Thirty Days in the Garden: A Second Little Free Library

Several years ago I spotted a book box in a nearby neighborhood and I fell in love with the idea. I came home and told Mike. It took several months to bring the idea to fruition, but by January the following year, we had a Little Free Library of our own. It sits at the curb near the garden and attracts visitors throughout the day.

Little Free Library

Being a part of the Little Free Library movement has been a joyous experience. I’m friends with the owner of the library that inspired me, and I’ve met other LFL stewards along the way.

My friend Nick built the first library from scratch using reclaimed and recycled material. He did an amazing job. He even thought to add light by connecting it to a landscape light below.

Lighting wired to the landscape light

After several years in the sun, the library needed a facelift. My friend and artist Donna Pierre worked her craft. Donna has amazing ideas and the skills to see those ideas to fruition.

Donna’s beautiful art and craft

When I sit in my home office or work in the kitchen, I see visitors throughout the day. The Little Free Library attracts people of all ages.

Last year when the pandemic hit, the library’s use skyrocketed. Children were out of school looking for something to do. Teachers stopped by, with one explaining that she had been forced to leave her classroom on short notice without any teaching materials. Some stewards closed their library for fear of spreading COVID. I left mine in place, assuming that books could be wiped down if necessary. In those days people were wiping down groceries.

I had several children’s books stored in my garage, so I took a large plastic bin, turned it on its side, and filled it with my stash. I placed the box along the low wall leading up to our deck. It’s the perfect height for small readers.

Temporary book bin, summer 2020
2020 Debut: Children’s Little Free Library

As the weather started cooling down, I knew the plastic bin would need modifying or replacing. Right on cue, the bin cracked, brittle from the overhead sun. It had to go.

The only thing better than one Little Free Library is a second one. I ordered the largest pre-made box available through LittleFreeLibrary.org and asked my friend Donna if she could work her magic once again.

Little Free Library viewed from beneath the Wisteria

This allowed us to support the LFL non-profit while providing work to a local artist. I stocked the original library with children’s books on one side and adult fare on the other. The second Little Free Library is exclusively children’s books.

I read voraciously growing up. Libraries in my youth were a refuge and a treat. I thought I would grow up to be a librarian. It’s been a circuitous route, but in my way I’m living that librarian dream. What a thrill!

Art by Donna Pierre, 2020

Thirty Days in the Garden: Easter

We’re enjoying a gorgeous Easter here in Silicon Valley. Mike made homemade waffles for breakfast after we all slept in. I ate mine with mixed berries from a frozen mix. I look forward to berry season every year, but it’s early yet. The frozen fruit is surprisingly good, and a bit better for my waistline than the alternative.

We took a drive to the Wildlife Center Silicon Valley, something we do a few Sunday’s a month. WCSV rehabs wildlife and when possible, return them to their natural habitat. The non-profit uses soft t-shirts rather than old towels so that talons and claws aren’t caught on the loops.

I sort clothing at Lifted Spirits every week, and set aside t-shirts that are badly stained, torn, or sporting inappropriate language. Trust me, I’ve seen some doozies. It’s a nice excuse to drive out to the park, and it feels good passing on something useful that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Baby squirrels and rescued hawks don’t care what the t-shirt says.

If you celebrate, I hope you’ve had a lovely Easter.

Happy Easter

Thirty Days in the Garden: Wisteria

I’ve admired Wisteria vines forever, but I never dreamed I could actually grow one. They need full sun and a sturdy trellis for support, and once established they can be tree-like in stature.i

A few years ago we had to remove one of our magnolia trees due to an unrelenting case of scale. I manually scraped off the scale after pruning away the inner branches. It was a tedious and unpleasant job, but I really wanted to save the tree. The scale returned the following year. According to the arborist the scale probably came with the tree. Without a toxic application that would harm all insects, the tree wouldn’t survive.

Nasty business: scale-infested magnolia

As sorry as I was to see the tree go, it made room for this love Wisteria.

We moved an under-utilized arched trellis from the back garden to support the vine. It took a couple of years to train the Wisteria but it’s now a lovely shape.

