1.30.2009

Happy Birthday, Little Miss G::Our Big 4 Year Old

This is in honour of the Girl, on her birthday....

1.21.2009

George MacDonald: excerpt from 'The Wise Woman'


'There was a certain country where things used to go rather oddly. For instance, you could never tell whether it was going to rain or hail, or whether or not the milk was going to turn sour. It was impossible to say whether the next baby would be a boy, or a girl, or even, after he was a week old, whether he would wake up sweet-tempered or cross.

In strict accordance with the peculiar nature of this country of uncertainties, it came to pass one day, that in the midst of a shower of rain that might well be called golden, seeing the sun, shining as it fell, turned all its drops into molten topazes, and every drop was good for a grain of golden corn, or a yellow cowslip, or a buttercup, or a dandelion at least;-while this splendid rain was falling, I say, with a musical patter upon the great leaves of the horse-chestnuts, which hung like Vandyke collars about the necks of the creamy, red-spotted blossoms, and on the leaves of the sycamores, looking as if they had blood in their veins, and on a multitude of flowers, of which some stood up and boldly held out their cups to catch their share, while others looked down, laughing, under the soft patting blows of the heavy drops;-while this lovely rain was washing all the air clean from the motes, and the bad odors and the poisonseeds that had escaped from their prisons during the long drought;-while it fell, splashing and sparkling, with a hum, and a rush, and a soft clashing-but stop! I am stealing, I find, and not that only, but with clumsy hands spoiling what I steal:- "O Rain! with your dull twofold sound,
The clash hard by, and the murmur all around:"
-there! take it, Mr. Coleridge;-while, as I was saying, the lovely little rivers whose fountains are the clouds, and which cut their own channels through the air, and make sweet noises rubbing against their banks as they hurry down and down, until at length they are pulled up on a sudden, with a musical plash, in the very heart of an odorous flower, that first gasps and then sighs up a blissful scent, or on the bald head of a stone that never says Thank you;—while the very sheep felt it blessing them, though it could never reach their skins through the depth of their long wool, and the veriest hedgehog—I mean the one with the longest spikes—came and spiked himself out to impale as many of the drops as he could,—while the rain was thus falling, and the leaves, and the flowers, and the sheep, and the cattle, and the hedgehog, were all busily receiving the golden rain, something happened. It was not a great battle, nor an earthquake, nor a coronation, but something more important than all those put together: A baby-girl was born—and her father was a king, and her mother was a queen, and her uncles and aunts were princes and princesses, and her first cousins were dukes and duchesses, and not one of her second cousins was less than a marquis or marchioness, or of her third cousins less than an earl or countess, and below a countess they did not care to count. So the little girl was Somebody; and yet for all that, strange to say, the first thing she did was to cry! I told you it was a strange country.'

(-George MacDonald, 'The Wise Woman', serialized under the title "A Double Story" in Good Things (1874) ; also published as "Princess Rosamond" and "The Lost Princess". 'The Wise Woman' was my first foray into George MacDonald's writings. B introduced us, and I have been grateful ever since. Here is a link to an old post about George MacDonald, if you are reading him for the first time too. George MacDonald Even more amazing is that this entire passage is comprised of just 6 sentences. Those wacky, effusive Victorians! Or maybe it's just George MacDonald........)
photo credit: rosa, for once. My own garden.

1.18.2009

Scene: darkened bedroom, child in bed calling to her mother. It is the last gasp of the evening's bedtime routine. Books have been read, prayers said, lights turned out about 10 minutes previous.
child: "Mommy! Mommy!"r
Mother enters, kneels by bed.
child: "I decided I want to be a teacher when I grow up!"
mother: "That's great, honey! Just like daddy and mommy!"
child: "Yeah, and Auntie Susie!"
mother (voice slightly quavering at the magnitude of this, her first born's choice of career): "You know, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up!"
child: "Oh good! Because I also want to be a duck."

