We’re off to the beach! Hope the garden and the pets don’t get into trouble!

I’m really enjoying Michelle Obama’s book American Grown. An audiobook is unusual for me, but in this case it’s been particularly delightful to hear the story of the White House kitchen garden through the voices of Mrs. Obama, of course, but also White House horticulturist Dale Haney, and of particular interest, Beekeeper Charlie Brandts. There are so many interesting stories centered around the produce that is grown.

John and Abigail Adams planted the first White House garden in 1800 and from that time forward many distinguished gardens have flourished in both war and peacetime. I am particularly interested in Thomas Jefferson’s role as an experimental and avid horticulturist. He took a scientific interest in unusual seeds, trees and plants from around the world, eventually creating a showpiece at Monticello that continues to amaze today. Seeds from some of his original plants have found a new home in the current White House kitchen garden.

While listening to the stories I thought of some of my own garden experimentations. Much of what I know about gardening I’ve learned through years of trial and error. Because we live in such a friendly climate I tend to jump right in with what appeals to me and often don’t seriously consider there might be setbacks along the way.

One of my most unusual “experiments” was ten years ago following a trip to the Huntington Botanical Gardens where I saw cotton growing in a small garden plot. I was determined to grow some cotton in my home garden.

The first obstacle was simply getting seed. The California Department of Food and Agriculture heavily regulates cotton seed, and to protect the unique crop and the industry as a whole, the seed isn’t available for the home gardener. I had many a nurseryman or woman chuckle at the thought that I’d have any chance of making this happen. But my determination paid off and several months later when I stumbled upon a program for teachers to acquire a limited number of cotton seeds for classroom use–I was in business!

Up popped these pretty green plants with delightful soft yellow flowers eventually turning a shade of pale pink. I watched the dozen or so plants go through many stages of growth, all the while completely unsure of what to look for. To my disappointment, the dozen or so plants turned brown and I assumed they were dead.

Until one day I looked out my kitchen window amazed to see those same “dead” plants covered with little white puff balls! While I wasn’t looking the brown twiggy part of the plant had formed a cotton boll, and poof! I had cotton!

My cotton initiative was over. I still make decisions that sometimes aren’t the most practical…like this year, giving over entirely too much space to growing pumpkins so that Sophia and Karina can see them in all stages. Not the most practical use of space and water, but fun.

Now we are leaving town for a week at the beach! And although we have house-sitters occupying our place and caring for the animals, I’m a little concerned that my garden and all the potted plants are going to miss me! It’s going to be hot! hot! hot! and Jay and I “fuss” over the plants. We have sprinkling systems, but often don’t use them, instead choosing to first talk to the plants and ask if they are actually thirsty. I don’t expect anyone else to take the kind of time we do.

And then there are the animals. Kramer, the cockatiel, has to have socialization. She sulks at the bottom of her cage if she gets lonely. And Pinky really doesn’t stop eating…ever! I have made pre-packaged large Ziploc bags of food labeled for each day. Will anyone else think to add bottles of frozen water to her enclosure if it gets too hot? She likes to curl up to her personal air conditioners.

Now Darwin won’t even care that we’ve gone! He can amuse himself all day and he’ll be free to roam! While we were setting up our watering system today he got a little unexpected bath and I took this picture of his beautiful shell. He really IS beautiful, isn’t he?

So off we go! We’ll be back in a week. I hope to take some wonderful photos of the beautiful Pacific Ocean and the crazy activity of Newport Beach, but I don’t yet know if I’ll even have Internet access. I may be playing major catch-up in a week, but I have never had anything but a wonderful time when we are at the beach.

Today’s headlines from Aurora, Colorado were simply horrifying. I can’t fathom the heartache! I must admit I am looking forward to a week away from headlines and a mini-break from real world pressures and realities. We are taking our children and grandchildren with us, and for one full week I will be able to sit on the evening sand and watch a sunset. The half hour before the sun disappears into the ocean is my favorite time of dayΒ when everything just seems to come together and I can simply be grateful!

I promise to take photos and to save a little salt air for you, but don’t move too quickly without me, okay?

About to breathe a whole lot lighter…Debra

42 thoughts on “We’re off to the beach! Hope the garden and the pets don’t get into trouble!

  1. Debra, I had never seen cotton flowers, very cool! As your reader above commented, I too always learn something new with you. Have a wonderful time and looking forward to your photos!

    1. I am so glad I could share my cotton blossoms with you, Marie.It was such a fun little experiment! I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures…the ocean was just beautiful today! πŸ™‚ Debra

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  3. How wonderful that you will have a week at the beach with your loved ones. You are a good example of great determination, deciding to grow cotton and then figuring out how to make it happen.

