When I returned to California from the Rocky Mountains at the end of the year, I was surprised at the changes in the garden. Shrubs that had barely begun to take on fall colors before Christmas, suddenly were bare and brown. Though we’d had plenty of frosts in the fall, the zinnas under a covered walkway continued to hang on — until the solstice, apparently…. They heard it was officially winter, and they knew in their deepest parts that winter is not for them. They lost their will to live.
The lemons are all bigger and brighter. This tree is so leggy, it needs a good pruning, but I don’t know quite how to proceed at this point… and I especially am puzzled about when to do the job, because it seems always to be bearing. Maybe Alejandro will know what to do.
My spider plant, though it was healthy and green through last winter and this frosty fall, seems to be dead. But cyclamen are popping up, no doubt loving the heavy rains that have thoroughly soaked the ground. Yesterday I found several containers in the yard that had collected a foot of water in the last ten days.
The fountain that I’d turned off before leaving is filled to the brim from that rain, and while I was gone Alejandro pruned the plum and fig trees, and the wisteria. The pomegranates left on those dwarf bushes turned pale from cold and old age. I’ll pluck them soon and put them out of their misery, and prune those bushes, which have grown slightly out of bounds.
With so much of the landscape at its most drab, I was surprised to see bright calendula faces. Dear, hardy little garden friends! God bless you, and all your companions as well, the many who are having a brief rest while you keep watch, and shine brighter than the January sun.
It is a joy to have sunny days in which to work in the garden that is heading into its quieter winter months. This is the season for harvesting and cleaning up, often at the same time.
I don’t know if there is any good solution to the overcrowding of the Fig Tree Corner of my garden. There are no plants that I am willing to remove, so I guess I’ll have to just try cutting them back a little harder this winter.
Only the pomegranate bush is a little prickly, when I try to push in next to it to reach a fig. The salvia on the left I just push aside, when I stoop down to enter under the tree’s canopy and then stand up again as straight as I can to reach the fruit up high in the center… or not reach it, which is often the case. The hopbushes (dodonaea) between the tree and the fence don’t actually have a lot of width to trim back. There is the olive in a pot, lavenders, yarrow, and lithodora almost completely hidden under the tree for most of the year.
Birds have been eating many of the figs this summer. They take a big hunk out of one the moment it is beginning to be ripe, and then the wasps come along and gorge on the sweet flesh for a few days, before it is left abandoned in shreds, still hanging.
I was introduced by a mutual friend to a fellow gardener who lives on three acres not too far from me. Rosemary had more figs than she could use this year, so I went to her house and we picked side by side for a half hour; I brought home slightly more fruit than she kept to share with friends that very morning. Her figs were a more standard variety than my dwarf Black Jack type, maybe a Mission or Brown Turkey. They were awfully sweet and tasty, with more concentrated figgyness than mine typically have. I dehydrated most of them.
Yesterday I stood on the edges of my planter boxes to harvest the Painted Lady runner beans and cut down the thick vines that have hardened to sticks. It’s tricky to pull the long stems back over the fence from behind my neighbor’s woodpile, where I know he won’t be making use of the attached bean pods.
While I was standing up there, I got a fresh view down under the zinnias, and saw that I had three beets ready to pick. I didn’t even remember that any were growing there, next to the eggplant where the pumpkin vine had been encroaching. But when I harvested the pumpkins, the beets were exposed. Also an eggplant that had been partly eaten… but when I cut off that part, half of it was intact and lovely.
Four little pumpkins got ripe, and there is one more that might possibly. These are the ones I grew from seed collected from a decorative pumpkin last year, because it turned out to be the sweetest of all I had roasted. I’ll let you know if these prove anything like that tasty.
I’ve been trying to get calendulas to thrive in my garden again, the way they seemed so effortlessly to do in ages past. I think back then they received more water and sunshine; this year they are finally, happily blooming in the planter boxes, after taller (shading) plants have been removed, and I got the watering schedule corrected: those boxes were getting less than half the amount of drip irrigation they needed.
Most of my garden is pretty dry, with minimal irrigation, so anytime I have a plant that needs more than that I put it in the boxes. Right now most of the space is given to zinnias, the last sturdy stars of summer.
As I was ironing some springtime trousers in the morning room, my eye caught the color on the orchid nearby. It’s blooming! Sometime in the last months I’d moved this long-ignored plant into my new space, and started giving it a little water more regularly. The response is heartening.
What I did to the neglected orchid was never conceived as a task to write on a list. It was just one of those many little things that we do, when we are “puttering” about our homes. Small tasks add up to make an increasingly homey space.
