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A Most Beautiful Masterpiece…in the Making

Took a walk through the garden this morning, enjoyed the sporadic showers, all of the fat drops catching the light and streaming rainbows. The morning was magical! I found this little guy on the patio…I was hoping he wasn’t dead, just getting an early start on sunning since it’s been raining cats and dogs lately. I’m still not quite sure of his living status.

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I’m reading a few books on gardening I recently got from the library. Many of the authors start out sort of svengali on the design/layout, lording over what can grow where and how much space can be taken up by each plant. Ruthlessly culling those that have been deemed to have pushed whatever bounds too far. Many also had preconceived notions about self-seeders being crazy pernicious weeds (and many also changed their ways and let the self-seeders be).

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I began with the opposite penchants. Nursing every seedling that poked its cotyledon out of the ground for a look-see. Even when many turned out to be so-called weeds, I let them go…these were still quite beautiful. Yellow primrose, thistle, Queen Anne’s lace…and here in California, fava bean, clover, mallow, wild geranium, and milk thistle.

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I crammed small seedlings into compact spaces, only trimming so that bedfellows had an equal footing. I didn’t care if they spilled out into the walkway…I actually kind of liked that. The riot of growth felt very bohemian.

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As for self-sowers, I can’t imagine late spring and early summer without all the California poppies and blue nigella (above, in the midst of the garlic) that have taken fateful matters into their own hands since that February three years ago when I first threw a few seeds into the dirt.

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And I frequently disregarded grow zone suggestions, especially if the range of the plant was just one off from my own (zone 9). The blackberry cuttings you can purchase at the garden store here supposedly only grow to zone 8, but I have a few canes behind the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired trellis. They are thriving.

I also find that plants that are accustomed to regions unlike my own can in fact grow here if I find and utilize the right microclimate in the yard.

Check out this hardy fuchsia above…I was afraid there wasn’t a spot in the back that would provide adequate shade at the hottest part of a summer day and be able to retain sufficient moisture for this plant. But she seems to be doing just fine…I was excited to find a couple new shoots!

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Found an onion amidst the pink evening primroses! I cleared this part of the bed out recently and was afraid that I wouldn’t have a glorious batch of Oenothera this summer and fall…I had no need to worry, as just a few remnant runners are more than enough to send out some shoots!

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Pest control is another story. I’m at my wits’ end with our gopher problem. They cleared out an entire tier of vegetables this winter. They started munching on my Lantana (above the Shasta daisies), but I spread a lot of red pepper flakes around the area, mixed them into the dirt, and they haven’t been back to this spot. And these Shastas were almost another casualty, even though the gophers don’t seem to really like them…they just recently started some fragile new growth…

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Littlefoot is our only chicken left now. Raccoons got Lucky and Star…I am going to wait to get new chicks until I am finished with my credential program. Dreaming of building a new spacious coop in the coming months and have been busy perusing free plans. I want to use all reclaimed materials. I have all the tools I need.

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The apple and pear trees have lots of spurs this year…I am looking forward to the harvest. I had to cut a few bigger branches this year, including one that was competing with the leader.

When we first moved here four years ago, the trees hadn’t been pruned for what I can only guess was a very long time. There were so many lateral branches, waterspouts, and a shaggy unrestrained growth of leaves…but no fruit. My dad helped me prune the apple tree the first year, and we had so many apples that I had enough applesauce for baking for the next year. I pruned after that but didn’t realize that the tree was spur-bearing and nipped off all of the spikes, so we haven’t had apples for a while.

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But this time, I was careful. We’re going to have quite a yield this year!

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And another project to finish–level out the dirt in the steps we just put in, lay down landscaping cloth and top with stones. Look how magnificent that live oak is…sometimes a red-shouldered hawk comes and perches on the left boughs, eyeing whatever scurries through the grasses and Russian olive below. Hopefully I’ll get a picture of him one day.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”
― Claude Monet

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Seasonal Gardening

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Mena and I have been putting in the winter garden. I love this time of year, even though the days are shorter and the sunlight arcs lower in the sky and everything grows a bit slower. All living things are entering a dormant period, a much needed time of rest. Still, it’s incredibly beautiful here in California, and I am getting some garden surprises.

