Category Archives: wildflowers

The balm of thistles and a mighty tree.

tarweed

“Mmm-mmm, star thistle and tarweed — the scents of fall!” That’s what my daughter Pippin said as we started out from the trailhead on our latest outing together. Every time I am outdoors with her I learn something new. I should say, I don’t remember being introduced to tarweed  before, and that feels as exciting as brand new.

Pippin and the Professor had come from their home in more northern California for the weekend. Saturday we hung around my neighborhood in the morning, and went afield in the afternoon.

Ivy adopted the doll Madeleine for the day and took her out to gather strawberry tree fruit. Scout dissected the ripest-looking dwarf pomegranate, and we decided it was almost sweet enough to be worth the bother. We walked along the creek path to the playground at the park, but probably the “playground” on the way was the most fun. In two places kids had hung rigging from big trees, from which you could swing out into the space where the ground fell away steeply toward the creek channel. Pippin was the only one with the strength and length to hoist herself up on to what seemed to be a launching platform. Jamie tried to be patient, but reminded us, “Let’s go, to the park!”

Our destination in the afternoon was a giant California bay laurel tree that may be the largest of its species. I had visited this particular tree at least twice before, but probably not since the 80’s.

Our short walk up the hill stretched out, as we stopped to observe lichens and poison oak, the tarweed and star thistle. Two of us had painful feet that slowed us down. We saw a wild buckwheat, Eriogonum, taller and bushier than the species we were familiar with. From my reading today I think it might be California Buckwheat. But as you can probably guess, the first photos below are of star thistle, a plant you never want to have to break a trail through.

Eventually we came out of the woods onto the grassy hilltop where lots of cows were grazing with their calves, and bellowing almost without stopping. There was The Tree on the horizon, and a smaller companion alongside.

Umbellularia californica is the only species in its genus, in Oregon known as the Oregon myrtle. It’s been called by several other names including pepperwood and balm of heaven. The flavor of its leaves is similar to the true bay leaves from Laurus nobilis, only stronger, and most of my life I’ve used leaves from the abundant local “bay” trees in cooking. For a long time I didn’t know they were not the real thing. The map shows its natural range.

Umbellularia californica range map.png

I hadn’t read that nickname “balm of heaven” before our outing, but standing under the massive canopy with thousands and thousands of leaves exuding their aromatic oil, I definitely felt the olfactory presence as a balm, its scent filling my nostrils as hugely as its image filled my vision.

The children right away began to climb, and to stake out their “houses” in the several neighborhoods that have been formed under branches as thick as big tree trunks, some of them weighing themselves down horizontal with the ground. The adults took pictures of the wide views of the landscape below. Pippin and I studied the tree’s flowers, trying to figure out where they are in their bloom cycle. If it hadn’t been late in the day it would have been the perfect place to have a picnic and linger a while.

In the last few years I’ve been buying the few bay leaves I need. But I brought home a handful of the mega-flavored, special California-and-Oregon pepperwood/balm of heaven leaves, and will simmer them in a winter soup. When I get a whiff of their essence in the steam that rises from my bowl, it will keep me connected to that magnificent tree until I can get back for a longer visit.

The seeds dropped out.

When my Landscape Lady suggested Delta Sunflowers for my front garden, she said they would reseed themselves year after year. Those in her own garden have done that, and she gave me my original plants from her excess of volunteers when they came up in May of 2017. My plants did make their own starts in succeeding springtimes, but not very many, which I think has something to do with the thick bark mulch. The seedlings that did emerge were not in the right places, so I had to transplant them.

Here I will insert three pictures I took on the dry east side of California’s Central Valley before I ever knew what these sunflowers were, or dreamed that this species would end up in my own garden. These shots show how well they do with no water at all, in temperatures often well above 100°, all summer long. They just keep going.

Last fall and this, I saved some flower heads from my plants, but I could not see any seeds in them. They are very stiff and prickly by the time they are dry enough to be certain the seeds will have matured. This year my second picking of them I set on the workbench as I was going into the house, and there they sat for a couple of weeks, where I walked past many times a day.

One day I noticed seeds under them – the hidden seeds had simply fallen out. I knocked each bristle brush flower hard against the wood and more seeds came out, so now I have a good collection. I can start them myself in the greenhouse and have some sturdy seedlings to plant in exactly the right spots next spring. 🙂

 

A discipline in pleasure.

I’m in a good mood, because I cleared the driveway of weeds this morning, and brought sunflowers into the house. My foot feels all better, which had been slightly gimpy merely from wearing sandals instead of boots while gardening last week.

The Monarch caterpillars are thriving on giant leaves of the showy milkweed that I bring to them in their mesh cage almost every day. If they had hatched out on the spindly narrowleaf variety where Mama Monarch had laid the eggs, they’d have run out of food fast. I bought a new tropical milkweed plant when I went shopping for begonias last Sunday, but they don’t seem to care for its leaves. (At the bottom of the page is a milkweed I encountered in the mountains some years ago.)

