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...

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...

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...

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...

Rosemary Bread

In my family, we developed a tradition some years ago of baking rosemary bread. It could have been because of the delectable taste, or the bread-making machine we received for Christmas that year or, unlike some recipes, it always came out perfect. Maybe we just needed to create a family tradition of our own. The primary deciding factor was utilizing the hedge of rosemary in our garden, for culinary purposes. Ever since, we have baked rosemary bread for birthdays, holidays, late night snacks, or just to warm the kitchen on winter evenings.

I wanted to find a way to bring the delightful and refreshing fragrance of rosemary, from the garden, into my home. Our hedge is Rosmarinus ‘Tuscan Blue’ but other selections of...

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...

Last Breath of Light

Dusk falls on Halloween night and a last breath of light hovers in our garden. Near me a dawn redwood shines like weathered copper, and the flowering stems of Miscanthus 'Little Kitten' stand like candlesticks gathering remnants of evening light. To the west, Eucalyptus trees are held in silhouette against a fiery sky. The string of tiny orange lights, strung about the side entrance to the house, anticipates the arrival of young guests. Although evening commitments await me, I resist going inside. I long to hold time, to savor this moment. Walking along the pathways of the garden I attempt to etch memories into my mind.

The air is unusually hot and clouds of humming insects tumble from tree to shrub. In the meadow stiff stalks of cane bluestem stroke the air like sable paintbrushes. Further down the path the last leaves on the cottonwood, stir in the wind, before twirling to the ground. Crossing the front of the house, I notice the California grape changing color. The dry,...

Fan Man

The repeated thud of heavy footsteps, exploded suddenly outside the office door. Looking up I saw the tall lean figure of a thirteen-year-old boy, moving in that awkward, disconnected way that children move, when pre-adolescence overtakes their limbs. He careened round the back of the house, running full tilt toward the path beneath my office window. Pebbles flew from his feet, ricocheting off the wood siding and striking the glass pane with a ‘ping’. Legs churning, he tore past looking straight ahead, oblivious to my gaze, eyes wide as chocolate-brown saucers, and long arms flying at his sides like the wings of a glider teetering to a landing. With an expression of utter determination, he bolted for the nursery time clock. His workday in the garden had ended. Peeking out the screen door, I was hard pressed to imagine the large depressions, left on the path, belonging to the feet of a boy.

At his request, his parents had inquired about a summer job in my nursery and garden...

My Gardener

My gardener happens to be my husband. He disappears into the landscape, in the middle of conversations, tracks gravel across my newly vacuumed living room carpet, and dusts bits of leaves off his clothes onto our dining room table when sitting down to supper. At the end of the month our credit card bill lists seed, clay pots, clippers, soil mix, sprinklers, and I am still trying to finish the conversation I started three weeks ago about the pipe that is leaking in the bathroom. For better or for worse, I am married to my gardener.

My introduction to horticulture began in Santa Cruz thirty-four years ago. As a new bride I learned from my husband how to care for an established Boston fern, a large dumb cane, a delicate maidenhair fern, and a flourishing spider plant. He quickly taught me the routine. At the time I knew very little about plants, only what I had learned from my mother, who salvaged withered stems and seedlings. She would place them in canning jars filled with...


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