Two sisters, two coasts, one blog

I dig Plants

WEST TWIN:

Everyone has their thing I guess. That ‘thing’, whatever it may be that fascinates us and occupies endless amounts of brain-power and copious hours of research; that thing which you simply love with all your heart and cannot stop wanting to know more about? Mine is plants.

I once went to hear a lecture by Chuck D, (yes yes previously of Public Enemy) who is a thoughtful and inspiring public speaker. He said something that has stayed with me ever since: “Be a nerd”.  Find the thing that you feel passionate about, and immerse yourself in it, learn all that you can, bring your full energy to it and you will find success. Whatever your thing is, be a nerd about it.

Well I’m a nerd about plants for sure. I like to be able to identify all the plants I see whenever I go for a walk.  I like to wake up in the mornings and stare out the window over my first cup of coffee and make mental lists of everything I ever want to do in the garden. I return to the gardening section in our local library, their one little shelf of titles, again and again. “You’ve already read everything here” my son commented on our last visit.  He was right, I practically have.

I also confess to wasting many an hour geeking out on garden-blogs and “plant porn” (google images!), finding fascinating new species that almost always race to the top of my “must grow that” list.

Recently I acquainted myself with the blog for Annie’s Annuals, the unique urban  “growing” nursery and mail-order business based in Richmond CA. Their blog is always a feast for the plant-a-holic, and my newest obsession came from this post where Annie’s had readers send in pictures of  their Echium wildpretii, or Tower of Jewels. After learning that these beauties are drought-tolerant, thrive in dry soil and self-seed…I just have to have one.

Echium growing in empty lot (photo courtesy of Glenn Park via Annie's Annuals)

Through the Annie’s blog, I also stumbled onto Bamboo and More, a gardening blog written a guy who lives in Davis CA, right down the road from me (as it were), so I was excited to read about his success with echium in this same climate, with a great series of photos showing its growth.

I also read a recent post on succulents from Annie’s that brought me to Far Out Flora, a gorgeous bloggy delight of plant appreciation by two self-professed plant nerds from the Outerlands of San Francisco.

And on it goes. From their site, a dozen other juicy looking garden-blogs call to me with their siren song of species identification and fantastic garden design. Oh, the hours I could waste. Time to update my blog roll….

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But really, all I have to do to get my daily plant fix is wander out into my garden (first thing in the morning is my favorite time) and see what is changing, what is new that has grown or bloomed.

"Evening Sun" Sunflower / Amaranth and blue cornflower (all grown from seed)

For instance, after the last burst of heat over the 4th of July weekend the Helianthus annus (giant sunflower, in the multi-headed ‘Evening Sun’ variety) in my cutting bed,  unfurled its ruby red face, or faces. Gently swaying in the breeze, contrasting vividly with the summer sky and bold blue cornflower; beginning to bow under its own beautiful weight, it’s amazing to think this grew from  scattering a seed packet just months earlier.

Thrilled to have the folksy elegance of the Amaranth growing amongst the roses, I’m keen to learn what I need to do to eat this ancient grain. But we already have some other edible crops filling in nicely between the ornamentals. Look, cucumbers!

Everywhere I turn, there are encouraging signs of progress in the garden, as evidenced by happy plants. It gives me such a goofy buzz to successfully bring a plant back from the edge of disaster. Like this hydrangea, given to me as a birthday gift several years ago by my best friend.

Hydrangea as planted in 2008

It has survived its original planting in what turned out to be a too-sunny spot, being transplanted to a pot during the move to our new house, and another desperate re-planting when I noticed it was on its last legs, too dry in the pot. Here’s how it looked this morning:

same plant, transplanted to a new home and sporting a deeper shade of pink, 2011

Although change usually seems to be happening so slowly when you watch these plants daily as I do, it is only when I take the time to ‘zoom out’ and look back at the whole picture, that I can see how far we’ve come and how fast.

SW corner of the garden. Feb 2009 (the day we moved in)

Here it is in Summer 2010

This Spring: digging the beds, joined by garden sprites and wizards....

Lettuce, the edible edging. (Spring 2011)

Bounty! July 2011

Our little vegetable garden is a riot of green, with pollinators happily buzzing and the occasional ripening food already peeking out. Fruits and vegetables are just starting to be ready for harvest due to the unusually cool temperatures here. Some plants haven’t been strong, being planted too early in the season. Some like the artichoke, we have already picked clean of their delicious yet humble harvest and have matured into flower. But some are still raring to go.

The lone giant sunflower (single-head variety, from seed) that survived the slug-fest of an early spring sprouting.

My tomatoes are just riddled with fruit and (thanks to my kids and their random seed sprinkling) we will have NO shortage of pumpkins this fall. These formidable plants keep popping up everywhere and I have to keep building structures to send them vertically, lest they devour all the space in the garden.

pumpkin vines take over the world!

As maybe you can tell, my other new obsession is growing food. A few small successes and the ability of my kids to go out and snack in the garden has emboldened me to greater plans of converting more of the lawn into beds for food crops.

I just made a quick list and here are the edible plants that we currently have growing or have harvested so far this season: Strawberries (first come , first serve), Basil (lots!), blackberries (a triumph of pollination!), figs, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, mystery pumpkins, chard, yellow squash, cantaloupe (seedlings coming up!), oregano, thyme, radish….

a big THANK YOU to Fran for the wonderful, healthy little basil starts she gave me. I planted them in every spare spot in the garden and they are thriving! Pesto forthcoming!

And as always thanks to the previous owners, we will have all the mouth-watering sun-kissed table grapes we can stand to eat because the vines we inherited are just lush with them. It is a positively Bacchanalian sight that makes my heart thump with nerdy joy!

