Sow There! Adaptation to the sun, part 2, July 12, 2019

Shade is not always a luxury. Often it requires hard work to acquire. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

July 12, 2019 

Some of us remember the old-style camping tent.

On a camping trip, you roll into the park at dusk after a long, dusty drive.

The kids are sent off to play as the parents unpack the car, truck or van. From a safe distance, children hear the clank of metal poles.

The tent was inherited from grandfather and probably predates World War II. The color is olive green, stained with brown from various adventures. The heavy canvas can withstand rain and hail, and muffle the laughter from late-night storytelling.

The problem is putting the thing together – usually in the dark.

Nowadays, we have tents with bendable poles that slide together without a harsh word being spoken. Today, you can pop a tent up in 10 minutes. Children can even help.

Long ago, with grandfather’s tent, the miscellaneous metal pieces were dumped on the ground like a puzzle. Some pieces had elbows, and others were shaped like a T.

The parents worked “together,” which often meant disagreeing on which piece should be connected next. Shouts of “just hold still” could be clearly heard throughout the campground. Near the end of the confusing job, sentences were punctuated with curse words.

Shelter needed

Last week, the tree demolition crew buzzed through my life. Every tree was destined for destruction.

The noise from the chainsaws was unsettling. More troubling was the image in my head of what the yard would be like when the job was done. I saw 106 temperatures, a roof so hot the squirrels would singe their paws. Citronella candles in the shed would melt from the exasperating heat. Every shade plant would die. Nights in an unshaded bedroom would feel like sleeping in a crock pot.

I understand the logic behind the change in my landscape. My landlord decided to “Get it done.” The mimosa tree literally had dead wood dangling. To prevent damage to my car, I parked 20 feet from the front walkway. My landlady decided to trim the trees once every 10 years. More trees will return, because that’s what trees do.

On day two of tree destruction, I did the sensible thing and joined my friend Thor for a few days at Lake Almanor.

When I returned, my house was how I had envisioned. The men wearing chartreuse vest and matching hard hats were gone. Huge, round chunks of tree carcasses remained, pushed against the perimeter of the property. Sawdust covered the mostly-dead Bermuda grass lawn.

Every living thing was exposed.

My first thought was to spend the remainder of the summer at La Flor De Michoacán Paletería y Nevería, my favorite ice cream shop, rather than face the hot reality of the interior of the shadeless house.

A little help from a friend

However, Thor saw the pain on my face. Being the nice man that he is, he said we should brainstorm for solutions.

I remembered a pile of metal poles that were leaning against the Mulberry tree. The tree was now a stump, but the men with chainsaws had returned the metal to generally the same location.

The poles were the bones of a shade structure. Once upon a time, when the Handsome Woodsman lived in Paradise, he built the shade structure to cover his Ford F-150 truck.

When he moved in with me, he planned to rebuild the shade at our shared house.

Yet, that never happened. Why would it? Putting up a structure like that – with endless mysterious pieces and hoisting a heavy tarp – was always a job for another day.

I found the black, plastic milk crate that contained those mysterious pieces. The tarp was hidden under sawdust. It was still in good shape because, until recently, it had been stored in the shade.

Thor, ever clear-headed, said if we worked in the relative cool of the morning, we could slap up that old shade structure and begin to rebuild what once was a more normal life.

Rather than dump the puzzle pieces on the ground, he lined up the pieces in a logical order. I was of very little use at this point, but managed to follow directions and found a piece of paper and a pen.

With mathematical precision, he determined what each piece of metal should be used for. We counted the poles (they were all there!), and he diagrammed the logical location of each piece.

We climbed a ladder, straightened poles with a maul and stood on the picnic table. We spent money at Harbor Freight, then used ropes as a pully system to drag the heavy plastic across the frame.

The structure, now complete, has as shade footprint of 16’x20′ and is 10 feet tall from peak to base. The time spent to erect it took about as long as it took the tree crew to transform the yard.

Thor was my new hero and together, we affected change.

As is always the case in life, there is more work to be done.

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Sow There! Black-hole sun, here it comes, July 5, 2019

Black-hole sun, here it comes | Sow There!

  • I made the mistake of peeking out of my (now sunny) kitchen window to watch the work on the mulberry tree.
PUBLISHED: July 5, 2019 at 10:00 am | UPDATED: July 5, 2019 at 10:09 am

“Sun, sun, sun … here it comes.”