Wisteria growing in our front garden

It surprised me to learn from Wikipedia that Wisteria is a member of the legume family. Further, the article described Wisteria as a “woody climbing bine.” I puzzled over that for a while, having never heard the term bine before. I eventually realized it was a typo. No judgement as I make plenty of typos myself, but I had a good laugh nonetheless.

Wisteria vine along the ramp

Pictured below, left to right: rhododendrons, gardenias, freesias, a white camellia, native grasses, branches from a healthy magnolia, and my trusty garden cart near the fence.

I’m pleased that the flowering vine is doing well.

This walkway is a gently sloping ramp. The sign says Sharon’s Way. My sister has MS and could no longer visit our home, so we had a landscape architect design a ramp from the curb to the house. It’s subtle and beautiful.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Minor Amusements

My garden serves up minor amusements now and again, little surprises that make me grin. Here’s a recent one:

Something ate a hole in this California poppy making me think of a tent for a traveling snail.

Motel 6 for mollusks

Equally amusing but more annoying, is the weed that gets a foothold in the center of an established plant. There is no way to get the weed out by the roots without completely uprooting the shrub. I manage to get my gloved hand under the low branches of each perennial, only to come away with part of the weed and no roots.

The weeds aren’t thumbing their noses at me, are they?

Some amusements are more along the lines of quaint, like this self-seeded lavender. Planted by the wind or a bird, the starter plant grows in a small pot surrounded by succulents. It’s nice of the container to host this little upstart, but now the plants are probably intertwined. Stay tuned for updates.

Lavender looking small and unassuming
This is how big the plant will get
I hope they all get along. It appears that the succulents are reproducing.

This photo is reminiscent of my girlhood. I was taller than average, rail-thin, with bright red hair. I longed to be one of the pretty-in-pink-petite girls, but alas I only grew taller. I’m at peace with my uniqueness now, but I wouldn’t want to relive those early years.

A praying mantis is oddly amusing, but startling as well. They show up during the summer months in shades of brown like this one, or green. They pivot their head giving you that odd feeling of being watched. The mantis is good for the garden, as long as they leave the hummingbirds in peace.

This ceramic lizard was destined for the trash. Like a lot of children, my son loved creating art. Then he reached adolescents and decided it wasn’t worth saving. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I moved a few pieces into the garden. It was amusing to discover that a plant had taken root in the center of the lizard’s tail.

I’ve shared this tip with some of my organizing clients, who are reluctant to part with ceramic pieces from their child’s grade school. The ceramic holds up well in the garden, it frees shelf space in the home, and it creates a wonderful conversation-starter when guests happens upon the garden treasure.

My favorite amusement of all is finding Tessa incognito.

Where’s Tessa?

Who doesn’t like a game of hide and seek?

I hope you find ways to amuse yourself this weekend.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Planting Tomatoes

I haven’t had much success growing tomatoes these past few years, but I refuse to give up. Fresh garden tomatoes off the vine are a treat.

A basket of assorted tomatoes from 2017

My dad grew tomatoes in our garden in Canada. I grew up eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. In California, people add tomatoes to things like salads and sandwiches, but we enjoyed eating tomatoes as the main event.

When I write or type the word tomato, I can hear my mother pronouncing it tuh-mah-toh. Most Americans use the hard a or tuh-mey-toh. Are you saying it in your head now, too?

A year into the pandemic, my husband Mike, is showing an interest in gardening. Who knew? We headed to the nursery together and diplomatically chose two plants each. I frequently buy the brand Bonnie Plants, a company that has been around for over 100 years.

We decided on two cherry tomato plants and two Early Girl. For some reason, the term Early Girl gets on my nerves, but it didn’t stop me from buying the plant. It sounds vaguely patriarchal somehow.

2019: The plants looked healthy, but production was almost non-existent

I have a raised bed in the back garden which has grown a variety of things over the years. I planted geraniums at the end of the summer a few years ago so that Tessa wouldn’t use the raised bed as her personal “litter” box. We eventually transplanted one geranium to a pot, a second one in the front garden, and I think I may have taken the third plant downtown.

