Plant I.D. and a Late Summer Break

Do you know PlantSnap? It’s a three-dollar app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plants from a photo taken with a smart phone. On my first try, it provided two out of three correct identifications (the third plant was pretty obscure).

It’s wonderfully August – time for a break and for spirits to rise outdoors. I’ll be back when the days grow short, and I’ve managed some drawings. Enjoy this last month of summer, and thank you always for reading, comments, and messages!

 

A New To Me Old Garden

My neighbor says that early in the 30-year life of this group of houses, six “little old ladies” lived here, one to each house. I wonder if one of them made this garden.

A deck – just six-feet wide – runs outside my workspace. An equally narrow strip full of perennials, between the deck and the fence, reminds me of a thicket, a hedgerow, or a stuffed bed in a real garden. This spring I’ve watched blooms come and go – rose madder rhodendron, pink-tinged white crabapple, white lilac – and now spirea turns hot pink, and a hydrangea becomes that purply French-blue.

Underneath, hostas of different leaf and flower size, ferns, white astilbe, and yellow loosestrife smother traces of a little gravel path. A five-foot rickety fence supports a Sleeping Beauty tangle of climbing roses, hydrangea, and honeysuckle. Up against the permanently propped-open gate, foxgloves make themselves at home beside a couple of struggling-in-shade peonies.

In a couple of feet along the east side of the house, two maple trees, tall ferns, hostas, a lavender hydrangea, and several lively pink azaleas crowd over a lumpy trail. In the neighbor’s adjoining garden strip, three tall arborvitae strategically block windows. I love to walk this skinny path – ferns crowd my knees, water captured in the hosta’s pleats tips onto my feet, and it’s cool on a hot day.

In front of the house, the remodel turned a covered porch into an enclosed entryway. But, against the house, two large rose bushes remain, one pink and one yellow. In a small and sloping grass patch stands a beautiful dogwood tree that blossomed white for weeks, and now begins to set red, strawberry-shaped seedpods. A chunk of the grass patch made way for a new walkway of stepping stones climbing to the front porch.

I divided four-inch pots of wooly thyme into smaller bits to grow along the stepping stones, and culinary thyme plants march up beside them. For this summer, in the bigger space where the grass is gone, I planted a delicata squash and a sugar pie pumpkin. Visitors smile and say, you’ll have runners everywhere! And with luck some squash and pumpkins.

The eight-foot wide sunny space between driveway and house, where kitchen and new entry make an L, became a small patio with a trellis. I hope sweet peas in summer and an evergreen clematis and jasmine all year will buffer the car from view. A sun-faded yellow umbrella, some pots from the bluff, and a small table cheer the recycled pavers.

It’s small and very peaceful here for now, but development threatens the lot to the north. The old house, green shed, and fine stand of Doug Firs there will disappear soon. The new buildings won’t shade us, but they will loom, and, because of density desires for this part of the island, be very close to us.

One morning last week I heard a racket, and from the upstairs window saw three guys at work wielding weed whacker, Bobcat, and chain saw.

Just an opening salvo making me realize I had better enjoy every day now – but isn’t that always the rule?

Cloudy California And Sunny Sweet Baby

Despite uncharacteristically gloomy SoCal weather, after Alaska we spent a week following Sweet Baby (turned three in March, no longer a baby either) as she went about her activities.

She attends a beginning ballet class on Sunday morning. From the hallway adults watch on video, as the teacher mixes classical ballet positions with exuberant movement for tiny tykes in leotards and ballet slippers. Sweet Baby practices at home – sits just like a little Degas ballerina with arms wrapped around one knee, the other leg tucked under her, then rises when the spirit moves her, skips, and becomes a butterfly. She loves the bounce of a tutu, loves all costume-like dressing – combines gauzy skirts with layers of aprons and headbands and often a floaty cape made of something repurposed.

And Tuesday and Thursday she attends pre-preschool with one of her parents. California is a different setting for school than I’m used to – the classroom is in a huge old house, two gracious rooms with windows and high ceilings. Wooden blocks, wagons, dolls, dollhouse, and dress-up clothes litter the wood floors during playtime. Circle time is shorter.

So much activity is outdoors, Sweet Baby’s class eats snack at a curved table under a pergola, plays in a garden full of tall hollyhocks, blooming jasmine, and vegetables beds planted by the children.

The rest of the old house and other buildings around the grounds are for the higher grades. I watched first graders, wearing sun hats and wielding shovels, working in their garden, and middle schoolers heading off to orchestra practice, hauling their instruments along paths under huge oaks.

