Friday, December 30, 2011

'Tis a soft day, Thank God...

A soft day is what the Irish call a very very damp fog or a mizzle, which is a cross between a mist and a drizzle. I'd been dreaming of a nice soaking fall of rain for the garden and was happy to wake up to a damp day today, although the skys are now clearing, and a few rays of sun are breaking through now. I never thought I'd ever worry about the lack of rain - certainly not when I lived in Ireland.

And tomorrow is New Years Eve! Wow, how quickly did that year go in? I feel like I only wrote my blog post reminiscing about childhood New Years celebrations yesterday.

I used to love watching the news round-up of the year at this time of year. I don't seem to catch it here in the USA. Perhaps it's not on the chosen 3 channels that I watch (out of the gazillion that are available  to me!) or maybe they just don't do it here.

I remember we'd all be sitting watching the show and we 'd see events that happened, say, the previous March and it would be like recognizing an old friend. We be saying to each other, "Oh yeah, I remember that airplane disaster," or, "Oh, yes, I remember that bomb going off." (Bear in mind that I grew up in the North of Ireland during the Troubles.) I don't know why reminiscing together over even bad news brought on the warm and fuzzies. Perhaps it was that being young and with our family we felt a continuity and a part of something bigger when reviewing the year.

When I try to think of this year news-wize, I can't get past the Earthquake in Japan last March. I know other huge things have happened but Japan wins the horror prize for 2011. And there is no warm feeling reviewing that. Perhaps it's called growing up. I also know as soon as I post this I'll remember another news item that shook me this year and I'll be tempted to add it as a comment - we'll see.

When I was a teenager (and into my twenties) I used to keep a wall calender, and at the end of each year I'd take it down and stash it in a shoe box, along with my diary and memorabilia,like concert tickets or a pebble from a beach I'd been to. I'd write down something personal from each month that stuck with me and paste it to the lid of the box before squirreling it away in the attic.

So for 2011 here's my twelve highlighted memories.

Jan - I started my Master Gardener Training
Feb - I tiled my backdoorstep (Granted not an exciting highlight but a satisfying one-off event)
Mar - Got stuck in the snow on the way home from skiing in Tahoe
April - Easter - we had a bunch of friends for lunch and a egg/treasure hunt, though the friends were really the treasure.
May- Graduating Master Gardeners
June - Trip to Ireland (technically this began in May but ended in June)
July - Trip to California's North coast
Aug - An encounter with a black widow spider in the garden shed
Sep - Started to put together my new business - Eco Gardening Coach
Oct - Another visit with my family in Ireland
Nov - Wedding in Hong Kong
Dec - Launched the new business, the website and facebook page!

All-in-all an eventful year. So it's out with the old one, and hats off to 2012.
It's all to play for and a fresh new start.

I hope you have a Happy New Year and if your dreams don't come true in 2012, I hope it takes you closer to fulfilling them.

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 23, 2011

"The happiest days are when babies come."

This direct quote from Melanie in Gone with the Wind sums up what Christmas means for me.

I wrote last year about our little nativity scene that we put up under our Douglas fir each year.

Yesterday I was out weeding, enjoying the gorgeous weather we are having and wishing it would rain. My succulent garden has been, not so much neglected as, "left to do its thang" this last wee while. However, on closer inspection I noticed that the babe in the manager wasn't the only baby in my garden. My succulents were having babies left right and center - quite literally!
Nestled around the bottom are the pink-cheeked (well pink-leaved) little babies that will grow into replicas of the parent. I think this is a Sedum clavatum but my Succulent id could be better. I just know how to grow 'em not name 'em! But if you can confirm or correct me on any of my identification attempts in this blog please leave a comment - I'd appreciate the education.
This black/purple Aeonium is hard to capture in the morning light with its dark babies peeking out from under Mama's skirts.
It's hard to distinguish the parent from the baby plants in this ramshackle Aloe vera plant.
And the babies are more like teenagers having nearly caught up with their parents.
I particularly love the ones that make their babies at the ends of their leaves. So convenient for propagating! I bought one of these in Homedepot - two inches tall for $3 and now have about four two-foot plants that are about to burst into bloom. Of course I promptly lost the label, but I'm going to say this is a Chandelier Plant or a Bryophyllum tubiflora. In fact, I'm pretty sure that is what it is 'cos I looked it up on that interweb-thingy, and if you click here you can see some information about it.

Buying those random $3 succulents at Homedepot has added some strange but cute plants to the succulent patch. 
Bear's Paw (Cotyledon tomentosa) looks like little paws complete with the claws at the end. It's been growing slowly but steadily. The lobelia are volunteers that I haven't the heart to weed out seeing how they add a delightful splash of color.
When I first purchased this stone plant, Pleiospilos nelii, it had just two halves - now it is on it's third leaf set.

Of course I cannot mention my succulent garden without thanking my Master Gardener friend Nella who shared with me so many of the pups from her own succulents. Without her generosity I'd be waiting a much longer time to have my patch of the planet growing this many succulents and looking so nice.

