Flora Grubb and Her Marvelous Succulents

I know I'm not the only one to be so mightily impressed by Flora Grubb, but I have to say-man! She is cool. I am all a-twitter. (The old-fashioned kind.) Since we are planning on stopping by her nursery digs (ha ha) tomorrow in San Francisco, I decided to have a rummage through her website.
And wow. I mean, the things she does with succulents! In the beginning of my gardening career I admit to being pretty ambivalent about plants of the fleshy-leaf variety. I think I just classified them under Spiny/Pokey/Flabby and sort of moved on, horticulturally. After all, I did grow up in California in the 70's and 80's-a time in which xeriscaping meant landscapes full of terra cotta pots shaped like animals, stuffed with hen & chicks, aloe and the ubiquitous and hideously flabbiferous jade plant. (Driftwood as a planting medium was also a requirement.) When I met B he was still smarting under the wounds of growing up in Salinas in the 1970's, he still winces when he hears wind chimes. Somehow tied up in that is a revulsion for all things succulent. And for a while I was inclined to agree.

But my heart has changed towards them, thanks mainly to an eye-opening horticulture class at our local junior college. My succulent admiration began innocently enough, learning about CAM, Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, which is a system of carbon fixation in some plants (but mostly unique to succulents.) Most plants open their stomata (cells on the undersides of leaves that act as pores, taking in carbon dioxide, letting out oxygen & water which are by-products of photosynthesis) during the day. Succulents open their stomata at night, when the heat is less. Very efficient.
And then I began to notice the beauty of the sedums, aeoniums and echeverias. Aeonium zwartkopf & its fabulous Dr. Seussiness. I began to love their surfaces, both glaucus and shiny, mottled and clear; as well as their stunning forays into the colors green, burgundy and grey. I began to look closer, and to discover the amazing symmetry of each leaf and its precise placement along the stem; each positioned so that none covered another, radiating out so that everyone received the optimum amount of sunlight. I was fascinated/repulsed by the weirdness of lithops, the aptly named living stone plant, which actually contains a partially or completely translucent top surface (a sort of window) allowing light to enter the interior of the leaves for photosynthesis. Another bit of protection for these plants that grow in harsh desert climes.
I now think most succulents are totally groovy, and this area is really one of the few places where B and I diverge in taste (besides his strange affinities for seafood, Aplets & Cotlets (he made me link it), and Ron Paul.)

At the Abbey Garden I've decided to redo some of the pots, taking out some of the things that are getting baked to a crisp, and replacing them with some of our CAM friends; I'm thinking sedums rowleyanus and morganianum, respectively. Any other suggestions?
But oh yes, Flora Grubb! I'll post pics after our visit......


Rosa's Blog Picks:: Cake Wrecks

Thank you, Eleven, for the link to this towering monument-made of fondant-of a blog. Stop by and tell them Rosa sent you!


Accio Plot!

Has anyone else found the new Harry Potter movie to be as underwhelming as I did? My expectations were a tad too high......I think I might have forgotten Rule #1 when Viewing Movies Made From Books, namely "'Libri est Melior"-'The Book is Better.' In this case, half the book is missing from the movie. Unfortunately, it's the half that made the book so good.
The worst part of it is that now that the series has been completed (no more HP books to come) the best thing I have to look forward to is another underdeveloped, rushed-through, apocryphal, thumbnail-sketch-of a movie next year with 'Deathly Hallows'..........
But I did find a good article about JK Rowling and the Christian themes of Harry Potter. Her last little quote at the end is the best. Here it be. And to bed I go!


The Abbey Garden

So I had a baby, and a few weeks later, had a garden. The former event definitely eclisped the latter, which is why it is only now, two months later, that I am remembering to post about it. Our church's coffeehouse, The Abbey, is now approaching its first birthday, and the year has been good. I have been so impressed by the incomparable genius of Sara Peterson, The Abbey's manager, design maven, and barista champion.
The adjacent courtyard seating area took a bit longer-there were a few minor setbacks. Let it be said that if you are trying to get the county's ear, just build a wall without a permit and stand back. But that's all in the past now, and the courtyard looks lovely. It's a little more shabby chic than I would have done. It's hard to imagine a shabby chic monastic garden, but somehow I think it works-only in California!
So here are some pics of the garden, which opened with much acclaim and pancakes on June 6th.

