Bloom-a-day 7: Jupiter's Beard (aka Valerian)


I'd never seen it before moving here. I first saw it in a neglected planter box growing at the base of a street tree in the middle of the sidewalk in an industrial part of a neighboring town. Delightful and airy, it seemed so out of place in that forlorn and forgotten sea of parched ground, dust, concrete and asphalt that made even the street trees look sickly. It didn't seem to notice.

Sometime the following year, it showed up in our garden. It chose the line of poor clay soil along the base of our picket fence.

"Well, hello!" I said once I spotted the first volunteers, "I recognize you. I'd be happy to have you live here."

And so it did.


I first learned its common name, "Jupiter's Beard". Most of the blooms are a deep dark pink, but there is one patch right under the mailbox that is the purest white.

I've since come to learn that this plant is also known as "Valerian" (the proper name is Centranthus ruber but who likes that name when you can call something "Jupiter's Beard"?).

The hummingbirds and bees don't care what name it has. They love the nectar from the big clusters of tiny blooms. During the day, the fence-line is a veritable buffet for the critters.


In late November when the night air begins to have a chill, the stems will be missing most of their leaves. A few stray blooms will still be reaching for the sun that has slipped low in the autumnal sky. That is when the "Jupiter's Beard" gets a close "shave" as I trim each stem to the ground.

The perennial roots rest comfortably all winter until spring's warmth wakes them. And then they line the base of the picket fence once again.

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Bloom-a-day 6: Hot pink alstroemeria


Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look.
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.


In a pot on the deck, between the barbecue grill and the hot tub, is a large pot with a the pole of a large sun umbrella stuck deep in the soil. The umbrella provides shelter from the rain and the sun when I'm getting my hydrotherapy.

Growing around the umbrella pole is a healthy crop of hot pink alstroemeria that I thought was going to be an annual when I planted it.

That was 3 years ago.

It even grows and blooms in the winter when I think it's too chilly for anything this tropical looking to grow. I think being up against the side of the hot tub helps.

So this bright sassy little flower has become a permanent resident here... much to my surprise.


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Bloom-a-day 5: Ronald Reagan rose


Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look.
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.



When choosing rosebushes to become permanent residents in the garden, I tend to steer away from red roses simply because they're not unusual enough. However, when I came upon the "Ronald Reagan" as a bare-root with a full-color photo on the bag label,  I fell in love with the unique coloring of the petals--how they are light (almost white) at the base and then deepen to a bright red on the edges. When I saw that description of the foliage was "dark, leathery and glossy" (translation: more disease resistant) I was sold. I've never regretted buying this beauty. This year it's putting on the best show ever since it came to live here.


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Bloom-a-day 4: Bearded Iris


Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look. 
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.



Holding a special place in my heart are the bearded iris.
No matter how much I want to introduce other colors into the garden,
I am always drawn back to the pale blue varieties.


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Bloom-a-day 3: Angel Face Rose

Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look.
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.


I think this is an Angel Face rose... it's either this one or the other one that looks a lot like it. They both lost their tags since I planted them. I remembered one of the names and completely forgot the other... something with "magic" in the title. Even when I do have roses labeled I manage to have this happen. *sigh*

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Bloom-a-day 2: Hot pink gerberas

Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look.
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.


Like the red gerberas that live out in the garden, these "annual" beauties that reside on the deck in a terra cotta pot have miraculously wintered over for two winters now. It never ceases to amaze me when this happens and I hope I never take it for granted that it does.


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Bloom-a-day 1: Dutch Iris

Like an artist's paint palette exploded, the garden is alive with color everywhere I look. 
I've decided to feature a bloom a day until this beautiful show comes to a close.


Brilliant and electric yet peaceful and soothing...
I never cease to be mesmerized by the dutch iris. 
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The miracle of a red gerbera


I bought it on a lark, reading the plant tag that said "annual" thinking it was a frivolous purchase but couldn't resist the deep scarlet brilliance no matter how temporary it would be.