Have a happy, peaceful Christmas.
Byddi Lee

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beet that!

Winter gardening in California seems to be split into two segments divided by December and January. If you get organized by mid September you can have a crop of winter veggies already growing and some harvested by Christmas. If you decide in December that you want a winter garden all is not lost - you can plant again in February and harvest in time for your summer garden. I like getting started in the fall as you get a jump start on the slugs and snails. The dry conditions seem to hamper their movements. In the spring they are a force to be reckoned with, but if your peas are already established then you aren't providing these dastardly molluscs with the tender shoots they prefer.

If you look at the Cool Season planting charts on the Master Gardeners website you'll notice that generally it is not recommended to plant in December/January. My guess is that the soil temperature in the heart of the winter gets too low, but as the soil warms up in late January/February the heat kicks in and gets germination going again. Sometimes, if the daytime temperatures are higher than average, you can get away with planting during these months. Likewise, if the weather gets cool quickly in the fall or lingers in the low figures into spring, germination will be effected. Experiment - that's what I do!

This year, I planted a whole bed of beetroot. And even when I follow all the correct procedures, it is still a delightful surprise when things grow! By the start of December, you could tell that about half of them were ready to be harvested by the way they were pushing themselves out of the ground, just begging to be picked.
The great thing about picking beets is that you can use the greens too. I fry these with some olive oil and salt. Boy, they are tasty!

I get carried away when buying seeds and I had planted 5 different types of beets. I was able to label my Detroit reds, my Dutch baby ball beets, and the gourmet golden beets, but Renee's Garden Jeweled toned beets have three seeds types in one packet. In the end the entire bed became one big beet potluck!
Nevertheless, it did not diminish the taste testing fun I had with them. I loved the golden one, but really they were all delicious. It was weird eating the paler one (my guess is it is a candy-stripe) and it packing the same beetroot punch as the Detroit red. The taste is obviously not just in the pigment.
My first attempt at pickling has yet to tasted. I'm keeping one jars for my nephew visit in February and the other for Christmas. It took a whole day to harvest, wash, cook and pickle these beets and for only 2 jars!
As we approach the winter solstice, frost is frequenting the garden more often. The light kiss of white doesn't do too much damage to what I have growing right now. I've learned my lessons from previous years - not to plant my spuds too early, and that lettuce is actually fairly cold hardy, so I don't even bother to cover it now.

There are still cosmos blooming bravely at the back door despite the cold. So I took this picture especially for May Dreams Gardens Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.
 And the sun had just thawed out the frost on this pea flower leaving delicate little droplets.
The sun hadn't quite reached this log - a beautiful, yet temporary garden art makeover.
Caught in the act, this first sunbeam wakes up the garlic for another hard day of photosynthesis!
 And so even during December, the garden remains a work in progress.

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Eco Gardening Coach

Finally, after months of paperwork, brainstorming with friends on names, layouts and color-schemes, I'm ready to present my new business enterprise - The Eco Gardening Coach.  I even have my own domain name and website - Here's a glimpse of what the website looks like, and if you click on it you can explore it further.

My target client lives in Santa Clara County and wants to learn how to garden sustainably. They may have a project in mind, might want to simply move away from using so many chemicals in the garden or might never have gardened before but wants to learn how grow their own food.

I can guide clients through lawn conversions to native plant, low water, low maintenance gardens. Provide ideas for those tricky spots in the yard - a fresh pair of eyes can see a problem from a totally different angle - and then I'll devise an action plan for implementing those ideas.

The client will receive a folder with to-do lists and charts especially tailored to their gardening needs. I even draw up a shopping list, and if needed, accompany the client to the Garden Center/Nursery as their personal shopper.

I can teach the client about seed saving, composting, pest management and organic practice to achieve not just a healthy garden but contribute to a healthier planet for future generations.

I can even design a program especially for children that teaches them about where their food comes from and get them started on their very own vegetable patch or flower bed.

After the first visit with my clients, they will be motivated and enthusiastic about their garden.

So if you live in or near Santa Clara County and would like your very own Eco Gardening Coach, contact me, so we can get growing!
Byddi Lee

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pure and simple

Sometimes it's just easier to quit fighting with Blogger and acquiesce to their templates and how they want to do things.

A gremlin struck my blog. When? I'm not sure. But when I tried to fix the problem today, I just got myself more deeply mired in more problems, until I saw my blog in the most simple template and I just thought - Yes! An new fresh look to the blog. Everything is still here but it's now less cluttered. The photo's look better and it's easier on the eye.

Let serendipity prevail!

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Occasions in Hong Kong

It was with great delight that we headed back to Hong Kong, this time for the happy occasion of our niece's wedding. (I know, I know, I'm not old enough to have a niece getting married!)