My brain was abuzz with Beatles tunes last weekend after seeing the flick “Yesterday.”

Monday morning there was a loud knock on the front door. The visitor was one of four men standing in my driveway. They wore chartreuse vests, and wanted me to move my car. I padded out there in my bathrobe.

Tree trimming.

Many times in life, we must bravely face decisions that are not our own and are forced to make way for the chainsaws placed in front of you.

I decided to accept the fate of the trees.

Perhaps as an exercise in self-soothing, I decided I really did hate those trees.

The bad tree list

They weren’t trees, really. They were weeds. Nobody planted them. They began to grow one day, and continued unchecked. Years passed and they became part of the fabric of my yard, eventually creating a green shroud for my cottage in the Avenues.

Weed trees bear no fruit, unless it is messy and tasteless. The blossoms are far from lovely.  People keep them around because they provide the most basic services a tree can provide: Shade.

As for my particular trees, they cast down plant detritus most seasons of the year.

Here’s the quick facts (in no way reflective of actual horticultural facts):

·      Loquat: (Extremely “lo” on the hierarchy of desirable trees). Leaves fall onto the ground like tough, crunchy melba toast. Fruit is useless. Squirrels eat a bite of bland fruit, then pelt the remainder on the hood of my car. Fruit eats paint on my car. Seedlings sprout from nearly every potted plant.

Provided shade to bedroom window.

·      English Ivy: A tangle of deep green vines obscuring the loquat, roof line and sidewalk. If left undisturbed, the ivy would have gladly grown straight through the front door. Seedlings discovered in nearly every potted plant.

Provided shade to bedroom window.

·      Mimosa: (In my case) menacingly tall with a large crack in the trunk. Dead branches dangled over the car. Three seasons of yard garbage. Seasonal downpour of tawny-colored fuzz. Fall seed pods clogged the rain gutters. New trees volunteer easily. Seedlings in nearly every potted plant.

Provided shade to half the roof.

• Privet. Mounds of black seed balls that look like oversized clusters of black pepper. Seedlings in every pot. Seedlings in vegetable raised bed. Purple bird poop on hood of car. Purple bird poop eats paint on car.

Shaded my living room window.

• Mulberry: Robust and fruitless. Trunk size: two feet in dimeter. Limb size: one foot in diameter. Brutish nature sometimes results in dents in the rain gutter.

Shaded kitchen window, shed and back portion of house.

I had to leave town the second day of the chainsaw chorus. The tree crew was amazing, roping off giant limbs as if workers were auditioning for Cirque de Soleil.

When I returned, piles of logs, cut into four-foot sections, create an entirely unattractive perimeter to my soon-to-be sun-baked yard.

It’s done. I accept it. I will need to find new options for about 70 plants accustomed to shade. I will survive.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.


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Sow There! Plant envy while traveling, try not to covet the alstromeria, June 28 2019

Alstromeria is a long-lived bloom, in a vase or in the yard. The tricky part is getting it to sprout. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

June 28, 2019 at 3:40 am

It’s easy to fall in love with a land when you’re on vacation. People are generally kind to strangers, and a visitor’s footsteps follow the most-favored paths. If you happen to stray to the less-polished parts of town, things looks brighter through a traveler’s lens.

Last week, seven teachers from my school attended a week-long training in Sebastopol.

I knew this town in my youth. When I was 8-13 years old, I would visit a childhood friend for weeks at a time. We climbed apple trees and gathered blackberries. I remember going to the beach, and walking down long roads covered with gravel.

Things have changed, as things always do, and Sebastopol is now a cute little town with gift shops, a Whole Foods store and new restaurants. We also stumbled across a concert in the park, with a huge crowd of gray-haired people twirling on the grass.

Many of the side roads near downtown look much like they did in my youth, with large lots without fences and the occasional goat or horse in the front yard.

When I visit a place for more than a day or two, I sometimes fantasize about moving there. I might go so far as to research home prices, and that usually dissolves the idealized image I had created in my head. There may very well be a direct correlation between home prices and a climate where plants thrive.

Green garden envy

Our group stayed at an amazing house with a lush garden. The foxglove was 9 feet tall, and this is not an exaggeration. Spikes of blossoms did not tip over like they do in my yard. I breezed by big bushes of alstromeria, which will survive in the shade in my yard, but only for a few years. The hydrangea were also massive. I could tell it had been blooming a long time because many of the flowers had already dried.

