Thursday, April 30, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #7

Drought tolerant, highly fragrant and easily grown - you can't go wrong with lavender. And you don't even have to fertilize it. This native of the Mediterranean region will bloom all year in temperate climates. It grows well with other plants that thrive on low water and works well at the middle or back of a flower border. Although the blossoms aren't too great for bouquets, they are easily collected for sachets or potpourri or for homemade soaps.

Home garden centers usually carry three varieties - English lavender (pictured), French lavender and Spanish lavender. All have a distinctive gray-green foliage and purplish blue flowers that are subtle and mix well with more fiery oranges and yellows. The foliage has a tendency to get unruly, so after a strong bloom, trim the greenery back to keep it tamed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Two of my favorite photoblogs belong to Rick Lee of West Virginia and Kathleen Connally of Pennsylvania. If you have an interest in photography or just like to look at beautifully composed and inspired pictures, you may want to stop by their sites.

Mr. Lee has written about the "golden hour" - the hour after dawn and before sunset - and how perfect that light can be. With that in mind, the mowed weeds raked into a stack in the field next door caught my eye last evening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Looking North On Our Coast Highway

The length of old Highway 101 that runs through our town is lined on both sides with towering eucalyptus trees. The largest were planted over 100 years ago, in anticipation of harvesting for use as railroad ties, but when their wood was deemed inferior to redwood, the trees were allowed to stand. Native to Australia, the eucalyptus have thrived in our similar arid weather.

The train tracks run alongside the highway, barely visible in the photograph at the right. Every day, dozens of commuter, passenger and freight trains barrel through at speeds of up to 75 miles an hour and to the constant consternation of residents, they kick up quite a dust storm as they pass.

This part of town hasn't changed a whole lot in the past few decades. The small businesses are in a constant state of flux, with the current crop dominated by Mexican restaurants, surf shops, art galleries and yoga studios. There is an ongoing tug-of-war between people who want to "Keep It Funky" and those who want to maximize their real estate investments, with no shortage of opinions from residents of all stripes.

What looks like a quiet stretch of road will be bumper-to-bumper vehicles in both directions between Memorial Day and Labor Day, as tourists and inlanders flock to the beach, just a block west, for relief from the summer heat.

Monday, April 27, 2009

All Work And No Play

These photographs were taken By Lewis Hine in July 1909. Mr. Hine traveled to 32 states in two years, photographing and documenting the harsh realities of child labor for the National Child Labor Committee.

Young Johnny Yellow, aged ten, shown above, worked picking berries on the Bottomley Farm near Baltimore every summer and traveled with his Polish immigrant family every winter to Biloxi, Mississippi for another harvest. The caption on the photograph notes that he was "stunted, at only 39 inches tall", and further notes that was not uncommon amongst migrant working children of that era.

The photograph below shows the lodging provided to the workers. Typically three families would live together and share the common outdoor cooking facilities shown alongside their building.

These photographs are courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Point Loma Garden Walk

The good ladies of the Dana Unit of the San Diego Children's Hospital Auxiliary work all year to help finance the purchase of surgical equipment and sponsor facial reconstructive work for children. By far, their biggest event is the fund raising Point Loma Garden Walk. This year's Garden Walk, held yesterday in the Sunset Cliffs area of Point Loma, was their most ambitious and successful Walk ever.

We anticipate their event all year and were proud to have been vendors at their garden sale. The venue was outstanding - the front yard of a private residence, on the rise one block east of the Pacific Ocean. In the photograph, you can just see the ocean in the distance.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Listening To The Birds

After Thomas takes his leave of us, usually via the living room window, he pauses a moment or two to plot his strategy. Here, he listens to the sparrows that fill the carrot wood tree next door. When the coast looks clear, the birds drift from the tree to our nearby bird bath, easy pickings for a patient cat hunkered down in a fragrant cloud of sweet alyssum.

