Thirty Days in the Garden: Minor Amusements

My garden serves up minor amusements now and again, little surprises that make me grin. Here’s a recent one:

Something ate a hole in this California poppy making me think of a tent for a traveling snail.

Motel 6 for mollusks

Equally amusing but more annoying, is the weed that gets a foothold in the center of an established plant. There is no way to get the weed out by the roots without completely uprooting the shrub. I manage to get my gloved hand under the low branches of each perennial, only to come away with part of the weed and no roots.

The weeds aren’t thumbing their noses at me, are they?

Some amusements are more along the lines of quaint, like this self-seeded lavender. Planted by the wind or a bird, the starter plant grows in a small pot surrounded by succulents. It’s nice of the container to host this little upstart, but now the plants are probably intertwined. Stay tuned for updates.

Lavender looking small and unassuming
This is how big the plant will get
I hope they all get along. It appears that the succulents are reproducing.

This photo is reminiscent of my girlhood. I was taller than average, rail-thin, with bright red hair. I longed to be one of the pretty-in-pink-petite girls, but alas I only grew taller. I’m at peace with my uniqueness now, but I wouldn’t want to relive those early years.

A praying mantis is oddly amusing, but startling as well. They show up during the summer months in shades of brown like this one, or green. They pivot their head giving you that odd feeling of being watched. The mantis is good for the garden, as long as they leave the hummingbirds in peace.

This ceramic lizard was destined for the trash. Like a lot of children, my son loved creating art. Then he reached adolescents and decided it wasn’t worth saving. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I moved a few pieces into the garden. It was amusing to discover that a plant had taken root in the center of the lizard’s tail.

I’ve shared this tip with some of my organizing clients, who are reluctant to part with ceramic pieces from their child’s grade school. The ceramic holds up well in the garden, it frees shelf space in the home, and it creates a wonderful conversation-starter when guests happens upon the garden treasure.

My favorite amusement of all is finding Tessa incognito.

Where’s Tessa?

Who doesn’t like a game of hide and seek?

I hope you find ways to amuse yourself this weekend.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Planting Tomatoes

I haven’t had much success growing tomatoes these past few years, but I refuse to give up. Fresh garden tomatoes off the vine are a treat.

A basket of assorted tomatoes from 2017

My dad grew tomatoes in our garden in Canada. I grew up eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. In California, people add tomatoes to things like salads and sandwiches, but we enjoyed eating tomatoes as the main event.

When I write or type the word tomato, I can hear my mother pronouncing it tuh-mah-toh. Most Americans use the hard a or tuh-mey-toh. Are you saying it in your head now, too?

A year into the pandemic, my husband Mike, is showing an interest in gardening. Who knew? We headed to the nursery together and diplomatically chose two plants each. I frequently buy the brand Bonnie Plants, a company that has been around for over 100 years.

We decided on two cherry tomato plants and two Early Girl. For some reason, the term Early Girl gets on my nerves, but it didn’t stop me from buying the plant. It sounds vaguely patriarchal somehow.

2019: The plants looked healthy, but production was almost non-existent

I have a raised bed in the back garden which has grown a variety of things over the years. I planted geraniums at the end of the summer a few years ago so that Tessa wouldn’t use the raised bed as her personal “litter” box. We eventually transplanted one geranium to a pot, a second one in the front garden, and I think I may have taken the third plant downtown.

2016: Assembling the raised bed, called a VegTrug

With the bed cleared, and the tomatoes planted, I covered the plants with a mesh netting intended to keep out bugs. It won’t be in place for long, as the plants will need to be staked, but I had hoped it would serve as a deterrent while the plants get established.

2021: VegTrug mesh cover

A few days later my son found Tessa sleeping under the mesh canopy. That cat!

The other two plants are in an Earthbox in the front garden in one of the few sunny spots. Earthboxes are all-in-one growing systems, intended for growing vegetables in small spaces. They’re great for moving around. The box has casters, a watering tube, a perforated watering tray, and even comes with a bio-degradable cover. You stuff potting mix into the bottom corners and soak to create a wick of sorts. Then you add potting mix, some lime, and some fertilizer, mix it all together and plant. You can plant seeds or small plants in the box. I’ve used mine for several years.

Now we sit back and wait to see if our plants will produce those delicious red tomatoes of my youth.

Autumn Days and Anniversaries

It’s the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere, or in simpler terms, the first day of fall. It’s also our wedding anniversary.