Did the people who own this house know a thing or two I needed to learn? Did they bring in truckloads of compost every spring?

Then I noticed the trees and fence posts, as well as just about everything else made of wood. So much lichen was growing that the wood looked like it was covered in dull green/gray paint that was peeling.

Yes, the fog. That pure, misty air in the mornings, laden with just enough water to mist plants into happiness … that was the key to the plant prosperity.

Lichen are not waxy like plants and do not hold water when it is dry. Lichen can absorb the morning water vapor.

Chico’s USDA climate zone ( is similar to Sonoma County, but those misty mornings make a big difference.

The treasures in this yard included a medium-sized tree, which I am guessing was Chinese lantern. Exquisite ornaments hung throughout the tree, with papery red blooms and tiny red jewels at the bottom. I could have danced all night under that tree, and yes, we had a full moon.

Tricky alstromeria

I gathered a few dried alstromeria seed pods, also known as Peruvian Lily, in the hope of bringing a bit of this beauty to my own backyard.

Yet, there may be reasons people buy alstromeria in 1-gallon pots, rather than seed packets. Thompson and Morgan ( advise that gardeners have the best luck when the seeds are recently produced by the mother plant. They also advise planting seeds in midwinter to early spring.

Even if you do everything right, the T&M website said only a few seeds may sprout, and some of these may emerge a year later. Another source (, this one in the United Kingdom, says to plant seeds in vermiculate, cover with plastic, then place in the fridge for three weeks. Next, move the dormant seeds to a 70-degree environment. “Germination may be erratic.”

The reason the seeds wait, according to Thompson and Morgan, is that the seeds go into dormancy if the conditions are not exactly right.

Got it. They might as well just say it. These plants are best when purchased in a 1-gallon pot.

If you do plant alstromeria, they’re worth it. Cut flowers will last for weeks in a vase. I’ve also learned that when the stems die back and turn brown, you can gently shake them as you remove the dried stem. This stimulates the root system. As you shake the stem, you should probably also shake the seeds onto the ground. Who knows; they might grow someday if they feel like it.

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Sow There! Getting to the bottom of bear’s breeches, June 21, 2019

Tall, sleek and handsome, bear’s breech makes quite a statement under the partial shade of a tree. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

June 21, 2019 

I’m in a bit of a bear’s breeches dilemma. Several weeks ago, I bumped into the plant and had an overwhelming attraction to its tall, mauve and handsome pillars of flowers. If you’re a plant geek, you know how it is: Your mind starts whirling with how you’re going to have this new prize your own yard.

For some reason, really great things have been happening lately. The latest was that I received an email from Larry. Larry invited me to visit him and his wife and pick up a pot filled with small bear’s breech plants, Acanthus Mollis.

Larry reminded me that he gave me a Daphne odoro a dozen or so years ago. I did not remind him that I somehow killed that plant (more details on that later in the column).

When I arrived for my undeserved prize, I could not overlook my new favored plant as I walked along Larry’s side yard. It’s huge! Three of the leaves, when watered and given ample sun, could cover my kitchen table. He had more in the back yard — huge clumps of oversized leaves and their tall columns of flowers. What’s nice about the flowers is that they dry out, but don’t wither. The white petals remain attractive, much like hydrangea.

I thought this gift was beyond gracious. But Larry also threw in a potted sago palm and a 12-pack of Vinca rosea that just happened to be popping up in his yard.

Thank you Larry. When my yard is beyond bursting with bear’s breeches, I’ll pass along the gift to someone else.

I think gardeners need to do their share to contribute to the economy of local nurseries. If we don’t, we won’t be able to leisurely browse plants on those days when we want to avoid cleaning the shower.

Yet, when I shopped around for bear’s breech seeds, most places wanted about $1 a seed ($5 for five). Some online seed catalogs were out of stock.

This week I visited my friend Michael, and saw my new beloved in his front yard. How I had overlooked those beauties the previous 10 times I had visited Michael, I may never know. He said he trims them back to nubs when they look ratty over the winter, and the large leaves grow rapidly once the weather turns warm. They’re growing at the base of a 15-foot tree.

I gathered more than a dozen seeds, and may be back for more. Maybe I should start selling these seeds online for 50 cents each, and finance a future trip to Ireland.

