Category Archives: other gardens

I slake my thirst with gardens.

Way back in October, I think, was the last time a certain one of my favorite plant nurseries was open — until Saturday, when I drove over for the reopening. The retail aspect is a small part of a larger sustainable agriculture/ecological/educational project, and is only open on weekends in the warmer months. Over the years I’ve bought lots of annual vegetables there, but lately they focus on perennial edibles and and medicinal plants.

It’s a beautiful drive, out into the more rural areas of my county. I remembered to wear my sun hat to keep my scalp from burning, but when I got into the nursery area itself there was netting all over above, which probably made it unnecessary. Passionflowers bloomed like stars up there.

For an hour I got a huge rush of excitement and energy, as I saw more and more species of perennial salvias and echinacea species that I could take home and add to my pollinator garden. Echinacea Purpurea, Pallida, and Paradoxa. Salvia hians (Kashmir Sage), Salvia forsskaolii, Clary Sage and Dune Sage. The forsskaolii, or Indigo Woodland Sage, I used to have in my “old” garden, but it didn’t survive the transition. None of the new plants is in bloom yet so I’ll show them later after they are revealed in their fullness.

There was one plant that I had no desire to bring home for my garden, though they say it is grown worldwide as an ornamental. That is the Porcupine Tomato:

Solanum pyracanthos

This flowering tree grows near the entrance/checkout. Does anyone know what it is?

In my own garden, June seems to have arrived early, and so suddenly… I guess that’s because I’ve been sitting around moping and confused; I know I am way behind in planting the second planter box. But the rest of the garden just went on doing its thing, and is ready to comfort me now that I desperately need it. When there is a lull in the strange high winds we’ve been having, I can sit out there and silently bake, in the company of other creations and creatures. For a few moments at a time I revel in just being.

The showy milkweed is over five feet high already, and in the back yard it’s a favorite of the bees, along with the lavender and the echium. Oh, speaking of echium, I saw my type at the nursery; I must have bought it there several years ago. It is not the Pride of Madeira-echium candicans that is more typical here. As recently as last week, though, I thought it was just an oddly growing form of it. If it were Pride of Madeira it would have blocked the path by now; good thing it’s more vertical!

See the bee on the left, against the sky?
Pretending to be real trees.
In a spring storm two branches broke off.
Back before spring had fully sprung.

At the nursery my kind was called Tower of Jewels, and just now I found a helpful site that explains all the different forms. Mine is also called Tree Echium, echium pininana. I never noticed before how the echium flowers resemble borage and my newer plant, bugloss. Well, they are all in the borage family.

echium Tower of Jewels
bugloss

I took a slow-motion video of the bees out front on the germander (teucrium). In real time they seem very excited, almost frantic, in their buzzing from flower to flower, but when I watched the video it showed their true selves as purring bee-copters taking all the time in the world, that is, the whole day and their whole short lives, to do their work.

I’m needing to take long breaks from talking this week, mostly my own, which seems like more and more idle talk. No one talks in my garden. Even the tropical birds have been moved to their new home far enough away that I can’t hear them; now I can hear the native singers’ quieter tunes and gentle chirps.

I think I was looking for a quote on a different topic this morning when I ran across this beloved one (a beloved quote? really? Yes.) from G.K. Chesterton:

Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical;
there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste
as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.

Forget for a moment the reductionist nature of these ideas — most short quotes, in order to be pithy, have to focus on one or two ideas and lay aside the complexities of the subject. Just think about what we are thirsty for… (You men also thirst, naturally.) I realized just this morning — by bathing in the the sunshine and the lavender scent, the breeze and the humming — and this afternoon, by speaking briefly about it with a wise person, that the very concrete realness, the materiality of my garden satisfies something. Maybe my garden has to do double-duty right now because of the recent lack of human touching.

How it helps me pray… I don’t need to figure out that mystery. I just want to enter in.

On Passover afternoon, ten days ago now, we had Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost. Almost everyone took part at home, but I live close to the church and I drove over in hopes that there would be few enough of us that I could participate indoors. My hope was realized! I’m sharing this picture because of the golden sunshine. May God fill us with His light!

Gifts from earth and oven.

I’ve never seen this before, a tomato that looks good enough to eat, but when you cut it open, its seeds are sprouting new tomato plants! This one was grown by my neighbor, one of my favorite orange varieties, and why I didn’t try to eat it sooner I don’t know… I left it on the counter, saving it, I guess, for a special lunch…? But then I stopped really seeing it, until yesterday morning I decided to eat it for breakfast. Whoa! What a surprise.

