll notice no tomatoes. The few that ripened ended up lunch for the squirrels

Now for the bad news. On Monday I had four beautiful Petit Pan squash. I decided to give them another day or two. As you can see, the borers had already set in to do their dirty work.

I salvaged these two. I am committed to organic, non-pesticide gardening, but I can understand how one can give up the good fight.

I will be spending next week at a workshop in California learning organic gardening techniques, seed collecting, plant identification, and permaculture. If there is wi-fi, I will be posting from the yurt.


Life as a Butterfly

>> Friday, July 24, 2009

Several weeks ago I purchased a rather pitiful looking passionflower vine with the hopes of attracting butterflies. And to paraphrase the movie line, "if you plant it they will come". This week I have had the pleasure of watching the life cycle of the Fritillary.

I first noticed the larvae, but then found eggs, too. It amazes me that something that starts out so insignificantly small, turns into a fiercely determined caterpillar. These guys have one mission and that is to eat quickly and continuously.

Eric Carle nailed it in his book The Hungry Caterpillar.

After all that feasting, it is time for a nap.

And then, Voila!

All of this activity has been going on in the garden in just one week. This process has to be fast because the average lifespan of a butterfly is one month. Yes, one month. They experience birth, mating, and death all in a matter of days.

And this got me thinking. What would my life look like with a lifespan of only a month? Now this isn't the same question as "what if you only had a month to live?" That question presumes that the timetable starts from where you are at the moment the question is asked. But, a total lifespan of a month really throws things into high gear.

Humans are unique in the animal world for a lot of reasons. One is that we have the luxury of time. Time to learn, to experiment, to make mistakes, to reinvent ourselves. The luxury of time takes away urgency and, possibly, our inclination to value each moment.

So, one month, one year, or fifty one, whatever I am blessed with will be filled with "noticed" moments. No more overlooking because I think tomorrow will be filled with more of the same. Tomorrow is never the same.


Figs, Feathers, and Fur

>> Tuesday, July 21, 2009

OK, OK, Uncle! I give up, I surrender.

Each summer I hungrily anticipate the first fig harvest from the garden. I had especially high hopes this year, thanks to my rabbits and their prodigious fertilizer supply. So, as the first fruits began to ripen, I did what I do every year......watch the birds and squirrels arrive with all of their relatives to feast on the fruits of my labor.

A vow was made that this year would be different. I declared war. I scaled brick walls, precariously perched ladders, and wobbly chairs to spread three sheets of bird netting over the fig tree. I felt confident, almost arrogant, that this summer I would be the one feasting.

But, alas, two days later I realized that me and my nets were greatly outnumbered and outmaneuvered. The nets were pulled down and ripped up. Partially eaten figs were strewn around the ground. But, I persevered. Out came a big yellow balloon thingy with big black circles that are suppose to look like eyes and scare the critters away. They were not impressed. Then the scarecrow was added. I even perched it atop a trellis railing so that it would be at tree top level. Again, nothing. So, I give up.

Now any gardener knows that when you plant crops, you should plant enough to "share" with the outdoor residents. And I'm OK with that. Really. But, when are the other guys gonna get the memo? They don't seem very interested in sharing, unless you happen to be interested in half eaten fruit discarded on the ground.

And, that's another thing- they don't even finish eating one piece before they move on to another one. What's up with that? Oooops, here I go again........


Plants and Friends

>> Saturday, July 18, 2009

I've realized that there is a pretty good litmus test for determining lasting friendships. Say it is Saturday afternoon, 96 degrees out and you have a couple of hours to kill. If you're the one roaming the plant aisles at the local nursery with me, then I know you are in this for the long haul. That is how I spent this afternoon with my husband, a longtime friend, and a woman I met today. She passed the litmus test with high scores.

We went to one of my favorite haunts, the downtown Farmers Market. Rows of bedding plants provide a palette of colors that any artist would envy. Chartreuse coleus, shocking pink bougainvillea, and electric blue plumbago, all contribute to the sense of walking through a Monet landscape. And if that's not enough, you can stroll through the produce shed, sampling juicy slices of pale orange cantaloupe, deep red tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers.

Today's' bounty included local grown peaches, cherries, an ichiban eggplant transplant with six glorious purple blossoms, and a bougainvillea hanging basket. As we divided up the purchases to head home, I noted my new friend had more items than me and a smile on her face. Hence the high score on the litmus test.



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