Snow is rare in San Francisco. December and January, which are the coldest months here, average fifty to forty degrees. Storms brew and bring light showers to torrential downpours. The plants absorb the rain; 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 is a beautiful way to add color to the interior of your home and remain active in the garden. The flowers will likely brighten up a grey, weary day. But, unfortunately the seasonal effects of depression do settle in around this time of the year.

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 soaking them 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 3, 2007
I finally made it over to the Flower Mart to pick up soil and a handful of Baby’s Breath for the foyer. Also, when I arrived home, I spread a tarp on the floor to repot the Roses. An unwanted layer of Spanish moss sits at the bottom of the containers, which prevents healthy drainage. When I received the roses I was instructed by the nursery to lay three to four inches of moss at the bottom of the container. Now I’m not sure why. After pulling out the root ball I noticed that the layers of moss had decomposed. I’m still confused why the Rose soil does not drain and remains so moist. I took out the remainder of the Spanish moss and added new soil to the pot. Today the leaves still look limp as they have been looking, but it may take a few days for them to perk up. I placed them in a terra cotta pot hoping for better water absorption. The terra cotta pots are so porous that moisture does not remain in most pots for very long.

>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 the shade as well as in 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, agile 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 of gardening and 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. She was also a poet and once wrote to her good friend, Virginia Woolf, “I loved you when love was spring in 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 entities.

December 6, 2007
A quiet life is what I seek. Withdrawing into my home and surrounding myself with new growth from the garden brings me joy. I’m able to dive below the surface of my conscience and awaken the intricacies of my existence.

December 7, 2007
There were the days in Smyrna when the leaves fell throughout the entire winter. With my warm work clothes on I would rake for hours. I found raking to be meditative, its natural motions of dragging leaves across the lawn then releasing to stretch the rake outwards to pull more leaves in. This may have taken hours, the cool winter air against my face as well as on my breath and my body began to warm as I continued the motions of raking. I would finally feel alive in the winter air. Though the sun may be wondering in and out of the low-lying clouds I felt some warmth on my face when the sun did appear. I walked among the shrubs and perennial garden that were asleep for the winter. I made sure to cover the ground with enough mulch from the compost bin to warm the roots of bulbs and plants against the freezing temperatures.

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 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 blossoms, reminding 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. 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 protect their roots.

The Radermachera, or China Doll, sits quietly on the shade patio. Surprisingly, it needs a generous amount of water; it is quite a thirsty plant. It is also 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 a strand from a spider web.

December 12, 2007
Gussy brought me a robin’s nest for my birthday. What an extraordinary 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 take cover and escape my depression. I realized that I wont see the Amaryllis bloom since David and I will be out of town. We will be visiting family in Florida for the holidays.

Perhaps I can slow down the growth process if I set them on the shade patio while I’m in Florida. The cool temperatures will surely preserve them until we arrive back in early January. 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 18, 2007
There are few flowers left on the Bougainvillea. I’ve discovered that Daisies and Chrysanthemums 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.

We leave for Florida to celebrate the holidays with our families. While we’re gone Gussy promised to look after my garden. Today she stopped by to pick up the key to the apartment. I did soak the plants in the house and filled the saucers to their rims. I’ve discovered aphids on the Daisies. I sprayed them with more neem oil, but on the other hand, they are blooming one after the other.

December 20, 2007
A cloud brews over my head during the winter. The sun is making its way to our bay windows, finally at 2 p.m., perhaps my mood will change, but my frustration with the roses leave me idle.

Gussy suggested I 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 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 21, 2007
David and I are in route to Orlando, Florida to visit my in-laws for Christmas.

December 25, 2007
Christmas Eve was a wonderful day with the family. Everyone complained that there is no Christmas without cool temperatures, but I rather enjoyed the warm winds from the east coast.

Bob, my father-in-law, has shown me his garden since we’ve been in town. He has the dwarf version of the Lily of the Nile, in San Francisco there are the larger imperial of the Lily. His Sago Palms are beautifully large. The Hibiscus, which always reminds me of Florida have a coral hue with a deep pink center. I think they will make for wonderful drawings; their papery thin edges and the stamen that glows.

Bob and I discussed using ladybugs to control the aphids and other invasive insects in my garden, but the only problem is that it would have to be in an enclosed space, such as a greenhouse. Bob said that people are misled by the use of ladybugs as a natural source to rid plants of insects. If placed outside, they will go where they please, and won’t necessarily stay in your garden. So far, soap water and neem oil are my choices for controlling those nasty insects.

December 26, 2007
We are in route to Delray Beach and Boca Raton to visit my family for Hanukkah.

December 28, 2007
We went to Fairchild Gardens’ Botanical Garden to see the Roy Lichtenstein sculpture exhibit. His sculptures were strewn about the pathways and open areas of the garden. They were quite conspicuous with brightly painted forms against shrubs and trees. Last year we visited the Chihuly exhibit, which covered the many varieties of gardens, blending and melting with the Lily Ponds, leggy Hibiscus, wild Ambrosia vines, Butterfly Bushes and more. The butterflies in the garden are exquisite when flying about. They flicker as the sunlight touches them.

