April 3, 2019

Rain is forecast for the next three days.  Water content in the Sierra snow pack is 162 percent of normal.

I managed to clock in an hour of weeding in the early morning. Temperature was mild, 51 degrees, and climbing steadily.  I weeded to the sound of a flutter of wings as ducks settled into the pond in front of the house.

when the rain held off, I finished clearing the rest of the circle garden around the oak tree  at the barn.  The  small stones clustered on the border look very appealing once the invasive grass and weeds are pulled.  Lift rock, deracinate ugly invasive species, replace rock, repeat.  I also found a can of green spray paint so that the white PVC piping would be less noticeable.

On the way out of Oakland I stopped at the Orchard Nursery in Lafayette.  Alas, no matilija poppies in stock, but I found a gray rush  in the California Natives Section.  I am exploring what grasses can grow under drought tolerant conditions.  I planted the gray rush in the circle garden, together with a purple lantana that I nursed along from the prunings in January.

I also bought a catmint at the Orchard Nursery.  Catmint requires low to average water; it will fare better in the new back yard planter box sheltered by the house.

The two coleonemas are blooming as I have never seen them before.  More benefits of pruning and steady rainfall since the beginning of February.

Halfway penumbra 2.37, full sun 4.15, sunset 7.27.  I did not get to the back yard in time to monitor the initial penumbra.  The halfway point is nonetheless instructive and maybe predictable.

April 2, 2019

Thunderstorms broke this afternoon.  I drove into professional rain at Lockeford, less than ten feet of visibility.  Fortunately the storm passed by the time I reached Clements, four miles down the road.

Driving through the Delta on Route 12 this afternoon I finally had my Blossom Trail.  Route 12 is more or less a levee road; the fruit orchards sit just below the roadway, on either side.  I cannot identify the trees but I saw acres of white blossoms.  The Central Valley is on its way to feeding the nation.

Ben and Karen gave me the book Epitaph for a Peach by a neighbor David Masumoto.  David is a third generation Japanese American trying to maintain his family orchard of specialty organic peaches  In his book he writes about a machine that shaves the tops of  the fruit trees, presumably to force more lower growth and make the fruit more accessible.  Sure enough, I drove past orchards with a very neat flat top.

I took Jackson Valley Road to come o the ranch from the north.  I was looking for the vineyards in Jackson Valley that line that road.  A true California experience, but these are working farms not Tuscan villas.

March 30, 2019

As I awoke this morning, I saw a pair of robins pecking at the front garden just outside my bedroom window.  The rain this winter must have brought out the worms.  The blue salvia in the narrowest and shallowest part of the slope garden is the first to bloom this spring.

MJ has told me and I have accepted that the back yard is subject to intense sun through the summer.  The new box garden along the side of the house is partially sheltered because the sun travels over the house during the day.  Inspired by my reading in The Invention of Nature, I am going to measure the exact amount of exposure that bed receives on a sunny day such as today.

Penumbra 12.44, Full Sun 4.18, Sunset 7.23

The penumbra time is when the front edge of the box garden first comes out of the shadow of the house and is exposed to the sun.  To my surprise it took three and a half hours for the shadow line to reach the back edge of the box garden, essentially the side of the house.  The result appears to be three hours of direct exposure to the sun for the back of the planter box.  If we have sunny days anytime soon, I will continue my measurements.

Mike was up with his sawhorses, circular saw and complete tool kit to cut the one by six board and build the new calendula box.  He also found another use for his new jigger that allows him to drill at a forty-five degree angle.  He drilled the connecting screws for the four sides inside the box to be covered by soil, leaving a clean outside board edge on all four sides.  With a little shaving of the back board Mike accommodated the siding on the house so that the box sits flush with the wall.

I am back to mowing the lawn in the back yard on a weekly basis.  The weed whacker started on the first try after a few idle weeks and old gasoline.  The weed whacker is useful around trees and to the right side of the driveway where the tractor cannot maneuver.

March 29, 2019

I spent time this morning weeding the western half of the front upper garden.  Even with nearly continuous rain since early February, the weeds had not taken complete control.  The lower garden is a different story.  Lots of a fine feathery weed that will likely need to be poisoned.

I sad a brief prayer and pulled the sweet pea. It seems to have died overnight, although I suspect the process was longer.  Last summer I trimmed one dead branch constituting half the shrub, and the other half never seems to have recovered. Against all odds, the other sweet pea that I sheared off to accommodate  the sidewalk lights is thriving.

It is a joy to see the ceanothus in bloom.


The common name California lilac is for the color of the small plume flowers, not the scent.  I am reminded of the lilacs that came later in the year to the Arboretum in Boston and their amazing scent.  For that you need a long cold winter.

I weeded over half of the circle garden around  the oak tree at the barn and applied Preen.  Clearing grass, clover and weeds from the stone border has to be one of the most miserable jobs on the planet.  I need to channel my inner Saint Francis.

