Time with Tessa and the Last of the Sweet Peas

Our Tiny Tessa is relaxing and getting used to her new surroundings. She’s sleeping on top of things, rather than hiding under the bed. She met Lindy (who hissed once and left the room) and she met Mouse (who did the same). We’re giving the resident cats lots of TLC, letting them know they’ve not lost their standing.  I haven’t lived with a kitten for nearly thirty years. I’d forgotten how tiny they are and how energetic and curious. She’s a delight.

Tessa on Bob the Cat pillow

Tessa meets Bob the Cat…sort of

My friend Barbara Oertli painted this picture of her ginger cat, Bob, eyeing a squirrel on her deck. Since I’m out of wall space, I ordered a print on a pillow through Fine Prints America.

It took several attempts to get this shot. She’s always in motion. She nearly threw herself off the edge of the bed yesterday, jumping into the air and then backward. She’s keeping us happy and alert.

Outdoors, my beloved sweet pea garden has come to an end for the season. The self-seeded, rain-enhanced jungle, as one of my neighbors called it started folding up shop at the end of May. Sweet peas don’t like the heat so after the temperatures creep, they’re done. Interestingly, I have one more small plant in the back garden, blooming in a raised bed. It’s the only one I actually planted (versus self-seeded), which makes me wonder if staggered planting might extend the crop. I’ll see how much longer this one lasts and I’ll let you know.

It’s taken many hours pulling the dead vines from the ground, while at the same time collecting some of the seed pods. I also tried to save the cornflowers awhile longer, as the flowers are still blooming and attracting the bees. The birds love their seeds as well, so though it looks a little sad and droopy, it continues to provide for the birds and the bees.  Mike helped me tie the plants together to keep them from flopping over. Mouse sat with me while I pulled weeds along the walk way, then went under the cornflowers for a nap. Oh-oh.

I’m working on keeping him indoors when I can or supervising his time in the garden so that the birds have a fighting chance. I also experimented by putting a few of the cut flowers across the limb of a tree. The birds continue to come for the seeds, and surprisingly, the bees are taking nectar as well. There is always something to learn in the garden.

Check out the nectar pouch on that bee

Today was trash/recycle day. I waved at the crew as they took away the piles of spent sweet peas along with some trimmed branches and weeds. The city converts it into compost while at the same time diverting it from landfill.

There is so much happening in the garden all at once. Pumpkins, corn and sad little tomatoes are the main summer crops. I planted a pair of basil plants, too. Last year I planted them at the same time, but the basil bolted before the tomatoes were ready. This year I waited, only to be vastly disappointed in the tomato plants. I bought a six-pack of them before leaving for my trip in early April.  Two months later and they’ve barely grown.  This far into the season, I may go back and find larger plants that are further along so I can hedge my bets.

New clients, the end of the boy’s school years, a tiny kitten and home projects are keeping me a bit busier than I would like, but I’m still managing time in the garden every day.

Here in the northern hemisphere the summer solstice is just two weeks away.  I can almost taste that first red, juicy, vine-ripened tomato.

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Communal Sweet Peas

My bountiful sweet peas are enjoying a bit of celebrity. They continue to grow taller, fuller, and more fragrant by the day, attracting comments from neighbors and friends.  I had a chuckle the other day when my petite neighbor passed the house on the sidewalk, momentarily disappearing behind the tall vines.  When she reemerged on the other side I smiled. Who knew that a garden overflowing with delicate and fragrant flowers could be so uplifting?

Sweet peas embrace the Chinese Pistache

If I were still ten-years-old I would build a fort in the middle of the sweet peas. There would be a secret entrance and everything.  As it is, I can no longer reach the center of the garden, where a few tall weeds are thumbing their nose at me.

A tangle of sweet peas, Nigella, and cornflowers with a few of the natives peaking through

Since returning from my travels, I’ve cut sweet peas for a friend’s birthday and as a thinking-of-you posy. Today I took small jars of flowers to my Pilates classmates. I’ve filled bottles and jars with the sweet blooms, accompanied by cornflowers and Nigella buds for a bit of greenery.

This is the first time I’ve used my “From the Garden Of” stamp. It came in a small box with a green stamp pad and a small, green pencil.

A close-up of my gardening stamp

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, so a neighbor asked if she could cut some flowers for her son’s teacher. It’s wonderful sharing the bounty.