1.15.2009

Scottish Apples


I just got off the phone with my friend Carolyn, who still lives at the big old house in Scotland where I was groundskeeper for a year. The building was originally built at the end of the 1800's as the Seamill Cooperative Home, a convalescent home built on a hill beside the Firth of Clyde, from the days when the sea air was the main medicine used against the horrors of Glasgow's sooty, industrial, black lung-producing factories. Some of the original garden plantings remain, very staid and Victorian, but they match the building's imposing architecture, so I tried to keep them much the same. The lower half of the grounds is taken up with woodland. In the days of the convalescent home, (from the turn of the century through the first World War), it was cleared and used as a half acre veg garden & greenhouses. Nothing remains of this now besides the Greenhouse Meadow, as we named it, some brick paths that I excavated and a few random shrubs that don't look like they belong in a British woodland. A line of privets, escallonia, some old roses-now wild-and a few dogwoods (cornus alba mainly, the shrub dogwoods, not cornus florida, our North American dogwood tree). The West Kilbride burn (creek) winds its way beside this woodland, with chestnut trees, wild fuchsias, rhododendrons and thickets of snowberry lining its sides. Once I put on waders and climbed in, pulling out whatever detritus I could find. Plenty of broken pottery and an old shoe. I planted the old shoe with spring flowers and entered it in the local Spring Show. I got second place, first went to an arrangement done in a ram's horn. Rather garish to my tastes, but it was Scotland. ( A people not known for their subtlety in home decor. Wallpaper on the ceiling, anyone?)

Narnia
Carolyn and I were talking about a little slip of land that is on the other side of the burn from the woodland bit; you have to ford its icy waters and slip between some trees to see what's on the other side. I did this towards the end of our stay there, with Greg and Thomas from the garden crew. I think we all got wet, laughing and slipping as we scrabbled up the far bank. The trees were thick and close. As we pushed through the underbrush the feeling that anything could be on the other side stole over me. It felt very ruinous Cair Paravel over there. It was early spring, and the weak Scottish sun did nothing to warm us, although the meadow that greeted us was steaming. Cobwebs hung in the tall grasses like banners. In the midst of this meadow, we found 5 or 6 venerable apple trees, covered with moss and lichen, boughs hanging low. The meadow grass & bracken grew up through the branches in most places, creating dewy, brown-green pheasant coverts and rabbit warrens around each tree's perimeter. It was beautiful. Nearby sat a massive millstone, being slowly eaten by lichen, no doubt part of the mill that gave Seamill its name.We threaded our way to the other side of the meadow and found....a trash dump. Lovely. Also very Scottish, unfortunately.
Bring Back The Apples!
I didn't know what type of trees they were then, it just looked like a long-forgotten orchard. I'm not sure how long these trees have been abandoned. At least 50 years? I assumed the trees had entirely ceased to bear fruit. And then Carolyn told me today that she and her husband Lee climb these trees each autumn in search of apples, usually ending up with enough for a pie. I am itching to do some rejuvenative pruning. Rejuvenating old fruit trees must be done over a series of several seasons. That sounds a little expensive, so instead I'm going to try to hold some cyber trans-Atlantic pruning workshops for Carolyn, so she can bring the trees back into a productive state. Teaching a man to fish and all that. It sounds like a fun prospect, and I'm planning on using B as tech support. Any words of wisdom-either with pruning or cyberspace?
Woah!
Oh, and here's a YouTube clip I found: a dizzy ride down the Glenbryde Road to the ocean across the street (the A78). That's the edge of the building and grounds on the left. If it looks bitter, wintery and cold, that's because it usually is!





thanks to Eleanor McSeveney for these postcard pics!

