A Garden in Rest

We’re quite spoiled living in California this time of year. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and we’re frequently treated to several days of unseasonably warm conditions. 

Curb garden perennials going to seed

While much of the country is dealing with weather known as the polar vortex with insanely cold and hazardous conditions, I’m wearing a t-shirt as I go about my day. I wish I could send all my mid-west and eastern seaboard friends a bit of warmth and sunshine. Come June, I’ll be looking on enviously at your summer rains.

Nigella and sweet peas populate the curb garden

I’ve been popping into the garden at the end of the day, pulling young weeds before they get a foothold. It’s a joy to observe the daily treasures nature has to offer.

Nigella bud just before opening
Nigella in all its beauty

When fall arrives in late October, my garden cleanup includes pruning, grooming and dead-heading perennial plants and shrubs. Last fall, I consciously let things go. This wasn’t born of laziness. In fact, it took some resolve to let things be. My propensity for organization and a tidy garden are nothing new, however my awareness of the benefits of a garden to all the visitors comes with a sense of responsibility.

Rose hips in the curb garden

Emerging growth on a miniature rose

Letting perennials go to seed means there are seeds available for birds passing through. Allowing a bit of leaf drop to cover the garden floor provides cover for some beneficial insects, while at the same time providing a natural mulch. Mulch keeps the soil warm and moist, while reducing weed growth and protecting roots from uneven temperatures. Leaves breakdown quickly, feeding the worms and improving the overall health of the soil.

Excess leaves, swept from the sidewalk and deck, made it into our compost bin. After working my way through three different compost systems over the past decade, I finally found one that I like.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

New habits take time. I’m itching to get out there so I can prune some of the dead growth. I’ve had a little chat with my inner gardener, and together we’ve decided this is best. After all, the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere is only 49 days away.

I can hardly wait.

41 thoughts on “A Garden in Rest

    • Thank you, Laurie. How are you managing the cold? It looks brutal. For those who can stay home, that’s probably the best course of action. I hope you are included in that list. It’s sad to see lives lost over this weather. I hope your promised warm up comes through.

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      • Cold, but not too bad. In Maine, even though we grumble, we are used to the temp dipping to zero and a little below this time of year. However, what’s happening in the Midwest far exceeds any cold we have in Maine. Holy cats!

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  1. I now feel guilty on two fronts: It’s hot here, AND we’re getting huge amounts of rain. The downside of that is 80%+ humidity, standing water in the backyard, the start of dengue season, and the ever-present threat of a cyclone developing out of the monsoon front that’s holding steady in the north. On the upside, the cane farmers here are rejoicing and the farmers out west are getting a steady rain for the first time in years so there’ll be feed for their stock and the dams and river systems are being replenished. Your garden is looking lovely, all those shy, modest blooms peeking out. The hellebore is magnificent!

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  2. The joys of being near the equator I guess. I love that your inner organiser and gardener are chatting – it’s all about compromise. And of course gardening is never all about sweeping the grass clear of any dead bits before they disturb the pristine green…….. I once had a neighbour who demanded I cut down my maple as it dropped leaves over her side of the fence and they “cluttered up” her lawn. My maple tree stayed however until we sold up and left and then the trees all got cut down. I guess that made her happy ……. That was a chain of thought that was ignited unnecessarily 🙂 When I was a young gardener I read that every garden needs a ‘wilderness’ area – a small corner into which we toss some prunings and small branches and which we then leave alone for nature to work her magic on. It’s there the geckos and hedgehogs and such like will live and thrive. I do love that idea. It’s amazing how much life and colour there is in your garden for being so deep in ‘winter’. It’s also nice to see you back writing about your garden and seeing Tessa looking quite grown up too. Is her coat getting a softer shade of orange, or is it the light?

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    • Pauline, I’ve heard similar stories about neighbors and trees. We have extensive pine needle drop on this side of the fence from a towering pine next door. I could leave it at that and complain, but in addition to the “work” of raking pine needles, we have the benefit of shade, the gorgeous, towering green, the joy of watching squirrels chase each other around the massive trunk and the knowledge of hummingbirds nesting in that tree. Trees give so much, far more than they could ever take away. Unless a tree is diseased or in jeopardy of falling, a bit of leaf drop is a modest price to pay. I was left speechless a few years ago when a neighbor saw rats in her orange tree, prompting her to cut it down.

      Wikipedia has an excellent and engaging article on permaculture https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture

      that describes the concept you mention of a wilderness area. It was pioneered in Australia. I follow a UK blogger named Helen who’s been gradually replenishing her small plot into a sustainable garden, including Hugel beds and composting.

      Without fully realizing it, I’ve been using three of the principles of permaculture: harvesting rain water, sheet mulching and in removing the lawn, creating diversity of planting and doing away with the monoculture of cultivated suburban lawns. I find it all fascinating.

