An Instrument of Grace

We’re heading into another heatwave, though nothing as brutal as the recent Pacific Northwest. Gardening takes place in the morning, then after dinner till sunset.

The gladiolas are multiplying. They’re short-lived but spectacular.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a rare, unscheduled day, and I spent a good portion of it in the garden. I made an early trip to a garden center and hauled home eight bags of garden mulch. It helps retain moisture, and with drought conditions, we need to preserve every drop. I harvested some on our compost mulch as well. I’ll share more about that endeavor in a future post.

A thick layer of mulch

San Jose Water Company’s directive asks us to cut back lawn watering to two days a week. We replaced our lawn with native plants several years ago during the last major drought, so we’re now able to water with an efficient drip system just one day a week. Last week we checked the level of our rainwater tanks, and they’re at about 75% capacity.

One of three rainwater tanks and the filled watering bag, zipped across the top with an opening to pour

How bad is it? Our semi-arid climate averages 15 inches per year. This past season we got just over five inches.

It’s shameful to admit that when I’m in a rush (or if I choose to use that as an excuse), I go the lazy route and fill my watering cans from the hose bib at the front of the house. However, I recently bought a nifty watering bag to make it easier to transport water from the tanks in the back, side yard, then carry through the house to the deck to water the succulents.

Succulents along the front of the deck (and a fairy teahouse made from a birdhouse gourd)
In serious need of repotting
Front garden viewed from deck

The sweetpeas don’t last past June in San Jose. It’s just too hot. So I let them go to seed and then pull them out, assuring a healthy crop next year.

The California poppies, nigella, and cornflowers went to seed as well, leaving some bare patches in their wake.

Last week I bought white verbena and five gorgeous Russian sage to fill the spot. They’re both drought tolerant. Since the in-ground drip system is in place, these plants won’t consume additional resources. I stopped buying summer annuals during the last drought, filling pots with succulents instead. Succulents get by on minimal water and prefer to dry out between watering unlike most plants.

Front garden viewed from street: Verbena, foreground and purple Russian sage

We’ve had success with two of our four tomato plants. One of the two plants in the EarthBox died almost immediately, but the second one thrived. It’s producing gorgeous cherry tomatoes daily.

They are as sweet as they look

The two tomatoes in the VegTrug are healthy, but the cherry tomato plant is the star. The basil is coming along nicely, so we’ll soon be enjoying that in our salads as well.

Cherry tomatoes and herbs in the VegTrug

May Sarton’s quote captures some of the essences of gardening. I’m more at peace after a day spent among the plants.

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” May Sarton

Vision Literacy and a Modern Home Tour

My friend Candace Levers is a board member of Vision Literacy, a local non-profit in Silicon Valley.  Vision Literacy provides adults with basic literacy and technology skills.

Through its operations in Gilroy, San Jose, Sunnyvale and other Silicon Valley communities, Vision Literacy has provided adults with basic literacy and technology skills for over 25 years. Its students acquire vital reading, writing, speaking and listening tools, allowing them to become better parents, employees, business owners and citizens.Many of us take for granted our ability to interact with each other and our communities at large on a daily basis, despite it being so essential. Whether speaking with our child’s teachers, applying for a job or simply asking for directions, our success and happiness is, to a large extent, determined by our ability to effectively communicate with others. – See more at:
Through its operations in Gilroy, San Jose, Sunnyvale and other Silicon Valley communities, Vision Literacy has provided adults with basic literacy and technology skills for over 25 years. Its students acquire vital reading, writing, speaking and listening tools, allowing them to become better parents, employees, business owners and citizens.Many of us take for granted our ability to interact with each other and our communities at large on a daily basis, despite it being so essential. Whether speaking with our child’s teachers, applying for a job or simply asking for directions, our success and happiness is, to a large extent, determined by our ability to effectively communicate with others. – See more at:

Its students acquire vital reading, writing, speaking and listening tools, allowing them to become better parents, employees, business owners and citizens.

This past weekend, Vision Literacy was the sole beneficiary of the Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour.  I volunteered at one of the show homes in Menlo Park, greeting tour patrons, selling tickets and imaging what it would be like to actually live in the Spiegel home.

Home Exterior

Home Exterior

Spiegel Home: Porch, pool and water wise grass

Spiegel Home: Porch, pool and water wise grass

Our local paper featured the Menlo Park home with the headline: Just call it stunning.  I couldn’t agree more.  Vast walls of glass and large windows brought the outdoors in.  Walls covered in cedar, simple lines, open ceilings and slate floors felt breezy and comfortable.  Native grasses, trees, shrubs and flowers surround the entire house, blurring the lines between inside and out.



living area

Walls of books and glass

office and dining area

Did I mention the windows?

more windows

More windows

In affluent Menlo Park,  property is at a premium. They build houses close together.  Yet the entire time I was there it felt like an oasis.  The use of trees, a ‘wall’ of bamboo, and the home’s placement on the lot, all contributed to a sense of privacy while retaining the open plan.