1.13.2009


'Rose growing, indeed gardening, is a bit about dreaming and a bit about realism. Go ahead and dream, but temper it with a good dose of reality. If after two (arguably three) years a rose has not performed for you, grit your teeth and "prune it with a spade."'-Orin Martin, 'Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection and Care'
As I said, I love rose pruning season. I think it's to do with the order, and setting myself to a task that has definable goals. I've heard it said that pruning is a conversation you have with a plant-you cut it here and the plant responds by growing over here. So I guess I look forward to hearing the rose's side of the conversation.
The Roses
When I first planted my garden, over 10 years ago, I had a raised cement block bed full of vinca and jade, a singularly unlovely plant combination. I ripped everything out and decided to try my hand with some roses. I'd never grown roses before. I'd never had anywhere to grow much of anything before, so it was all new to me. I only knew that if I had to walk past the vinca crawling slowly amidst the flabby-trunked jade plant, I'd have to move. So, the roses. I found them on sale, bare-root, outside the supermarket, trussed up and sorry-looking like prisoners in line, blindfolded & waiting for dawn. I bought 3 or 4, different colors, all hybrid teas. I didn't know what that meant. These were the roses I first planted, the ones that I first learned to prune and train, and the ones that I tried for years to turn into something other than what they were, which was spindly, gawky-looking, chicken-legged sticks that bloomed briefly during the spring and summer and then sat there looking like the thorny bones of someone's discarded umbrella. I thought that's all there was to growing roses. Fertilize them, and you get a more robust dead umbrella, that bloomed more often.
Epiphany
And then I picked up Orin Martin's Rose Primer:An Organic Approach to Rose Selection and Care. Orin Martin is one of my personal gardening heroes, the manager of UCSC's Chadwick Garden, and one of my instructors when I apprenticed at UCSC's Farm & Garden in 2002.
Orin has so much knowledge and love for all things growing, especially things in the rosaceae family, which includes everything from roses to apples to raspberries. I learned so much from him, and when I am preparing to do my rose pruning every winter, it's usually the grubby notes I took on his classes that I pull out.

So I decided to take his advice, and I pruned all my hybrid teas 'with a spade.' Meaning, I hoiked them up and threw them out. I am starting over. The only roses not to 'get it' were the climbers (both white: 'Madame Alfred Carriere' & 'Cecille Brunner') and two others that are not hybrid teas, they look like old roses, maybe gallicas? I don't know.
But I've had it with the hybrid teas! I think I'm also staying away from the floribundas & grandifloras at least for now too.... Any other suggestions?

So far my list includes:



'Charles de Mill' , (rosa gallica). This is an old garden rose, which means the plants blend in more in the garden, the flowers are usually fragrant, though often blooming only once a year. The plants themselves are usually more vigorous, and need less fertility. In my super sandy (therefore poor) soil, this is a plus. And apparently the scent is amazing.




'Ambridge Rose' (English shrub rose). This class of rose is considered 'new old-fashioned'. Bred by David Austin, these roses are a highly successful attempt to combine the best qualities of old garden roses with the highlights of modern roses. I am in awe of David Austin and his roses a bit, he's accomplished so much. Not the least of which is making beautiful things come out of Wolverhampton.

I've found these at Roses of Yesterday and Today, a fantastic rose nursery at the southern end of our county. And joy of joys, they have a bare-root Apothecary Rose, for which I've been on the prowl for about 6 months or so. It's the original Lancaster Rose from the War of the Roses, and I want it for the Abbey Garden, which is monastic-themed. Even better, it looks like it is shade-tolerant, which means it can go in the difficult-to-grow-planter box which gets no afternoon sun. And it's under $20.00. Oh frabjous day.

1.10.2009

The Hills are Alive.......

So my daughter has a new obsession, very specific and perseverative, which is not unusual for her age (4 at the end of the month.) Her obsession is not with Dora the Explorer or Elmo or even the Disney Princesses. Our little Miss G has got it bad for the Sound of Music. It's still in its nascent stages, only a week old or so, and she's been waking up with different lines from the movie on her lips, dancing around like the children in the 'So Long, Farewell' scene, and discussing the whys and wherefores of the German invasion of Austria. Tonight she was the helicopter that soared through the Alps, filming the Von Trapps as they escaped from Austria. "When Daddy gets home he can be the Captain, you can be Maria, and I'll be the children." I'm lobbying for a sing-along Sound of Music night at the Abbey, our church's coffeehouse. I've resumed work on the Abbey Garden, by the way, and I'll be publishing an update soon on its progress. The Abbey Garden is actually the courtyard seating area that will be more garden than courtyard, especially if the Abbey Gardeners get their way. Also soon to come is a rose pruning primer, since rose pruning season is fast upon us. One of my favorite times of year!

