Finally turned the Page
Sunday July 12th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

When I was a kid my dad met a guy who owned a truck. And who had connections to Florida’s citrus groves. Who said that the Page mandarin orange was the best tasting one in existence but nobody ever hears of them outside Florida so you couldn’t get them in Maryland so he would drive down there every winter to bring some back.

Which is how my Dad, working on a fundraiser, found himself commissioning a truckload of those Page oranges to be dropped off in our carport to sell, and the trucker got his, too. People would sign up for so many cases, Dad would place the order, and everybody knew what the delivery day was in case the weather threatened to freeze them–there was no way all those were going inside the house. Come and get’em.

But then one year there was a big freeze in Florida and for reasons of geography or biology I don’t know, but the Pages, which as I remember were mostly growing alongside one river, pretty much all died.

They were not replanted. That variety was particularly hard to grow; why not put in something that was easier, more prolific, and probably a bit hardier so that the farmers wouldn’t have to go through a complete loss again. And Pages are small. The market rules, and families have to be fed.

I read an interview with the owner of a citrus tree grower here a few years back, answering questions about his company and the varieties he sells.

What caught my eye was his saying, And to fill out your collection, I’d get the Page–it’s my favorite.

Why to fill out…why not just get it first?

And so I did.

Where I planted it that summer six years ago turned to be a terrible spot sun-wise in the winter–the fences were just wrong. I was advised to dig it up and put it in a pot to contain the roots to let the top recover, and did so.

The next year I planted a Gold Nugget mandarin, the only variety that doesn’t need heat to get sweet and that can go down to 26F. It went in the ground (avoiding that bad corner) and is nearly to the top of the fence.

The Page, by comparison, grows very little. I don’t think its twice its original height yet. It buds out a bit in the spring and then they all fall off and die, every year. The best I got was a green dot before it let go.

Its rootstock is the one that shot out those fast spiky barbs that I cut off that are now successfully protecting branches of my peaches from birds and critters. That part wants to grow!

There’s a reason those trees are rare.

But for all this time I’ve just kept on watering it, even though I’ve long since given up on getting anything out of it. A little citrus food. Doesn’t care. Stays mottled. Oh well.

I didn’t see it till a few days ago: hidden in those leaves? Wait. Where did that come from? After six years, the first fruit, and that big–how was I completely oblivious that that was there? That’s way bigger than the ones on the Gold Nugget! (Well, to be fair, Pages are for Christmas and the Nuggets are for spring.)

I didn’t think it would or ever could, but it wanted to do what it was meant to do and now hopefully it’s just getting started.


Branching out
Friday July 10th 2020, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Garden

Two days ago there was the first sign of what appeared to be a new branch on my apricot seedling. Now there are two, and I could see a definite difference between this morning and this evening. Go little tree go!

I put it in a much bigger pot two weeks ago–I can still turn it around to keep it balanced re the sun, but barely–and was surprised at how big the root system was on such a tiny plant.

Clearly it’s very happy about its new digs.

I’m trying to picture how high off the ground that first branch will be someday when the tree is really planted, and failing. I have no idea. But for now I’m keeping its young leaves out of snails’ reach.

I do know I gave the more vigorous seedling to my friends so that they could have a payoff faster, and because I’d prefer my tree to be naturally dwarfed, which by comparison it seemed to be.

However it turns out. There’s going to be a lot of satisfaction in watching this one come into its own.

John Driver, the guy who traveled Silk Road countries, sometimes in war zones, in search of what an apricot should be, who brought home 1500 Dept of Agriculture-approved kernels and developed the Anya and Yuliya varieties from them? He named them after the women who’d shared their best fruit with the interested American.

It appears he couldn’t make a living selling his apricot trees to commercial orchards, doubled Brix counts or no, and he ripped those out and planted almonds. It’s clear to me that it was simply that nobody knew apricots could be that good and the market didn’t catch up in time. He did preserve some for his family, and I kind of feel like it’s the Bradford  Watermelon all over again. (I have two of those growing this year.) But let’s not wait 170 years for them to be rediscovered.