During a trip to the Huntington Gardens on Wednesday we saw their children’s garden – no conventional playground equipment but rooms to explore and tunnels to crawl through created by green hedges. Little fountains in stone bowls on the ground feature fish that spout a knee-high burble of water randomly, apt to splash the unwary and delight small folk. A topiary volcano erupts with water mist and, in a greenery-surrounded room, jets of cold steam make a fog so thick that Sweet Baby worried when her mom disappeared into the mist.

Fridays are for swimming lessons at a huge complex of swimming pools near the Rose Bowl. But it was cancelled that Friday, our last day and the only sunny one, so we visited an old-fashioned garden center in Pasadena and came home to spread three big bags of compost, plant hollyhock and lamb’s ears, and sit under the pergola Sweet Baby and her dad built over many weekends last year.

Every night we stretched out the Royal Wedding into a week of pleasure by watching the rebroadcasts – didn’t you love every bit?

It all ended too soon, Sweet Baby’s Thai relatives visited for almost two months just before us, so this departure snuck up on her. When we left, her dad told us she said: “But what we gonna do?”

Plan more visits north and south I say!

Compost

Once, after talking to many gardeners and asking questions about their composting methods (some very complicated), I wrote an article for the Anchorage Daily News.

Theoretically, If you put this sort of stuff:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into one of these sorts of containers:

You might get these sorts of results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But my favorite response was from a neighbor who said, “Oh yes I compost, I toss my apple cores under a bush.”

 

 

 

Firsts

Living some place new brings a series of firsts. Our first meal was haphazard (tempting to explore restaurants instead). Making soup and muffins seemed a milestone, except for failing to realize that new ovens need to burn off manufacturing oils – that smoky interlude set me back.

Longing to make a first drawing or painting in my new workspace, I would like to declare a series for “Her spirits rose…” – but that’s not happening right now. So I’m tempted to post a few spring images from years past – ones once published in “print media.”

Twenty years ago we provided images to a graphic designer by hand-carrying or mailing the original, or having it photographed. I have full watercolor sheets of individual illustrations marked up on the back by the designer with instructions to the printer: “Country Gardens, 7/96 pink rhodie 61%.” But now, if I separate the images so they’ll fit, I can scan them myself and post to a then-unheard-of blog.

And because gardening and plants are much on my mind (as in those days), I picked out appropriate-to-the-season possibilities for the next couple of weeks (sort of a series). Seeing these old images again brings back memories of gardens from my past life and questions about what I’d do differently now.

Instead of my new rhodie, which is a Rose Madder Pink, here’s an old one in Permanent Rose. More to follow as spring moves along!

Settling In

Some moments in the new house feel like camping or waking up the morning after an airline loses your suitcase – not sure where things are, not sure why I forgot to pack a few table knives.

But moving day went so well, three strong guys and one equally strong young woman swiftly loaded all the labeled boxes, furniture, outdoor chairs, and pots with plants into a truck and a huge trailer. By noon we were on Bainbridge, and by early afternoon our belongings stood stacked about the new house.

The mother of my young friend came right over and set to work unpacking boxes and shelving books in the living room, and our younger son arrived from the airport to help. (I am so grateful for every bit of help we had!) Our old friends who live on Bainbridge – a quick seven-minute drive to their house – welcomed us that evening with a festive meal.

The weather couldn’t have been better – moving day dawned clear and the sun has been constant since then – five days and holding. Because of the house’s orientation, early sunshine pours in our bedroom and upstairs, fills the living room and kitchen all day, and late in the evening disappears into tall trees.

When I started on my walk early this morning – the air cool, sky clear – buses and bikers passed me heading to the ferry, city bustle in a small town. The walk is a gradual downhill through town toward a newly opened piece of protected land, tranquil with trees, grass, and benches. I pass houses and gardens along the way, get glimpses of Eagle Harbor and early morning scullers, spot herons working on fragile-looking nests in a tall stand of trees, and circle back uphill to home.

In spite of surrounding houses, each of our windows reveals huge firs and deciduous trees just-beginning-to-leaf. A Japanese maple with golden-green leaves shelters our neighbors’ porch. Birdsong begins early, loud and lovely all day.

From my work space I look out at the remains of old garden plantings, and what our younger son called “some serious rhododendron business about to begin.” A wizened, but budding crabapple, a climbing hydrangea, lilac and daphne shrubs (small and scraggly, but still fragrant), and lily of the valley emerging from moss grow in the few feet between a narrow deck and fence. Invasive ivy, Scotch broom, and blackberries hang over the fence from the vacant (for now) lot next door.

Our younger son left Vivian Russell’s “Gardens of Inspiration” on the table where he ate breakfast. It’s really fun to encounter books anew, and no matter the small scale of this garden, maybe because of the small scale – I’m inspired!