Know Which Plants You Grow Well

Chanticleer and Henny Penny

Happy New Year, dearest readers. I thought I’d begin 2019 by sharing a favorite story from my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom From the Garden. I do hope you will enjoy.

Know which plants you grow well.

(My love affair with chickens began when I was a small girl living in the undeveloped mountain terrain of Southern California. We lived on a farm, and we had horses, goats and a pen full of chickens, as well as a cat here and there and a cocker spaniel named Cherry. I don’t think we actually owned the dog, but she was often about. One very early photo of me shows me sporting a large ruffled sunbonnet, carrying a small woven basket, full to the brim with chicken eggs, which I had gathered myself.
I was the keeper of the chickens, the one who cared deeply about them. When they managed to scamper through holes in the fence I was the one who would track them down in the orchard, who caught them gently, and lovingly put them back where they belonged in the safety of their pen and flock.)
Simply put, I adore chickens, and, I know the value of a good rooster.
One such rooster was my beloved Chanticleer, whom I first spotted at the bottom of our road in the woods of Northern California. He was a marvelous little Bantam of abundant colors. Reddish browns and dark shimmering greens and iridescent blacks abounded in his full and splendid tail. But he was not alone. Not at all. He had the companionship of a rather scroungy white hen for whom he appeared to be caring. They had set up camp along a stream that emptied into a culvert below the adjacent road, apparently finding plenty to eat in the forest, and sleeping comfortably in trees for safety (or so they thought) at night. No one could account for where they might have come from, and no one really seemed to care. Chickens. What’s the fuss?
All my alarms were going off. Chickens alone in the woods! That can’t be! I bought chicken feed at the local feed store and caught their keen attention by daily tossing them a handful or two, all the while wondering what more I should do. Were they lost? Did they belong to someone? No one seemed to know, or care. I brought down a large wire cage from my property and set it near their little camp, placing corn just in front of the door. Each day I replenished the corn, trying to get them used to the idea that a cage might be a nice place to be.
One such morning I was saddened to see white feathers strewn along the road’s edge and the urgency of my mission heightened dramatically. This day I placed corn inside the cage. Then I tied a white cotton string to the door of the cage and walked several yards away. The little rooster was beside himself. He circled the cage again and again trying to figure out how to get the corn without entering the cage. Finally his hunger won out and he entered the cage and I softly drew the door shut by pulling on my end of the string. Not a happy fellow inside. Now how to get him home? I stood waiting, trusting, and within two minutes a woman I knew pulled up our road. I gave thanks, and flagged her down and she helped me place the cumbersome cage back into my truck and up the hill went my captive rooster to his new (and safe) abode.

Oil painting of Chanticleer by Marge Michael

A rooster. I own a rooster. I bought books, crash coursing on chickens. I learned chicken wire keeps chickens in, not predators out. You really have to lock down chickens at night. What to do?
By day Chanticleer was free to happily roam about the gardens. And when at dusk the wild turkeys alighted in the highest branches of the large pine trees that surrounded our property, taking refuge, I knew it was time for Chanti to go back into his (temporary) cage for the night. Not really knowing him well in regard to whether he would bite, I would shoo him around the garden with my long skirt, holding out the edges trying to direct him where I wanted him. (Where are the Border Collies when you need them?) Usually I won, but on occasion he would escape into a tree and I would have to rest content that probably no predator could get him there, and none did. I invited a young man from 4-H Club to my house and he taught me how to pick him up. Apparently people who work with chickens routinely pick them up by their feet and hold them upside down. And it works. Chickens become very still. (Wouldn’t you?) I personally found it demeaning, but it allowed me to see that Chanti was a good soul, and had no mean intentions. This gave me the courage to actually pick him up each evening, by simply placing my hands over his wings and holding them down to his sides. And thus began the strange chapter of putting him safely inside a small portable dog kennel at night (safe from all wild creatures), which I popped in the back of my closed truck until I rose early and set him free. Safe at last.
Having conquered my fear of my own rooster, I next went shopping for his new companion, our precious Henny Penny, a small brown Bantie hen sporting black and white polka dots, as cute as cute can be. Unfortunately, when I discussed my intentions for her with the feed store guys (always an infinite source of practical information) they warned me not to let the two of them out together! Why not? I asked. “You can’t have just one rooster and one hen! He’ll Wild Thing her to death!” Oh, my.
Eventually I took the chance and apparently Chanti was an old thing (you should have seen his feet) and slightly senile, as he would forget what he was doing half way through his occasional wild dance on Henny Penny’s back and his attention would divert on some tasty worm or bug making its way through the grass. And they would both continue on with whatever they had been doing just prior. They were charming beyond measure as they pecked and scratched their way through the nasturtiums and jasmine and oleander of the front gardens. They never strayed far, they always instinctively stayed under bushes or trees so as not to catch the attention of an overhead hawk or other predator. They dug large cool holes in the soft dirt and sunk their bodies into the damp earth, becoming very still. Occasionally I lost sight of them and I would run outside and call. “Henny Penny, where are you?” And I would hear the gentlest of clucking under a bush here or there, utterly enchanting.
There is great wisdom in the simple knowing what it is you love, that you do well.

