Rainie's Corner

Scarecrows

While perusing the pages of several fall nursery catalogues, I saw pictured whimsical scarecrows, equipped with names, costumes, and patchwork faces that brighten the already lively displays of flowers. They are fashioned after farmers, rag dolls and the straw man in The Wizard of Oz. Seeing them reminds me of the stick figures that have watched over my own vegetable garden in years past.

The addition of a scarecrow brings a mischievous touch to any garden. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles, from homemade to store bought, with smiles that bring to one’s mind railroad tracks, needlepoint stitches, orthodontic braces, and tic-tac-toe. Those watching over my vegetables have had noses made of buttons, and black triangle eyes...

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...

Slender Field Sedge - a lawn substitute

My affection for lawn stems from childhood, a time when I spent hours playing outdoors with the other neighborhood children. We made tiaras, crowns, and bracelets from the clover and dandelions that grew randomly in the lawn my father tended. Sitting on the grass tying stems into loose knots, linking them one into the other, we were occupied, peaceful, and engaged with our environment. On sultry summer mid-western evenings, we took turns rolling down the long green hillside in front of my house, gaining speed until each of us barreled into the hedge below, laughing uproariously. On those hot humid nights, the cool grass was a comfort to our bare arms and legs.

My yearning for “lawn” sparks a variety of seasonal memories. In early...

Burn Pile

Through three seasons of tending the garden, an assortment of pruned branches, slash, leaves and debris had accumulated at the periphery, near the oak forest that marks our property line. By name it was called the “burn pile” and having grown to unusually large proportions it sat waiting for winter rains and it’s destiny. The day came after a week of storms, when my husband set the pile ablaze.

Together we watched its size slowly diminish, I raking embers and he watering the edge of its trail. Flames spit and sputtered until the pile became smaller and the area opened, revealing naturalized seedlings nearby. In our excitement we crouched to examine the new discoveries: manroot, Dutchman’s pipe, and Keckiella cordifolia....

Nesting

I first became intrigued by the composition of bird nests when observing a male and female Hutton’s Vireo, through my dining room window, flitting under the eaves, from the roof of my house to an oak, with pink fluff secured in their beaks. At the time I was eight months pregnant and folding baby clothes....

Letters of Gratitude

Sometimes it is easy to overlook the central point of children’s words and behavior. Many years ago, I accepted an invitation to speak to a classroom of first graders at the local elementary school. The day I arrived there was a rainstorm. Rain lashed the windows in invisible sheets. Try as I might I could not hold the children’s attention. Even their teacher could not contain them. They gathered round the two panels of glass enthralled by the sight. Every attempt on my part to engage them in a lesson plan, was in vain. Finally their teacher and I realized that in their lifetime they had never witnessed rain. This was the first storm after a seven-year drought. What appeared at first to be disregard, was in fact a deep and reverent gratitude...

Griff's Wonder

He arrived on a summer day in 1981 riding a dilapidated Schwinn bicycle and dressed in worn khaki trousers, an old t-shirt, and sneakers. In a gravelly voice he inquired about employment. There were no jobs available at the time, but Griff quietly volunteered, returning each day to water, prune, label and sow seeds, waiting for the opportunity to stay. During lunch he could often be found in the orchard sitting beneath the apricot tree, the fruit of which he insisted was the sweetest on earth. At some point, everyone who worked at the nursery, indulged in its offerings, but it was to Griff that I conferred when a deep crevice became visible in the trunk. Together, for a couple of years, we tried numerous remedies in our attempts to save the...

Generations

In the spring of 1982 the National Science Foundation sponsored a trip to Santa Cruz Island. Fighting seasickness for the hour and a half, I accompanied my husband and his field botany professor to the island, in a motorboat. Once on land again, I was ready to hike, and would soon see Quercus tomentella for the first time in the wild. I left the island later that day hoping to someday have one of these dignified and majestic trees, commonly called island oak, growing in my garden.

The following December my husband and I drove south to collect acorns from mature island oak at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Having secured permission from the director, we arrived on a Saturday morning and went right to the coppice of trees. Eager to reach them, my husband was marching briskly along, while I, three months pregnant at the time, followed at a slower pace. As soon as I caught up with him I struggled to my knees, to fill my burlap sack with the bountiful supply of seed that...

Leaning Pine

While attending a spring garden party on the California Polytechnic University campus in San Luis Obispo, I had the opportunity to rediscover the Leaning Pine Arboretum. The event was a formal affair hosted by President Baker and his wife for their advisory committee, and held in the arboretum. The time was late afternoon, and a string quartet played in the gazebo, while horticulture students answered questions, and guided guests through the garden. Bishop Peak could be seen in the distance. The evening air was at first balmy, then turned cool as fog crept inland from the sea.

Director of the Arboretum, Professor Emeritus Thomas Eltzroth, called guests and students to gather in front of the gazebo for introductions, and a...

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