Today (September 23) sees the 2019 autumn equinox, the moment when the planet’s northern hemisphere swaps with the southern hemisphere to become the one furthest from the sun.

Autumn is a good time to reflect, especially in the garden. While the perennials remain robust year-round, summer annuals are closing up shop.

We had a second year of disappointing tomatoes. Despite my best efforts planting the EarthBoxes with fresh soil and fertilizer, moving them to a new location and ensuring they got full sun, production was blah. My garden mojo took a hit.

end of season tomato Don’t be fooled. It looks juicy, but the sweetness has gone.

This stripey variety took months to set fruit. While they look interesting, I didn’t care for the thicker texture. All in all, one plant produced half a dozen tomatoes. Sigh.

stripes tomatoes A trio of Stripey Tomatoes

This was also my first season without pumpkins. We’ve relied entirely on the squirrels to plant them each year, even if their planting methods are unconventional. By the time I fully noticed, it was too late to plant on my own.

I had brief hope. After amending the mix in a planting box with heavy, sandy soil, a few pumpkin plants appeared. It seemed unlikely that they would amount to much, but while I was traveling in July they took hold. Alas, they didn’t establish in time. Although the plants became vines and proffered a few blooms, there was no time for setting fruit.

spent pumpkin vines Spent pumpkin flowers and vines along with other pruning debris

On a brighter note, I received this gorgeous yellow calla lily in a pot last year. Mike transplanted it for me in the front garden and it’s spreading its proverbial wings.

Yellow Canna lily, a thank you gift from FDC

It’s flowered twice and is now showing off its interesting seed pods as the plant goes dormant.

Calla lily seed pod Calla lily seed pod

Our garden is densely planted now, requiring careful thought when a new plant joins the mix. This calla lives in the shadow of the Magnolia tree, not far from the deck. I love the cheerful display.

Nepeta or catmint Nepeta going to seed

Nepeta, also known as catnip or catmint reseeds every year. It’s an herb, pleasing to cats, and humans alike. It produces a subtle scent in the garden unless of course, you’re a cat.

cat and nepeta Tessa enjoying the nepeta
white cat and nepeta Mouse the cat lounging on the nepeta

 

 

tuxedo cat in nepeta Lindy sleeping near the nepeta

Our cats become quite possessive of the plant near the patio, though Mouse likes to visit the plant in the side yard as well. We all have our favorites.

As for anniversaries, I married this wonderful man 24 years ago today.

Celebrating then and now (Went Brothers Winery, Livermore | Winchester Mystery House fundraiser, San Jose)

It was the first day of autumn that year as we wed on the grounds of Wente Brother’s winery in Livermore. The day went by in a blur, so I’m grateful for the photographs that help solidify the memories. I’m grateful for Mike every day and for our life together.

I’m grateful for you, too, dear reader, for continuing to show up and read my posts.

A Garden in Rest

We’re quite spoiled living in California this time of year. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and we’re frequently treated to several days of unseasonably warm conditions. 

Curb garden perennials going to seed

While much of the country is dealing with weather known as the polar vortex with insanely cold and hazardous conditions, I’m wearing a t-shirt as I go about my day. I wish I could send all my mid-west and eastern seaboard friends a bit of warmth and sunshine. Come June, I’ll be looking on enviously at your summer rains.

Nigella and sweet peas populate the curb garden

I’ve been popping into the garden at the end of the day, pulling young weeds before they get a foothold. It’s a joy to observe the daily treasures nature has to offer.

Nigella bud just before opening
Nigella in all its beauty

When fall arrives in late October, my garden cleanup includes pruning, grooming and dead-heading perennial plants and shrubs. Last fall, I consciously let things go. This wasn’t born of laziness. In fact, it took some resolve to let things be. My propensity for organization and a tidy garden are nothing new, however my awareness of the benefits of a garden to all the visitors comes with a sense of responsibility.

Rose hips in the curb garden

Emerging growth on a miniature rose

Letting perennials go to seed means there are seeds available for birds passing through. Allowing a bit of leaf drop to cover the garden floor provides cover for some beneficial insects, while at the same time providing a natural mulch. Mulch keeps the soil warm and moist, while reducing weed growth and protecting roots from uneven temperatures. Leaves breakdown quickly, feeding the worms and improving the overall health of the soil.

Excess leaves, swept from the sidewalk and deck, made it into our compost bin. After working my way through three different compost systems over the past decade, I finally found one that I like.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

New habits take time. I’m itching to get out there so I can prune some of the dead growth. I’ve had a little chat with my inner gardener, and together we’ve decided this is best. After all, the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere is only 49 days away.

