31 December 2008

Happy New Year and pass the Black Eyed Peas

I've been a week in the country and I'm still wondering what all the hoo-ha is about black-eyed peas on New Year's Eve. It's a long-standing tradition here in the South, I recently learned. The legumes are cooked with ham and savored with turnip greens and corn bread. Supposedly this delectable meal secures good luck and prosperity in the new year. As a friend of mine from Memphis noted, "I've been eating black-eyed peas for 30 years and you're the one going to Longwood. I'll bet you ain't never had a black-eyed pea on New Year's Eve in your whole life!"

Well, I haven't, but I am a big fan of many members of the Leguminaceae family!

I am looking forward to a year full of goodness as I start my new adventures in horticulture at Longwood. And I'll get to see parts of the country I've never seen before. Finding the best route in the Atlas was a bit of a challenge and my finger got lost on more than one occasion trying to find just which country highway we ought to take that will get us to PA without being too 'scenic'. Planning the drive felt something like this (without all the technology, which would really come in handy right about now):

Even without the black-eyed peas, I find myself bidding adieu to 2008 with all of its unforgettable ups and downs, and saluting 2009 with all its promise of wonder. I hope the new year greets you with the same sense of newness and antipation of dreams coming true. Just don't forget to pack your toothbrush!

Happy New Year everybody!

26 December 2008

Longwood or Bust

Moving day has come and all my worldly belongings were boxed and packed like sardines into a shipping container bound for storage somewhere in rural Arkansas. The shipping company charges by the linear foot and I was dismayed to see my stuff sprawled to the 12' mark. And that was after divesting myself of a refrigerator, microwave, television, dining set, and two couches! How does one person amass so much stuff!?

~we interrupt this post to bring you a word of thanks from our author: To Andrew and John, thank you for helping with the piano and stove!! We couldn't have managed without you! Hugs and Kisses to you both!

Those things I deemed too important to live without for two years were stuffed into my little pick up and wrapped in a tarp to ward off rain and snow. I felt like Steve Martin's character in The Jerk as I kept putting things into boxes:

"And that's it and that's the only thing I need, is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that's all I need. And that's all I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one - I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that's all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair."

After much editing and repacking, we finally said "see ya" to LA and headed east. My dad and I alternated driving and sleeping, stopping only to gas up and once to indulge in that great American culinary repast, the truckstop breakfast. The road was pretty uneventful but I was excited to be able to observe some Fouqieria splendens in their native habitat:

As seen at 80mph! We also spied some awesome Saguaro cactus in Arizona and NM:

And now, only two days from home I'm already homesick, thinking of the things I wish I'd had time to do before I left. At least I was able to enjoy a farewell breakfast at my favorite Saturday morning spot, Julienne (omelette with cheddar cheese and bacon, fruit instead of potatoes, rosemary raisin toast, and coffee. It got to the point where the servers knew what I would order!).

And the weather kindly obliged us with a hint of real winter by raining on us as we left town. We even had snow on the mountains outside my front door and actual frost on the lawn weeds!

But of all the things I feel homesick for, it's the friends I left behind that I miss the most. I can live without lots of things, even my books (and that's saying a lot), but my friends gave me the strength to go on this adventure in the first place. I don't need anything else, except for them. And this book. My friends and this book, that's all I need. And this sherpa lined coat...

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

To all the people who have touched my life and made me very rich indeed! Merry Christmas!!!

07 December 2008

I Love (and hate) LA!

As moving day approaches with the alarming speed of a bullet train, I find myself thinking about all the things I will and won't miss here in LA. There are the obvious things like traffic (won't), friends (will), smog (won't), breakfast at Julienne (will), traffic (won't), the weather (will), traffic (won't - oh, did I mention I won't miss the traffic?). But sometimes there are days when something unexpected happens that makes me realize how awesome a place LA is. Take this for example:

That's the B2 Stealth Bomber, one of the "Spirits", doing practice runs over the Rose Bowl. And it flew right over my house! I wonder if it's the 'Spirit of Pennsylvania'?! Awesome!

Then there are the sunsets on the beach:

Notice the gratuitous Palm silhouetted in the foreground. So LA.

Over the weekend I spent quality girl time with a dear friend and fellow gardener and as we wandered through a nursery tucked away behind a shopping center, we were captivated by the glow of the setting sun on a stand of trees.