2016: Assembling the raised bed, called a VegTrug

With the bed cleared, and the tomatoes planted, I covered the plants with a mesh netting intended to keep out bugs. It won’t be in place for long, as the plants will need to be staked, but I had hoped it would serve as a deterrent while the plants get established.

2021: VegTrug mesh cover

A few days later my son found Tessa sleeping under the mesh canopy. That cat!

The other two plants are in an Earthbox in the front garden in one of the few sunny spots. Earthboxes are all-in-one growing systems, intended for growing vegetables in small spaces. They’re great for moving around. The box has casters, a watering tube, a perforated watering tray, and even comes with a bio-degradable cover. You stuff potting mix into the bottom corners and soak to create a wick of sorts. Then you add potting mix, some lime, and some fertilizer, mix it all together and plant. You can plant seeds or small plants in the box. I’ve used mine for several years.

Now we sit back and wait to see if our plants will produce those delicious red tomatoes of my youth.

Thirty Days in the Garden: And in This Corner

We spend a lot of time near the back steps to our home. It’s a cozy spot, sheltered from the wind, and private, even on our small lot.

Lindy joins us on the back steps

The first of two steps are wide, accommodating several large pots. The pots once housed a hodgepodge of plants, but an unrelenting pest problem led me to clear them out and start over a few years ago

Any excuse to visit a nursery, eh?

The once-small succulent in the center of the old fountain

I disposed of the pest-laden plants, refreshed the soil, and transplanted a runaway succulent.

“Dr. Seuss” succulent reaching skyward

The white flowering azalea fills a pot of its own. The other two azaleas are surrounded by bellflowers. I was aiming for what designers call the “thrill, fill, and spill” of container gardens. The azaleas fill and thrill leaving the Serbian bellflowers campanula to spill over the edge. I won’t be winning any prizes in a garden show, but I enjoy the results.

White azalea at the corner of the house

Azaleas are great patio plants. They have shallow roots and prefer living under a tree, or in our case, the eaves of the house. I was stunned to learn that they can live for fifty years!

Pink azaleas, bellflowers, assorted succulents and “Dr. Seuss: the plant”, untamed

The succulent grew at an alarmingly rate, looping up, then down, then back up again. It started as a wee plant in what used to be a fountain. With little information to be gleaned from the nursery’s small plant marker I assumed it would remain small. In no time, it required a pot of its own, then a trellis, and a few hooks attached to the house. I eventually reshaped it to a more manageable size, and the plant continues to thrive.

March, 2021: the succulent reduced and reshaped, no longer topples over

I love this quiet corner of our garden. We’ve been eating lunch outside during this warm spell, and we’ll spend more time there as the days grow longer. One by one, the resident felines wander out to join us. It’s our little oasis, sorely needed during these trying times. It fosters contentment all around.

Tessa defying gravity on the poof, Serbian bellflowers in the background

Thirty Days in the Garden: Where Fairies May Roam

I read somewhere that fairy gardens are not the same as miniature gardens, but the difference is largely lost on me. When I’ve crafted gardens in miniature in the past, I let my imagination wander.

Fescue yurt and an orange peel umbrella

Do I believe in fairies?

No.

Do I like to imagine fairies stopping in for a visit?

You bet!

Like many hobbies, you can go all out or you can pair down to what feels right for you. I take the latter approach and have fun.

I’ve enjoyed making furniture for the imaginary visitors, and I’m grateful for the lovely miniature furniture gifted from friends over the years. I’ve even bought a few pieces on my own.

A soft mattress woven from lavender
Garden umbrella made from half of an orange peal and a knot of raffia | the mini hammock is a gift

I fashioned a New Zealand-inspired mini garden after a group of blogging friends met there in March of 2018. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Miniature Hobbiton

The Hobbiton facade lasted a couple of years, but the materials eventually gave way to the elements.

A gift from our New Zealand hosts

The refashioned garden is now more of a tribute to New Zealand and a reminder of my dear friend Pauline. I miss her in the real world and I miss her presence in our blogging community. If you’re a regular reader, you’re surely missing Pauline as well.

