Did you know there is no such thing as a "green thumb"?

A couple of days ago, while hunting for information about something else I stumbled upon an online article that has had me thinking ever since. The particular quote that I continue to contemplate says:
"Think about it, nobody digs and sows, plants and weeds, or sprays bugs in a forest. Still, all those chores are taken care of somehow. The forest grows and feeds its inhabitants, doesn't it? 
"If any task in your garden is an unpleasant chore then there is definitely a better way to do it or to eliminate it. Learn from nature. Nature has already developed a solution to every problem that you could possibly encounter in your garden." (from What is permaculture?)
The sentence I underlined hit a chord with me and has resonated long after I finished reading.

This resonation has caused me to reflect on one of the first unpleasant chores I eliminated when we moved here over 12 years ago--keeping a lawn. Although mowing the lawn was never a distasteful chore that I did growing up (I learned to enjoy it), the thought of pampering the lawn and coaxing it to be lush and green during our hot, dry summers was not a pleasant prospect.

An interesting chain of events followed that pivotal decision to eliminate any thought of a lawn. And the events came from seemingly unrelated sources:

I took things slowly as far as the design of the garden was concerned. I needed to get to know the seasons in my new climate. I needed to familiarize myself with how the light hit different parts of our lot and how water drained (or didn't). One can only do that by taking things slowly as the seasons roll in and out for at least a year or two. I somehow knew that.

I discovered that one of the most important garden chores I would engage in was sitting parked in a patio chair for long stints of time and simply observing. No earbuds with music from an iPod... no book to read... no one there to chat with... just me sitting alone with the garden. And the garden "told" me an awful lot about itself that I never would have "heard" otherwise.

What ended up happening was that I stumbled upon the very truth that I just read a couple of days ago. I had no idea I had lit upon a key aspect of permaculture. In fact, I'd never read about permaculture until I read the article I quote above.

But somehow my own garden taught me something that nature is always willing to teach anyone who will listen. "If any task in your garden is an unpleasant chore then there is definitely a better way to do it or to eliminate it."

I now enjoy a somewhat symbiotic relationship with my garden. It provides me with so much--particularly serenity. And it doesn't demand much of me in return because I've allowed nature to create a balance. I feel that I was guided through the process of discovering this truth by a much wiser power than my own intellect, so that I could enjoy what the article finally says:
"If you think ahead and design your permaculture garden right, it won't take much effort, it will mostly look after itself, and it will also be incredibly productive and beautiful and attractive to wildlife."
I wish I could somehow infuse that vision into others that they could see what lies ahead if they step back and let nature do it's thing. Oh how I wish I could. And that the result doesn't have to look like a tumble-down mess. It can have wonderful structure and still have nature taking care of most of the chores. Your garden can be inspired and designed after ones in Tuscany or cottage gardens in England or the great plains of the North American continent. The possibilities for inspiration are endless.

In the past 12 years, I've learned one more very important truth... there is no such thing as a "green thumb". Those individuals who appear to have a "green thumb" are actually seeking out and absorbing gardening information through every source possible and particularly through observation. That's the only difference between a "green thumb" and a "brown thumb".
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In my estimation one can never have too many rocks

Just look at that pile of gorgeous bad boys! It's one of the most beautiful sights ever... a pile of huge hunks of naturally eroded and rounded off granite. I have my sister and her husband to thank for these. They were moving from their home and asked if I would like to give these boulders a home. I couldn't say, "Yes!" fast enough.

Then came the hard part... getting them from their house to ours.

The boulders are so large and heavy that multiple trips were involved. Aching muscles and backs were too, Hubby tells me. I obeyed his strict orders to stay away from the loading and unloading zones. Our trusty little Toyota pickup was riding low with these behemoths loaded in the back. But the Tacoma never whimpered. Now the wheelbarrow... that was a different story altogether. Let's just say we have to procure a new one and leave it at that, shall we?

Once the rocks were unloaded into a pile in the middle of the unfinished half of the back garden, Hubby gave me permission to roll them around to my heart's content as long as I didn't try to lift them and strain myself irreparably. As my personal "Jiminy Cricket", he knows me well enough to know I'd do something stupid if he didn't give me carefully worded and firm parameters. Luckily, I listen better to my Jiminy than Pinnochio ever did to his.