Only recently I found these rugs that seemed just perfect for my morning room that I hope will also be a sewing room. One of the reasons they appealed was that the turtle had not long before become an important symbol for me, after I heard a woman about my age speak about the practice of moving forward, no matter how slowly, when one is feeling overwhelmed by decisions and tasks. She said we must “keep turtling.” I had never heard “turtle” used as a verb before, but immediately I began to feel an affinity with those creatures, and to think of them as elegant and wise.
It seems there are other slangy meanings for to turtle, and one of them, “To defensively hide in one’s shell,” has long been part of my survival toolkit. Ideally, I like to enact both meanings, as on the days when I get to stay home all day and get homey things done.
Bright Monday afternoon I truly lazed about the garden, quite worn out from the festivities and staying up late many nights for Holy Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday services. Then there was Pascha itself, when many of us didn’t get to bed until 4:00 a.m. I was pretty loopy, and really happy about many things, including the sunny day. I think you could say that I turtled, too, because I phoned my sister, and also invited a neighbor over to sit a while. I moved forward in catching up with people I love.
In the picture below of the orange helianthemum, you can see in the distance a box of panettone and a jar of lemon curd. I was having friends for dinner and took those items out of the freezer kind of late, so I was defrosting them in the sun.
As we enter the last day of Bright Week, I wanted to be sure to show you these garden beauties that show their understanding hearts by their uplifted and shining faces.
Late this morning the sun came out again, and shined on all the droplets of dew and fog. I had a date to keep in town, but I noticed through the window that the fountain was dripping instead of flowing, so I went out to put the hose in there for a few minutes. Of course I saw many glowing leaves and caught the scent of decay. How can decomposition smell so fresh, and how does the earth’s breathing wake up my whole body?
I took a few pictures and then I was happy to be on my way, on to the community garden to meet my friend Bella where we have been together a few times before. Strolling through other people’s gardens is thoroughly relaxing and nourishing; lots of interest and no responsibility. A garden comprised of dozens of gardens, each with its special personality, is even better.
Often we get to take home some treats, for immediate food or for seeds. Bella found ears of corn lying in the path, and she showed me where a few beans hung from a trellis, the seeds somehow still dry and clean inside the mildewed pods. How could I not bring a few home to try? The way those beans offered themselves suggested a small planting, which is not intimidating. And they are intriguing Mystery Beans to me as yet; does anyone here know what kind they are? Such a dreamy-creamy color… (below).
After my first big greenhouse planting project last winter, and the way so many of my starts did not take off, or for various reasons never bore fruit in my own garden, I am ready this spring to try just a few things, a few seeds…. a more minimalist garden.
What if my pumpkins had been successful, and I’d ended up with half a dozen of those gorgeous French cucurbits such as I roasted yesterday? They would have been too heavy for me to lug around the neighborhood as gifts.
I picked a bagful of meaty, rainwashed collard leaves from Bella’s plot, and the sweetest parsley ever from the free-for-all borders. The calendulas I gave my friend last spring are still blooming there under the collard canopy, and looking wintery — the sun may be bright on days like today, but its rays are sharply slanted, and every image is darkened by shadows.
Another plot owner was there with his teenage daughter, whose name I didn’t learn, but I will call her Maria. They gave me cilantro from their bed, a generous bunch of it, which I’m sure was the most fragrant I’ve ever got a whiff of, just picked after being hydrated for weeks. Maria came to talk to me while I was bent over the parsley, and we chatted about cooking. She filled me in on the hearty ham-and-eggs meal she had helped to make for breakfast this Saturday morning, and agreed that cooking for only oneself the way I do would be difficult.
Her father José talked about how his children don’t like to come to the garden with him. Maria explained, “We never want to bother getting out of bed and going outside unless something is happening that day, if we are going somewhere or people are coming over….” She smiled when I said, “Oh, but things are happening here: the plants are busy growing!”
Today, of course, was unlike any other, and I felt the restfulness of January, and cautioned how it would not even be a good idea to pull weeds when the soil was so wet. Maria and her father seemed quite contented. She may have had the same unconscious rejuvenating response in her body and psyche that Bella and I were having, being in the open air surrounded by trees and grass, fava bean plants and every kind of brassica exhaling oxygen. And Maria did get to be with people.
After our new friends left, Bella and I wandered up and down the rows, admiring every leftover bit of life, such as two tiny bright red peppers clinging to dead stick stems. We examined a banana tree that appeared to have been stricken by frost, but we hoped not killed. And we sat at a picnic table listening to the tinkle of the wind chimes, as hummingbirds swooped back and forth over our heads. It was a simple gift of a day.