Mulch really helps


A couple of  months ago my husband and I were driving along a mountain road looking for a good spot to walk our dogs, when we came across a pile of wood chips laying at a clear cut. This section of woods was cut a couple of years ago, we had heard the screaming of the machines and seen the dirt plume from our shack.

We’d watched the trucks take out the logs, and then we saw the chips trucks come and go. This pile was left behind, was well weathered and washed by rain, and lays right in the public right-of-way along a county road. So we’ve been taking the F-150 up there once a week or so and helping ourselves.

Chips have become expensive since that drought – remember the drought? – made “zeroscaping” the In Thing.  I’ve been using leaves from our yard to mulch my medium size trees when they looked as though they were dying, and it really helped. But leaves are messy, I don’t like piling them too close to the front door. I’ve been looking for a cheap deal on bark or chips for my little dooryard “shade garden.”


I killed this section of lawn with black plastic a few years ago and  planted red bud and crepe myrtle trees and some flowers in it’s place. This is the hottest part of my yard, and it took daily watering to keep this patch through one of the hottest summers in my memory.

That picture was taken earlier this summer. The feverfew flowers got frowsy and I’ve whacked them back, and I’ve started to fill in between the trees with chips. I’ve already noticed – I don’t have to water the patch every day anymore.


Hummer’s favorite color.   As I was taking pictures he buzzed me a couple of times.

The blue sage has begun to bloom like crazy, and new echinacea plants have volunteered and bloomed.  Everything is greener and the whole patch is looking lush.

Unfortunately the crab grass has moved in on the garden, looking for water, and I have to dig it out before I put down any more chips. I knew I should have torched it good during the heat, but it seems like this wind has been dogging me for a month now. I’ll get it when the weather changes.

I believe this patch of trees will change the climate in my front yard, I’ll keep you posted.




It’s the little things, really, that make life good

I am so tired. My husband and I finally decided to gravel a problem area in our tenant’s side yard. I’ve complained about it – so hot nothing will grow but sticker weeds, I have to clean it every Spring, and I usually lose a pair of gloves and sometimes a good pair of socks to the stickers.

So earlier this Summer I took a big piece of black sheet plastic left over from a construction job we did, and I folded it into four layers, and I stretched it over the spot, about 6 x 10 feet. Just hauling the plastic up there in my wheelbarrow was a job – I always think of that milk commercial, where the old man picks up the handles of his wheelbarrow and his arms fall off.

Nothing kills a piece of ground to the dirt like a few layers of black plastic left in the sun, oh yeah! But last week when we were up there sweeping the house, we noticed the sun was starting to eat the plastic, it was breaking into little pieces, which we realized would soon be floating all over the yard.

We looked into gravel at various places – cheapest deal was Focal Point, which has two yards in South Chico. The first location is at the intersection 20th and Fair, and the other yard is just down Fair near the Work Training Center. 

You know, right out by the FAIR grounds…

A yard of road base is about $22. We had to make two trips, cause we can only haul half a yard in the old F-150. But it was well worth it – we had a tiny bit left over to fix a muddy spot in the driveway where I almost fall on my ass every Winter. 

Sheesh – $22! All those years I put up with those weeds! At least 10 pair of socks and gloves! 

Isn’t it just the littlest, dumbest things to make an old woman happy. I got new shoes too – I always wait for the same pair of “Itasca” to go on sale at Big 5 – $17.50! It’s like getting a new pair of feet – the old ones were worn down to the nub, I could feel every piece of that road base coming right up through the soles! 

Oh yeah, life is good, for today – we’ll see what she throws at us tomorrow!


Tempers flare in the garden

Every day I watch a hummingbird and a bumblebee go a few rounds over my flower patch.


Bumblebee is crazy for these yellow mullein flowers.

Both of these tiny creatures are very protective of their favorite dining spots. Bumblebee will give you a fierce buzzing if you get too close to the mullein, the holly hocks or the honeysuckle. She looks ungainly pulling her big furry butt up to these dainty blossoms, and the stalk bends forwards as she tugs on the petals with her impractical looking legs, but she comes faithfully every day. She quickly cleans the centers of these mullein flowers, moving through a patch within a few seconds, then off she goes! 

I’ve never seen Hummer pay attention to these flowers unless Bumblebee was busy working them. He seems to have it in for Bumblebee, whizzing around her butt as she tries to scrape all the pollen off the bright pink centers. She responds with her ferocious buzzing, like an old school teacher rattling her ruler, but she’s no match for his speed. He whizzes away, waits for her to get busy again, and zooms in.  Eventually she seems to get so flustered, she heads for her little nest, somewhere behind our house.  She is always heavily laden with pollen, I don’t know how she can achieve flight with those teeny wings.

Hummingbird does same when Bee is working the honeysuckle along the driveway. These are too small to approach from the open end, so she inserts her sharp tongue at the base of the flower and you can see her sucking out the sugary nectar. Such a pastoral scene, a campesino working her orchard. And then here comes Hummer – WHOOSH! – and she spins in fury, taking up a quick chase as he disappears around the corner of the garage. Flustered she resumes her work, only to find him at her rear a few minutes later. I’ve never seen Hummer eating from the honeysuckle vines either, he only seems to appear when Bumblebee is at her task.

But  today two of Hummer’s favorite flowers opened. 


Hummer is crazy for these pink powder puff flowers.

The pink powder puff tree hangs over the flower garden.  Yesterday a single blossom was visible and today about a third of the tree is covered with the fluffy flowers. This tree drives Hummer nuts, he acts like that crazy guy at the end of the bar – Are you looking at me!?!  Forget Bumblebee, he starts fighting with butterflies, who also come around in droves for this tree.  In years past he’s chased away many competitors of his own species, it seems no powder puff tree is big enough for everybody.

Down below, among the fever few and mullein flowers, is another of Hummer’s favorite treats.


These blue sage flowers are ultraviolet and especially visible to Hummer’s beady little eyeballs.

Whipple gave me the blue sage – selvia – and it’s really taking off in the hot sun.  It lives well within the fever few, which seems to shelter and shade the roots. The stalks came popping up a week or so ago, and now the flowers are forming and opening, that incredible blue really sticks out on the landscape.

Whipple said he quit planting these in his yard because he noticed a neighbor’s cat had taken up a post in his flower bed, and had killed a few hummers before he realized what was going on. The tiny birds are so crazy for these flowers, they don’t seem to have any sense.

Sheesh, Nature is so violent! 






Motherhood is a good gig!


Here’s Old Mother Cactus and her children and grandchildren.   Those furry nodules to the upper right will hopefully bust into striking pink flowers before too long.

My succulents took a beating this past Winter, but my spiny flowering cactus seem to be happier than ever. They are reproducing so fast I can’t find pots for all their offspring, and most of them have two or more flower buds swelling with promise.


This is a variety of aloe vera known as “Alligator” – I get it! Not only do the leaves remind me of snapping jaws but the flower spears resemble baby gators.

I’ve got sap from these alligator aloe before, they’re just not as juicy as their cousin. They are more hardy, taking to the bright open sun. I’ve been spreading these along my rock walls, in out of the way spots – they make a good ground cover, treated with the proper respect.

Speaking of the garden.


Here’s our tomato nursery – the bigger plants are from the box store. I’ve transplanted them from their original sixpack containers and they are ready to go in the ground now. I planted the smaller ones from seeds we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I’ve started to put them into the sixpack containers left from the box store plants.

Last year my kids got me this cute little plastic tray with teeny tiny cups for planting seeds. It sits in another tray, and came with a lid, which I did not need.  It was supposed to be disposable, but I’m careful with it and I will  use it again next year. 

Baker Creek is a very reliable source of seeds – almost every one I planted sprouted.  Of course we love the Best Boys and Early Girls we get a Home Depot – they produce a lot, all Summer. Some of the heirloom varieties – like the beautiful Indigo Apple – produce a lot of fruit. Others produce small quantities of really good, big fruit.

The Hungarian Heart  and the Carbon produced big, sweet, meaty tomatoes, weighing in at over a pound each. I don’t know if I got a dozen fruit between the two of them, so this year I’ve made sure to plant about a dozen seeds each, and the little plants are growing really well. 

Of course our tractor is on the fritz – we bought a used Kuboda tractor, a tiny backyard model, from a friend of ours about 10 years ago. It’s been great, but the last couple of Springs we’ve held our breath as my husband has jimmied the ignition switch. This year it won’t start, so we’re digging beds by hand and waiting to borrow our friend Wooton’s little rototiller. 

Luckily we still have about a dozen pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. Last night my younger son came home from college and we sat down to homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce from last year’s garden. 

It’s good to be a mother. 



The cavalry arrives – with a little encouragement, flowers will push out the weeds


Finally, the flowers are starting to outnumber the weeds in my dooryard.

Feverfew is a wonderful plant, drought tolerant, self-seeding, and very pretty with a bittersweet odor. It’s used in natural remedies for allergies, headaches and skin problems. If you cut a sprig just as the flowers are opening and put it in a big vase or jar with cold water, it makes very nice arrangements.

It’s a great weed block, and when you don’t want it anymore, it’s easy to yank out. It does start to look a little frowsy toward mid-Summer when the heat really starts to set in.  


Lately I find echinacea is pretty good at self-seeding.

As I pulled weeds from my yard I left the feverfew and other little plants. I was really surprised to find a bunch of little echinacea plants.


I thought echinacea were so delicious to every bug in the county – and you can see, this one’s been nibbled – that I would never have planted seeds directly in the ground.

Altogether I’ve found five little plants that sowed themselves, and I just sprinkle a little water on them as I water the trees,  and there they are. Of course the ones I have in pots are big and lush.



My container echinacea are happy as hell, as long as they get water every day. I wash out my compost bucket from the dog’s dish and dump it in there. Nutrient rich!

I planted some bigger plants in the ground last year, they are nestled into the feverfew.  They are one of gopher’s favorites, I keep a sharp eye for his tunnels.

When we bought this place, we planted fruit trees. Most of them turned out well – some were duds!


Did you know, some fruit trees are only ornamental? We didn’t realize – this pomegranate tree is only for looks, it will never bear fruit.

Oh well, the flowers look like Spanish dancers, and if I cut them as they are opening, they make incredible arrangements with the feverfew.

We got those weeds on the run!  


Mow, burn, pull that weed!

Yesterday I stood in my yard, sun shining warm on my head, rain drops sprinkling across my face.   This is absolutely fantastic weather for growing just about every variety of weed.

Just what is a “weed”? For some people, it’s a plant they didn’t put in, or plants that grow where they don’t want them to grow. 

Oh yeah, I got weeds.


Whenever the weather dries out a little my husband is behind the mower.

The pollen coming off this yard is a health hazard.

So my husband mows and whacks, and I pull and burn. But Nature is having a big laugh on us – we can only work so many hours a day,  the weeds grow and grow, 24-7.


Here’s where I dump the weeds I pull from along fence lines and flower beds.

Part of my solution is philosophical – I have learned to accept some weeds as harmless, even pretty.   They don’t make stickers or copious amounts of pollen, and they thrive with nothing but sun and rain water.


This is “dock” – my grandpa showed me how to squeeze the sap from these plants to soothe the welts from stinging nettles.

Dock is really invasive, if you don’t want it to take over your yard, you need to look for it when it’s small and either pull it out by the roots or burn it out with the torch. This plant was in a nice spot, so I let it go. It stands over my head now, it’s very pretty. In Fall it will turn purple-red. It is actually a popular herb for skin solutions, shampoos, and other natural products. This blogger says it has the same dietary benefits as spinach, kale, and other leafy greens.

Another of my favorite weeds is mullein. There are two kinds that grow in my yard, this big furry leaf variety, and a smaller variety with shiny leaves and bigger flowers. 


This plant has shot up to over a foot during these rain showers we’ve been enjoying.

These furry leaf mullein get to be very big – our biggest was over 9 feet, and Whipple claims he has had bigger ones. They get a tall stalk with lots of tiny yellow flowers, as the stalk grows taller, more flowers. Mullein is believed to have fairly strong antiseptic properties and you’ll find it in tinctures and salves down at Chico Natural or S&S. 

The bees love it. When the flowers are done, they turn into hard little seed balls. The tiny Downy woodpeckers come over and peck them open, eat the teeny tiny seeds.  They look so elegant, we don’t pull or cut them until late Fall.  Sometimes you can cut the dead stalk and the plant will grow another in Spring.

I sit here in the morning trying to plan my day – I can hear them growing out there right now.



Mow me down!







Where the bees are

I found some working girls in my yard this morning.

These days of downpour have brought good and bad  – flowers and weeds. And bees, humming busily, too busy to bother with us puny humans. 

They like blue flowers.

If you want bees, plant Rosemary, they love this stuff. She was moving so fast I could hardly get her in the shot.

As I pulled sticker grass around our fruit trees I found lots of surprises.

In a shaggy stand of oat grass I came across this Tiger Swallowtail.

He, or She, did not seem to mind being photographed.


And the good news is, Apple-ooza!

Oooo,  think of all the apple juice!

Those red bud trees Whipple gave us have spread PINK! around the yard.

I put some of these tiny blossoms on my printer and covered them with a sheet of blue construction paper and made some ginchee note paper.

And here comes the valerian, more PINK!

Pink broccoli.

The hyacinth flowers along the driveway add the complimentary blue.

Dainty little fairy bells, they push their way through the gravel every year.

I wonder what the April showers have in store for us!



Thanks to whomever left that potted agave laying along Vallombrosa!



About a year ago I noticed something weird laying alongside Vallombrosa as my husband and I were out with the dogs, but I couldn’t get a good look at it. I kept noticing it laying there – an old potted plant, looked like it had been tossed out of a car. I know people abandon pets in Bidwell Park but I never seen an abandoned plant. I finally asked my husband to pull over so I could take a look at it.

It was an old mother agave, crammed into about an 18 inch pot, full of babies, some of which were hanging by their umbilical cord over the side of the pot. All dried out and mummified looking.

I always wanted an agave, but they intimidate me a little. See those needles? My grandpa showed me one once – you can take that needle at the tip of the leaf and pull it down along the leaf – for geeshy sakes be careful! – and you will  have a needle and thread suitable for stitching soft leather.

The spines along the edge of the leaf will cut you like a saw.

I would call this plant, “Mother-in-law’s tongue,” but I think there’s already a plant with that nickname.  My mom and my mother-in-law both had tongues that could cut you.

So you know I wanted one real bad. Finder’s keepers, right? It had been sitting there for  weeks that I knew of, everybody had their whack. So, I took a holt on that pot, and I tugged, and my husband found himself a holt and he tugged, but that thing was so heavy there was no way we would get it in the truck.

We had to come back with a shovel.  So the next day while doing landscaping work at our various rentals, we went over to see if the pot was still there – as if!  There she was, laying on her side where we’d left her.  I went at the pot with my hand snippers – good luck! The baby plants hanging over the side of the pot had tough roots attaching them, I had to hack them off with the blade of my shovel. The big plant was really stuck in there, the roots were so impacted, it was like breaking a lump of cement. By and by I whacked loose two medium size plants, including the once pictured above, and I felt that sense of accomplishment, plus, I was afraid I was pushing my luck with  those needles.

We left the pot laying alongside the road. Within a couple of  weeks it disappeared – good for whoever took it, I had my chance. I hate to see a nice thing go to waste.

It took me a while to decide where to plant them, in the meantime, I laid them in an empty planter pot and dumped some dirt over the roots. There they sat for weeks while I tried to make a decision. These pig stickers get very big. There’s one across the road from the new records building in O-ville that’s as big as the family van parked next to it.

They multiply by little shoots like crabgrass, can you imagine a thing like this that grows like crabgrass?

So, we must be careful where we place things. I put the first one in my cactus patch, and  I’m already wondering if it’s too crowded.

I put the tiny babies in one pot – now they are busting to get out!

The last plant sat with very little dirt in a medium size pot, I kept meaning to plant it, but it ended up sitting there all through Winter. I couldn’t ignore something that wanted to live so bad.

We have a big yard in front of our tenant’s house, she never even uses it, telling me how nice it is to have so much space between her house and the street. We’ve left a big lawn in the middle, right in the bright sun, where past tenants have put a volley ball net, a picnic table, and one of those climbing things with the net, but our current tenant placed her table on the patio so she could sit back and watch the butterflies fluttering over the flowers.

When we bought this house there was a well-established butterfly  garden, with big yucca plants, flowering artichokes, and these neat little plants my grandma called “Devil’s Poker” for their scissor leaves and their spear shaped red flowers.   I  figured the agave would fit right in. Weatherman said rain this weekend, perfect time to transplant, so I loaded the bigger plant into my wheelbarrow and lugged it up front. I picked a spot where there were a lot of annoying little weeds growing.


Wow, looks happier already!

We’ll see how it looks after this storm!


It’s blumen time!


Looks like a good year for daffodils.

If flowers are any indication, 2017 is getting off to a good  start. 


These tiny hyacinth are pushing up rocks to get out of the ground. 

Cleaning up storm damage around my house, I couldn’t help but notice, things are growing, fast. The bleak landscape is changing before my eyes. 

It’s a busy time for Mother Earth, so we’ve been busy too.


I think this is a cork oak, we’ll see.

My husband planted one of the little oak trees that Whipple gave us in pots last year, here’s to a long and profitable life.


Want to do something big that will influence the future? Plant trees.

I keep a “day book”. Maybe that makes me a control freak,  but I like to plan my life a few days ahead, even a few weeks, write down important stuff I need to do, check it off when it’s done. Gives me a sense of productivity. Knowing I can’t stop time, I would at least like to have a proper accounting of how time was spent.

Sometimes, you know – best plans of mice and moms often go awry. Sometimes I don’t accomplish ANYTHING on my dam-ned “to do” list. So, at the end of the day, I think back, write down what I did, check it off. 

Sometimes I run a line through an item – “I changed my mind, screw that…”  I guess a “to do” list does give me some sense of control over my life. 

Something I started doing a year or so ago, during The Drought (ha ha, remember The Drought?) is keep a rain diary. We had started to lose trees because we weren’t accustomed to having to water in Winter. At first it was young fruit  trees, two cherries we’d just planted a  couple of years previous. Our older cherry died. Our peach trees started looking down in the mouth.

Then we noticed bigger trees around the property were in trouble.  By the end of last Winter, our 80 year old deodor cedar was dead, and our 35 year old Doug Fir was on it’s last legs. We know how old they were because we counted the rings after PG&E came in a took them down this past Fall.

I read an article that said big trees needed to be “irrigated” every two weeks during Winter drought – in other words, if it hasn’t rained for two weeks, it’s time to set up the sprinkler. Last year I recorded rainy days in my rain diary, and whenever it didn’t rain for two weeks I went around the yard dragging hoses and sprinklers. It was too late for those two old trees, both of which had other problems – too close to roads, too close to power lines, butchered many times by PG&E crews. But we have younger trees, I was anxious to make sure they didn’t follow.

I also read my native oaks don’t need any help, in fact, they suffer from over watering. When we bought this place we planted evergreens – the neighbor had planted a bunch of redwoods on his property, and they were doing great! We have a flag lot, with three neighbors’ driveway running right along our yard, so we planted a row of redwoods on that side of our yard to keep the dust down to a dull roar.

Our other neighbor’s redwoods were about 25 years old, and doing very well, when suddenly two Summers ago, the trio standing next to our house turned brown, like in weeks. He hadn’t set them up on water, and the new owner wasn’t watering that part of the yard at all.  Those trees turned brown even faster than our trees, and they were standing right alongside our house. We were glad to come home from a weekend trip and see the neighbor had removed them, but it sure changed the dynamics of their yard. Suddenly they had a big, brown dead patch that turned to dust in Summer and mud in Winter. We started looking around our yard with a new panic.

The tops of our redwoods were turning brown. We started watering on the two week schedule, wishing and hoping for more Winter rain, but you know – it didn’t come. 

Realizing we were probably going to lose more evergreens around the yard, we started looking for native trees to plant in their place. In stepped our friend Whipple.

Whip-whip-whip! That’s what I call him, cause like a little bird, he appears out of nowhere.

Everything Whipple plants grows. He had been potting little trees that were coming up in inconvenient parts of the yard, and brought us a set of red buds, with a crepe myrtle he had propagated as an experiment. One of the red buds had been in it’s little pot so long a foot long root hung from the bottom. 

I always fuss over where to plant stuff. My husband gave me a general idea of where he’d like to see them, but it was a really hot spot, I wasn’t sure. He assured me that we’d water them and water them and eventually they’d grow big enough to turn that hot spot into a shady spot. Sheesh, he’s good at talking me into stuff.

It wasn’t a good spot for sprinklers, too far from a spigot. You know what you get with sprinklers anyway? Weeds. So, when I have little plants to take care of, I fill my watering can and walk around, parceling out the water, being careful not to wash away the roots.

My good friend and constant companion, Arthur Itis, walks along with me, cursing to beat the band.

So I watered my little trees all Summer. I planted little herbs like feverfew and selvia to hold the ground. I started to put down chips but I ran out of funding. Every now and then I would forget, or we’d take a trip somewhere, and pay back would be instantaneous – the tops of my  little red buds would burn, leaves would fall off, and I’d curse myself for being a slacker.

Now they sit leafless in the mud. But, I’ve taken a good look – there are buds on the naked little branches, fat with life. 

The dead looking sticks are the red bud tree, the green stuff is feverfew. If you look really close you can see little reddish buds along the stems of the tree.

The dead looking sticks are the red bud tree, the green stuff is feverfew. If you look really close you can see little reddish buds along the stems of the tree.

Oh yeah – the crepe myrtle looks dead, but you know, crepe myrtles always look dead this time of year. It’ll come back. 

This crepe myrtle looked dead in the pot when we got it, but came right back to life as soon as I planted it. It grew about  three times it's original size and got pink flowers all over it.

This crepe myrtle looked dead in the pot when we got it, but came right back to life as soon as I planted it. It grew about three times it’s original size and got pink flowers all over it.

So Whipple, seeing we’d made good, brought us a set of oak trees – two blue oaks, two cork oaks, and a valley oak. They’re still sitting in the pots. The good news is, my rain diary is starting to fill up, looks like a good year for baby trees. 

This is one of the cork oaks.

This is one of the cork oaks.

I’ll keep you posted on the oaks.