Starting Over

Way way way back when I first started my book publicity business I had an upstairs office in downtown Santa Rosa that looked out back on a courtyard and a parking lot, divided by heavy wire fencing. That was not the view I wanted and I decided to plant morning glories on the fence to transform that view. Those of you who have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy might remember that when I went out to plant seeds I was crestfallen to discover that the dirt at the base of the fence was only one inch deep. Below was parking lot asphalt. Soon I was relaying this to a dear friend on the phone, while looking out the back window. “I would need jackhammers to plant anything back there, Justine!” I lamented. Unbelievably just beyond the fence were several men digging into the asphalt with jackhammers. I got off the phone, scurried down the staircase and spoke with the man in charge of those workers who kindly and miraculously agreed to have them dig holes for me along the fenceline, deep enough to accommodate a small seed, and within a couple of months that fence was transformed into a wall of purple beauty.

Fast forward decades to my current reality in the high desert where the east, south and west of this property is nearly all fashioned into broad patios. Deeper exploration and consideration allowed me to imagine the heretofore unthinkable. I could garden along the wooden fence line between me and my west of me neighbors, which is four inches deep and forty-five feet long. Yes, really. I said, “This is what I’ve been given, and this is what I will make use of.”

As it happens I brought a lot of seeds with me from California. I augmented my stash with four kinds of morning glory seeds from a big box store, put my judgments and whinging behind me and shifted to a creative whimsical mindset that this was not only possible, I had done it before–incredibly under worse circumstances. I put in my seeds. As luck would have it, I had brought with me from my California garden some wrought iron border fencing, that “just happened” to fit into the chosen allotted space. They had something to climb on! Knowing they would need something once they reached the top I strung twine and various colored wool yarns from the metal border to the tops of the wooden fencing along which I was planting. Perfect. Fortunately, as they gradually emerged from the earth, they thought so, too! They are off and running. This is the fun part where they seem to grow inches overnight!

This particular fencing is built in sections. Two panels over I decided to put in nasturtium, which, happily, has now also begun to grow. No flowers yet!

What is not lost on me as I begin to claim and improve and be creative with the blessings I have been given in the high desert, is that I am largely working from seed. Given that Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden is, in its entirety, a book based on metaphors from the garden [indeed, the working title for my book was Metaphors from the Garden!] is that if there were ever a time to be beginning a new garden from seeds, now would be that time. And so I am. It is both humble and humbling. It is also inspiring and enlivening. I am not, much as I am tempted, going into a nursery and buying ready made plants. I’d have to put them in pots, for starters. That does little to connect me with this new earth I am exploring, digesting, adapting to and learning about. Putting a teeny tiny seed in the ground and watching the miracle of a seed transforming itself into beauty and food is a far more important life exercise for me in this moment. I walked away from a garden I had developed over a fifteen year period. It has been shared literally with thousands of people over that decade and a half. I am, in so many ways, Starting Over.

Mind you, I did buy a bunch of petunias when I first got here, in winter, and left them in their original pot, which I placed in a big basket and kept them in the house until the weather changed. I took the time to harden them and then left them outside. I was rewarded with not only their stunning beauty, but also not one but two amazing opportunities to catch on video hummingbird moths visiting them! (I will feature those in an upcoming post!)

I also early on purchased a jasmine, now in a pot and doing well, and a breath of heaven, which was one of my very favorite plants in my California gardens, living in a very large pot. I could not resist buying a small one and planting in a pot. Those two plants along with one geranium and a few pansies are my entire collection of potted plants at the moment and they have served as soul and heart comfort as I get my grounding here in the desert.

Oh, hold on. There is one more. My daughter bought me a desert willow on Mother’s Day! So, yes, there is that. It was the bridge from familiar plants that comforted me to the leap to desert plants that thrilled me. There is one very established one that hangs over the wooden fence from the neighbor’s yard. Lucky me, as 3/4 of the tree is over here, not over there. I have pruned it and talked to it and I may or may not have watered it a wee bit while she is away at work, and the result is that it is the most nourished most beautiful I’ve seen since arriving. I simply love it. So I’m happy and grateful to have one of my own in a large pot on the eastern patio. Very.

Gardens in New Mexico cannot be separated or viewed apart from the overhead skies. Here’s one from this week. Stunning.

