Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alaska Trip, Part I

Alaska is a place of wonderment, a vast wide-ranging territory, unspoiled and with beauty so breathtaking that these mere words cannot describe the grandeur. From frigid streams and lakes to coastal waterways and racing rivers, from glacier-carved fjords and forested islands to the rugged slopes and granite cliffs with cascading waterfalls, wilderness as far as the eye can see, and from plains to oceans and expansive glaciers and the frozen tundra. Truly God's country!

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population is 686,293 people, of which 15.2% are American Indian and Alaska Native persons. The state has 589,194 square miles, is one-fifth the size of the U.S. and has the largest state park system with 3.2 million acres, and a coastline longer than all the other U.S. states combined.

Our first visit to Alaska was nine (9) years ago when we cruised the inland passage from Vancouver to Seward and took an extended rail tour to Denali, known not just for its phenomenal beauty, but for having its own weather. I recall the great anticipation of seeing Mt. McKinley, the 20,320' highest peak in North America. A beautiful blue sky greeted our arrival that cold, crisp afternoon, but a morning of fog and cloud cover allowed no view or continued trip in order for us to experience it.

During that cruise we took additional excursions along the way, including a spectacular helicopter ride which landed and allowed us to walk upon the glacier. (I'll show you that later.) However, this year's cruise would be different, more relaxing and casual exploration. There were several books we brought to read; we would walk about the towns at which we docked; and best of all was that our two great friends, Donna and Ray, traveled with us, and with them we shared quality time and sooo many laughs.

16JUL09 Early morning found us flying into Vancouver, BC, going through customs and summoning a cab, what proved to be a thrilling taxi ride and one during which I closed my eyes and held my breathe on more than one occasion. We arrived safely at the hotel, Pan Pacific Vancouver, located on the waterfront and within a few steps of our ship. Excellent accommodations and location at a discounted price made our choice simple, and the bellman would see that our luggage was transferred to the ship the following morning, thus, the first step toward a relaxing time began, except for one tiny thing. Upon opening our luggage, we found a love note from the TSA, 'Notice of Baggage Inspection'. Who would have known? Oh yes, it was finding our garments all rearranged!

The day in Vancouver: sunny, 70's, and a most delightful cool breeze; lunch at a quaint little Greek restaurant, Stephos, recommended by one of Donna's friends; a little walkabout, conversation with some local folks, shopping at the neighborhood fruit market, and later in the evening, dinner at Joe Fortes. The latter was an adequate meal, reasonably good food but a bit expensive and extremely uncomfortable as no air-conditioning was used. So enjoyable were the West Coast local oysters Donna and I shared, and the waiter, knowledgeable and excellent, added to our enjoyment. We had had a fine day.

Interesting observations: we took 6 cab rides while in Vancouver and 5 of the 6 drivers were from India and we always engaged in conversation with them. Several indicated there being no affordable housing inside 100 kilometers of the city, so they had to drive nearly an hour into work each day; Canadians had been experiencing unseasonably cooler than normal temperatures; additionally, they loved Vancouver as opposed to Toronto and the New York influence, preferring the western attitude as friendlier and more polite.

17JUL09 A light breakfast, some milling about outside on the terrace, and the view before us prior to going aboard the Ryndam...

Lunch would be available on the ship and we could unpack and begin our leisure excursion once all were on board by 4 p.m.

Out of Vancouver Harbor toward the Lion's Gate Bridge, we looked back again, passed beneath the structure, waved hello/goodbye to the tug and then a plane flying overhead, and made our way into the evening and toward Ketchikan.

8 p.m. and we are well on our way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden Stress

Our garden is stressed, and I can feel it.

We returned early yesterday morning from our venture to Alaska (a second visit and loved as much if not more, but that for another day) to a stillness and unseasonably hot temperature which reached 107 degrees by afternoon. Leaving the garden in summer is not what we do, but this was a trip that had been planned around some business activity.

On several occasions while traveling, thoughts turned to the state of the garden, but they were quickly dismissed. I learned long ago that worrying about something about which nothing can be done, is a waste of time, energy and thought.

The greatest concern about leaving was the vegetable garden, but we found it in great shape upon return. We had decided to keep it on a twice a week for thirty minutes automatic watering system. On the other hand, the flower garden zones were turned off until our return, and yes, the majority of the perennials are stressed and not very happy, but they will make it. When it comes to our water source (a well) and its usage, we are careful and respectful.

As you well know, it will take time to get back into the groove of things at home and begin organizing the photos and notes about our trip. I am excited about sharing some of that with you in the coming days.

For now, it will be another record 107 degree day. Early morning and a current 80 degrees find only bumblebees and these Western Tiger Swallowtails out and about.

Phlox paniculata 'Robert Poore' finds frenzied feeding, while the Buddleia blossoms experience a gentler approach.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heading Out To Water

Heading out early this morning to do some additional hand watering before we hit 90+ degrees, but first things first. How can I pass by without first looking at the light shining through this banana leaf by the pond.

And what about me, asks the gladioli. I wouldn't pass you by either.