      Tessa does look lighter in this photo. It’s either the light of the day, or I lightened the photo since the compost bin is always in shadow next to the fence and under the orange tree. She has a lovely soft coat, unlike Mouse who’s coat is thick and course. Lindy’s coat is long, similar to Orlando’s lovely fur.

      Thank you for this nice visit.

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      • It’s wonderful when we discover that the things we are doing instinctively have a name and a scientific principle behind them isn’t it. I think when we find a method that sits right with us because we are working out of love and interest it is inevitably ‘the right thing’ to be doing. I was interested in Tessa’s coat as recently I have noticed how much Siddy has lightened in his short almost five years. He was a pup of definite black and white and now his head and ears are a much softer, almost silvery shade of grey …….. and there are places in his black body patches that are softening in shade too. How is Lindy doing? Orlando has a new lease on life currently, very affectionate as always with me, but also towards his pup. It’s often very funny. It’s nice to linger on a visit xoxo

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    • Leave it to you, Cathy, to spot the seedlings. :-). I’m trying to be more judicious this year now that the perennials are more established. The sweet peas tend to envelope them. I’ve pulled out several small seedlings, but I’ve decided to transplant them instead into palatable “pots” and give them away to anyone who’s interested. I have some California poppies growing too. Oh, how I love spring! I hope you are doing well.

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  3. All our gardens need rest time, and how wise of you to let that happen. Perhaps the gardeners need a rest time too! I love the nigella flower. I am not sure I have ever seen one before. The flower is most attractive, but the swirl of the bud is wonderful! What is you new composting system? Good to see that Tessa approves of it. 😉

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    • Anne, I’m not very good at sitting still, so if I’m not working in the garden, I’m working, organizing or volunteering. I often joke that I need a small injury or a case of the flu to keep me on the couch for a period of time. Since neither of those are welcome, then I need to choose relaxation. Funny that. I agree with you about the nigella bud. They’re quite extraordinary. These seeds were originally part of a seed packet. They didn’t come up the first year, then gradually started appearing the year after the drought. Now they come back year after year throughout the garden. They’re lovely with the fern like foliage and soft purple flowers. The buds are lovely too.

      As for Tessa, she loves the rodent activity just behind the compost bin, and the rats that climb the nearby orange tree at dusk. The bin is a good resting place to see all the action, and as Kerry pointed out, it’s warm in the spring and summer evenings as well.

      The compost bin comes from a mail-order vendor called Gardener’s Supply Company. It’s called a “Deluxe Pyramid Composter” and is described as “A composter with an innovative rain-catching lid, designed to keep compost moist, while letting excess water run off.” I should write a post about it one day. I used a rotating bin, but it took two years to get even a small amount of composted material and it was small. The second one worked okay (it was a mesh version made by Fisher), but rodents soon chewed through the mesh. This one is larger, stronger, faster and easy to use. I have it under our orange tree. It’s brown so you don’t really notice it.

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  4. Love you… and your inner gardener, dear Alys! Your Winter garden truly makes my heart blossom. Enjoy every soothing moment! I’m so grateful that my Midwest garden is protected by a thick blanket of snow. Last night’s windchill temperature was -52°. We could actually hear ‘Frost Quakes’ as the moisture in the soil rapidly expanded! (We were only four degrees warmer than the South Pole!!) It will feel 100° warmer by Sunday. What a weather roller coaster!! Thank you for the calm, peaceful visit to your lovely garden. 💗

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    • Dawn, I can’t imagine the misery of -52! That is crazy weather. I too am glad your garden is tucked in under the snow. I hope it remains covered till it’s proper spring thaw.

      I’ve never heard of frost quakes, but I’m intrigued! What an interesting phenomenon. Our quakes are far more unsettling, though the go along with living in California. Most days we have several in the 2 to 3 range and they go unnoticed, but we remain prepared with an earthquake kit, tall furniture and the water heater strapped to the walls and otherwise fingers crossed. It’s less worrying for me now that my boys are grown. I’m so glad to hear from you, and pleased to hear that Sunday will bring some warmer weather. Sending hugs your way.

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  5. You are way ahead of me. We are just getting winter this next week. I want to work in the garden but still recovering from the move. I want to do the work but my body said no. ;( I love that you are showing signs of spring already and have had some wonderful rain but not too much. Your Love in the Mist is already blooming!!! My Hellebore is blooming already. I’ll get out there soon, I hope. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy seeing yours.

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    • Winter is fickle, Marlene. It seems to be making itself known in the spring and summer as well as it’s proper winter season. Of course we need all four seasons for a reason, and even in California, the seasons change, though subtle. Our winter arrived so late, that I had a self seeded tomato reach a few inches before a frost knocked it out. I imagine the soil warms ups, signaling the seed to grow. I too am quite sore from two days of moving canned goods at Lifted Spirits, trying to bring order to the food distribution there. The spirit is willing, but my knees, hips and back are now staging a mini-rebellion. I hope you’re recovering and settling in to the new routine soon. Can you believe tomorrow is February! I just came for a visit around this time last year. The time has flown. Hugs flying your way.