I’ve been too busy to write good sentences about All The Things. I am trying hard to learn to say NO to myself sometimes: “Remember, Dearest Self, you can’t do ALL the things ALL of the time!” Finally after four months, in the middle of which we think the city lost my application, we got the building permit for my remodeling project that I’ve been preparing for over the last year. It’s taking hours and hours to choose paint and cabinets and faucets and mirrors, and more time to watch caterpillars munch, so naturally there have been fewer hours with which to read, write, and cook.

I don’t know how to apply the principle that wise GKC is telling us about in this quote that I thought was simply lovely when I put it in a draft a while back. The word austerity doesn’t seem to fit with the way I behave, though pleasure and gratitude are the world I live in. I’d like to know what you all think about his twist on these qualities of our existence.

 

 

Purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have in the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

-G.K. Chesterton — Twelve Types (1903)

 

 

What I was given on my Home Day.

Today was my Slow/Stay at Home/R&R/Catch up Day. That sounds like a lot to expect of one day, especially when you stay up writing until the hands of the clock are telling you it has already become that day, and therefore you will start out short on sleep.

But what a blessing it turned out to be! The first gift was a phone call from my grandson and his wife, the parents of my great-granddaughter, and that was heartwarming. I loved talking about maternity care — what she got as well as cultural trends — with Izzie, who is bouncing back with the resilience of youth and those hormones a woman gets a good dose of in childbirth. The whole family and her mom were walking at a park when Roger decided to phone me and we had our satisfying visit.

And then a spell of plant identification. 🙂 Yes, and I didn’t even have to go out and discover the plant myself. My farmer friend from whom I buy lamb every year had posted a picture of flowers on Instagram, glad to see them in the pasture before the sheep ate them. She didn’t say their name so I assumed she didn’t know, but they were so pretty, I wanted to find out.

I asked Pippin’s help, but she didn’t know them, either, so I looked in the Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest guide, even though the authors don’t try to include my area of California in their book; I might still find a clue. And I did see one very similar, which was enough to take to the Internet and search with. I’m pasting the Wikipedia photo here, almost identical to the farmer’s, of downingia concolor or calicoflower, which is in the Campanulaceae Family. Aren’t they darling? I wonder if the sheep have eaten them by now…

Kasha, or roasted buckwheat groats, is one of my favorite things to eat on fast days. I like to cook a potful so that I have several servings on hand, but I had run out of that a couple of weeks ago. This package that was given to me by a friend is nearly used up now; it cooks up the way I like it and has the best flavor, so I think I will try to get this type from now on. I got to eat kasha for lunch, and stashed three containers in the fridge and freezer.

I had told myself that I would not read or write blogs today, since I did just do that last night, and because I wanted to catch up on one or two of the many other things that I’m behind on. Lately it’s become R&R just to wash the dishes, and when I was washing up my kasha pot I just kept going, and ended up spending a couple of hours on the kitchen. What took the longest was giving my stove top and range hood a thorough cleaning of the sort is hasn’t had for ages. After that experience, my hands told me they needed a manicure.

The sun came out — but not until 6:00 p.m. But after bending over my housework all that time, and feeling not rushed, the sunshine was all the encouragement I needed to get outside. I would just take the easiest stroll, no hurry.

Once I was in the neighborhood where I took pictures for my “Roses on My Path” series a long time ago that doesn’t feel that long ago (before my husband was even sick), I remembered that I wanted to go back to the house I called the Rose House back then, to find whether anything had changed.

I found it, and the display was more opulent than ever. This is the house where the roses do not appear to be cared for, though I continue to think they must be getting water from somewhere to make it through our rainless summers. All the roses on this post are from that house, and a link to the previous post might show up as one of the “related” posts below.

They still have the mailbox with stylistic roses painted on it, but now it is hidden deep under a broad spray of blooms hanging down. I think maybe that bush seems twice as tall as before because it has climbed into a tree behind it.

The profusion of flowers is probably a result of the rain of the last two years. The species are very special. I can’t tell you much about them, except that I find them exquisite, but many of my readers will know things just by looking. This time I noticed an identifying tag at the base of one bush that has the trunk of a tree. It was grown from a cutting taken in 2001; how long, I wonder, was the rose bush cared for before it was allowed to grow wild?

I feasted my eyes and my nose for quite a while, walking and gawking up and down and wishing I were in an official rose garden with a proper bench. I wanted to sit for a while to gaze at their loveliness, bursting out through the tangled canes and deadwood. Eventually there was nothing to do but go home. I felt thoroughly loved through those roses.

But when I got here I had to write after all, while it is yet today.
It’s one way I have of thanking God for all His wonderful gifts
that pour down even on — or is it especially on? — a slow day.