There's a second birdbath around the back where the intrepid hunter has found a niche amongst the maidenhair ferns and calla lilies. The picture below shows him intent enough on birding to be undistracted by the camera.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Coronado Surfers

Back in 1962, when this photograph was taken by Tom Keck, the surfing community in Coronado was small enough that every surfer knew one another. Before the Bay Bridge was built, access to Coronado was by ferry boat, which had a tendency to keep their surf breaks isolated from surfers who lived elsewhere. Due to the prevailing ocean currents, the water in Coronado is always at least 5 degrees colder than up the coast, so a few of the Coronado kids would cross San Diego Bay by ferry boat and catch the train north, sack lunches and surfboards in hand, to surf around here for the day. Friendships were forged with area surfers that last to this day.

Of course, the kids in the picture grew up and although a lot of them stopped surfing when they became doctors, lawyers, musicians and construction workers, most of them have retained their love of the ocean and passed it along to their own children.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Set In Stone

The morning tide was way too high to walk on the beach, so we headed south to the city of Solana Beach and hiked through the neighborhoods from Seaside to Fletcher Cove.

Fletcher Cove is one of the public beach access points and the city of Solana Beach has spruced it up in recent years with new landscaping and a playground for the tots. The nicest touch is the fish and wave sculptures that have been incorporated into the walkways, using beach cobblestones and seashells as part of the designs. Someone even had the great idea to use crushed seashells randomly in sections of the pavement.

It's a nice example of public art, created on a shoestring, that will stand the test of time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #6

Another foolproof flowering performer from South Africa - the sparaxis. Grown from a corm like the ixia, the sparaxis is also planted in autumn and in spring appears with sword like leaves and funnel shaped flowers splotched with color. Sometimes called the Harlequin flower, sparaxis will self propagate, grow in the same spot year after year without lifting during winter and is not attractive to garden pests. It is a long lasting cut flower. Easily grown and a vigorous bloomer, sparaxis will reward your efforts for years to come.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Come, Mr. Tally Man

It's easy to take bananas for granted. They're plentiful, consistently of good quality and cheap. The bananas we commonly buy are known as dessert bananas, grown in 107 countries and one of the most widely consumed foods in the world. India produces 23% of the world's crop, but all those bananas are consumed domestically. Ecuador is the biggest exporter nation. Their market share is an astounding 30%.

Bananas are actually 75% water. Chock full of vitamin C and vitamin B6, they are one of the best sources of potassium. We normally discard the peel, but in other cultures it is eaten and sometimes dried bananas are ground into flour.

For many years, colonies in the Caribbean provided Europe with the fruit and during the 1930s, coffee and bananas accounted for 75% of Central America's exports.

The 1930s picture above is of banana brokers and workers at the dockside warehouse in New Orleans, complete with a "banana belt" conveyor. The picture below is part of the State History Collection of the University of Utah. It was made by Harry Shipler, a commercial photographer in Salt Lake City. It shows the banana room of the Ryan & Virden Fruit Company in 1913.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bosque Del Apache

Located between Albuquerque and Las Cruces, Bosque Del Apache is a national wildlife reserve in the valley of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. Tens of thousands of migrating geese, cranes and ducks make it their winter home. Extending across the valley for 57,191 acres, this wildlife reserve is 4,500 to 6,272 feet above sea level.

Staff grow winter wheat, corn and clover to supplement the native plants for food for the visitors. Local farmers grow alfalfa and corn, harvesting the alfalfa and leaving the corn for the birds.

These photographs were made one sunset last December, right before Christmas, by Southern California wildlife photographer Chris Mayne.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Large And In Charge

The now defunct Franklin Motor Car Company made a pretty fierce looking paddywagon in the first decade of 1900. Opinions vary, but many agree that the term "paddywagon" derived from the large number of policemen who were of Irish descent. The specialized trucks were also called Black Marias (pronounced "mariahs"), piewagons, or Mother's Hearts. Mother's Hearts, because, tongue-in-cheek, it was said there was always "room for one more".

