Spring Gives Way to Summer

Spring is slowly giving way to summer here, though our temps have been moderate for May. I’m happy to bypass the heat waves, but it is strange.

Nasturtiums viewed through the garden bench

We spent the three-day weekend working in the garden, with breaks for meals and a night out. It remained overcast most of the time, so the work was comfortable. 

I’ve been cutting the California poppies back to the ground and collecting and drying a few seeds for next season. For the most part, the poppies self-seed, but it’s nice to have backups just in case. The same applies to our sweet peas and the nigella, or love-in-a-mist.

Now that I have room in the curb garden, I planted Mammoth sunflower seeds. I found these clever domes online to keep the seeds underground until they germinate. Otherwise, the squirrels eat them as fast as I plant them.

Sunflower seeds don’t do well when started indoors, so covering them is the best solution. Ironically, I noticed what looked like sunflowers already growing in the box. They seemingly popped up out of nowhere, but given our rain, they may have been lying dormant for some time. Of course, that doesn’t explain how they survived foraging squirrels, but I’ll take it.

I planted a packet of forgotten cosmos from my seed collection. Some seeds do well even when past the use or sell-by date, so I hope that’s the case. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Most of my gardening time in recent weeks has been spent digging out once-charming now-invasive violets. When they initially appeared in the garden, I thought they were derivative of annual pansies. We don’t generally see wild violets here in San Jose.

It was, however,  a surprise to read on a couple of blogs that wild violets are considered weeds. Now I know why. They’ve spread all over the back garden, growing in clumps under other plants. Like a lot of weeds, they propagate in a variety of ways, and they protest removal from the ground. I have a system: pull out fistfuls of large clumps, then go after the remaining roots. I dig out the small seedlings using my garden fork since the seedlings have shallow roots. I’ve been clocking the time spent removing these invasive plants, and as of this writing, I’ve spent eight hours digging them out. Can you imagine?

As Mike is fond of saying: “Job security!” As if anyone could fire me from this passion. Another day, another weed equals more time in the garden.

Tessa agrees.

Pomp and Circumstance and a Full Heart

My youngest son, Mac, graduated from university this weekend. It was a joyous and much-anticipated day.

We flew to Orange County Friday evening for an early morning ceremony on the Chapman University football field. It was warm and overcast, the perfect weather for sitting outdoors, especially for the graduates wearing hot, black robes.

A few tears surfaced as I entered the stadium. I recommend listening to Pomp and Circumstance if you feel nostalgic or need a good cry. It does the job.

I composed myself, and soon we were crowded around the ropes, excited to glimpse him during the processional. We watched the ceremony on the big screens, so that part felt a bit remote, but we shouted like school children when he crossed the stage to receive his diploma, a moment shared by all the other loving families in the audience. Then, we were back on our feet for the recessional, jockeying for space to see our graduate up close once again. The memories will last a lifetime.

Earlier this year, Mac spent two weeks in Florence, Italy, as part of a travel abroad program. Unfortunately, the university canceled all the study abroad programs twice due to Covid, so it was terrific that he could finally go. While there, one of the activities included learning the art of paper marbling. My son knows I love paper, so he offered it to me on his return home.

I used that special paper to make cards for part of his graduation gift. Each card is unique. Letting the beautiful paper guide the process, I made thank you cards, a couple of birthday cards, and a few generic ones.

I found a pattern to make the cardholder using heavy gold paper, then added a scrap of his marbled paper to the facade.

We enjoyed several meals with our son and his amazing friends, stopped by to see his new housing, then flew home Sunday evening to prepare for the week.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I couldn’t be prouder.

A bit of trivia:

Sir Edward Elgar composed Pomp and Circumstance — the title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Othello (“Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”) — in 1901. But it wasn’t originally intended for graduations. Elgar’s march was used for the coronation of King Edward VII.

It first became associated with graduations in 1905, when it was played when Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1905, but it was played as a recessional, not as a processional, at the ceremony.

