Tag Archives: Bay Area Gardening

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Adults

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison, is a refreshingly honest book in which Kenison re-counts finding herself, at roughly middle age, as her children grow older and gain independence, and the author’s family transitions from an urban to a more rural, and slower, lifestyle. The book’s intimate (but not overly revealing) anecdotes and observations unfold in a way that creates the feeling that one is reading letters from a good friend.

Liza Dalby’s East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons is an extremely special book that I find myself dipping into throughout the year. Dalby, who has spent a great deal of time in Japan and is the author of Geisha and other books, as well as a passionate gardener, weaves together observations about various topics — gardening and the natural world, poetry, eastern and western cultures, gender identity, life with small children — and she does so by structuring the book according to the 72 seasonal units of the ancient Chinese almanac. Each piece is beautiful in itself and delightful to read, as well as often quite insightful, funny or deep. Perhaps, as with the Kenison book, the best memoirs (and this is one, although it’s so quirky and brightly observed that “memoir” doesn’t quite do it justice) make you yearn to be the author’s friend or over-the-fence neighbor, or at least sit down for some tea.

Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, stands out among this year’s crop of farm-to-table cookbooks. This is a stunningly photographed book that focuses on eating locally and in tune with the seasons. The recipes feel as fresh as the food pictured. Crump is a Canadian Slow Food pioneer and chef, and Schormann is a pastry chef, and the resulting book is enriched with their experiences in restaurants and in organic farming.

Every project in Betz White and John Gruen’s Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made With Repurposed and Organic Materials is adorable, colorful, and fun, and contains simple step-by-step instructions that a novice fabric crafter can follow. Best is the inspiration that comes from seeing all these ideas for repurposing and recreating with materials you may already have on hand or could easily locate. The book also contains a very thorough resource list. It’s a guaranteed winner for someone who’s interested in fabric crafting, especially one on the hunt for easy, do-able ideas.

You could do no wrong with any title by Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmental writer whose work managed to infuse the modern environmental movement, as well as educate and inspire wonder about all aspects of the natural world.  Her 1951 classic, The Sea Around Us, is a fine place to introduce a reader to Carson, or to simply experience her lustrous prose as she describes the awe-inspiring, continually mysterious world of the oceans, their history, their habitat, and the special place where water and land meet. The new edition contains added material by marine biologists about the deterioration of the oceans and their life, as well as some prescriptive ideas for its greater care.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

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Slow News Day: Front Yard Gardening in Benicia and Beyond

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While wandering around the town of Benicia, CA, one late summer day, I encountered this exuberant example of front yard gardening. This person is really making the most of every square inch. It was a treat to see, especially after posting about the trend of front yard gardening earlier this summer.

I’ve been following some fun and inspiring blogs about front yard and even balcony gardening. (As a longtime deck gardener, in the deer-populated (read: lettuce munching) woods as well as in Manhattan, I’ve always been interested in doing the most with the smallest plot of dirt. Good small-space gardening and urban homesteading blogs include Beyond the Lawn, Leda’s Urban Homestead, Balcony Gardener, Life on the Balcony, Free Range Living, and Path to Freedom.

The last is an especially exciting farmsteading site that I just learned about this weekend when I saw an independent movie called HomeGrown. HomeGrown features a family of four living by the freeway in Pasadena, CA, raising all their own food and completely sustaining themselves and others on a small residential plot of land. The family is very winning and passionate, and they really make a go of urban homesteading, practicing extreme simplicity, conservation, community and resourcefulness — They use a hand washer, make their own biofuel, sell their produce to some of the area’s high-end (and appreciative) restaurants, and often do without. Learn more about them at Path to Freedom.

Still curious about Benicia? In addition to having great sun and soil, I learned that the bayside town was California’s first capitol, predating Sacramento and California’s gold rush. After going inside the old building (now part of a CA state park)  and pretending to legislate, we got to lock the old capitol’s giant door for the weekend with an outsized, cartoon-like key. Benicia also has a charming main street for shopping, antiquing, and taking a self-guided historic walking tour featuring old homes and businesses. I will post a travelogue soon.

