What else did I do this weekend?

Not much.

I buzzed through the arboretum before Betsy Clebsch, but I wasn't feeling particularly engaged.


Maybe that comes through in my pictures.


Or is it just the time of year?


Summer dormancy. You either get it, or you don't. I get it, but I can't explain it.

This is Judith Larner Lowry, from her book Gardening With a Wild Heart:
There comes a time in the landscape of California, even along the coast, when nothing much is growing. Summer dormancy, in those plants that employ that drought avoiding tactic, holds sway in the native garden. Wildflowers have gone to seed, grasses are semi-dormant, and some perennials have died down to their roots.

Slanting shadows of late summer and autumn afternoons, golden grasses, ripening acorns. A meditative, not lively, time. Newly arrived from the East Coast, I used to be impatient for the quickening of the rains... Depending on the year, this might last into January. I often found myself apologizing to visitors for the unspectacular state of my garden.

A century ago, Clarence King called summer dormancy "a fascinating repose...wealthy in yellows and russets and browns." I measure my true life as a Californian from the time that I stopped apologizing for a garden exquisite in its light and shadow, its still endurance. Reveling in shades of gold, blonde, palomino, gray, and muted greens, it seldom occurs to me to do so now.

A deepening into the season was required, a renewed acceptance of the solemn stillness of golden days, when grasses, perennials, and wildflowers have gone to seed, and shrub and tree seeds are still not ripe. I slide at this time into a kind of suspension, held in that same sensation of stored quiescent power I used to get in wintry woods back east... One may fall so entirely into this state of somnolent stillness that the onset of rain brings a sense of disruption rather than of relief. For just a moment, though, before the rains sweep it all away. Pounding or light, cold or warm, the sweet rains of California. How could anybody say there are no seasons here?

In fact, not everything dies down by summer's end. The Epilobium, for example, is just getting started.


I guess the nectar helps the hummingbirds wash down all the spiders they eat.





If none of this is working for you, there's always more anenome.




Or maybe we could go shopping together.


Actually, let's not. I don't have the right energy for a plant sale today. I'm not getting any closer than this.


Sometimes the sales are fun and relaxed, and sometimes they feel like Altamont, and I'm Grace Slick. "Easy, people. Eeeaassyyy."

I always suggest they define the sale space in a larger area, but noone listens. I think they secretly enjoy producing that cattle car effect that engenders shopper competition and gets the blood pumping. I know I spend more money when I'm under that spell.


On Sunday I went to a party at my neighbor's house across the street. Or as she introduced me to her guests, "This is Chuck from across the road." Guy opted to stay home and bond with the new kittens, so I went solo.


My neighbor is English, from the countryside, but she's been in San Francisco for 30 years. Let's call her S. We started talking only recently, but you'll be hearing a lot more about her in the near future because I'm going to help her with her garden.


In exchange, she's going to cook for Guy and I once in awhile.


S is a professional chef.


But her passion is painting. She's been so busy with catering jobs lately, there hasn't been much time left for painting, much less gardening. So I have my work cut out for me.


The party is fun and laid-back and the people are interesting. I think San Francisco is full of interesting people. The most interesting San Franciscans are often the ones who come from farthest away. I learn S once had a store in London next to Herrod's where she sold avant-garde children's clothes "before anyone else was doing that."


Now she lives in Bernal Heights with a wolfhound-sheppard mix and a talking parrot.
She fed the parrot a runner bean from my garden.


We're drinking French wine, the tennis game is muted on TV, and the Rolling Stones are playing somewhere. Hot Rocks 1964-1971. I know the flow of songs on this album like the back of my hand. The last five songs make up my favorite string of five songs on any album. Gimme Shelter, Midnight Rambler, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Brown Sugar, Wild Horses. Perfect.

The guests are a good 20 years older than I am, and much more interesting. Which is fine. As it happens, I've had a lot of practice at parties appearing more interesting than I really am, and I can turn that on when I need to.

You would be surprised how big a part being a scientist plays in that. Many people are both fascinated and bewildered by science, especially chemistry which is a subject most people don't understand. So I give them a little atomic theory or quantum mechanics, and voila! People are charmed. I've been doing it for years. The trick is to speak slowly in a low voice, and smile like you're telling them gossip.

But I didn't have to reach very deep this time. Instead, I merely elaborate on the difference between what is organic, and what is inorganic. Olive oil is organic, while table salt is inorganic.

The subject came up because apparently artisan salt is the big thing in food now. Silly me, I thought it was vinegar. Turns out vinegar was at least five years ago. Salt is the thing now.


Phillip said...

What a cool person to have as your neighbor! The food looks delicious.

Christopher C. NC said...

Seared Ahi and a Rasberry Chocolate torte. OMG I would have been in heaven. I would do a lot of gardening work for her.

JvA said...

