True confessions of a tomato gardener

Before this year, I've never been able to successfully grow a tomato larger than a roma.


I said it.

Yes, it's true. Despite successfully growing all sorts of plants (edible and otherwise), I haven't ever been able to grow large tomatoes. And my shame has been compounded by the fact that Hubby is a tomato lover and connoisseur bordering on "tomato junkie".

Oh the horror.

I thought I would be forever doomed to a life of growing small tomatoes...

...until this year.

Our growing season is very long. We can put in tomatoes as early as March and have them ready for a mid-summer harvest. Usually that's what I do. This year I didn't.

I put in the tomato seedlings from our local nursery center about 2 months later in the growing season. Despite my track record, I hopefully put in a beef steak variety as well as cherry and roma.

As I was watching other gardeners blogging about their garden bounty, I tried to hang on to the hope that our jungle of rapidly growing tomato plants would eventually produce something other than massive green stems. Of course, the cherry tomatoes started producing fruit first and I figured, "Oh well, I should have known better than to hope."

Then Hubby noticed a larger tomato growing in among the tangle of vines. I noticed another. And then another.

"Please, oh please let one of them ripen to maturity," I said to myself.

Hubby assured me that even if the big ones never ripened, they were big enough to try fried green tomatoes. That made me feel a little better. A little.

Late yesterday evening Hubby came in with his hands behind his back. And with a little flourish he produced the surprise. A ripe beef steak tomato bigger than the palm of his hand! He cupped in two hands and I marveled.  I hadn't even seen it ripening. But he had. And he was thrilled to harvest it (I'm glad he did because I have a skin allergy whenever I brush my bare arms against tomato vines).

We photographed the miraculous beef steak for posterity before Hubby dissected it to become part of his nightly salad. If I didn't have photographic evidence I think I may still be in disbelief that I actually managed to grow that thing.

P.S. This tomato was grown completely organically. No pesticides. No fertilizer. Just organic compost dug into the soil before transplanting the seedling. Thanks to the birds and predatory insects in my garden, I don't have to worry about tomato-eating bugs.
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My weird wisteria is at it again...

Don't ask me why. I've tried to figure it out to no avail. My wisteria thinks it's great to bloom in late August or early September after a full growing season. 

No matter how many times it's done it in the past, I'm still surprised when I come upon a bloom. The heady fragrance is fantastic... but somewhere deep in my head I know that scent belongs to the springtime.

There were years after I first put it in that it didn't bloom at all. I was dismayed and tried carefully not to over-prune it in the fall or winter so it would bloom in the spring.

It didn't work.

The first time it finally bloomed was in the autumn with all it's gorgeous green leaves still intact. I should have known that was a portent of years to come.

The past couple of years, the silly thing has decided to bloom twice a year. Yes... TWICE. And it isn't a prolific bloomer for either the spring or late summer/early fall blooms. I get a few clusters and that's it.

I always had visions of a wisteria like my mother's. Hers grew huge on a latticed pergola with the massive bluish-purple clusters hanging down through the lattice to brush my head as I walked under them causing the petals to flutter down at my feet.

Yes... that was my vision. But that isn't what I got.

Instead, I got a weird wisteria that does things completely out of sync from what wisteria is supposed to do.

It shouldn't surprise me though. I do pretty much the same thing. *wink*
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A letter to the Sparrow family

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow (and family),

I'm missing you.

I love how you nest just under the eaves outside my studio window. As usual, I noticed you raised two separate broods this year--the first in early spring and a second in early summer.

I miss the scratching and peeping overhead as I work at my computer.

I miss the swooping shadows of you (the Mr. and Mrs.) as you bring in bugs and try to keep up with the voracious appetites of your young ones.

I miss the entertainment you provided for the cats. You made their whiskers quiver and their teeth chatter as they watched your every feathery movement. I know you knew what you were doing every time you perched on the phone line just outside the window. You love taunting them don't you?

I hope you didn't mind when I put out a little makeshift apparatus of branches this year when one of your adventurous little ones in your second brood decided to "fly" (more like drop) from the nest. I wanted to make sure he or she had a way to practice flying and have a high enough perch it could climb on its own until it could get over to the big rose hedge not too far away. I was so happy it only took less than a day for that to happen. I didn't want the garden kitty to get your little one. You both did so well in keeping track of him or her (I hope you don't mind that I was watching and keeping track too).

I always wonder if you will be adventurous and try to squeeze in the raising of another brood in August before the fall comes. I guess you know better. The weird fluctuation of heat and cool in August would probably be too hard on eggs and chicks. You're probably pooped out and need a good break anyway.

I guess I'll see you around the garden. Hope you're enjoying the bread crumbs I've been putting out. Hopefully they go well with summer bugs. I'll put sunflower seeds out when it gets cooler and the bugs get scarce.

Until next spring,
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From a problem spot in the garden to a brilliantly colored canna lily collection

My favorite color of all my canna lilies, "Apricot Dream"
When I first started gardening here at Rosehaven Cottage, I was faced with a conundrum. Due to weird drainage issues in the back garden, I decided to work with the problem instead of against it and dug a pond. These drainage issues and the pond created a unique situation... an area with clay soil, boggy conditions and full sun. I went on a hunt for what would grow in these conditions, but found that not many bog plants love full sun... at least the kind of full sun we get around here in the height summer--intense blistering sun and rarely any summer rain.

That's when I discovered canna lilies. I knew of them as some really common varieties are grown a lot around the Bay Area in mass plantings. Most of those varieties are planted for their variegated or burgundy-tinged foliage. The variegated ones usually produce a bright orange flower. The burgundy-tinged foliage produce a brilliant scarlet flower. As I often do, I went on a hunt to see if there were other varieties besides what was always in stock at the big box and home improvement stores.