In a few short weeks I'll be leaving my lifelong home town and moving to PA where today's high is a full FORTY degrees colder than it is here. My new housemate warns that I should take lots of warm clothes. Sure! Yeah, my closet is crammed full of warm clothes (snort!). At least I won't have to deal with a lot of traffic, though I'm looking forward to getting stuck behind a genuine horse and buggy. Better than being warned to look out for stopped cars. Did I mention I won't miss the traffic?

05 December 2008

Flower Friday

Native Gaillardia blooming along the driveway (these were planted from seed and don't get any irrigation save for rain water and whatever sheds off the roof from the occasional marine layer).

A dainty native bulb (I forget the name) whose fleeting blossoms last only a day, along with mint that stays well behaved due to lack of water.

07 November 2008

Flower Fridays

All the rain we had last week (snort!) must have made my Hibiscus 'Red Sentinel' very happy.

You can't tell in the photo, but the branches are covered in buds.

My Salvias are also still blooming.
Saliva mexicana 'Limelight'

Salvia discolor

31 October 2008

Flower Fridays and OMG! We got weather!

Today I was in Santa Monica, minding my own business, programming a client's irrigation timer when out of nowhere - and I mean nowhere - it started to rain. At first I thought it was the neighbor's sprinklers or one of the contractors playing a trick on me. Then it dawned on me - it's raining! Real precipitation! Sure, it only lasted for two minutes but it had the contractor foreman running around hollering, "It's RAINING!" as if we all had been newly emerged subterranean cave dwellers who had never seen water fall from the sky before. It was vastly entertaining.

At least we got some weather. And I see the Philllies finally won the World Series in spite of the stupendous meteorology they've been having. To think, in a few short weeks I'm going to be living in it! Ack! I'm expecting to arrive and see a garden that looks something like this:

When people first learn that I'm moving to Pennsylvania in the dead of winter, their first reaction is one of mingled shock and horror. The explanation for my bizarre decision is met with fascination and respect capped off with this inevitable question: "What will you do in the winter when it's snowing?". As a California native born and raised, I'm kind of excited about finding out what I'll do in the winter when it's snowing. When I lived in Minnesota I spent my time in the kitchen baking and gained 800 pounds. Maybe this is the year I add cross country skiing to the list of things I've learned after 40 (right after "stay out of the kitchen in winter")!

Fortunately with all the studying, gardening, and knitting I'll be doing there won't be time for baking. Well, maybe a pan of brownies. Either way, I'm all set with a healthy stash of wool!

Oh, and Happy Holloween!

26 October 2008

Woolly Weather

Ever since I learned that I'll be moving to Pennsylvania in January I've been keeping tabs on the weather. Here in So Cal we don't have 'weather'. Or seasons, really. Folks will say we have 'earthquake weather' and there is a 'fire season', but that's about it as far as our climatological descriptions go. This year we've enjoyed an especially protracted summer - it started sometime around September 2007 - and a quick consultation with the 10-day forecast implies that it isn't going to end any time soon. What I find outrageous is that on November 1st it's going to be 80 degrees. 80 degrees. In November. November, people. NOVEMBER!

So I thought I'd put in a call: Um, hello, Mr. Weatherman? Can we have Fall now? You know, Fall? Jewel tone leaves drifting from trees, a slight chill in the air, golden shimmer on the breeze, snuggling under blankets holding steaming mugs filled with mulled something-or-other? Because, you see, I'm moving to Pennsylvania soon and I'd really like to knit myself some toasty wool socks but who wants to knit wool socks when it's bloody 80 degrees outside!? So, Mr. Weatherman, why don't you work on Fall and get back to me. Thanks.

As for the socks, well, I knit them anyway! This was my very first pair of knit socks. Little did I know they would lead to an addiction. My standing as a certified yarn-a-holic having been long established, I now find myself loitering in the sock yarn section of the LYS (that's knit-speak for Local Yarn Shop. Oh, yes, we knitters abbreviate big time!).

Something else we knitters do: we Stash. My stash is contained in a hand-woven basket which overfloweth with what will someday be ear-flap hats (sans tassels, thank you), fluffy scarves, mittens, and now pair upon pair of wool socks. Since finishing the first pair, I've tried to occupy myself with housekeeping but at the end of the day, my hands begin to twitch and I can't walk by the needle jug without wondering if I'd get gauge with the size 3 DPNs or the size 4s. I know. I've got it bad.

According to Mr. Weatherman, the low this week in Kennett Square, PA will be 48. Here in LA the low will be 83. So instead of snuggling under a blanket with a steaming mug of cider, I'm sitting in front of the fan with a sweating glass of iced tea. But I'm knitting socks. Wool socks. On the size 3s. Bring on the weather, baby! Bring on the weather!