That was years ago... so many years ago I've forgotten how long it's been.

In the same terra cotta pot, it comes back every year. After the chill of winter has left, the stems begin to emerge and then the brazen scarlet petals of each bloom unfold in unabashed majesty. Unashamed yet unassuming, the gerbera is an every day flower with the simplicity of a kindergartener's drawing (the quintessential garden bloom) yet with a flare that says, "I am no wallflower".

Years of living with its feet in the same pot, the gerbera ate away much of the original soil. Last fall, I lifted it gently and added more soil hoping not to disturb the magical spell that kept it coming back years past its original "annual" label suggested it should. As the fall days grew cooler, the leaves dried, withered and died. It looked as if I had in fact broken the spell.

But just to prove me wrong (like many things in my garden) when the days grew warmer, the gerbera started showing signs of life. The emerging stems came first before any leaves. By late March, the first ruby petals were unfurling.

The spell was not broken.

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There is probably only one thing that can entice me away from spending time in my garden paradise


I love being in the garden. There is very little that can persuade me not to find an excuse to be out there. But there is one thing that will almost always lure me out of my serene little Eden--family history research.

I'm an avid family history researcher--a lover of history, old photographs and ephemera, and the possessor of an eye for deciphering cryptic handwriting and old newspaper print. I love piecing together a life story.

I suppose family history research is much like gardening. Every time I plant a seed in the ground it is a miracle to me that it grows into anything--let alone the beautiful flower or vegetable that it does. In family history research, I often start with just a grain of information. Sometimes only a name. It always amazes me when I am able to take that small seed of information and make it grow into the sketch of an individual's life.


There's another similarity between the garden and family history research...

The orange blossoms (featured here in the photos of this post) will need lots of cooperative effort provided by many insects and hummingbirds in order to pollinate them. That's the only way these blossoms will become the juicy oranges that I love to eat in the winter months.

Family history research is impossible without the collaborative effort of many individuals doing everything from preserving old documents to collecting the information into a usable set of searchable data online (and many other tasks in between). It is through those efforts that I am able to gather bits and pieces of information (much like a bee gathering pollen), compile the disparate pieces, and end up with rich and sweet life stories of individuals who have passed on.

And both my garden and my research bless my life in ways I cannot begin to enumerate. They are choice activities that bring me closer to my Maker more than any other I can think of.

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I got my very own "wild turkey surprise"


Does anyone else remember the old Bugs Bunny and Tasmanian Devil cartoon "Bedeviled Rabbit"? Bugs serves Taz a special "treat" called "wild turkey surprise".

Well, I got my very own "wild turkey surprise" when I went out to stroll around the garden just before sunset on Tuesday. I walked down the deck stairs and headed to the bird fountain to top it off with water from the garden hose. I heard a funny "cluck cluck" sound coming from the vicinity of the mandarin tree just past the lemon tree. I'm used to just about every sound that happens in my garden so when I hear something new, it's obvious. I peered in the direction of the sound through the branches as I walked.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a giant wild turkey meandering across the flagstones not far from me!


Taller than a goose with the top of it's head about 4 feet tall, this thing was quite striking considering that most of the wild birds I see in my garden are far smaller. I immediately walked backwards as stealthily as possible toward the house so I could dash in to get my camera--hoping the whole time that it wouldn't leave until I got back out. On my way in the back door I yelled to Hubby, "There's a wild turkey in the back garden!" and dashed into my studio to get my camera out of the camera bag.

I was fortunate that it hadn't left when I got back out. The turkey was moving slowly through the garden mostly because it had a severe limp. I noticed a large patch of feathers on it's front that were out of place and sticking out at a right angle from its body. It looked like it had been in a recent scuffle.


From what I could tell it was a male (possibly a juvenile called a "jake" but I'm not sure as I'm not well versed in wild turkeys).

