After finding my writing groove in the first two months of this year I got derailed by COVID-19 and haven’t blogged since early March. I started a post about cultural heritage tourism and stopped. I honestly haven’t felt the compulsion to write my thoughts because COVI-19 is battering my industry and I may have been in a bit of shock initially. I had a 12-day class trip to Greece scheduled for March and had to cancel a few days before we were to depart. That really underscored the short-term impacts on tourism.
The last few weeks have been about adjusting to what may be the new normal for a few months or a year, we don’t know yet, as well as trying to wrap my brain around how in less than 2 months, global tourism has once again been driven to the brink. However, I know it will recover eventually and I take heart in that.
So I wasn’t really in the ‘write’ frame of mind, but recent comments from two of my friends motivated me to literally put pen to paper and fingertips to keyboard again 😊. Last week in response to some photos I shared of one of the cottontail rabbits that eat their meals in my backyard, Jennetta said “Your garden is so inviting to the animals! You should write a blog about it! 😁”. Tiffany added “It’s a really good Easter post and it’s so darn cute … Everytime I see your pictures I always think of the nursery rhyme Mary Mary Quite Contrary how does your garden grow…”. So what’s a friend to do? Write the post from my ideas list that I know my friends will read: my garden – a work in progress just like me 😁.
Having plants around me is one of the things I’ve always taken for granted. Plants and trees were a constant in the backdrop as I was growing up. Additionally, various members of my immediate and extended family have consistently farmed. So I figure a connection to the earth and growing things is in my DNA. I’ve tapped into that latent knowledge a lot since I started spending more time in the US, but I don’t think of myself as having a green thumb, I’m simply not a plant killer like some of my friends 😆.
From Gainesville to Los Angeles and within Los Angeles, I’ve grown plants which I carried with me whenever I relocated. In Gainesville and my first two apartments in LA, I resorted to growing potted plants because I didn’t have space for more. Now I’m fortunate to have a bit more space and the ability to use it as I want.
This extra space is the backyard at my current home, the house that was my birthday gift to myself in 2015. When I moved in the backyard had a lawn and the slope was covered with ice plants. But I had a problem with a lawn in Southern California – a region notorious for being hot and dry. Surprise to no-one, I decided the lawn had to go, stopped watering it and left it to die. My rule then and now is that anything I plant in the ground must be drought tolerant or with low water needs, fit with SoCal’s climate and where possible, be a California native species. If I didn’t have an HOA, that policy would extend to the front of the house. I live in hope.
Drying the lawn wasn’t a huge problem because for the second half of 2015 I travelled more than I stayed at home (perhaps I’ll write a post about my sabbatical travels and research) and California was still dealing with drought conditions. Late in 2015 I signed up for a water conservation incentive to remove the lawn, but since I was travelling so much, didn’t really have time to work on it ’til early 2016. The deadline spurred me on to kill the lawn within a 2-month timeframe, so from the end of February to end of April 2016 I switched my focus from removing the hideous wallpaper in the kitchen, to getting rid of the lawn and planting SoCal appropriate species.
I couldn’t afford to hire a landscaper so I did the work myself. Armed with information I spent some time researching, I decided to smother the lawn, using cardboard instead of black plastic. The cardboard would block out the light and limit photosynthesis, so it would be difficult for the grass to grow. Cardboard was also a good option because it would eventually degrade and improve the soil.
I removed around 770 sq ft of lawn, doing every bit of the work to kill the lawn, lay the compost, soil, and mulch myself. Because of the timeframe, I basically laid the cardboard and added the soil simultaneously, and hoped for the best. When I was ready to plant I made cutouts in the cardboard to dig the holes for the plants.
I don’t know how many bags of soil I carried (the equivalent of 750 sq ft, at least 2 inches deep). How many bags of compost. How many bags of mulch. By ‘carried’ I mean I lifted them onto the cart at whichever store I bought them, lifted them from the cart and into the trunk or back seat of my car, lifted them from the trunk or back seat, put them in the wheel barrow and pushed them to the backyard. I’m tired just thinking of that work! It was serious hard work, but totally worth it and I didn’t need a gym (except for spinning 😊).
I met the deadline and had everything planted according to the design I’d submitted. The garden looked promising for a while, but not everything survived (I’m still learning as I go). Since spring 2016 I’ve done a lot more work in this space, mainly making decisions by researching online and trial and error. I also rely heavily on what I learned from my family growing up. I still can’t afford a landscaper cause then I probably wouldn’t be able to travel, but I’ve steadily added plants to the yard every year. The book California Native Plants for the Garden by Borstein, Fross and O’Brian has become my garden bible since I bought it last year. So much so that it has never been on my bookshelf because I keep it close to hand.
I have to say that right now the garden is coming along nicely and I’ve spent many happy hours at Home Depot primarily and more recently the Theodore Payne Foundation, but also Lowe’s, Target and Walmart. I’ve had to replace various plants in the last five years, but quite a few from the original plantings persist – some are flourishing while others struggle, but they’re still alive 😊.