Grapes: with sun and with solar lantern

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Lately I’ve also developed a fondness for white flowers and for the concept of planting a moon garden. I’ve already got a head start with this mass of aster daisies that already lived here when we bought the place. All they need was some TLC because each year they just seem even more magnificent. Smelly though!

And much to my gardener’s delight my Moon flower seeds (bought on sale at Target of all places) are actually sprouting, bringing delirious visions in my mind of the beauty to come…

moonflower seedlings

Ipomoea alba

moon garden

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And as a last little update, here’s what has been happening in the front yard. Some of you may remember that last fall we tore up our lawn and embarked on a project to convert it into a water wise garden featuring California Native plants, as described in this post.

June 2010

July 2011

 A very pretty little garden is emerging, thanks to some great starter plants from All Things Wild, and Good Humus, some reclaimed brick and rock and a dose of bark mulch. It’s really starting to look like something!

Remember these? Starter plants bought from the farmers market back in March.

L: Coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica) now almost 4' tall and with an amazing scent. R: The plant in the foreground is a Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus) which I grew from a seed pod I brought back from a camping trip on the beaches of Santa Cruz last summer. ..it is a tiny miracle growing strong!

Like a true geek, I could go on and on regaling you with fascinating details and updates on these objects of my affection, but I’ll try to restrain myself!

Let me leave you with a great quote that I found on the aforementioned blog Far Out Flora that encapsulates my fervent and at times heartbrteaking obsession with growing plants. Credited to horticulturist J. C Raulston (who left a legacy of enthusiasm in this country for unusual landscape plants), this gives me great hope and confidence even in the face of occasional defeat:

 “If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener.”

 In that case…Echium ho!

echium wildpretti

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16 Responses to “I dig Plants”

  1. Aunt Diana

    I treasure that quote…very comforting! .And am delighted to see the plant-obsession/edible gardening spreading and thriving like your pumpkins from generation to generation. I still remember the morning (or often evening) daily walks round my grandfather’s garden, and with my parents around theirs…
    That wild echium…..so extraordinary…. but one of my favourites is its baby sister, echium blue bedder, less flamboyant but redolent of spring and early summer.

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Thanks Auntie…I am going to look into the echium blue bedder….you’ve peeked my interest. Glad to know that the ‘green thumb’ is genetic!!

      Reply
  2. Jacquelyn Marie

    Shows you what a green thumb and most importantly a great energy and love for growing things can do! Lovely gardens, Rucha.

    This year I have been growing 4 kinds of basil, which made a great pesto and 4 kinds of mint, including a tall, fast-growing Thai main with purple flowers.

    Reply
  3. oami powers

    I am always astounded (and a little envious) of the magnificent gardens you grow, seemingly out of nothing. I found a bunch of pictures the other day of the workday you had at that first garden in Oakland, when Maceo, Czesa and Elvie were just tiny. The quote is awesome, and from someone who made NC their home:)

    Reply
  4. oami powers

    Next time you are here we can go to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum. Also, love that your hair, the trunk of the tree and the echium on the first pic, all echo each other.

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Yay!! That was kind of the idea (i.e plants echo hair)…glad it worked!

      Reply
  5. ursula

    love your garden !! i was toiling away at a large area in our backyard all weekend, totally inspired by the self-seeding meadow idea. planting a little late but what the hell. i’ve been waiting to see pics of your garden!

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Sorry to miss you yesterday Urs…really wanted to see your new place and your fledgling garden. Next time!

      Reply
  6. anniesannuals

    so happy to find your blog through the link you shared for the echium! if you’re anywhere near davis you can probably grow “tower of jewels” better than we can (not to mention a decent tomato that ripens before september *groan!*). they love the heat! plant it and the bees and hummers will come. good wishes to you and your garden!

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Thanks so much for visiting our blog! I am in Sacramento (or “Sacra-tomato”) and yes we are blessed with a plethora of yummy edibles although this year everything has been slow to ripen due to the cooler weather. Can’t wait for Fall planting time…hmm, I think a visit to Annie’s will be in order!!

      Reply
  7. spongeystef

    omgreengoddess sistah!!! THERES A GUY ON CYPRESS THAT’s GOTTEM BY THE DOZEN!!! as u well kno … u r the only person in my immediate circl that could wax poetic & orgasmically enthusiastic in latin allday long about the fecund beauties in the plant world ….. also i found that garden that i once stumbled across when u and mae lived here…. a gal who eats breathes sells breeds and lives plants….. here ENTIRE YARD has been given over to her passion…. it’s right over by my dr’s office……dunno if u remember driving w/ me in circles over by edison trying 2 re-find it when u worked at the nursery….. lets palaver plants!!!

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Carmichael garden tour! Let’s do it…drive by plant admiration!!

      Reply
  8. Mia

    Beautiful! i think we went to Chuck D together, thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply
    • ruchapowers

      Yes sister…you did take me to see Chuck D…just one of the many awesome opportunities you’ve offered me over the years~ thank YOU for the inspiration!

      Reply
  9. Norman Ross Powers

    Isn’t it startling to sense the energy in fast growing, big plants like sunflowers and pumpkins? They kind of surge out of the ground with a combination of urgency and joy. I like being near them in the same way I like being around flowing water. They hint of another world one can almost enter.

    Reply
  10. Plant Nerd | East Twin West Twin

    [...] speaker. And he was just that, very inspiring. In fact I believe I have referenced this before on this very blog but like any good obsessive knows – the object of one’s obsession bears repeating [...]

    Reply

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