The fragrant 6' trumpet lily 'Black Dragon' cannot stand on its own and requires staking due to the weight of the blossoms. This particular plant seems to get darker with age.

While standing at the vegetable garden, hose in hand, I finally heard the call. I had wondered where they were. Would they hold still so I could get a good photograph? No. Only from a distance could I get this one. Caw caw caw. Caw caw caw, I answered.

Don't you just love that long black throat and charming forward curving black plume of the Quail. Very elegant!

We are headed out in the morning for a little rest, relaxation and exploration, but will be in touch again in a couple weeks and with many photos in hand. Be safe and we'll see you soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's For Dinner?

We are pleased you asked.

Fresh green beans picked from the garden? You bet! Blanche for a couple minutes, drain, dry, then stir fry quickly in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, fresh ground pepper, then some minced garlic, and a sprinkle of kosher salt at the end. Sometimes the final touch is fresh lemon juice, and tonight might be the night since we are having grilled Tilapia, a mild white fish. But if we don't have lemon, how 'bout half a lime?

A young tender summer squash is in order: sliced in half, rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with lemon pepper, and grilled. Thank goodness we rescued this one. We are quite confused, as this is a vegetable we have planted for years and with great success. Last year and currently, the squash has produced a tough outer skin and large seeds prior to maturation, almost like a gourd. Might anyone suggest what could be going on?

One strawberry... I ate it! We have plants which bear all summer, beautiful sweet red juicy berries, but this year, something is not playing fair! Nearly all have been eaten for the past two months, including the leaf. We are into sharing, but this gluttonous creature has overstepped its bounds. I dislike netting the top of the garden, but it must be done.

Off to fix dinner. We hope you have enjoyed yours.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bully In The Bath

So entertaining was watching the goings on in the birdbath this morning, especially with the activity of this character who flew to the rim, drank, decided to take a bath, jumped back onto the rim, another drink, then paused... waiting.

Another flew toward the bath, and he jumped back into the water and began fluttering his wings so that none could stay. As any would attempt to approach, he would again go into high motion until he was once again alone.

Finally this little gal arrived and was permitted to remain. There he sat, motionless, for what seemed a very long time.

The bully of the bird bath. Such entertainment!

Morning Clouds

The morning clouds creep over the coastal range and onto the valley floor. The weather report indicates we may get some additional rain, and that would be most welcome, but we'll just wait and see what the day brings.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Misty Afternoon

We had a wonderful and welcome surprise today... rainfall. However, we could have foregone the lightening and thunder. The rain gauge indicates less than an inch, but the steady downpour, a gully washer some might call it, has me questioning that small amount. Nonetheless, rain is rain, and whatever amount we received, gratefulness abounds.

Rain and thunderstorms is quite the unusual event here in the summer months. We generally have about three months without a drop of moisture. Rather bizarre it seems to have rain all winter and a summer that is bone dry.

A calm and misty afternoon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Carex elata 'Bowles Golden'

Every garden should have a Carex elata 'Bowles Golden' I do believe, for it offers radiance even in the darkest days.

A slow growing broad-leaf sedge with white margins, Carex siderosticha 'variegata' (KAIR-ex sid-er-oh-STEE-cah), partners with several alstromeria and this true blue of my favorite Salvia patens.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What's Up

What's up you ask?

Daylilies, salvia, artemisia, campanula, ornamental grasses, physocarpus, geraniums, penstemon, roses, lilies, dahlias... blossoms surround us in the garden. But what's that way in the background that looks like corn, friends ask? Arundo donax (a-RUN-doh DON-aks), a blue-green reed and bamboo-like grass which thrives and requires no water in our garden.

However, Arundo donax 'variegata' is one of which I am particularly fond, but because we invite more drought tolerant plants to our garden, this likely will not see its potential 8-12 feet height due to an only once-a-week watering. Nonetheless, it shines with its creamy and green foliage.

To the left: those puffy pale pink clusters atop the gorgeous maroon-stemmed Ceanothus x pallidus 'Marie Simon', was started years ago from a very small cutting. This past winter took its toll on this once 7 foot beauty, and it appeared that we had lost it, but I do believe she chose to be here for she reigns again upon our rocky slope and dry summer conditions. Strangely enough for a ceanothus, this one is a deciduous shrub.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


When asked, "Which are your favorite herbs?", the ones which immediately come to mind are basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, garlic, cumin, tarragon, cayenne... and one which can sometimes be forgotten, but high on our list, is lavender, and not just any lavender, but English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia.

There is Spanish lavender, French lavender, Yellow lavender, something called Lavandins... all that come in various shades and colors and an array of heights, but L. angustifolia 'Hidcote' is overall number one in my book. Compact, highly fragrant, and brilliant dark purple flowers make this a special part of our garden.

Full sun and good drainage are requirements, and after it blooms cut back the spent blossoms... not much to satisfy in a plant which offers so much joy.

Placement along a border or at the edge of a path allows the wonderful scent to permeate the air as you brush past it as you stroll along in the garden.

Many enjoy drying the flowers and using them in arrangements, potpourris, or as decorative upside down bundles hanging in a country kitchen. Honey, aromatherapy oils, lotions and soaps all come to mind, but we offer a few of our favorite uses.

I'd rather be in the garden, but if you must work inside, try crumbling a few dried flowers on the carpeting and vacuuming over them so you enjoy a most pleasant scent as you work your way throughout the house.

Consider a simple recipe sometime this summer: Blanche some fresh green beans on high heat in boiling water for just a few minutes. Drain, dry, and then quickly saute the beans in a little olive oil, blanched almond slivers, and freshly ground pepper for a few moments longer. (We like a little diced garlic too.) Sprinkle just a few fresh lavender blossoms over the green beans, combine gently and quickly and salt with some kosher salt. What are you waiting for? Serve.

Amazing Dinner

What a delightful surprise. My husband had a meeting yesterday and returned with a bag of freshly dug clams from the Washington coast and given to him by one of our friends. What a wonderful friend! And before you think but this is a garden blog, I shall offer that the fennel about which I am to speak came from our vegetable garden and those clams, from the garden of the sea. I knew you already thought that.

Let's see, perhaps something different, maybe a little spicy:

Spicy Fresh Clams from Diana's kitchen: Brown a small package of ground hot Italian sausage. Add one chopped sweet red pepper and a sliced fennel bulb, 2 teaspoons of crushed fennel seeds, a little freshly ground pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of a white wine (last night we had a Chateau St. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc so that is what was added), simmer for another few minutes, then add 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups of clam juice. Heat to near boil, add clams, then steam until they open... about 5 minutes. (Note: we only had one clam not open and that gets thrown away). Outside of the time it took to dig and clean the fennel, the entire preparation took about 20-25 minutes.

A crusty toasted slice of whole grain bread, a crostini, and a glass of the Sauvie Blanc gave a wonderful balance to the heat of the Italian sausage and salty flavor of the clams. My oh my, did we have a wonderful dinner. Simple, quick and delicious! What's not to like?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Calamagrostis 'Overdam'

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam' (ka-la-mo-GROSS-tis ak-yoo-tih-FLOR-uh) is a charming grass with variegated green and white stripes and these rosy colored feathery flowering stalks. Its wonderful clumping and upright habit serve well in a pot, as a standalone specimen, or in this mixed sunny border with Miscanthus floridulus 'giganteus' (miss-KANTH-us flor-ID-yoo-lus), Clematis recta 'purpurea' (KLEM-uh-tiss REK-tuh pur-PUR-ee-uh) and its fragrant white blossoms, the dark purple delphinium, and on the distant right, a hibiscus.

Normally we wait until the first signs of spring growth to cut back all the ornamental grasses - for the fall and winter offer beautiful interest in the garden - but we may cut some of the Calamagrostis back in the early fall this year, as I see a few more divisions being planted in the garden.

Daylily or Hemerocallis

Bold and beautiful, Hemerocallis 'Lavender Deal'

The daylilies or Hemerocallis (hem-er-oh-KAL-iss ) are in full bloom and fill the garden with such warmth this time of year. If we scoot slightly further to the right we see H. 'Fairytale Pink',

... and a bit further, our lavender, Lavandula angustifolia (lav-AN-dew-lah an-gus-tee-FOH-lee-uh) has been in full bloom for several weeks and offers a wonderful backdrop to daylily 'Ice Carnival' (left) and 'Lake Norman Spider' (right).

In its glory is H. 'Russian Rhapsody', accompanied by the glowing golden strands of Carex elata (KAR-eks el-AH-tuh) 'Bowles Golden' and this lovely trailing Convolvulus mauritanicus (kon-VOLV-yoo-lus maw-rih-TAWN-ee-kus) with its lavender blue flowers. They all do well in this (other) section of the garden with good drainage and sun to partial shade.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thyme In The Garden

Thymus vulgaris (TY-muss vul-GAIR-iss), native to the Mediterranean, was also used by ancient Egyptians for embalming, Ancient Greeks for burning incense and bathing, Middle Ages Europe as a sleep antiseptic, medicinal purposes... but we use it mostly as a culinary aid and to gaze and walk upon, to sink within its softness as we walk along this garden path.

A vast variety of thyme... English, lemon, orange, wild, silver..., but my favorites have to be this deep rose-colored creeping Mother of Thyme, Thymus serpyllum (ser-PIE-lum) and the soft gray-green Woolly thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus (soo-doh-lan-oo-gin-OH-sus).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lorquin's Orange-Tip Admiral

There is not much left of the spiraea's blossom, but this beauty seemed to think so. Frankly I am a bit surprised I got this shot for the jittery creature was in constant motion. Look at the orange tips on Lorquin's Orange-Tip Admiral (Limenitis lorquini). Handsome indeed.

Curious is that no interest was paid to the lilies and this particular spiraea just behind me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Western Tiger Swallowtail

I thought I loved lavender, but this beauty was outside my studio window for nearly an hour earlier and having a fleeting good time tasting one specimen after another.

Outside I went in an attempt to photograph and chased it around the garden, until finally it returned here to where we started. I think it wanted to play? Ok, fine with me.

The Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) may be considered a common swallowtail butterfly, but I think it is extraordinary.