1.06.2009

January in the Garden


January is typically a sopping wet month in the Santa Cruz Mountains; a time of year when I look out on a dank & cheerless garden; a time when our little plot is full of sodden turf, mossy cinder block walls & sand buckets full of rain water.
I look forward to the 3-4 minutes that occur each day at high noon, when there appears a single shaft of sunlight that has spent the morning fighting it's way through the dense redwood branches to light up, briefly, one square foot diameter of our garden. It never stays long. Truly, things are looking a bit forlorn. Forgotten plant tags, brown gladioli stalks & slug-eaten lamb's ear litter the beds like the morning after the Battle of Culloden. Speaking of Scotland, I guess I can't complain much: most days get above 50 degrees at some point, and at least the sun can manage to stay up past 3:45pm. Poor Scottish gardeners...
I spent the last few months slinking past the garden, averting my gaze. I'll blame it on morning sickness, that is so handy.
Two days ago I finally got around to mulching the beds in the main garden-B dutifully shoveled mulch onto a tarp on top of the lawn, right between the beds. Well, it got dark before I could do the job, and then it rained. And rained. This afternoon I got out there to assess the damage, and the lawn under the tarp is a slick mat of decaying plant material. I think I will have to reseed the whole thing later this spring.

A Question for the GQT Panel:
I have two sulky and taciturn flowering quince (chaenomeles japonica) plants that have never bloomed. I love harbingers of spring, and therefore things that flower on bare wood. Flowering quince are usually the first things to throw bloom to sky, in late January or so and I am determined to shake my quince out of their funk this year. And so I stood today before them, trying to decide which course to take. They have been moved around quite a bit, so it could be that they have never settled anywhere long enough to become established. What seems more likely, however, is the fertility. Our soil is ridiculously poor (we joke that it's not sandy loam, but loamy sand), and it seems likely that the plants lack the nutrition to flower. I am a little concerned that applying fertility during the winter will cause a flush of new green growth that could freeze at the next frost. But in the end I decided to fertilize them, with an organic rose & flower fertilizer (Dr. Earth) that has a N-P-K of 5-7-2, which is pretty low over-all, but lowest in nitrogen, which is what builds green growth. Has anyone dealt with this issue before? Any words of wisdom? When should I have fertilized in order to insure those lovely early buds? Bob? Pippa? Anne? Anyone?

Books & Oddments
1. I just finished T.H. White's 'Mistress Masham's Repose', a fun romp through the continuing adventures of Lilliput, set in WW2 England, in the unkempt grounds of a ruined and crumbling palace called Malplaquet. If you can find it, read it! (White also wrote The Sword in the Stone.) File under: juvenile fantasy, England, adventure, English history.
2. I recommend Anne Rice's most recent books, the next in her new series, this one called, 'Christ the Lord: Road to Cana'; also her spiritual biography, 'Called Out of Darkness' is quite good.
3. Stop by the Abbey for the new art show, 'Why We Knit'. I've got a little piece in it, & there are some lovely things from Eleven, Susie & Smalls, whose delightful blog scandihooligan deserves a nice long look......tell her Rosa sent you.

Happy Epiphany!

1.04.2009

Rosa's Essay Archives: C.S. Lewis 'What Christmas Means to Me'


Thank you, C.S. Lewis for this little essay. And thanks to the Elevens for reminding me of it's existence. I first read it in our copy of God in the Dock, a worthy collection of Lewis' essays.

What Christmas Means to Me

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.
I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.
1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before 25th December everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself—gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as charity. For nothing? Why better for nothing than for a nuisance.

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.