I took my time getting around to rolling any rocks since I've been recuperating from a nasty bronchial virus I caught over two weeks ago. The delay gave the lizards and the little semi-feral garden kitty time to claim the rock pile. Little Missy regularly sits on the largest boulders surveying her domain while toasting her petite fanny on its sun-warmed surface. The lizards enjoy sunbathing too as well as darting in and out of every shadowy crevice catching bugs to eat.

Once I was feeling up to it, I rolled the first rocks into place to better define a canna lily bed (above). The rocks fit like a glove. I was feeling so good about them that I decided to roll a few more into place in a different location under the lemon tree to better define the path that curves under its branches (below). These large boulders will be an important addition to hold pea gravel in place so I can place flagstones along the remainder of the path as I've already done further back toward the shed and thicket.

After rolling 5 boulders weighing at least 100 lbs piece I was pooped. I have yet to roll anymore from the pile. I have to do some planning and clearing first. I got the clearing pretty much done the past couple of days. Now I just need to decide what goes where.

In the meantime, Little Missy and the lizards are doing a great job vying for who is Ruler of the Rock Pile.

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True confessions of a gardener: The "real" reason why I shop at my local garden center

Tucked in the hills along the edge of our town's outer limits is my favorite local garden center, Navelet's. I've loved shopping at Navelet's ever since we moved here because of the highly knowledgeable staff, healthy and diverse plant selection and the overall atmosphere--the way it makes me feel to walk around and browse the aisles. Hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators dart around the blooms. Birds chirp overhead. The air smells of moist fresh soil.

But there's one more reason... and I have to admit it's probably the "real" reason...

For the past year or so, I go there to see if I'll have a chance to interact with Frankie. Frankie isn't an employee. Frankie is a cat. A sweet youngish tabby cat. Frankie doesn't belong to the nursery. He lives just over the garden wall in some condos that have their small patio gardens backed up against the nursery. And according to the nursery staff, Frankie has decided the whole of the garden center is his "backyard". He has full access to the entire center--inside and out. He waltzes in and out of one of several of the big sets of double doors that always remain open during business hours.

Ever since the first time I met Frankie, when I walk into the nursery I know that within the first five minutes he'll come and find me even if I'm still inside looking at the seeds or bulbs on the shelves. Tail held high as prominent as a flagpole, Frankie will come sauntering down the aisle to greet me. I always stop to rub his jowls and scratch his back. Then he will nonchalantly follow me around as I shop, taking brief detours to amuse himself or visit other shoppers. But he always comes back and follows me around until I'm ready to checkout. Then he quietly slips away to do something else on his kitty cat to-do list.

On the spring day I took these photos, Frankie took an extended detour from following me to check out the water plant section. He ended up mesmerized while watching tadpoles in the water. Shortly before I shot these photos, he lapped up some water along with some frog eggs which he seemed to find rather appetizing (must be like caviar for cats).

A horticulturist on the nursery staff told me that Frankie has quite a few fans. She also told me that she has a soft spot for him too and regularly posts photos of him online. He's become the garden center's mascot. I think it's adorable.

I had a chance to visit with Frankie just last week when my mom and I went there to look at lantana for my container garden (I posted about it here). My mom had her tiny little senior chihuahua, Chica, with her, and we finally discovered someone Frankie doesn't like... dogs. Chica is so tiny and quiet she walked up behind Frankie and was sniffing him without Frankie being aware she was there. Then he turned and was startled to find himself face to face with this miniature canine. I guess even though she's smaller than he and doesn't really look like a dog, she still smelled like a dog. He immediately hissed and let her know she was not welcome on his turf. Chica was scooped up and carried until we were ready to go. Frankie immediately returned to his jovial hospitable demeanor and continued to follow us around as I picked out plants.

I knew I was smitten with Frankie when I found myself trying to come up with reasons for "needing" to go to the nursery. I can't help it. He's just so cute. And he's a kitty! I can't help but be smitten.

I was not compensated in goods, services or funds for writing this post. 
The only "payment" I received were rubs and purrs from Frankie.

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Sprucing up my container garden with perennials to brighten the autumn days ahead

As September progresses forward, I can finally venture back out into the garden. One of the first garden tasks on my list of to-do's was to get all the terra cotta pots on the back deck in order. I plucked out the old withered annuals, repotted some perennial herbs and began transplanting my latest acquisitions from our local nursery.

Ever since seeing mounds of it spilling out of containers at a coastal hotel resort a couple of years ago, I've wanted to make lantana a permanent resident in my container garden on the back deck. The festive colors of lantana remind me of popsicles, brilliantly colored Mexican serapes, and a tropical island all at the same time.