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I knew I would be harvesting a lot of radishes…so that’s not surprising. The “Easter Egg” variety is beautiful! I will be roasting these for dinner the night my mom flies in from Pennsylvania.

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Collards are still going strong and are so beautiful after light rains. Their leaves hold the water in pools, and the plant looks to be speckled with jewels. The mullein in the background is humongous now! I cannot wait until it grows the long stalk and blooms!

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Here is the surprise: my pattypan and yellow summer squash are still growing and producing fruit! I can’t believe it 🙂

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And the lovely Musque de Provence is positively taking over the lower terrace by the beautiful meandering live oaks. Two more pumpkins on the vine, and I’ll be pureeing like crazy come time they turn that nutty orange color. I am very curious as to how they taste; we’ve never grown this variety before!

Ending with a quote, post-election:

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

― Wendell Berry

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Doing the Best I Can in the Place Where I Am

“Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind.”

–Scott Nearing

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Whenever I’m browsing around the garden, the daydreams begin…imagining grander scenarios, ones with lots of land far away from cities, growing my own personal paradise from seed and cuttings, keeping hives for honeybees and constructing glorious coops for my colossal flock of chickens, wonderful and absolute solitude…

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…and then I remind myself that I can create something productive and fulfilling on the suburban plot I live on presently–a steep and somewhat arid quarter of an acre, with a range of really sandy soil to straight up clay. To focus on what I have, and work to bring it to its full potential. Heck, we’ve already transformed one step of our terrace from a swathe of cat litter to a fruitful potager!

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Going for walks helps me reconcile my dreams with my realities, provides a clarity of mind and allows for acknowledgment and acceptance of what is. And it fortifies me with the enthusiasm I need to implement my vision. We’re really lucky to have a beautiful park just up the road from our house, and Mena and I went there this morning.

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Isn’t the Callistemon gorgeous? The bees and the hummingbirds love the bottlebrush flowers.

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I think about Scott Nearing’s advice, and think about all those who have lived and breathed those words, who have brought to pass beautiful and marvelous things, one flight of fancy rooted in the earth at a time.

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“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

–Jawaharlal Nehru

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Look at those gorgeous grim pine trees! I see a painting with them in the near future…

“The value of doing something does not lie in the ease or difficulty, the probability or improbability of its achievement, but in the vision, the plan, the determination and the perseverance, the effort and the struggle which go into the project. Life is enriched by aspiration and effort, rather than by acquisition and accumulation.”

–Helen Nearing

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A Time for Every Purpose

Nearly finished with the studio. Anthony has only to put the window trim in (the baseboard is actually in, just not in the pic), and it’s finished! I’ve moved most of my supplies in, including the computer and printer. So excited to have a room of my own, in the words of one of my favorite writers 🙂

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Got a bunch of dirt and some manure to prepare the garden next to the keyhole bed…have to come up with a good name for that one, instead of always referring to it as “the garden next to the keyhole bed.” I love planning a garden…and it’s so satisfying to see it growing in, maturing, becoming what you imagined it to be, and more.

In the veggie garden, summer squash is still chugging along, radishes will soon be harvested, another batch to be seeded now. Mesclun has sprouted, to be picked when young and put into my daily juice!

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Rosemary is blooming and lovely, and the bees are in heaven. Going to take some cuttings. I’m planning on planting a hedge just below the last tier of the terrace and above the live oak, one of blackberry and currant and rosemary. I’m going to do a bit of guerrilla gardening and stop on the side of the road next to a local park where I noticed the blackberries growing wild and take a few snips!

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Looking forward to October and cooler days and nights and keeping busy inside with painting and baking and reading. And going to the parks on off-season when we don’t have to pay for parking! I really do miss truly delineated seasons, especially fall: the sweeping mass of color in all the foliage, the smell of wet leaves and the cold, everything in a golden haze at sunset, when the air is so crisp and clear it makes everything seem hyper-real.

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I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

–Henry David Thoreau