Dandelions and false dandelions – Over the last couple of years the false kind, or catsear, Hypochaeris radicata L., has flourished in dead or dying lawns in our town. Many people have let their lawns go, because of the drought, and there’s no recovering them now just because the winter was wet.
The catsear is prettier, I think, because the flowers are on long stems that wave in the breeze. I had them before my re-landscaping project began, and several of my neighbors still have them in abundance; here I am showing Ray’s place, as good as it ever looks, because he never does anything but mow once or twice a year….
And below, Vera’s front yard. Unlike Ray, Vera likes to garden, and she gave me my aloe saponaria start many years ago.
I never see real dandelions anymore. They must need more water, and the recent conditions are letting the catsear dominate.
I walk by this rose bush several times a week. It’s not cared for, and looks generally bad, but on this particular morning there was one rare perfect bloom proudly standing out from the mess.
The most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time on my walks was two Asian women down at the creek gathering watercress.
And the prettiest thing was bees on Russian sage. I can’t resist trying to photograph one more bee on one more flower, especially if it is a pairing of insect and flower that I haven’t captured before. I was so happy on my walk this morning, I didn’t want it to end, so I changed my route to add a few more blocks, and that’s how I happened to see these bees.
Back in my own garden, more plants are blooming. Kim gave me hollyhock seeds three years ago, and I planted them in my new greenhouse last fall and transplanted them to a spot that I think must be too shady, because the plants are diminutive – but the first bloom is out!
When designing my backyard garden, we deliberately planted the salvia near the dodonea, to get this color contrast. It’s working right now!
Above: fig tree, mock orange, and sea holly.
I have two kinds of lamb’s ears: the old ones that were propagated from my old garden, and which are all sending up long flower spikes right now.
…and new ones bought at a nursery, which have broad leaves, more green, and may not flower much. Lots of people have told me that their lamb’s ears don’t. But one of them is sneaking out a flower, only to send it on to the sidewalk to risk a trampling.
June has brought warmer temperatures, and I hope to spend more time in the garden again. Yesterday my dear godmother came over and we did sit eating our ice cream where we could hear the bees humming and the see the goldfinches at the feeder.
And we could smell the sweet peas! I ended up picking four bouquets of them yesterday, including one to send home with her. I also had to trim back some of the stems to keep them from squishing the pole beans. So this may be the peak of the bloom. There’s not much room for me to grow anything else just yet, because it’s the Year of the Sweet Peas!
When we were snuggling and chatting on the couch at her house last week, four-year-old Ivy introduced the topic of the faces of her grandmas. After we talked a while about red spots and wrinkles, she pointed to a tiny freckle on her wrist and said with pride, “This is my first brown spot!”
There was a good bit of cuddle time during my visit, because most of the family had colds and weren’t at their most energetic. One day in particular it was uncomfortably chilly outdoors, and snow fell off and on all day.
But my drive up the state had been mostly under sunny skies, which meant that I could stop and take pictures anytime I wanted — and I did want quite frequently. I had dragged myself away from home, wondering what had I been thinking, planning a trip when gardening and Lenten activities are legion. But as soon as I got away from my usual environment and wide views opened up to me, the spring-green leaves and plantations of wildflowers made me glad I was making a tour of points north.
I saw hundreds of these Western Redbuds along the highways.
And twice, I got close enough to discover a bee enjoying them, too.
So many kinds of wildflowers were blanketing the slopes in swaths of yellow, orange, blue and white. I only managed to get close to some lupines. I don’t even know what most of the other flowers were – except the California poppies. I was flying past them too fast!
Another bush I saw on my journey was unfamiliar to me. It grows along the creek beds, and when its foliage comes out it is needle-like. It’s a softer, orangey pink compared to the Redbud…
…and its flowers are like beads:
I love the almond and walnut trees when they are bare.
The California almonds have already leafed out,
but the walnuts are still pale gray and venerable:
That freezing cold day at Pippin’s, we celebrated Jamie’s second birthday. His Aunt Pearl and three of those cousins came up from Davis, too, to spend a day and half, which made everything more festive. Maggie helped Scout make a glittery poster to hang near the dining table, and several of us blew up a score of balloons. Cupcakes were baked and decorated. When Jamie finally figured out that he was the center of attention, and that he was the one to blow out candles, he was quite pleased.
I also received a late birthday present from Pearl, with orange blossoms attached to the package by way of decoration. I kept them by my bedside, and then next to the driver’s seat on my way home. One of these Aprils I will go back to the land of my childhood and just live in the scented atmosphere for a few days, for old time’s sake, and for the delicious sating of my olfactory sense.
