My Ugly Garden

My Ugly Garden

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Ok, not the most artful photograph.  But this is my latest gardening adventure.  The lettuce patch.  Now according to the mounds of research I have done, lettuce is supposed to be the easiest thing to grow.  Well, this is my third attempt in as many years. All past attempts have been epic failures.  So, I'm not quite sure how easy it really is to grow lettuce.  I'm trying out a different spot in the garden this year and also some wildlife and domestic dog deterrent, as you can see below.   

My two youngest garden gnomes helped dig and plant the rows.  It really was a fun project so I hope we are able to harvest a little salad.  We planted Monet's Garden Mesclun mix.  Chosen only for it's name and pretty package.  As you can tell we run a purely scientific garden here.  Hopefully we will see some sprouts within the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Goodies!

Another package arrived from my Aunt today.  Look what was inside:

Ok, not everything, but I'll get to that in a minute.  The beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers and beans along with the Practical Produce book were inside my care package.  And, boy, the beans and tomatoes are very yummy. After a light saute and steaming they went right onto the dinner plates.  I can't wait to try the cucumbers next.  Vielen Dank, Tante!

A few weeks back my husband, a very good friend and I went to hear a lecture given by Thomas Keller of  The French Laundry.  It was a fascinating evening and I was able to purchase his latest cookbook: Ad Hoc at Home and have him sign it.  Our family has only visited his bakery, Bouchon,  in Yountville.  It is one of our favorite stops when we drive up to the Napa Valley.

The last jewel on my list today is the lovely peacock illustration by Rebekka Seale.  I just love her whimsical prints and was so excited when it arrived. If you click on the photo it will enlarge so you can see the detail a bit better.  A side note:  my 4 year old son picked out the moss green mat when I went to get the print framed.  I was looking at white and black mats and wasn't thrilled with the look.  While I was debating, my son had gone a little way down the aisle, and came back with the green mat.  "Mom, how about this one?"  Perfect.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Times I wish I had a telephoto lens: today.  Times I wish I could take a picture that was actually in focus:  all the time.  I have been finding half chewed apples hanging on the apple tree and strewn about the yard for years.  Assuming it was the work of roof rats, I just discarded the fruit.  But it seems I have another critter taking advantage of the free apple buffet.....

Squirrel Nutkin, here has taken residence in the Ugly.  I think I saw its nest up in one of our trees.  I also believe this little guy has been reeking havoc on my potted plants.  Digging holes in around my fig sapling and completely decimating a pot full of poppy seedlings I had started.  That last one really made me mad.   Despite all that, Mr. Nutkin here is awfully cute, so it's hard to stay mad.  So, lesson learned.  Protect fall seedlings with mesh or chicken wire and save a few apples for our furry neighbors.

I just realized how long it has been since my last post.  Life here in the Ugly has been especially crazy the last few weeks.  Homework, both mine and my middle schooler's; the weekly wedding performance; teaching and preparations for symphony season have kept me out of the Ugly.  If I'm totally honest, though, I've really been using all of the above as excuses not to go out.  After our last mini heat wave a few weeks ago that took out any remaining veggies, I became fairly discouraged.  But then, I found this book at the library: The Urban Homestead.  This book by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen is getting me excited about the possibilities of gardening in the Ugly again.  They also have an interesting blog called Homegrown Evolution that I like to follow.

More pictures to come.  We had a great family "Weekend Wandering" last weekend.  My husband took some truly beautiful photos I can't wait to share.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Got Mail!

Check out what I got in the mail the other day.

My Aunt sent me a box of goodies from her garden.  We visited her garden last month when we went on vacation.  You can see photos of her lovely garden here.  Inside were:

Giant smiling zucchini!  There were three packed in there, but I didn't find the third until I had unpacked...

these Roma Italian Beans.  I have no idea how to cook these, but they are perfect.  So I will be researching some recipes this week.  Now check out this beautiful bean footage....

These suckers are, I'm not kidding you, at least 10 inches long.  And totally yummy.  The following are photos of where the zucchini ended up.  I apologize in advance for the messy pictures.  Everyone was starving so I could only snap a quick photo and didn't have a chance to clean up.

Welcome to Zucchini Parmesan.  This totally scrumptious recipe can be found at "The Pioneer Woman." There was only one thing I changed in the recipe. I sliced the zucchinis lengthwise instead of into rounds.  I just didn't have time to fry up a bunch of batches of rounds.  I will also add breadcrumbs next time.  

