Tag Archives: osmanthus

The power of sunshine.

Sunflowers, Sungold tomatoes, baby figs and basil and hollyhocks – It’s summertime! I’ve been feeling it, and seeing the effects of heat.


First, the bad news: My beloved osmanthus/Sweet Olive could not transition to life without lawn water, and was ultimately killed by years of drought. Below is the last scene of its root ball being rolled into a truck. I will never forget this Garden Friend who gave me so much joy. If I ever live where it rains in the summer I will plant another one as soon as I move in!

Let’s get this next unpleasant picture out of the way, too, of Puncture Vine – the bane of my childhood bicycle tires and bare feet! This particular one was growing in the Central Valley, but I also saw some of this weed in my neighborhood yesterday! Its stickery seeds are certainly a product of summer sun.

My favorite rose at church

I’ve picked so many green beans, I was able to make two batches of Turkish Green Beans, a great luxury. This dish freezes so well, it’s ideal for using up the basketsful you get at peak of harvest. The evening that I was preparing the beans was one of those sweet times in summer, when the breeze and the neighborhood sounds of birds and wind chimes and happy voices are coming through the open window, the kitchen window, and I am satisfied and content, having made good use of my garden, at least this week.

All the carrots I harvested had been stashed in the fridge and I eventually made some coconutty soup with them.

There is one exciting thing that happened in my garden that is less directly related to the power of sunshine, and that is the hatching of bluebirds in the birdhouse! I had never seen a bluebird before, but I’d bought a bluebird house, and other people who did that got bluebirds where they’d never seen them before, either. So…

Last spring chickadees nested there, and they might have again if I had thought to clean out the house. They checked it out this year and found their old nest all soggy, and departed. I cleaned out the house, and next thing you know, there are bluebirds nesting in it!!! I took a few pictures and videos of them growing up, until the parents began dive-bombing me, and I left on a trip. This early one is the best that is a still shot. And now they have flown!

Even when I am lazing about in the mountains or hanging out with my children in faraway places, people like Kit keep making use of the sunshine and flora of summertime to make welcome-home bouquets like this:

When it was Kit’s birthday I cut some Queen Anne’s Lace at the creek and put the stems in different colors of water. The red and the green had an effect, but the blue did nothing.

Ground morning glory
One of Kim’s hollyhocks

Last and mostest, the Delta Sunflowers! They have passed eight feet tall now, and I can’t get in between the side branches to get an exact measurement. The poor things are like gangly teenagers, growing so fast and lanky that their lower branches snap off and lie down, but so far the sap is getting through by some means and those stems aren’t wilting.

I feel very proud of them when I come home in my car or from a walk, the way their exuberance displays the best of summer and the power of the sunshine.

Around the place.

The swimming pool is now history, and archaeology. If anyone digs down far enough in my back yard they will find the history buried there. The upper walls were broken up and left in the bottom of the pit.pool work long view first day

I wish I could post a long, long movie of all the short videos I took throughout the process, spliced together – watching the workers was so much fun. The grandboys would have loved being here to see the real thing, but their parents wouldn’t have liked exposing them to the decibels. I’m getting a headache just remembering last Thursday when I was being shaken to my bones.

The house was vibrating and the ground shuddering from the force of the Bobcat jackhammer that was chewing up 8″ thick walls of concrete. It was as though a Monster Dentist was working on the whole property, including the human occupants, relentlessly drilling and breaking every hard surface into bits.P1010291The effect on the mind and psyche was similar, too. I knew this makeover was what I wanted, so I was willing to suffer the pain and discomfort, but the reality of being invaded and pummeled and realigned hour after hour — little foam earplugs couldn’t soften the attack. Yet I was spellbound by the show, and could not keep myself from going out again and again to watch the experts do their thing, and to document the progress.

