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?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Clock is Running Down: Four More Days of Halloween Fun

Who knows where this month went. It was here just a moment ago, a freshly turned page on my wall calendar. I think the unseasonably warm weather led me to believe it was still August…or September. Is it really October 28th? Only four more days of Halloween fun.

Just chilling in the wee garden

Just chilling in the wee garden

I had a restless night with so much rattling around in my brain. I got up around 5 am and finished Mike’s costume. We have a party tonight and two more tomorrow. I really cut things close this year. Life doesn’t stop just because I want to play all month-long. That said, I squeezed in a lot.

October 1/2:

I celebrated my birthday weekend in Santa Cruz. It coincided with Mike’s company picnic along the Boardwalk, so we celebrated with work friends, then slipped away for some shopping, dinner, a movie and a night’s stay at Chaminade.  We had lovely weather and a relaxing time.

santa-cruz-weekend-october-2016

All month-long, friends and family treated me to dinner, high tea, a movie, a live show, wonderful cards and thoughtful gifts making me feel just like one of those entitled white men we’re always hearing about. (cough-cough) It’s nice to be pampered, eh?

October 8:

I took a four-hour crafting class with my sister where we created a mixed media Haunted Graveyard. It inspired lots of additional Halloween card making at home. She took me out to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants at Santana Row, then we browsed the glass pumpkins on display.

glass-pumpkins-santana-row

The last of the pumpkins are off the vine. In the end, three different plants produced seven pumpkins. What a generous bounty. I enjoy arranging them in different places around the house, as they await carving day. That makes me smile.

Over the course of this month, I’ve spent hours pruning three vines away from the side yard fence. Up and down the ladder I went, using best practices to remain safe and still favoring my surgical foot. There will be no accidents on my watch! Now that the vines are off the fence, I need to start getting quotes to replace it. Broken boards, dry rot and possible termite damage stayed hidden behind the vines. No wonder I’ve been putting off this big job.

It’s finally done and I have the sore neck, dull tools and blisters to prove it. And since I’m a blogger, I have pictures too. Ha!

pruning-the-side-yard-vines

Vines intertwined in the lattice-work made it tricky to free the tangled mess. That’s Mouse the Cat’s tail exploring the scattered vines.

October 28/29th:

We’ve been invited to three costume parties this season, but only one with a specific theme: Sweeney Todd. If you’re not familiar with this gruesome musical, you can read about it here. It’s been a penny dreadful serial, a stage musical, and most recently a film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. We rented the movie to learn more about the characters, and frankly I found it dark and dreary, beginning to end. There are only three female characters, Mrs. Lovett the baker, Sweeney Todd’s young wife shown in brief flashbacks, and later his teenage daughter. Not a lot to choose from. Since I like to mix things up a bit, I decided to dress as the baker, and make my husband into one of her meat pies. They’re not any old pies, by the way. After the barber slits his client’s throat, they’re cooked in the oven and baked into pies. Did I mention how gruesome the story is?

meat-pie-costume-back

Paper bag pattern (my favorite), distressed inks and stains, silver lame fabric covering a pie-shaped piece of foam, distressed fabric and the back side of the pie tin.

meat-pie-costume-front

I cut two circles of tan-colored felt, then sprayed the edges with stain for a distressed (baked) look. I hand-sewed the two pieces together, stuffed with batting and made slits for various gruesome body parts. A bit of theatrical blood adds drama.

I rented my costume from a family owned shop called Natasha’s Attic. They pulled together all the pieces I needed including Victorian era boots, tights, lace gloves and layers of dresses. I love that place and all the wonderfully creative people who work there.  I bought a crazy wig ’cause that’s how I roll, and if I get the makeup just so I’ll be unrecognizable. Stay tuned for pics of both of us in costume.

Of course I had to make time to bewitch the fairy gardens. The succulents loved this summer’s heat, and doubled in size, making the garden look over-grown. Perfect for Halloween! How do I get so lucky?

fairy-garden-over-head

Setting the Scene

overgrown-fairy-garden

It’s a fairy garden jungle

fairy-garden-background

Hollowed trees and gauzy skies (the neighboring tree shed’s its bark in late summer. I picked up a few pieces and saved them for the bewitched fairy garden

fairy-garden-boo

A little fairy garden haunting (tombstones from my son’s long ago Halloween crafts)

tea-in-the-fairy-garden

Come join the ghosts for tea and pumpkin soup (I found the tea set at a craft store for $3)

Happy Halloween!

The Fairy Garden Goes Native

When water is at a premium, you cut corners where you can. I’ve emptied most of my pots, and either replanted with succulents or used the pots for something else.