In the meantime, like me, you can enjoy looking at this special, bountiful yard and wondering if its owners are still harvesting yummy corn into the fall.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Mill Valley’s Slow Food Eat-In a Bountiful Success

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Slow Food’s national Eat-In day was a huge success. According to the Slow Food Time for Lunch web site, there were more than 300 Eat-Ins in all 50 states, and more than 20,000 participants:

“From schoolyards to backyards, on farms and in gardens, we told Congress it’s time to fix school lunch.”

The event I attended in Mill Valley was exceedingly special. We joined thousands of others in signing a petition to Congress to improve the quality of school food. We also enjoyed the efforts and company of neighbors who are gardeners, chefs, food preservationists, terrific cooks, and really nice people, and we did so in a beautiful park at the end of a Labor Day weekend. I found it very inspiring and am grateful to Hilary Jeffris, Kathy Ziccardi and the other organizers of Mill Valley’s Eat-In.

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There was an array of beautiful homemade food from people’s gardens, kitchens, dehydrators and juicers. Everything was bountiful and delicious and fun to share in community.

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At the Operation C.H.E.F. station, we learned about ingredients in different foods, and enjoyed smoothies made from bike-pedal power. Operation C.H.E.F. is a fun camp that helps kids learn to cook and enjoy healthy meals.

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The Marin Open Garden Project, which hosts wonderful local plant exchanges, harvesting and networking, had a display of seedlings. We chose a lettuce one from Open Garden’s Julie Hanft to give a new home.

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Other demonstrators included Wendy Johnson from Green Gulch Farm, whose “Plant-In” illustrated how to grow food in the smallest of spaces. Helge Hellberg, director of Marin Organic and Slow Food proponent, spoke, as did Carole Mills, representing State Senator Mark Leno, who was attending an Eat-In in San Francisco. Here are Hilary Jeffris and the organizers introducing the invited guests.

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Our friend, Gaspar Hauzy, really enjoyed making butter from cream.

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The result:

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What a delicious day!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Follow-Up: Berkeley Attempts to Squash Home Garden

No sooner had I posted about the spate of modern homesteaders who are reclaiming their front yards for real growing and community-enhancing spaces than I received a link from my good friend Judd Williams to this piece by Chris Carlsson of the superb SFStreetsblog. It’s about a town that’s attempting to squash a successful long-time front-yard vegetable garden, in favor of something more, say, ornamental and wasteful, like a lawn.

Are you sitting down? This isn’t some planned, gated, sterile community that’s refusing to let its citizens grow a little food in the space where the traditional suburban lawn might go. It’s Berkeley, CA, of all places, bearing down on a gentle Green Thumb who, like many in the enviably sunny, green town, is attempting to produce something of value on his land.

One of the many citations the gardener/homeowner, Asa Dodsworth, has received is for “Unpermitted Garden Beds,” which carries a five hundred dollar a day fine. That’s right — Growing food in the front yard is outlawed.

I, frankly, don’t get it, especially after seeing the pictures of Dodsworth’s mellow, unassuming garden. If this seems wrong to you, too, Chris’ piece provides a lot more information about the situation and which decision makers to write to try to rectify it.

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Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: A Bumper Crop of Gardeners

Last summer, I noticed a spate of news stories about the rise of home gardening. In July, ’08, Newsweek and NPR both reported that concerns about food safety, as well as an increasing desire to eat locally and healthily, was turning a lot of folks into Green Thumbs. People like Fred Davis and Yvette Roman Davis, bloggers at Beyond the Lawn, reported reclaiming their L.A. front lawn for a thriving Victory Garden.

I thought this was supremely cool, as it seemed to usher in an era of getting away from water-guzzling, appearance-oriented lawns and into practical, food-producing gardens. These prove beautiful, too, of course. It’s just a shift in perspective and priorities that allows us to bring the backyard up to the front. (Some neighborhoods have even loosened their restrictions on such sustainable practices as front-yard growing and line-drying of laundry.)

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As a bonus, front yard gardeners get to know — and sometimes feed — their neighbors. Community happens when we move yard and porch living out of the private and into the public. This summer, I’ve already heard about two monthly plant exchanges and a weekly vegetable harvest exchange in my neighborhood, as well as new farmers’ markets in my larger community.