In the afternoon I went to Lowe’s to see what was happening in the Garden Department.  I ended with a deep magenta South African daisy (osteopernum), a Mexican heather and two cubic yards of soil amendment.  In addition, I picked up a one by six pressure treated board twelve feet long.  The concept is to saw it into four 34 inch pieces and create a box calendula garden. The box will be a tribute to Gerry and fill a bare spot on the eastern half of the front upper garden.  Gerry loved his tarantulas and saved the seeds.

The Garden Department at Walmart graced me with a trailing pink petunia and a purple wallflower (erysimum) with the grayish green leaf.  MJ planted a similar wallflower in the upper front garden but it did not survive, most likely due to intense summer sun and shallow graveled soil.  It may need low to average water once established.  I will try it in the new planter box in the back yard that is partly sheltered by the house.

March 28, 2019

The weather was relatively mild today, 45 degrees in the morning.  I worked an hour or more before breakfast in anticipation of rain forecast for this afternoon.

I turned over the new bed along the back of the house, mixed in the Raised Bed Topsoil, and raked it over to even it out.  I planted four plants in this enormous 120 square foot bed – the grevillea lanigera, the Australia fuchsia, the white native iris and the garnet aeonium.  The instructions for Quick Start say to fill the planting hole with fortified  water, set the plant in and add that water to the surface of the plant. The water in the plant hole drained slowly, most likely due to rock shelf one to two inches below the original surface of the bed.  Those four plants at roughly the four corners of the planter box looked pitifully small.  I will see how hey grow and fill in.  A large shrub is still needed for the center of the bed.

I was delighted to see that the three yarrows have taken root, and I applied Quick Start again one week after the original dose.  I planted the kiwi aeonium next to the yarrows and spread over the soil amendment.

I tried to untangle and spread out the ice plant that I had buried in a clump between the two oleanders in the back yard.  The remaining ice plant in the front yard has made a lovely carpet under the white oleander and has a profusion of deep purple pink flowers at this time of year.  Those flowers are sun sensitive, and I watch them grow in size and color as the sun proceeds through the day.  I want to see if the blossoms die off during the summer heat.

The new growth on all three crape myrtles is another delight. The largest myrtle that I transplanted a month ago is the slowest to come to life but has lots of buds along its main stalks.  I pruned away the spent berries from last year and the dead wood in the center of the largest myrtle.  I also pulled away the grass from the Myrtle of the Lawn.

The pot in which I planted the lamium does not drain well and took on quite a bit of water.  I dumped out the water, and apparently the lamium is content to grow in saturated soil.  Sun predicted for the next three days should help.

March 27, 2019

I was late leaving Oakland due to a telephone conference with legislative counsel and even later arriving at the Snake.  The road through Pittsburg and Antioch was interminable.  Note to self not to start for the hills later than 2.00 in the afternoon.

MJ had the idea of planting the matilija poppy on slope below the retaining wall that sits behind the pergola and summer house.  If left to its own devices, it will grow quickly and generate white poppies abundantly.  Might even fill up a sizable portion of the slope and discourage thistle and other invasive plants.

Matilijas are also known as fried egg poppies because they have a yellow button in the center.  Planting now should yield blooms next spring.

I jumped out of the car and into my work shoes.  The thistle was thriving but gave up easily from the soft earth.  I planted Mattie, applied Quick Start and set stones on the downward slope to prevent water run off.   If Mattie takes hold, I make look for a companion matilija for that same slope.

Sunset comes later and later as the year progresses, particularly on a clear day like today.  I was able to work for an hour or so into twilight.

March 26, 2019

MJ had a later flight so we made an expotition to the Berkeley Hort and the Dry Garden today.  She was eager to see the nurseries I talk so much about.

At the Berkeley Hort we spent most of our time in the Sun Shrubs, Dry Ideas and California Natives sections. We found a grevillea varietal (lanigera), a white California iris and a matilija poppy.  The clerk at the counter sent us back to sun shrubs to find an Australian fuchsia under the botanical name correa.  Australia seems to be a theme.  The grevillea lanigera is also known as a woolly grevillea, for obvious reasons, and is native to Australia.  Hopefully, the partial shelter from the house will help get it established.  The matilija poppy is a tribute to Paula whose favorite color was white; it produces a profusion of white flowers once established. All this, and a large sign at the cash register saying “Ask Us About Our Senior Discount”.  My venerable years entitle me to a 10 percent cut.

At the Dry Garden we found two varieties of aeonium – garnet and kiwi.  The kiwi had a sign that it was not for sale, but the shop owner made an exception for me. Aeoniums do not require water but may go dormant in summer. In extreme heat their leaves may curl to prevent excessive water loss.

With that, we were off to the Oakland airport and MJ was on her way back to San Diego.