This morning a friend saw the picture and said, “Plant it inside, quick!” and I realized that that is exactly what I wanted to do, so I dug it out of the trash and planted the whole thing just under the soil.

Neighbor Kim took me on a walk this morning to a house where she wanted to pick persimmons, with permission, the Fuyu variety that I’ve mentioned before.

And yesterday I visited Mr. Greenjeans’ place to see the updated garden and how his trees have been pruned. I gave him some Painted Lady Runner Bean seeds, and when we were looking at his Chaste Tree, he gave me seeds right off it. I didn’t know about this tree, but his has been living in a 5-gallon pot for many years and is perfectly happy. Where I found this picture just now it says they don’t like their roots to stay wet, so that sounds ideal for my garden! I will plant them this month.

He also has a new apple tree, a Winterstein, developed by Luther Burbank. It bears its fruit in December! That’s why it’s still looking fresh and green, though it seems to be a little young yet for fruit-bearing.


In my own garden I have fresh and green ornamental cabbage just planted, bok choy sprouts coming up between the rows of peas, and the Painted Lady bean that will not give up until the frost kills it. Being stripped of all its foliage and ripened fruit (dry bean pods) and cut back nearly to the ground does not take the urge to grow out of this perennial runner bean; it just starts climbing up again. The white flies like the new leaves it is putting out.

Back to yesterday – I was happy to be in the church kitchen and to get my hands in the dough, as another parishioner and I baked Communion bread. I also made these five loaves that are traditionally eaten during the Vigil service we have in the evening the night before any of the Twelve Great Feasts.

We often end up with several sets which we keep in the freezer to have on hand, but this week we spared only enough dough (4 oz. each) for one set of five, because we were focusing on the holy bread for the Eucharist. While we are shaping and baking the dough we do not chat but always try to keep in mind Jesus Christ, Who is the Bread of Life…

…and Who feeds us soul and body by many gifts every day,
which He has blessed the earth to give.
Thank you, our loving Father!

Lavender and little scythes.

The nuns at a nearby monastery harvest lavender every summer at various neighbors’ properties up in the hills and mostly at the end of long unpaved and/or winding roads. They had asked the young people from parishes in the area to help them today, and when some families had to back out at the last minute, several adults including me pitched in.

I had to get up before 5:00 to get fueled up and make the drive to arrive early enough for the sisters to give us a hearty breakfast. But even before that, we learned that Mother Anna who recently fell asleep in death had still not been buried, and we might go into the church and say good-bye to her. Mother Angelina was reading Psalms at the head of the casket when we went in; we all filed past and kissed the little icons that were next to her, and the Gospel. It was sweet to have this opportunity.

After breakfast and chatting we caravaned to the first and most scenic spot, where we picked from a big clump of lavender bushes stuck in a low spot among olive trees at a vineyard. We were given little scythes, which seem the perfect tool for any bush you want to grab hunks of and slice off, to shear it. I plan to get one for my own garden right away, so I can give a break to my finger joints.

As we were packing tools and water, and applying sunscreen and bug spray — the sisters said they had been “chewed up” by chiggers one year — Mother Tabitha was on the phone a lot trying to arrange for Mother Anna to be buried this afternoon.

One of the lavender friends, with the most to pick, cancelled our visit because they didn’t think their insurance covered children on the property, and they had seen a few rattlesnakes lately. But the monastery had already this season delivered 200 pounds of lavender flowers to the distiller, so they were not worried. Some of what we were tackling was past its prime and too dried out to use. We sheared it off anyway but put it in the discard pile.

We eventually filled the back of a pickup truck with the blooms. Bees were thicker on them in the truck than they had been in the field. The farmer lady gave us plums and peaches for a snack, and insisted that the sisters take buckets of dahlias and gladiolas for the burial of Mother Anna.

The second, smaller harvest was at a house that had barely missed destruction in the fires of 2017. Most of their lavender bushes, which had formerly lined the long driveway, had burned and not been replaced. To the south and to the north, close to the front and back of the house, were patches of blackened trees where the wildfire had swept through erratically.