    1. I think back to how hard it was to find that cotton seed, Sharyn, and the other seed I had difficulty getting at the time was okra! I was raised on Southern cooking and I was determined to grow it. It’s easier to find it now, but for some reason at the time it wasn’t possible. When I finally did get it, we had a mild summer without the extreme heat…my crop failed! πŸ™‚ I think I like the investigating, though. I am glad no one is depending on my for my farming abilities! I just have fun!

    1. That is so true, Carl. I think we tend to focus on aspects of slavery concerned with the lack of personal freedom, but we don’t often discuss how horrible the physical labor was in the cotton fields. The bolls on my very small plants were extremely sharp. Good point, Carl!

  4. Nancy

    Enjoy the beach! We were there last weekend for about 4 days with Jenna and family. We took our RV’s and stayed at the Newport Dunes RV Resort on the bay right off Jamboree. I’m sure you’re familiar with all the area. We certainly enjoyed the cool air and being able to be out riding our bikes at all times of day. We rode our bikes through Balboa Island and onto the ferry to the beach. It was heaven for a few days – just wasn’t long enough! You all enjoy your time together – family is so fun at the beach! It would be so fun to coordinate our time at the beach with you all. Hmmmmmm?! Maybe we will have to look into that for next summer! Do your parents come down at all? You will have to let us know where you stay – the RV park was fine but George and I like being closer to the beach!! Have a wonderful time!

    1. I’m so glad you have a love of Newport, too, Nancy! I’m sure you enjoyed the climate change! We stay on the peninsula in a house we’ve rented each summer for almost twenty years. We are just a few houses from the ocean and it’s central to everything we enjoy! It’s a good hike, but we usually walk to Balboa Island several times throughout the week. I’ll tell you more about it sometime and I do agree it would be great fun to coordinate. We have several beach places we frequent throughout the year…one is in Laguna. My parents don’t stay at the beach with us, but they do come down to visit! Let’s talk! πŸ™‚

  5. I remember that experiment! How wonderful that you got to see the cotton to its fruitation! Have a very blessed and wonderful time at the beach…breathelighter as you sit and watch not only those wonderful sunsets but the time with your beautiful family!

      1. I am so glad that you have those sunsets this week!!! I am overjoyed for you having this time! Hugs your way…. I am living vicariously through you with the nice cool ocean breezes!

  6. Oh, and yes, Darwin’s shell is absolutely beautiful!!! I have never seen it when it is wet, either his or the ones at the Wildlife World Zoo here. It looks like it is highly polished!! What a treat for you and your little ones to enjoy such a variety of critters. πŸ™‚ Your very own Fetterly zoo!

  7. I have seen cotton growing. A friend, an art teacher, bought one for her students to observe. A gardening friend grew hops one year, just to see if she could. Just think, if our founding mothers and fathers had not dared to bring plants over from their homelands, we wouldn’t have most of what we do have (and a few weeds, to boot). Then, there is that wonderful crop – maize. Here all along.

    Oh, Debra, what a fabulous post this is with Darwin and Pinky and Kramer and thoughts of a week at the beach. We are bird sitting right now for our daughter, Jennifer, who has left Maria in our care – and all sorts of medicine to feed her. Our own cockatiel, Maya, has been chirping to Maria back and forth. I wonder what they are saying.

    I have noted American Grown on my wishlist, but, hadn’t thought of getting it on audio. Hm? I might must look into that. Thank you, dear Debra. Safe travel and have fun.

    1. Penny, I know you’d enjoy American Grown. I think hearing the stories in the voices of the individuals responsible for cultivating the garden and the White House kitchen staff and cooks really enhances the “reading” experience!

      I am interested in your friend who grew hops! She thinks like I do…it’s not practical, but a challenge! The Huntington Garden had hops growing in the same section as the cotton! πŸ™‚ You’re so right about those early American gardeners. There is something in the human spirit that stays close to the land, and in particular, the plants, trees, and vegetation that reminded them of home. I was determined to grow the cotton and I have similar stories with growing okra and black-eyed peas…my mom was raised in the South and I was raised on Southern cooking…I just had to do it. I grew them successfully, but in our climate the crops weren’t very productive! At least I tried!

      We had a nice day today, Penny, and I will probably spend some evenings on my computer…it’s kind of nice to have the time with little competition for it! πŸ™‚

  8. Cheers, Debra! Enjoy your time at the beach. Don’t even worry about your garden or anything else. Just let that crashing water wash your cares away.

    The cotton growing is funny. I’d love to make a gardening mistake like that sometime. It is interesting to look back on what people used to do with gardening. I love that part of our history and reading about different people who seem so ‘big’ who liked to work in the dirt.

