Thursday, April 28, 2011

Orange bombs

They love the oranges, these squirrels. They run across the grass outside my home-office window, carrying fruit that must weigh as much as they do. This one takes his bounty along the fence-top, then sits in the sun to delicately peel it and eat the orange-flesh. There are half-peeled, half-chewed oranges in strange places, like in the oak tree on the other side of the house and perched on the seven-foot fence.

Saturday morning, I let Bella out to the sound of squirrel-annoyance. Then thud! An orange just missed hitting my head. I swear it was aimed, and it certainly wasn't just a ripe fruit falling. Unless oranges have started to grow on California Oaks.

Clematis planted

Yesterday evening, I planted two clematis jackmanii: one next to the dead tree near the creek, with the idea that the tree provides a natural pergola and the beautiful vine will climb and flower all over it. As long as I remember to check it for water, remember to tell Dylan where it is so he doesn't mow/weedwhack it, and the turkeys don't think it's a delicacy. The other one I planted on the outside of the pool fence, on the sunset side of the house. Its roots should be shaded by the pool trees.

Fingers-crossed they will go. Clematis have always been tricky for me... I've had a few fail when tiny, but once they are established, everything's fine. Check back here in a couple of years.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Soul searching

When I was a kid, early-teens, it was listening to Radio North Sea, Radio Caroline (when it was on the air), Radio Luxembourg, hidden away in my bedroom, on a black-plastic transistor radio that I had to take apart and solder the circuits back together every couple of weeks so that it would keep working. (Remember Drupi?  Or Golden Earring?  Maybe Neil Young?  (I had such a picture in my head of Neil Young from hearing him sing this, night after night on the radio, that when eventually I saw him on TV, it was a shock to see that he looked nothing like my imagined idol.)

And then the visuals.... I literally discovered Marillion because of the album sleeve to Misplaced Childhood.  Led Zep, Budgie, Greenslade... a mix of the music and the Roger Dean artwork that we shamelessly and adoringly copied, large-scale, as murals on the school walls.

And today? I'd rather listen to a Grant Napear rant than music radio, where the same saccarrine songs are played over, and over, and over again. MTV (remember? it stands for Music TV?) is inane and not worth watching anymore, unless you're somewhere like Singapore or Egypt, where they still actually play music videos day-and-jetlagged-night... and if you're not still young-enough or social-enough to be touring the clubs and live shows all week every week, and if you're not hearing about them by word-of-mouth, how do you hear that music that you might otherwise miss?

You can randomise on Pandora, or let iTunes genius find music that you might perhaps-maybe like (and that it will instantly sell to you), but for me they fail miserably, probably because by 21-days of iTunes is full of Marillion, British folk, shameless glam rock and slightly-obscure guitarists.

Or you can watch House because you love Hugh Laurie (and if you only know him as House, you need to see Black Adder... and find out that Rowan Atkinson is more than the appalling Mr Bean at the same time).

A few weeks ago,  an episode of House started with scenes from a rodeo. The music was entrancing. Had this been even five years ago, that would have been it... unless the credits at the end of the show included the music (and were not shown at lightning speed or cut completely as is standard practise with US television), the only way of re-finding and identifying the music would be to carry it in your head and hum it to someone who might just know... it would have been a tantalising soundtrack that was lost unless you'd earlier planned on videoing the show and knew someone who could help identify it (like the old guy in the record store in Uppingham, who knew Babe Ruth when Larry and I described the song from Kevin's mystery-music cassette tape.. now that takes me back thirty years or more).

But now? I paused and replayed, Shazam'd the music on my iPhone (no luck), replayed and listened again and again, Googled the lyrics... and found Black Lab.  And more.... music for sale here and on iTunes. Of course.

Why hadn't I heard Paul Durham, Black Lab, before? The song resonated instantly... like a forgotten dream made real.

If not for technology...

(We can and do automate process and delivery... but we will never automate true soul.)

Happy Easter everyone! And Passover, too!