I do hope you will join me in this high desert adventure. I am learning so much, particularly about the birds who live and pass through here. I am grateful to have the many longtime subscribers to this blog and I look forward to your comments!

Love and garden blessings from the high desert of New Mexico!


Postscript, because I know some of you are wondering: this village is 4800 feet high!

Happy Valentine’s Day–from the high desert!

Dearest followers of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, when I wrote my last post from Northern California in all honesty there was nowhere on my conscious Bingo card that imagined my next post would be written from my new home in the high desert of New Mexico. But here we are! Border Collie Nana, tortie Coco and I made the journey down the entire length of California, crossing Arizona into northern New Mexico and headed south. And here we are in our new home. This post is to give you a visual overview of some of what we have seen and experienced.

Incredibly, the first part of our journey here, south of Albuquerque, unexpectedly included days spent at lodging where every morning more than fifty sandhill cranes flew in and spent the daylight hours nearby. They were absolutely Buddha like and their presence marked a memorable entry into high desert country.

Nana and I took early morning walks together into landscapes heretofore never seen. Nana always insisted we walk far enough to visit a family of five cows. Temps were freezing, but they were always outside near the fence where we walked.

Our walks meant we were seeing plants that were completely new to us. Here’s a beauty, whose name I still do not know.

After weeks of searching for a new home, giving us the opportunity to explore the area, ever refining what felt right, I at last found a home I knew we could settle into in New Mexico.

I could not imagine an environment more different from our years in Northern California. And certainly I did not anticipate last week’s dumping of snow, which Nana was thrilled to play in! And, yes, that is pampas grass just over the fence!

Here’s the view out my new office window:

One more amazing New Mexico sunset. The sky here is open and available and continually magically offering unlimited configurations to enjoy and appreciate.

From here it would appear that the scope of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy blog will expand. I am meeting fascinating people who are doing research into land erosion control and water preservation whom I want to interview. I also met a woman who helped two different communities create community gardens whom I want to showcase as inspiration. And my explorations have led me to a lovely man and his wife who have a honey apple farm! He has over 150 bee hives and numerous kinds of apples he sells on his property. I will introduce you to all these new people in my life and will share my learning curve and adventures. I am looking forward to sharing the journey with you! Please feel free to share any special New Mexico stories!

Love and gardening adventures,
Kathryn xoxo

This is called coyote fencing. I love it.

New Chapter in the Life of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy!

Dearest followers of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy,

This morning a fellow gardener was lamenting that perhaps her garden was not quite up to being on display at an annual Garden Tour she participates in, and I was immediately reminded of this post titled Leaving Your Critic at the Garden Gate, and sent her a link. Rereading the post I realized that, synchronistically it is the perfect post to send out as an overview and reminder of what this particular garden has meant in the life of this blog over the years. And now I find myself letting it go to begin a new chapter in my life, and thus in the life of this blog. I will be creating a new garden elsewhere, yet to be fully revealed to me. And I will be creating it with this adorable new puppy, named Nana, who entered my life two months ago. She is a full blooded white Border Collie and continues an unfolding tradition of my life with Border Collies and gardening. Wish us well and stay tuned! Thank you for your continued readership and gardening love reflected here, for which I am profoundly grateful. Thanks also to readers of my book, Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden.

Blessings and much love,
Kathryn XOXO

Recently I’ve had an epiphany, and it’s about me and how I have felt about presenting my garden to the world. I know my critic has been voicing her little nags about this for a long time, and I’d like to say I largely ignored her, but that would not be true. The job of the critic is to protect us from being hurt, based on our notes taken as a little child, all learned from Mommy and Daddy as they laid down The Rules. The ones we were to obey if we wanted to be loved and accepted. It’s a big shift to become the adult in the room and to be able to thank the critic voice for her input (it’s her Job, afterall), but you are the conscious adult and you are in charge now, and able to reassess whether her notes are still pertinent, or were ever even true. So there was that. And I suppose I’d been thinking that as “a gardening blogger” my garden was “supposed to look a certain way.” Not Better Homes and Gardens, but, you know. Nice. So I would carefully select how I presented my garden in pictures, trying to avoid certain corners. Or, the whole big picture, if I’m being really honest, and that’s what this post is about.

I’d already begun to think about this, catalyzed by noticing I was surprised when an elderly neighbor came to visit my back garden, and given that she’s a kind of random gardener herself, I showed her every corner, thinking she would appreciate it. She did. After I walked her around she said, “I feel like I’ve been on a gardening tour.” Really? And then I was left wondering why I would be so surprised. What’s that about?


But the real ah-ha moment occurred when a gardener I know was lamenting that at end of winter her garden didn’t really show well, and for some reason, that one clicked. Because what I recognized was that the voice of the critic was lying await under what she was saying. This led me to some serious and honest thinking, which led me to this conversation with my daughter this morning.

“I’m going to write about leaving one’s critic at the garden gate, my own included. And I’m going to stop thinking my garden has to be showcased as anything other than it really is. And what it really is, Antonia, is a very big DOG RUN with a LOT of things growing on each side, mostly roses.”

And we both cracked up laughing.

Because it’s basically true. I took one look at that near block-long yard ten and a half years ago, and I saw a place my overly energetic Border Collie, Conner, could happily be exercised and safely kept behind tall garden walls. I also saw a random garden created by various renters that allowed me to know I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, and that appealed to me very much. I could experiment, and pretty much anything I did create would have been an improvement. And it has been. Let me take you beyond the garden gate and give you a really good look at what lies behind it!

First, the primary motivators, playing ball. (They are the main attraction!)

Conner and Ruby

And here’s where they get to play every day.




That’s basically the dog run part. But there’s also a bit of patio, where we sometimes play, and this is a peek at some of that.


It’s a big back yard, and it has secret places. I somehow managed to arrange it as if it were divided into vignettes. Here’s the hammock.


And my most recent foray is something I’ve long thought about, as the true myrtle (one of my favorite areas) grows in rather a circle, so I’ve always imagined that I could put something inside that circle and create something special. And that one I’ve just begun, so stay tuned. I’m seeing videotaping little chats from an early morning garden, with tablecloths and vases of flowers and hanging lovely things in the trees. Can you see it?

The Myrtle Circle

Then there was the haphazard developing of the Rose Garden, which evolved out of taking out an enormous plum tree that did no one any good, ever, not even the birds, and a teen age neighbor boy who actually told me, “I’m the brawn, not the brain” plopped in a circle of roses I’d salvaged from some elderly folks on the block who had intended to trash these amazing heirloom roses! So that happened. And was I inclined to take out the volunteer borage? No. Not at all. I’m not that kind of girl. So I enjoy the contrasting blues and reds and pinks and yellows and the abundance of honeybees and bumbles that frequent my garden from early morning ’till dusk and beyond.


Also, compliments of same brawny teenager, the lemon tree got dragged into the center of the “dog run”, in the sun, and adjacent to a grape vine I put into a large pot who is getting bigger every year. Oh, dear. And I spend a fair amount of time making sure it doesn’t wind itself into the lemon tree or get in the way of focused doggies, which does happen on occasion. Poor grapes.


There’s a large picnic table on this end of the garden, well used.


And a honeysuckle screen looking out into that area.


And, of course, the Dr. Hueys.


Among the other blessings on this property are a fig tree, an organic apple tree, a plum tree (which had been hiding behind the one pulled up!), and the English walnut.


And what I’ve added includes three butterfly bushes, insuring tons of butterflies and pollinators, lots of herbs, raspberries, blackberries, roses and more roses, irises, lilies, campanula, and all manner of flowers. I am especially grateful for the perennials.

But what this garden most offers is a habitat for birds and critters. A safe one, free of pesticides, one where nests might be built. It offers respite from my work life. Fresh air. Quiet. Safety. No deer. No snakes. (Only black widows, which I watch carefully for.) All gifts for which I am incredibly grateful. And is it “perfect”? No. It is garden tour worthy? Probably not. Do I care? No. So I hope this sharing encourages you to have the garden that suits you. Please, please, leave your critic at the garden gate. Let things go a bit, and learn about the plants you are growing. How else would I know oregano can take over a veggie garden, had I not let it happen? Or that mullein is a magical plant if I’d ripped it up before it became a stalwart force in my garden? Where would I play with hummingbirds in the early morning, showering them with a spray from my hose? Learn about scrub jay fledglings? Let your garden be. Shape it as you will. But make it a place of joy and wonder and learning. Because that’s what it is.

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

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