Welcome to my Garden Blog

Nature: wild & untouched. Photographing it, preserving it, taking walks and drinking in the landscapes as they unfold.

Gardens: touched by loving hands. Cultivated, nurtured. Drinking in those landscapes is wonderful, as well.

In my garden one enjoys some of both. Generally unpruned & wild, my plants reshape the garden as they grow.

Beyond the garden borders, natives from the Santa Monica Mtns await. Oak trees with their shady canopies. Cactus & Sage in the sun.

Always there are animal creatures to join in the fun.

I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with you as they unfold.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Magic of Monarchs in Winter

                           Monarch Nectaring on Baccharis salicifolia,
                           Leo Carillo State Park, Photo by Kathy Vilim

I could scarcely believe my eyes! A large orange Monarch waited for me to go get my camera, flirting, attending to the puffy blossoms of Baccharis salicifolia (commonly called Mule Fat) and flashing his open wings at me.  I couldn't believe my luck :-)

I have been seeing Monarchs at this campground in Northern Malibu, near the coast for about six weeks now. I still wonder if they overwinter here or fly on to one of the better known overwintering spots to the north.  This one was out in mid-day, enjoying the warm sunshine, in no hurry to return to the shade of Eucalyptus trees.

It is so special to see the Monarchs.. the way they fly, their large wings make their movements slow, proud and graceful. It was the best Christmas present nature could have given me that day, as I shared the moment with a friend who had never seen a Monarch before!

I will give you an update soon on the numbers of West Coast Monarchs that Xerces.org will come up with after Dec.31st.  Also, you can read more at http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/monarchs-on-christmas-eve.html

May Nature fill your Holidays with Wonder!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Why Not Eat Local AND Eat Native, too?

                                Blue Elderberry (Sambucus caerulea)
                                   Photo courtesy of laspilitas.com

     Reading about the wild, edible native plants of California, got me thinking about the Native Americans of California, how they lived in concert with the land.  They were a part of the land, just like the Bear or the Quail, or the Butterflies.  They took time to look at the skies, to track the movement of the sun, and to observe the gentle changes of the Season—which in So California are so very subtle compared other places in this America.  How different the Native American’s lives were from ours today.. how simple.

     Finding food was obviously a major part of the day, just as it is for all creatures.  They therefore must have used their powers of observation to learn what the land offered, what was possible to eat, and what was not.  Some things turned out to be nutritious or filling and satisfying; others turned out to just be yummy, like the sweet “tuna” fruit that grows on the end of the Prickly Pear Cactus, which is so abundant in the chaparral of So Cal.  Unlike other wild berries, which tended to be sour, tuna would have been a sweet treat!
                                                        Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
                                                        Photo courtesy of laspilitas.com

     It got me to wonder what native berries do we have here in So Cal? I discovered several native berry bushes: Some of the fruit bushes native to Southern California are:
     Blue Elderberry (Sambucus Mexicana)
     Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
     California blackberry (Rubus ursinus).

These berries would have been an essential part of the native people’s diet.  In my post for BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com, Autumn Harvest, Thankful for the Bounty, I focused on nutritious acorns, nopales (cactus pads) and wild spinach. Foods of sustenance!  But fruit is a vital part of diet, too, both now and then.
     You can find these berry bushes right now in a So Cal Native Plant Nursery, and you can add them to your yard, giving you a delectable wild food source.  It is so enjoyable going out and packing fresh fruit from your own garden.  Why not eat local AND eat native?

     I for one have great fun picking nopales pads and cooking them.  For one thing: They are Free.. which stretches the grocery budget.  But also, it is nice to watch the plant grow more fleshy, edible pads than I could possibly eat, and know I am not harming the plant or taking it away from the wildlife that also depend on it for nectar or shelter~


Friday, October 25, 2013

Winning the North American Native Plant Society 2013 Conservation Award

2013 Paul McGaw Memorial Conservation Award

This year's Conservation Award given by the North American Native Plant Society went to Carole Brown, creator of three blogs: Ecosystemgardening.com, Beautifulwildlifegarden.com and Nativeplantwildlifegarden.com.  The award was given based on her non-stop dedication to spreading the word about native plants.  Why do native plants matter? What benefit do they have to your garden? Why plant native plants .. because they belong! 