With seeds and potted plants in hand, now comes some tricky contemplations.

Did I mention these plants are mammoth? Most of the places for “very large” things are already filled in my yard. I could divide Larry’s plants and torture them in pots. Or I could simply put the new plant in the ground and let it battle with other greenery for territory.

As for the seeds, I have some time to think this over.

The Home Guide on SF Gate says planting the seeds takes some planning.

The soil needs to be prepped in early spring. The seeds need time in the soil before temperatures rise above 45 degrees. We can only fantasize about the days when the temperatures will be below 45 degrees. In the meantime, I need to stash Michael’s seeds in a place where I won’t forget about them next year.

Next on the seed planting guide is soaking, waiting and thinning.

My final dilemma with this plant is what to call them. The University of California Master Gardeners of Sonoma County website calls it “Bear’s Breech,” singular. Other places call it “breeches.” Both, of course, refer to a bear’s behind. I’ll call it breech for now, until I get multiple flower stalks.


I tend to learn things the hard way, and this was the case with the Daphne mentioned above. After my first Daphne mishap, I received some great info from John Whittsley, the mind behind Canyon Creek Nursery. He explained that Daphne is susceptible to life-threatening bacteria when watered on days when the temperature reaches 89 degrees. It is a delicate balance to keep the plant alive during summer. For this reason, it’s also important to keep adding compost to the soil, so that good bacteria can help fight the battle.

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Sow There! Lessons on the farm, June 14, 2019


  • Farmers can grow a lot of food on 400 acres, and some of this lettuce made it into our dinner salad. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 14, 2019 at 3:30 am

The book “Farmer Boy,” was a connecting thread during my year of teaching third grade. The story follows the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, when Almanzo was a hard-working farm boy.

I thought I had read the entirety of the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Ingalls Wilder in my childhood. Somehow, I  missed “Farmer Boy,” and was able to enjoy it as I read out loud.


So many practical life lessons are found within the pages, including wise money management, the reality of hard work and how to grow a prize-winning pumpkin.

Farming, gardening, appreciation of food — these things helped confirm I had landed I the right place.

In the book, the family works most days from sun-up to sun-down, often as a full family unit.

When it came time to teach my students about the changes in the season, I was glad to have a background as an agricultural reporter. Our lessons included tasks being done each month on local farms, with a focus on tree crops and rice.

We also worked in the garden every other week. However, our bursts of hard work were much shorter than the sun-up-to-sun-down chores of our friends in the book.

“Do you think you could work like this all day,” I asked a few children as they dug a trench along the fence line.

“Oh yes.”

“No problem,” children said as they dug fresh earth.

“Maybe part of the day,” my children reported after the novelty of a shovel had worn off.

Farm visit

I wanted to know, because in May we took our big two-night camping trip to Full Belly Farms in Guinda. The farm is 400 acres in the Capay Valley, about halfway up the hill near Clear Lake. A big part of the “curriculum” during our trip was to experience hard work. We yanked fat, white bulbs of garlic and learned to strip the outer muddy husk. We gathered strawberries, with most of the fruit deposited into baskets. We also liberated friendly chickens of hundreds of eggs. We did not wake up at the crack of dawn, yet 6:30 a.m. was a close compromise.

The big task was working as an assembly unit to fill 275 community supported agriculture boxes with organic produce. I like to think I prepped my children for this task by our beanbag circle, where we started in sl-o-o-o-w-w-w motion passing the bags, mimicking a machine that moved faster and faster.


The field trip was one of the most difficult tasks of my school year. Field trip forms disappear in children’s backpacks, I needed to recruit parent chaperones and create a menu that avoided known allergies

I was also nervous. I had amazing parents to help, but the bottom line was that the responsibility was mine.

A mentor teacher helped soothe my nerves and held my hand as I planned. Later, I was thrilled with expectation when I saw photos from the trip she took earlier in the year.

The flowers were bursting and her children frolicked among the farm animals. They waded in a creek and sang songs around the fire. If there was a soundtrack, it would have been straight from Disney.

The field trip

By the time I was ready for my trip, our forecast was for rain. I sent out an urgent plea for families to pack raincoats and hoped for the best.

That first day, I must say, was not the best. We huddled in tents. My children frolicked in rain — several played tag on wet grass while wearing their only dry sweatshirt.

I learned that there is almost no force in nature that can keep a child from sloshing through a mud puddle, even if they only have two extra pairs of dry socks.

Yet, the next day we had only a drizzle and a rainbow to greet us when we woke up at 6:30 a.m. for chores. The children worked like a fine machine for the assembly line and we feasted the next day on fresh eggs served from a black iron skillet. There was a clear sky for toasting marshmallows and our imperfect campfire skits prepared us for our class play.

Life on a farm isn’t always perfect, but it can be just fine when we work together and have access to the farm’s clothes dryer.

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Sow There! An eye for statuesque beauties, June 7, 2019

An eye for statuesque beauties | Sow There!

Bear’s Breech, a surprisingly tall and orante flower that seems to do the impossible in partial shade. (Contributed by Heather Hacking)

June 7, 2019

I remember my grandmother’s voice on an early evening as we sat in her yard. The lawn behind her yellow stucco house was green and wide, a place where we could run around in the dresses she made on her sewing machine, and impress her with the cartwheels we had learned in gymnastics class.

“What are those Gram,” I asked, pointing to some tall flowers that looked like they grew from stakes in the ground. “Hollyhocks,” she recalled. “When I was a girl, we used to take the flower and put it on a finger, and pretend it was the skirt of a beautiful ballerina.” Her voice was soft and just a bit girl-like, as she demonstrated the long-ago dance on an overturned index finger.

At the time, age 7, I thought this was sad. Didn’t she have any real dolls to play with? Later she would tell me her stories, about working for her keep from the age of 14 in someone else’s big house on a steep hill in San Francisco.

I’ve shown the flower skirts to children since then, often with the same quiet tone, and usually I receive the same unimpressed reaction I gave my grandmother that day. The tall flowers remain special to me, a reminder of that moment with my grandmother in her yard – with the apricot trees and a view of sloping hills that are now covered in tract homes and strip malls.

Last week, I took a stroll around the Patrick Ranch museum at dusk. When I work my occasional part-time job at the ranch, the garden tour is my ritual. When I closed the white picket gate, I almost bumped into a tall beauty – white hollyhock, with blooms at eye-level.

Tall flowers, I thought. I like tall flowers. My mind was running with this idea – perhaps a future column. Hollyhocks, cosmos, foxglove, phlomos.

Maybe I would consider butterfly bush in this category, but likely not. If butterfly bush is a tall flower, I would need to include oleander, and then I would be talking about any flowering bush, including those that grow in the median of the freeway.

I continued my stroll, turned at the edge of the house, and ran into something even more delicious. There, in the partial shade of the redwood trees, were dozens of tall, overly-ornate blooms in quiet colors of light and dark mauve. I may have overlooked this flower before, but on this day the flowers were tall and brave.

Bear’s Breech, I learned, after scouring many websites with a vague description of the plants’ attributes. I shouldn’t be surprised that the gardeners at the Patrick Ranch museum know how to choose the best flowers and put them in ideal locations. A home gardener would need a lot of room to let this beauty settle in. The dark green leaves rival the size of an elephant ear. In the large clump, the flowers contrast the horizontal angle of the leaves, somewhat like skyscrapers bursting above the fog.

Tall flowers – strong and sturdy. I admire that.

Yet, for some reason, when I try to grow tall flowers they end a flop, literally. I’ve grown foxglove in the past, and needed to stake the blooms that dared to grow very large.

This same luck was had with gladiolas, which I would not recommend. My gladiolas grew almost sideways. Later, the corms continued to multiply for years. What I accidentally grew was a wide clump of clumsy flowers. Why would I grow gladiolas when I can buy the for $6 a bunch at Trader Joes – uniform and straight as a tent stake.

Cosmos, another tall flower, will grow at least four feet, and is easy to grow from seed. I enjoyed these along my fence line one year, with cool impatiens at the base. Cosmos will certainly flop over as well, but they’re so willowy the flop adds to their charm.

Whatever you do, please do not accidentally plant Four O’Clocks. These flowers are easy to grow, but you’ll fight to get rid of them for a decade. These flowers are named because they open at 4 o’clock (in Wisconsin). In Chico, it’s so hot at 4 o’clock you only see the flowers in the cool of a 6 a.m. stroll to your car.

Until I learn to grow tall flowers, I’ll continue to enjoy the in the places where they grow.

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Sow There! Poppy plants making their presence known, May 24, 2019

Poppy plants making their presence known | Sow There!