Miles Hoffman, NPR.org

Paper marbling is a method of aqueous surface design, which can produce patterns similar to smooth marble or other kinds of stone. The patterns are the result of color floated on either plain water or a viscous solution known as size, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or fabric. Through several centuries, people have applied marbled materials to a variety of surfaces. It is often employed as a writing surface for calligraphy, and especially book covers and endpapers in bookbinding and stationery. Part of its appeal is that each print is a unique monotype.


The Gift of Rain

San Jose gardens get by with about 15 inches of rain a year. During the drought years, we had half of that or less. So this year’s rain has been a gift to South Bay gardens, not only delaying the time when we would typically begin a watering routine but adorning our gardens with more blooms, taller plants, and, yes, lots of weeds.

Nasturtium along the walkway, with salvia and geraniums filling the space in between

My nepeta (cat mint) self-seeded throughout the garden to the sensory delight of our felines. The original plant is twice as tall this year, hiding those sneaky weeds below. They have met their match!

Love-in-a-mist, California Poppy, Geranium, Morning Glory border our neighbor’s lawn

California poppies spread throughout the garden, showing up in pots, along the curb garden, and elsewhere to my delight. The profusion of color is uplifting. I’ve been relocating the self-seeded sweet peas to the other side of the sidewalk so that they don’t overtake the perennials I’m trying to grow. First, I pulled out small volunteers or transplanted them, and then I bought another packet of seeds to hedge my bets during the transition. It worked partly due to the rain, and now the perennials are getting a foothold with the space and an extra helping of rain.

I cut back the stems of the Freesia last week, leaving the leaves to dry out before cutting them back to the ground. Rapidly taking their place are gladiola and love-in-a-mist. Last October, Mike dug out several gladiola bulbs, and I replanted them together in the curb garden to maximize the effect. They’re just starting to come up as the poppies go to seed.

Love-in-a-mist about to bloom

Over the years, people have asked if my garden is a lot of work. While it can be hard on my aging hips and lower back, I don’t think of it as work so much as a pursuit. I’ve had the luxury this season to spend two or three hours a day outdoors, deadheading, weeding, and pruning as I observe all the gifts of nature.

The garden attracts lizards, birds, squirrels, butterflies, and praying mantis. The scents of spring are intoxicating, and the refreshing cool greens soothe me.

A California lizard. They devour lots of bugs

Rain-filled water tanks permitted us to plant guilt-free strawberries and tomatoes, and for the first time in many years, I planted five coleuses in a repurposed pot once used in the back garden.

Annuals are heavy water users, so I’ve limited myself to one box and a shade-loving spot at that. I’ll share photos after I clean up the pot. Otherwise, I will continue to plant and tend to native and drought-tolerant plants, knowing that this year’s rain is a gift without any promises for the future.

Super-Blooms and Valley Views

I worked for nearly two weeks without a break, then traveled for an overnight trip to see my son receive an award. In between, I’ve been helping an unhoused woman with a health crisis. Yesterday, I could barely stay awake. So I’m re-evaluating the work-life balance once again to regain some energy.

Part of the plan is to spend at least one day a week out in nature, exploring new places and revisiting favorites.

Horses in the foreground as seen from the iris garden and a view of the South bay.

Today we toured Nola’s Iris Garden, part of Prevost Ranch just twenty minutes away. It was a feast for the eyes. My friend Elizabeth boards her horse in the stable adjacent to the gardens. She’s been encouraging me to go. The iris bloom was late this year due to heavy rains, but they’re up now and gorgeous. Nola has over 600 varieties planted along terraces at the top and bottom of a gently sloping hill. The views are also spectacular, and the recent rains have turned the hillside a lush green.