I love drinking French wine while listening to the Rolling Stones. Next time Guy doesn't want to come along, invite me!

Deviant Deziner said...

Maybe its the weather that had your horticultural spirits down in the Arboretum ?
It's been awfully smokey due to the recent fires and the air has been thick with a pinkish hue .
If you had wandered up to the right , into the South African garden, instead of walking down into the California garden section , you would have found proteas and leucadendrons blooming and early blossoming Nerines charming your pants off with their vivid pink flowers.

The food at the 'across the road' party looks delicious !
lucky you !

I spent the weekend down in Carmel Valley and then cruised the wholesale nurseries in the Watsonville area where there were plenty of hot plants blooming their hearts out.

Took lots of notes ( I like to check out the availability of the plants before I design ) and only bought one plant, a Russelia equisetiformis .
Now to find the perfect pot for it .

chuck b. said...

Michelle, Did you go to Suncrest and Sierra Azul? Those are the only two wholesalers I've been to, and both of them are down there. I went with the nursery staff at Strybing last year before the big May sale. What a day! I was exhausted afterwards. Suncrest just goes on and on. Sierra Azul was nice too, and they have a retail nursery alongside the wholesale one. I bought Ranunculus cortisiflorus and Pandorea pandorana there.

Do you have a big project coming up, or are you just keeping tabs?

chuck b. said...

P.S. Thank you for your compliments in the comments at Garden Rant--you really made my day! :)

Annie in Austin said...

Dormancy in either winter or summer can be beautiful sometimes, Chuck, but the word 'fire' always pops in my mind when looking at photos like your first ones. Maybe it isn't a real danger, but my uninformed response to seeing dry grasses everywhere?

The party looks and sounds like fun - looks like you're lucky to have met this talented and friendly neighbor, and she's really lucky to have ChuckB living right "across the road". I'm looking forward to seeing what you post about your adventures in her garden!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

chuck b. said...

Of course fire is always a hot issue in California, Annie (get it? I said *fire* is a *hot* issue--!)

And unfortunately, it's right in this type of summer-dry coastal scrub and incindiary chapparal where California builds lots of new homes for its ever growing population.

Closely allied with the concern about fire is the willingness to call this summer-dry environment ugly and a waste. I reject that; it's not ugly and it's not a waste. (I could say those new houses are ugly and wasteful [and I could underline the argument about waste by mentioning the insurance money that will one day be paid to those homeowners when their houses burn en masse--but then I would also have to talk about building anything in earthquake country; well, okay. New houses can be made relatively earthquake safe, but fire is still fire]).

I salute any willingness to embrace the beauty of seasonal dormancy, even if only sometimes.

I believe seasonal dormancy has a lot of offer to notions of beauty, just like the greening of spring. Unfortunately, most people do not see it that way, or agree. And we live with entrenched, imported (arguably east coast) notions of seasonal beauty. I believe these ideas affect our priorities when we look at the native landscape and decide how to "manage" it.

Don't get me wrong--I want California to succeed and I think that also means growing. (Although if we hadn't committed ourselves to having so much money in the future we wouldn't be as pressed for growth as we are now.) Unfortunately, the Sierra snowpack has not responded to coastal population growth by getting thicker every year.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

I was just going to say that this is to you what winter is to us northern gardeners... except, of course, that you have anemones and epilobium where we have witch hazel blooms, snowdrops, and hellebores.

Btw, I am very happy that SF is so far away from me right now. With those SPCA profiles on your sidebar, I'd probably be running out to add more pets to my household. (I can't even look at sites like petfinder. When I was in high school I decided that I never wanted to get married, and instead I would end up as a little old lady running a small animal rescue place out of my little cottage with a huge garden.)

Deviant Deziner said...

Hi Chuck,
Yes I did go to Sierra Azul and Suncrest nurseries.
Sierra Azul was hosting a very fun sculpture show in the demonstration garden.
I think the sculpture show is 'up' until the of September.

Suncrest was exciting as usual.
It is a pretty big nursery so they let landscapers borrow their electric carts to cruise the lanes of plants.

If you ever get the chance to visit the wholesale nurseries in this area again I would suggest that you visit Monterey Bay Nursery and the Growing Grounds for The Succulent Garden.
If you think Suncrest is big you gotta see Monterey Bay !!

Yes, I do have a new planting job coming up.
I like to visit the nurseries before designing the planting plan to get an idea of what is available.
Sure makes it alot easier, IMHO.


Yolanda Elizabet said...

Vinegar is soooooooo last century! Get with the programme Chuck! ;-)

Personally I don't give a toss about what's in or out, do you?

Love the pics of the party, great food is always a plus in my book. ;-)

mmw said...

The scientist party trick is awesome for us laypeople. You would not believe how excited I was to buttonhole some poor biotech guy about G-coupled protein receptors a couple years ago...