Poppies don’t need much encouragement to grow. Just give them a tiny bit of soil, let the rains comes, and hope that no one comes along to spoil their fun. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
May 24, 2019 at 2:01 am

The poppy plants are blooming in the alley — three of them.

Most years, the alley is boldly orange, with lacy plants reaching from the cracks in the pavement into the roadway, destined to be smashed by folks who drive fast and take shortcuts.

The poppy plant is a fearless survivor and will grow deep roots into the smallest crack in the pavement. The itty-bitty amount of soil in those cracks is rich, made from leaves that decayed after being blown toward a wooden fence.

The plants are almost my hidden secret. People who drive through alleys are usually driving fast, and sometimes trying to avoid the police.

When the plants are in full bloom, they seem oddly out of place, which I also enjoy, like roses growing from a garbage can.

As with any garden bed, weeds happen. In late winter, I spend some time yanking out the other plants that find a way to grow in a small crack in the urban landscape.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the plants were gone.


My first guess was that Mark Carlson had stopped by to do a “good deed.”

When he’s in the neighborhood, he’ll stop by to say hello. If I’m not there, he sometimes does something nice. Sometimes I’m so busy, I don’t notice one of his good deeds until weeks later.

He weed-wacked my tall grass, for example, and I texted him days and days later with words of gratitude.

Poppies don’t need much encouragement to grow. Just give them a tiny bit of soil, let the rains comes, and hope that no one comes along to spoil their fun. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Another day, he chopped down a most hateful privet. The privet had grown so large, I had tried to convince the PG&E tree crew that the plant was interfering with the power lines. The workers gave my request very little thought before moving along to something more important.

When I saw the blank space where the privet had dominated, I didn’t notice at first. It’s sort of like when someone gets a giant mole removed from their face. You know something is different, but in the absence of that big thing, you can’t quite figure out what has changed.

Now Mark does privet maintenance. Serious nuisances, like privet, don’t die easily. Mark works in landscaping and carries seriously potent privet spray in his bag of tricks. More than once, he has stopped to torture the privet sprouts trying to grow from the giant privet trunk.

When the poppies showed up missing, I thought Mark must have meant to do another good deed. My first thought was to call up and complain. Yet, that would have been completely unfair. When someone does something incredibly nice, you need to thank him, even if it’s completely opposite from what you would have hoped.

Many a marriage has likely survived by following that simple thought process.

I still complained, but I chose to complain to my neighbor.

Del has a work shed in the lot next door, and he is about the coolest guy you could ever imagine.

He has a vintage truck and decorates his work shed with wrought-iron brick-a-brack. He wears a leather cowboy hat and has straight, shiny, long hair. He looks like he should be in a magazine about guys who do cool things in sheds.

Del listened to my rant, and after what might have been a deep breath, he admitted he had decimated my poppies.

It happened fast, he explained, as if the speed of their demise would comfort me. He saw some weeds and picked up a shovel.

“Once I got started, I just didn’t stop,” he said sheepishly.

I was impressed that in 20 minutes, he had cleared everything growing from his cyclone fence to the mock orange hedge 40 feet down the way.

I had to forgive him as well. Maybe next time I need a privet removed, I’ll ask him if he has some spare time.

The good news is that a few of the poppies survived. Did I mention that they are freakishly hardy? Three plants is enough to make me smile when I take a stroll around the neighborhood. I’ll make sure I pop some poppy seeds on Del’s side of the fence next fall.

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Sow There! A good deed finally notices — amaryllis, May 17, 2019

A good deed finally noticed — amaryllis | Sow There!

When the amaryllis blooms arrived, in late March, they stopped small feet in their tracks. (Heather Hacking -Contributed)
May 17, 2019 at 3:30 am

One of the best types of gifts is the unexpected. Of these, I have received many — much more than I ever could have deserved. Many times I have relied upon the kindness of strangers.

Receiving gifts, witnessing good deeds, remembering to do for others — all help reaffirm that most of the world is filled with goodness.

Last fall a bag of bulbs arrived at my former workplace. My friend dropped the gift on my doorstep when I was not at home.

“A nice lady brought these to the newspaper for you,” my friend wrote.

Inside a brown paper were several huge dormant chunks of plant life. I guessed they were amaryllis, but was certainly not certain. I also guessed they were from someone in Paradise; The bag said “Black Bear Diner.”

As sometimes happens at my house, the bag sat just inside my doorway. I put things there for which I intend to give immediate attention.

Months later, I did the right thing.

The bulb was fairly unimpressive at first, sitting in a bowl with water and pebbles.

(That bowl was a mistake. One day I realized the plant’s roots had pushed so hard the glass broke).

The children didn’t notice this new thing. There’s a lot to do when the children walk through the threshold, including fish around in their backpacks for homework and listen to my voice telling them to find their seat quietly.

Weeks passed, and no one noticed it was growing. Then the blooms arrived, in late March — deep red and so large you could easily think they were made in China.

The five-gallon plastic pot was just the right size, and then the show as on!

We measured the flowers and touched the fuzz-covered stamens. We wondered if the plant would fall, even after I propped it up with sticks.

After the flowers faded, I wanted more.

I had more bulbs by my front door, but there was a lot going on around Easter. Mainly, we had many surfaces covered with bowls of wheat grass, which became our Easter baskets.

But you can’t let bulbs go to waste. That nice lady form Paradise would want me to enjoy them.

Last weekend I reached for the bag just in time, or too late depending on your perspective. One of the remaining amaryllis bulbs had bloomed — inside the bag. There it was, just past its prime and almost knocking at the brown paper to be fully valued. Other bulbs had emerging green stems.

I took a break from all other things and placed those beauties in pots outside. If they were going to grow despite me, I should give them a little help.

The Gardener’s Supply Company, provides some basic instruction for the big, big bulbs. None of the instructions suggested keeping the bulbs in a paper bag for nine months. The information also suggested a heavy pot so the big plant doesn’t topple.

Bury the bulb ¾-inch under the soil and water lightly until either a flower stalk or leaves emerge. Next, water regularly. Give indirect light (or place in a classroom). Turn the pot every once in a while to encourage the plant not to lean. In six to eight weeks, the show begins.

Just like any other bulb, deadheading will help more energy to be directed to the bulb for next year. Amaryllis can also last about as long in a vase as on the plant, this source of garden information states. After flowering, let the flower fade, and cut the stalk to about an inch from the top of the bulb. Continue to water and feed with houseplant fertilizer. In August, stop watering and let the foliage die until the pot is completely dry. Then, store in a paper bag until you’re ready to drop the bulb on someone’s doorstep.

Thank you, unknown woman, for your kindness. Your gesture brought joy to many.

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Sow There! Bright, white flowers for hot nights, May 10, 2019

Bright, white flowers for hot nights | Sow There!

Thank you, wise gardeners at the Patrick Ranch Museum, for planting flowers that brighten my way through darkness. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
May 10, 2019 at 2:35 am

Oh the bliss of coaxing a good friend into taking a nice stroll around the neighborhood.

I much prefer this type of exercise to going to the gym. With a good friend, you can solve most of the world’s problems and see the world through quieter eyes. People are tinkling silverware in the sink or playing board games with their children. Sometimes people are sipping wine and singing at the top of their voices.

At night, you can smell the flowers down the road, even if you can’t see them – Daphne odora in February, or honeysuckle in spring and into early summer. The Handsome Woodsman would always stop and pick me a gardenia on our evening walks, they’re easy to spot – bright and white under the glow of the streetlights.

Thank you, wise gardeners at the Patrick Ranch Museum, for planting flowers that brighten my way through darkness. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

I spend some time in the early evening and into the night out at the Patrick Ranch Museum, where I have an intermittent part-time job. Lately, I’ve become enamored by flowers best viewed under the light of the moon.

The master gardener at the ranch must share this enthusiasm, because white flowers are easy to spot. The Dahlias are huge right about now, as if waving hello from the shadows near the porch of the Italianate grey, brick house. Candy tufts bounce with brightness in the otherwise darkness. Even bright yellow flowers like coreopsis have a dainty glow when you’re otherwise fumbling around to see the sidewalk.

At my own house, I have Vinca Rosea, which survived the winter when I covered the plants during cold spells. They’re haggard, but I sort of like the fact that they brighten my way late at night. Sweet William is almost overlooked in daylight in the shade of the picnic table. Yet, at night, this beauty is a stand-out.

FTD Florist ( compiled a list of white flowers for every season – no doubt to entice the wedding clientele that makes up a good percentage of their business.