We spoke briefly to Nola and commented that we had met her cat. She said she takes care of twenty cats, most of them feral and mentioned that one of them had kittens. Later, as we rounded a corner near the lower garden, one of the visitors gushed over the just-discovered kitten. I’d never seen a male cat standing guard like that, but he was a proud and handsome papa, dangling a paw through the slats playing with the kitten below. The gardens were crowded today, so hopefully mama was just shy and hiding nearby.

Proud Papa cat…or so they said
One of the kittens cozy but looking scared under the wood planks

Our next stop offered even more views at a lookout spot on the hill. We spotted California poppies, sky lupine, and wild mustard on our drive. Swaths of the distant hills seemed to sport a reddish color, but I couldn’t tell if it was aging foliage or a bloom of small red flowers.

A super bloom is a rare and well-timed act of nature that causes short bouts of wildflower blooms all at once in a particular area. “These rare and unpredictable wildflower blooms occur when high precipitation levels in natural landscape areas are combined with a years-long drought,” according to California State Parks. Drought conditions eliminate grass and weeds that typically take over the fields, making way for blooms to take their place instead.

Sky lupine
Wild mustard

Yesterday’s rain created a clear view of Silicon Valley. Our house is down there, a sea of development viewed from an oasis of calm.

With Mike enjoying the day

I needed this refreshing day.

Scrap Happy Garden Art

Thank you, Kate, for bringing us together for these monthly scrap-happy challenges. We’re welcoming one new and one returning contributor this month: Tierney of Tierneycreates and Lynn of Tialys

My scrappy project pairs repurposed embroidery hoops and last year’s wall calendar to create something decorative for the garden bench. I used a disparate assortment of scraps from my craft room and some garden twine.

Humble embroidery hoops

I initially used the embroidery hoops to store my Washi tape collection; however, my reduced tape supply now fits in a small, clear box.

Pages from my beloved 2022 wall calendar
Circles cut from two calendar pages

The hoops served as a template to trace two sections of the calendar and a vinyl backing. Since these will hang outdoors, I want them to last the season. I backed each page with vinyl and applied four layers of Mod Podge to the front to seal them.

Adhesive-backed vinyl sheets
Vinyl-backed embroidery hoops

Interestingly, the beautiful texture of the paper combined with the Mod Podge creates an oilcloth-like surface. The vinyl sheets came as part of a kit I’ve kept for years. The sticky backing adhered beautifully.

I applied Tim Holtz Distress Spray Stain to the hoops using a small paintbrush. Crafters use the stain for mixed media applications, but it works for random projects like this. I’ve also used it for fairy garden projects.

Distress stain drying on the embroidery hoops

Before gluing the prints to the back of the hoops, I crocheted a couple of strands of garden twine, threading the loops through the screw used to tighten the hoop.

Completed garden art

After spending 45 minutes unsuccessfully trying to make twine bows, I returned to my craft room and found that I had just enough leftover vintage seam binding in the perfect shade of green to do the job. Kismet.

Vintage seam binding bows

There is something gratifying about using an obsolete calendar, vinyl, wood, twine, seam binding, glue, and stain to create a little bit of bling for the garden.

Ready to display, but we have a bit more rain in store first

Here’s a list of contributing scrap-happy bloggers:

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, Edith
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol, Preeti,
Amo, AlissaLynn and Tierney

In a Vase on Monday: One Becomes Two

Now that spring is underway; the garden is filling nicely with greens and flowers. So it’s nice to join the Cathy’s for some Monday cheer.

After gathering greens from one azalea and three calla lilies, I cut a handful of the fading yellow Freesia. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t get the flowers to work in one arrangement. I arranged two smaller vases, one with Freesia and azalea greens,

Freesia and azalea greens

and the other with calla lilies (Zantedeschia) and Asparagus setaceus plumosus.

Calla lilies and plumosus

Over the weekend, I arranged another vase for a friend’s birthday. I wish all of my friends celebrated birthdays this time of year. It’s so cheering giving flowers from one’s garden.

Please follow this link to see the other In A Vase on Monday posts.