As a writer who contributes regularly to Beautifulwildlifegarden.com, I cannot help but feel a flush of pride being part of this Team of writers and gardeners who feel passionately about replacing something of the wild places that man has taken away.  The blogs aim to do this by educating gardeners and creating a dialogue where all comments are welcome.  We want to give back wild open spaces to the insects, birds & animals that live here on this planet with us, by transforming the land one garden at a time. 

Carole definitely deserves this award, as she pulls us all together as writers and gives us a chance to make our voices heard, as well as letting us know that there are other like-minded folks out there. My voice is but one in the chorus that sings for more wild places~

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mermaid Slips Back to the Sea~

Mermaid Slips Back to the Sea~

“Mermaid is the Mermaid. There is no other Mermaid around,” Mary M. quote.

Seagulls cry out and I look up, following their flight through the foggy morning sky.  I open the green screen door to go into the Cafe Mermaids.  My senses are immediately delighted by walls rich with colorful drawings of .. why mermaids, of course!  Mermaids look down on me no matter which table I take.  Their liquid blue eyes are calming, as is the sound of boat lines clanging against masts.  The Cafe is tiny and narrow, with a low ceiling and an uneven cement floor.  But, the counter is liberally strewn with newspapers left for the next reader who comes along.  

This place says to me that it’s been here a long time, a favorite for locals in the harbor area of Marina del Rey, boaters, old-timers.. the place exudes a relaxed air.  Time slows down.  There are no trendy posers here at this coffee shop, and no folks rushing off when lunch break is over.  For those who prefer the sea air, there is more seating out front, under a plastic awning that creates its own outdoor room.  From there you have a front row seat to watch people come and go off the docks, or pass by with their dogs.  On this day as I write this, there are girls in the water doing yoga on paddle boards!

Jenny is the owner of the Cafe, a sweetheart with a talent for baking the most amazing muffins!  As a matter of fact, the smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven will keep you there at the Cafe waiting for them to come out & cool.  Jenny is the second owner of the cafe.  Its history goes way back, and I’ve yet to determine just how far!

At the moment the thing is: Cafe Mermaids is going away!  It has a lease in the building where LA Fitness (formerly Marina Fitness) is located.  The gym has just given notice to its landlord that it is leaving Marina del Rey and moving to Playa del Rey, at Lincoln & Jefferson Blvds.  While this doesn’t seem very far and the new facility will be state of the art, many locals who were members for 10-25 years, when the gym was the Marina del Rey Fitness, do not look forward to having to get in their cars and drive to their gym.  There are always a good number of bikes parked outside the Cafe Mermaids, and many members jog there as part of their workout routine.  

Endings and Beginnings.  I just discovered this scene this summer, when the heat of August drew me to the Beach. But already Mermaid’s Magic has washed over me.. and I know it to be a special place, that  will be missed by many.

For me finding Mermaid was a beginning, a new friendly community to hang out in. Now it is ending, just as I was settling in. No matter, I move on, more easily than the locals here. 

Seasons change: Summer comes to an end as Mermaid closes her doors on autumn.
Pacific Park® - Live Cam Have a great weekend.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Quirky Signs on the Interpretive Trail

                 Quirky Trail Sign, Topanga, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

I have written several posts lately for Beautiful Wildlife Garden that have a common thread: education. They are Wildlife of Los LionesQuirky Signs Along the Trail, Moon Tree of Monterey, and Gypsy Botanist.  In each, I discuss the importance of educating others about their natural surroundings.  "You cannot love what you do not know."  There is no better place to do that than in a Park.  When people come to a Park, they come to be outdoors, to be part of the natural world, feel the sun on their faces and breathe the air in deeply.  Time slows down as they walk, taking in the green of living plants all around them and gazing out at far away vistas.  People have time to wonder about this natural world all around them.