Master Suite

Master Suite: Simple interiors invite the eye outdoors.


Landscape: This patio is outside the dining area, Dogwood tree at entrance

One of the super-cool features of the Spiegel house is the four-story tower.  Each floor has a landing with glass walls, a small bedroom and a corresponding bathroom.  The bottom floor is a seating area and the top floor is an exterior, roof-top balcony.  The rest of the house is all on one floor.

2014, 04-12

Tower rooms: Clean lines, warm woods, glass walls and extra-large windows.

rooftop patio

Rooftop Patio: The perfect spot to watch the sun set. Cozy when seated, with expansive views

Architect Dan Spiegel, grew up in the home originally on the lot.  He designed the home for his parents, who moved in a year ago.  Dan was on site to answer questions during the tour, along with his wife and business partner, landscape designer Megumi Aihara.  It was a pleasure meeting these talented, down-to-earth people.

Aihara and Spiegel

Megumi Aihara and Dan Spiegel

You can learn more about the house and gardens by taking a virtual tour at Low/Rise House/Spiegel. Pictures include floor plans and elevations.

Beginning Birding: Hummingbird Class

Don’t you just love learning new things?  It’s especially fun when it’s something your passionate about.  We took a hummingbird class at the spectacular Los Gatos Birdwatcher.  This locally owned store describes themselves as

the nature lover’s general store, specializing in everything to do with bird feeding and bird watching.

If you’re local, or planning a visit to the area, it’s a must see. The owners and staff are wonderful people, knowledgeable and helpful in every way.  Their current dog in residence is a chocolate Cocker spaniel named Marley.

Lisa Myers of Let’s Go Birding presented the hummingbird class, then lead us on a two-hour field trip Saturday morning.  We had so much fun.  Lisa leads a variety of birding trips throughout the bay area.  She’s incredibly knowledgeable with a wonderful sense of humour.

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

Lisa Myers and Freddy Howell

We’ve been feeding hummingbirds in our garden for as long as I can remember. We have several feeders and hummingbird-attracting plants.

2014, 03-20

Hummingbirds in our garden

I’ve read a number of books and articles over the years, but still found much to learn.  It’s also nice spending time with a group of  like-minded folks.

Here are a few things I didn’t know:

  • There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, but only six or seven in the Bay Area.
  • Hummingbirds are native to the Americas.  They’re not found anywhere else in the world.
  • Yellow attracts bees, red attracts hummingbirds.  Therefore a hummingbird feeder with yellow plastic ‘flowers’ sends out mixed messages.
  • Anna’s Hummingbirds, native to our area, live here year round. There is no need to remove feeders during the colder months.
  • Hummingbirds are the only bird that can hover in the air, as well as fly forward and backward.

Anna's hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

It was fascinating learning about torpor. Hummingbirds enter this state of hibernation nightly to conserve energy.  I found the following explanation at ScienceBlogs™

Even sleeping hummingbirds have huge metabolic demands that must be met simply to survive the night when they cannot forage. To meet this energetic challenge, hummingbirds save enough energy to survive cold nights by lowering their internal thermostat at night, becoming hypothermic. This reduced physiological state is an evolutionary adaptation that is referred to as torpor.

Torpor is a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95%. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake. This lowered metabolic rate also causes a cooled body temperature. A hummingbird’s night time body temperature is maintained at a hypothermic threshold that is barely sufficient to maintain life. This threshold is known as their set point and it is far below the normal daytime body temperature of 104°F or 40°C recorded for other similarly sized birds.

Isn’t that interesting?

Please be sure to check back tomorrow for news and pictures from our two-hour field trip to the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Fabulous resources in Silicon Valley:

Everyone P**ps

You can take the girl out of England, but you can’t take the English out of the girl.

I came really close to naming today’s blog Everyone Poops, from the children’s book of the same name.  Written in Japanese, and translated into English, I first spotted this book nearly twenty years ago in a Mendocino bookstore.  I giggled.

My dad was British, my mom Canadian.  We used more polite words when discussing bodily functions, and even in my fifties I give pause before using this particular word.