The photograph, taken 100 years ago in Washington, D.C. is courtesy of the Harris & Ewing collection in the Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Uncle Sam In The Garden

In 1917, our government created a program to encourage school children to plant vegetable gardens to help increase the food supply during World War I. The following year, this pencil sketch, created by the sister of Frank Lloyd Wright, Maginel Wright Enright, was printed as a lithograph poster to further the effort. It depicts Uncle Sam as the Pied Piper, leading children into the garden.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Manhattan Looked In 1873

Manhattan in 1873 was a powerhouse of finance, industry and trade. Great ships plied the Hudson and East Rivers and before the advent of Ellis Island, tens of thousands of immigrants streamed through Castle Garden, the round building at the lower left of the picture.

The mighty Brooklyn Bridge had been under construction since 1870 and would not be completed for another 10 years. Central Park, in the distance, opened in 1873. Its construction had required the removal of 10 million cart loads of manually dug solid rock and soil. The opening of the 700 acre park, landscaped with 4 million trees, shrubs and plants, was warmly welcomed by the citizens of Manhattan. Prior to the Park, people wanting to escape the grit and oppression of city life sought refuge in the only large green belts available - cemeteries.

The lithograph was made by George Schlyel.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's Shaking With Jello

Peter Cooper, the same fellow who built the first steam locomotive, was issued the patent for powdered gelatin in 1845. It wasn't until 1897 that a carpenter and his wife mixed fruit flavors with the powder and Jello was born. Two years later they sold the business to their neighbor, Orator Woodward, for $450. Mr. Woodward realized limited success until 1904, when he sent hundreds of salesmen far afield, armed with free cookbooks. Jello soon became a staple in most households and today Jello is synonymous with gelatin as Kleenex is with facial tissue.

Along the way to currently selling 300 million packages a year, some flavors were introduced that have fallen by the wayside, such as chocolate, celery, Italian and tomato.

Thanks to the Library of Congress for the circa 1905 advertisement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letting It All Hang Out

When my maternal grandparents retired in the early 1960s, they traveled the world. Grandma had been a housewife and then a court clerk and Grandpa was a soldier in France during World War I, then a letter carrier and after that a tool sharpener. They traveled from Denmark to Damascus, Caracas to Buenos Aires, and Barcelona to the Matterhorn. Instead of taking photographs, they bought postcards wherever they went, and recently, my mom decided the stack should become mine.

This card especially intrigued me. It's of wash day in Spakenburg, The Netherlands, one of the few places in Holland where people still routinely wear native dress.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #5

We can thank South Africa for this versatile bloomer. The ixia is a plant with attributes galore: it is drought tolerant, can remain in the ground in the same spot for years, self-propagates and is a long lasting cut flower. Also, it's beautiful. The sword like leaves put up a spike of flowers and overall, the plant can reach 2 feet tall. Mostly it likes the full sun, but along our coastline, it will tolerate some shade. Snails will generally ignore the ixia, which is always a bonus.

Even after the blossoms have faded and fallen, the stalk that's left is quite attractive and can be used in dried floral arrangements.

This plant is striking planted in clusters, but works well to fill in the odd spot in the back or center of your border. It is definitely recommended for the beginning gardener, as success is just about guaranteed. If your garden center doesn't stock the corms, they are readily available on eBay. Most eBay plant vendors are friendly and willing to address concerns you may have about a plant's hardiness in your particular zone.

If you live in a colder area, try planting ixia in pots with freesias.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter's Moonset

Yesterday at dawn, the wanning moon slipped away across a cloudy sky.

Ever wonder why Easter changes dates every year? It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Greetings

Easter postcards had their heyday from the 1880s to 1910. Most were chromolithographs printed in Germany prior to World War I. Often embellished with gold and silver embossing, sometimes glitter, these fanciful cards were colorful, beautiful and full of symbolism. Eggs symbolized life, rabbits were associated with fertility, children with innocence, and the poultry were the source of the eggs. Young women symbolized luck and hope. Religious cards were also popular, with heavenly angels, crosses formed by forget-me-nots or violets and sheep symbolizing Jesus.

