A Journey Back to Blogging

I’ll write a blog post tomorrow, I thought, and then, and then, and then. Tomorrow becomes next week, then a month, while life serves up challenges big and small.

I miss blogging. My time on WordPress has yielded wonderful friendships, rich connections, and thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations. How could I be away for so long? In short, life is full.

My youngest son went away to college in August. This included helping him get ready, attempts at helping him get ready, a one-fell-swoop shopping trip and a day-long drive to Southern California.  Within a few weeks my oldest son went back to the dorms, and is now into his senior college year.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary (23 years on September 23rd)

after dinner Santana Row

After dinner at Santana Row

and ten days later I turned 59. Dear friends visited from Canada over my birthday week, including a few days in beautiful Carmel.

My volunteer work at Lifted Spirits kicked into full gear. If I wasn’t working with organizing clients, I spent time volunteering in the boutique. I work two shifts a week, and I’m often there on Thursdays organizing the boutique or other areas of the program. It feels like home.  The work is challenging and rewarding. It also allows me to serve women in need in my  community. I’m learning so much as I go. My favorite organizing project so far is the computer lab. We needed extra space for other programs, so I split the room in two using an abandoned old chalkboard and a fancy shower curtain found in a drawer. How’s that for using what you’ve got?

Mike and I are enjoying our evenings and weekends as a couple once again. In many ways, the empty-nest blahs seemed worse leading up to the boys respective departures. It eased once I knew my young men were and getting on with life.

This past weekend we planned to fly down to see our youngest son for parent weekend. I ended up going alone. I took Mike to urgent care the night before, where they referred us to the ER. They diagnosed Mike with a blood clot or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). It was a long, scary night, but he’s home and receiving good medical care. He’s not allowed to fly for at least three months so we’re adjusting to the idea of possible train travel.  Mike’s not in pain and he’s able to work, so those are both a plus.

Our felines continue to cozy up the place. As the weather cools into a California autumn, I hope to haul out my crochet once again.

Meanwhile, I’m on the committee for our Front Door Communities, Lifted Spirits fundraiser in early November. I’m putting together the program, a soup recipe book, preparing a raffle item and working with another volunteer assembling silent auction items.  It’s a busy time.

Oh, and the garden I used to blog about? It’s still here. The tomatoes were a complete bust this summer, with four huge plants producing about two dozen tomatoes in all.  I planted late-season cantaloupe, only to see them munched under cover of darkness.  I did manage five small pumpkins so all is not lost in the produce department. Overall though, I feel like I lost my gardening mojo. As that tired cliché goes, there’s always next year.

Here in the States we’re gearing up for mid-term elections in three weeks. Once again our garage will serve as a polling place. Change is in the air. I can feel it.

Thank you for stopping by today. I hope you are doing well.

The Perennials of August

Those heady, early days of spring feel like a first date. Everything is new and full of promise. The perennials of August, however, are more like a comfortable relationship. They’re predictable, sure, but they’re easy, reliable, and strong.

When we removed the last of our lawn in 2015, we made way for a number of new perennials, most of them native to semi-arid California. From my back garden swing each day, I see bees, hummingbirds and butterflies moving between plants. They find nectar for sustenance, and pollinate as they go. They’re welcome visitors and a daily reminder of the benefits of “going native” in one’s community.

Won’t you come have a look?

garden from of house

Front garden: Yellow kangaroo paw stand tall, with swaying grasses and Salvia to the front of them.

This is the front garden, facing the house. It’s taken a few years, but the plants have matured and filled in the space nicely.

Here’s another perspective:

Magnolia tree and perennials

Pink, orange and yellow hues surround the Magnolia tree

And here are a few closeups of the plants surrounding the Magnolia:

Mouse the cat and little free library

I love this shot of Mouse the cat with the Little Free Library cat silhouette in the foreground. Tall native grasses, left, and pink Scabiosa in the curb garden.