I chased a bee with my camera, but to no avail. He had places to go, flowers to pollinate.

A blush of pink: a new color this season

The original starter seeds were a gift from my friend Kelly. She thoughtfully included purple so that my sister Sharon could also enjoy them when she came for a visit. I’d never planted sweet peas before so I made a novice move and planted them in the spring. The plants fizzled, so Kelly and I surmised that they didn’t like the conditions in San Jose. Eventually we let the front lawn die off and replaced the area with native and drought tolerant plants.

As far as I can tell, the process of turning the soil in the fall, followed by a generous helping of rain awakened the seeds. They spread all over the garden, jumping the sidewalk and making a run for the street. It’s hard to convey the joy I get from this garden.

The sweet peas won’t last through the summer. One major heat wave will be their undoing. My Canadian friends can keep them going for the summer, but in semi-arid San Jose, the flowers wilt in the heat like me. Knowing this makes them all the more sweet.

The last two days have been insufferably hot in the Bay Area. We’re within three degrees of breaking a heat record for this time of year with 87 F (31C) predicted in San Jose. Fortunately the weather is cooling off by the weekend so we can sleep comfortably once again.

I hope this week’s heat won’t send my sweet peas packing. Last year’s crop lasted through June. I’m working hard at living in the moment, remaining mindful, while enjoying that subtle fragrance wafting through the evening air.

Jars of sweet peas decorated with vintage seam binding and my new “From the Garden” stamp

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Vernal Equinox: The Garden Always Knows

I refer to my calendar each year to confirm the first day of spring. My garden needs no such reminder. While I’m busy planning in my head or on paper, my garden knows it’s time to spring forth. Every year it takes my breath away. I’m more steward, than gardener most days. I keep the weeds at bay, train the vines away from the sidewalk and trim away spent flowers or browning leaves.

In truth, none of these things are necessary. I like a tidy garden, so grooming the plants brings me pleasure. It’s also an opportunity to kneel on the earth, a way to feel connected to something magnificent. Mother Earth never ceases to amaze me.

According to The Farmer’s Almanac:

“On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the Sun’s rays about equally because the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun.”

Meteorologically speaking, March 1st is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Astronomically, the equinox is generally considered the start of spring. Today is the day that both hemispheres have exactly the same amount of daylight. That in itself is something fun to celebrate.

Come have a look at my garden on this cool, overcast, early spring day.

California poppy

California poppy, waiting to open. It’s our state flower

Cornflower bud

The first of the cornflower buds

Nigella bud

Nigella ready to bud. The bees love them.

Fuchsia freesia

Fuchsia freesia (say that three times)

curb garden spring

The narcissus stems make great supports for the budding sweet peas in the curb garden

three flowers in the curb garden

The beauty of threes

assorted freesia

Assorted freesia

mystery flower red

I planted this in a pot last summer and I forget what it is

yellow freesia and violets

Yellow freesia with violets at their feet

I have a bounce in my step and a racing heart. Spring, glorious spring. You never let me down. Are you ready for the changing season? Are you entering Spring or Autumn?

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Once the Heat Descends

sweet peas in vase

I continuously cut bunches of sweet peas to keep the plants blooming.

When you live in sunny San Jose, the heat waves are inevitable. What’s new, however, is the duration. In the past, the temps would rise for three days, then drop back to a seasonal norm. Now they seem to last five to seven days at a stretch. With my fair, cool-weather complexion I wilt. Sadly, so do the sweet peas.

Love in a mist collage

The Jungle, a self-seeded garden of Love in a Mist, Sweet Peas, California Poppies and Cornflowers in their prime.

Sweet peas going to seed

Snap, crackle pop. There’s beauty at every stage of the cycle.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the jungle in all its wonder. Sweet peas self-seeded early this year, followed by love-in-a-mist and then cornflowers. All of the flowers are various shades of purple. I love the way they offered each other support.

One by one though, they’re calling it quits for the season.

Encouraged by Pauline, Lisa and Kelly, I cut blooms several days a week.

sweet peas in vases-002

Close up view. The tiny hummingbird is a wine glass charm, a gift from a friend.

sweet peas in vases

This sweet little tea-pot is also a gift from a friend

I found miniature milk bottles at a craft store for $2, wrapped the neck with purple baker’s twine, then filled them with fragrant blooms. Sweet pea is the birth flower for April, and, coincidentally two of my Pilates classmates have April birthdays.  I brought each of them a small bouquet. I enjoyed sharing them with friends and neighbors, and even brought a few to a client.