The turkey made an entire circuit around the garden following the path that goes around the pond. I kept my distance allowing the pond to be a buffer between it and I. I let my zoom lens bridge the gap between us. I didn't want to scare it or cause it to become agressive (turkeys can be dangerous if provoked).

After getting a few shots, I put my camera down for a time while I filled up the bird fountain using the garden hose. It kept an eye on me from behind a palm tree.

When I had my back turned, I suddenly heard a great commotion. I turned to see that it had taken flight and was sitting on the roof of the neighbor's garage that is right on the property line between our garden and theirs. I went back inside to tell Hubby it was still there if he wanted to come see it. He did and we watched it from the safety of our deck chairs until it took flight again and flew to roost in the great stand of eucalyptus trees that grow just over our back fence on open land belonging to the nearby oil refinery.

The rest of the evening we could hear the turkey's gobbling vibrato in the distance as the sun set just past the eucalyptus it had chosen to roost in for the night. I can now add this exciting experience to my list of wildlife encounters in my little semi-rural backyard wildlife habitat.
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I'm practically up to my eyeballs in lemons and loving it


Last week I stood and looked at boughs heavily laden with fruit full of liquid sunshine. This year our eleven year old Eureka lemon decided to produce a crop above and beyond it's "semi dwarf" status. Sacrificing thick green leathery leaves, it has poured all its energy into the fruit. The Eureka is an ever-producing variety that year-round has blossoms, developing fruit, and ripe fruit on it all at the same time. But never have we been blessed with such a bountiful harvest all at once like this year.

I stood looking at a branch ready to break after the added weight of waterdrops from a spring rain shower were almost too much for it to bear. I knew I couldn't put off the harvest any longer.

So despite dealing with severe bouts of spring-allergy-induced vertigo, I got out under the tree with my garden cart, green-waste can, and two sizes of pruning shears. The branch that was precariously close to snapping and jeopardizing the whole tree was cut off before it could do damage to the form of the tree.

I removed the lemons from the cut branch... but there were still so many lemons left on the tree.

I filled my harvest satchel... and there were still so many lemons left on the tree.

I filled a laundry basket... and there were still so many lemons left on the tree.

I filled my garden cart... and there are still so many lemons left on the tree.


Although I had dosed myself with plenty of sinus medication to reduce the swelling and fluid in my inner ears and keep the head-spinning at bay, it was still tricky having to look up over my head to pick each lemon. Silent prayer, wishful thinking and sheer stubborn tenacity kept me from pitching forward and landing in the pond or on the ground. After I had the cart fairly full, I decided I had gathered enough and the rest of the fruit on the tree could wait until another time when someone taller and less equilibrium-challenged could harvest them.

After a couple of days, I tackled the next task of processing the lemons. We chose to juice them all into 8-ounce freezable stacking containers Hubby found at a local restaurant supply store. My count for containers of fresh squeezed juice is now over thirty. They sit in neat columns of golden yellow in our large supplemental freezer and will be thawed as needed for various uses in cooking, baking or drinking. I still have almost a full 5-gallon buckets worth of lemons to go before the juicing is done.

Hubby and I have read together many times in Frances Mayes' books Under the Tuscan Sun and The Tuscan Sun Cookbook about the Italian limonaia (literally translated "lemon house") where this important staple is stored in various forms to be used to feed the family throughout the year when the lemons aren't in season. It's the reason I planted the lemon tree in the first place. I feel like we finally have our dreamed of limonaia (of sorts) in our freezer.

It's wonderful to imagine all the things that the juice will become in the artful hands of Hubby (my personal chef-in-residence). Some will go into savory entrees such as pan sautéed lemon chicken. Some will probably be combined to make homemade lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil. I will most surely want to use some to make my favorite dessert, Cheery Cherry Cheese Pie. And I am a lover of lemonade so most assuredly a lot of the juice will be used to make large pitchers of ice cold lemonade on hot summer days.

Now my mouth is watering.


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