WINTER


Snow is rare in San Francisco in December and January, which are the coldest months averaging fifty to forty degrees. Storms brew and bring light showers to torrential downpours. The plants await the rainy days so little watering is necessary during the winter. While the rest of the country grows cold and frigid San Francisco rests with mild temperatures in comparison. Winter is a good time to grow plants indoors. Forcing bulbs are a beautiful way to add color to the interior of your home and remain active in the garden.

December 2, 2007
I woke this morning to an insect-infested daisy plant. There are crystallized flakes all over the buds and they are suffocating the new growth. I cut all the buds and tips where the flakes seem most prevalent, and then sprayed neem oil all over the leaves and stems. I’ve isolated the plant so it does not spread to the others, which are susceptible. It’s difficult to know which insects are benevolent. Gussy took a look at the crystallized substance and suggested a soaking with the neem oil, which I have done. She asked for a loop to look at the crystals more closely, but I could not find where I placed it.

The winter wind is picking up and the bougainvillea’s fuchsia leaves fly away with the winds. There are few flowers left and the patio is decorated with pink petals.

December 4, 2007
I’m hoping my two roses will do well over time. Some gardeners claim that roses have an adjustment period of one to two years. In certain circumstances it may take even longer. Once established they can live, thrive, and produce multiple blooms for years. I’ve seen roses growing in the wild, living with their long legs swooping over chain-linked fences in Smyrna. I’ve seen them in shade as well as the burning sun. Vita Sackville-West claimed that roses should be set free and allowed to grow wildly as they are prone to do. There is beauty in the long, lithe stems that flow over fences.

Vita Sackville-West is an English author and gardener from the turn of the century. She contributed gardening articles to the Kent Chronicle under a weekly column. She is known for her knowledge for excavating a vast garden at Sissinghurst Castle where she and her husband resided.

Vita was so influenced by gardening that she wrote several books on the subject. As well she was a poet and once wrote to her good friend, Virginia Woolf, “I loved you when love was Spring, and May, loved you when summer deepened into June, and now when autumn yellows all the leaves...”

It is said that wild roses originated from China and Europe and made their way across the oceans to the rest of the continents and countries of the world. I am going to wait patiently and sit and watch as they grow into gorgeous mature beings.

December 9, 2007
The climbing rose bush looks somewhat healthy. It travels along the trellis in front of the bay window. Now that winter is here I think my tinkering around in the garden will become minimal. However, I will still need to give the plants ample watering and protect them from the chilly winds.

The hummingbirds continue to take nectar from the very last blooms, which reminds me to change the nectar water in the feeder. The water should be changed weekly in hot weather, but in the cooler temperatures I’ve been able to leave it outside for a few weeks. A homemade nectar is quick and easy; the recipe is to simply stir one cup of raw sugar to four parts of boiling water, then let cool.

December 10, 2007
It is now very cold outside. The wind doesn’t stop and there’s a chill, always. The plants I left on both patios seem to be doing fine in the cold. I think most of them are growing well since they are in large containers, which protects their roots.

The radermachera, or China doll, sits quietly on the shade patio. Surprisingly, it needs an ample amount of water; it is quite a thirsty plant. As well, it is extremely hardy and grows quickly in shaded areas. It’s a nice addition to the patio, simple and easy to maintain. The leaves are shiny with many interesting veins to draw. The line drawing I created is captivating with small delicate veins leading to the edge of the leaf, like the strand from a spider web.

December 14, 2007
Gussy brought me a robin’s nest for my birthday. What a special gift. I have it displayed in a small bowl that protects it and keeps it intact. Their nests are quite delicate and loosely woven - and can easily fall apart if not handled with great care. I don’t know how they survive the windy days of San Francisco.

I drew the tangled roots of an air plant. The roots are rather large and busy and all interwoven. It makes for a beautiful drawing. There are new fronds coming up in the center of the sago palm. It will be interesting to see the form it takes over the next few weeks.

December 15, 2007
It’s a cold, frigid day. I only want to stay inside and hibernate and escape my depression. I realized that I will not see the amaryllis bloom since David and I will be out of town. We will be visiting family for the holidays in Florida.

Perhaps I can slow down the growth process if I set them on the shade patio while I’m in Florida for the holidays. The cool temperatures will surely preserve them until we arrive back on the 2nd. It’s so lovely to look into the garden and see layers of different colored blossoms. The red tulips in the foreground of the yellow daisies are stunning.

December 17, 2007
There are few flowers left on the bougainvillea. I’ve discovered the daisies and chrysanthemum are in the same family. The reason I mention this is because some of the daisies and mums look very much alike and sometimes I find it rather difficult to identify different varieties accurately.