Lichtenstein’s very pop-like forms were sort of a distraction from the beautiful gardens. However, I did enjoy both exhibits with the backdrop of one of the most beautiful gardens in Miami. The year of Hurricane Andrew the garden lost close to 300 varieties of trees. Botanists from all around the country rushed to the gardens to begin the recuperation process. The gardens went through a tremendous healing period. Now, years later, it is lovelier than ever. It is one of the special places in Miami that I always enjoy visiting. It reminds me much of Vizcaya, the mansion created from coral rock, set on Key Biscayne’s bay. The surrounding gardens are manicured. The coral rock architecture is especially captivating in the center of the gardens; it really is so unique.

December 30, 2007
My mother is enjoying her two Amaryllis and Paper Whites - even though the Paper Whites are stinky - as they grow quickly right before her eyes. I was able to fit in drawings of both flowers. She placed them in glass containers; their root system is especially mesmerizing. They climb the wall of the glass. I will have to order glass containers for the bulbs this winter.

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. There is nothing like picking and eating a fig, or for that matter, a 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 my neighbor Michael. On occasion, I would bring him Russian Sage, with its detailed lavender blooms and silver-like leaves, which glowed when the sun goes down. Michael had a plentiful vegetable garden, which he shared as well. Sometimes he would bring me yellow squash, which grows profusely. At this point in life I had a positive outlook even though my symptoms of depression, anxiety and paranoia stayed closed by my side.

January 5, 2008
We returned from Florida just in time to see the 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 hummingbirds’ 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 near the patio. Their song is irresistible in the early morning, not a sound all night until the robin wakes me. It is a pleasurable feeling and gives me hope for a new day. I have 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 7, 2008
I’m beginning to accept misery in all its beauty and bliss, and all its imperfections. Sometimes I do feel exquisite in my chaos, an energy flows wildly through my mind on such days. But, then, after a while I turn to my garden and grip the soil that anchors my life.

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.

When I arrived back home from running errands I was pleasantly surprised to find tiny flowers of Honey Suckle wrapped in raffia with a small gift wrapped up. I untied the raffia and found four cocoa drops dusted in cocoa powder. I placed them in an antique glass my mother gave me and set it on the coffee table. Gussy left it for me along with the following note: “sorry I missed you. You’ll have to see the new nests. Perhaps you can drop by on Monday. Gussy”.

Gussy is a truly generous and thoughtful 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 13, 2008
At times there are periods of desolation that come so unnecessarily and so often. But, at these moments I find solace in my garden, watching the sunshine and the flowers prospering.

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 on the 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 flowers that haven’t been hybridized. Most hybrids lack any fragrance due to the breakdown of their genetic makeup from year to year. After years of propagation, the original flower loses its scent and robustness. The heirloom flower proves to be more resilient and fragrant than most others.

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

January 15, 2008
I feel lonely and cold from the arctic winds and my bones have a chill. I continue to stare into the garden to find a glow of warmth.

January 16, 2008
I discovered a new bird, the common yellowthroat, which is four to five inches in length. He has a 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 to protect them 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 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 stir 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. I felt exceptionally alive once the song of the cardinal reached my bedroom and flowed into my ear.

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 expand as the chicks grow larger. Gussy showed me the one hummingbird nest she found; it is a treasure. In her shed, she has a variety of nests collected on her shelves. There are rows of the beautiful creations. She promised me her nests once she retires.

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 25, 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. I’m enjoying the Bamboo leaning over the balcony too.

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 and chilly temperatures.

10 p.m.
I pine for warmer days. My mood has been melancholy with the short, wet 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.

The plants cheer me up, and Gussy’s morning visits help too. She is quite the intellectual and is always upbeat, which helps my mood.

January 26, 2007
My uncle is dying from a brain tumor. I visit Montana February 11 – 15 to spend his last days here with us. Things are grave and doctors feel he will live near sixteen months. I have been depressed, anticipating the visit and watching my uncle deteriorate. Aunt Erin is playing nurse and rushing him back and forth to the hospital for treatments. I’ve been told to prepare myself for my uncle to be in bad shape. He is incoherent, has memory loss, and is confused and tired, but with all that has taken place my uncle seems at peace with death. He’s been my connection to the world, at times. I will loose a very important person in my life. He loved gardening and the outdoors and always described his magnificent surroundings of Montana to me on the phone.

January 27, 2008
The static in my mind prevents me from living sometimes. It is difficult to make assessments of my life when a vortex captures my soul. But, there are those moments in nature when she brings her beauty to me, so much, but the bulbs that I have forced particularly stand out. The lilies are magnificent and my mind clears when I lean in to smell them and feel their textured petals. The stain of the stamen remains on my hands and reminds me that nature is close by.

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 large rhizomes 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 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 evening.

February 8, 2008
I begin to understand my thoughts that wander out of boundaries. My mind swirls wildly throughout the day, but when I take my medication and go to therapy my days become more structured. On these days I take to my garden and find the energy to pamper each and every plant in the apartment and both patios.

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 I’ll be replacing the 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 sunlight 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!

Spring 2008 list
Herbs for in door pots
Tropical plants for the shade garden
Succulents for the sun porch
Time released fertilizer