May 2019 bring you much joy and many blessings.
Love and New Year’s blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Gardeners and their Dogs

As a longtime gardening blogger I am fortunate to enjoy friendships with other gardening bloggers not just in America but in Canada and the UK and Europe. I dearly cherish those friendships. As I have gotten to know these wonderful folks and their landscaping talents and personal gardens I find that I have an especial place in my heart for those who own and adore their dogs. So I reached out recently to a few asking them to please send me a photo of themselves with their beloved canine companions, who occupy a big place in their lives which includes time spent in their gardens. Those of you who garden with your dogs will understand the value of sharing your gardens with your canines. So this post is introducing you to some of my favorite gardeners–and their dogs, and I do it also in honor of the eleventh year of the life of this blog, another blogiversary to celebrate.

My post thus began with an informal vid I shot one warm afternoon a month or so ago, out in the back garden with my sweetheart puppy, Thistle, whom followers of this blog have already met. This was an especially hot summer, and, yes, we endured living very close to the worst fire in California history, so you will hear me speak of the smokey conditions of the day, but you will also get a peek into how Thistle and I enjoyed late afternoons, with me tucked under the canopy of the ancient mulberry tree, and Thistle enjoying his little wading pool which he jumped in all summer long to play. I have very fond memories of our summertime together.

Now here are the most wonderful folks–and their precious dogs– I would like to introduce you to today.

This is rancher Annie Haven, and her much loved dog, Hoppy. They live on a ranch in Southern California and Annie is the purveyor of one of gardeners’ favorite products–MooPoo Tea!

Meet Personal Garden Coach, Christina Salwitz, and her adorable rescued pup Cersei, who live in Washington state. Christina has indulged me by sending me numerous pics of her precious foxy-faced cutie, which always make my heart smile.

This is longtime former Mendocino neighbor and friend, artist Marsha Mello and her two Border Collies, Cooper and Ceilidh [pronounced Kay-lee]. It is noteworthy that Ceilidh is a working Border Collie whom Marsha showcases in sheepdog trials in Oregon. Some of you will recognize Marsha’s artwork through knowing Digging Dog Nursery’s lovely catalogue, which she has long designed and illustrated Here’s a sample!


Enter talented Atlanta-based author Michael Nolan, and his very special sweetheart companion, Sadie, whom he clearly adores.

Michael is the author of I Garden: Urban Style and Plant-Based Boot Camp.

Now here is beloved author Helen Yoest, of North Carolina. And below this photo is a pic of Helen and her daughter, walking her much loved Border Collie, Pepper, in the snow. (How many of you have zillions of pics of your dogs, but few of the two of you together, as you are the one taking pics of your dogs all the time??) Helen is the author of Gardening with Confidence, and has begun helping to save our bees with her foundation Bee Better.

Back in the Pacific Northwest lives Kathleen Grube, a devoted gardener and dog lover–with a particular interest in site hounds. Here she is with her friend, the beauteous and elegant Topper.

Some of you will be familiar with Teresa O’Connor’s blog Seasonal Wisdom, and you might not be aware she’s transitioning to sharing info on low carb living at Farm Fresh Low Carb Living. Here she is in the garden, with her dog, Maggie.

And now I am introducing you to author Dayna Macy, whom I’ve known for many years. You might know Dayna through her work with Yoga Journal, or you may have read her book Ravenous. Appropriately Dayna chose to send me a pic of her and her dog Nico dressed for Halloween. I was charmed recently when she posted a pic of what she called “a lemon canopy” as she stood beneath a large and abundant lemon tree in her garden. It was a word coupling I’d not heard before, not thought about, and I found it a memorable image.

Lastly, my heart will not allow me not to share the four dogs who came before Thistle–all of them Border Collies. They spent countless days and years enriching my life in the various gardens in my life, in Mendocino County, in Marin and Sonoma Counties, in Arizona and in even in North Carolina. My first two were Moxie and Peaches.

And when passed along into another realm, I was lucky to be accompanied by Conner and Ruby.

Words could never describe fully how these amazing dogs filled my life. Let me simply say I am filled with love and gratitude beyond measure. I thank them all.

If you are one of the lucky ones who share your garden with a beloved dog, please feel free to send me jpegs at plantjoyblog [@] and I will post below. Thank you!

Love and autumnal blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: My book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden has been included in Fupping’s new article “12 Books That Will Put A Smile On Your Face | Books To Make You Happy”. Also, please watch for an upcoming excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in Awareness Magazine!

Welcoming strangers in our garden to learn what they have to share

As I’ve said many times, “You have to grow a plant to know a plant.” So when something shows up in my garden I’ve never seen before, I’m quite apt to let it grow and learn what I might from it, and then decide if it’s a permanent guest or someone who just paid a visit and I learned all I could while it was here. Thus my summer learning all about mullein, for example. Also, there was my discovery of borage, which continues to blossom on its own and I still treasure.

The story of this year’s unexpected guest begins in my neighbor’s yard, across the street. The house, owned by a gardener, was sold last year to a young busy couple, rarely at home and lo and behold I one day, to my dismay, discovered a prickly plant growing upright in front of their house. It had not come to blossom yet, but I was pretty darn sure it was a thistle. And I was, quite honestly, kind of piqued. Oh, yes. Had you read my mind you would have found over the weeks such unlofty thoughts as, “Don’t they realize this plant will go to seed and we will be pulling up thistles??” You get the picture. My gardening self was self righteously annoyed and let me know. Haha.

Eventually the plant did blossom and confirmed my suspicions, and then one day it was simply gone. They cut it down. Good.

Meanwhile, and this will sound like a wide diversion, my elderly Border Collie was beginning to fail, and missed the one we lost last summer (I told myself) so I reached into my Border Collie history and was immediately told of two litters of puppies, and given two phone numbers. One didn’t answer and the second one did. One little boy, ready for a new home. The breeder shared his background. Scottish roots she said. She’d given him a temporary name, as breeders do, which I will not reveal here (the past is past), but I will say that I endeavored somewhat to find a name that would be akin. And then I discovered that the national flower of Scotland is a thistle. Voila! And so Thistle came to live with us and here he is. Adorable, right? Love, love, love him.

And then a funny thing happened. Very near where I discovered my first mullein, along the fence, emerged a prickly plant low to the ground, which a gardener ID’d for me as common thistle. Oh course now the reframe fell in place. The one in my neighbor’s yard had been a harbinger of what was to come. (It could happen.) And so I decided immediately to let it grow and honor it as a tribute to my new love and see what it was about. Since I watered it continually (it grew among hollyhocks) it thrived! And I loved it. So pretty. And the bees love it. And then one day I looked out the window and this had happened!

And that’s when I learned that thistles have a very efficient way of propagating themselves. They EXPLODE! And if you are not there when it happens, or shortly thereafter, those feathery lovely seed carriers filter down into prickly land where you do not want to go. Handy. Smart. And not how you want to spend your gardening time, right? So I rushed out the door, plastic bag and clippers in hand, and got every single one of those white puffies in the plastic bag and they are gone. You have to admit to their being both fascinating and beautiful…

I continue to indulge in the beauty of those purple flowers. It is really hard for me to dispose of anything the bees like, bless them. But I will be watching carefully for any more explosions. And this will be my single adventure into growing this plant, which I have enjoyed immensely.

What plants have shown up in your garden you allowed to grow that you learned from?

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book Notes: Good news. Awareness Magazine will be excerpting a story from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in an upcoming issue. And I have begun doing author Meet and Greets again and was hosted by Copperfield’s Books in Healdsburg recently which was a joy, and for which I am grateful.
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