The popularity of sending Easter postcards dropped off during the Great Depression and never revived after World War II. Hallmark and e-cards seem a weak substitution.

Wishing my readers a most blessed Easter Day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rain, At Last

We don't put much stock in official weather predictions around here. They're way wrong more often than not. They've been calling for rain all week and we've had one clear and bright day after another. But they got it right this once, thankfully, albeit 6 days late, and there was a nice rain shower. We needed it to rinse the dust off the leaves and give the larger plants and trees a good drink before what usually turns out to be 4-5 months of no rain at all.

The daffodils finished blooming in March and now the Dutch irises and freesias are on their last legs. It was a good year for bulbs, as the gopher who wrecked such havoc last year temporarily burrowed elsewhere. The spring garden is on the wan and now the alstromerias and cannas are coming into their own and will bloom strongly straight through the summer, after which it will be time to plant bulbs again.

You can click on the picture to enlarge and see the posterized version of the garden, via Photoshop.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Further Along The Coast Highway

Another look at some of the colorful business establishments in our town. The store above specializes in carved tikis and all things tropical.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Illustrating Health For The WPA

The Great Depression had entered a whole new decade and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Work Progress Administration was still creating government jobs that the private sector couldn't support. In this case, employing artists to create public service posters to encourage the good behavior of the citizenry. Both these posters appear to have been created by the same unknown artist, in a spare, Art Deco style.

They were drawn and printed in 1940 for Ohio's Cleveland Division of Health, through the Food and Drug Administration, as part of a Federal Art Project.

Both images are courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Less Than Meets The Eye

This old service station is part of the San Dieguito Heritage Museum. Hundreds of people drive by it everyday, most none the wiser that it is not really what it seems. What appears to be an old Art Deco, abandoned service station from the 1930s is actually part of an old false front stage set. If you take a look around the back, there are timbers holding the facade upright. A country western singer recently shot her music video there and gave a nice donation to the Museum for their trouble. Otherwise, the film crew would have had to truck all their equipment out to the desert to find an actual abandoned station for background.

The San Diegutio Heritage Museum is located on Quail Gardens Road in Encinitas. If you're in the neighborhood, it's well worth a visit.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Foolproof Flower Gardening ~ #4

Native to Asia and northeast Europe, there are 30 species of chrysanthemums, with thousands of cultivars. They've been grown as an herb in China since the 15th century BC and the greens are still used in cooking and boiled for tea there. Chrysanthemums appear through the ages in the art of both Japan and China and it is a flower surrounded by symbolism in both cultures.

Chrysanthemums are broken into two categories - Garden Hardy and Exhibition. In my garden, only one type cuts the mustard: the miniature, self sowing daisy type pictured above. Garden Hardy is an understatement. Sold in 6 packs at Home Depot and Target, you only have to plant these once. They reseed so prolifically once they're established, you'll be thinning out seedlings the first season. The 2nd generation plants will be even hardier than the original plants. They spread nicely and work well at the middle of the border. They're a great cover for your bulbs, either before they sprout or as they die back for the year. Snails like these, but the plants are so bushy and full, you won't see much damage.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reflections Of The Way Life Used To Be

You may not recognize this young, barefoot coed. She'd had a bit part in a Marx Brothers movie and the year before, in 1949, she received strong reviews in John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle". Even though she'd just been signed to a 7 year contract with 20th Century Fox, she was studying literature and art at UCLA as a back up in case her acting career didn't pan out.

When a photographer from Life Magazine came calling to shoot a feature in 1950, it was the break she'd been waiting for. The above picture was part of that shoot. Three years later, when she first posed for Playboy, Marilyn Monroe became a household name.

The photograph is by Edward Clark, courtesy of the Life Magazine archives.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


One of the most common melons in the world, which we all call a watermelon, is called a "pepo" by botanists. Watermelons are believed to have originated in Africa and were described by Africa explorer Dr. David Livingstone as being plentiful in the Kalahari Desert. They were cultivated in the Nile Valley in the second millenium B.C. and many watermelon seeds were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. By the 10th century A.D. they were being grown in China, which today is their largest producer. By 1615 the word watermelon had entered the English dictionary.