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Of course, further afield, the Obama White House broke ground for its organic vegetable garden (involving local schoolchildren in the process), the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden in the 1940s.

I’m very moved by this picture of First Lady Michelle Obama and children in the garden, that appears in the White House blog. Food from the garden is feeding the White House and Washington, D.C.’s Miriam’s Kitchen, which feeds the homeless.

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Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle had another story about the rise in home gardening. Chris Romas, the president of W. Atlee Burpee, the world’s largest seed company, said he hasn’t seen this kind of interest in home growing in 30 years. Lots of currents are influencing people to turn or return to gardening — It’s a cost-effective way to supply one’s food, you have complete control over the way your food is grown, you can get in touch with the land, you can enjoy companionship or solitude, and it’s very satisfying to grow and make your own food.

I have fond memories of vegetable gardening with my dad, growing up. We had wonderful raised beds and great Southern California sun. But you don’t have to have either to enjoy growing food. I’ve grown tomatoes on a Manhattan balcony and pumpkin, corn, peppers and more on my fog-shrouded deck in Mill Valley. If you’ve been following my Deck Garden tales, you know the advice to use your vertical space, with trellises and vines. I also urge beginning gardeners to start small, follow seed-pack directions, weed out seedlings so that the hardiest new plantings will have room to grow, and harvest your crops, so you can enjoy them and also give new growth some room to come in.

I’m going to take my own advice and have a big home-grown salad for lunch. This is my 2’x 2′ lettuce box today:

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This is the box a month ago:

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

White House Garden Photo Courtesy of The White House/Joyce N. Boghosian

The Deck Garden: Hope, and Flowers, Spring Eternal

What could offer more possibility than a garden in early spring? A couple of weeks ago, after some late rain, I got my little container garden going again. Spent bulbs were pulled out, fresh soil and organic amendments were put in. And seeds and seedlings were planted.

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I loved going to the nursery and wandering among the colorful bedding plants. I also loved picking out seeds to plant. Seed packets are always wonderful. They’re beautifully illustrated and full of promise and lore. I adore old-fashioned flowers, and managed to get some new ones this year to supplement my usual sweet peas, delphinium, cosmos, nasturtium, and stock. In particular, clary sage and scabiosa called to me.

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Because I’m in a climate zone that gets cool summer fog wafting from the ocean, over the nearby mountain, and above my deck as it heads east, I’ve learned to plant shade-loving varieties. Peas love it here, and I always have vines of them climbing up trellises and lots of healthy peas ready for picking. (Verticality helps me get a lot of crops from my container garden.) I also plant lettuce and usually have a fog-tolerant tomato plant going.

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A couple summers ago, I actually grew pumpkins, as well as stalks of corn in my largest container. The corn was able to cross-pollinate (which is key), as the container’s square shape allowed just enough rows across and down. Just planting them, in a small space with little sun, was optimism defined. The corn was miniature, as was the prized pumpkin, which trailed up and over its container and onto the deck.

This season, practicality, along with romantic heirloom flowers, won out. I usually plant a container I call the Aspen box, inspired by the beautiful summer flowers that greeted me in Aspen, Colorado, when I visited for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, some years ago. Here’s the start of this year’s Aspen box, with cosmos, lobelia and stock:

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I love stock, in particular. It’s praises are undersung, I think. It’s a wonderful cottage-garden flower, growing or cut. It’s delightfully old-fashioned, with hardy, though delicate looking, petals that give off a sweet-spicy scent.

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I added spots of brighter reds and yellows in some of the other boxes, like this nice Pecotee petunia, and an accent dahlia.

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My Canadice champagne grape plant came back nicely after losing its leaves for the winter. Perennial plants never fail to amaze me.

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I was happy to see a bee performing its pollinating duties on a cosmos.

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Last year, I bought these sweet seeds at a school garden fair. Children had harvested the seeds and designed the packets.

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Other seeds await planting in my cupboard.

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Also in the cupboard, this robin’s egg, which we rescued from the ground. Of course, its hue is the quintessential “robin’s egg blue” that painters over time have attempted to replicate.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman