Tag Archives: Master Gardener

Fee Fi Faux Fum

Jack and the Beanstalk, by Jessie Wilcox Smith

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I’d been browsing end tables in a vast and sparsely appointed CB2 showroom in La Jolla for some time before I realized that the potted trees scattered about were artificial. Fiddle Leaf Fig, Dracaena, Palm, Eucalyptus. What once cheapened a room, does it still? Not necessarily. Not here apparently. I’d been pondering this issue for a condo we are furnishing for rental in Solana Beach, California. What can you do plant-wise when you’re not there to care for it? 

Like a skater on thin ice, I pressed my luck and slid over to the Arhaus showroom.  Artificial trees there too. If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t know. There, in a backroom among various items that had been marked down, I took the plunge on a 7’ palm tree. Up close, I could appreciate that the trunk was made of real fiber. The hairy fiber got me, and it came home with me. 

And now I cannot imagine the living room without it. How did this happen?

As a child I used to press flowers and string daisies for wreaths to wear in my hair. I still find dried, preserved, and even wilted plants lovely. Silk flowers not so much. Silk flowers trigger an unpleasant memory for me. I was single, getting a divorce, and living alone in a railroad flat in a brownstone that had seen better days in Midtown Manhatten. A sublet apartment. A closet where I thought about hanging myself. On a dinner date with advertising executives in Greenwich CT our hostess pointed out silk flower arrangements gifted by her mad man husband, one for each child born to them. They, the arrangements, were displayed on bookcases, console tables, end tables and side tables in their elegant living room. All I could think was, as if every flower would be in bloom at once! 

Sorrow for my own marriage engulfed me then. At the time it was like seeing the possibility of a life I’d lost. As if my marriage, might have come to this. As if that was what I wanted. It was not a happy period for me. I see all that in silk flowers. 

Even now, artificial trees were something I had to warm up to. No, I had to push myself. From the disciplines of an architectural/interior design background to writing and Master Gardening, what am I doing now but appointing artificial trees in my interiors. Heaven help me.

Here’s what I’ve learned: The first thing I have to do is to stop calling them “artificial trees.” Stop saying artificial trees, artificial plants, artificial anything. They are faux botanicals. The next thing I learned is to place them where, if they were a real specimen, the light would be right and they might thrive. Give them credibility. Also, give them some distance. Let them hang back. People should be surprised, as I was in that CB2 showroom. 

Call it magical thinking but as soon as you disclose something, you find you are not alone. Think of all the photo shoots in the world of design, and how essential we have come to feel plants are in our environments, our interiors. A photograph doesn’t know faux from real, so we’ve all been dupped a trillion times, I’m sure. 

It’s a dirty little secret, and now you have it.

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The Flight of the Hummingbird

Photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

“I can’t do this,” he said.

My father was a smart man. He may have figured it out. Coronavirus was sweeping through his assisted living facility outside Boston, and everyone was being tested, residents and staff alike.

A modest man, in his own quiet way he was extrordinarily accomplished in his life. But at ninety-six years of age he wasn’t up for something unknown that no one knew how to treat. That much he knew. He read The Boston Globe daily.

“Life goes on until it ends,” that’s what dad always said when he was trying to help me with my inconsolable grief in losing others.

Deeply worried about him, yet unable to be there, I ran off to the nursery to fill three large hanging baskets. I needed something to do. Tired of looking at last summer’s geranium mummies, I’d start over with fresh soil, and—on the drive to town I saw it clearly—hanging fuschia. A nectar producing plant with tube-shaped blooms specially adapted to accommodate the long bills of hummingbirds, my father’s littlest friends.

It was there at the nursery when I received the call. Hospice was by dad’s side now and this was my only chance to say goodbye. I think I said, “I’m at the nursery, daddy. You’d be here too, if you were with me, and we’d be extraordinarily happy.” Something nonsensical like that.

Looking back, purchasing plants at nurseries may have been one of my father’s only indulgences. Together we could spend half the day there filling our wagon, and often did.

I was crying so hard, I was grateful to be masked.

At the same time, my project remained important to me. Julie of Julie’s nursery helped me load trays of twenty-four fuschia starts, eight for each basket, into the back of my car. She advised peat be mixed half and half with potting soil, and an organic flowering fertilizer which looked a bit different than my organic fertilizer at home, so I purchased that too. Julie could have sold me the moon that day, anything in the rush to grow my beautiful baskets.

We set up the planting operation on the picnic table at home. The table Bill Maas built when we first arrived on island. Eight fuchsia starts per basket, hung, and watered gently. They looked so lighthearted and promising beneath the eave. In the evenings we covered the baskets with clear plastic, for it’s still cold. And every morning, the unveiling. There is something in that ritual too.

There are two species of hummingbird on island: Anna’s and Rufous. Native to Western coastal regions, Anna’s Hummingbirds are increasingly found here year-round, living in the branches of our coastal scrub. Rufous Hummingbirds, on the other hand, have the longest migration of any bird their size. Wintering in Mexico, spring in California, summers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and zipping over to the Rocky Mountains for fall before returning to Mexico. Feisty and territorial, the visiting reddish brown Rufous try to chase off the resident emerald green and gray Anna’s each year. So we just keep putting up more feeders and more nectar producing plants to accommodate every one.