I’d rather buy a tree from him because he earned it, but that is not an option. Yet. One can hope. I sent him a note that if he wanted to sell to individuals, the rare and great with a great story like his behind them and a high price will always have a market that will seek for the unique and best.

Said the art dealer’s daughter.

But this is what I can do.  So for now I watch my Anya-parent seedling grow and wish it all the best–and saved every kernel from the ones I bought from Andy’s two weeks ago. They’re in the fridge.

I came across someone’s comment that they refrigerated theirs for a month, (me: that’s all?) took them out and sprouted them and grew them under lights through the winter and on into spring, and boy did they get a jump ahead on mine!

Thursday July 09th 2020, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Life,Mango tree

I’ve told this before, but for those who haven’t yet read it: My friend Jean planted a pomegranate tree and two years later brought a half a paper grocery bag’s worth of fruit to church to share that was bursting open, breaking itself into pieces that made it easy for lots of people to get a sample (outside). *She* thanked *us*, saying there was way more than she could eat.

I had never tasted anything like it. I wondered if I’d ever tasted an actually ripe pomegranate before, or was it just the variety (she didn’t remember the name.)

A few years later I got to tell her that she was why I’d researched descriptions and taste tests and planted my own, a Parfianka, the favorite of not only a whole bunch of people online but the owner at Yamagami’s Nursery. I never would have done it had I not tasted hers first and found out what I was missing. She’d definitely earned a thank you.

Mine was a cute little $10 end-of-season-clearance what-they-had-left thing in one of those 4x4x10″ sleeves. Jean was 80 when she planted hers and she clearly started with a more established specimen. Makes sense.

Time and sun and water and dirt and the little one got there just the same. It fascinates me how the tree just keeps on randomly throwing out new flowers with the fruit in various stages, keeping the feeding station open for the bees and hummingbirds.

Jean is 94 this year and I think others will be bringing her pomegranates inside to her. I hope she gets to see them fully ripe again.

And one of my mangoes, too: two more months. I would not make her wait for an Alphonso, knowing she misses the Hadens of her childhood in Hawaii but her late husband even more, but I hope to help her discover something new to love and partake of just like she did for me.

I don’t dare risk bringing one to her in this pandemic, but if her daughter okays it I’ll pass one along through her.

The Babcocks
Saturday July 04th 2020, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

Our yard’s first squirrel-free, scrub jay-free peaches in two years. Very juicy.

And, frankly, rather flavorless. Being in a clamshell sped up the ripening process, I guess–they about fell into my hand–but not the sugaring.

But we got them and they were ours and there are more peaches to come that are protected by citrus-branch barbs rather than plastic boxes.

A baby tree finds its way home
Tuesday June 23rd 2020, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life,Lupus

In between the insurance company calling, the adjuster calling, Enterprise calling, Enterprise picking me up, Enterprise filling out the paperwork and sending me on my way in a minivan, and the company the insurance picked to fix the Prius calling about the tow truck they’ll send to get my car…

Ruth and Lise were going to Yamagami’s Nursery. Where one must wait in line in the sun to go in: only so many people are allowed in under continued lockdown procedures at this Essential Business, you must wait till someone comes out, etc etc. Which is why I have not been able to go. After buying a bag of potting soil somewhere else years ago that turned out to be, somehow, plain sand with just the smallest bit of dirt mixed in, I am quite loyal to the place where I know I get the best of everything and it is what it says.

Did I want anything?

I made sure they knew I am by no means on their way. Did they still want to?


Ohmygoodnessyes! Thank you! I had vegetable plants so root bound they were starting to look sick. I’d ordered fifteen and twenty gallon fabric pots so that I could plant them where they’d have lots of root space without having snails disappear them overnight, all I’d needed all this time was some good soil. For two months. And I wanted to help keep my favorite place in business.