Today, Easter Sunday, in California but with thoughts all-over-the-place. Jade, in New York. Childhood and family in England. My sister Judith, her family, and my friends in Israel and Egypt. So dinner tonight will mix all of those together

Typical Easter dinner in England is roast lamb, new potatoes, peas, mint sauce. Very-much not a typical American dinner on any occasion ("you eat jam with meat?????"). Middle-eastern lamb embraces regional spices. And in California, any excuse to cook on the barbeque/grill is reason enough. So this is what I'm planning:

- lamb kebabs, marinating all day in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, a little cinammon, zatar (sage and salt) and a pinch of this and of that, cooked on the barbeque with spears of rosemary
- gluten-free tabouleh (quinoa replacing the couscous/wheat) with fresh mint and coriander
- tomato and cucumber salad, small-diced Israeli-style
- fresh bread for those who can eat it (I'll just watch them enjoy it).

I had to go and buy the herbs. This time next year, they'll be from the garden.

And yesterday, like magic, I found real, yes REAL, Easter Eggs at WorldMarket. Cadbury's Flake and Chocolate Buttons hollow chocolate eggs with goodies inside. (You can usually find Cadbury's Creme Eggs without difficulty, but never-before have I seen proper, traditional English easter eggs on this side of the Atlantic...  if you've ever tasted a Peep, an artifically-flavoured plastic-tasting rabbit-shaped-marshmallow, you'll understand the craving for the oh-so-special English easter egg.) So today, lots of people here are going to find something from my childhood.

Sometimes, you have to give up searching in order to find that which was lost.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Everything is sprouting

The first nastursiums have hatched; two palm-like leaves unfurling in the hanging baskets. Sweet peas, thin and lime green, seem to have grown an inch overnight. And the purple daylily seeds that I brought from the garden on Long Island have all sprouted.

I love spring!

Monday, April 18, 2011

First daylilies planted

Apricot Angel, around edges of kitchen flower garden. It will grow 18" high. Three plantings from one 9$ pot!

Swirling Spider in the center of kitchen flower garden,  height 34". Lady Fingers, another spider, height 32" and yellow. And then Dallas Star, at the side of the kitchen flower bed near the tree stump. It will grow to a height of 28".

Lots more to come! That was one busy weekend :-)

Mud, mud, glorious mud

When the temperature is a sunny 75 degrees farenheit and yet-another sprinkler turns into a fountain when you're standing right over it, poking it to see why it's not working, it's not such a big deal.

That's how I spend the rest of the weekend, trying to fix the irrigation system. Or rather, systems.

There are five banks of six valves, each valve connected to a circuit of sprinklers, and some of which are connected (or supposed to be connected) to automatic timers. Knowing that some of the system is broken, I had a couple of guys come and give me estimates to fix it all. But as the price started at 4,500$ just for the valves and the timers--without any troubleshooting of the pipes and sprinklers themselves--I armed myself with 200$ worth of sprinkler heads, PVC pipes, blue plumbers glue (it melts the PVC together to form a seal) and various tools for cutting, prodding and removing broken bits.

You turn a circuit on, find the sprinklers, stick flags in them so you can find them again, turn the water off, fix the first one, turn the water on again, the water pressure goes up and you see the next one is broken, turn the water off, fix the second one, turn the water on, ad infinitum. One of them required digging up an invading privet bush to find the open hole in the supply pipe which was creating a river in the flower bed.

After a very muddy, mucky weekend, I can proudly say that the majority of circuits now work, at least manually, without loss of water pressure or random fountains. There is still one circuit that is causing a marshland (the turkeys like that), and two or three that I can't turn on or figure out.

I really don't want to irrigate everywhere. This is California. We should use drought-friendly landscaping as much as possible. But neither do I want to kill the mature fruit trees. And before I can start redesigning my landscape, maybe using drip irrigation instead of sprinklers, I have to understand the bones and veins and lungs of the land. So it needs to be fixed, before being sculpted into something else.

Amador flower farm

 The reason I went to the Shenandoah Valley was to visit the Amador Flower Farm and Nursery. Discovered them last week, while searching online for daylilies... and boy, did I find daylilies here.

They have hundreds, yes hundreds, of different varieties. Tall, short, red, yellow, peach, spider, huge, fragrant, tiny, nocturnal... any daylily that you might imagine, and then some more.