After I finished transplanting some of the lantana, skipper butterflies seemed to come out of nowhere and began fluttering around the blossoms. I was very pleased. I knew I'd chosen well. I always try to plant with the pollinators and butterflies in mind. It's the reason why I chose yarrow to plant as a companion plant next to the pots of of lantana. I was entranced by a deep red variety that I hadn't seen before. It's name is "Strawberry Seduction". I can see why.

At the nursery, I discovered another perennial that intrigued me. It's one I'm not familiar with--Globularia "Blue Eyes". The little pincushion flowers are adorable and any blue flower will win my heart instantly. The foliage is a silvery bluish-green and thick like olive leaves. I think it will look lovely in a pot next to the newly trimmed up lavender I have growing in pots already.

In the late afternoon almost-autumn sunshine, the newly potted lantana seemed to glow like festive little party lanterns. Yes, I am very happy with my decision to add this wonderful perennial to my collection. Between now and when our first frost comes (probably not until December), I will be enjoying these little beauties as the sun casts autumnal rays over them with an ethereal glow.  Then they'll go to sleep until spring and delight me all over again.

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Early Autumn vignettes from the garden

Garlic blossoms gone to seed

The last of the sunflowers

My favorite form of a birdfeeder--a sunflower gone to seed. Looks like the birds liked it too.

A feather left behind

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The perplexities of explaining gardening in our Meditterranean climate

September around here means at least another full month of summer temps (we hit 95F/35C yesterday) so the garden is still blooming away and putting on a lovely show. Even though I don't normally share so many photos in one post, I couldn't settle on featuring just one of the many types of flowers that are showing off in the garden. So think of this as a "photo bouquet" of sorts.

"Our Lady of Guadalupe" rose
Trying to explain living in a Mediterranean climate to someone who hasn't ever lived in one for a full year is kind of difficult. Have you ever read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes? All the plants she describes in this memoir are plants that thrive here. The seasons are much the same too (although our winters are a bit milder). The best way I've been able to describe it is that our spring starts about 2 months earlier than you'd expect and autumn comes about 2 months later than in other gardens in the northern hemisphere. Our climate isn't tropical, but it isn't the typical "four season" climate either. See... I said it was difficult to explain.

"Janice Kellogg" rose
The light is changing so we know that autumn is officially only a few weeks away. However, we know that our garden won't look autumnal until late October or even November. Many trees won't display their fall leaves until then unless we get some chilly nights.

The good thing about living in this climate is that we have an extra long growing season for veggies. It's so long, in fact, that many veggie gardeners put in a crop in March or April to be harvested in mid-summer. Then another crop is put in around July for an October or pre-Thanksgiving harvest. With indeterminate crops like some tomato varieties, in past years I've been harvesting tomatoes all the way up to the morning of Thanksgiving the third week in November. It's pretty cool.

Four O'Clock

Lest you think this is all too good to be true, there are downsides to this climate. Trust me... there are.

One downside is we can't expect any rain throughout the summer. The rain stops sometime in May and doesn't typically come back until October or November. It means that our rolling hills are a pale golden color all summer and green during the winter and spring. It's the exact opposite of someplace in the midwest of North America.

Another downside is that we can't grow certain vegetables in the summer garden because the temps are too intensely hot. Veggies like lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, spinach, kale and some onions don't do well. So those crops get planted sometime in the autumn or winter and are grown as winter crops. When everyone else is enjoying fresh lettuce for summer salads we are dreaming of our winter salads. Yeah... it's kind of weird.

Strawberry blossom

After over a decade of learning the rhythms of this climate, I think I'm finally used to what to expect and what not to expect. It still doesn't prevent me from feeling a yearning ache inside when garden bloggers in other climates are posting gorgeous autumn leaves. Autumn is a favorite season for both Hubby and me. It's hard to have to wait a whole 2 months for our climate to catch up. Especially when all we want to do is surround ourselves with the rich tones of the autumnal palette, snuggle up in warmer clothes and enjoy evenings with kitties curled up on our laps.

Gerbera daisy

One really good upside to living in this climate is that once October rolls around, it will still be temperate enough to start working on large garden projects. Hubby and I are looking forward to working on a long-planned pergola in the unfinished portion of the back garden.

In the meantime, I'm still hunkered down inside with the A/C on daydreaming of autumn.

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