Again, sorry for the crime scene-esque photo, but my husband was ready to snatch the plate. I'm actually surprised his hand isn't in the picture.  Now, onto the beans....I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Ugly Awards

Welcome to the 1st annual Ugly Awards.  As the growing season winds down, we want to take a moment to recognize those who work so tirelessly to make The Ugly what it is.

In the category of Best Non-Producer:

Heirloom Purple

It takes true individualism to ignore the Director and forge one's way to Best Non-Producer.  Despite water, compost, and attention, This heirloom still produced nothing.

Best Mediocre Producer:

San Francisco Fog

There is a tie in the category of Best Mediocre Producer.  Roma and San Francisco Fog.  While they were far from stellar, they did manage to provide some fruit for the Director.  Mostly sandwich material.

At this time The Ugly would like to recognize the Honorable Mention category:

Blue Lake Bean

This Blue Lake Bean continues to fight despite a near death experience.  Record high temperatures nearly took out this hardy bean, unfortunately, it is a bit late in the season for a full come back.  We will watch this up and comer next season. 

Our second to last category is Best Supporting Herb.  This award goes to the herb that produced the greatest harvest and provided the varied performance in terms of flexibility in the culinary arts.  Congratulations to:

Ocimum basilicum. Not much explanation needed here.  This herb is a true star.

The Best Performance award is our final award.  This goes to the plant that produced the most fruit for the Director and her family.  This plant exceeded The Ugly's expectations and will definitely be invited back to The Ugly for future performances.  Congratulations to:

Current Tomato

The Current Tomato.  This plant continues to produce tiny and flavorful tomatoes that the Director has been using all season.  Another star of The Ugly.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this years The Ugly Awards.  I look forward to what stars will emerge next season.  As we move into Fall a new cast of characters is sure to emerge, so stay tuned.

Monday, September 6, 2010

News from The Ugly

     Sick.  That is the only way to describe my state right now.  My husband packed up the kids and headed to my brother-in-law's birthday celebration while I slept.  So, the dog and I have been good company for each other today.  
     The last couple of weeks have been a blur around here, with not much time for The Ugly.  A heat wave toasted my beans, but did help the tomatoes to redden up.   My sister and her beautiful family came for a visit and school has started for my oldest daughter and for me.  
     I did want to share this little garden oddity with you.

     The kids picked this tomato off the vine last night and promptly named it "Bob" after the VeggieTales cartoon.  Well, that's all for now, I'm feeling my temperature going back up, so it's back to bed for me.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back in Town

It's been awhile since my last post.  Our family just returned from touring California's northern coast.  The beautifully rugged coastline and ancient redwoods make for a truly amazing place.  Instead of embarking on a vacation montage, I will try my best to keep it garden focused.  One of our early stops was a visit to my Aunt and Uncle.  They have always been amazing gardeners.  Selling fresh produce out of their garage in years past.  Here are a few pictures from the garden tour.
Look at this beautiful veggie space

Beautiful beans!

The last of the artichokes  
This is just a sampling of the garden.  Also planted were zucchini, kale, corn and fruit trees. It was such a joy to spend some time with my Aunt and Uncle in their lovely home and garden.  They sent us on our way with three giant zucchini, which were delicious, by the way.  It is with a touch of envy that I look at these pictures and then out to The Ugly, which was completely scorched by the 108 degree temperatures today.  I will go survey the damage tomorrow, I may have lost my beans, but I will hope for the best.  


Thursday, August 5, 2010


I admit it, I'm lazy.  And, I guess, cheap.  I bought cheap bird seed at the wild bird center, you know, the kind that will sprout.  That was before I started working on the yard.  From now on  I will spend a little extra for the non-sprouting seed and cut down on a little weeding.  On the plus side, these pretty little sunflowers sprouted from that seed. My kids picked them for me the other day. We put them, along with a couple sprigs of basil, in this vase that had belonged to my husbands grandfather.  I smile every time I pass by it.

The weather was so pleasant today that I had no excuse for not getting out into the Ugly.  I didn't bother taking pictures of more weeds. Honestly, I don't understand how they grow.  There is no water in the area I worked in today, the dirt is the consistency of cement and yet there are growing, no, flourishing, waist-tall weeds.  ARG!  It did feel good to clear that area though.  Now the kids can play over there without fear of being attacked by prickly weeds. Ultimately, I would like to plant some hydrangeas and hostas there, as it is quite shady in that part of the Ugly.  I may be able to pull it off, my neighbor has hydrangeas growing in her yard so I know they can stand the heat. Ah, another project to add to the list......

