About Those Palm Trees

So here’s something I learned during our recent trip to California: palm trees are not native to Los Angeles.


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The Canals of Venice (California)

Back around the turn of the 20th Century, a developer named Abbott Kinney and his partners bought the land which is now Venice, California. Their idea was to create a beach resort for day trippers from Los Angeles, a sort of Coney Island West. Just one problem: the land was mostly a swamp (they didn’t know the value of wetlands back then).


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Christmas Day on Venice Beach

Is it odd timing to write about Christmas on New Year’s Day? Perhaps, but that’s what I am doing. As I wrote a week ago, our family spent the week in Los Angeles, in a cottage near Venice Beach.


We had a breakfast on Christmas morning of bacon and eggs and homemade biscuits. No presents, as the trip itself was the present. After a relaxed interval of digesting, reading, and gabbing, we walked to Venice Beach.

The boardwalk was much quieter than the time we visited a year ago. That 2015 walk had been on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. More than that, though, the boardwalk seemed like it had been cleaned up some. Less exuberantly tacky, a bit more upscale. It seemed like there were fewer storefront “medical marijuana” shops, and those still around were more discreet.


We walked across the mostly empty sand toward the water.


In the distance you can see the skyline of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica mountains.


Everyone took their shoes and socks off except for me. The water was too cold for swimming, but not too cold for standing in the surf, as Judy’s feet demonstrate in this photo.


Sanderlings are the best comedians on the beach. These little shorebirds go racing after the water as it ebbs, feeding on tiny invertebrates in the surf. When the waves return the sanderlings skitter away in retreat, their tiny legs a blur.


There were also somewhat larger shorebirds, a bit more dignified. I tried to ID them but couldn’t be sure. I’d like to think these are a kind of sandpiper called Wandering Tattler – what a great name. But they could be Willets, which sounds much more boring.


After our long walk on the beach it was time to head back to the cottage. There we would engage in more reading, gabbing, and snoozing – then finally rouse ourselves to make Christmas dinner.

A happy New Year to you – let’s all hope for better things from 2017.

Season’s Greetings

Laughter was the first thing I heard when I woke up this morning, and it made me smile. The sound was coming from the living room of the Venice Beach cottage we’ve rented for a week. Judy was out there with our two sons, Daniel and David, and David’s friend Meredith.

Back garden of the cottage where we are staying. 

Judy and I got here on Thursday, and a good thing, too. We had a pretty painless flight from Chicago to LAX. The other three came in last night, much the worse for wear.

It rained all day here yesterday, with especially heavy rain last night. This was good for drought stricken Los Angeles, but threw LAX (and the surrounding roadways) into chaos.

And here’s the front. 

The kids’ flights came in two or three hours late, around midnight Midwest time. Between the delays and lengthy periods of air turbulence they were pretty frazzled when we picked them up.

All that is forgotten this morning, though. There are blue skies and a bright sun. Everyone woke up refreshed after a good night’s sleep. We are looking forward to a week of lolling, reading, cooking, eating, beach walking, and garden visiting. (Well, Judy and I are looking forward to visiting some gardens, we hope to bludgeon the kids into coming along.)

Despite what goes on in the larger world, our family has so much to be grateful for. I hope that yours can say the same. Season’s greetings to you.

Winter Interest, My Ass

Current events are not doing much to put me in a holiday mood, and the garden isn’t really helping. That’s because this year the whole “winter interest”  thing has been a big dud.


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Book Review: Garden Flora, by Noel Kingsbury

This is not a book about how to garden. Instead, it tells the stories of 133 genera of plants, from both before and after they got mixed up with people and their gardens. It contains a diverting mixture of science, legend, and horticultural history.


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Looking for a Good Gardening Magazine?

Before I knew about blogs, I subscribed to a lot of gardening magazines. In fact, I pretty much subscribed to every gardening magazine I came across – including some that consisted mainly of photos sent in by readers (often of their grandchildren, not that there’s anything wrong with that).



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Perennial Optimism

In these rather dismal days it was nice to see an article in The Washington Post that inspires a bit of optimism about human ingenuity and the future. The article, which actually ran a couple of months ago (Judy sent me a link, which I lost and then found again) is about the development of perennial grain crops.

Kernza: the next generation of wheat? Photo from The Land Institute. 

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A Cheering Winter Star

I was in need of a morale boost a couple of weeks ago, and soon the answer came to me: Amaryllis bulbs. Something I could order immediately, plant indoors, and enjoy while the garden was still a frozen wasteland. It was a little late to order Amaryllis – most varieties were sold out – but I was still happy with the selections I made.

An important point of clarification here: these are not Amaryllis Amaryllis. These are Hippeastrum Amaryllis. As with Geranium/Pelargonium,  this is an instance where the taxonomists couldn’t make up their minds for decades but in the end us ordinary gardeners have to live with the confusion and fear of using the wrong name, as if it were out fault.


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A Whimsical Dreamscape of a Garden

So of all the gardens we saw in the Minneapolis area, this one was absolutely my favorite. It is nestled among the fields and woods of rural northwest Wisconsin, about 40 minutes from the Twin Cities. Here plants and sculpture are combined so bewitchingly that you feel you have entered into a sort of dream.


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