For the impending summer, the florist touts white clematis, daisies, hydrangea, scabiosa and phlox. They also mention jasmine, which is still blooming along my neighbor’s fence.

Around here, it’s difficult to take a walk without walking under a towering Magnolia tree. The flowers smell heavenly outdoors, but make the house smell funny when you try to enjoy them inside. Plus, I usually end up bringing home ants on those oversized blooms.

I have a few of those faux wine barrels made from hard plastic. With an investment of as little as $20, I plunk a few six-packs of white Vinca Rosea into the soil. Vinca Rosea is one of my go-to plants for Chico, and should be purchased as soon as you spot them. They’ll bloom all summer and are fairly forgiving about the torturous summer heat

More from FTD

As for that FTD website, the narrative includes the type of flowery writing one would expect. They also include what the blooms represent. Again, this information is probably most important to superstitious brides who want to ensure (or avoid) flowers that boast of purity, hope, wisdom, et al.

I took a peek, so I’d be in the know about some of the flowers nearby. The aforementioned jasmine, for example, is good luck. Sweet William includes gallantry and finesse. My beloved gardenia – beauty and love, as well as remembrance of someone who has passed away.

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Sow There! Feeling a change in the weather, and growing old, May 3, 2019

Feeling a change in the weather, and growing old | Sow There!

A flooded bike bath in lower Bidwell Park on April 6 in Chico. (Matt Bates — Enterprise-Record)
May 3, 2019 at 12:19 pm

I remember a trip to Disneyland with my Uncle Jimmy. I was 7, and my cousin and I bounced around in the back of the VW van. By “bounce,” I mean we weren’t wearing seat belts. On this particular trip, my uncle also pulled over to pick up a hitchhiker.

We chugged along slowly, singing Jim Croce songs, and coasting on diesel fumes down the backside of the Grapevine.

“Is it going to rain,” I asked, looking out the dusty windows as we neared the happiest place on earth.

“No,” my Uncle said. “The air is just really smoggy down here.”

Back then, we had leaded and unleaded gas. We didn’t worry about smog and its impact on childhood asthma. We were going places!

Starting in my 20s, I became more aware of the dire predictions for our planet. Scientists used computer models to discuss continued deterioration of obscure topics like the ozone layer and polar ice caps. Those graphs stretched out into the vast horizon of my future. I’d be ancient by the time we reached 2020 or 2030.

In my 20s, I saved my cans and bottles. Yet, part of the incentive is that I could get cash to pay for necessities like pizza.

Last week, we had temperature spikes into the 90s, just at the time our tender young plants were poking up from the surface of the soil. The garden gals at our school kept busy, watering the containers twice a day. It was too soon for heat like this. It’s only April.

Just a few weeks before the heat, we had a sudden downpour ( that caught a lot of folks off guard. I was still in my classroom when I noticed a sound like a fireman aiming a hose at the sidewalk.

The parking lot had started to flood. I knew from experience that if the drain was clogged with leaves, my car could become trapped. By the time I thought to move my car to higher ground, the rain felt like the downpours of Costa Rica and I had to wait for the nasty storm cell to leave town.

Flash floods. More extreme weather events. Extreme droughts. Frequent wildfires. These were the things scientists talked about when I was young, when my friends were smoking clove cigarettes and when motorcycle helmets were optional.

I could look back at those graphs from my youth to compare. Yet, I know this just doesn’t “feel right” in my bones.

Is there a seasonal rhythm that becomes imprinted upon our bodies? In spring, we feel like wearing sandals and cotton dresses. In November, our nostrils begin to tingle with cool, damp air and the chemicals of decaying leaves.

These recent weather events make me feel like I’m a tourist in my own land. I also feel protective of the tender plants in the school greenhouse. I wonder about the children who may never know early March the way it felt way back then.

Will atmospheric rivers and wildfires “feel” normal to young people when they are old like me?

The squiggly lines on a chart or graph predicting 2050 or 2070 likely appear to young people as they did to me in 1986 — a meaningless timeline along an endless plane of the unknown future.

My Dad follows the news from the NOAA observatory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii ( The predictions are for things to change so rapidly that young folks will feel rapid change as the status quo.

Another year around the sun

Of course, some of my recent thoughts may stem from my birthday – one of those milestone years. At this age, there’s less worry about paying for your next pizza, and more time to reflect on whether you recycled your share of pizza boxes.

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