Our deck top fairy garden requires very little water, but seeing those precious drops fall through the holes in the bottom spurred me to action. Last week, my miniature fairy garden went native.

succulent fairy garden

Fairy Garden Newly Planted with Succulents

I meant to save the markers so I could record the name of the plants, but they’ve gone AWOL…or I tossed them with the transplanting newsprint. The good news: the plants sat on my deck for two to three weeks without a drop of water. They passed the test!

Succulents Up Close

Succulents Up Close

I’m actually quite smitten with these plants. They fit right in, don’t you think?

There’s a story behind the little wooden house (it used to be haunted!). You can read more about that here.  After replanting the garden, I spruced up the house with some new drapes. If you look closely, you’ll see that they’re carefully assembled from the finest Washi tape in the land. Nothing but the finest for mystical fairies. The new garden path is also special. I gathered those lovely, flat green stones on the beach in Victoria last summer. Wilma of the Creartfuldodger took Boomdee and me beach-combing along the beautiful island shore. These stones evoke special memories of that day.

You can view the gallery by clicking on the first photo, then follow the arrows. It took me a bit of time to sort that one out. 😉

All the other treasures in the garden are found objects or gifts. The wooden house came from my son’s craft collection. I rescued it from the trash. The reading patio is an upside down candle holder and the charming chair, cat and rose pillow flew here from Canada via Boomdee. Marcia and her girls surprised me with the pink mushroom one cool fall day.

I built the (little) Little Free Library from matchboxes, stickers and an empty box. A clothes pin and a bit of duct tape keep it in place. A friend taught me how to make the heart-shaped chairs from the top of a champagne closure.

Are you a fairy gardener, too? It’s easy and fun and incredibly relaxing. You can garden anywhere at any time, limited only by your imagination. Jump right in. The [lack of water] is fine!

Postscript: You won’t believe this. Just before sitting down to write this, I received an out-of-the-blue package from my friend Kristi. Inside: her lovely note and a couple of fairy garden treasures. Check back tomorrow, for updates. I can’t wait to show them off.  Thanks, Kristi xox

Paradigm Shift: Gardening in a Drought

Thomas Kuhn used the duck-rabbit optical illusion to demonstrate the way in which a paradigm shift could cause one to see the same information in an entirely different way. Source, Wikipedia

Duck-Rabbit_illusion

Used to illustrate a paradigm shift. Do you see the duck? The rabbit? Both?

I’m applying those principles to my garden.  Instead of simply planting what I like year after year, I’m now thinking about water conservation first, then figuring out from there what to plant.  This isn’t a new reality for our semi-arid climate.  In an average year, our rainfall is a mere 14 to 18 inches (35 to 38 cm).

Living in a developed country, we take water for granted.  We open a faucet and water flows: fresh, safe and abundant.  Actually, the first two are correct, but as we face year two of a drought, further complicated by an unseasonably warm winter and spring, abundant may no longer be the case.

We’re making incremental steps to reduce our water usage. While these changes are small and, forgive the cliché, a mere drop in the bucket, I think they’re worth doing.

Last week we finished removing the lawn from the sidewalk strip.  This allowed us to cap off several sprinkler heads, and divert a smaller amount of water to one raised flower bed.

Over the weekend, I reduced the number of water-thirsty pots by half, then planted what remained with succulents. Native to warm, dry climates, succulents can go days without a drink.

Instead of lavender, drought-tolerant Mexican Bush Sage lines the deck.

There are a number of things you can do to improve water efficiency, but we’re already doing them:

  • Watering in the early morning
  • Use of a drip-irrigation system, delivering measured water directly to the source to avoid run off and rapid evaporation.
  • Use of native plants
  • Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil

The next logical  step is to replace the lawn.  Once a status symbol of the rich, water-thirsty lawns eventually found their way into suburban gardens.  I hope their popularity is on the way out.

Major changes are time-consuming and costly, so we are making our changes  incrementally.

Here’s what we planted:

Senecio Vitalis

Senecio Vitalis

Panda Plant Kalanchoe tomentosa

Panda Plant ‘Kalanchoe tomentosa’ from Madagascar

assorted succulents
Left, Echeveria agavoides * Upper right, Echeveria peacockii * Lower right, Rainbow Elephant Bush Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’

The other part of the water equation is indoor use. I’ve ordered a free water audit through the City of San Jose. They read your water meter, check for leaks, and determine water flow from sinks, showers and toilets. They make suggestions for laundry and dishwasher efficiency, shower duration, etc. They’ll audit our garden use as well. I’ll report back when they complete our audit next week.

Have you ever made a paradigm shift? Please let me know in the comments below.