Little bits of this and that as summer slowly fades…

I can better accept family and friends moving to new locations when they relocate to places I enjoy visiting. We went to visit family in the Bay Area and simply enjoyed a cooler climate and a change of view.  In just about six hours we can drive from our home to the San Francisco-Oakland area and I can indulge in exploring another California region.

I meant to let you know I was going out-of-town for a few days, but I ran out of time. So today I’ll share just a few of the reasons why.

Even though it’s been hot-hot-hot outdoors, or maybe it’s BECAUSE it’s been hot-hot-hot, we have been focusing on our outdoor living spaces. The “hot” comes into play because with drought conditions it’s a challenge to know what to do. I planted a vegetable garden and then struggled with watering it sufficiently. It didn’t do very well.

I don’t know that too many areas in my yard are actually thriving.

Take a look at some of the birds that regularly come to visit.


They are sweet little things that blend right into our drought-colored landscape. Truth is, they are the regular garden visitors even when there isn’t a drought. If our California gardens weren’t artificially “greened” by lots and lots of water from the tap our natural landscape would be the color of these birds.

I think our eyes are beginning to adjust to a different definition of landscape color. One of the biggest areas of water “waste” is caring for a lawn. I have a long, long way to go if I do decide to transform our entire piece of property into a water-wise landscape, but I am doing what I’m able and I am definitely fascinated with the many ways we are all being shaped and perhaps “forced” to adapt.



We certainly didn’t need to keep watering a section of grass that was primarily being used as Zena’s loo. With or without water we were losing that battle, so we dug up that portion of the lawn and replaced it with decomposed granite. It’s permeable–I remain hopeful it will one day rain again–and compacts to a nice clean surface.

If you’re unfamiliar with the “brown as the new green” look of this kind of landscaping, it may strike you as extremely stark. It took me a few years to begin to see the beauty in this kind of landscaping, but I have grown to love it. It isn’t second-best any longer, although I do “ooh and ah” over green, well-watered gardens. I’m just a bit more appreciative when that water originally fell from the sky.

As if water weren’t a big enough issue…then there’s this guy!


I don’t remember what was originally in this pot. It must have tasted good because it’s gone now! Darwin our Sulcata Tortoise is such a scavenger and has started to be very destructive. I don’t know his exact weight, but I know he weighs more than 50 pounds. And when he decides to stretch, he can bring his entire carriage taller, reaching over low borders–or plowing through them–eating anything he wants. He has managed to chomp through my succulents and low hanging hibiscus branches–yes branches, and I had to do something I didn’t at first want to do. Confine him!

We made another opening in our small greenhouse providing a connection to the back of the retaining wall that supports the backyard train, and he now has a very long runway with quite a bit of open space on the other side of the greenhouse. It isn’t the run of the whole place that he enjoyed for his first six years, but he has adjusted nicely. I have big plans for further enhancements and I’ll be sure to take photos as his playground evolves.

I’ve also changed his diet.

If he lived in the wild he would be eating more grasses. He’s spoiled and turns his nose up at timothy hay. So I add a little pumpkin and it’s a hit! I’m gradually reducing the amount of the pumpkin and increasing the grass, but he eats it with gusto! My plants are saved!

So now that we’ve had our trip to the Bay Area and returned, adapted Darwin’s diet and abode, as well as completed a few areas of garden management, I feel better balanced. I’m hoping to post a little more often and make more visits to the many blogging friends I have missed over this summer. Even though I’m not completely sure I want to say goodbye to summer, there are some routines that seem to return with fall, and I thrive when I don’t fight routine!

I must share one more thing. It’s mid-week already and you need a lift, don’t you? On the way home from work I was stopped at a freeway off-ramp and guffawed with laughter as I took a double take at this sign. I’m sure others wondered at my cruelty for laughing at a lost puppy!

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This poor “Springer Spaniard” has lost its owner.

Just let it sit …you’ll get it!

Have a mirth-filled rest of the week. I’ll be by to visit.



I’m thinking of getting a NannyCam for my backyard

I found it very difficult to leave my home and head off to work this morning. Spring has brought some very colorful visitors, and it’s hard for me to miss out on the only time of year they may come for a little stay.


I’ve never seen these beautiful birds before.  They don’t appear in any of my California or Los Angeles area Audubon books. Can you help me out? The photos are a little blurry because I rather hurriedly took them through my kitchen window. I wonder if I’ll see them again?

Most of our backyard birds aren’t nearly this colorful.  I presume that the plumage on the majority of my little bird friends serves to camouflage a bit in our particular landscape.

Of course some of our regular visitors never do blend into the landscape. I love watching the Jays weigh the peanuts to find the ones that seem to offer the best reward.



I don’t know who this guy is either! I have seen him before, but not often.

Who do you think he is?



But these guys were my weekend favorite guests. At one point there were six of them in the feeder, but I’m afraid my enthusiasm frightened them off.

I had to scour my books, but based on observation and listening to a recording of their song, I am quite sure these playful fellows are Black-Headed Grosbeaks. Do you agree?

