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.

August Doldrums: Dirty Air, Dryer Woes and a Cat Named Slinky

I have the August doldrums. Blah!

It is usually hot, dry and smoggy in San Jose throughout August. It’s been particularly bad this year with multiple wildfires burning up and down the state.

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

After five years of the drought, there is plenty of fuel feeding the wildfires. Millions of trees have died from drought-related conditions, providing even more fuel than usual. According to News Deeply

A bark beetle epidemic driven by drought is killing off millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada as California starts another summer plagued by drought and higher temperatures.

This is the driest time of year, with virtually no rain during the months of July, August and September.

The Soberanes fire started in July in Monterey County, not far from the lovely town of Carmel where we spent our get away weekend in March. It’s only 60% contained and fire crews don’t expect to have it out until September 30th!  Because San Jose is in a valley, the smoke gathers in the basin, with no wind or rain to carry it away. It adds to such a sense of gloom when the skies are a hazy gray. Even when you avoid the news, as I’m trying to do, it’s impossible not to see those hazy skies and realize what’s happening around us.

august smog

Believe it or not, there is a mountain range beyond the trees. You can just make it out.

valley fair view smog

View of the mountains from a nearby shopping center.

My dryer woes aren’t nearly as dramatic, but oh what a pain. We bought a new washer and dryer in late June and took deliver July 8th. They purred like the proverbial kitten and as with all new appliances, they use less water and less energy…when they work.

The first time I used the steam setting on the dryer it leaked water on the floor. Assuming it wasn’t properly connected, Mike contacted the appliance store who referred us to a certified repair shop. The first repair person said he needed a part (for a brand new dryer!) and would have to take the dryer to the shop because he didn’t have enough room to repair it in our home. I asked him to please leave the dryer till he received the part so that I could dry clothes on other settings. A week later, and before the part arrived, the dryer started making a loud banging noise, akin to putting a bowling ball on the fluff cycle. In addition to that awful noise it also smelled like stale smoke. Did I mention that the dryer was only a few weeks old?

A second crew came out on a Friday and took our dryer back to their shop. Meanwhile, laundry for four piled up. They promised to return it Monday, than Tuesday and by Wednesday we were mostly out of clean clothes and towels. I loaded up the dirty clothes, headed to the laundry mat, and spent three hours getting it done.

A third repair person returned and reinstalled the dryer on Thursday, turned it on and asked “does it always make that noise?”


I explained that the “bowling-ball-on-the-fluff-cycle” noise was one of two reasons the dryer was in for repairs. He said he didn’t understand why they would take the machine back to the shop, but there was nothing to be done for it that day and off he went.

Are you still with me?

A fourth crew (an experienced repair tech and a tech-in-training came out and spent three more hours trying to repair the machine. They completely dismantled it, spreading out the parts in my narrow side yard, then left to buy “longer screws” assuring me that the manufacturer-installed screws were too short.

This made no sense to me, but I’m not an appliance technician. I gave them directions to the nearest Home Depot and off they went. Once they had it all put back together they insisted all was well and that the sound of the dryer was “normal”. I signed the repair order but with an asterisk and note saying that my signature did not mean it was “repaired to my satisfaction” only that it appeared to be working…for now.

Gosh it felt good to have my dryer back and in working condition.

For two loads, that is.

The appliance repair shop has now washed their hands of us and the manufacturer opened a claim. I’ve tried (twice) to email my request to the service protection plan, only to receive error messages. When I call they say “volume is high” and to please fill out the form on the web. Sigh

And then there is Slinky.

Slinky napping in the garden

Slinky napping in the garden

She is still hanging in there, but I’ve seen a recent decline. She saw our vet twice last week, which led to a diagnoses of a “very large hyperechoic cystic mass on her liver”. The better news is that it is NOT cancer, but a benign growth. She continues to eat, groom and purr, all good signs, but she’s lost more weight. She’s a tiny 5 pounds, about 2.5 kilos. She’s not in any pain and as long as she continues with a good quality of life, we are happy to have her with us. My heart is heavy when I see her tiny frame, but then she purrs in my face or crawls in my lap and I can see that for now she’s doing okay.

I know many of you live with cats or dogs, so you can relate to the angst.

Nothing magical or transformative will happen when I turn the page to September, but I still find myself craving the fresh start of a new month.

I’m grateful that Slinky is still with us. I appreciate Cal Fire crews and their tireless efforts fighting wildfires throughout the state. I’m grateful for the clean and well maintained laundry mat nearby. Having a washer and a dryer in my home is a luxury that I know others can’t afford. The same was true for me for many years and I try hard never to take it for granted.

cal fire collage

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the cooler days of autumn, clearer skies and the days we have left with Slinky.

How is the world treating you?