After the jackhammer came the shovel and the compactor, doing a dance together to make the new firm surface. Here is the end result of three days of commotion, the blank slate I will be designing and transforming into my new “nice place to be.”pool gone 8-15-15Pretty blank, isn’t it? You might notice that in the two top pictures, there were shrubs on the right. In the picture just above they are gone, too, scooped up in a few seconds by the power shovel. Soon paths will be laid, nice topsoil will be brought in, trees planted, and raised vegetable beds built. Many other features of this garden are on the drawing board, and I’ll be sure to tell about them as they come along. I wish it could all be donelight in window 8-17-15 right now, but that’s not how life is.

This morning tree trimmers came and made big changes to another part of the back yard. I had the plum tree removed completely, so the living room is much lighter. Our house only has windows on the front and back sides, and both the back and front windows on that south side were shaded until now. I took this picture too late in the afternoon for it to be obvious, but it’s a definite improvement.

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the former view



When the tree man came last month for his first look at the job, he told me right away that the pine tree is a Canary Island Pine.  The discomfort of ignorance was lifted from my mind that moment, and with it a kind of shame I had been feeling over not knowing all these 25 years the species of our big needle-shedding tree.



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I read about these trees online and found out that they are popular landscaping plants in this country that is not their native land, and they are the most drought-tolerant pine there is. Now it is the only tree on the property, so it is more special to me than ever, and I’m really glad that it has been “lightened” and “shaped.”

The trees that are being considered for inclusion in the future landscape are mostly dwarf varieties, and the next-tallest tree here is not a tree at all, but my beloved osmanthus in the front yard, which I realized a couple of weeks ago is suffering terribly from the drought, and has some dead branches and lots of brown leaves.

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beautified Canary Island Pine

I feel so bad that I didn’t take care of it and give it some water; I guess it’s another matter about which I haven’t been doing my best thinking in the last year, and as we haven’t been watering the lawn, it hasn’t been watered either. I was ignoring it as I would a tree that has roots deep enough to find water even in drought. But it isn’t; it’s a shrub that has grown very big, and therefore needs even more water.

The Landscape Lady says it may not be too old to develop deep roots, and the Tree Man says it is not dying, only “compromised,” and I should run a soaker hose along the drip line once a week. So I have a plan there, too. Poor baby. It’s blooming sweetly now, this Sweet Olive, even in its thirsty state. It is the taller bush directly behind the sunflower in the picture below, not looking so bad from this side, and from a distance.

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osmanthus behind sunflower

In the front I have vegetables and tomatoes growing in what used to be the lawn, and what will try to be a lawn again when rains come. I thought as recently as a month ago that next summer I might re-do the front yard and do away with the lawn once and for all. Right now I am too tired to think of such a project, and I will just focus on my upcoming meeting with the Landscape Ladies. We will walk around the liberated large space with our plant lists and drawings of paths and planting beds, and brainstorm together. Friday can’t come too soon!

Some of the tomato plants have died, and the sunflowers are all putting out these twisty and scrunched blooms, but the butternut squash looks healthy and normal, and cheers me up.

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Feelin’ good in the fall.

P1110683It feels good to have our favorite baseball team playing in the World Series, and as I type the San Francisco Giants are playing the third game against the Kansas City Royals. I come over to the computer during the commercials and sometimes also when I am too nervous watching the Royals at bat.

We went to one of our favorite nurseries today, driving through vineyards and brown fields and clumps of oak trees, under a blue sky. As soon as I heard that we were headed out into the country, I was so excited, anticipating strolling around in the pleasant air. It felt good to wash all the dishes that had piled up – then we were off.

P1110677 verbena sidewalk

At the big nursery we were the only customers for a while as we browsed the perennials for a few drought-tolerant plants to use as ground cover in the front yard. One of the plants that was suggested to us was this verbena that we knew was already blooming all over the sidewalk at home, where I later took this shot.