December 20, 2007
Gussy suggested to cut back the roses completely. She claimed, with her expert eye that the leaves did not look healthy. They are having a difficult time adjusting. I moved the climber back to the patio, and cut all its limbs back, especially branches that have black tips due to too much moisture. They seem to be having problems drying up. The soil has been moist for weeks. The rose bush that had the red spider mites, which I cut back to the bare limbs, has new growth. I now realize the roses are going to be a challenge. They’ve been having difficulties since I purchased them. However, rose cultivators claim a finicky rose bush is a myth. I thought the climber might do well with the tendrils growing around the trellis, but the leaves continue to remain limp, likely due to too much water.

December 31, 2007
I remember the Smyrna summers were a time for sharing crops and flowers throughout the neighborhood. Neighbors had squash, watermelon, and tomatoes, which were always abundant in every garden. The most delicious fruits came from the fig tree. I love the succulent taste of a freshly picked fig, the same for cherry tomatoes. There is nothing like picking and eating a fig or cherry tomato from the vine in the summer heat. They are so sweet and refreshing. It’s an instant way to connect with the garden. I used to bring gifts to Michael, a neighbor. On occasion I would bring him Russian sage, with its detailed lavender blooms and silve-like leaves, which glowed when the sun went down. Michael had a plentiful vegetable garden, which he shared as well. Sometimes he would bring me yellow squash, which grows profusely.

January 1, 2008
We returned from Florida just in time to see new sago palm fronds at great heights – two and a half feet to be exact. They are dashing. All the plants are flourishing and those that were not doing well before we left for Florida are now coming back hastily and strong.

The house finch and a few sparrows have found their way to the feeder; it has been hanging for weeks on the shade patio. I separated their feeder from the hummingbird feeder. Birds are much too territorial. The bell-shaped seed feeder is slowly disappearing and seed shells cover the patio floor. There must be at least six to eight birds perched on the limbs of the tree, hanging about near the patio. Their song is irresistible in the early morning. I’ve placed a bowl of seed on the ground since the bell barely exists now. They are amusing and enjoyable to watch, but they are making a bit of a mess.

January 10, 2008
The finches continue to fly about the patio and make themselves comfortable on the chairs, table, and railing. There are many colorful reddish males and simple brown females. Their call is wondrous. They bring me back to Smyrna. They are busy all day eating to keep warm. We’ve had much rain. The plants outside are drenched, but are still flowering. The lavender, to my surprise, is blooming.

January 11, 2008
While I sat out on the patio enjoying a little morning sunshine, Gussy called up to the third floor to tell me she found two more bird nests. She was quite exhilarated to share them with me.

Gussy is a truly thoughtful and giving person. Nature has connected us and I’m finding a very strong tie to her. I must find something special to give her. She always has a gift from nature to share with me. The robin’s nest is most special. She loves orchids. That’s what I shall bring her.

January 14, 2008
The maidenhair ferns are turning into a challenge. I missed a few days between watering and one dried right up and turned brown; it is unforgiving. I cut back the dead leaves and now it looks so barren. The other is growing back nicely. Gussy suggested I get rid of them because they are so high maintenance, but I love their delicate fronds.

I set two dozen tea roses on the patio in a large wide vase. The light and medium colored pinks mixed with one another are quite attractive. The cut roses always do well in the cool temperatures and shady patio. Though they are beautiful, there is not a scent that can be sniffed.

A factor to consider when it comes to the scent of cut flowers is to find wildflowers or, in other words, ones that haven’t been hybridized. Most hybrids lack any fragrance due to breaking down the genetic make up of a plant from year to year. With years of propagation the original flower looses its scent and robustness. The heirloom flower proves to be more resilient and fragrant.

The house finch continues to visit and make a large mess, but their calls are worth all the cleanup. The trees are barren now; there isn’t a leaf in sight.

January 16, 2008
I discovered a new bird, the common yellowthroat, which is four to five inches in length. He has a very soft yellowish-green body with yellow at his throat. Migration season is in full swing. There is another bird, which I haven’t identified yet. He has a yellow beak and subtle brown spots on his breast, and there are prominent white and black stripes on his head.

I will have to move the seed to the other patio. Since Gussy’s office is below my patio, her doorstep is splattered with bird poop. The finches are making an awful mess of the cement planters along the gate as well.

Gussy finally took me to her favorite nursery, Flora Grubb. I spoke with a knowledgeable man about purchasing bamboo for the shade patio. We decided on a variety appropriate for part shade. I planted it, and it looks wonderful in the corner of the patio. Gussy thought it beautiful from below. I must agree with her.

January 18, 2008
A freeze is supposed to arrive Monday or Tuesday. All plants on the patios may have to be covered from the frost. I think the aphids are starting to attach themselves to other plants. I purchased more neem oil, which should take care of the problem.

January 19, 2008
I’ve seen a number of warblers and sparrows pass through. Their iridescent colors flash in the bright sunlight. I regret having to clear away the bird feeders on the patios, but really it was such a mess. Birds are so lovely to watch, but when they start pooping on your neighbor’s patio and Gussy’s office entrance, it becomes a bit of a nuisance. At least the many maples surrounding our bright sunny room provide branches for birds to perch on and wander about. Their calls provide a warm feeling that spring is almost here. They bring me back to Smyrna and the old oaks that catered to the one territorial cardinal.

As far as all the birds’ nests, I looked up hummingbirds and they are quite interesting. They use spider webs, lichen, and other mosses, which expands as the chicks grow larger. Gussy showed me the one hummingbird nest she found; it is a treasure. In her shop she has a variety of nests collected on her shelves. There are rows of the beautiful creations.

January 23, 2008
The hyacinth is beginning to form its buds. I will have to draw its many stages of life. I haven’t had much luck with the amaryllis. I’m not sure why the amaryllis bulbs I purchased last year bloomed so nicely. They had striking veins of pink on each white petal. I was hoping to draw those this year, but no such luck.

January 5, 2008
The Pacific brings much rain, slanting all day with harsh winds. It is cold and wet and the slanted strands will continue throughout the week.

For well over two weeks my bouquet of roses has not aged. Temperatures at forty and fifty degrees have prolonged their life expectancy. They are lovely to look at every morning. As well, I’m enjoying the bamboo leaning over the balcony.

One of the daisies is very dried out. I suspect it may be pot-bound. It’s time to transplant. It continues to rain intermittently with light rain, shared by heavy chilly temperatures.

10 p.m. I pine for warmer days. My mood has been melancholy with the wet and short winter days. I need long hours of sunshine to fill my heart. Placing my hands in the soil sends energy into my fingertips, up my arms, and through my body. It’s a wave of energy like nothing else.

Not only the plants cheer me up, but Gussy’s morning visits help. She is quite the intellectual and is always up beat, which helps my mood.

January 30, 2008
There is a painting from the DeYoung Museum’s permanent collection that stands out in my mind. A woman with a melancholy disposition, sort of listless and tired, sits at a table with a bouquet of orchids. She holds in her hand a blossom, carefully and delicately, much like the way she sits and appears. Her presence is fragile as if a wave of emotion has taken hold of her spirit. I can very well relate to her frailty and my own sadness at moments. The painting is by American artist Henry Fuller.

February 1, 2008
I bought Dahlias for the over-packed garden. Soon there will be no room to open the door. But, I’m not sure I will be keeping all the plants. There are many that need nursing. I’ve decided to disregard the Mandevilla and focus on caring for other plants, such as my roses. They’ve become a challenge to grow.

At the moment everything is covered in plastic. The rain falls in big sheets and bands this time of year. The weather has been miserable enough to keep me indoors. I’ve purchased paper whites for inside, and will draw the different stages as I have been doing with the hyacinth.

February 2, 2008
I repotted the pink daisies into a larger container and now they sit on the patio with all the other flowering plants. I might attempt to grow the dahlias inside near the warmest window. It will be a challenge since they require so much heat and sunlight. Maybe it will be a warm summer.

I considered discarding the Mandevilla, but surprisingly discovered many largerhizomes in the pot. I will make another attempt to grow them on the sunny patio. They will finally receive the sunlight they need.

Once again a rose plant, the climber, is not doing so well. I’m not sure why the roses are retaining water, rather than draining sufficiently. Needless to say, the high moisture content is rotting the climber. Perhaps the warm temperatures will arrive just in time to save the plant.

February 5, 2008
The hyacinth is close to full bloom and the drawings are looking more detailed and intricate. They are so fragrant that the aroma fills the living room. When I’m sitting close and drawing them, the fragrance is very potent while the blossom sits directly under my nose. The roots are quite elegant and intricate. The paper whites will show the same roots in the glass bulb container.

The days are beginning to grow longer. How lovely it feels to have sun on my face! The duration of the day flows well into the early evenings.

February 11, 2008
The hyacinth was in full bloom for a few days but now sits and dies quietly. There is a slight odor from the dying petals that were once so fragrant.

February 20, 2008
The pink daisies are dying. I can’t keep the aphids from attacking the plant. Spring is almost here and there will be much replacing of plants that either do not grow well in San Francisco or that I’m having difficulty with in containers. I will replace the lantana with geraniums since the patio doesn’t receive enough sun for the buds to flourish. I will also use succulents. That way, the garden will be somewhat low maintenance. The paper whites are now busy blooming, and what a wretched odor!