Scabiosa, sometimes referred to as a pincushion plant, has lovely tufts of soft pink. I was in the process of dead-heading some of the plants this week, when I encountered a praying mantis. They’re otherworldly, always fascinating and good for the garden. They will, however, sometimes pray on hummingbirds, so I’m always of two minds when I see one.

Here is a view of the back garden at dusk. I’ve taken several pictures of this plant grouping but always struggle to capture the beauty. I wish you could see it in person. The sun warms the plants, releasing that wonderful sage-like scent. Most of the flowers are quite small, but beautiful closeup.

I never tire of watching the bees go about their day.

bee pollinating trichostema

Trichostema, commonly known as blue curls, visited by a bee

Trichostema trichostema

Small lizards like to sun themselves in the garden, but Tessa treats them like toys. I’ve placed over-turned saucers under several plants to offer shelter from her reaching paws.

garden swing

A nice place to read the paper on a Saturday morning

perennial plants back garden

Back garden near the swing planted with native perennial plants

I’ll always love Spring’s first blush of show-stopping bulbs and flirty annuals. They quicken the heart and remind us that we’re alive. Yet as we endure these hot, dry dog-days of summer, the August perennials are a lovely reminder of strength, endurance and love.

In a Vase on Monday: Scented Sweet Peas

assorted sweet peas

Sweet Peas in Assorted Glass Jars

I’m joiningThe Cathys” once again for their weekly feature, In a Vase on Monday.

My swoon-worthy sweet pea jungle has returned. It’s colorful and wonderfully scented. Sweet peas seem to remind every one of their grandmother’s garden. They evoke a wonderful nostalgia.

This year I’m seeing more variegated colors including lavender with white and pink with white. That’s new and fun.

sweet peas front garden

Sweet Pea Jungle

I save glass jars throughout the year, and sometimes supplement with a few jars from a local craft store. I found some this year on clearance for fifty cents.  I cut flowers for my Pilates classmates, a group who loves to chat about gardening, and for my neighbors and friends. Last week I cut some flowers for a woman walking her dog and she said I made her day. I got to pet the puppy and she went home with some sweet peas. It doesn’t get better than that this time of year.

assorted sweet peas in glass jars

Sweet Peas Arranged by Color on my Potting Bench

sweet peas and nigella

Sweet Peas with Some Nigella Sprigs

We’ve had a mild May so the flowers have lasted longer than usual as well. Sunday was the start of our first heat wave with temps in the mid-eighties or (30C). I’ve really enjoyed the cooler temps.

sweet peas near Little Free Library

Sweet Peas Growing Near the Little Free Library * Mouse the Cat on the Path

Click on over to see some of the other beautiful vases featured on In A Vase on Monday.

Anna at GreenTapestry

Christina at Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides

and more.

Thank you Cathy at Words and Herbs and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for your ongoing inspiration.

I think I’ll celebrate my WordPress anniversary with some freshly cut sweet peas.

WordPress 7th anniversary

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My Miniature New Zealand Garden

My miniature New Zealand garden started with a sheep.

New Zealand glass sheep

Glass sheep, crafted in New Zealand

Wooly sheep are an iconic Kiwi symbol of course, but this glass sheep sporting a charming grin is a gift from our gracious New Zealand hosts.

Pauline and her daughters presented each of us with a bag of New Zealand goodness at the start of our visit earlier this year. In case you missed it you can catch up here and here. Among the treasures were Pauline’s hand-made cards, delicious, local chocolates, and the sheep that launched my miniature garden.

Part of the fun of pulling together a miniature garden is using items you already have. If you can pick something up from the garden floor, that’s even better. The challenge is finding small-scale plants and flowers. I wanted to keep this miniature garden water wise, so I used succulents and drought-tolerant herbs. Dried moss defines the grassy area, so it looks like grass but doesn’t need watering.

Miniature New Zealand garden plants

Small-scale, water wise plants

I’ve found from experience that shallow planters dry out quickly. I wanted to find a container that would allow for deeper roots, but one that would fit nicely on our back steps. I combed several nurseries and garden centers and in the end, I found what I needed in our back yard: our hose bowl. Serendipity!

