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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    2000 Miles~ Remembering snowy woods on crisp, star-filled nights~

   May the Spirit of Christmas find you and warm you on these wintery nights!

   Best wishes from NativeGardener out in So Cal~

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Book Review: Wheat Belly

Okay, this is a departure from what you usually see on my Native Gardener blog.  But this is important stuff.  Learning about what goes on in your own body, paying attention to your nutrition and health ---- got to be healthy before you can create a healthy garden!

A Book Review: Wheat Belly, by William Davis, M.D.

A look at the book’s cover, and you might think this is just a book about losing weight. This book is about so much more!  Wheat Belly takes us on a journey toward understanding: what wheat is, how it interacts with our bodies, and just why wheat is such a pervasive problem in today’s diets.  

Since the 1970’s, the “healthy grain” has gone viral.  Cereal replaced eggs & bacon as a “healthy” breakfast, and boxed/frozen “convenience” foods became the normal staple of the kitchen pantry.  Wheat can be found in all processed “convenience” foods; you do not have to buy wheat bread to get wheat in your diet. And today’s waistlines are a telling sign.  Wheat is a complex carbohydrate that breaks down into sugar in our bodies. Did you know, for example that two slices of wheat bread have more sugar than two tablespoons of white table sugar?

Wheat Belly is also a book for people with gluten sensitivities and those with Celiac disease.  In that regard, I was gratified to see the book started out right up front with the answer to the questions: “What is gluten? And why isn’t wheat the healthy grain my grandma told me to eat?”

Wheat, as modified in the past 50 years, takes a destructive toll on our bodies in so many ways --- as Dr. Davis explains.  Some people have detrimental health effects from consuming wheat even without being gluten sensitive, including diabetics. Wheat affects the way our skin ages, our mental clarity, and so much more.  Having done considerable research on the gluten issue myself, I was happy with the sound and sane foundation this author puts out there. The information is clear and easy to understand even if you have never researched wheat before.

In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis suggests a wheat free diet would make Americans healthier and almost disease free.  He backs up his ideas with years of research and includes a formidable list of resources for further investigation by those who want to continue studying food and health.

Dr. Davis suggests an optimal diet plan and includes recipes that make it easy to get started living wheat-free.  Obviously, individuals will have to make adjustments to the plan --- vegetarians will want to avoid recipes containing meat; diabetics will want to carefully monitor their sugar, etc. I would tweak some of the dietary suggestions, including the subject of raw nuts (they need to be soaked to avoid belly aches), high sugar content in fruit (taking into account glycemic load rather than glycemic index), making a distinction between simple (good) carbs and complex (bad) carbs, and encouraging portion control when it comes to meat, rather than “all you can eat.”

Most Americans cannot imagine living without the “healthy grain” known as wheat. “If I can’t have bread or pasta, what will I do?”  Wheat Belly does an excellent job of clearing up the confusion of how it can be possible to eat healthy and without our “daily bread.” Wheat Belly is easy to understand, very readable, with a nice dose of humor added in.

What is wheat?  Where is it found in my food?  What does it do to my body?  How is it able to change me, what is the science behind it?  Why isn’t it the same good grain my grandmother ate?  How can I “get off” this addictive grain and still eat delicious meals?  Will I suffer nutritional deficits?   All of these questions and more are answered, as Dr. Davis guides us away from the colorful-boxed aisles that make up the center of our supermarkets and introduces us the healthful world of real food.

An excellent read I think everyone should pick up, Wheat Belly is guaranteed to change the way you look at your “daily bread.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Early Autumn, the Fifth Season~

Sycamore Leaf with Purple Sage (Salvia) Seedheads, Santa Monica Mtns, Photo by Kathy Vilim

In California autumn comes slowly, taking her time after a start that might be called “Indian Summer” in other parts of the country. Flowers fade and turn to seedheads; berries open on bushes; Sycamores, Cottonwoods and Willows begin to turn yellow; even Poison Oak puts on a display of red autumn colors. Yet, it is not fully autumn because there is no rain.  Where is the rain?  Southern California gardeners wait for the first rain to initiate autumn.  The plants, the birds, indeed all the wildlife wait expectantly. The Fifth Season then is that season between summer and late autumn, it is the early autumn which is still dry.

In the chaparral of Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, there is an unique display of seedheads at this time. The bronze-colored seedheads of Buckwheat  (Fagopyrum esculentum) create a spectacular display when growing en masse on hillsides, a sight that is uniquely Californian.  Buckwheat is such a valuable plant in the wildlife garden year round, attracting native bees and butterflies.  Buckwheat pollen makes a delicious, nutritious honey that local bee keepers take advantage of, as well.

Grasses are a pale brown-to-gray now and lay down in swaths, pressed down by animals and winds.  Seedheads on native chaparral plants stand out against their backdrop, artful in their own way, each lending a delicate independent beauty in the wildlife garden.
Sages (Salvia) are an example of an artful form of seedheads, and their open arrangement on the stem makes them easy to collect.  Sages: black, white or purple, all give so much to pollinators throughout the year, and still in this early autumn without rain they are giving, giving up their seed.
Yellow Squirrel Cover (Hazardia squarrosus), a butterfly favorite, photo by Kathy Vilim
One of the many birds that eat early autumn seed is the California Quail (Callipepla californica). I delight in seeing them pecking & scratching around in my garden this time of year.  Traveling in good-sized groups, whole families will jump over fences  to get at a good batch of seeds, whether in your garden or your neighbor’s.. Quail know no boundary lines.  Though they can fly, they don’t usually bother to take flight unless something startles them, like me opening my back screen door to have a better look!
Much has been written about cleaning up the garden in autumn, getting it ready for winter.  But for the native gardener who welcomes wildlife, there is really not much to do. When the perennials of the chaparral go to seed, the plants take on a completely different appearance, and seedheads are lovely left on the plant, as well as useful to wildlife.  In fact, overdoing, making your garden all picture perfect and tidy can be very detrimental to the relationship of plants to wildlife in this fifth season of early autumn.  No, this season is not so much for doing as it is for watching, enjoying the goings on around you quietly without interference.
This dry fifth season of California’s early autumn is a good time for gathering seeds, while you wait expectantly for the first sign of rain to cast them out~

