I am a lover of horticulture, gardening and the environment. At age 8, I sent away for a package of Zinnia seeds for 10 cents and I've been hooked ever since. After 25 years of being self-employed, I retired. That only lasted 4 years and I now work in a water conservation program: I buy grass from homeowners who are willing to convert to desert landscaping and lose that thirsty green stuff. I pursue what interests me and you can blame my sister for getting me into this blogging thing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Chaste tree and other wonderful flowers in my yard

Here it is, barely the crack of dawn and
I've been meandering around my yard appreciating all the beautiful flowers. I have a wonderful bush/tree growing in my back yard. It's planted so you can see it from our breakfast table on the far side of the pool. It's in its full glory right now. I only planted it 2 springs ago, it was a distressed specimen I got from the nursery for $12. I trimmed off all the dead parts and planted it, now it probably reaches 10 feet tall. It's called a chaste tree, (Vitex agnus-castus). The story goes that the peppercorn seeds it produces were used to keep monk's chaste. So this morning as a passing thought, I was curious and looked it up on Google. It has a Mediterranean origin. This amazing plant was mentioned far back by ancient Greeks and many other cultures. The web site I found mentions the name in 32 languages, from Albanian to Turkish. It was used as a weak pepper substitute though not much in demand nowadays. Anyway, I just wanted to share my beautiful plant with you.

This amazing flower is from the passion vine. I saw one at a Master Gardener friend's house a few years back and really liked it. Some plants need to be right in your face so you can appreciate their complexity. So I planted one right by my front door on a trellis I built of redwood.

I found this plant, an angel wing primrose, on a plant salvage about 10 years ago. The BLM or Bureau of Land Management allows you to harvest plants on land that will be developed for public purposes, like a new road being built. We were new to Nevada and decided this would be an interesting thing to do. At the time, we knew very little about desert plants. This was a little rosette in the ground. I thought it was cute. I had no idea that it was a fragrant, night blooming plant. My original thought was if it was invasive, I could kill it. Of course, this isn't the original, but one of it's many offspring. They volunteer around the yard, something I love.

One more little gem is called Mexican Hat, I took a seed head from a garden I visited. I promised to give it a good home. My garden is never static, it should always be changing and renewing itself, that's what I love about gardens.
Last but not least is the Red Bird of Paradise. As you can imagine, this is a popular plant. These are the first blossoms of the year in my yard.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Thanks to our Veterans

I've been watching the specials on Memorial Day and they are pretty moving. We often overlook and take for granted the freedoms that we have. Thanks to the men and women who sacrificed for us, we enjoy an unprecedented lifestyle. We worship as we choose, work at jobs that are our choice and live anywhere we like. These freedoms are protected by those men and women that we honor today.

National Geographic did a special on Arlington National cemetery yesterday. I was privileged to visit there 5 years ago. What history is written on those gravestones! So many people sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom. Few led extraordinary lives, most were citizen soldiers. What made them extraordinary was their willingness to go when their country called and the valor they showed in performing their duty. Visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier brings awe to those who watch the changing of the guard. Everyone is silent as the honor guard performs it's impressive routine.

It seems as if every generation has had to send our military forces somewhere to protect freedom. I am opposed to the war in Iraq but I honor those brave men and women who serve there. History will tell us if fighting there was the right thing to do. My 87 year old aunt supports the president. The love of her life was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. She knows what sacrifice is. My heart cries whenever there is an obituary for a young man who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. They fight because their country asked them to. None want to die, but many do. I want it to be over in the middle east so no more Americans die. But we have to ask ourselves if this enemy is any less guilty of crimes against humanity than the Nazis. We all feel ambivalence, for or against our involvement in this war. But for the armed forces of the United States of America, we honor those who are serving and sacrificing yesterday and today.

I want to personally thank those veterans in my family who have served this country. My husband, Navy and Coast Guard. My oldest son, National Guard. My middle son, Navy. My youngest son, Army. My brother-in-law, Navy. My nephew, Navy. All are just regular guys who served this great country.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Goodbye old friend

You know how there are people who come into your life who are special. This week, one of those people in my life, passed away. She was an educator, a friend, a mentor and an amazing woman. Her name was Aggie Roberts. I met her 10 years ago when I became a Nevada Master Gardener. Aggie was one of the educators who helped teach our classes. She was an expert horticulturist, her specialty was houseplants and just about every thing else that grows in Las Vegas. I went to her memorial service yesterday and wasn't surprised so many people loved and admired her. It was wonderful to meet her children and grandchildren, many of whom resembled her. There was a grade school named after her. That's where the memorial was held. Some of Aggie's grandchildren attend that school. She was a presence at her namesake school who always came to special functions. She read to the children during Reading Week, not just for an hour but for a whole day. She planned an Arbor Day celebration every year. Kids were her concern. I helped Aggie a number of times at various schools and libraries around town when she worked with school kids. She taught them how to grow plants and to take care of them. Aggie was tireless when it came to making herself available when someone needed help. I took this picture of Aggie last fall at The Day with the Experts. We have a Garden at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve and one of the highlights of the year is this particular day. Thousands of people in the community come to hear the lectures, visit garden booths, and have their questions answered. It's a big deal around here. People especially wanted to talk to Aggie, she wrote a gardening column and was very well known. Since I got my job with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, I've said I wanted to be the Aggie Roberts of the Water Authority. That has to be the highest compliment you can give a person is to emulate them. She never wanted to retire and worked until a short time before her passing. We never knew how old she was, she kept us guessing until this week. She was 87 years old and she left an indelible mark on Las Vegas. I will miss her and I know many others will too.

Monday, May 15, 2006

New Car Shopping

We decided it was time for a new vehicle, the old truck is 11 years old and has only 82,000 miles on it. It's starting to need some repairs and we don't think it's worth putting a couple thousand into something that's only worth that much. Some young guy who can fix it himself will have a great work vehicle. I always felt it was hard to garden if you didn't have some way to haul stuff. But time has taken it's toll on the old truck. Vanity about transportation is not a part of our decision even though the truck looks pretty bad with its dents, dings, and scratches. The clear coat is degrading and makes the old black finish look even worse. Right now, it only gets driven a hundred miles a week, so even the high cost of gas isn't part of this decision. This is my husband's vehicle, you need to know that he doesn't take very good car of his truck. It seldom gets washed or vacuumed. When he was cleaning it out in preparation for selling it, I commented that I didn't know the temperature in Hades had gotten below 32 degrees. John got a big grin on his face, our running joke is the truck gets washed twice a year whether it needs it or not. As with all good things, they get used up and worn out. It's been a very good vehicle but its time to move on.
So we began our dance with the car salesmen. Some are really nice and some are really pushy. When we were younger, we once got trapped in an office and they didn't let us go until we bought a truck. That will never happen again. I make it very clear, up front, that we are only looking and test driving to see what is available and what we might like to buy. Our thinking is we should get something practical, good gas mileage, something to use to shop for groceries and to take the dogs to the dog park. Their hair sure makes a mess in my van. They are cream color so we want something with light the dog hair doesn't show . The truck is a Dodge so we went over and looked at the small Dodge wagon, called a Caliber. It was OK but not as peppy as we expected. The Dodge store is close to our house which makes service easier. My work car is a Pontiac Vibe made by Toyota in Fremont, California. The Matrix is its twin and that's one of our options. It's been pretty economical, I've driven it 30,000 miles in a year. I'm doing some highway and some city driving. I actually get between 25 and 30 miles to the gallon. It's done pretty well. The back end is covered with a rubber mat, the seats fold flat and it would work for us. But I want the side airbags and that is a $600 option if you can find one with airbags. Holy cow, I might take my grandchildren in this car and I want it to be as safe as possible.
The other day, I saw something new in the parking lot at work, it was a Honda Fit. I guess they've been selling them in Europe and Japan for years and just started importing them to the US. It's kind of ugly but the floor folds flat and it has a lot of cargo room. I haven't driven one yet but maybe today. It does have the side airbags as standard equipment.

The next stop is the Mazda dealer. The Mazda 3 looks nice on the Internet but you have to drive a car to see if it fits the bill. I've been haunting to see what the various cars are equipted with, what colors they are and the various safety options and gas mileage.

So we're off to do some car shopping. Any comments or recommendations are welcome. It's been over 5 years since we bought a car. We tend to keep them a long time if they are reliable. Any personal experience with this type of vehicle would be helpful. Wish us luck.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

My beautiful garden

You can probably tell that I LOVE spring.

The earth is renewing itself. I went home for lunch today and noticed one of my bird of paradise plants outdoing itself. I wanted to share my pictures with my blog friends.
This one is the yellow bird sometimes called Mexican bird of paradise. This is a particularly nice specimen.

The pink flower is called a penstemmon and it is a native plant. The purple shrub behind it is called desert sage. I am the envy of all my Master Gardener friends because of that plant. Off to the right is gopher weed, I don't know if it keeps gophers out, we don't have any so maybe it does work.

The last picture shows the native beavertail cactus blooming. The magenta flowers are a show stopper. Off to the right of the cactus is dogweed. I have no idea why it's called that but it blooms prolifically for about 9 months, it dies, you pull out the plants and next spring there are hundreds of little dogweeds. Some people call it invasive but I love it. Anything pretty that wants to volunteer in my yard is welcome!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Beautiful Gardens

In Las Vegas, they have an annual landscape contest. I was privileged to be asked to be one of the judges. It was very interesting to see how differently people perceive their space. We went to homes, commercial property, a church and public spaces. Beauty is so subjective. I know what I like but our differences are what make life fascinating. I can appreciate other peoples ideas. The end result is that the community becomes more interesting and creates a better quality of life. The bottom line is saving water. We are using less water with more people due to conservation efforts. A common misconception is most of the water is used by hotels and visitors, not true. Most water is used by homes. Water used inside is recycled and we return purified water to Lake Mead and the Colorado River. This is important because we can take out a gallon for every gallon that is returned. The biggest water use is for landscapes, none of that can be returned to qualify for return water credits. So xeriscaping (dry gardening) becomes an important goal. No new houses can have grass in the front yard anymore. We have saved millions of gallons of water and that's the greatest thing in our desert. I wanted to show you a few of the places that entered the landscape contest. You've seen my house in an earlier post so you know what xeriscaping can look like. When I converted my yard 6 years ago, I had just finished a botany class called Plants of the Southwest Deserts. I wanted my yard to look like the edge of the desert. One thing I believe strongly about is that a garden should never remain static. It should always grow and change. That maturity is what gives me so much satisfaction about what I created. I'm sure the other folks who designed these gardens feel equally satisfied. We have a very interesting plant palette in the Mojave Desert. The ground is salty and the water is salty, plants that come for other places generally struggle here. So the best idea is to use salt tolerant plant material. I think I fooled you, the green stuff is artificial turf. It uses zero water. This is a public park. As you can see, desert landscaping is not just rocks, it can be glorious.