I can hardly wait.

Merry Christmas from the Family Felines

It’s hard to time a holiday blog for two hemispheres. Further, not everyone celebrates Christmas.

If you’re celebrating today, or perhaps you’re reading this on Boxing Day, I hope your season is merry.

And if today is just a random Tuesday (or Wednesday), I hope your days are merry, too.

Tessa in a box near Mickey Mouse stocking

Tessa just took a nibble from Mickey’s ear which is part of my son’s Christmas stocking from many years ago.

Lindy sporting Santa hat

Lindy, 16, sporting the miniature Santa hat. She looks sullen, but mostly because I’m blocking the stream of sun keeping her warm.

Lindy the cat sunbathing

Another one of Lindy sunbathing

Mouse the cat on a jigsaw puzzle

We usually have a jigsaw puzzle going this time of year. It’s a popular place to nap as well. That’s Mouse.

Tessa smelling Christmas greens

Who’s misbehaving? Tessa jumped up on the kitchen counter to smell the fresh Christmas greens.

Tessa under the sheets

“…and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” – Clement Clarke Moore

Wishing you all good things in the coming year.

Love, Alys and the family felines.

Thrift Diving’s 30-Day Outdoor Overhaul Makeover

Two years ago I signed up for Serena’s Thrift Diving challenge: a 30-day outdoor patio makeover. She’s hosting another one this month, also outdoors. It’s amazing how these challenges can light a fire under your feet.

Serena hosts these challenges a few times a year. You can read about her April challenge here. Several of us sign up for the extra motivation that comes with a deadline. She even has a closed Facebook group where we can post pictures, ask questions and share in other do-it-yourself projects. It’s a lot of fun.

Today, however, I’m feeling the pressure of the challenge. We have college tours coming up this month and a weekend away chaperoning a school activity, so I need to keep moving. Writing this post will help me collect my thoughts. I have a good start thanks to Serena’s Outdoor Overhaul Makeover Journal. 

These are my goals for my 30-Day Outdoor Overhaul

Goal #1: Clean, *repair* and paint my old potting bench

green potting bench

15 year-old garden/potting bench

Repair wasn’t part of the deal, but this morning I moved the bench on my own to the patio for cleaning and broke one of the planks. The bench is 15 years old and stays outside year round so it’s not that surprising. It looks like they used staples instead of screws to attach the top planks. I’ll need to sort that out.

The broken plank exposed a few startled silver fish. After they vacated the premises I employed my multi-step cleaning process.

I used my small leaf blower to chase away the large debris. I used a small brush to clean the crevices, then a larger brush and finally gave it a strong blast with the hose before one last scrubbing.

We have two more sunny days before a set of storms pass through, so I’m taking advantage of the weather.

Then, finally, the fun begins: repainting my old potting bench

Goal #2: Research gate options for side yard

makeshift gate

Makeshift “gate” to keep Tessa and our other cats safe in the yard

This is a long story, but I’ll try to make it quick. We had to replace the damaged fence along our side yard over a year ago. It took nine months from the start of the quotes to a finished fence for a variety of reasons. We had cat-netting along the old fence to keep the kitties safe in the yard. I wanted to add a second gate so we could reduce the amount of netting which gets tangled in the vines, but one that you could see through. The fence company couldn’t do it.  It’s now been six months and I still haven’t sorted out a quote or a DIY solution to keep our climbing kitten safe in the yard.

 Goal #3: Outdoor sandbox for cats

Tessa's future sandbox

Back corner of garden under neighboring pine tree

Yes, you read that correctly. When you have small children you keep your sandbox covered to avoid unwanted deposits from the cats. My boys are young adults and the sandbox is history, but our kitten, Tessa, prefers using the garden mulch to take care of business. I’m hoping to add a sandy area along the back fence to encourage her to use that instead. Cats like sand, so it should do the trick.

Goal #4: Camouflage and Beautify

back corner of garden

Back corner of garden where things don’t like to grow

The back corner of the garden has always been challenging. A large, neighboring pine tree shades the area, drops pine needles and sends up roots. It’s almost impossible to dig in that area, and when we have managed to wrangle the roots out-of-the-way to plant other things, they struggle to thrive.  I’m going to look for a planting box that sits on the soil at an angle. I’ll plant a shade-loving vine, then add a trellis behind the box. This will beautify the area, and at the same time camouflage Tessa’s outdoor facilities.  Win-win!