That's why I love Quirky Signs of Interpretive Trails!  Following a trail through an Oak Woodland is enjoyable in and of itself, but there might be plants you don't recognize or don't even see because they are not blooming yet.  You might ask "Oh, this is Mugwort? This is Hummingbird Sage? What are they good for?  What purpose do they serve?  Is their purpose in the Oak Woodland ecosystem to feed birds, or provide shelter for small critters?"  Low and behold, there are Quirky Signs to answer your questions and get you wanting to know more.  This is especially helpful for people who are new to an area, as well as for kids.  Kids are always full of questions!

Why does this matter?  It is human nature to care about animals you know and plants that you are familiar with.  But if you don't get out and acquaint yourself with the plants and animals in the natural world right near where you live, you are less likely to care what happens to them.  Who cares about that big development that's going to impinge on the local wetlands or interrupt bird breeding grounds? What does it matter if farmers spray pesticides on crops and in so doing kill native plants like the Milkweed?  If you don't know what Milkweed looks like and what it is for, you are not likely to care very much what happens to it.

I myself am a big fan of Interpretive Trails (even if the signs are not quirky).  I love going to a new Park and reading whatever information they have set out for visitors.  I always learn something, and it usually leaves me with more questions.  I guess I am the ever curious "why?" kid!  Hope you have a "Why?" kid in your family and take them outdoors to explore their natural world real soon~

Wildlife of Los LionesQuirky Signs Along the TrailMoon Tree of Monterey, and Gypsy Botanist


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Return of the Hummingbirds

         An Anna Hummingbird on a Cirsium occidentale venustum, 
           Red or Venus Thistle, Photo Credit to LasPilitasNursery

Summer is here, and with it comes visits to the garden by our friends, the Hummingbirds!  If you have hummers in the garden, likely you have spent many happy hours observing them from your patio or from a well-placed bench in that part of the garden most favored by the birds.. a place of many nectar rich flowers.. or your well-maintained feeder.

Times are changing, though. Everywhere in the nation gardeners are observing different weather, different temperatures, and different bloom times for some of their favorite flowers. When the hummers come back from their winter homes in the spring, sometimes they miss out on the blooms of their favorite flowers, because the weather turned warm weeks early.

The researchers at the Audubon Society have noticed some changes, too. Some of their data is not just correct anymore; there seems to be a disconnect between the time of the hummingbirds' return and the flowers' bloom times.  And researchers are concerned.  So they have started a program, enlisting our help to share with them when you have a hummingbird sighting and where you are located (zip code).  This can be done via smartphone or PC with a new App you can take out into the garden with you. The app will provide you with pictures of different hummingbirds (so you know what kind you are looking at) as well as pictures of plants you are likely to be seeing them drinking nectar from.

You have a chance to share your sightings and help researchers learn more about what's going on with these hummingbirds that grace our gardens with their flying acrobatics and delight us with their antics!

For more info on getting involved, visit: http://www.hummingbirdsathome.org/

Friday, June 21, 2013

Outside My Bedroom Window: Camping on the Beach Again

                                  Oceano Beach, CA Photo by Kathy Vilim

As you can see, another morning waking up on the beach, another entirely different view! Seems the seagulls and I were up before the folks in this tent. This is one of the only beaches where it is legal to drive on the beach and camp overnight.  Notice the bicycle.. all types of vehicles find their way out here!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Outside My Bedroom Window: Camping on the Beach

                 Camping on Oceano Beach, Vehicles Welcome, Photo by Kathy Vilim

There is nothing quite like camping right on the beach, and waking up with the roar of the Ocean in your ears.  Here is the view from my Bedroom Window one morning when I was out there.. In the background is a layer of fog in front of Pismo Beach. In front, the tracks that criss-cross the beach were made by vehicles of all description, incl ATVs, that had camped overnight with us on this designated section of beach.  Endless sand.. and endless tracks.. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Outside My Bedroom Window, Oceano Lagoon II

                   Camping Next to the Oceano Lagoon, Photo by Kathy Vilim

This photo was taken on a camping trip to Oceano, CA.  We backed our camper into our camping spot so that the water came up right behind my Bedroom Window!  This made for fun & leisurely duck watching throughout the day.  I also enjoyed listening to the gentle sound of water as it slapped against the banks of the Lagoon.  What a treat to wake up to this scene in the morning!  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Outside My Bedroom Window, Oceano Lagoon

I have been travelling for awhile now, and I was reflecting on just how fun it is to wake up in new places! Different days mean different views outside my bedroom window for this Gypsy Gardener.  I thought my readers might enjoy seeing some of those views! I will be posting some photos here as part of a new series: Outside My Bedroom Window. Check back!

