Sneak Peek Garden Visit: an inspiring front yard harvest in northern California

Kerry's Spring HarvestWhile my dear friend Kerry was away on vacation, I looked after her beautiful garden and in return, I enjoyed a springtime harvest of fresh broccoli, fava beans, lacinato kale, peas and cauliflower. Honestly, I think I have the better end of this deal: delicious homegrown organic vegetables in exchange for a wee bit of work (watching for aphids). Sign. Me. Up. This is pure bliss!

Kerry's Pea BlossomsAren’t these delicate pea blossoms lovely?

Kerry's Peas 3

Here in northern California, mild winters make it possible to grow a host of edibles all year round. In addition to growing a wide range of vegetables in her front yard, Kerry and her husband Fred also grow strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, Meyer lemons, apricots, pluots, peaches, passion fruit, figs and several varieties of apples – all in their small, but sunny Palo Alto backyard.

Kerry's Moorpark Apricot Tree

These developing Moorpark Apricots will be ready to harvest in June. 

While Kerry and I are both advocates of growing food rather than lawns, she is far more experienced and successful. Ever since we first met (via a plant ad on Craigslist!), I’ve admired her and her beautiful garden, and every time I visit, I learn something new.

Kerry's BroccoliWhen the weather turns warmer, Kerry will replace the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage with sweet corn and Australian blue pumpkins – all grown from seed.

Kerry's cauliflowerKerry grows the bulk of her vegetables in beautiful raised beds of staggered heights that she designed to complement their Mediterranean style home. The automatic drip irrigation system (that she installed herself) conserves water and prevents weed growth.

Kerry & Fred's Front Yard 1

Following the wise advice of edible landscape guru Rosalind Creasy, Kerry layers her vegetables between a host of colorful ornamentals. Much to my delight, there isn’t a single blade of grass in Kerry’s front yard. Rather than complain, Kerry’s neighbors describe her has an “inspiration.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 3

 Kale, peas and fava beans grow behind colorful drifts of nasturtiums and …

Kerry's poppies

self-sowing California poppies.

Kerry's Fava Beans

Fava beans (Vicia faba), my favorite spring time vegetable, planted with fragrant freesias.

Kerry & Fred's front yard 2

When grown in front of a porch, Fava beans provide privacy as well as food. In the foreground, Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) display new spring growth; by summer they’ll measure three feet tall and wide and will be covered in purple flowers.

Kerry's Favas with ant

- Fava bean blossoms -

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and would like to see more of Kerry and Fred’s inspiring Palo Alto garden (as well as other local gardens), learn more about growing your own food and get great ideas for your own garden, I encourage you to register for and attend Common Ground’s upcoming 8th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour to be held on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Tickets are $35 per person and all funds raised benefit the Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto, California. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Kerry's KaleLacinato kale harvested from Kerry’s front yard was put to use in my favorite winter “rainbow” salad and added as a garnish to homemade chicken soup. De-lish!

Winter Rainbow Raw Kale Salad

Combine chopped lacinato kale, the juice of one Meyer lemon (or one orange), a splash of Meyer lemon infused olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a large bowl and toss well. Massage the kale and let marinate at room temperature one hour before serving. Add thinly sliced red cabbage, peeled segments of pink grapefruit (or oranges), sunflower seeds as well as roasted, peeled and quartered beets. Thinly sliced red onion is also a good in this salad. Rainbow swiss chard can be substituted for kale, but won’t need to be massaged. Enjoy!

celebrating new beginnings

Kerry's Apple BlossomsI’ve so much to share, but don’t know where to begin … so I’ll start by being thankful. Thank goodness, Spring has arrived! The trees outside our apartment are all sporting new leaves and in the garden of my dear friend Kerry, the apple trees are all in bloom. Isn’t it a lovely sight?

I’ve been absent for the past several months, but I’m back with happy news. After an exhaustive search which included four round-trip flights, 20 nights spent in hotels, two realtors and multiple visits to over 39 properties, we finally found a house to call home!

a very, very, very fine house 1Built in 1925 on a teeny tiny corner lot in Evanston, Illinois, not far from the scenic shores of Lake Michigan, our solid little brick Colonial is located within walking distance of our beloved Central Street library, train station, shops (The Spice House, Foodstuffs, Old Town Oil, Hartigan’s Ice Cream, Montoya Fiber Studio & Millefiori Florists) and restaurants (Symphony’s Cafe, Prairie Joe’s and Leonidas Chocolate Café).

With it’s eclectic mix of independent, locally-owned businesses, pedestrian and bicycle friendly atmosphere, excellent public transportation and proximity to both the lake and Northwestern University, it’s no wonder Evanston’s Central Street district was designated one of the ten best neighborhoods in the country by the American Planning Association in 2013.

a very, very, very fine house 3

And just look at that snow! Isn’t it beautiful? We were treated to freshly fallen snow nearly every day of our last 12-day house-hunting trip, allowing us to wake up each morning to a winter wonderland.

Truth be told, we seriously considered buying a four-bed/two-and-a-half bath property with forced air heat and an enormous yard (perfect for a big vegetable garden and backyard hens), but besides being much more expensive (double in price!), the house itself was a absolute money pit … and neither one of us wanted to go through that again!

We need a rest.