Early French explorers found Native Americans cultivating them in the Mississippi Valley and they were spotted in Massachusetts in 1629, Florida in 1664, Connecticut in 1747 and the Colorado River area in 1799.

Today there are over 50 varieties that range from one to 200 pounds, with flesh in pink, red, white, yellow or orange. The Japanese have grown square watermelons inside glass containers, to ease storage and stacking and are experimenting with pyramid shapes. Watermelon are 92% water by weight, a good nutritional treat any time of the year.

The oil on canvas painting above was made in 1918 by Boris Kustodiev of his wife. It currently hangs in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. It depicts the bountiful life that had ceased to exist, thanks to the Russian Revolution and the Communist policies that followed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Our Local Fruit Stand

La Costa Farms is just over the hill, along the lagoon. It's been there over 20 years, selling produce from local farmers. The owner has local sources for year round raspberries, watermelons, avocados, strawberries, tomatoes and oranges. Seasonally, he offers local asparagus, plums, nectarines, black berries, pomegranites and cantaloupes. The apples, blueberries, pineapples, peaches and bananas come from elsewhere, but they're always fresh.

During the autumn, to the delight of local school kids, the crew turn part of the parking lot into a giant pumpkin patch, complete with bales of hay and pumpkins of every size and shape. Shortly thereafter, they string lights all around and bring on the Christmas trees, from 2 to 20 feet tall, flocked or plain, all infused with the aroma of the forest.

But what really sets it apart from other fruit stands is that any strawberry that accidentally falls off the counter and onto the ground is quickly gobbled up by the owner's sweet, (not so) little Pekingese dog.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Native Plants Of California ~ #25 In A Series

Classified as a red oak, the coast live oak tree grows to the west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and all the way down to northern Baja California. The only native oak trees that thrive in our salty, seaside conditions, it grows on coastal hills and plains, where fog buffers them from long summers with little or no rain.

Twelve separate Indian tribes used the acorns as a staple in their diets. In the 18th century, Spaniards burned the wood to fire their adobe kilns, and 18th and 19th century shipbuilders sought the odd branches for special projects. The wood was too gnarled and twisted to be useful in building, but pioneers had need of it for wagon wheels and farm tools. From the middle of the 19th century, plein air painters were fascinated by this evergreen's natural form and the trees have been the subject of countless landscape paintings, and remain a popular subject today.

The cities of San Diego and San Francisco were built after the areas were cleared of native coast live oak trees. Spanish for live oak is "encina", and our town, Encinitas, means "Little Oaks".

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It Was A Cardiff Morning

Yesterday morning's beach walk was gray and chilly, more like late autumn than early spring. The tide was way low and the surf blown out early, but that didn't stop a few tourists on rental boards from going out. A couple of stand up paddlers took advantage of the uncrowded conditions.

Late last week there was a shark sighting a mile north, at Swamis. A dorsal fin was spotted inside the line-up, where the surfers wait for the next set of waves. Most everyone realizes that sharks are out there, all the time, and always have been, but having one appear suddenly was enough to clear the water of even the most intrepid. Let's hope the kelp beds are bountiful enough to keep the hungriest sharks further offshore and satisfied eating fish.

The picture is of Cardiff Reef, one of the most popular California surf spots. You can also see the Coast Highway and the railroad tracks that both cross the San Elijo lagoon, which empties into the ocean at the Reef.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day

We're fools for Thomas every day, not just on April 1st. He never hesitates to let his desires be known. If he isn't noticed quickly enough when he wants to come inside, he'll jump up on the patio chair and stare inside the kitchen window, stretching and craning his neck to get someone's attention and meowing to be heard over the din. Once inside, he's a picture of decorum, waiting patiently for his bowl to be filled. Whether he stays for a nap or not depends less on how tired he is and more on how loud the birds are in the trees. More often than not, it's the call of the wild that prevails.