When we moved onto San Juan Island, mom and dad’s place on The Cape was very much on our mind. Shingled cottages by the sea. Ragtag fleets of boats by the water’s edge in summer. Clams in the muddy sand. And a writing hut where Dad had had a garden shed. The baby mice that once fell onto the brim of dad’s hat when he was puttering around in the shed. He cared for them too.

Dad has always been with me in writing, in gardening, and now, birds. He wrote his memoir, which prompted me to write mine. He explained Master Gardeners to me as “missionaries of the gardening world, Jesuits for all their knowledge,” and I became one. He led by example in the garden, and now he’s got me loving birds.

“What we care for, we will grow to resemble. And what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer…” Richard Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flip Flops in January: Three Girls and a Truck at Village Nurseries, San Diego

photo credit: Jackie Mayer Blum

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We are wintering in San Diego, living on a mattress with a small bistro table, a couple folding chairs, and two bright Hawaiian printed Tommy Bahama beach chairs in an otherwise empty house. The house is a job site. Our daughter and her husband purchased a new home in North Park, San Diego. A remodel, and we are here to help.

While the men are at home swinging hammers, we are on a landscape mission. My daughter is commandeering a pickup truck, bouncing over dirt roads and splashing through puddles at Village Nurseries Wholesale Plant and Tree Grower. Thirteen acres of planted bliss, a Disneyland to me. No lines, no crowds (to-the-trade only), and free of all the commercialization.

The bed of our truck is brimming with potted plants: 5 tall Barbara Karst bougainvillea, Mister Lincoln white rose shrubs, “bartenders choice” Mexican Lime Tree, a 15 gallon Strelitzia retinae Bird of Paradise shrub, and enormous agave plants anchoring them all. Clean and new at the U Haul lot, the truck will be returning with all the mud and markings of having taken the Indiana Jones ride at Adventureland.

You had to know my mother would be on board; she must have slipped onto the bench seat. It wasn’t until we turned into the nursery that we realized she was with us. https://alittleelbowroom.com/2017/12/05/my-imaginary-mother-in-winter/ Her breath, like ours, was taken away with the vastness and the serenity of the place.

Rounding Succulents and Drought Tolerant plants, I am back in the gray/greens with Mediterranean plants. Heaven for me once, for at one time I lived in Southern California. Today I recognize some full well, yet can’t recall their names. Other names I know, but can’t picture. My daughter is reintroducing me to some old friends.

Discombobulated I fumble forward. A Master Gardener from Climate Zone 4 (San Juan Island, WA) in Zone 24 (San Diego, CA), I try to be helpful. “Seasonal amnesia,” is there such a thing? All I know is that in a rush I just mailed a Valentine’s Day card–one month early. I recall that when living here: waking and having to orient myself with the season, with the month, before stepping out of bed.

Left to our own devises mom and I might have gone crazy, but my daughter was specific. A wall of her courtyard would be draped in bougainvillea. She knew the color. A lime tree would round out their citrus collection. And white roses and giant Blue Glow agave look exquisite together. Who knew?

And who knew about my daughter’s newfound passion for plants, and in the same place where I first got the bug? Her grandmother may have been the only one to have seen that coming.

 

 

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Notes from a Tree Hugger

I was sure something was up when my neighbor first moved in. First of all, it’s a strange house architecturally. On a hill of period Craftsman, Colonial, Victorian and Tudor, up pops this stucco box, cold and contemporary. It looks positively clinical.

The first thing my neighbor wanted to do was take out the grand old maple tree out front. Bereft of leaves, I believe she thought it dead.

“You can’t do that!” we cried. “These trees belong to the city.”

We love our trees for softening and quieting the street–and what we couldn’t say is that it helps to hide her house when full of leaf.

Her hair was colored a Raggedy Ann red then. She came and went in a dark red car. Her outfits at the time were primarily red, black or perhaps purple. These things I noticed.

When she first moved in the shades on her house were drawn, night and day. I noticed that too.

My new neighbor hammered wreaths in that tree out front for decoration before I could stop her. As a Master Gardener, I have to believe that hammering anything into a tree compromises its integrity. Still, I should have spoken up because she has since then only hammered in more ornamentation. The lady collects stuff, or let’s just say, stuff finds her.

But what I found most curious and what led me to my suspicions, were the assorted little dried gourds and pods she placed on the ground wherever she planted anything. I was sure they must mean something….

I think she’s a witch.

There ought to be some way to ask, but I haven’t found it. And here I am, totally amiable to the idea of an earth-based pagan religion. Especially one that honors both Goddess and God, the changing seasons and cycles of the moon. To me there’s a natural balance to natural law.  The law of return, “What you put out, comes back to thee,” is  simply karma to me. Healing with herbs, I don’t have a problem with that. And I would never, ever, hammer ornamental items onto trunks of trees.

Hey, maybe I’m the witch?

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