Thank you, Cathy, at and Cathy at Words and Herbs.

Fun facts:

A calla lily isn’t a true lily and an Asparagus “fern” isn’t a fern.

Dirty Jobs, Good Results

I’ve never been averse to a bit of dirt. After all, gardening involves:

  • Digging in the soil.
  • Hauling extra dirt from the garden center.
  • Sweeping the spilled dirt off the patio after transplanting or planting something new.

Still, there are a few jobs that I have to be in the right frame of mind for, like fussing with the compost pile. But, once I get going, the other jobs easily follow.

Path leading to the compost corner
Flattened compost behind the hydrangea

The first of these jobs involved mucking around in what I call the surplus compost pile. We live on a small lot, which limits the space available for a three-pile compost system. Over the years, I’ve dabbled with a few ready-made composters and eventually happened upon a pyramid composter.

It works well, but I have more yard waste at certain times of the year than others. So I started a second, smaller pile in the corner next to the pyramid beneath the orange tree. We share our oranges with neighboring squirrels, tree rats, and probably opossums, so they also add half-eaten oranges and rinds to the pile.

I sorted the pile, removed and bagged the rotting oranges, and pulled assorted twigs, which take longer to decompose. As a result, the stack is now flatter, making it easier to access the fence for additional work. Seeing all those earthworms working beneath the soil did my heart good. It’s been too dry for too long.

A fragrant, slippery mess

My next dirty job involved cleaning the bird bath. I generally clean and disinfect it with white vinegar and a big brush, but my friend Donna suggested hydrogen peroxide to help reduce algae. So I researched and confirmed that it’s safe for birds and plants. A little goes a long way, and wow, what a difference.

I believe that’s a Chestnut-backed Chickadee

The final dirty job for the week involved rust removal from my fairy garden gate. I fell in love with this cast iron piece when I spotted it in a neighborhood shop years ago. This John Wright piece used to be a doorstop. It’s the perfect size for a miniature garden, and the weight deters marauding squirrels who love digging through the planter. I’ve always thought a bit of rust added to its charm, but it started looking more orange than I liked, so I brought it in for a cleanup.

Rusty gate in a white vinegar bath

I soaked the little gate in white vinegar for over 24 hours. I used a piece of steel wool to try and loosen the rust, then switched to a stiff brush.

After several rinses, I switched to lemon and salt, soaking and scrubbing again.

The lemon returned some of the original colors, so while some rust remains, I’m happy with the results.

After the final rinse

I need to do a bit of maintenance in the miniature garden. I’ll share photos when I’m done.

Do you like getting your hands dirty?

In a Vase on Monday: Sunshine and Scent

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden arranges flowers in a vase year-round, and posts her creations each Monday. I’m always impressed with what she pulls together. In addition, several bloggers join the creative process, posting there In a Vase on Monday and linking to Cathy’s blog.

I discovered Cathy at Rambling in the Garden through Cathy at Words and Herbs, yet another example of how I love this blogging world. I like to refer to them casually as The Cathys. I hope they don’t mind.

I filled today’s vase with my beloved Freesia in yellows and whites. Then, I clipped some greens from our Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira). The Pittosporum, sometimes called mock orange, is one of two trees that preceded our move to this house 27 years ago.

Rounding out the color are a few orange nasturtium (Tropaeolum). The stems are weak, but I couldn’t resist their vibrant color. They self-seed all over the garden this time of year in reds, yellows, and oranges.

I found the vase at a vintage shop a few years ago. I bought it for a song, telling me it’s neither vintage nor valuable, but with a ceramic cat hanging from the edge, it’s priceless.

Please visit Rambling in the garden to see what other bloggers have arranged In a Vase on Monday.

A Week in Pictures: March Draws to a Close

We woke up Wednesday morning to grey skies but no rain. I thought we missed the hyped storm, but it was running late.

By mid-morning, the skies darkened, and the rain followed. Between 10 and 2, we had thunderstorms, followed by hail, which eventually gave way to sunshine. Cold temperatures left a shallow layer of snow in the foothills.

I can’t remember a time when we sampled such varied weather.

The winds remained at bay, and the power stayed on, but we stayed vigilant about falling trees.

I paid a visit to my favorite crafting store and saw the remains of this once-towering tree. Unfortunately, one of the recent storms toppled the tree, lifting the sidewalk as it crashed across the drive, smashing into a small sign. Thankfully no one was hurt.

Thursday and Friday delivered uneventful weather, and today we enjoyed warm, clear, and sunny skies.

Our cats, Tessa and Mouse, are sleeping soundly after a day of fresh air and sunshine. They used to quibble over the basket on the table behind the couch, so now there are two. Never mind that they have dozens of cozy spots for slumber throughout the house. Like toddlers, bickering is more fun.

I replaced my label-maker after 15 years of reliable service, never imagining it would double as a chin rest.

Intoxicating Freesias continues to dominate in the garden, with purples and reds joining the earlier yellow and white mix. The nasturtiums are back, and several nepeta have self-seeded as well. Now that the hydrangea is covered in fresh leaves, pink and blue flowers will soon follow.

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

-William Shakespeare

A Storm is Brewing

It’s difficult to imagine looking at this photo, that another powerful storm is due at midnight. We’ve had a few sunny days, but it’s been cold.

View of our front garden including two Little Free Libraries, a grand magnolia, wisteria, camellia and Freesia

On a side note, the title of this article made me smile: Flowers and Grammar Have a Strained Relationship. I’m always looking up plant names to determine upper and lower case usage.

Spring waits for no one, so it’s been a treat watching the Freesia populate the garden.

I’m seeing an abundance of California poppies as well. Both plants self-propagate, making seeing where they’ll put on a show each year a joy.

California oppy Eschscholzia californica

Our white camellia is also in bloom, but the foliage doesn’t look healthy. My research led me to the probability of an algal leaf spot common to this type of plant. I garden organically, so I need to look at methods to control it. As an aside, I learned that a camellia can live for 200 years!

One stroke of luck as I went outside to clip a few leaves: an Anna’s hummingbird arrived and sipped nectar at arm’s length allowing me to snap several photos. I couldn’t believe my luck.

This hummingbird is either a female or an immature male. The adult males are more colorful.

I’ve been busy removing the various types of grass from the garden, front and back. We had the garden professionally landscaped many years ago, and these grasses were part of that mix. Unfortunately, the two in the front garden have grown to dominate the space, crowding out other plants. Further, our cat Mouse chews on the grass, but he’s unable to digest it, causing him to gag lengthy bunches of grass.

I’m trying to improve his diet with a brand of cat food that includes spinach. I bought wheat grass at the grocery store as well, but he’s eschewed that fresh grass entirely. Picture me chasing after him saying, “Mmmmm, doesn’t this look tasty?” as I’m met with a look of disdain. In addition to grass domination and poor kitty’s tummy, I poked myself straight in the eye with one of the blades last year during pruning. That hurt! So the grasses are no more.

It took some work getting the two largest grassy plants out of the ground, and I created additional tasks for Mike, who had to come behind me and repair the in-ground irrigation.

In the end, I removed two large grass plants from the front garden and one large and several small ones from the back. With luck, the salvia that is now free to grow uncrowded will fill the space in the back native garden.

The rest of the project will need to be hired out. The plan is to create a paving stone pathway that curves from the sidewalk to the stone steps. Once finished, I’ll plant well-behaved and smaller-scale native plants to the right and left of the new walkway. It looks a bit forlorn for now.

Spot for new walkway. The smaller plants pictured are just coming out of their dormant stage.
The proposed walkway will start here and end at the sidewalk.

We’ve all got our fingers crossed that tonight’s storms don’t claim any more lives. It’s been a challenging time for California.