Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bounty from the Garden

I went for a walk the other day with my friend Kathy who is 15 years or so my senior. We try to walk briskly and not stop because we are doing this for the exercise, but invariably we do stop to smell a rose, or ponder the name of an unfamiliar plant, or to congratulate a neighbor whose garden "sets an example for us all." I let Kathy do all the talking on these jaunts and she regales me with stories of her nieces and nephews or of her travels and she has been everywhere. Her speech is peppered with what seem to me to be quaint and quirky turns of phrases. On this walk, I am hearing all about how she spent the holidays, but her story meanders, as we do, to a 1955 trip she took to post-war Britain, where rationing has just ended, and the "fair-minded" British make sure you get your fair share "whether you want it or not." This was apropos of putting sugar in your tea.

We always end our walk at her yard, which is bigger than mine, to see what's in bloom and to give me clippings of this and that, especially lavender, salvia, and lemons. I love Meyer lemons and Kathy has a Meyer lemon tree which always seems to be bearing fruit. This time I am feasted with lemons, tangerines, and kumquats to take home with me.

Kathy is a native plant buff and her garden reflects her philosophy of "survival of the fittest." Her side yard is populated with native California plants which do not require much water, and she doesn't give it to them. Ceanothus, manzanita, more salvia, buckwheat, and rosemary cover the sloping ground. Her pride and joy for several years was an Island Bush Poppy which has lived out its normal life span already. Kathy also believes in the "resurrection" but this plant didn't make it. Once when a snail crossed our path she suddenly asked me if I was squeamish and I replied, hesitatingly, no-o... STOMP! "Oh well, they don't belong here anyway."

A few times I have been able to return the favor and give her a clipping from my yard that interests her. The most notable example of this was a clipping from my Lavatera Assurgentiflora. Lavatera is native to California, at least to the Channel Islands, but I don't think this particular species is the right one, but it is close enough. It is in Kathy's words, "a very satisfactory plant." It blooms constantly and the birds love it especially the hummingbird. The small birds can easily hide from cats and other enemies in its lush foliage. I cut mine way back last summer to give it a rest and it is just starting to bloom again. A family of White-Crowned Sparrows has taken up winter residence in it. I lured them back with a handful of sunflower seeds strewn in the leaves and debris underneath it. They shuffle their feet to kick up the leaves and expose the seed treasure hidden underneath.

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