Category Archives: my garden

Flowers open on Maundy Thursday.

For us Orthodox Christians, Holy Thursday is still four weeks in the future. So when I woke I wasn’t immediately thinking about the events of that day that my western Christian friends and family are commemorating.

Rather, I thought to go open the greenhouse door so that it doesn’t get over 100 degrees in there today. On Monday, before I had realized the effect of the sun’s changing orientation in the sky, and how it has been shining on the winter-shaded greenhouse more minutes of every day, I glanced at my indoor-outdoor thermometer to see — 113°. Uh-oh, I don’t think any of my plants would like that for very long.

Look what was blooming this first day of April: a Christmas cactus. It is one of many I propagated from the large cactus I gave away, and you can see in the picture below another five that I’d like to give away. If any of my readers who lives within an hour’s drive of me would like one of these smaller plants, please let me know and I will bring it to you. Maybe they will bloom soon, too…?

More scenes from the greenhouse, where the newer Love-in-a-Mist seeds are outperforming the older ones. The Winter Luxury Pumpkin starts are getting their secondary leaves. This is a small heirloom pumpkin that I got from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds. It has a reputation for good flavor.

I also picked asparagus early this morning, because the stalks continue to emerge at record speed and in record numbers. Only half of the crowns that I originally planted survive, but those produce more every year, so I really have plenty….. though I do wonder if one can ever have too much asparagus.

I accidentally broke off one crisp spear in the middle, and it only took me a few seconds to decide to eat it right then and there. That made me think back to various discoveries over my gardening life, of the many vegetables that are pretty tasty when they come right off the plant and are eaten “alive.” Asparagus is one of those that is sweet and juicy at that moment, but it loses flavor and tenderness fast. I used also to eat green beans, sweet corn, and bell peppers before I ever got them into the house.

First volunteer Delta Sunflower

I know one can eat Brussels sprouts raw, but I don’t think I have. And I’ve never grown them successfully, either. But since vegetables are the topic at hand, here is my favorite way to cook that one. Now that I have a standard  recipe and can count on success, it’s easy to have a container in the fridge that I can snack on. They are like candy to me, but more satisfying, of course.

In the front yard, in ascending order of the day’s favorites:

Returning to the most beautiful remembrance of the day….

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

John Chapter 6

My birthwort is modest.

I’m plant-sitting for a friend who is between lodgings, and one of the specimens in my charge is a pot of healthy nettles. The owner told me to be sure to snip and eat the leaves frequently, because she (the plant) likes that.

Yesterday I stayed home all day, and accomplished a lot of little tasks, including much puttering and pottering outdoors. Though at first I just sat in my corner by the guava and the olive trees, while eating a late breakfast, because the whole Creation had pulled me out of the chilly house into the garden to soak up its benefactions and warm my blood.

We have entered the season when I leave the garden hoses lying around untidily; it adds “human interest” I’m sure. All the lightweight collapsible hoses I invested in got leaks, and I have gone back to heavy and sturdy hoses that last. They are good for strengthening my arms, which is something Proverbs 31 tells us women to do anyway. The bushes with the new leaves that glow like the sun are dwarf pomegranates.

Nutmeg-scented pelargonium in greenhouse.

The day before yesterday, I had told myself, “You only have to do one thing after another — and keep doing it — and in that way you will make a dent in the disorderliness that represents a disheartening backlog of work. Even a little improvement will ease your load!” Of course it helped that I ran no errands at all and in that way avoided having any of those transition times coming and going, which seem to confuse my mind.

First thing: feed the poor lemon tree. I was taught not long ago that it wants feeding four times a year, and after I fed it only two times last year it gave me a good crop. Then I “paused,” and don’t know when it got its last feeding. Now I have set an alarm in my phone to remind me. After the feeding, I gave it a little trim, mostly on top. The photo is “After.”

Near the lemon tree is my little California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica, which I mentioned here recently. It is growing a lot and has several flowers and many new leaves. I read quite a bit about it last night and learned that it is native only to Northern California. It’s very modest compared to showier species of Dutchman’s Pipe, but it is exotic enough to me. I kept wondering what the flowers would look like when they open, but it appears that this is it! If you think it looks carnivorous, you are not alone; in the past people did think that, but it seems they trap but don’t eat:

“The flowers have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and often become stuck and disoriented for some time, picking up pollen as they wander. Most eventually escape; the plant is not insectivorous as was once thought. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) may prove to be the effective pollinators.”

They call this “pollination by deceit.” The flowers dry up and crumble and thereby let the insects out to do their bidding. There are over 500 species of Dutchman’s Pipe, known as birthwort, or Aristolochia. Equally exotic and gorgeous butterflies lay their eggs on pipevines all over the world. Do you have any growing wild in your part of the world? Here are some from Sumatra and Brazil:

The flowers are known to have a bad smell, but mine are few and hard to get at, so there is not enough scent for me to notice. It dawned on me that if a Pipevine Swallowtail laid eggs on my plant, and caterpillars hatched out and began eating, they would die of starvation very soon, and I would be sad about that. And if my plant gets so robust that it covers the fence and draws lots of butterflies because its many flowers are exuding stinkiness… well, that would be a mixed blessing. I guess I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Perennial Showy Milkweed coming up.
Yellow Bush Lupine background, lavender at right.

In the meantime, I took a whiff of these geraniums who are also in my temporary nursery section; they only smell delicious. For dinner I cooked up a modest mess of nettle leaves.

Contentment outweighs fatigue.