                       Resident birds at the Oceano Lagoon
                       Photo by Kathy Vilim (Can you help me ID these birds?)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

5 Bucks Gets You 7 Minutes

Here I am, camping in Joshua Tree National Park out in the Mojave Desert, and who'd have thought the campgrounds have no showers?  If you want a proper shower, you have to "come down to town" to the Joshua Tree General Store....

It was 82 dgs at 3pm when I went to take my shower at the General Store. Getting out of the van with 5 Bucks in my back jeans pocket, I walked up the wooden porch to the general store. The sound of wooden planks under my feet was familiar, as if I had lived in the Old West before and had walked down wooden porches that connected one shop to another in some dusty Western town.  One step inside the store, though, and I was back to the Year 2013 instantly.  A "new generation" girl was at the cash register, with a shop full of gifts, tokens, clothes, everything for the hiker, rock climber and weekend urban escapee.  I knew what I came for, having been here several times already. I came for the Shower key and Token.  I marched right up and traded my $5 bill for a wooden duck with a key attached.  It was painted orange.

I trotted off, back down the wooden walkway and around the wood  building to the back.  A wooden sign with a finger pointed toward the showers.  There were two of them sided by side in a wooden out building.  One had an Orange Duck on the door, the other had a Purple Moon.  I got lucky. I was the Duck today, the larger of the two shower rooms.

I stopped to look at a Pear Cactus, full of vibrant yellow blooms standing against a wood wall.  This plant was clearly loving where it was living, in all the desert sun with a water spigot nearby.

The Shower was coin operated.  Once you put that token in, you had 7-1/2 minutes, so you better be ready!  The water was nice and hot, and washed the sandy desert winds right off of me.  Feeling much refreshed, I went to return the key, pausing to look at a colorful upright piano sitting right outside!  It was painted all different colors.  I lifted the keyboard cover to try it.

As I expected, it sounded horrible: tinny and neglected... perhaps from sitting outside in the desert heat.  A sign on it said "Play Me I'm Yours."  I had seen two pianos like this before: one in Monterey and one in Pacific Grove, CA.  But, those two had been playable.  Why wasn't this desert piano being maintained then?  Perhaps on my next shower stop I will have to "Inquire Within."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Desert Wildflowers of Joshua Tree

A recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park provided me with some wonderful wildflower photo opportunities. I wanted to share some with you. Hope you enjoy! (Click to enlarge photos) 

                  Flowering Cactus, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

                                 Flowering Creosote Bush, Larrea tridentata, 
                                 Joshua National Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

                                 Bumblebee on Ocotillo Plant, Fauquieria splendens
                                 Joshua Tree National Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

For more about Joshua National Park, check out my newest post for the Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

For an update on where you can find California wildflowers: http://www.theodorepayne.org/hotline.html

May your Spring be filled with Wildflowers! ~Gypsy Gardener

Monday, April 8, 2013

Deciding When to Go

                      Monarch perched on Monterey Pine Tree, as if 
                         ’Deciding When to go’, photo by Kathy Vilim

Here I am, the Gypsy Gardener on the Central Coast of California.  I am in the town of Pacific Grove, which calls itself "Butterfly Town".  For good reason: It is one of the overwintering sites of the West Coast Monarchs.  Here in this photo a Monarch is perched on the end of a Monterey Pine branch. Most of Monarchs here have left, following that special sense that only they have: of knowing where to go, and when to go. Off in search of Milkweed, they fly inland from the Coastal overwintering sites.