My friends–I met Ruth via knitting at Purlescence years ago–are fruit tree enthusiasts and the reason for my Black Jack fig: they’d told me that in our climate that was the best-tasting of their three.

I showed them around the back yard. They exclaimed in recognition as I named variety after variety, most fondly, the fig. We geeked out together over the thought of picked-first-thing-in-the-morning sweetness.

And I sent them home by way of thanks with one of my two Anya apricot seedlings. They were thrilled at the offer. I was thrilled; it absolutely felt meant to be. I had always known I would give one away and had been trying to figure out who it might best be, when suddenly as we were planning all this there was no doubt.

You cannot, as far as I’ve been able to find, buy that variety tree at retail. You can only plant a kernel and hope it’s true to its parent, and here I’d given them a year’s head start on the process.

They were very very pleased.

And now my own Anya is happily planted in the oversized pot that had been waiting for it. It should last it for several years. I was surprised at how big its root structure already was.

(The watermelon and squash plants were so grown into their clay pots that I finally had to shatter them carefully against the concrete to free their grip.)

Sometimes a little space and a little time to itself can let the magic happen
Friday June 12th 2020, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

I stumbled across an old photo while looking for something else: four years ago with the late, much-missed Coopernicus, the people-semi-friendly Cooper’s hawk.

Several weedy-looking trees were taken out two years before because they were starting to damage the fence, and although they were not the most glorious looking they did offer greenery and it felt bald and bare with them gone. If you click on that link (scroll down, the first picture is from my visit to my sister in Atlanta) that’s where the mango went in a year later.

The hawk’s spot now: for nearly thirty years those coffeeberry bushes had stayed small; I thought it was just the variety they were. But once the sun became unobstructed and they had the root space all to themselves (I got rid of that I think buckthorn upstart in the foreground, too), look at it now.

Two years ago a friend gave me a miniature hydrangea from a florist so I planted it in a spot beyond the coffeeberries, and now they shade it. It has naturalized and blooms freely all summer just the same.

And to their left, the tart cherry, which for three years refused to grow higher than my waist as I fought off Japanese beetles and it fought off old olive roots, has finally come into its own and has in the last month topped the fence. Its flowers fed the white-crowned sparrows, its fruit has been feeding us.

Things are looking up.

Apricots and cobblers and good friends
Tuesday June 09th 2020, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

What my Anya apricot seedlings get to be when they grow up! When they’re not about three inches tall.

This Blenheim was a housewarming present, before I’d even heard of Anyas, and every year Jennifer sends me a picture to show me how it’s coming along. (Looking at the date on that old post–wow, this is only its third year.)

“So many apricots,” the email said. She asked for ideas on using them all up and I sent her my two favorite fruit cobbler recipes; her kids are going to love all the extra desserts.

She does indeed have sourdough starter and I told her we’d finished off that recipe tonight and were quite sorry to have it all be gone.

Day 77: I think the full official lockdown is over today but I didn’t get an official pronouncement
Monday June 01st 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Garden,History,Politics

Biden broke quarantine to get out and talk to protesters and to advocate for peacemaking–and I imagine to protect them, as well, which was sorely needed today in too many places.

In Wichita, on the other hand, the cops and the protesters held a cookout together and talked.

Me, after feeling overwhelmed at 45’s mendacities today, I think I’m going to go post the plum tree my kids planted for me. And this peach.

When a citrus tree is new and vulnerable it sends out thorns to protect itself; once it’s grown, oranges generally don’t have any.

The rootstock on my Page mandarin started taking over and sending up stabbiness and later than I should have, I cut those branches off to protect the health of my tree.

And let me tell you, they are sharp.

The peaches were getting bigger and beginning to be targets and those thorns suddenly showed me why I’d let them grow.