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      • Time flies and we wear out…to quickly. 😉 A full year already gone. I’m almost recovered but spent the day at the mechanics with my daughter’s junk car. It needs a proper burial but a new one is just out of the question. She hasn’t been able to afford proper maintenance and it shows. She took mine to the MAX today. We are expecting snow showers several days next week. I’m looking forward to days inside to shuffle what’s left to find homes for and getting a bit more order. Keep trying to write the blog but get lost in it. Have to break it down. Take some time for yourself so you have something left to give. Giant squishy hugs.

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        • My guess is that when your house feels more ordered, you’ll be able to think more clearly and write. That’s certainly been true for me over the years. You’re an amazing writer, so I’ll look forward to that post.

          I’m all too familiar with deferred maintenance on a car when you’re trying to make ends meet. Hopefully sharing expenses with you will help. I wonder if she can find anyone to ride-share with, someone that works with or near her. I’m hearing more and more that young people are getting by without a car at all. When you add up the cost of a loan or purchase, registration, insurance and maintenance, it’s costly. Hugs to you both.

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          • She is only driving to the MAX but still hasn’t found anyone to rideshare to the MAX. She uses my car when the weather is bad and I don’t have to go anywhere. I think things are already starting to improve for both of and I’m getting my place back in order slowly. Everyday, progress. Hugs to you as well.

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  6. Such a delight to see your winter garden – a sight for sore eyes! While it’s not nearly as cold here as it is in some parts of North America, it’s still grey and icy and there is a lot of snow in the forecast.

    And I have to say, Tessa has the most beautiful markings – she’s so pretty!

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    • Hello Sheryl. I’m sorry to hear you are equally cold with ice and snow around the corner. I hope you get an early spring, or at the very least a thaw. Hang in there.

      I agree with you: Tessa has unique markings. She’s different from any cat I’ve known. I’ve not been able to determine if she is a true Chimera, but she definitely has different markings on each side. In addition to her split face, she has two different whisker colors. It’s really something.

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    • She likes her bottom warm, but she also enjoys the activity behind the compost bin. I inadvertently disturbed a rat’s hiding place last summer when my ladder sunk into a narrow cavity between the composter and the fence. Tessa’s made it her mission to keep close tabs on this corner ever since.

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  7. What a treat it is to see all these green things blooming, dear friend. I can imagine the inner conflict of wanting to tidy up, yet knowing that all those seed pods and fallen leaves serve their purpose, too. It seems that nature is rewarding you in flowers for having let her take her course. 🙂 xoxo

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    • That’s a lovely sentiment HeideBee. Thank you for that. I’ve been thinking of you a lot today with the Arctic-like temperatures. I know you’re an old pro, but still. That weather is unbelievable. I hope you’re keeping warm. xo

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      • This morning when I woke up it was only 3 below, so it felt practically balmy walking to the car! 🙂 Thank you for your sweet thoughts, dear Alys … all is well here. And soon enough it will be spring! In the meantime, I will come back again and again to your beautiful photos. xx

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  8. Loved all the photo’s and imagined myself sitting on your cozy front verandah for a chat. I saw Mouse was wandering in your direction as you took that one photo. LOL, he might of thought you were getting a picture of him 😀 He’s such a star.
    I read a bit of the message between you and Pauline and kinda giggled. I’m one of those silly people that tires of cleaning the neighbours tree debris, LOL. Next door, the cherry tree has overgrown it’s placement in her yard. Most of it hung in our yard and over our garage. While pretty in the spring, it continually drops it’s fruit, leaving us to clean up large amounts of spoiling cherries that both attract (more) ants, clog our eves and stain the garden cushions on the settee I have there. After washing the cushion a few times, I just put away the bench. Since we hired an arborist last spring, we also had him cut back her tree to the fence line. She actually has small trees growing in her eves but probably hasn’t taken much notice. LOL. Not a lot of gardening going on in the North from September to late May and today, one probably can’t imagine anything growing here ever. Snap it’s frigid out there! xoxo K

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  9. Gardens have a way of teaching us how to let go and relax. By the same token, if your Nigella is blooming…you have done right by the winter feeders and tidy up to your heart’s delight! (You are at least a month ahead of us!!)

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    • Really? Well that is lovely to hear. It’s a joy seeing the birds eat seeds, and nice to benefit from the seeds that escape their beaks. I have more California poppies this year too (not yet flowering, but soon). Thanks for stopping by, Audrey.

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  10. I have been enjoying this almost unreasonable wealth of rain this past week! I actually have standing water under my oak tree. Unbelievable! I can’t wait to get out in the garden while the soil is so rich and well-nourished, but it may take awhile for the warmth to return. We are really fortunate to be in a mild climate. Your garden efforts surely do pay off! Your blooms are beautiful. 🙂

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