  Pacific Grove's Monarch Sanctuary, Photo by Kathy Vilim

I feel much like the Monarch. Like him, I stand perched deciding where I should go next.  I have been to three overwintering spots since October, 2012: Ellwood Butterfly Preserve near Santa Barbara, Pismo's Monarch Grove, and Pacific Grove. I have enjoyed watching them as they spent their winter months resting, taking refuge in the safety of stands of tall Eucalyptus & Pines on the Coast. Now that they are on their way to Spring & Summer locations all over the West, I wonder if I shouldn't be on the move, too.

You can see more on my visit to Butterfly Town here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Sunrise over Monterey Bay

                            Photo by @kathyvilim Taken from Lover's Point Beach

The Sunrise was gorgeous on Easter Morning. I had no idea I would see the sun rise over Monterey Bay.  I am from Topanga, where the sun SETS over the Ocean.. not RISES!  Seeing the sun in the East made me feel all backwards.. but didn't keep me from grasping the opportunity to get a gorgeous Sunrise photo. Easter Surprise!

Hope you check back to enjoy my travels as they unfold, along the Golden Coast of California~
Gypsy Gardener~

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Travels on the Central California Coast~ San Simeon

                          Beach House in the Fog, Big Sur, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

Yes, it's true, I have been travelling through California for some months now. I have been sharing my travels with my friends at www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com, sometimes to the neglect of my own blog and you my readers.  Last week I wrote about my wildlife encounters in San Simeon.

I have been following US Route 1 north from Malibu, and taking my time. I am enjoying being able to get to know the towns I visit and not simply rushing off to the next destination.  I am something of a Gypsy Gardener at this point, getting my hands dirty when & where I can!

I want to share some recent photos with you:
                                Kayak Tours on Hearst Beach, San Simeon, CA

The Hearst Castle is a popular destination on the Central Coast, sitting like the castle it is on a hill way up high.  Less visited is the beach & pier, constructed by Hearst, where his famous friends would enjoy beach parties by night or by day.

Once the fog clears, you can see the coastline at Hearst Beach is pretty stunning!

Across from the Hearst Beach is this historic one-room schoolhouse set in a quiet meadow of spring blooming wildflowers, where a horse is happily grazing.

More to share, more to follow!  Happy Spring to you~

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sycamores to the Rescue

    Western Sycamore Tree with seed pods, Warner Park, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

As if they'd read my story "Birds Need More than just Trees", today small birds (Finches I think) took to the Park. Up to the tops of the Native Western Sycamore Trees they flew where seed pods hung on the still bare branches. I delighted in watching them, happy to see the native trees provided them with some seeds after all.

I had just written about the lack of birds in the Urban Park and how I missed their bird song. Their absence was largely due to a lack of understory plantings which provie seed and berries for the birds.

                         Frosty Sycamore leaf, Warner Park, CA, photo by Kathy Vilim

The seasons being what they are, all mixed up, here we are at the end of February and new spring leaves are already coming to the Sycamores, even while the brown leaves of autumn still lie on the morning's frost-covered lawn..

Saturday, January 12, 2013

California Teenage Runaway

                  Monarchs overwintering in Pismo Beach, CA, Photo by Kathy Vilim

I am a female Monarch butterfly, flying high above Pismo Beach, flying from the tall Eucalyptus trees, where I have been sleeping this winter.  How I love the Central California Coast!  It has everything I need here: moderate winter temps, clean air, and I am making friends to help me keep warm. The sun comes out. I feel its warmth on my wings…  I open them, flashing orange at any passersby.  There are none.  

Presently, I fly off across the Meadow.  What do I spy down there? Could it be Milkweed?  I zoom in for a closer look.  There to my unbelieving eyes, yes, they even have milkweed here! I can lay my eggs on the Milkweed plants right here and then go back to my California lifestyle.  No need to go anywhere else.  I have what I need right here at the Hotel California... 

Like runaway teenagers, they stayed and learned to surf the waves of the sky in California’s golden springtime..
See more at: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/welcome-to-the-hotel-california.html

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns