Sunday, February 02, 2014

Sunlight through ferns

The patterns of the ferns, the sunlight, and the dark undergrowth caught my eye.

ALISON TOON: Ferns &emdash; Sunlight through ferns

For more, see

Magnolias in monochrome

The magnolias against a blue, blue January sky make for some beautiful monochrome images.

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

For more, see

Magnolias in January

It was the last day of January, and on the street outside the Botanical Gardens in San Francisco's Golden Gate park, a small magnolia was in full bloom.

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

We went inside. And there were more.

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

And more.

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

Some still in bud, ready to prolong the show into February.

ALISON TOON: Magnolias &emdash; Magnolia in bloom

And the rhododendrons are preparing their show too, with a few early blooms but most with small flower buds, swelling.

See the full collection of magnolia pictures from this visit:

And more about the collection at San Francisco's botanical garden.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'm a lazy gardener

It's true. I'm a very lazy gardener.

The arthritic legacy of a long-ago motorbike accident, and many years in the dojo, plus Sacramento's impervious clay soil, mean that I'm forever looking for ways to cheat the shovel. I've planted daffodils far-too-shallow, and covered-up with a pile of windfall leaves. I've scattered crocus corms under the liquidamber and kicked them, too, under the latest leaf-fall. I've put a blanket mulch brown corrugated cardboard all over the week-filled vegetable patch, and spread several bales of straw over it for the winter (no winter crops this year, as I was too lazy to dig out all the summer weeds which flourished because last winter, I had a broken kneecap, and couldn't dig even if I wanted to). That should make the soil very ready for next spring and summer's crops. But I will miss the broad (fava) beans. Hope they have them at the farmer's market.

I'm a lazy garden blogger too... Haven't written much here for ages, though I do post garden pics on Facebook and also on

(Another excuse is that I spend most of my spare time over on the other blog, Check it out if you have time.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Happy as a pig in... anywhere?

They always look happy. They are always smiling. Even when they are asleep. Even when they are snoring. (All except for one noisy guy, right at the back, squealing away. No apparent reason. Just being pig-noisy.)

More animals and California State Fair pictures here:

Two sheeps are better than one... or is that heads? And the wolves need a new sheep outfit!

Sheep's clothing is now a fashion statement, and Mr. Wolf had better take note:

At the California State Fair.

Last year, the groomed sheep work burkhas. This year: all the colours under the sun. And don't they look cute!

More animals and California State Fair pictures here:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Midsummer heat and squirrel thieves

I'm finding it really hard to work in the garden in the summer heat. The weeds are rampant, and that's partly because I couldn't prepare the soil properly late last year, and partly because I haven't been as vigilant as I should have been. The squash are, of course, completely entangled, and as there are some unique heirloom varieties in there, with confusing shapes, it's hard to guess which are summer and which are "exotic" winter squash.

The tomatoes have broken some of their stakes, but they don't care, they love to ramble. However the "Caribbean cucumber" is now dancing with at least one tomato plant, and the various, unlabelled peppers are going to be a challenge. Are they ok for salad, or need an asbestos suit?

(Who was the idiot who bought one sweet yellow banana pepper plant, and one hot yellow banana pepper plant, and "forgot" to label them?  Oooops.)

I have to do midnight weeding and deadheading. And this autumn, the vegetable garden will be treated to blanket compost mulch. Like two years ago. Like should-have-happened last November.

The turkey family came and played on the deck today, and had fun in the leaf-mulch under the oak tree.

All walnuts have disappeared, POOF!!!, like magic. One day the tree was laden. The next, barren, with just a few empty green husks on the ground. Like magic, the squirrels are absent too. I think they are laying in their dreys, on their backs, rubbing their poor swollen tummies, and promising not to do it again next year. "Never again!"

I'll believe that when I see it.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Orange dragonflies and a Canon 100-400 zoom lens

I rented a lens for the next few days: a Canon 100-400, f 4.5-5.6 L IS from BorrowLenses (really good system: you choose the lens and the length of time you want to rent it, and they either ship it to you or if you're lucky, like we are, they ship it to a local camera shop and you can pick it up and return it there). I have used this lens before, but forgot just how heavy it is... and it's really not going to be right for what I wanted to do tomorrow but it will be fun over the weekend. (If you want to know more about BorrowLenses, nip over to Toon's Tunes, my other blog, and click the ad that your'll find there.)

So I played around with the lens, first indoors, then out. I couldn't get M (manual) + auto-ISO to work. But I did succeed with T (time) + auto-ISO. Wandered around snapping a few flowers, enjoying the lens' bokeh. I love the effect that you can get with long lenses.

And then... dragonflies! The vegetable garden was the place to be!

I really like this lens. The clarity is excellent, even when cropped and exported as low-res images. I need to work out more or something though, because it is heavy, and it's definitely not one for dangling on camera from a two-camera harness. You'll fall over sideways.

More pictures on Flickr:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In search of sunflowers

On of the things I find (annoying? challenging? tricky???) is being able to find somewhere to stop and take photos when driving around Northern California. Often, there's nowhere to stop--especially when you see something from the freeway, or you're on a narrow Delta road with deep ditches on either side. Even some of the designated "scenic routes" are no-stopping-zones! It takes some patience, time, maps and/or GPS, and then bravado (walking onto someone's field), and even-then there are people who hoot because they have to drive past a parked truck and nearly hit an oncoming cyclist on a quiet back-road running parallel to the freeway... (maybe he hadn't had his morning coffee yet, it was after all before 9 a.m.) (Moron.)

So when Sacramento Bee published a photo last week, with an indication of where it had been taken (Mace Rd, Davis, south), I just had to go and find them, knowing that if the Bee could get a photo then so could I. And I woke up early-enough on this heatwave Saturday to drive over there before it was too hot, and before the sun bleached all the colours.

Though I think monochrome sunflowers are wonderfully intense.

Driving around the "county roads" (they don't have names, just numbers... "County Road 65",  "County Road 105"), listening to Beware of Darkness and Marillion,  finding out that some roads end in the middle-of-nowhere (unless you're a farmer, and then it's the middle-of-somewhere); saw many hawks on telegraph poles, squirrels who live in burrows and not trees (there were no trees within sight, but lots of squirrels who disappeared down a giant burrow, fluffy tails like flags behind them), acres of sunflowers and pepper-plants, acres of solar panels, a traffic jam of farm labourers behind a pickup truck carrying two porta-potties; Davis joggers and runners and cyclists; and lots and lots of wide, open, space.

And sunflowers. Huge sunflowers, huge fields. The photos make them look tiny as daisies; they were taller than me, by far.

And, wonderful to see: rows and rows of beehives, in the margins of the fields. And active, busy bees, feeding on the drooping heavy flowerheads, and buzzing around the entrances to the hives.

More photos from the sunflower drive:

I still have to find the perfect spot to shoot the full moon rising over downtown Sacramento. Well to be precise: the perfect spot to safely shoot the full moon. The perfect spot is in the middle of the Yolo Causeway. Given that it's an interstate freeway, it's a little less than perfect.

A gluten-free-vegetarian's swag bag

Early-morning stop at the Yolo Fruit Stand, just off I-80 between Davis and Sacramento. Picked out a load of gluten-free, vegetarian, natural, local goodies: several types of dried beans, carrot chips, dried cherries, a bulb of fresh fennel, a punnet of fresh strawberries, a bag of sweet small peppers, and two jars of honey. One from bees that had been among the blackberry flowers, and one from those enjoying clover.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Sacramento bloggers!

Had a very nice time yesterday evening, meeting other local (Sacramento) bloggers: this is the group, Sacramento Bloggers (logical really!), in a new downtown hangout, Church Key at Hock Farm. It's a courtyard bar, shaded by the surrounding buildings, just across the street from the state Capitol. (You can find Church Key on Facebook, too.) They are growing hops on the patio, up tall wires, to make a canopy (and I bet by the end of the summer, it will be a heavy, rich-scented canopy).

Made me think of England, and the masses of hops that grew in and over and along the hedgerows at the bottom of High Street in Syston, Leicestershire, when I was a child. And how wonderfully strange they smelled when you rubbed the green flowers between your fingers.

And the bloggers: so many good blogs and so many interesting, and diverse, topics! Check out the list here on the Sacramento Bloggers Blogroll (which is growing all the time).

I really like Cinamon's No Hurry to Get Home (we seem to have similar travel philosophies), Margaret's Nanny Goats in Panties (heck, who can resist a blog with that name), Susi's FiftyTwoChanges (great philosophy--we should all try this!), and Jennifer's The Queen of Dating (heck, people meeting in real life and not on a website? Well that's unique ;-)  Ha.) But these are just a very few of the great blogs in this region--go and see!

Now I need to write more, and more often.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Third day of rain, here in Northern California. Rain is unusual in June; but the garden is really enjoying it. We'll be back to scorching by the weekend, so this is a good respite for the flowers and the vegetable garden.

Birds are swooping low, catching bugs in mid-flight. I hope they snack on the snails, too.

Dahlias are starting to flower. Just found one, already bowed-down by the weight of its single flower. That one will be in a vase by this evening.

Onions make pretty flowers too... but I don't think it should have flowered before making a nice onion...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Strange summer

Reminds me of the Tourists, "Strange Sky".

Today, it's the end of June, and it's overcast, muggy, damp. In Sacramento. Northern California. Where most often, you don't see a raindrop, or even a cloud, from late April until the very end of October.