Lockdown day 72: two carry on
Wednesday May 27th 2020, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

The third, late-sprouting apricot seedling had a root coming out of the bottom of its paper cup with the pencil hole at the bottom. Neither of the others had had that at that size. I prepared a ten gallon pot and carefully tore away the paper constricting that nice full root structure and eased the damp ball in there–once this one got going it really got going. It had earned its new digs.

But the second one, which had come up a month earlier: the little one that had sent up a few sets of leaves and then stopped, that had made me wonder if I had a natural dwarf on my hands and how good a small-yard tree that would be if it succeeded. Cool, right?

But you still have to grow at least some. And it wasn’t doing that anymore.

It couldn’t handle the 90-95F heat we’ve had this past week and day by day despite anything I could do it gradually crisped and died.

Curious, I gently pulled it out of its pot to have a look tonight.

Wait, where was the kernel?

Somewhere along the way it had gotten jostled or something but broken off from the nourishment that’s supposed to send the shoot up and the roots down; with that support missing, it had still sent up leaves, it had still harnessed the immense power of the sun to add its tiny bit of oxygen to the earth, and it even had the tiniest nubs of roots trying to make it.

A little further down, there was the kernel, plumped and good and ready to help but unable to save it.

They both did the best they could for longer than I would have thought possible.

But I still have that plant’s two healthy tree-sisters, and they will show how apricoting from a perfect fruit is done.

Lockdown day 67: one fish two fish red fish time for blue fish
Friday May 22nd 2020, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Knit

I found the perfect shade of bright royal blue in my stash, exactly what I’d been looking for, and oh good it was labeled worsted weight superwash. Neighborhood Fiber Co. Nice stuff from nice people. My grandson Mathias has a baby blanket made out of that.

But I just could not make myself start that next fish with it. It was both thicker and more densely spun than what I was working with and the difference was just too much.

But the color!

I spent the day again wishing for it to be back to when you could simply drive to the yarn store to ogle the options in person.

But I did not want to waste a pandemic day, because this is what those are good for, how I make myself feel good about the isolation: getting that project finished after its two year wait.

And yet I didn’t have what I didn’t have.

Finally, it became, oh forget it, just go with the Malabrigo that isn’t the best possible dreamed-of color but it is what there is and I knew how it would perform with its peers in the wash and that counted for a lot, too.

Kalida’s Washington Square wool will get its turn in its own project–speaking of which, two circular needles arrived from her today for Venn-diagram-knitting the next hats at a denser gauge. Needles, meet yarn. From Ball’more, Maryland.

And then, at long last, I just did it. I grabbed a Rios color that would be just fine after all and simply started that silly fish. As soon as I did I loved it, with a strong sense of relief at the perfectionist logjam having finally burst. Who knew. It was right there all along.

Meantime, the English Morello tart cherries are starting to grow hints of red here and there, and I will definitely wait for that color.

Lockdown day 56
Monday May 11th 2020, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden

A few photos.

If you want to take pictures of squash blossoms, you have to do it in the morning: they shout Huzzah! to the new day and then step back to let the leaves do their big sugar-making job with the sun. This evening there was a second tiny zucchini growing, and I haven’t even gotten the plant in the ground yet. (I’m dithering: I’m liking having it on top of the old barbecue grill where the critters can’t get at it. Hopefully. But then it’s not a winding vine yet, either.)

Two picotee amaryllises opened up on Mother’s Day.

Fig, iris, apple in the back.

And best of all this last one.

Lockdown day 53: Won’t you be my neighbor?
Friday May 08th 2020, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

A few hot days, and quite to my surprise we had a third apricot seedling yesterday. I thought that thing was surely long dead in there, I’d been watering it since February and the other two had come up about a month ago a week apart but somehow I kept going. How cool is that! A new baby tree! I was not expecting that at all and it just worked out anyway.