Hose bowl with hose

Hose bowl with the old hose (and Mouse)

I put up with our ornery garden hose for several years, so when it finally broke, I happily replaced it, this time with a retractable one. They don’t get tangled or require taming like the typical garden hose, especially when cold. Further, they shrink into a small space. I store my new hose in a much smaller pot and I repurposed the hose bowl into the base for my miniature New Zealand garden.

Hose bowl with plugged hole

Hose bowl hole plugged with perfectly sized jar; lava rock for drainage

What separates a hose bowl from a regular pot is the hole for threading the hose. I easily solved that problem by blocking the hole with a perfectly sized jar, (more serendipity) then lined the bottom with a layer of lava rock. I filled the rest of the bowl with planting mix and then could get started on the garden.

You may remember this photo from Hobbiton the Movie Set.

Yellow Hobbit Hole, New Zealand

Hobbit Hole, Hobbiton the Movie Set

I used this image as a starting point for the garden. In addition to the glass sheep, I made a walkway using Pāua shells gathered along the beach. I bought a few more packaged shells in Wanaka. As serendipity would have it, I’m growing New Zealand flax in our back garden. I used that as well.

Here is my miniature garden homage to New Zealand.

(Click each gallery photo for details)

To create a grassy roof, I removed the bottom of two plant cell packs then placed them on the soil in the back. I left the sides of the container in place. The roots can grow down into the pot, but the containers will hold their shape. The glass sheep “grazes” along the roof.

Miniature kiwi garden

The Hobbit hole’s hilly roof

I used a small wooden stepping “stone” from one of my fairy gardens for the door. I glued a couple of embellishments from my scrapbooking supplies for the door handle and knocker.

Hobbit hole door

Hobbit hole door

Just like the movie set, the frame of the Hobbit hole is a facade. Pieces of a broken desk-top fountain create the foundation. “Lumber” across the top and sides are twigs dropped from a neighboring pine tree, pruned branches, and detritus from the garden floor. The lower half of the house is covered with dried New Zealand flax.

Broken fountain pieces use to frame Hobbit hole

Hobbit hole facade

Hobbit hole facade made from slate, flax, glass, wood, and recycled plant stakes

Hobbit hole window

Hobbit hole window (photo taken before the glue dried, now clear)

The Hobbit window “reflects” a piece of plastic from the bag of soil. The crossbars are yellow toothpicks cut to size with a small plastic clip in the center. Getting the plastic and the glass to stay put till the glue dried proved to be a slippery affair, but I finally got it to hold.

Hobbit hole window

Hobbit hole window

My friend Kelly sent me the small chair and the lantern you see hanging from the house. Aren’t they cute? Believe it or not I had a small, rusty watering can, once planted with a tiny succulent. The scale is off, but I love it there anyway.

Finally, a pair of spotted red and white fungus, similar to what we saw growing in Wanaka. I’ll say it again: serendipity!

More of the natural beauty of New Zealand

I can see the miniature garden from our bedroom and our living room. It’s another beautiful reminder of an extraordinary trip.

Miniature New Zealand garden and flax

Miniature Kiwi garden in the foreground. New Zealand flax growing at the corner of the house

Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*

Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*


Can you imagine a world without color?

Not me!

There’s room in every garden for the full rainbow spectrum. In my post Some Like it Hot, I featured many of the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues of my garden.

The cooler range of a primary rainbow includes blue, green, indigo and violet. They’re also my favorites.

In addition to providing a cool and lovely contrast to the heat of the garden, the cooler colors serve an important purpose. Green of course is the very backbone of plant life.

Plants derive their green color from a pigment called chlorophyll, literally translated as “green leaf”. This allows the plant to draw light and energy to thrive.

 

While the bright flowers get center stage, green is working hard in the wings to keep the garden healthy and strong. Green leaves also serve as excellent camouflage for beneficial insects such as praying mantis. Earth tones of brown and grey, provide birds with cover from predators.

Purple, violet and blue-like blooms attract bees, hummingbirds, bluebirds, and jays. Perhaps I should add “and gardeners” as green and purple are my two favorite colors.

 

I recently learned that

Purple is common in plants, largely thanks to a group of chemicals called anthocyanins. When it comes to animals, however, purple is more difficult to produce.

Source, Natural History Museum

I read years ago that there is no real blue when it comes to flowers. According to Mother Nature Network

There is no true blue pigment in plants, so plants don’t have a direct way of making a blue color,” Lee said. “Blue is even more rare in foliage than it is in flowers.” he added. “Only a handful of understory tropical plants have truly blue foliage.

While I’m on the subject of cool colors, I forgot to let you know the answer to the quiz on my Hobbiton Movie set post. I posed the question, “which of the three trees picture below is a fake?” The answer is The Oak Tree

From the blog The Curious Kiwi

The large oak tree above Bilbo’s house was cut down and transported to Hobbiton where its branches were bolted back in place. Thousands of artificial leaves were wired to the branches, all for a few seconds of filming.

*Cool as a cucumber – Bloomsbury International. Extremely calm, relaxed and in control of your emotions. This phrase may have originated from the fact that even in hot weather, the inside of cucumbers are approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.How cool is that?

Spring Colors: Some Like it Hot

Orange nasturtium

This orange nasturtium has a banana-yellow center and a lovely pair of eyelashes

Nature always wears the color of the spirit.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unless you’re an allergy sufferer, you probably love spring. It’s a magical time in the garden when spring colors emerge from winter’s slumber while the birds sing their happy tune.

Red and Pink

 

After years of planting assorted bulbs and spring-mix seed packets, it’s fun to see the color assortment burst forth. Wrapped around the perennials, and sometimes hiding below, touches of spring color emerge. To be fair, many of the weeds are colorful too. You just have to decide what stays and what goes.

Orange

 

According to birder Melissa Mayntz of The Spruce:

Different birds are attracted to different colors. Individual bird species may see the “best” colors as indicating a food source. Other birds may be more attracted to the colors of their own plumage as those could indicate a potential mate or another bird that is surviving well.

Most bright colors, however, can be used to attract birds, with certain bird species being more attracted to particular shades.

Red and Pink: Hummingbirds
Orange: Orioles, hummingbirds
Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds

Yellow

 

Interesting that red, orange and yellow are the first three colors of a primary rainbow. I think nature is on to something, don’t you?

Not to be undone green, blue and violent show up every spring as well. They’re the cooler colors, providing a lovely contrast to the heat of the spectrum. Stay tuned for their turn in the garden.

In a Vase on Monday: The Colors of Spring

In a vase on Monday

Ceramic chick filled with yellow and white Freesia, Salvia and purple Anemone

I’m joining “The Cathys” once again for their weekly feature, In a Vase on Monday.

I look forward to filling this pink ceramic chick every year. The vase is a gift from Nichole, a family friend and our go-to babysitter when our boys were young. She’s always been a wonderful presence in our lives.

Pink Ceramic Chick in a vase on Monday

Pink Ceramic Chick

Today’s vase features yellow and white Freesia, purple Anemone and sprigs of purple Salvia.

Spring colors

purple Anemone in a vase on Monday

Purple Anemone ready to open

These blooms have had the benefit of the loveliest, late-season rain here in San Jose. After an unseasonably dry winter, March arrived with a series of storms dumping much-needed snow on the Sierras and bringing gentle rain to the garden.

wooden Easter eggs

Wooden eggs and Freesia

Tessa smelling flowers in a vase on Monday

Tessa smelling the flowers (I thought this might be the end of the vase, but she treaded lightly)

Click on over to see some of the other beautiful vases featured on In A Vase on Monday.

Thank you Cathy at Words and Herbs and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for your ongoing inspiration.

in a vase on Monday

The cutest little end