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cool Breezes

Cool ocean breezes sweep 
across my skin
smelling of freedom
from the confines of big city
with its press of tall buildings
and busyness~

Water moves in sweeping ripples
as the breeze pushes toward me
Tiny ripples in the pond when breezes quicken
Smooth stones below green water
Almost obscured~

My mind relaxes listening to sheets of water
falling on stone, falling down, down,
rushing, my skin deliciously warm~

Now I fear I have overstayed.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Why Plant Natives?

        American Painted Lady Butterfly on Monardella antonina, 
                      Photo by Las Pilitas Nursery

Recently, I wrote about one community I visited that was full of manicured lawns and pretty roses but devoid of life … it was missing bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  The landscaping had no native plants to welcome them.  Luckily there are many native plants that make pretty additions to the garden with blooms that attract pollinators.

There’s nothing like watching the slow dance of butterflies above your flower blossoms from your garden bench!

All across the country, development has gobbled up the earth, covering meadows & prairies, putting roads through our forests, polluting our streams. Habitat has been lost, and wildlife has had to make do with less and less space to live, roam and breed. So, what can we do?

The one thing I know we can do is to plant wild plants.  Native plants are those wild plants that lived in a place before the developers came in with their bulldozers. If you look across your street and see a meadow, envision that meadow on your block, because that’s most likely what the land looked like where your house & garden sit now.  In that meadow are the plants that are your native plants.  If you live near a forest, the plants you find there are your native plants.  Or, you might live in an area with prairies. Planting the wild plants that are native to your particular area is a way to restore the land.  One garden at a time, we can build an ecosystem.

One native plant by itself is obviously not an ecosystem.  But it can be a start. In Doug Tallamy’s wonderful book, “Bringing Nature Home”, he explains so well why native plants matter to wildlife.  Some birds and insects are totally dependent on specific native plants for their food--- they are called “specialists” and cannot survive without specific plants.  This may seem like “poor planning” on their part. But, Nature is all about balance.  Everything that exists is interdependent. There are supposed to be plants to feed the animals, just as there are plants to feed us. Nature left us with wild, edible plants, as well as plants to act as medicine.

It is, in my view, not right to have taken so much of the land away from the creatures that share the earth with us. Instead, we should be living alongside our animal friends; they are our neighbors.  By letting a garden “go wild,” we are inviting friends to visit, we are “Living With Nature.”

For me, that’s where I want to be.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Sunrise Over the Pacific

                      Easter Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, Pacific Grove, CA

This picture was taken last Easter, 2013, when I was traveling through the Monterey, CA area.  It was very early on Easter morning, and my honey & I headed to the beach, to a park at Lover's Point.  We didn't expect anyone to be there so early.. it was barely sunrise. 

Surprise! Not only were there people there, but there was a Sunrise Service on the lawn there for Easter! People brought chairs; donuts & coffee was set up; various speakers & musicians were gathered.

What made this all the more of a surprise than even the early congregation, was the fact that I had no idea the sun ever rose over the Pacific! I mean, I have only seen sunsets over the Pacific, as it is always to the west, more or less. At the Monterey Bay, however, it seemed the town of Pacific Grove was located at the south end of the bay, so that facing the Pacific actually meant facing East!  Santa Cruz was directly opposite, on the north side of the bay, so that it would get all the sunsets.

It was a magical sunrise then, as clouds parted to let in the new sun on Easter Sunday~ A magical memory worth revisiting for us.  Wishing you a beautiful Easter, where you live!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Butterfly Kind of Day~

                   Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Photo Courtesy of LasPilitasNursery

Today was a day for butterflies.  I saw (3) Monarchs at Las Leones Park today (in the Santa Monica Mtns near the Beach), or maybe it was the same one (3) times!  Anyway, it felt nice to watch them in the 70dg day of mid-February.  Next, I moved on to Warner Park in Woodland Hills (the Valley).    I didn’t expect to see any butterflies but, what to my wondering eyes DID I see but a yellow swallowtail, swooping from high up in the pine trees, and then a brown butterfly.  I started to photograph the swallowtail, but it was too fast! Then the brown started to chase the swallowtail, also too fast for me. 

Then the brown decided my head was of interest – so he flew directly AT me!  I moved to get a shot, and he backed off and tried again just moments later, and yet again.  I figured out that he was interested in the sweat on my brow (80dgs here). He most likely had just hatched due to the warm temps, (he was very fresh and perky) and the swallowtail, too.  I finally gave up on the shot. Then, the brown butterfly came to me. 

First, I felt the soft drag of his feet in my hair. I held still while a squirrel on a nearby tree trunk looked on in good humor, I suppose.   “Lady, do you know you have a butterfly in your hair?” Then the butterfly moved to my hand, and I could watch him close up, see a bit of blue along his brown body. We regarded each other for a long time.  Then, up and away. I put down my camera and watched while ANOTHER brown butterfly met up with him! Together they whirled and  twirled until I lost sight of the pair. 

While most of the country was cold and full of snow and ice, here it was an amazing butterfly kind of day~

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns

Wildflowers, Santa Monica Mtns