I am happy with the design over all, and since it is a work in progress (which is a good definition of a garden, I think) I will not kick myself too hard for the things that I would have done differently. Although come winter, I will practive the fine art of Ultimate Pruning i.e. Hoik & Toss. Things to be hoiked include: the dirt in the pic above, cleverly disguised with mulch as garden soil, but actually terrible fill dirt. I meant for this planter (5' x 2') to only have a thin layer of the free-from-Craig's-List fill dirt, but with the volunteer help it was about 3/4 fill and 1/4 potting soil/compost. I was too pregnant to lift a shovel to fix it, so we just planted and held our breath. As a result the plants are pretty sickly looking-the lemon verbena, usually a rangy, ungangly (though fragrant) addition to the garden, is now sporting yellow leaves and almost no new growth. The rest of the plants look anemic and not long for this world. The first rule in organic gardening is to look after the soil, and the soil will look after the plants. In other words, healthy soil equals healthy plants. So I forgot this rule. Just don't tell them up at UCSC's Farm & Garden, or they'll take away my certificate.....

I still haven't got ahold of a few of the plants I've had in mind for this garden, namely; Angelica Archangelica, and biblical hyssop (not hyssop officianalis, as it turns out, but origanum syriacus). I've gone through two verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer' plants, which is a shame, since this is such a great plant.

I have really loved doing this design, getting to work with amazing people like Bruce & Claudia, The Abbey staff, and all the other Abbey Gardeners out there (you know who you are!)

Current Happy Things


1.Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
by the Welcome Wagon
2.lime popsicles
3.Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince (B wants to see it in 3D. I am unsure. I'm afraid it will bring back too many Captain Eo memories...)
Great Expectations
The thing that really tickles me about reading Great Expectations, besides that it is unexpectedly funny, is that I am unable to maintain any amount of internal smugness upon reading a 'classic'; Dickens wrote it as a serial in a newspaper. It's like feeling snooty for reading 'Prince Valiant' or 'Rex Morgan, MD'. When you consider that most of Dickens' works were published in this manner, as serial pieces for the masses, you can't help but think that despite what we've gained since that time (where to begin?!) we have become decidedly less literate as a culture. (McSweeney's not withstanding!) Here's a nod to a new online mag that is turning the tide: Content. Check them out and tell them Rosa sent you!


I have never been so thankful for the volunteers in my garden; they are almost completely carrying the show-thanks to some eye-catching rose campion (lychnis coronaria) and the lovely contrasting chartreuse blooms of the euphorbia. Add to it the jasmine in bloom, purple veronica 'Chadwick Especial', and some tall weedy-looking white daisies and orange California poppies; these make up the majority of what's in bloom in the garden. I haven't figured out how to nurse and garden at the same time (probably a good thing) so any flowers that come up are there of their own instigation, as I can do little but move the sprinkler around.
Over in hydrangea corner, in all that delicious acidic soil, the deep blue and purple blooms are just lovely, as is the sky seen through the twisted and outstretched branches of the scrub oaks. I find myself outside often, on the porch with a baby, watching the trees: elder, oak, bay, madrone and redwood wave lazily in the light June breeze. It's been lovely. And helps to remind me why we live here, besides the fantastic rent, and the friendly neighborhood.

I need all the help I can get lately, when most things in our house feel cramped, broken, and in need of a paint job. I think I might be ready to live in a larger house (we've got about 800 square feet, the kind of place which feels bigger if we all suck our stomachs in), but meanwhile I'm trying to be grateful for what I have. I desperately want that sense of contentment that belies my surroundings, I think it might have something to do cultivating the inner life. I've just started Teresa of Avila's 'The Interior Castle'; we'll see what she has to say about it.
Meanwhile, I have a weird ear infection-it doesn't hurt, but my left ear is totally full and I feel like I'm on an airplane. It's hard to hear and I've got that odd cocoon-like feeling all the time, sort of in my own world because I can't hear everything. Add to it the constant state of sleep deprivation that I live in, and you get a sort of spaced-out, vaguely smiling at everyone, prematurely batty version of myself. I'm beginning to feel like I belong in some sort of home, or at least in a rocker on a veranda, reminiscing about the olden days. Stop me before I start calling everyone 'honey' and collecting stray cats. Maybe I need some meds?

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.