Goal #5: Create a step up to the raised garden along the back fence

Fence line

Raised garden bed along fence line. A few pavers should do the trick

Ah, age! It doesn’t look like much of a rise, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get up and down from the raised planting area along the back fence. It hurts my back, or my knees or my feet. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner, but I’m going to buy a few pavers to create one or two steps to make it more accessible. After these last storms I can remove the cover from the table and chairs.

Tessa loves spending time in the garden. It will be nice to have her company as I work through this 30-day challenge.

Tessa on the potting bench

Tessa lounging and playing on the potting bench

Thank you Serena for inspiring us.

Do you have a room, patio or deck in need of some TLC?

In a Vase on Monday: A Tiny Treasure from my Travels

This week, it’s all about the vase. I don’t generally buy travel souvenirs but how could I resist this charming little vessel?

Puerto Vallarta cat vase

This vase from Puerto Vallarta is pretty on all sides (That’s Tessa our cat walking away in the background)

I spotted the vase on our final day in Puerto Vallarta. It’s small, perhaps the size of a tall shot glass. Once wrapped in protective paper and I stashed it in my purse for the trip home.

Scale is everything with a vase this small. I scouted my limited winter choices and decided on three white camellia camellia japonica and a few sprigs of my beloved fern.

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica bud

Camellia Japonica bud

The petals were already dropping, so I don’t think the arrangement will last the week, unless this pretty bud opens up. I love that faded pink on the tips.

Vase on window sill

Kitty vase on my home office window sill

cat vase with camellia and fern

An outdoor shot where the light is always best

cat with cat vase

Tessa the curious

As it turns out, several bloggers join the In a Vase on Monday featureIt was nice connecting some of you last week.

Thank you Cathy at Words and Herbs and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for your ongoing inspiration.

Lonely Crochet Hooks and a Gorgeous Tool Roll

I started teaching myself how to crochet earlier in the year as a way to relax. I follow quite a few crafty bloggers, and several of them excel at crochet. Was I missing out on all that fun? These clever crocheters seem to pick it up and put it down as casually as a grocery list. I’ll even venture to guess that a few of  you have a hook dancing in your lap as you read this.

I learned to sew at the age of six and our mom taught us the basics of knitting a few years later, but crocheting wasn’t part of her repertoire. I learned how to make a chain, and my skill set ended there.

It’s been slow going, but crocheting is as relaxing as I knew it would be, after I mastered a few knots.  The book-learning bores me to tears, but once I get the hang of a stitch, my shoulders drop and the soothing rhythm I craved takes over.

During a comment conversation on Tall Tales From Chiconia, I offered to send Kate a couple of large crochet hooks in a size she couldn’t find at home. Kate graciously offered to make me something in return.  I know she’s pleased to have a pair of plastic crochet hooks in sizes N and Q, but I’m over the moon at what she offered in return: this gorgeous, handcrafted tool roll in all my favorite colors!

 

 

As I cast my eyes on this lovely thing, I keep reminding myself that it’s a tool roll, not a museum for lonely crochet hooks.  The heat will pass, our busy kitten will mellow and I will sign up for a class to further my skills so that I can continue with this relaxing craft, turning out something I don’t mind bringing out into the light of day.

That said, and in the spirit of Jan’s garden post, here are the meager beginnings of what I hope to call craft one day.

 

 

Thank you once again, Kate, for this beautiful, thoughtful gift.

cat with yarn and crochet

Lindy likes my new hobby

cat in lap with crochet

Mouse is fine with the hobby, as long as he still fits in my lap.

Tessa in hands

Tessa insists that she’s my new hobby

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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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Tessa Gets a Clean Bill of Health

More good news!

Our recently adopted kitten Tessa received a clean bill of health yesterday.

The sweetest face

She got a complete check-up, in addition to being tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Both tests came back negative. The Cat Hospital also scanned her for a microchip while I held my breath. She’s officially ours.

We’ve taken all of our cats to the same vet for nearly thirty years, so I’ve gotten to know several of the technicians. They were snuggling our little darling, snapping photos and generally fawning all over her. As it should be!

Our vet thinks Tessa is between seven and eight weeks old. She’ll go back when she’s older for spay surgery and a microchip, but for now she’s home and doing well.

=^..^=

Tessa in cat carrier

Tessa looks so tiny in the cat carrier

tessa's new fan club

Tessa’s new fan club

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