Rainie's Corner

Photo Shoot

The end of summer 2017 had arrived. My husband and I were planting in our front yard. Walking to the shed, to retrieve a bag of bulbs, I came upon one of my neighbors. She was holding the hand of a young child. The wooden fence that separated her property from mine had an intentional opening to allow for neighborly visits, even though it was through a tangle of vines and shrubs. The previous weekend she asked my permission to schedule a photo shoot. She wanted pictures of her granddaughter playing in my garden. That was when I met Vida, a sprightly girl with the unbridled enthusiasm of a two-year-old. Without hesitation she thrust herself into examining all that she came upon, flowers, rocks, gopher holes, and pill bugs, all of which are typically in great supply in the garden.

I carried the last plants to the front yard, but peeked around the corner of my house as not to miss any of Vida’s antics. At this hour of the afternoon grasses were backlit. The child was standing...

Gerda Isenberg

On my desk sits a black and white photograph of Gerda Isenberg, the woman who founded one of the oldest native nurseries in California. Her eyes gaze out from the framed wizened face. The picture, taken in her later years, captures an earnest expression and the simplicity she sought in her personal and professional life. Yerba Buena Nursery was conceived in 1955 and named after the native herb endemic to Gerda’s coastal home, Satureja douglassii commonly known as Yerba Buena. When Gerda started her nursery, I was only five-years-old and lived three thousand miles away in Ohio. But when I moved to California in 1979 my husband took me for a visit to Yerba Buena Nursery to meet Gerda.

She was born in Germany on a feudal-like estate. There she spent her childhood, farming and working the land with her parents and thirty other families. Later, at an age when other girls were traditionally sent to finishing school, economic considerations caused her parents to enroll their...

Wrestling the Composter

I began composting because I could not bear the waste of grass clippings, spoiling lettuce, and expired foodstuffs in my refrigerator. To compost seemed like an important part of managing one’s home and caring for a family. After all, a family is a community. In some large urban areas composting is mandatory. I have visited city office buildings where food stuffs, newspaper, coffee grounds and some cardboard is composted. The interiors of these offices were designed with this in mind. Attractive, labeled compartments are built-in for each category of item.

What became quickly apparent, when I set to work composting, was that it would require dedication. My first efforts were met with complaints. Each family member had a different...

Ribbon Bush

My appreciation for ribbon bush is acquired, as one might acquire a taste for fine wine. It began when I accompanied my husband-to-be into the forest. We were gathering data for his thesis entitled “Taxonomical Investigation of Extant or Disjunct Populations of Pinus ponderosa”. My prior knowledge of botany and horticulture was nil, and this particular thesis was never completed. However the excursion itself was my introduction to an endemic shrub that I came to call “ribbon bush”. The story of how this happened is as intricate as its branches and covers the greater part of my adult life. I will attempt to convey an abbreviated version.

Led over logs, up ridges, and around boulders I was at first oblivious to the...

Sandbox

There is an old sandbox in my garden that my daughter and her childhood friends used to play in. The children are all grown now and as a result the sandbox is rarely used. Its future has become a subject of debate between me and my husband. For sentimental reasons as with other garden memorabilia I have been unable to dismantle the sandbox. So it continues to sit beside my house, completely hidden most of the year by five full Miscanthus, and visible only in winter when the grasses are cut back. Still full of sand it was virtually ignored until one windy morning this winter.

I had walked out to empty a small bucket of food scraps in the composter. Coming back inside and securely closing the door behind me, I commented...

The Bench

In the fall of 1997 I received a telephone call from Kathleen Jones, widely known for her courageous efforts to preserve the Guadalupe Dunes, and referred to affectionately as The Dune Lady. At 87 years of age her voice carried a lilt, and with it, her contagious enthusiasm, as she told me of friends who had given her a park bench and placed it half a mile from her home, on a small concrete foundation.

The location was the corner of Halcyon and El Campo Roads, the halfway mark of her nightly walks, which she was then still taking from the house that overlooked her beloved Dunes. Kathleen could often be seen identifying plants along the roadside, and was known to stop a motorist, on occasion, to ask for a ride home. When her evening strolls first began she walked alone, with the aide of a walking stick south on Halcyon to El Campo Road and back. Later she was helped by a home care nurse, but found the need for a place to pause and catch her breath before turning for home....

The Lone Ranger

With the development of our garden there has been an increase in bird activity. My husband and I have a favorite chair in our living room from which we watch the birds. Sitting in this green armchair we can see, through the side glass door, a large clay bowl of water, nestled in the grass beneath a dawn redwood. It is not uncommon to see wrens, jays, finch. flickers, woodpeckers, and doves visit this water feature regularly, perhaps because of its close proximity to low tree branches, affording protection. Alternately they fly from stems to the brim of the bowl and back, looking as if they are performing an aerial dance.

One of our favorite birds, the Townsend Warbler comes in fall. One morning while drinking my tea I suddenly heard my husband exclaim “ooooh…there’s a Townsend Warbler.” I quickly joined him to watch. The masked bird flit to a bough of the tree then back to the water. A black mask stretched across his eyes, bordered by bright yellow markings. “He looks like...

Smoke Tree

Although smoke tree is considered visually appealing for its plumose panicles in spring and summer, its lively display of autumn color is a dramatic encore. From the family Anacardiacae, the genus Cotinus is typically multi-stemmed but can be pruned into a single main trunk. The appearance of “smoke” from which its common name is derived, results from silky filaments that develop on the inflorescence. Naturally informal, the branches of some selections become whip-like extensions, making it an accommodating choice for the wild, unfettered garden.

Exploring available varieties can be as much a delight as discovering the numerous virtues of smoke bush. Cotinus coggygria cultivars, ‘Purpureus’ and ‘Nordine Red’ produce leaves that are at...

Planting Peace

The sky was still dark when my daughter left for school with her best friend. Both were in high school at the time. They walked arm in arm down the front walkway to the car. Standing at the entrance, in my pajamas and robe, leaning against the doorframe, I watched the outline of their backpacks blend with the hint of fiery red sky beyond them. Just as I closed the front door, the telephone rang. It was a friend from Oregon calling. “Are you watching television?”

“No….its six thirty in the morning!”

“I know…but…something has happened.” Urgency and alarm was apparent in his voice. “A plane has crashed into the world trade center. Smoke is pouring from it like an ominous torch….people are….”

I called my husband and handed him the telephone, turning on the television at the same time with my free hand. We watched for an hour stunned.

For the next forty-eight hours I baked bread, lit candles for the lives lost, and murmured prayers in the hope of lives...

In Defense of Leaves

Most of us are familiar with calendar pictures of eastern states in autumn, depicting the colorful deciduous trees. Too often in California leaves are taken for granted, and fallen leaves, removed for reasons I do not understand. It seems only fitting that after a rainstorm, leaf shadows sometimes remain on the sidewalk, as a subtle reminder. One of my childhood memories is of a neighbor who swept her walkways and patio following inclement weather, seemingly disgruntled by the sight of leaves “littering” her yard. Yet, I myself remember walking three blocks to school, delighted by the rustle of leaves as I shuffled through mounds of fallen foliage.

As an adult, I enjoy a myriad of colors in my personal garden. Glossy...

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