The next day was a little warmer, and dry. We could take walks, pulling Ivy and Jamie in the wagon. The Professor took the four oldest children to a shooting range for a while – who doesn’t love an uncle who will do that? One day he worked at burning some of the huge number of branches that fell from their trees during the very snowy winter, and Scout helped by dragging them across the yard.
At different times during my stay, both Scout and Ivy asked if I would come outside to see certain springtime happenings in their world. Ivy loves the tiny violets that pop up all over the lawn, dark violet and lavender. I see from an old blog post that I had also discovered those many years ago, but I was sure in the moment that this must have been the first time.
When I found out that Scout (seven years old) knows the names of most of the trees on the property, I brought my notebook outside and jotted down as we walked around the house: oak, maple, hawthorn, red fir, spruce, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, locust, weeping willow… the ones I didn’t remember, maybe I will next time. He and I examined the thorns of the hawthorn compared to those of the locust.
The time went fast. Soon I was driving back, through the Central Valley that is heating up nicely and made me wish I were wearing something thinner than jeans. I thought about my future as regards expeditions in March. In the last three years I have acquired two grandsons whose birthdays are in March, so I think I better get used to this happy Happy Birthday routine. 🙂 Nothing could be sweeter.
I opened a gift from my daughter Pearl on Christmas Eve, an apron that she thought appropriate for me as The Queen Bee. It was a surprising metaphor, but I can see how the whole week that is just past was a picture of busy bees using the minutes and days to create sweet nourishment for all.
When my children and their families started arriving on Christmas Eve Day, you could say that I fell easily into the role of a contented queen surrounded by a humming swarm of people whose chatter and activities were endlessly fascinating. I could hardly believe my good fortune to have them all under my roof.
I will try to build this post around the activities that we engaged in for the six days that they were coming and going, sleeping here in varying numbers or coming just for a day at a time.
During the week or two beforehand I had worked like a beaver — I should say, a worker bee — to get ready. Decorating, making up beds, shopping for several meals and 25 people, wrapping scores of presents, baking more cookies.
My own master bedroom that has over the last year and a half become an untidy catch-all, staging and storage area also needed to be thoroughly dusted up and set in order for some of my guests. I would sleep in Kit’s twin bed for a few days.
On the 23rd I fell into bed aching all over, partly from a sneezy and headachey cold. And when I woke the next day (the head cold and pain had vanished!), Kate and Tom had completed a grueling journey from D.C. and arrived while I slept (almost like Santa, eh?). The cheerful hubbub quickly expanded when Soldier’s and Pippin’s and Pearl’s families pulled in over the course of the next few hours and began cooking for us all.
WE ATE: For breakfast that first morning it was Baked Oatmeal with Cranberries and Apples and Nuts with Vanilla Yogurt on top, cooked by Pippin.
Only a week before, I’d wondered via email to them all what I might cook on Christmas Eve that would be simple enough to allow us plenty of time for more than eating and clean-up — time to sing carols and open presents while the children were still awake enough to avoid meltdowns.
My colony rallied and came up with a plan whereby I would cook nothing! I could be as spacey and distracted as I wanted, play with the grandchildren or chat with the men about books and politics, while everyone else would get dinner on the table.
It was not a simple meal, but the true and traditional-for-us feast that they wanted, starting with oyster stew and finishing with cookies.
WE MADE MUSIC and SANG CAROLS… with more musicians than ever, partly because three grandchildren accompanied us this year! A violin, ukulele, two guitars, and piano. The four-year-olds danced — that is what they would call galloping around the room.
Over five days I refilled the cookie platter a couple of times per day, which was very gratifying – all those boys and men might have eaten every last cookie if I hadn’t saved some back for the one grandson who wasn’t able to be with us. By the time I took a picture the only thing left was my two favorite Trader Joe’s varieties: Chocolate Shortbread Stars and Pfeffernüsse.
WE GAVE GIFTS – And yes, we received gifts! I was given earrings and ornaments and books, a family tree chart, garden decor and an olivewood cheese board and a suet wreath for my wild birds.
The youngest grandchildren made gifts for everyone. This year they were very nicely crafted ornaments for the tree. And Pippin and Kate gave me bird ornaments, too, including a triplet of very furry owls.
I must tell you that the subtitle of the middle book in the stack is: “And Other Myths about Language Explained.” I was flattered by the gift-givers who thought me a worthy recipient of big books such as two of these are — certainly I am interested in them, but… Good King Wenceslas feels more my speed at this time, and I right away perused the wonderful illustrations.