There is a beautiful garden, a picnic area, and a large koi pond with ginormous koi. A garden center... and a million daylilies. Did you know you could use daylilies for erosion control on a slope? There's a daylily for that...

And the temptation... rows and rows and rows of daylilies in pots, ready to be taken home and planted in your garden. I did that. Took them home. Lots of them.

I'll name them on here as I plant them out!

Plymouth and France... just forty minutes from home!

A beautiful, spring, Saturday morning, and I'd planned a trip to the daylily farm just outside Plymouth. It's a small town in the Sierra foothills about forty miles south-east of here, an easy drive down Sunrise Highway and then east on highway 16.

In all the years I lived in Sacramento, I had never been to Plymouth, nor the Shenandoah Valley, nor seen our local vineyards. It was like turning a corner and being in France; miles of gnarled, ancient vines all trim and ready to burst into leaf. Rolling hills and rustic buildings, with the occasional tastefully-fake-French-or-Tuscan restaurant or wine-tasting-inn tucked away behind stone walls.

It was totally beautiful, and I will be back.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What do squirrels eat, other than nuts and acorns?

Oranges, of course!

He carried it from under the orange tree, across the lawn to shelter of the apple tree, sat there, peeled it, spat out the pith, and ate the juicy orange part. Just like we do.

Monday, April 11, 2011

... and the hanging baskets are ready to be hung up

Petunias, allysum, lobelia plantlets, plus nastursium seeds. And some other seeds. Forgot already. Maybe black-eye susan vine? Have to wait and see now!

But where to hang them? Have to install brackets or hooks first!

Sunday workout

Sunday-in-the-garden was severely truncated because of an I-ran-over-my-iPhone-with-my-truck-after-it-fell-out-of-stupid-new-holder incident, which resulted in two hours away at the ATT store replacing phone at my own cost despite them having sold me the stupid holder the day before. But still managed to make some progress with the what-will-be flower garden.

Covered the area with weedblock fabric to prevent any pre-existing weeds from coming through. The fiercest and strongest will eventually fight their way through it, but it's a good hindrance and will allow me to keep them under control more easily. It's pegged down around the old tree stump and around the rose bush that Jade gave me which safely survived the move. It has flower buds!

Now I just have to move all the topsoil, barrow by barrow, from the driveway.

And then... let the planting begin!


We have assembled all of the bookcases! It was quite a project. Now we have to fix them to the walls (tricky), put in the shelves (easy), and then at last I'll be able to unpack all the books.

There was a truck-load (literally, I know, I loaded it) of packaging material from these that I had to take to the recycling centre on Saturday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Yesterday evening, I potted-up four of the six large cymbidium orchids that I found in the bargain grocery store around the corner. Then I ran out of pots. They were bargains because they are no longer flowering, I guess, but they are large, with many new pseudobulbs, with healthy leaves and roots.

They reminded me of my visit to Singapore, and to the beautiful orchid garden, full of so many orchids that it's almost gluttony for the senses.

Also potted up some mint, sweet basil, and two heirloom yellow pear tomato plants.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I think there is a bay tree in the garden

They look like bay leaves and they smell like bay leaves. But is it a Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), or a California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica)?

Spring weekend

I spent all weekend working on the front border. It was all compressed and full of weeds. Had to dig through that top layer of clay, because it would become stone if left until summer.

Six yards of topsoil in the driveway, delivered late Friday evening. Weeds and a dead tree gone, along with several tree/shrub stumps and their roots.

Planted: two hydrangeas, three gardenias, two azaleas, a camellia sassanqua "Yuletide", several floribunda roses, some drumstick allium, eight Mexican daylilies, and three climbing jasmine plants. They are all quite small but hopefully will settle in and start growing!

Book corner

The room on the right as you enter the house will be "the library". I like the sound of that. It's walls are painted a strange was-meant-to-be-sage-but-came-out-slightly-different pale shade of... something. The books are still in boxes. And so are the bookshelves: they arrived this weekend, about twenty boxes full of pieces to be assembled.

Same room, looking through the dining room towards the kitchen.