Saturday, December 19, 2009

Natives are still restless... waiting for another rain!

Last Saturday, I attended another class at Theodore Payne Foundation. This one, taught by Bob Galbreath, was titled Waterwise Irrigation for Native Plants. It was very well presented with fun graphics appearing as cut paper images on the slides. Was a nice albeit ironic way to spend a rainy December afternoon. The weather conditions highlighted how amazingly adapted many native plants are to almost boggy winter conditions contrasted with hot-parched, dry summers. Go natives!

Bob began his presentation by saying that irrigation for drought-adapted native plants should be thought of as a temporary system to use during plant establishment. However, he did spend some time on the subject of Smart Controllers and the admittedly “coarse” data upon which they are based. He touched on a variety of drip systems that will be covered in more detail in his Drip Irrigation class at TPF in January.

My conclusion is if a garden has mostly or exclusively drought-adapted native plants, it seems a Smart Controller may have very limited use. For my money, I’d rather use a simple “dumb” controller and a digital (finger) probe!

Learning about native plants, but little of my experience is yet in the garden. Haven’t yet installed a Smart Controller. Being very hands-on, I do a lot of poking around and hand watering, but that is probably not going to work for many clients of my garden design business. Hope to put out some of these plants soon, between rains!

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Kitchen Favorite and "Healthy Cookies"

Baking has always been my favorite thing to do in the kitchen. Trying to make up for past sins in the dietary department, I’d nearly quit baking for several years, other than the odd pie or cake for family gatherings.

Perhaps a couple of decades ago, my mother, who was not one to frivolously part with prized possessions, sold her 1950 Sunbeam Mixmaster at a garage sale, keeping only the large bowl, in which she served popcorn. Several months or years later when I discovered this, I was so disappointed. If I’d realized she wasn’t using it any longer, I’d have liberated it from her kitchen, just as I’d liberated her 1950 Singer Featherweight sewing machine decades earlier when my father bought her one of those machines with all the fancy stitches.

Wanting to encourage me to bake and having a healthy fascination with vintage industrial design, a few years ago my friend, Noel, bought me a 1947 Sunbeam Mixmaster on eBay. Interestingly, the fellow who had it for sale had bought it a few years earlier for his mother. It replaced hers, which he’d “inadvertently” sold at a garage sale, thinking she was done with it. It makes me so happy, to know I have been able to keep this fine piece of machinery from being discarded. I am positive it has no plastic parts!

What we call cookies, my friend, Mary, calls biscuits. Here, we generally think of biscuits as something that goes with savory dishes. However, when I bake what some friends call my “healthy cookies”, I think of them as a bit more like a biscuit, or a low-fat scone, if there is such a thing.

This evening, I am experimenting with “Aunt Kimmie’s Pumpkin Cookies”, a recipe emailed to me by a coworker several years ago. They were plenty moist, with a cup of butter and a cup of pumpkin in the batter, and topped with a generous dab of buttery icing. Mine are made with half the butter and twice the pumpkin. Checking my ingredients, I realized that all (except the sea salt and baking soda) are organic. Does that make them a healthful indulgence? Speaking of indulgence, did I mention they include a cup of 65% cacao organic dark chocolate chips?

They likely will not pass muster with Noel, a conventional guy, with a very sweet tooth and a penchant for rich desserts. I’ve saved for him part of a recently baked batch of Grandma Margaret’s Sprits Cookies. (That is where went the rest of the pound and nearly another of butter – organic, of course.)

Okay, not all of my recent baking is entirely healthful or sustainable. In the butter department, I cannot help myself from being a little Scandi-hoovian, especially this time of year! When mixing the Sprits last week, though, I walked to the market when I realized I’d read the recipe wrong and didn’t have enough butter. Offsetting a few calories by walking, entitled me to an extra sample! And, does walking for butter qualify them as having a lower carbon footprint?

Natives restless...

A few weeks ago I attended Native Plant Garden Maintenance class at Theodore Payne, taught by Barbara Eisenstein. Always sharing a wealth of knowledge, Barbara delighted with her slide presentation and walk about the TPF gardens, snipping, clipping, and sharing tidbits of information along the way. It was a lovely morning! Looking forward to when my little specimens purchased at the Fall Sale are big enough to need such care!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fall has been just too beautiful here to be inside behind my computer keyboard, and I haven’t yet gone wireless! We only had one severe wind event, and we’ve had some lovely rains. Been catching up on outside projects (irrigation, electrical, and tidying the garden.) Studying quite a bit, too. That is my excuse for lack of blog entries. This morning, I am inside waiting for a contractor to arrive.

Fall color in my garden…

Above is a Crape Myrtle tree (Lagerstroemia indica) in my front yard. For a Crape Myrtle, it is quite a large specimen that I estimate to be 50 to 60 years old. Perhaps the original owner planted it. In any season, it never fails to provide a lovely show. Even in winter, its stately form, mottled bark and fluted branches boldly anchor the garden. Frankly, it was not perfectly placed. A little too close to the house, it drops litter onto two driveways. However, in addition to its show-worthiness, it provides light summer shade. Additionally, it draws the eye away from nearby rather boring two-car-garage door and storage along the side yard. To me, its benefits far outweigh its faults. As long as it wants to live in my garden, I am happy it shares the space.

As street trees, Crape Myrtles tend to have a bad reputation here, mainly because the city has planted them in the tiniest of tree wells, surrounded by miles of concrete and asphalt. While moderately drought-tolerant in maturity, the street trees along Ventura Boulevard are shamefully neglected, struggling lollipops that annoy shop owners by dropping blooms, leaves, and seedpods without providing a worthy show or canopy.

Last month, Councilman Dennis Zine held a meeting to kick off the Woodland Hills Community Coalition, working toward improvements along Ventura Boulevard (from Lindley to Valley Circle.) During a brainstorming session, the trees took significant criticism. The facilitator stepped in and mentioned it would be helpful when considering tree placement, also to look at developing an overall plan, including other plant materials. Lucky for me, he then went on to ask if there was a Landscape Designer in the audience. I was the only one, and raised my hand. I was there representing the recently formed Costanso Neighborhood Watch. Others included store owners, city representatives, or leaders in business or homeowners' groups. Later, I exchanged contact information with a couple of key people involved with the Coalition. Very excited to have the opportunity to help plan climate-appropriate (tree and other) plant selection along nearby section of Ventura Boulevard. You can bet I’ll not be shy about sharing how they need to be cared for, too!

Have in mind a vision of quiet beauty along a boulevard lined with permeable, multi-use pathways, that are intermittently shaded by a collection of mature trees of a variety of species, alternating with swathes of native grasses and sages. Okay, maybe a quite far-fetched dream, but sure excites me more than the existing band of gray asphalt lined with stucco-encrusted crates, punctuated by parched pops!