Of Possible Interest:

Topographical map of San Jose/Silicon Valley

CalFire official website

Fascinating article on prototype design for the Developing World Laundry System

Pumpkin Harvest and a Squash Named Frank

You don’t have to hit me over the head: dying vines and abundant squash bugs spell harvest day. I plucked my ‘prize’ pumpkin a week ago, fearing the worst, then made the worst come true.  My garden lovely rolled out of my arms and with an unmistakable thud, landed hard and cracked down the middle.  It was a sad pumpkin day. Since the squash bugs continue to nibble unabated, I figured it was a matter of time before they moved on to the rest of the patch.  Three once-viable pumpkins have since turned to mush. Generally speaking, I would have left them to grow a bit oranger, but I didn’t want to take the risk. So…here they are.



I have two late-season arrivals, all shiny and yellow that I’ll leave in place for now. It’s still August, so they may be viable. One of the two is sitting out in the open, practically inviting trouble but the second one is hiding under the vine. Shhhhh.

small yellow pumpkin

You can’t see me!

yellow pumpkin

Little yellow pumpkin, hiding under the vine

Oh and before I forget, I’d like you to meet Frank. He’s quite the character, but the way he’s been ‘running on’ I don’t expect him to hang around for very long.

frankenstein pumpkin


Be sure to stop by tomorrow to meet Frank’s cousin Shelley.

Blooming Thursday: It Must Be August


In the far corner of the garden, the Japanese Anemone are about to put on a show.  The plant is unremarkable most of the year, with a low, leafy green spreading across the rock wall.  After a winter die-back, they reemerge in the spring, gathering energy for the days ahead.

Anemone Buds

Anemone Buds

Anemone japonica white

Anemone Japonica ‘White’

July arrives and on cue, the Anemone burst forth sending out tall stems covered in lush green leaves. July is dress rehearsal.

japanese anemone flower

Anemone Bloom

Take a seat ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to begin.  The chorus lines the rock wall, tiny buds at the ready. When the curtain opens, dozens of white blooms take center stage.

Be sure to tell all your friends.  The show continues its run through late August.


Losing Daddy

Eric Milner Landscape Design

Eric Milner Landscape Design
My father’s garden drawing

The man who inspired my love of gardening died when I was a little girl. I remember the heat of the day, not unlike this one. When I flip the calendar to August, it may as well be 1969.

I hate August. I hate the smells in the air, the oppressive heat, and that burdening longing that ricochets around in my chest. I’m 52 years old and I miss Daddy.

As a girl, my grief went on forever. I performed a ritual each night before I went to bed: I would kiss his framed picture on the desk in our tiny two-bedroom apartment, and then I would touch his cane and the memory book from the funeral home. Only then could I fall asleep. I’m not sure why the artifacts from the end of his life had special meaning. Perhaps my young mind was trying to reconcile the impossible; that the man in the picture was gone.

Eventually I could tell people he died without falling apart, but then follow-up questions like “how did he die” would trip me up. At some point I crafted the self-contained sentence, “My dad died of lung cancer when I was 9,” incorporating the most oft-asked questions with hopes of putting all of them to an end.

When my at-home ritual and obsession became too much for my Mom, she got angry and threw away the funeral home book. I understand now that she was suffering from her own grief and profound loss, but her anger and frustration stung me. Perhaps it did help me move forward. I only remember the shame when she said, “you have to get over it!”

Grief isn’t linear. It’s impossible to chart its course. Who, more than me, wanted to get over it and move on?

My father’s death and burial were shrouded in mystery. I don’t know why no one took me aside to explain what was happening. One of the most poignant things my therapist asked me was “where were the adults?” One morning I woke to find that our frail father was taken to Peninsula Hospital in the middle of the night. I went with my mother for a “visit” but was not allowed into his room. I sat imagining all sorts of horrible things. Later I learned on the play ground from my older sister’s friend that Dad was in a coma. Finally Mom sat us down and said “your dad isn’t going to make it.” I made her say the words “your dad is going to die,” because I needed to know exactly what was going to happen. I went to sleep each night, telling myself that I wouldn’t cry when I learned he was gone. Ironically, when the news came it was true. A loss like that cuts you to the core. Tears eventually came, but on that early, hot and oppressive August day when I walked in on my mom destroying some of his papers, I simply called out “no.”

We didn’t attend our father’s funeral. I recall that either we were afraid to go, or my mother decided we were too young. She had been traumatized seeing her own father buried and wanted to protect us from the same. Whatever the reason, they are now part of family legend, with no surviving parties to corroborate.

In reality, trauma was piling on all around us. No one explained that he had cancer or what that meant. I didn’t understand that he was dying. I didn’t get to say goodbye to him, alive and weak in the hospital or graveside after he died. I thought I saw him walking down the street one day while riding the school bus home. I broke out in a cold sweat. I desperately needed to get home and tell my mother.

Unfinished business is exhausting. It follows you like your own shadow, lurking and ready to pounce when you least expect it. I’ve spent years in a therapist’s chair, on a yoga mat and in creative writing classes sorting this out. In the late eighties, with the help of a friend, I was able to locate my father’s grave. I went alone and wandered in the shade of the trees and took comfort in the tranquility. After that visit, I never felt the need to go back.

Yet here I am all these years later, continuing to write about Daddy.