Friday, July 30, 2010

Life in "The Ugly"

I looked out our bedroom window a few days ago to see that our resident Mourning Dove pair, whom we have dubbed Mr. and Mrs. Magorium, had built a nest on the back gate.  It was so thrilling to see mama bird sitting in her little nest while papa would bring twigs to weave into their new home.  They picked a pretty swell spot.  Hidden by the overgrown oleander bushes, near the birdbath and feeder.  Well, they stayed only a few days and then abandoned the nest.  I was so sad, I really enjoyed looking out the window first thing and seeing the Mrs. on her nest.  A closer inspection of the nest showed impressive nest building technique.  Morning Doves are notoriously bad nest builders, from what I understand.  

The pair is still close by.  I heard them cooing yesterday, so I hope they found a new nest site. 


I thought I would include a random photo of my colleagues and I performing last weekend.  I really wish I had a picture of the garden where we were playing.  The owners had a beautiful, huge vegetable garden.  Everything was growing like gangbusters.  Sigh...

That's me on the right.  I'm either way into the music, or I have a bug in my eye.  The trellis behind us had yummy looking blackberries growing on it.  There was also an apple tree and fig tree.  A lovely, shady spot to perform.  

Another working weekend for me.  Which is great, I love weddings.  Happy weekend everyone.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Freecycle Friday

The heat around these parts has sapped any motivation to get outside.  I did get a bit of a boost a couple of minutes ago, when my oldest daughter came in with a handful of cherry tomatoes.  "Mom, you gotta try these!  They are so yummy!"  Sure enough, pretty darn good.  I would share a picture, but she ate them all.  :)

On to Freecycle Friday, for which I do have a photo.  A few months ago, a friendly freecycler provided me with some succulent plants for my rock garden.  She also gave me a Bird of Paradise plant.  It was a stump of a plant with a hint of new growth.  So, I loaded it into the car and found a place by the deck.  Low and behold, I did not kill it! New leaves have finally emerged and it seems happy in its semi-shady spot.

The smaller plants surrounding the larger Bird of Paradise are unknown to me.  They were growing in pots along side some cymbidium orchids that had belonged to my grandmother.  They produce delicate purple and white blooms.  This little section of the Ugly will be nice once the plants fill out, I think.

A busy weekend ahead for me.  A wedding to attend and a wedding to perform.  Come to think of it, I'm actually performing at both weddings.  But the one, I'm a guest as well, which is fun.  It is extra special to play when you know the bride and groom.  Happy weekend.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weekend Wanderings

This weekend, in order to escape the 90 degree temperatures here at home, we headed to one of our favorite places: Monterey Bay.  It is always nice and cool at the coast and we had a fun time running on the beach and walking around the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I purposely packed my camera so that I could share our trip here.  But when I whipped it out, no memory card space and no battery.  Ugh.  My husband was able to snap a couple of pictures though, so here we go:

This is lupine growing on the dunes of Asilomar State Beach.  This is one of my favorite beaches.  The conference center was designed by Julia Morgan, one of my favorite architects.  A boardwalk leads you from the conference grounds through a dune system that is under restoration.  The dunes have been planted with native grasses and flowers like this lupine.  The path leads you to a lovely wide beach and when you hit the tides right, some amazing tide pools.  We didn't hit the tides right yesterday, but we still had fun scrambling on the rocks and running on the sand. 

Carmel has so many wonderful window box plantings.  This lovely box is outside the Cottage of Sweets.  We always stop here for our afternoon snack.  I didn't post a link to their website, because, quite frankly, the site is rather lame.  The chocolate and ambiance is not lame, however, and is a must when we visit.  Love the purples violas.

It is details like this heart shaped lock, that I love.  This is the front door to the restaurant Casanova, where we ate dinner.  I just read that this is considered one of Carmel's most romantic restaurants.  Hmm, we showed up with three kids and a dog. They accommodated us nicely then.  We had the garden terrace all to ourselves, dog included.  They even brought Daisy her own water dish.  The food was amazing, the setting beautiful and the service, friendly.  The only down side was I was too full to try dessert.  Just as well, the kids were getting antsy.  Next time...

Another lovely container.  Some heuchera and sedum, I think. The contrasts here make a stunning combo.

Finally, another charming courtyard.   This one has a rather dramatic pool and fountain surrounded by more gorgeous containers. If you click on the photo you can see Daniel amidst the flowers on the right.  How would you like to have lunch on this terrace?  Well, thanks for joining me for this weeks' Weekend Wanderings.  I hope you enjoyed your visit.  

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I'm hoping not to jinx myself here, but there appear to be normal sized tomatoes growing in "the Ugly"!

An actual Roma tomato, my friends!  Whoo Hoo!