Partly because of Annunciation this second week of Lent has been as busy as the first. Personal remembrances have given me a lot to do outside of church, too. I didn’t stay home all day even one day in the last seven; normally that kind of activity wears me out, but at the moment the contentment outweighs any fatigue. The outings and events have filled my cup with love and friendship and grace.

For my birthday I tried to perfect the honey-lemon-ginger cake baked in my Nordic honeycomb pan. But I didn’t. The friends I served it to were quite pleased, but to my taste it was doughy. It was vegan and lacked eggs, but those challenges can’t be the whole problem, and I will keep trying, because I’ve had plenty of vegan cakes that were nice. Maybe it needs more baking powder, or less flour. The picture shows it with the honey-lemon glaze poured on.

I also made a big pot of soup for that Friend Gathering. It was one of those unrepeatable concoctions, with most ingredients unmeasured, a vegetable bean soup into which I impulsively threw all the lemon juice that was left over from the cake (which uses a lot of zest). I should have added a little at a time. It made the soup too lemony, but eventually I hit on the idea of adding coconut milk to smooth it out, and that worked very well.

While I was cooking for a couple of days, I kept getting phone calls from children and grandchildren, wishing me a happy birthday. We had long chats that filled me to bursting. Each time I hung up after one of these calls, it would take me a while to reorient myself to the tasks waiting for me.

I am not going to show you all the interesting gifts I received, only this one, which includes a quote. A quoting candle! I hadn’t seen this kind of thing before; in this case the giver picked one of my own favorite quotes to personalize it.

Several hours this week were devoted to prepping vegetables for that soup and just to eat by themselves. The asparagus must be growing 2-3 inches a day, because I have to pick it morning and evening!

This month marks six years since the death of my husband. Bella went to the cemetery with me and my freesias, and at church prayers were offered in his memory. Having so many services to participate in means that the sensory input is laid on in layers day after day, in images of human and botanical beauty, and hymns that melt my heart. Incense is a joy you can’t experience through the computer; that and hugs are rounding out the experience of a worshiping community again.

Waiting for confession.

Today, the day after Annunciation, is given to the commemoration of the Archangel Gabriel, who announced to Mary, “The Lord is with thee!” And in such a way was He with her, that He is also with us, ever since, and unto ages of ages. That fact is of course connected to the message on the candle:

Wherever there is beauty,
Christ the Word is speaking to your heart
of the love the Holy Trinity has for you.

Fairy houses and flowers.

It’s hard not to step on asparagus stalks when they are barely showing above the mulch like this one. Today I tromped on one that was much taller; I was trying to get a good picture of the irises. It’s the time of year when I need to make a point of going out to the asparagus bed knife in hand at least every other day, and not ignore them as I walk up to the front door.

Every day there has been some special garden-related surprise, including rain, which in turn brings out more sprouts and flower surprises.

This month my neighbors thinned some limbs of the tall Canary Island Pine that hang over their side of the fence — most of the biomass of the tree is on their side — and I am getting a little more sunlight into the back garden, without having to cut down my only tree.

My beloved pale yellow California poppies seem to be changing to orange as they reseed themselves year by year. I’m trying to pull out a lot of the orange ones, but I think it’s a losing battle. This is the only patch of yellow ones right now.

A week ago I went to the coast and updated my Sea Log page. (I fixed it to receive comments now.) One thing I liked about that visit was watching the little shore birds that I think are Sanderlings. I’m showing you this picture because it shows their size compared to sea gulls.

This week was so busy with other things, I couldn’t get away to the coast, but the cold temperatures out there might have kept me away in any case. The sun will shine and warm things up everywhere next week, so I hope to go again.

The day after my last excursion to the beach, I was oddly inspired to walk in my neighborhood. For the last year I had done that very little, choosing rather to vegetate between beach trips. This time I took a path to the east that I hadn’t been on in years; it follows the creek as the stream gets narrower, and the walkway used to come to a dead end pretty quickly. But now, I discovered that it connects with a new housing development and paved sidewalks.

As I was trying to take a picture of a pair of shy Mallards, I spied a little toy house on the other side of the water. Then another upstream, and another… altogether there were dozens of woodsy houses and scenes with gnomes, fairies and toadstools that someone had put a lot of work into. I am going to show you a sample.

A few like this one with the red door were built against trees, and some were nestled into the banks, mostly on the far side where I couldn’t easily go. One was built on a stump in the middle of the stream. They all looked a bit weathered, which made me wonder how they didn’t get washed away in winter storms. I guess it’s a sign of how little precipitation we got this season.

A gnome in a tree swing, fairies having a tea party out of doors… My very favorite was this “Fairy House Laundry” with its sign by the door assuring customers that when treated at their establishment, “Stains magically vanish.”

Another fun thing about my walk was meeting two strangers who were happy to talk to me, like in the old days. Though I didn’t have time to extend my outing just then, it appears that with the add-on to the old path, I could walk for miles toward the hills. Even if the “adventure” would mostly take me through a new subdivision of houses, the novelty of it appeals and I want to do it soon.

Back to the greenhouse, here are a couple of the sprouts I’m seeing:

The bottom one is nasturtiums. Last time I looked the summer squash and the calendulas were coming up, too. And now that we are in March, my greenhouse is getting a little sunshine in the mornings and afternoons. When I go inside, it always feels cozy the way seeds would like.

Last but not least, the Green Beauty snow peas are living up to their reputation for being big. I’ve picked three so far and they are over 5″ long, so I am very pleased. That “blushing” you might notice is natural to their personality. Though the calendar doesn’t say so quite yet, I know that Spring has arrived.