Soon we were headed back to the monastery, hot and dusty, and again they fed us very well! But Mother Macrina drove the pickup load straight to the distiller, to have its essential oil extracted. The by-product hydrosol, the lavender water that is left over, they also use, to make sprays good for cleaning and dusting, and deodorizing. Next time I have a chance, I’ll buy some lavender products from them. And maybe tomorrow I’ll look at my own lavender bushes and see if they are ready to harvest!

The forest adorns itself and me.

black locust

In the middle of Saturday’s graduation party, Pippin and I wandered through a gate into the vegetable garden and soon found ourselves sitting in two chairs that seemed to have been set there just for us introverts, who were perhaps unconsciously following the advice given to introverts as to strategies for party-going.

After the weekend was over and we were both in our separate towns and homes again, in “recovery mode,” it was amusing how we found ourselves still together, after a fashion.

I was sifting through my pictures and notes on my phone and looking through my Weeds of the West, the book Pippin had mentioned when I asked her about a weed growing in her own vegetable garden. I was only a few pages away from finding it when on my computer a message popped up from her with a photograph of that very page.

Great Hound’s Tongue

It is Common Hound’s Tongue, Cynoglossum officinale, or “gypsyflower,” which she said she always pulls out before it makes its terrible stickery burrs — and this very minute, when I looked for photos of them online, I realized that these are the burrs which one September I noticed looked like Mrs. Tiggy Winkle! It’s also the same genus as beautiful wildflowers like the Great Hound’s Tongue I saw in Oregon eight years ago.

There is also another photo of hound’s tongue in my files that I think might be Pippin’s work, because it comes from her neck of the woods and I don’t remember taking it:

If that weed in Pippin’s garden looks strangely familiar to those of you who have been reading my last several blog posts…. That’s because hound’s tongue is in the Boraginaceae Family! Yep, it’s closely related to borage. Well, well.

The first full day I spent at Pippin’s, we took a picnic to the lake before working in the garden. There we also found some plants to look into further. There was a white flowering bush my daughter told me was a ceanothus called Mountain Whitethorn, though its flowers can be blue or pink.  We saw a recumbent berry that Pippin identified yesterday as a Dewberry, a name that echoes in my mind from the distant past.

And we all stopped to look at a lovely wild rose,
until Scout in his bare feet ran into some red ants, and from then on we didn’t linger.

wild ginger
merely mud

Back when we’d arrived for our picnic, before we had even got fully out of the parking lot above the lake path, we were hit by the scent of black locust trees in bloom — so delicious. And because a couple of my readers have told me that the flower petals are edible, we all tried them. They were a little dry and bland compared to pineapple guava petals, in case anyone is interested. 🙂

Right under the boughs of those trees Scout spied what he called “Botany Brooch,” and which I knew as the annoying sticky weed or catchweed, Galium aparine. But if you need a very temporary natural-looking piece of adornment, it lives up to its other nickname of “velcro plant,” and requires no difficult clasp to attach it, even after it  has wilted, which happens fast.

From this time forward, I will be less grumpy about this plant with a dozen nicknames, and who knows, you might even see me wearing a bit of it at my garden (work) parties.

When we returned to the garden that afternoon it was to plant Indian corn that Mr. and Mrs. Bread had given from their bounty. Pippin has never tried to raise corn before but she knows people who do, up there where the growing season is not long. It needed to be planted inside the garden fence so the deer won’t eat it; we decided to dig some “hills” here and there where there weren’t too many rocks to extract.

In the course of the afternoon the Professor brought us bags of compost and contributed to the dinner that was simultaneously in process. The children played all over the place, and helped to push the seeds into the earth, and discovered worms to feed to a toad that Pippin had found hiding behind a box. A salamander was unearthed and rinsed off and admired, and eventually let go in a wet area of the yard. I tried to take pictures of the striped bumblebees that are so pretty, compared to the fat black ones that I get down here.

blueberry flowers

High in an oak tree Ivy has hung a little basket of nest-making supplies for the birds. A flesh-colored button of a fungus was decorating the old stump, evidently the immature stage of what will become a dry and brown puffball type of growth; after I took my picture the children showed me how the little brown balls above would release their powder if broken with sticks.

On the other side of the stump, a splash of brightness — is this also a fungus?

Around the homestead of Pippin’s family, the forest is always sharing its life and beauty. I suppose there will never be an end of things for me to explore when I spend time there. But for now, my own garden realm is waiting for me so I will send in my report and say good-bye for now!