I first searched at our local nursery center and found the common varieties I was used to seeing. I bought some of the burgundy-tinged cannas with their brilliant scarlet red blooms to put in the area right by the pond and give it a go.

The cannas LOVED it! They liked have soggy feet and sun-scorched heads. In fact, they began propagating on their own rather quickly through an underground reproduction system similar to rhizome plants like iris. I was very pleased. I have really good luck with bulbs and rhizomes (not so much with seeds) so this seemed to be a good fit.

But I wanted more variety. And I wanted lush looking bright green foliage that looked like it came straight off a tropical island.

The color of watermelon!
I went to the trusty internet to find out what other colors canna lilies came in and to see if I could procure some. Hunting around I was in a tropical-lover's paradise. I felt like I'd been transported to my beloved Hawaiian island of O'ahu.

It was then that I knew I needed to have a canna lily garden with all my favorite varieties I was finding. I didn't want all the colors... just the ones that made me smile the moment I saw their photograph.

This color also reminds me of ripe juicy melon

This year is the first year that the canna lilies have really filled in the beds I created and they've put on the tropical color show I'd been envisioning when I ordered them over the internet.

Some grow in large pots that sit directly on the ground with a dripper in each connected to the entire drip-mist system that irrigates my drought-tolerent garden. Some are directly in the ground (with a dripper at the base of each) in a raised bed right next to the deck so when I lean over the railing I am met with an explosion of colors that rivals any crayola box. It amazes me because nothing else really wants to grow there. But the cannas do.

Canna lilies are sensitive to frost so they eventually wither up and turn brown some time in December. I leave the dead foliage on as frost protection until around early March. Then I gently cut it all back to find new green spears emerging from the old foliage. By May or June, I have beautiful green tropical foliage and the beginnings of the bloom that lasts all summer if I continue to deadhead them.

I couldn't be happier with the result. And each year the beds will get fuller and more beautiful because of the canna's propensity to self-propagate.

Not bad considering it all started out because I had a problem spot in the garden.
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The history of my love of greeting cards and stationery

Did you know that I have birthday cards from my first birthday? No kidding. I've loved them all these mumble-ty-mumble years. I have my birthday cards from just about every childhood birthday. They are all neatly mounted in a scrapbook on my shelf here in the studio. I take them out periodically to look at them.

Sounds weird? It's par for the course with me. Let me explain...

My parents got a super 8mm movie camera a few months before I was born, so all my first milestones (as well as my siblings firsts) were recorded on film. My mom painstakingly went through and spliced together our films along the way so we had long reels to watch whenever us kids could get her to drag out the projector for family night.

One of those home movies shows me on my first Christmas when I could open presents myself. The scene goes like this... I open a card that's attached to a present and am mesmerized by it. I can't read, but I pretend I can. I turn it over and over in my hands looking at every side of the folded card. From off camera, my mom steps in and coaxes me to open the still wrapped present sitting next to me on the floor. I open the gift, discover a beautiful handmade terry cloth robe with shiny satin turquoise trim. I throw the robe aside on the floor. I dig around in the tissue paper to see what else is there. Then I rummage around in the pile of wrapping paper, tissue paper and clothing box to find my greeting card again and resume "reading" it as I was doing before I was so "rudely" interrupted by the mundane task of opening presents. *harumph*

See?!?! I've always loved greeting cards! Any stationery really.

I eventually warmed up to the robe...
... See! I'm wearing it as I'm delirious
with excitement over drawing
with colored pencils (okay...
I just blinked, that's all)
My Grammy used to handwrite letters to me from the time I was toddler. She had a wonderful assortment of kiddy-friendly stationery she wrote on. I loved those stationery designs. As soon as I could write, I wanted my own assortment of stationery so I could write letters too. Sometimes I loved the art on the stationery so much that it made me ache inside to write on it and send it away.

Yeah, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool stationery lover.

I guess it stands to reason that I would end up designing stationery as an adult. You're probably thinking, "Yeah! That would be no brainer!" But it took me a while to come to that conclusion on my own. Now that I have, I feel like I've come "home".

I launched my new Etsy shop this last week, Rosehaven Cottage Stationers Fine Printables at I've launched a line of professionally personalized print-your-own invitations (and other stationery). If you want to read how it works click here.

I've been having so much fun adding new designs. Some I've had in the back of my head for a while, but others are inspired by people that ask about a specific type of design they've been looking for. I LOVE when people give me special requests. That's all I need to get a creative spark and I'm off and creating! Keep those suggestions coming!
The new watermark I designed for
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Making the most out of trimming up the garden

I was having to give a corner of the garden a "haircut" the other day in order to make the path passable. Under the huge (and I mean HUGE) buddleia bush, grow a bunch of plants that prefer less intense sun. They had all grown rather unruly  and needed shaping up. So the hydrangea, a fern and the David Austen "Abraham Darby" rose got trimmed up.

One reason I hate doing a mid-summer trim is that I often have to cut off blooms in their prime. That's what happened with the "Abraham Darby". There was a perfect rose blooming on a long branch encroaching in a not-so-subtle way onto the well-traveled garden path that sweeps in front of it. It had to come off. I felt so bad. Until I had an idea... I decided to bring the single bloom inside instead of throw it in with the rest of the green waste, and I would use it for a photo shoot.

Usually I can't bring cut flowers inside because I have a flower-eating-ginger-tabby that won't leave them alone unless the flowers are perched on the fireplace mantle. I put the "Abraham Darby" in a small bud vase on the mantle until I had the right natural light in my studio.

A couple of days later when the light was right and the flower-eating-ginger-tabby was napping, "Abraham Darby" and I had a photo shoot. And "Abraham Darby" was the perfect model.

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