WE WORSHIPED: Tom and Kate went to church with me on Christmas morning, where Tom hit it off with my little goddaughter Mary, and we admired all the shiny matching-sister dresses among the congregation. Kate took a video of the chandeliers swinging during a hymn commemorating the Incarnation. We sang “God is with us!” and afterward feasted on cheesecake and extravagant mounds of truffles in the church hall.
Mrs. Bread was there to give me a hug, and this darling brooch that confirmed the week’s theme. I happened to be wearing my black wool coat, which I do every two or three years, so she pinned it right on.
WE COOKED INDIAN FOOD: Tom and Kate and I started right in cooking after church: pakoras, curried lamb, roti bread, vegetable curry and basmati rice. Piles of spices and vegetables went into the curries. We all chop-chop-chopped and I made the roti dough and rolled it out, leaving Kate and Tom to figure out the most effective way to get the thin pancakes to puff up like balloons.
WE HIKED: Two hikes were taken, but I joined only the second one, after half of the houseful had gone home. My boys and their wives were on this hike, several grandchildren, plus Tom. Kate had to stay home and study Hindi. Liam marched energetically up hills while singing lustily “Joy to the world!” And “Go tell it on the mountain….” He knows the first verse of at least six carols now. I tried to sing with him through my panting.
The picture is of four people trying to get two-yr-old Laddie into the fancy new backpack. His mom is helping partly by being something for Soldier to hold on to while he squats, even while she is carrying Brodie in a front pack.
We came to a lake at the end of our hike, and sat around on benches for a half hour before starting back. On the way out we saw these berries which I think are toyon.
WE BUILT FIRES in the woodstove against the cold. It froze every morning of our Christmas week, but starting on Christmas Eve the ban on burning was lifted. Maybe it was a present from the Air Quality Board? Usually it’s on the coldest days that the prohibition is in effect. I had lots of help building and tending fires, and bringing in wood.
WE ATE MORE: Naturally, when you have all those children from 0-7, six teenagers, adult men, nursing mothers, etc., in cold weather, we go on eating. One morning Tom fried three pounds of bacon while Joy baked tender buttermilk biscuits. For dinner one night Pathfinder and Iris made their famous posole for everyone and served it with Iris’s famous cornbread.
WE PLAYED VONNIS, a cross between volleyball and tennis. Even I played! A large number of us — maybe 18? — walked a few blocks to the tennis courts where we played with a volleyball. At first the younger kids tried to participate, but they gradually trailed off to the playground with a couple of the moms; we still had two teams with many true athletes in the 13-45-yr age range. I managed to return the ball successfully a couple of times. It looked like they were trying not to serve to my area of the court, and once I heard a grandson on the opposite team instructing, “Protect Grandma!”
WE REPAIRED THINGS: Not everyone went to the park for vonnis. Soldier stayed home to work on my playhouse, whose door was coming apart. I didn’t even realize this until we got home and he was still at it. I promised him that in the spring I will put some wood preservative on the whole house.
Scout and Liam found the little rakes I’d given them in the fall, and all on their own started raking up pine needles for me. (photo credit: Pippin) In the photo above you can see the frozen jade plant, and in the one below, the lemon tree with its frost protection.
WE MOVED ROCKS: A son-in-law and a grandson worked with me for an hour on the landscape art project of placing my favorite rocks all over the new front yard so as to look as natural as possible. A couple of these were huge and required their manly brawn, but I also wanted their creative input. It was fun – and I was ever so thankful! They went on to do some other yard cleanup and tool organizing before they were done.
WE TALKED: Of course I could not overhear even a fraction of the conversations that happened while all these relations were together, people who rarely see each other and had a lot of catching up to do. It was lovely that they could use my house as a meeting place.
Annie and Maggie are 14 and 13 now — When I passed Annie’s bedroom I saw their heads together. And as I roamed upstairs and down I could hear my people discussing everything from baby care to Indian politics, from university life to cars.
After the Oregon contingent had arrived and eaten a late Christmas dinner of our Indian fare, all but three of us had gone to bed. Tom and my youngest Oregon grandson started talking about their Toyota trucks. They even showed me the Top Gear video that is famous if you know about such things, and I have to say that if I ever need a small truck, I will try to find a Toyota like one of theirs.
On the last day of our Christmas reunion, when I got home from taking Tom and Kate to the airport, I showed the OR grandsons the video I am currently renting from Netflix, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.” I thought that as they are outdoorsmen and skiers and builders, they would like watching the men cut down trees and make their own skis and traps and everything. As it turned out, we ended up talking more about Werner Herzog who co-directed and narrated the film, and about how he has written books and made many movies. That led us to the topic of other books that we have liked or want to read. One of my favorite things ever is getting book ideas from my grandsons!