At the garden center I had to keep reminding myself that we don’t have space for this or that beautiful or interesting plant, but I did remember to buy a little bay tree, inspired by some of you who mentioned that you grow them in pots. It’s a Grecian bay, bearing the type of leaf one buys in the spice section of the market, and not the California Bay Laurel that is native around here, which would outgrow a pot too fast, I think.


On the way home we stopped at our favorite fruit stand where they had a contest going to guess the weight of this pumpkin. We tried to recall the size of that ton+ pumpkin in my recent post, and put in our guesses for this one at about 1300 and 1400 pounds.

Last week I found some of my all-time favorite Pippin apples in a store and made some killer apple crisp to share with friends, and my love for apples was rekindled. Cooking and eating apples when they are in season, coming off the trees in our local orchards, is the way to go. Too many times in the last year or two I have tried to make something appley with apples from across the world, or fruit that had been languishing in cold storage. I hope I have learned my lesson now. Today I bought some more Pippins at the fruit stand and once again have a stockpile of substantial, useful, and of course tasty emblems of the harvest season.

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Here are the plants we came home with. Left to right: Australian Astroturf, Scleranthus biflorus; Lawn (flowerless) Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile; Pink Chintz Thyme; the bay tree. P1110689 osmanthus & project

Our project is to put some steppingstones and ground cover into an area of our dead lawn not far from the front door, in the lower right-hand corner of this picture that is mostly taken up by just half of the sweet olive (osmanthus) bush. It’s a pleasure to work close to the osmanthus, because it’s so often bearing its tiny perfumed blossoms that I have gushed about in this space more than once. They are doing that right now. P1110684 osmanthus flower
A couple of weeks ago I dug big clumps of orchard grass out of this lawn area, and this afternoon I got a little more done removing the grass thatch that is embedded in adobe clay. Eventually I will add some compost and the new plants.

P1110671 zinnias

Meanwhile the trailing zinnias are thriving in the slightly cooler weather. They are my autumn decorations and I don’t at all mind not having a pumpkin or a gourd out front. Anyway, I already have a box of plants taking up space on the front step and who knows how long they will have to hang out there.

And look at this darling portulaca blossom. It is so little that I didn’t notice the much tinier insect inside until I had enlarged its picture. Since I planted it the cistus nearby has grown by leaps and bounds and overshadowed the  portulaca, so I have to poke my camera underneath to catch a flower.

P1110691 portulaca & insect

I’m sorry to say that between the time I started writing and now when I am finishing this post, Kansas City won the game. But tomorrow is another chance, and Sunday, too. We will watch one of those games with some friends, and maybe eat apple crisp together. I’m feeling good about it already.

Things that might – and did – happen in March.

1 – My sister might send us a box of mandarins from California’s Central Valley. She and her husband grow these very fancy Dekopons, as they are known in Japan, under the label Sumo. You aren’t likely to see many of them in our U.S. stores for a while, but I just read that in Japan they already have Dekopon chewing gum.

They are awfully good, large and seedless and easy to peel, with a taste that reminds me of the fruits that we children gorged on from our father’s trees many decades ago, and which I still will savor if I get down there at the right time of year.

2 – I might decide to make a giant pot of vegetable and bean soup to last us through Lent and beyond. This is the Bean Soup Mix after soaking all night. The small brown beans are Tepary beans I bought at a farmers’ market years ago; I found them in the pantry and threw them into the lot.

3 – My CSA box might contain a pale green and spikey cauliflower, which they call Romanesco. I chopped it up put it into the soup, so I don’t know if it tastes any different from the usual cauliflower. But it looks interesting.

4 – The osmanthus might bloom, so that when I come up the sidewalk to the front door I swoon over its sweetness, and decide to cut some branches to bring inside.

It’s warm enough now that I felt safe sticking two of my old orchids out on the patio; the only one that bloomed I put in the garage. I’ve gotten so used to them, I might buy a blooming plant to have in the house if Costco is still selling them.

All these things DID happen. I’m loving Lent and Spring.