California, garden

This month, the garden

One of the misters I’m aiming to replace.

Last week, a headline ran in the local newspaper: storm coming! More rain than we’ve had all year! 

It netted out to about half an inch. 

It was probably the last real rain we’ll see till October. 

Usually I turn off the sprinklers & drip system in winter, but a few weeks back I looked around and realized pretty much everything needed more water. I’ve been gradually switching to more natives and Mediterranean plants, aiming for a low-water garden, but *low* water isn’t *no* water, and even California natives need some moisture in the winter, especially if they’re baby plants which aren’t yet established. Plus there are the citrus trees, and the vegetable garden, and the berries. We’ve had a lot of drought years and I aim to mostly grow things that make sense in this climate, but watering plants that produce food feels like a solid trade-off. 

So, for the past few weeks that’s been my focus: repair, update, overhaul the sprinkler system. Partly this was just reminding myself what needed doing and repairing lines that various critters had chewed through (I’m telling myself it’s bunnies, which is a nicer thought than the alternatives), but I also switched from misters to drip lines in an ornamental bed where I plan to make a dry garden, and indulge my love of cactus & succulents; ripped out the water-hungry invasive blackberries that were strangling the fig tree (the berries were tasty, but so are figs, and there are more blackberries elsewhere); replaced some lavender plants that didn’t make it last year; planted tomatoes & basil (it’s early, but it’s an experiment, and one of the basil varieties is supposed to manage okay in cold nights); added more strawberries because why not; and planted, indeed, more natives. 

There’s still more I want to do on the drip lines. Having seen how much more pleasant they are than misters, and how much less prone to breaking, I want to switch them *all* out, not just the ones I’d initially targeted. And I still need to get the sprinklers for the (very small; another tradeoff) back lawn up and running, which means replacing & adjusting all the pop-up heads. 

From January through March, I also logged how much time I spent working in the garden. Three months of data seems like enough to give me a clear picture. It feels like a lot, but is it really? I’d like to set the garden up to be low(er) effort. But how much of a diff can I get to? Unknown. Nearly everything I’ve done in the past couple of months goes beyond maintenance to improvements (although I remain amazed by how fast weeds grow back). I’m aiming to get to a point where I can both maintain what’s here, and make small improvements, in maybe two afternoons each week. 

Meanwhile, it’s incredibly satisfying to look at the new native huckleberries, and the mallows along the fence, and the starts for rainbow chard, and the flowers interspersed with the jacarandas, and feel the sense and shape of the garden coming into focus. This morning when I went outside the drip lines on the citrus trees were humming away, and I thought, okay, that’s good, that’s better.

California, pandemic, work

Two years

March 2020

Two years ago today, I took a photograph of the parking lot at the office. It was emptier than I’d ever seen it on a business day. Two years ago, I held the door open for someone whose hands were full with laptop and lunch tray, and she looked at me shamefaced. “I was trying not to touch the door handles,” she said, intending apology; she hadn’t meant to encourage me to touch them either. Two years ago, my colleague J and I talked about how much we didn’t want to work from home.

Last week, Google announced the official return-to-work date for the Bay Area. If I’ve learned one thing over the past two years, it’s that the future is uncertain, but if I had to bet, I would bet that this time it sticks. We humans, like other animals, run on seasonal cycles. It feels like no coincidence that the timing is so precisely two years later, almost to the day – not in a PR sense, but simply because annual cycles feel like a natural structure to orient around.

Two years. I suspect that all of us who’ve lived through this will remember this time as a marker, a shift. I spent the first month figuring out how to make my own lunch (in my defense, not only was I out of practice, but getting groceries was a challenge, and I suspect I underestimated the mental and emotional hit of lockdown as well) and getting my computer setup working acceptably for work. I remember the feelings of rage and frustration as the world slowed. I remember the fear I felt for my parents, the disorientation and surely not really when I was on videocalls with people in New York, and heard ambulances’ sirens, and the people I was talking to said they could see the hospital tents going up in Central Park. At home, we were in the middle of a house remodel, and simply putting everything on pause with walls down to the studs was painful. When I went for a walk, the other few people out walking and I crossed to opposite sides of the street.

I was sick – was it Covid? I don’t know; I suspect so, but I assume I will never know for sure. Covid or not, it probably accounts for some of my retrospective mental haze.

My mind kept running on the same cycles. I kept thinking there must be some way to push through.

I had been so busy. Suddenly, I wasn’t.

I remember the feeling of relief.

I remember how I sat in the yard and watched the eastern hills as the Bay Area’s pollution faded away.

I remember seeing a dozen baby quail arrive, scurry, hunt for seeds, grow up. They were smaller than my thumb at first, and there were times I didn’t cross the yard for fear of scaring them.

I learned that I am as much homebody as adventurer, which for the prior twenty years I hadn’t really given myself a chance to notice.

I lost my dad.

One good friend had a baby; another good friend’s baby started growing up without my being there to see.

I read a lot. I gardened. I cooked. I went for walks.

There were the fires, and I was grateful for the air filters we’d bought for construction.

Two years. It’s a long time. It’s long enough for a person to really shift, to become someone else. To build a different kind of life. I have new rhythms, new goals. I want different things.

I am not interested in or willing to lose who I am now.

Now, one way or another, we are on to what’s next. I know the timing is different for everyone, and California’s Bay Area has been especially hardcore on restrictions – if you are reading this, maybe your experience is very different. I imagine the fact of the change, though, may be something we have in common, even if the nature of the change bears no resemblance.

How am I going to do this? I don’t know. I hadn’t expected to like working from home, but the observed reality is that I do. I like the focus of it, the ability to settle in to my time and think. I like the feeling of control. I am healthier than I have been in years. I feel more connected to my home, and, oddly, to my team at work. I would like to see my colleagues in person occasionally, but I like the time I now have alone; I cannot imagine going back to my pre-pandemic patterns. In a probably-related observation, I would like to see my friends more too – but I looked at my calendar for the months before the pandemic, and I have no intention of going back to that way of life either. In all spheres, before the pandemic I was simply doing way too much.

Now I need the patience and resolve to see what happens – and to shape my own version of what’s next.


January 2022 – Garden update

A friend of mine who moved to California from the east coast and Texas said this was the first year she’d understood her Californian friends’ obsession with winter. The world isn’t dormant and brown here; it’s the deep jewel-green of citrus leaves, luminescent paler green on hillsides, sparkling waterfalls, hazy blue skies, fiery sunrises after dramatic dark-sky rain. It’s beautiful.

And at least in my garden, it’s also totally chaotic. The oxalis is trying taking over. The flowers reseeding from last year’s experiments have decided to sprout exclusively in the cracks in the path. And speaking of that path, pretty much anything that involves plastic edging (why did anyone ever put plastic edging here? not only is it ugly, it’s on a hillside; it is naturally going to fall over because, you know, gravity) is slowly sliding out of place. I dug out the blackberry under the fig and cleaned up the strawberry bed (just uttering the phrase strawberry bed gives me a quick hit of delight; I love that strawberries are perennial here, and at least half the plants in the bed are babies of the ones I originally planted) but there is so much still to do!

I also got a new camera over the holidays, and I am experimenting with it for the first time in this blog post. With that, here’s a quick tour of things glowing brightly in my garden right now:

The tea tree is just starting to bud, with deep-pink velvet blooms.

Firecracker salvia needs cutting back, but it’s a lovely orange.

New olive leaves have this lovely dusky sage color.

New blooms on these flowers growing oh-so-conveniently in the path.

Jasmine is just beginning to bud.

Navel orange with deep green leaves.

The days have been short, gray, and rainy. This makes it hard to weed, prune the roses, prune the fruit trees, clear out the fallen fruit from the orchard – although I can’t bear to take down the spent pomegranates; the birds are having such a lovely time with them! – dig out the agapanthus I want to get rid of, cut back the things that need cutting back, contemplate whether to dormant-spray the peach and nectarine, see if my new seeds have come in the mail… ! Eek.

It’s beautiful anyway.

I’m posting this partly as a ‘hmm, do I want to start blogging again?’ experiment and partly in time for #SixOnSaturday, a garden meme I first encountered at The Propagator. Click through if you’d like glimpses into others’ gardens, often from all around the world.