    1. I had a wonderful sunset tonight, Andra, and as soon as I saw the ocean I was just fine with leaving everything at home in the care of others…and I’m sure they’ll be fine without me! I will be sharing pictures, I’m sure!

      I think there must be something in our DNA responsible for keeping us connected to the land! My mother-in-law left behind a huge and gorgeous garden when she moved into a retirement community more out of necessity than her desire, and she transformed her small upper story balcony into a lush and gorgeous showpiece. People stopped on the street to take notice. I think for some of us we can’t help ourselves! πŸ™‚ And our early American fathers and mothers were truly amazing…they did it all without the benefit of seed catalogues and automatic watering systems!

      Obviously I have Internet at the beach after all…so I’ll be checking in quite regularly! I have actual time! Wow! πŸ™‚

      1. My friend Leigh Anne’s daughter Anna is out there right now. Simi Valley, visiting family. She’s 15 and has never been on a trip alone. πŸ™‚ What a great place for her to visit first.

  9. Oh Debra, I’m so with you on the experiments, me being me I pick up a packet of seeds and then try and work out if or how I can make something happen. And I’m sureyour house – garden-pet sitter will do a fantastic job, besides you are at the beach! How much better can life be ?! I hope you have a fantastic break, and I hope your home doesn’t miss you too much. And I know pretty much the first thing that you will do when you get home – check up on your pets and then straight out into the garden πŸ™‚
    Oh and yes Darwin’s shell is stunning!

  10. We’ve had those horrific headlines of the tragedy and appalling disaster in Colorado flashed on our TV screens here too. So difficult to imagine how something like this could have happened to so many innocent people. I hope you have a wonderful holiday at the beach and that the weather is good and you are able to enjoy the wonderful Pacific Ocean. It sounds like it will be a very relaxing and special time away xx

  11. Your vacation sounds like an ideal break from everything, including headlines (which I believe we all need). I love the story of your cotton-growing adventure, how thrilling that you were able to raise cotton successfully! Thomas Jefferson is my favorite historical person; I’ve done tons of reading about him from many aspects (including autobiographical writings). Visiting Monticello was one of my favorite vacation trips – he was truly a uniquely gifted intellectual.

  12. OH MY GOODNESS!!!! You and I both left for the beach on the same day! And guess what? We were in NEWPORT!! How cool it would have been to drop by and say HI! Hope you had a wonderful time! We are back in HOT, HOT Arizona and trying to remember that we needed a sweatshirt for the evenings in CA.
    I love your cotton growing story! And i’m sure that your cotton explosion means that you will be spinning and sewing in no time! (just kidding, of course! πŸ˜‰

  13. Dear Debra, going to the beach with your children and grandchildren sounds like nirvana to me! I’ve never spent any time on a beach. I have camped at Gooseberry, which is a large state park by Lake Superior in Minnesota. The sound of the waves/tides hitting the large rocks/boulders on the shore lulled me to sleep each night. And the morning sunrise glistening on the lake and beaming around me left me, often, breathless with wonder.

    Leaving pets behind is always a problem for me also. But I learned that trusted friends are as good to the cats as I try to be. One friend/helper is even better. She plays with them much longer than I do. Peace.

  14. Well now, I’d bought some pretty dried plants like that for a fall planter arrangement and kept them because they were so pretty. Silly me.. I didn’t realize they were actual cotton plants!! I didn’t realize they were so protective of the industry either. Have a wonderful holiday.. your animals will likely be spoiled.. they would be too cute not to!

  15. Hi Debra, isn’t summer the perfect time to sit back and enjoy reading things we don’t always make time for? There just seems to be a bit more permission to expand our wings this time of year, and I love it. That *is* one gorgeous shell… Enjoy your holiday Debra – fill your toes with sand and your lungs with that gorgeous, unmistakable, salty ocean air.

  16. I can’t believe that I forgot this one. Oh well … that happens to me on weekends.

    Thanks for sharing your cotton experience because I’ve never known anyone who has grown it. What did you do with the cotton?

    Meanwhile, enjoy the beach …. and what a great pic of Darwin’s shell!

  17. Fun to read about your garden experience. I like gardens myself and I actually like gardening, but just don’t seem to have the time it requires to make it into anything. When I do something I want to do it wholeheartedly, and I guess that’s why I never really have become a gardener. I love you little story about cotton – and how you thought the plants were dead when instead they were actually producing cotton. But I am somewhat surprised about the strict regulations in California to protect the business.

    1. Isn’t cotton an interesting plant? I did learn a great deal by growing the “real deal” in my own yard! Sometimes I get lucky, because I really didn’t know what I was doing! πŸ™‚ Debra

  18. Pingback: Week One: El NiΓ±o Report from the Huntington Botanical Gardens | breathelighter

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