Someday I’m going to be that neighbor who’s bugging everybody, trying to find kittens a good home, only they’ll be apricot trees. Really good ones.

It seems to be a vigorous grower like seedling #1; #2 is much slower, which I’m hoping means it will be naturally dwarfing, but I guess I’ll find out. If they need pollenizers (most don’t) then having visible differences early on is probably a good sign–given that they have one parent in common if not two. I may end up learning to graft so I can combine them on one.

So I was feeling pretty good about that tiny bit of green joy and I walked outside to get the mail and as I came around the corner of the sidewalk, standing in the front yard next door was a woman with an older woman just beyond her, daughter and mother, I assumed. Turns out they’d been looking at the house. Turns out our assumption that our neighbor’s buyer was simply in it to flip it was correct, and it was put on the MLS for the first time today after three weeks’ intense work that the place had badly needed.

Friday is the day realtors look over the new listings. There were two Tesla X SUVs between our houses.

I imagine they have to disclose that the place was originally red-tagged for mold and plumbing issues, because for all the markup it’s still below market. It needs serious and expensive tree work that can’t happen till after nesting season is over, but still. The place is gorgeous now.  It’ll sell fast.

So we chatted a little while and enjoyed each other’s company and now she knows that if she buys the place she’s got a friendly face next door. Looks like we’d have three generations there and young children to play with the ones across the street, and that would be so cool for everybody.

Never did see the guy on the roof again. Clearly, they were done.

Lockdown day 51
Wednesday May 06th 2020, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,History,Life

They are ubiquitous where I grew up, but here, you have to be willing to buy new bulbs every fall or dig the old ones up and store them in your fridge all winter and not mistakenly use them for dinner. They’re poisonous, so you really don’t want to make that mistake.

But not to the local squirrels, who go straight for them as soon as they’re in the ground. I tried to plant some years ago and found it a lost cause.

But today brought a surprise.

One of my kids sent me a picture of two beautiful flowers in loud, random-brushstroke stripes, a petal on each curling and twisting while the others grew straighter, with the question, did I know what these were?


I said that historically, tulipmania in Holland four hundred years ago was set off by the search for specimens like these. They were gorgeous.

I went back to my afghan–I finished a fish, yay! I just need to tighten up the strands running behind so they don’t show–and thought about all the new random variants in a short time that made ordinary flowers into something never seen before, more beautiful, each as individual as the next, costly and highly sought after.

Caused by a virus.


Lockdown day 48: counting my peaches before they’re ripe
Sunday May 03rd 2020, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

The roasted radishes were definitely the way to go. Sweet, soft, no heat–and pretty.

This peach tree nearly died of leaf curl disease last year, but look at it now.


Lockdown day 45: purple irises
Thursday April 30th 2020, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life,Lupus


 They were in this area, but this is not how they were. He must have quietly dug them up and replanted them. I thought he’d just cleared off the dead cover plants.

They were here when we bought the house, and over time they crowded themselves badly and then did a mass die-off in the drought–and have been steadily, slowly working their way back ever since.  They ended up kind of split down the middle into two bunches of randomness.

I thought it was so weird when we moved to California that everybody had a hired gardener. Doesn’t anybody work in their own yard around here?

Then I got lupus with extreme sun sensitivity, my husband threw his back out, and we ended up asking the neighbor’s how much he charged. (Fred’s cardiologist had made him retire.) It’s been good to have the help, and Elio’s a great guy.

I paid him extra last winter for something I didn’t feel was in his usual job description. He disagreed and tried to stop me. Dude: Take. The. Money. You spent the time, you did the work, you earned it.

Which is probably why the purple irises are now arranged in a perfect circle of green leaves and purple blossoms, with enough distancing to be social and healthy for a goodly while to come, placed just so between the apples and the fig tree. They are in their fullest glory and they have never looked better than they do right now.

Elio quietly offered up a gift in the barren winter dirt and waited for the day when I’d get to notice.