Some Originals Still Thriving
In spring 2017, SoCal was inundated with rain and the Red Apple Aptenia (Ice Plant) on the backyard slope couldn’t handle the excess water and started to die. I decided to remove most of what was left and replace them with drought tolerant plants and California wildflowers.
My favourite place to get native plants now is the Theodore Payne Foundation. While the big general stores carry a few plant species that require minimal watering and are suited to California, they seldom have California natives (I scored some Allen Chickering sages at Home Depot recently).
I wrote about TPF in an earlier post and the fact that it’s ‘right in my backyard’. I love that the foundation’s focus is on helping people to grow California native species. Not only do they grow plants for sale, but they offer a range of opportunities to learn about native species, garden design and more. Jennetta and I did their 2-day garden tour last year and I got several ideas for my backyard. I look forward to a visit TPF like how a child looks forward to their birthday or Christmas. Yet another TPF perk – Bill’s Bees locally produced honey, especially in wildflower and sage blossom flavours 😋.
Some of my TPF Native Plants
I tend to grow plants that are edible for animals, but not for me to eat, though I do keep a few herbs planted. I also have a cherry tomato plant, a gift to me last spring that produced a few fruit at a time for about 8 months. I dislike tomatoes, but I digress. It’s resting now and I expect it will start to bear fruit again in a month or two. I’m trying to grow a sweet pepper plant right now and I’m thinking of a few more edibles to plant as well.
Tomato Plants … the Gift That Keeps on Giving
I like to watch the animals that hang out in the backyard and listen to their chatter. I select plants just to attract them. So far I’ve seen crows, hummingbirds, several other bird species that I don’t recognize, bees, butterflies, squirrels, at least one cat, lizards, and of course cottontail rabbits. I think of the cottontails as yard mates because they are so comfortable in my yard that it’s clearly their space too. Or is it my space too? Hummingbirds are small but mighty. Their wings are so powerful and flap so quickly that they create a buzzing sound that can be heard from a good distance. To see two or three of them at a time flitting around the flowers is quite a thing.
My Animal Friends
The work on the backyard is not just about planting drought tolerant and California natives, but also about providing a good habitat for the animals that visit and making the slope more accessible for me 😊. I’ve deliberately left fallen branches at top of slope to provide, shelter, food and a parcour course for the animals. I’m currently adding wooden steps to both sides of the slope so that I can get close to the top while carrying tools, plants and soil without endangering my life. I’ve already had too many slides, quick runs downhill and near misses. Fortunately, a garden fork has many uses besides digging holes.
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working remotely because it is ‘safer at home’. This means I have more time to spend on the backyard because I don’t have to drive to and from campus and the spin studio is closed. I’m enjoying it and luckily for me the rain finally made an appearance. Last month it rained consistently in two different weeks and I played tag with the rain so that I could get some plants in the ground and some steps laid on the slope.
Around mid-March I was planning a trip to TPF when they announced they were closing because of the restrictions implemented to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. I was quite disappointed. Although I made a few runs to Home Depot to get some building stuff (and lucked into the Allen Chickering sages), I was still down about missing out on TPF. So at the beginning of last week I decided to check to see if they had switched to some kind of drive thru service. They did and it’s awesome. I was able to get the last few plants for the slope that I’ll plant this spring. Yay!
Hard work feels easier when the music is right and I’ve listed to an eclectic playlist through the years. Bob of course. Lil Rick, Gladys, Lionel, Stevie, Jacob Miller, Steel Pulse, Beres, Buju, Riri, Bruno, Patti, Luther, Anita, Randy Crawford, Gabby, De Soca Queen, Machel, Aretha, Jose, Billie, Ella, Dinah, Sarah, Yolanda, EWF, Krosfyah, Simply Red, Jill, Jimmy, The Legend, Marvin, Sting, Shaggy, Maxi, Mary J., U2, Michael Buble, Michael J., His Purple Highness, Otis, Sam, Rod, Roberta, Sade, Smokey, Bunji (just off the top of my head 😉) and more have kept me company as I put in the work. I danced and sang as I forked, shoveled, pulled weeds, planted, hammered and so on. I’m sure that at times my neighbours wondered what was going on.
I’ve also listened to many books, because a good book that’s well-narrated is an excellent alternative for those times when I need to use my hands and eyes for something else.
A Few Other Plants
I really look forward to seeing new blooms on my plants. In fact I recently commented to my sis and cuz that I was watching the poppies (and waiting for them to bloom) like how people watch pots waiting for water to boil 👀 🤣. That’s how much I anticipate new flowers blooming. Several times a week I’ll send them and two of my friends photos of new blooms that emerge or of old blooms just because they are pretty, or of the animals.
I remember my aunt Jenny saying that looking at plants and giving thanks is a great way to start the day. That’s how I start almost every day and have done for the last few years. My backyard is one of my happy places where I enjoy playing in dirt (some childhood habits are hard to break), building things, solace, serenity, peace, and more. It’s also a good place to do the work for which I get paid and to write; a good place for any meal; and a great place for wine 😁. To ride out the COVID-19 pandemic I need my garden more than ever – for all of those benefits.
My Garden and I as we are now