SQUEEE!  Real sized fruits. Ok, so there are only six of them, but a girl has got to start somewhere.  Daniel and I also planted the pumpkin seeds he started a few weeks ago.  We should be getting some pumpkins around Christmas time, I think.  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Saturday Supper

All was not lost.  My whiffle ball sized cabbage was transformed into this:

This spaghetti with marinara topped with zucchini, cabbage, parsley and toasted  walnuts was our dinner Saturday night.  The cabbage was surprisingly tasty.  Given it's diminutive size, it was just enough for Tim and I to share.  The kids, were not interested in the green stuff, so that's where the marinara came in handy.  The addition of my little cabbage to dinner lifted my spirits a bit after last weeks' "harvest."  Now if only I could coax a few more things to grow!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Behold! The Bounty!

I am officially depressed.  Ok, not really, but pretty bummed out.  After diligently planting veggies last fall this is what I harvested.  

Clearly, I need to be an lilliputian farmer, because I can't seem to grow anything larger than a tennis ball. Sorry about my "man hand" photo, but I was trying to capture the tiny-ness of this produce.  Miniature cabbage, onions, broccoli, and peaches.  I'm not kidding, all my peaches (all 7 of them) are this size and the one I tasted was awful.  The onions, out of the 60 we planted, we got about 20.  The onions aren't so bad, I might be able to pass them off as "spring onions."  Don't get me started on this pathetic little broccoli.  The cabbage is another matter.  I still have one in the ground that may produce a head about the size of a whiffle ball.  Maybe I can make tiny cabbage soup with tiny onions.  Ugh, frustration! 
       I'm off now to wallow in gardening self pity for a few moments before I water my tomatoes and beans.  My neighbor dropped by the other day with some heirloom tomato seedlings.  I'm excited about these little plants, they have very exotic sounding names like:Black Plum and Cherokee Purple.  So, with great joy I will yank out my under performing broccoli and cabbage and try again with something new.   


Friday, June 18, 2010

Freecycle Friday

Happy Friday!  In my gardening adventures I have found that my local Freecycle group has come in very handy.  A project I have been itching to tackle has been a small water garden.  Years ago, we bought a nice blue  water pot with a bamboo fountain, plants and some goldfish.  It sat on our back patio, (when we had one), and I loved it.  Well, it didn't take long, oh, maybe 2 days, for the raccoons to find the fish in the pot.  Every night became a battle of wills to keep our little fish from becoming raccoon sushi.  The raccoons won that battle, ripping out the fountain to get the fish, it was quite a mess. My lovely pot sat idle in the corner of the Ugly for many moons, until this week!  A trip to the garden center to price water plants ($5 to $30) had me on Freecycle with requests for two water plants.  I didn't dare ask for water lilies, because they are the most expensive, I would have been delighted with water hyacinths and iris.  The first response was from a very nice woman with water lilies!  When I picked them up she had loads growing in her large pond.  They were healthier looking than the ones I had seen at the nursery. Huge green leaves and beautiful white and yellow flowers.  I took a smaller plant and can't wait for it to bloom.  The second response was for a water iris.  This sucker was over six feet tall when I went to pick it up.  The owner of this great plant suggested I cut it way back when I put it in the pot to stimulate root growth.

Here you can see the clipped iris and my new water lily.  They look a little stressed from the transplant process, but I'm hoping they will fill out in the next couple of weeks.  

Here is the water pot in my herb garden.  My herbs are growing like crazy.  It is the only thing I seem to be able to grow.  Next week I will go up to the local vector control office to pick up some mosquito fish.  The county gives away these fish to pond and pool owners to help keep the mosquito population down.  Hopefully, these fish will escape the raccoons.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cinder block planters

Last month I came across Rhoda's lovely blog Southern Hospitality.  I got very excited about her veggie gardening post,  The use of cinder blocks for climbing veggies was inspired and I quickly posted a request on Freecycle for cinder blocks.  My request was granted and within a few days I was able to construct my own cinder block trellis.

I planted Blue Lake beans on the left and some mystery sprouts on the right.  I say mystery because these sprouts were growing profusely in my compost pile and I thought I would put them here and see what happens.  They are either cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe or, most likely, a decorative gourd.  Which would be nice in the Fall if they make it.

Here is a close up of the blocks.  
This is why I love blog-land, all of the wonderfully creative ideas.  Thanks Rhoda!

Monday, June 14, 2010

And the winner is....Weekend Wanderings

My daughter, Sophia.came up with this little gem for my travel diaries.  Thanks to everyone for the many wonderful suggestions!  This weekend was a busy one for us.  Work sent me up to the beautiful Napa Valley on Saturday, so I dragged the "fam" with me and thought I would share some photos that Sophia and I took of our "Wanderings" around this lovely area.  Welcome to Cliff Lede Vinyards in Yountville, California.