Alas, the heat descended and the plants quickly dried and went to seed. Sweet peas prefer a cool 65 F (18C). We’ve had sustained temps ranging from 89 – 94 F (31-34C). I left them for a week till they were completely brown, then started pulling them out of the ground. I shook each plant liberally to drop any of the loosened seeds, then made a big pile to sort through on a cooler day. Ha!

Days later, on an overcast afternoon, I sat in a chair in the middle of the pile and harvested seed pods. I learned a few things. If the seed pod is still green, the seeds need to dry before storing. The brown seed pods, fully encased, give up wonderful, dry, ready to plant seeds for the following season.

sweet pea seed collage

Harvesting seeds, upper left, a twisted seed pod squeezed out the seeds for next year. Different stages of drying seeds. The garden natives start to fill in.

The most interesting for me though is what happens when the pods are ready to give up those seeds on their own. The pod cracks and then twists so that seeds are wrung out of the pod, dropping back into the soil for next year. That cracked, twisted pod has a beauty of its own.

The birds didn’t seem interested in the dried seeds. According to this Wiki article, unlike edible peas, the seeds are toxic.

bird cornflower

Feathered friends stop by for cornflower seeds

But here’s what happened the minute I cleared away the dried plants. I propped up the bedraggled cornflowers and the birds flocked to the plant by the dozens. I could see three to five at a time eating seeds, but when something startled them over a dozen birds emerged from the plant. They may have been there all along, but with the love in a mist and sweet peas dominating the jungle, the cornflowers were largely out of view.

birds eating cornflower seeds collage

It looks like they whole neighborhood stopped by. Aren’t they cute?

That too has now gone to seed and I’ve gradually cleared away the last of the plants for the season.

The garden looks a little bare without them. I’m also missing the bees that kept me company for weeks. Even the birds are scarcer than they were.

Yup, it’s a hot, dry summer in San Jose.

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Sweet Peas: Art, Friendship and Second Chances

When my boys were young, Sweet Pea was a favorite term of endearment. They’re teenagers now, so pet names are the kiss of death. I still think it in my head though, especially this time of year.

Sweet Friends

sweet pea seeds and gift bag

Sweet Pea seeds and the beautiful gift bag

Last year my kindred spirit sent me several packets of sweet pea seeds from up north. I planted them in a few places, to see what worked best. A few came up in the pots out back, but they died back quickly, challenging my garden mojo, They’re supposed to grow like wild flowers. We mused that perhaps they weren’t properly adapted for our hotter climate and chalked it up to experience.

Guess what? They’re back. They’re also bigger and brighter and happily growing in the garden. Don’t you love second chances?

sweet pea buds

These soft yellow buds opened to lavender flowers

sweet pea tendrils

Delicate but strong

sweet peas with dew drops

Flowers refreshed

This isn’t the first time I’ve planted seeds, that do so-so in the first year, then come on strong a year later. Look at them grow!

Artful Friends

Artist Nicole Meredith created The Flower Map as a way of fundraising for her own healing treatments. I met Nicole through a mutual friend and have followed her journey for several years. As her health improved, she launched The Flower Map. I purchased a handful of cards from her Etsy shop, to send and to give as gifts.

To my delight, Nicole sent me one of her original water colors as a gift. My cup overflows! I framed the sweet pea watercolor, both for its beauty and for the reminder that Nicole, too, is improving and getting her second chance at a healthy life. Her Etsy shop is currently ‘taking a break.’ Nicole, sending healing thoughts your way and thank you once again for this lovely gift.

nicole meredith the art map sweet peas

I’m not the only one who’s in love with sweet peas. Show some blogging love and have a look:

  • Silk and Threades writes beautifully about her own experiences. Check out The Tendrils of the Sweet Pea.
  • Take a look at Cathy’s beautiful vase and field of wild sweet peas (be still my heart) at Words and Herbs.
  • Bloom or Bust has a great idea for trailing sweet peas. She also used them in her wedding, which I think is the sweetest of all.

If you’re viewing this in ‘real time’, have a look at my Descending on D.C. widget to the right. Can you believe it? It’s counting down the hours, not days. I’m so excited.