Yet today on my hike, when this lovely deer provided a front row seat to her daily elimination, I kept thinking about that book.

deer in the woods

Taking care of business

deer on the path

On her way

I thought of other things as well.  She was trusting enough to hold my gaze while at the same time holding that position.  It was fun for me, hiking alone, to have her walk along the same path for a few hundred feet before heading up the hill.

Hiking companion

Hiking companion

Generally they close the park trail to traffic, but the gate was open this morning.  As I snapped away, I heard a large truck pull up behind me.  I moved off the path to let the truck pass. I giggled some more.

clean out tank

Clean-out Tank

You’ll never hear this discussed on Downton Abbey, but the reality is it’s true.  Everyone p**ps.

Goofing Off


Selfie with Silicon Valley in the background

It’s a holiday in the US today, more specifically President’s Day.  The boys are out of school, Mike’s home from work and the sun is shining.

We desperately, desperately, desperately need the rain and this is the month we get the most of it.  That said, it’s hard not to enjoy such a clear, bright warm day.

We hiked at Almaden Quicksilver, and enjoyed the bits of green along the trails edge thanks to some recent rain.  The California Poppies are up as well.  We hiked mid-day, a terrible time for decent photos, but I hope to go back soon to snap some shots while the poppies are still in bloom.

In case you think I’m a complete deadbeat, I did a lot of digging, pruning, weeding and planning over the weekend and will share more with you later in the week.

See you then!

orange poppies

California Poppies (October 2013)

Seeing Red

Roma tomatoes and Chinese Pistache leaves

Roma tomatoes and Chinese Pistache leaves

I’m seeing red.

I like it! The cherry and heirloom tomatoes died back a month ago, but our Roma tomatoes continue to grow unabated.

In November.

This is Silicon Valley after all, originally known for its rich, agricultural roots.  But I’m still amazed at the prolific production of this plant.  I did a bit of reading and learned that the plant will continue to produce, as long as daytime temps remain about 60F  (15C).  That explains it.  We’ve had a mild autumn so far.

While the Roma happily churns out fruit in the back garden, the Chinese Pistache flashes red outside my kitchen window.

Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)

Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)

The Pistache’s slow, beautiful descent into dormancy is under way.  The colors are magnificent. I’m grateful to live in this beautiful valley with such optimal growing conditions.

roma tomatoes

Seeing red

Further Reading:

Garden Walks

One of our favorite summer pastimes at the end of a hot day is taking a walk.  The days are long so the sun is still up past 8 here in Silicon Valley.  It’s nice to simply head out the front door and meander through the neighborhood.

Mighty Mouse likes to follow us down the block, though on our last walk, he encountered a territorial feline.  ‘Words’ were exchanged, but he thought better of an altercation and returned home. I worry about him when he heads toward the park, so if he insists on coming we just circle the block instead.

Aside from the balmy weather and my husband’s good company, I love checking out all the gardens. It’s a great way to get ideas for your own yard.

I wish I could identify all the plants we see, but since half the fun is speculating, I’ll let you guess along with me.


A fabulous pumpkin growing along a cute picket fence.

pink rose

I love this shade of rose. Do you know the variety?

white rose

More roses

striped green foliage

Gorgeous foliage, unknown plant.

orange flower

Any ideas? It’s a bulb of some kind.


I didn’t think we could grow apples in the Valley. I thought they needed a good frost.

flower hip

I wonder what this was? It reminds me of a rose hip, but the foliage looks like a different plant entirely.

Oh, and I think Mouse’s ears were burning when I greeted this kitty at the curb. I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance. This sweet kitty has personality to spare as well.

Mouse and doppleganger

Thanks for joining me on my virtual walk. If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by.

Summer Solstice: We’re Both Right!

DSC_0014 I’m old school.  Sure, I have a computer and a smart phone, but I still hang a paper calendar on my wall.  I love glancing over my shoulder now and again to see who’s celebrating what and where.  According to my wall calendar, Summer Solstice is Friday, June 21st.  Imagine my surprise when my husband commented over dinner that today was the longest day of the year.

Turns out, both are true, depending on where you live.  Here on the west coast of the United States, Summer Solstice hits late Thursday night.  On the east coast, it’s Friday.   My friends in the UK are already celebrating and are privy to the cute Google Doodle, which as of this writing, still hasn’t rolled out in Silicon Valley.

The Weather Channel has a stunning image from Australia here that you won’t want to miss.  As we approach the longest day of the year, they’re experiencing the opposite.

The Guardian has a screen shot of the cute Google Doodle, though not nearly as fun till you can interact with it. I remain a child at heart.