A picturesque setting for a wedding ceremony, don't you think?  The only down side was 97 degree temps and gusty winds that toppled the flower urns.  During the ceremony the resident vineyard cat decided to make an appearance and walk directly in front of the bride and groom during their vows. He had an audience and he knew it, it was very funny.

I loved these rose covered arches, They led to a very nice patio area with fountains and sculpture.  The reception was set up there.

Some beautiful flowers in the garden.

Baby grapes.  I forgot to see what varietal this is.

More vineyards.....

I love the palette of pinks and purples in this window box.. We ate dinner at this charming restaurant, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, just a few minutes north of the winery. A one hundred year old fig tree was growing in the courtyard.  I didn't want to disturb the guests eating at the table in front of the tree to take a picture of it.  But I was all excited to see it since I have my little figlet trees growing in the Ugly.  There is hope for my little trees!  Our waiter said that their fig tree produces 2 to 3 crops a season and they use the fruit in their dishes.  

I hope you enjoyed our little jaunt into the Napa Valley.  Cheers!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


When I found out that my sister may be coming for a visit, I thought I should try to dress up the back porch a bit.  This is difficult because we are in the process of putting in a patio. I use the term "process" very loosely. As this project started over a year ago and has resulted in an area that  is partially marked and dug out.  Basically a big pit of mud in the winter and weeds in the summer.  But I digress, I decided a couple of containers would spruce up the porch a bit and I am quite happy with the results.  Take a look ..

The large pot contains: Dwarf Lily of the Nile, Gazania, Calibrachoa, Marigold and Parsley.  The smaller pots have Marigold and Sweet Alyssum. I actually don't care for Sweet Alyssum.  I find the smell rather off-putting and ugly once they grow out, but they are inexpensive and relatively hardy.  I am happy with the finished pot, lots of bloom with little effort.  Instant gratification, that's what I love about containers.

Here are two of my Freecycle Finds for the week:

This is one of two fig tree saplings I was able to pick up.  I am super excited about them.  I had asked for a fig tree for my birthday, but no one seems to take seriously my requests for plants and trees.  Anyway, when two trees were offered this week, I was quick to snatch them up.  The only down side is that I may be 100 years old before I have any fruit  Here is the other.. 

Hope you enjoyed my containers, they were super fun to put together.  

Friday, June 4, 2010

Help me name my post!

Being a musician, 99% of my work schedule is nights and weekends.  So, our family has become very good at the day trip.  We are fortunate to live within driving distance to many beautiful places here in Northern California.  The coast being our favorite.  I thought it might be fun to include occasional posts about some of our outdoor adventures.  These outings always inspire me; the amazing plants, rock formations and animals not only help to foster an interest in the flora and fauna of our area, but also (and more importantly) give us precious time together as a family.  That said, I'm having trouble coming up with an appropriate title for these posts. With that, I'm calling on you for some ideas.  Just leave a comment with your amazing title suggestion-thanks!

Now for some pictures from the "yet to be named" travel thread:  Last Sunday we hopped in the car and headed to Point Reyes National Seashore.  We stopped in the small town of Point Reyes Station (population 350) for a lunch break and to grab a map of the artist open studio event that was taking place. With 3 antsy kids and a puppy in the car we were only able to stop by and visit one artist Tom Killion.  He does beautiful woodcut prints of the California landscape.  The kids were able to make their own print and he signed it for them.  Pretty fun.  Here is a picture of the beautiful view of Tomales Bay from his studio.

Our next stop was the beach.  We had originally planned to visit the North Beach but my usually excellent navigations skills failed me and we instead ended up at Kehoe Beach.  Which was fine, both beaches allowed dogs .  The thing I didn't expect was the 1/2 mile hike from the road out to the beach.  I knew there was a little walk, but it was definitely longer than I had expected.  Here we are on the trail.

We must be getting closer, we can see the ocean now!

And, we finally make it.  The view is totally worth the hike in.

I loved this rock out cropping. The wildflowers clinging to it were so lovely.

Sophia flying her kite with the beautiful bluffs in the distance

More kite flying, This time I'm at the helm.  Daniel and Eva are my co-pilots

Ever wonder where Clover milk comes from?  Well, these are the Clover Ladies.  Pretty nice beach front digs, eh?

Well, thanks for allowing me to share our trip to Point Reyes.  I can't wait to read your title suggestions.  Next post will have picture of some pots that I planted yesterday. My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks so I'm trying to slap some lipstick on The Ugly....