So instead, we purchased this move-in-ready little gem with three bedrooms, just one full bathroom and the cutest little powder room you’ve ever seen. Besides being cozy, clean and well cared for, our new nest has several hard-to-find, but crucial items from our wish list: wonderfully steady, silent hot water radiant heat (cast iron radiators with a brand new boiler) paired with state-of-the-art SpacePac central air conditioning, and …

a very, very, very fine house 2… abundant natural light in every room. (sigh)

Thanks to a good compromise, I can just picture our cats perched on the radiator cover, looking out the window next winter!

* Interior and exterior home images courtesy of VHT Studios.

Field Trip: Año Nuevo Elephant Seals

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal Bull Silhouette 1

With our move looming in the not too distant future, we’re spending every possible moment soaking up the natural, unspoiled beauty of northern California, but choosing a destination isn’t always easy. As the days and weeks fly by, we’re torn between spending time at our favorite destinations and seeking out those that are still on our list of places to see. For our fourteenth anniversary, we did a little of both – we headed to our favorite stretch of coast, but made a point of finally visiting the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal Census 12-17-13Our timing was perfect! Año Nuevo has one of the largest breeding colonies of northern elephant seals in the world, and our visit coincided with the start of breeding season. As our docent explained, winter is sort of like an elephant seal family reunion. From December to March, adult males return from deep waters near the Aleutian Islands to battle one another for the right to mate while pregnant females return from the open ocean near Hawaii to give birth.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals 4This adult alpha male – easily identified by the pink scarred skin on his neck, shoulders and chest (called a ‘chest shield’) and prominent trunk-like proboscis – grunted to let the other, much younger males know who was boss of this stretch of beach.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals practice fightingOnce the alpha male settled down for a nap, two beta males began ‘practice fighting’.

Ano Nueve Elephant Seal hauling out 2

Further along on our walk, we observed more adult males ‘hauling out’ onto the beach, listened to their shockingly loud vocalizations and watched in amazement as younger males scattered to get out of the way.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals 6 Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals 7 Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals 8 Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals 9Male elephant seals stay on the beach for up to three months during breeding season, fasting and conserving their energy for the arrival of the ladies. Fasting is part of the elephant seal life cycle. After giving birth, females will stay on shore nursing their pups for about one month – all while fasting – then mate with an alpha male before returning to the ocean to feed and gestate. The pups stay behind for an additional four to six weeks, learning to swim and dive on their own, before they too leave for the open ocean.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal bull making noise

Each stretch of beach is controlled by an alpha male who establishes dominance by snorting, grunting, staring down and fighting other adult males. This big bull let out a loud bellow and then settled down for a nap, whereupon another large male popped up out of nowhere and really caught our attention!

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal bullsThis big guy was barely 25 feet away when he popped up from behind a knoll …

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal Bull up close

and gave us the surprise of our lives! As soon as everyone (docents included) recovered, we all slowly backed away. It was incredible! Check out his whiskers and teeth!

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal Bull Silhouette 2Did you know that the vocalizations of northern elephant seals were recorded to create the sound of the Orcs in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy? Without any alterations!

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal from a distanceOn our walk back, our excellent volunteer docents pointed out one last group of male elephant seals hauling out onto a stretch of beach in the far off distance. If you look closely in the image above, you’ll see a huge male riding a wave into shore (just left of center, tail & nose both up).

Click here and here to learn more about northern elephant seals.

Ano Nuevo Bald Eagle 3As if our visit wasn’t special enough, we even spotted a bald eagle (being harassed by a flock of seagulls) and two sea otters; I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect anniversary!

If you’d like to attend the elephant seal “family reunion” at Año Nuevo State Park, please keep in mind that during breeding season, from December – March, daily access is limited to docent-guided tours only. Click here to make your reservations. You won’t regret it! You’ll also need to pay $10 per car to park, but don’t fret – this parking pass allows you access to all state parks and beaches on the same day.

After visiting the elephant seals at Año Nuevo, we drove 20 miles south along the coast to Natural Bridges State Beach - home each winter to some 100,000 migratory monarch butterflies.

Natural Bridges monarch butterfly clustersMonarch butterflies from all across the western United States seek shelter from the cold in this small grove of eucalyptus trees. Here they’ll roost from November to February, hanging in clusters to avoid being dislodged by wind and rain. They almost look like clumps of leaves, until suddenly, the light shifts. As the air temperature rises above 55 degrees, the butterflies take flight, floating gracefully through the air in search of nectar and dew.

Natural Bridges monarch butterflies 1It’s truly a sight to behold!

If you love monarch butterflies as much as I do and you own a piece of land in their migratory pathway, please consider planting some milkweed. As soon as we’re settled, I plan to and hope you will too! In the meantime, I can’t wait to revisit the elephant seals and butterflies again, before we’ve all moved on.

Friday Flora Fauna & Fresh Air – 2013 Final Edition

Ano Nuevo perfect wave 1

My husband and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary last week and to mark the occasion we spent a few days on the coast. I’ll be writing more about our trip in the days to come, but in the meantime, here are a few of my favorite images.

Ano Nuevo Elephant Seal alpha male 1

- elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Beach -

Monarchs at Natural Bridges State Beach 1- monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges State Beach -