The fact that everyone observes both the summer and winter solstice gives me a sense of camaraderie with the rest of the world.  It feels like a big party and we’re all invited.  Happy Solstice wherever you live.  ☼☼☼

Vegetable Garden Summer Solstice

Herb and Vegetable Garden on the Summer Solstice (includes pumpkins, strawberries, basil, tomatoes, peppers and raspberries)

Mouse in my arms

Shared affection with Mouse the Cat at dusk

Los Gatos Birdwatcher

What fun it was visiting Los Gatos Birdwatcher this afternoon.  I haven’t been in a while and I’ve missed it.

The store is named for the town of Los Gatos which is Spanish for ‘The Cats.’ You’ll find no evidence of any real cats there, though they have a beautiful statue on display (more on that later.)

Now privately owned by John and Freddy Howell, Los Gatos Birdwatcher offers an array of products and services. I’ve never asked a question they couldn’t answer. I asked for assistance today identifying my little backyard hummer, see below.

This particular hummingbird had a green chest and shorter tail feathers, quite different from the usual feeder crowd. John identified it as a probable female Allen or a first-year male Allen.  Apparently the males acquire color as they get older.

I also learned about a phone app called iBird. It’s an interactive field guide to birds of North America. If you’re a serious birder, this app’s for you.

Los Gatos Birdwatcher has a huge selection of wild birdseed, bird feeders, nesting boxes and assorted tools. They sell gifts and books as well, including jewelry, t-shirts, puzzles and bird-themed cards. I always feel so at home. They even have a corner dedicated to the bird-feeder nemesis, the squirrel, with clever nesting boxes and feeders. If you’re a fan of the furry ones, you can buy 25 pound bags of peanuts in the shell. You’ll have backyard friends for life.

Cutest Bird Nest Ever

Cutest Bird Nest Ever

Gorgeous Nesting Box

Gorgeous Nesting Box

Nesting Boxes

Nesting Boxes

Birdseed Feeders Galore

Birdseed Feeders Galore

The store offers the following services:

  • Feeder Cleaning: No charge, but they ask for a donation to Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley, Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, Nike Animal Rescue Foundation or Friends of San Martin Animal Shelter.
  • Frequent Buyer Program
  • Seed Delivery in the local area
  • Monthly children’s nature programs: For pre-school through grade 3.
  • Community outreach
  • Backyard Bird Consulting Program

If you’re local to the area, be sure to drop by. If not, you can subscribe to their bi-monthly newsletter following this link.

Los Gatos Birdwatcher
King’s Court Center
792 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos, CA  95032

cat sculpture

The only cat you’ll ever see at the Birdwatcher

Christmas in the Fairy Garden, Storm on the Way

We’ve got a storm headed our way. A gully washer. Serious wet stuff falling to the ground.

My UK friends are yawning about now, but “big rain” is unheard of in Silicon Valley. I’m pretty excited.  Everything in the garden perks up when it rains and we are well past due. I hope folks behind the wheel remember to take their time. The roads will be slicker than usual.

Knowing we’re in for the wet and windy, I temporarily moved the fairy garden indoors. Christmas is less than a month away, so I got busy decorating for the wee ones.


I bought a pair of miniature cyclamen with my nursery haul over the weekend. They look so cute next to the tiny Blue Fescue fairy house. The ground cover is holding up nicely, but the Fescue needed a trim. That done, I “planted” sprigs of holiday greens and added lights.

Miniature Cyclamen

Miniature Cyclamen

Sprucing Up the Fairy Garden

Sprucing Up the Fairy Garden


In light of the weather, I moved the chairs under cover and set up a table to go with them.  The “slip covers” are re-purposed wrappers from the Hydrangea. Some festive ribbon adds color to the base of the table.  I think I spotted a few tiny deer drinking nearby.  A few broken ornaments add a bit of cheer.   I pulled some dried flowers and berries from last week’s Thanksgiving arrangement.  They worked well over the entrance to the house and to add color to the table.

Fairy Christmas Table

Fairy Christmas Table

A Lovely View

A Lovely View

Entry Way

Entry Way

All set for the holidays!

If you haven’t tried fairy gardening, give it a whirl. It’s a fun, creative and relaxing way to garden on a small-scale. I like to challenge myself by reusing items from around the house.

The List

On Hand:

  • Two broken ornaments (archway, background)
  • Table (empty spool, scrap ribbon, paper flower)
  • Slipcovers (waterproof plant wrapper)
  • Dried berries, dried flowers (a floral gift from Thanksgiving)
  • Plastic deer (leftover from a children’s project)
  • Slate walkway (from a broken fountain)


  • Two miniature cyclamen
  • Waterproof lights