I have never seen them in my yard before this past weekend, and I’m just sure they were playing at my home all day today while I was staring at a computer screen. I don’t suspect they are going to be staying very long, and I am enthralled.

By the way, the Cardinal on the bird feeder is as close to a Cardinal as I’m going to get in my Southern California garden.

I am glad I didn’t miss bath time!

Unfortunately someone else came along to disrupt! I think she  wasn’t too happy to see her favorite drinking fountain used as a bath tub!

It’s a good idea I was home to supervise Darwin or I might have been unhappy to see he’d helped himself AGAIN to my succulents. I caught him just in time to grab some aloe from his secret stash. 


Darwin does take liberties. We keep the sliding door to a back guest cottage open for Zena to come and go as she pleases. She is a very gracious and careful houseguest.

Not so Darwin!

I guess Darwin is feeling a little jealous! I had to pick him up and move him back outdoors. TWICE!


So now I KNOW I need a NannyCam–to catch him in his mischief!

The garden is alive with lots of lovely visitors. Even the cactus is beginning to bloom, but some of the blossoms only last about 24 hours. If I’m not alert, I miss them entirely.


Spring is glorious isn’t it? I do wonder what I miss while I’m at work. The hawk that comes sweeping through? The Phoebe’s making a nest under the eaves? The woodpecker in the neighbor’s tree?

Listening to the Mourning Doves and pretending they are owls?

Yes, we do that.

Who is playing in your backyard?

Be sure to take notice! Spring can be a very short season!

“A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever.”

My garden gets very confused this time of year. So do I. Is it fall or summer?  Temperatures can be misleading.
I hate pulling up flowers still enjoying the sunshine, but these old-fashioned zinnias have been going to seed for at least six weeks, as evidenced by all these little seedlings shooting up despite the shorter days.The soil doesn’t  seem to know summer is over!

Just a month ago the zinnias were bright and cheerful, attracting butterflies. I was hoping for Monarchs, but I am happy to welcome any passersby.
Before I brutally ripped the zinnias from their nice warm bed, I salvaged as many seed heads as I thought reasonable, and they can make another appearance in the spring.
But there’s a lot of garden management between now and spring.
British actor Richard Briers said, “A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever.” 
That’s certainly my observation, also, and this time of year I typically lag in gardening interest.
However, fellow bloggers, especially garden enthusiasts, often provide inspiration at just the right time.
If you haven’t yet met, Kevin, let me introduce you to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Man, and “The incredibly true misadventures of a home gardener. “
The NGDM opened his September 18th blog post with the statement, “At this time of year, as the garden tumbles into autumn colors in preparation for its winter sleep, it’s difficult to not search out garden photos — whether of my own garden, the gardens of other bloggers, or especially gardens of the past.”
And that was the advice I needed to hear to get me motivated, too.
I was the lucky recipient of a recent giveaway following NGDM’s  interview of Caroline Ikin, author of an exceptionally well-researched book titled, “The Victorian Garden.”
Victorian Garden Book
This lovely book is full of archival photos and historically rich documentation thoroughly detailing the development of Victorian garden style and artistry, chronicling the shift from structured gardens once exclusive to wealthy estate owners than later influencing the less ostentatious home garden in local towns and villages.
The book follows the history of the Victorian garden from the original formal British structured layouts and includes fascinating information about a later development termed “wild gardening,” a more natural style in response to formal bedding systems.
This book offers so much rich information that although my personal gardening taste is shifting away from formality and isn’t directly patterned with Victorian influences, I was still captivated by the history, and looking at the photos, I couldn’t help but compare many of the British garden estates to some of the grand homes and gardens I admire along Orange Grove Boulevard, in Pasadena, once called Millionaire’s Row.
Many of the early 20th century landmark mansions that line Orange Grove, the starting route for the famed New Year’s Rose Parade, stand as examples of Victorian grandeur, with huge expanses of lawn, very formal gardens, exquisite topiary and garden ornamentation.
Pasadena is often referred to as “Rose City,” particularly due to the historic Rose Parade, but roses, as you might guess, are hardly native to Southern California. So many of the grand estates included very large rose collections in an attempt to follow the fashion of Victorian England. 
Evidence of Victorian garden splendor is abundant in the San Gabriel Valley, despite water shortages and a gradual shift towards native plants and flowers
Another avid rose collector, railroad magnate Henry Huntington, boasted a wealth of beautiful roses on his personal estate.
I  make frequent visits to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Garden as a study, and also to lap up the beauty and come home with a little bit of inspiration. Maybe I also enjoy the feeling of luxury and a by-gone era.
The roses are a little sad this time of year, but the gardens are still blooming with soft autumn color.

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You may notice that Southern California’s shades of Autumn are more subtle than in other parts of the country. But one color we don’t see is “snow-white.” So I still have several gardening months ahead of me before we move to the splendors of spring.
Thank you, Kevin. I will continue to enjoy “The Victorian Garden” and I’ll be particularly interested in visiting the grand botanical gardens again, looking for Victorian detail I have probably overlooked in the past. 
One more quote: “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” Rudyard Kipling
Yep! There’s a lot of work left to do.
I’m still sensing that I’ll need all the inspiration I can possibly find!