24 October 2008

17 October 2008

Flower Fridays

Dahlias caught posing in the Idea Garden at Longwood

And one from my garden

15 October 2008

West Meets East

I'm sure there's a name for the phenomenon that happens when you, say, buy a new car and suddenly notice everyone else has the same vehicle. I like to think I was responsible for the surge in red pick ups three years ago because no sooner had I driven mine off the dealer's lot when they began to appear everywhere. It's the same with moving to a new state. To wit:

When I want to stop for a cuppa on the way to work I exit the freeway at Pennsylvania Ave. My favorite TV character's hometown is Stillwater, PA (Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, we're gonna be neighbors!). And the Philadelphia Phillies are in the playoffs against the LA Dodgers, making which team to root for a difficult decision (go, uh, Dollies?). And last but not least, the breaking news that a man from Pennsylvania ate a 20lb burger! Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself:;_ylt=AirW49Z4TKl7otJ5.NWQdjRsaMYA

Based on the bus advert, I wonder if it was a buffalo burger? Well, it's obvious that there'll be no end of entertainment options in Always Sunny PA!

10 October 2008

Philly On My Mind

So I'm sitting in rush hour traffic on the West Side, wondering what life on another coast will be like, when this bus pulls up next to me.

Brilliant! It'll be just like So Cal! Right?

06 October 2008

Longwood Gardens, here I come!

There are some journeys in life that seem to have no end in sight. There are some paths that take you places and no matter how many times you look back, the twists and turns make no sense. You look ahead and the path is dark with the faintest light ahead but it's the only light there is and so you follow it because, let's face it, plunging into a dark wilderness is scary! There are also travels that lead you to places you never even dreamed and in looking back the stepping stones behind you are perfectly aligned and how you got from point A to point B becomes so ridiculously obvious that you smack your forehead and ask yourself, "Why didn't I see it before!?".

My garden path has sure been an exciting one and it's about to get even better! Allow me to unfold the tale for you:

In May of 2007 a friend and I decided to spend our summer holiday at Great Dixter in England, working in the garden. We met the previous year at a gardening symposium hosted by the staff at Dixter and decided we wanted more! We spent two glorious weeks pulling weeds, pricking out seedlings, plunging and trussing clematis, and doing generally whatever needed to be done.

One day during our stay a party of Americans came to lunch. They were all from a garden called Longwood. I'd heard of it but had never been there. They talked about what the garden was like, their duties, some of the programs the garden offers and compared notes with the Dixter staff about what it's like to run a public garden. I was intrigued.

Fast forward to April 2008 when another friend and I visited Dixter during our self-guided tour of English gardens and who should we meet but two recent graduates of Longwood's Professional Gardener Program. They were very enthusiastic and patiently answered all our questions about Longwood, going to England, working at Dixter, etc. At some point during this conversation, my friend at Dixter turned to me and said, "Why don't you go there (to Longwood)?" I contemplated his question for a moment and thought, "Yeah, why don't I?".

When I arrived home I downloaded the application from the Longwood website, collected all the necessary papers and letters of reference, posted them and waited. Now, you have to understand, I've applied for similar programs in the past - all in England - and can boast that I've been politely declined by some of the most prestigious horticultural institutions there are, so I was determined not to get my hopes up.

July came and went. No word. August flew past. Still no word. Labor Day favored us with cooler than usual weather but still no word from Longwood. I dithered about whether or not to plant my Sweet Peas (I didn't). Patience not being my strong suit, I wrote to the program secretary and was favored with a reply: "We'll be in touch soon". She wasn't kidding: The next day I received a phone call inviting me to interview for the Professional Gardener program (cue Hallelujah chorus)!

My belly did somersaults throughout the month of September until I flew to Philadelphia and pointed a rental car in directions unknown. I spent a whole day wandering Longwood muttering "ohmygosh!ohmygosh!ohmygosh!". My interview was the next day, following a luncheon with the committee members and other candidates. After an afternoon that is still somewhat of a blur, I retired to a restaurant in town and was startled when my phone rang. It was the program director calling to welcome me to Longwood!

This is where I look back at the path and smack my forehead. All the gardening classes, lectures, hort society meetings, longing journeys through gardens near and far, have prepared me for this next step. Looking ahead, the trail is bright and sunny but there's a curve up ahead and I can't quite make out where it leads. Rather than being dark and foreboding it's beckoning and, I'm quite sure, obscenely floriferous. I'm going to Longwood! Come along and wander the path with me!