There are still oranges clinging to the tree, the white turkey has two sizes of chicks (how did she do that?), and it rained yesterday.

What's going on out there???

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wonderful sight: a swarm of bees

They are resting in a liquidambar tree in the front garden, after swarming around the Japanese-zen-like corner of the back garden. The tree hangs over the fence by the drive way. They may have moved on by tomorrow, but it's a heartening sight to see. We need our bees! Happy there are lots of flowers open for them today; many daylilies, roses, lilies in bloom--and squashes too. Food for hungry bees!

Saturday, June 01, 2013


Hollyhocks are such a traditional, English-cottage-garden flower. And they are well worth the two years' patience. They tower to over ten feet tall. I have some in both side gardens, and these wonderful, almost-black ones by the deck near the pool.

Their buds remind me of Iced Gems; tiny unsweet biscuits (cookies), each of which had a different colour swirl of hard sweet icing on the top.

They are very easy to grow. Just throw a packet of seeds out, and wait a couple of years for the show. After that, if you don't disturb them, they'll self-seed and come back year-after-two-years. (Should be flowers every year, it's just each new plant that takes two years to flower.)

A few more here in the garden photo set:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day weekend. It's more than a holiday.

The first year I lived in the USA, in California, the first Memorial Day holiday, I went to the ceremony at Mount Vernon Memorial Park, a cemetery in Citrus Heights. While in England, fallen and wounded soldiers are remembered and honoured in November, "Poppy Day", with the flowers that represent the fields of Flanders where so many lost their lives, in the USA it is the last Monday of May.

The most moving part of that ceremony was witnessing a group of men, older than myself but not by much, leather-clad bikers, Vietnam veterans, who arrived and left on their Harleys and whose participation in the memorial ceremony moved me to tears. It brought home--if it was needed--that wars are fought by real men, real women, real human beings. Not numbers--though the number of lives lost, and damaged, are horrendous. After all the years that had passed, these tough leathery men were shedding tears for their lost colleagues, friends and comrades.

And while enjoying the festivities at this year's Sacramento Music Festival, again and again I noticed the veterans. Some bikers, some not. One gentleman with not one but three Purple Hearts on his hat, witnessing his bravery and his war wounds.

This gentleman reminded me that the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall was at the Mount Vernon Memorial Park this weekend. I went there on the way home. It had me in tears.

No matter how inane you consider any war; no matter how stupid you find the justification for fighting; no matter how little you agree with the leaders who declare; no matter how fervently you believe and want and strive for that elusive existance, "peace"; how can you fail to be moved by the sight of nearly sixty thousand names, each one an American soldier lost to the conflict in Vietnam.

Each name, one person. Somebody's son (or daughter). Somebody's husband, friend, lover, brother, soul-mate, father. Gone. All gone. But not forgotten.

"He joined up when he was fourteen, lied about his age.  He was fifteen when he died."

Snippets of conversation, as people sought the names of loved ones, of family members. Rubbed pencil over paper to make and save an image of the name; one of 58,227, embossed in a 3/4 size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that stands in Washington, DC.

(And yes, of course, there was loss on the "other side" too. And they all had families and loved ones and lives that were forever changed. War leaves no-one undamaged. This is not a statement about right, or might, and wrong. Remember too... for the most part, Vietnam was not a volunteer war. Young men were conscripted. There was no choice.)

And so this Memorial Day weekend, I think of all the men and women who have given their time, their youth, their courage, their health and often their lives, by serving the people of their country through military service. They all fought for what we believe in: freedom.

Thank you, Veterans.

A few more photos: 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

It takes two years...

... to knock a garden into shape. By that I mean two years of hard work, and you have a garden (English garden, which equals everything on the property outside the house, rather than the American "garden-being-a-vegetable-patch-only.) I don't mean that the hard work is over, and it's all finished; the work has only just begun. Rather, the framework is there, it's more-or-less under control; you know the problem areas, you've seen two full-year cycles of seasons and weathers and rain/heat/drought, you've planted some perennials and they are growing into their space, some annuals have self-seeded, the first lilies have already multiplied, and people other than yourself-the-gardener can actually visualise what it might eventually look like.

Two years ago, there were no flowers in this garden, except for the privet trees that were standing dumbly around the swimming-pool fence, and the wild blue flax that showed its pretty face down by the creek. Now there are roses and daylillies, there are a few footpaths, I have a vegetable garden and herb garden, lavendar and daffodils and two pomegranate trees which each have more than one flower.

So I can have a cup of tea, surrounded by lipstick salvia, before the next round of weeding.

Pictures shortly!

Roots and blooms!

You'll start to see more postings here, on this blog, again. It's going to be used for my gardening stories, life stories, things that are not music and event reviews (those you'll find on my other blog, over here).