My Ever-Changing Garden

One of the simple pleasures of gardening is the ever-changing landscape. No two plants are alike and no two seasons are quite the same. There are happy accidents everywhere, helping balance the ever-present and predictable weeds.  San Jose summers are hot and long, but occasionally nature serves us a reprieve. I relish those days when the stars align and I have both the time and the weather to spend outdoors getting things done.

Of all the things you can grow in a small garden, pumpkins are among the most spectacular. It seems you can witness the change every day. Within 90 to 100 days, one healthy seed can sprout, grow, flower and fruit, trailing across the landscape at amazing speed.

Self-seeded pumpkin vine

Self-seeded pumpkin vine growing along the side yard

A couple of pumpkin seeds took root in our narrow and shady side yard, with one of those two vines traveling the length of the house and eventually rounding the corner. That vine is now winding its way across the patio.  With leaves the size of a platter and flowers as broad as your hand, watching pumpkin plants grow evokes a certain optimism and joy.

pumpkin vine on patio

The pumpkin vine emerging from the side yard and crossing the patio

Years of drought brought about many changes to our garden. It started with the removal of the “grass strip” between our sidewalk and the street. My husband grew up with spacious, green lawns. His reluctance to remove the lawn took some time to overcome, but in the end we replaced all of our lawn with native plants.

In preparation, I sheet-mulched half of the back yard for close to a year. The process destroyed the lawn, amended the soil, and prepared the area for native plants, all at the same time.

sheet mulching

The process of sheet mulching: cardboard, dried leaves and other organic material

We replanted the entire area with California native and drought tolerant plants. They use far less water than a lawn, attract beneficial insects and birds, and are healthier than the monoculture of a lawn.

sheet mulched back garden

Healthy soil, several months after sheet mulching

back garden patio and native plants

Back garden replanted with natives (Mouse and Lindy on the chairs)

Back Garden: Half of the dried out lawn and half sheet-mulched lawn

Back Garden: Half of the dried out lawn and half sheet-mulched lawn

native plants back garden

Back garden replanted with natives about a year later

Removing the front lawn also brought about interesting changes. The act of turning the soil for native plants invigorated dormant seeds. The year after the lawn came out, we not only had native plants but sweet peas, cornflowers, California poppies and Nigella.

When the  garden looked bare after the sweet peas went to seed, I hit upon the idea of planting pumpkin vines in their place.

front garden pumpkin vines

I planted a few pumpkins in the front garden (the only plants that are not self-seeded this year)

I’m enjoying the variety of successive planting.  I smile when I see a neighbor through my kitchen window slowing down to look at the garden. Tending a healthy garden means others can passively enjoy it too.

Learning to love succulents has been another big change for me. One by one though, I’ve been replacing potted annuals with succulents.

Succulents are well suited to our dry, arid climate. They get along well sitting in sandy soil. I water them sparingly, perhaps once a month, and in turn they reward me with color change and tiny blooms.

I planted a miniature peace garden earlier this year, only to see it collapse during a heat wave. The baby tears baked in the sun, even under the eaves of our house. I slipped out a few times to water the plants, but that tiny garden didn’t survive in  the shallow bowl and the pounding sun.

miniature peace garden fizzle

Peace garden fizzle: triple digit temperatures were too much

miniature peace garden

Replanted miniature peace garden, sheltered by a coleus

Since I refuse to embrace any metaphors about a dead or dying peace garden, I composted the dried plants and started over. This time I changed out the annual baby tears for succulents and added chamomile, which can go almost dry between watering. I shaded the entire mini garden with a coleus, my one concession this summer to a water-loving plant. I find the color variations irresistible.

There is a twinkle of autumn in the air today, a reminder of the seasons ahead. My garden is a wonderful teacher, regularly reminding me that change is good.

Are there interesting changes going on in your life?







Musings of a Gardener Returning to her Nest

The strangest thing happens when I first return home from a trip. It’s subtle. It doesn’t happen when I’m gone for just a day but if I’m gone a weekend or longer I notice.

If I lived with Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory he could probably sum it up in a sentence or two. In my unscientific mind it feels like my environment shifted. Does this happen to you?

It started at the airport. Mike pulled up to the curb, and the boys spilled out of the car. They didn’t look like the boys at the airport curb just a week before. They’d changed. I studied them closely when we were back in the car. How much could change in eight days? Yet it was there. Palpable.  One week older, that much closer to manhood, tousled hair a fraction longer. Strange.

Back home the environment shifted too. The furniture hadn’t been moved, all the kitties were present and accounted for but time moved ahead by a week. I could feel and it smell it in the air.

In the garden, the changes were even more profound. Squash bugs took over the last pumpkin hanging. Pantyhose be damned!  I’m glad I harvested the other three early.  Tomatoes remain on the vine, but they’ve lost their rosy plumpness. Left unattended the basil flowered along with a few sweet peas, arriving late to the show.

purple sweet pea

A purple sweet pea…at last. Thanks for the seeds, Boomdee!

pumkin with squash bugs and pantyhose

Pantyhose fail: Squash bugs, 1, Gardener, 0

Most of the sunflowers are bowing with weighty seeds. One newcomer bloomed in my absence. What a happy surprise. I planted a variety pack, but thought I’d seem them all. This one looks like a bright yellow pom-pom and stands over six feet tall.

sunflower seed head

Someone’s enjoying the sunflower seeds

pom pom sunflower

My newest sunflower

Another subtle shift happened while I was away: a shift of mind. Rather then trying to break bad habits, I’m focusing on establishing better ones. I’m heading to bed earlier and reading more. I’m rethinking my blog, exploring new ideas and realizing that a vacation is not only time away but a break from doing the same thing.

The trip itself was a treat beyond measure. I got to spend time with my dearest friend, Boomdee, her delightful cousin, another blogger and a woman I’ve never met. We walked, talked, laughed, shopped and carried on like teenagers. It was good for my heart and my soul.

Victoria, BC, 2014

Victoria, BC, 2014

I love traveling and I love coming home. Time away helps me appreciate the value of both.

How about you? Do you arrive home refreshed and ready for a change, or grateful for the return of your routines?