New Zealand Mini Garden

On a hurried day in the garden earlier this year, I happened upon an unearthed hyacinth bulb. I looked around for a suitable spot and found the miniature New Zealand garden the easiest place for a quick dig. Of course, the bulb took hold, flowered, and is now entering its resting phase. I will find it a proper home, but for now, it towers over New Zealand Mini.

A nasturtium seedling also took root, providing a nifty umbrella for my New Zealand glass sheep, a gift from our hosts. As soon as the San Jose heat descends, the nasturtium will be ready to move on as well.

I purchased two of the miniature plants you see online from a shop called TwoGreenThumbs. It’s hard to find small-scale plants at our local nursery, and nearly impossible now with COVID. It’s nice to support a small business, and fun getting living plants in the mail. Both times I ordered, Janit tucked in a tiny gift. Check out these miniature gardening boots.

Listen,
all creeping things –
the bell of transience.

Issa

Written in loving memory of Pauline, artist, friend, and blogger extraordinaire.

Thirty Days in the Garden: When Hummingbirds Stop By

Anna’s hummingbirds are frequent guests in the garden. They love sipping nectar from the abutilon and the sage, both of which grow in abundance. The purple flowering sage flowers for months.

Anna’s hummingbird
Those small purple flowers are a hummingbird magnet

It’s easy to love a plant that looks good, with a wonderfully subtle scent that attracts beautiful hummingbirds and beneficial bees. By mid summer the bees are scouring the plant for pollen. I like sitting on the garden swing as they work. I prune the shrub for shape once a year and do a bit of trimming over the summer months so we can still use the path.

Salvia in bloom, a hummingbird favorite

The abutilon needs a hard prune once a year, and then they’re off to grow for the season. We have three planted along the fence line in the back garden and another one near the front window.

Ana’s hummingbird taking a sip from the abutilon

The one concerning factor with the abutilon is that if flowers all over. I remove the flowers from the lower branches so the hummingbirds remain high and away from Tessa’s view.

Tessa near the abutilon

With all these inviting plants, you might wonder why we hang hummingbird feeders. The simple answer: for the pure joy of seeing these tiny birds up close near the windows year-round. Hummingbirds need to eat every 15 minutes, so if you keep your feeders clean and full they’ll return again and again. In fact, hummingbirds come to recognize you over time as the keeper of the sugar water. They’ll buzz overhead if the feeder is low, or simply fly toward your face for a brief visit.

Hummingbird at small feeder

They are a delight to behold.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Starting Now

There are a number of tips and tricks to pull oneself out of a slump.

It’s time.

2020 really piled it on, didn’t it?

For a while it seemed that 2021 wouldn’t be much better, but we finally dumped the dreadful administration, and COVID vaccines, albeit slowly, are underway. I’m patiently awaiting my turn.

I’m trying to keep myself out of the doldrums by focusing on things I love including blogging and gardening. One of the tips for creating a new habit, or in my case, reviving an old one, is to do something every day for thirty days.

I’ve decided to challenge myself to write a blog post every day for a month. Spending time in the garden won’t be a challenge, but I need the discipline of taking photos and uploading them to my computer. After all, what’s a blog without pictures?

Front garden view from driveway

Spring in California is a treat for the senses. We have mild temperatures year-round, so we don’t have to worry about a late frost or June snow. Time in the garden sows content and a healthy dose of vitamin D helps fend off depression.

We converted our lawn into a native and/or drought tolerant garden a few years ago. The garden improves with each passing years.

For starters, California has a semi-arid climate. Add in years of drought and global warming and it made little sense to maintain a water-thirsty garden. Unfortunately, we under-watered in the first year and lost a few plants. We didn’t realize that even the natives need a year to establish their roots before you can reduce watering. On the plus side, a few bare patches of soil allowed a variety of seeds to take hold. The results are amazing.

Lavender grows along the deck

French lavender dominates the upper corner of the front garden, spilling over onto the deck and making a run for it along the path. I’ve had to tame it quite a bit this year to uncover one of the salvia plants(Mexican Sage) and two of the three Kangaroo Paw plants.