Soon their father was directing them to take leaves out of the tables and help in various ways to set things back to pre-feast mode. They said good-bye, and I waved as they drove away. I was not the queen bee anymore, and I was not a worker bee…
Now I am a bee sleepy with winter and cold and fatigued by so much buzzing in my hive… sitting by the fire I built myself, with visions of dear people and memories of their hugs to sustain me.
For a long weekend I returned to the Central Valley (California) territory of my childhood as I had done in May. Both times were for nephews’ weddings, so I was there primarily to be with my family, but I also managed to visit with three dear friends before and after the festivities.
Back in May, I didn’t get to see much of my childhood friend Dick’s garden or groves, but this time I asked for and was given a thorough tour, and I took so many pictures of his vast collection of plants, I will have to scatter them at random around this post and the next. I hung around with my farmer sister Nancy long enough to ask more questions, and hear stories about the trials and adventures of being a farmer in these times. Heat, drought, frost, and the hot pursuit of thieves are a few of them.
As I pulled into Nancy’s driveway I noticed that the Sumo mandarins were whiter than I remembered from May. Have you ever wondered why Sumos are so expensive? It might have something to do with the extra care they need to make it to harvest and on to market. Whitewash is used for several reasons, not least of which is as a sunscreen for the fruit. Whether it helps the leaves to withstand the withering rays, I don’t know. Citrus does like a warm summer, but the one that just ended featured 44 days over 100°, while the average would be 32 days. Some trees baked to death.Rain was hoped for last week, even though an outdoor wedding was on the schedule. You can see how the sky was grey with clouds — but storms often come as far south as Fresno, and no further, which was the case again. A few sprinkles did fall as a happy gift at the wedding reception, just enough to feel like a blessing, and to create a rainbow!
One topic of conversation as we sat around in various assortments of kinfolk over the days was the problem of thievery and vandalism in the citrus groves and around the farmers’ houses. People will steal copper irrigation valve fittings worth $2, and the damage requires the farmer to spend $200 in repairs. Next to one of Dick’s groves live some teenagers with nothing better to do than drive their cars into orange trees and stuff rags into pipes. This kind of thing adds up to a cost of $100-200 every month for just that few acres.
Sometimes thieves will spread tarps on the ground under trees in the middle of a large orchard and pick fruit into them; then after dark they come back and haul it off. A woman rides her bicycle down a driveway to see if there might be something to pilfer, and when challenged by the dogs and/or the homeowner she makes up a story about being lost and needing directions. My sister is becoming famous for the many times she has jumped in her car to chase down such interlopers (some in cars) and take their pictures, or tell them to leave the neighborhood, because they aren’t fooling her.
October is the month when the citrus growers can breathe a sigh of relief that the hottest season of the year is past, and they begin to watch the sky for signs of rain. The oranges really need some rain in October if they are going to “size up” — no amount of irrigating will accomplish what atmospheric moisture does.
And in the coldest months the lemons and oranges have to be protected from hard frosts, nowadays usually by wind machines that make a breeze to keep the frigid air from settling on the trees and their ripening fruit. If you are growing one of the ultra-early varieties that now exist, which can be picked as early as October, you might have less to worry about come December and January.
Just down the road from Nancy’s I saw this grafting project the likes of which I don’t remember seeing in all my years living in the citrus orchards and coming back to visit. I wondered what was going on that required such brutal cuts. It’s this: these are mature orange trees that are being changed into lemon trees. All but one of the major branches have been cut off, and lemon wood was grafted in under the bark. (I wish I had been able to get over the ditch to get a closeup photo.) The one branch carries on photosynthesis while the lemon parts are growing, and eventually that remaining upper part of the orange tree will be pruned off, leaving a lemon tree with an orange rootstock.
I drove past fields of something I didn’t recognize, so I took a picture and texted it to my sister, who told me it is silage for dairy cattle. When I researched it I found out that it is sorghum silage, and uses less water than corn silage. That feature is always a good thing in this thirsty land we live in.
Nearby, alfalfa covered fields with its sweet green blanket; cotton was drying and popping out of its bolls. Cotton is also a plant that can be grown in arid regions such as the Central Valley’s West Side. When I was a child my father grew cotton for a few years.
To complete the report of my fun trip, next time I’ll focus on the specific microclimate of my friend Dick’s place, and the lush gardens three generations have created on a hunk of granite. A lot is still blooming in October, but some of the harvest is just now coming in.