Throughout the garden, California’s golden poppies shine brightly. This lovely state flower grows wild up and down the coast. I planted a few from seed several years ago. I let them go to seed at the end of each season, and sometimes shake the seeds onto different areas of the garden. My reward: they plant themselves year after year. Poppies aren’t fussy. They’ll grow in sidewalk cracks and in shallow gravel.

California’s State Flower

A few years ago we turned the sidewalk strip into a flower garden. A bland strip of lawn occupied this space when we bought our house 25 years ago. We planted a tree soon after moving in, but the curb garden came several years later. I love rounding the corner onto our street this time of year.

Nigella, California poppies, spoon flower, freesias, miniature rose, chocolate mint, and those delightful, no-name yellow flowers

My volunteer work keeps me busy and grounded, but it’s emotionally challenging as well. I hope my 30 Days in the Garden series grounds me differently. Thank you for stopping by.

The raised bed continues to evolve, but I think this is the most beautiful season to date. The chocolate mint dies back each winter leaving a thatch of brown twigs on the garden’s surface. I pull up the twigs and expose a new layer of growth. Mint, like ivy, fills the space by sending out shoots underground. It has a subtle chocolate scent when you rub the leaves and if left unchecked it would dominate the garden. I keep it under control by pulling out handfuls from between the boards when necessary. It rewards me with a lovely green ground cover and its lovely scent.

Looking Forward to Spring

Looking Forward to Spring

My heart quickens this time of year. Spring is a treat for the heart and soul and a gift to gardeners the world over.

Lots of color in the curb garden

After a year fraught with unpredictability, I find comfort in the familiar. A trip through the garden teases all the wonderful things to come: buds and bulbs emerge, old-growth gives way to the new, and even the emerging weeds portend more time outdoors.

In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox arrives on March 20, 2021. It signals the beginning of spring, though the changes are subtle in California. While much of this country is buried in snow and killer ice, our risk of a hard frost has safely passed.

Self-seeding sweet peas, cornflowers and poppies line the sidewalk. Soon they’ll be in full bloom

There are fewer opportunities to plant these days. Like most gardeners, a brown patch of soil is quickly filled with something new. I’ve reserved my EarthBox® for a tomato crop, but the garden is otherwise fully occupied. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but I do love adding new color here and there.

Front garden facing house. Within a month this will fill in once again.
Garden patch along driveway
Side yard shared with neighbor (lemon tree, dinosaur topiary, and other assorted plants)
Abundant lemons this year (they really are yellow, though they look orange in this photo)

Birdsong and buzzing bees are the soundtracks of the season. The effervescent Ana’s hummingbirds are ever-present, but their numbers grow. I spotted one gathering fluff for her nest last week, wishing for the thousandth time that I had my camera in tow. I let the anemone flowers go to seed in the fall. They open like a kernel of popcorn in late winter, producing small clouds of soft white down. It’s always a treat to see the birds grab a bit of fluff.

Anemone flowers gone to seed in foreground. Volunteer spider plants along the fence line.
This is a blurry photo from a few years ago, but I’m included it as evidence of this charming visitor

Of course, not all “fluff” is intended for nature but tell that to the squirrels. The original cover of our swing is dismantled every year. The California Grey squirrels shred the cover to get to the batting inside. I repaired this corner a few years ago using an old tea towel and polyester batting. Apparently, the squirrels are not that discerning. They’ve torn through the tea towel to get to the synthetic batting inside. How do they know it’s there? Why do they want that scratchy stuff for their nest? Rhetorical questions, I know.

Swing carnage
Swing cover damage

I treated myself to a pair of new gardening tools this weekend: a pair of clippers and a long-handled weeder. I’m counting myself lucky that I made it out of the store without serious injury. The edge of that tool is sharp. I’m ridiculously excited to use it, though, on a patch of unwanted grassy weeds.

Tessa in the garden

Spring is around the corner, and the vaccine rollout is finally underway Things are looking up! I’m ready.