Our previous trip to Hong Kong occurred under sad circumstances, and during July, a time of year known for it's heat and humidity. November is a much more climate friendly time in Hong Kong. I'll attempt not to duplicate too much of what I wrote in my post back then, but I will go into more detail about the tourist attractions and how to avoid tourist traps.

My favorite tourist attraction in Hong Kong is without a doubt Victoria Peak, not least because that is where My Husband proposed to me! How could a girl decline when faced with this gorgeous view?


If you ever visit this city and arrive in the daylight hours, keep an open mind. In the cold light of day you see her "warts'n'all," but come nightfall Hong Kong lights up like a glittering jewel.


My Husband's family had invited my Mum to the wedding too. She accepted and she met us there. It was so much fun to rendezvous on the other side of the planet and a great excuse to hit the tourist spots once more.

We stayed in Kowloon, in Tsim Sha Sui, just across the bay from Hong Kong Island. With space such a premium in Hong Kong and the tourist industry flooding in from Mainland China, hotel prices have skyrocketed. The rooms are small unless you are prepared to pay big bucks, but even though our room was on the compact side, it was fully furnished with all mod cons - flat screen TVs (of course a great idea if space is so valuable), fridges, and coffee and tea making facilities. Views in Kowloon will be back-alleys and other high-rise buildings unless you are on the water front - even bigger bucks for that - but ya didn't come here to sit around your room all day did ya?

Our hotel was all about location location location - we couldn't have asked for better, and thanks are due to our niece who generously put us up in the Ramada Kowloon, a stones throw from the water front and the MTR station (that's the train system in Hong Kong) and a dander (or what passes for a dander through the thronged streets of Kowloon) away from Nathan Road and Kowloon park, where you go to instill some sanity, far away from the maddening crowds!

It's a good idea to get yourself to a 7Eleven as soon as you arrive and get yourself an octopus card. You can add money to it as you go along and you use it to pay for MTR, or in places like McCafe, 7eleven and other stores. It has some electronic thingy in it so you don't even need to take it out of your purse to make it work.

We decided to show Mum the view from the Peak. To get there from Kowloon you could take the MTR under the bay or hop on the Star Ferry for a 20min harbor tour. It's a commuter route and easy on the pocket or rather the octopus card. When you get to the other side you then need to take a taxi, plentiful and cheap, to the tram station to ascend the peak. That is if you want to ride the tram - it's a funicular train and if you've been on one before you can skip the queues and take a bus to the top. It's as cost effective to taxi to the peak if you have 3 or more passengers.

However if, like my Mum, you insist on taking the tram, beware of people herding you into queues for you to buy the package deal to the viewing platform. You can get tickets for it up there. It's gets you a little higher up but you have much the same view from the peak itself.

Simply get into the line for the tram and pay using your octopus. The tram is a commuter route - people live up there, so avoid going at rush hour too. However, if you want to do sunset you may have to just bite the bullet - or better still take the taxi up and the tram down IF you simply must get on the tram.

It's lovely to walk around at the top and ogle the sights below. Another great option is to book a window table at The Pearl on the Peak. It's on the pricey side, but if you are willing to splash out, sunset, here, is the time and place to do it. And the view from our table...

And here's the view from my tummy. I was no cheap date that night!

Mum had done her homework before coming and had read about the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.  Lantau Island lies to the west of the main urban area of Hong Kong. Rural by comparison, even though it hosts the airport, Disneyland  and discovery Bay.

To get to the Big Buddha take the MTR (use your octopus card) to Tung Chung Station (Orange line).  It is accessible by road (bus) or by gondola - think ski resort not Venice!


If you've been skiing then don't bother with the gondola. Mum has never been skiing and wanted to take the Gondola - a two hour wait in line. Tourism is really taking off here. My Husband and I'd done the gondola trip back in 2006 and we didn't remember it this bad. What further confuses the issue are the folks wandering around trying to sell package deals and bus ride combos. If you can tear yourself away from the idea of riding in the gondola, hop on  bus 23 to Ngong Ping.

Ngong Ping has it's usual tourist/franchise shops and restaurants, but I like to support the Po Lin Monastry. They sell a meal ticket with entrance to the Buddha. There is no menu - you just eat whatever they are making that day, but you do get a great vegetarian meal there, and they do interesting mock meat dishes made from tofu.

And now for the gardening bit...
Anyone any idea what this fruit is? The tree was growing at the monastery - please leave a comment if you know.


From Ngong Ping we took the number 21 bus to Tai O. Dubbed the "Venice of Hong Kong," you won't find any gondolas here! But there are lots of houses built on stilts in this fishing village that dates all the way back to the stone age.

I particularly admired their skills at container gardening.

And liked how they utilized such small spaces to make such attractive wee gardens.

Tai O breathed relaxation into us after all our hectic traveling and  sight-seeing. A break from the bustle of the big city and herds of tourists, we wandered around oohing and aahing at the exquisite cuteness of the place. For example - this tiny temple...

And on closer inspection just click on the picture to check out the detail in the carvings on the roof.

We found a little coffee shop, a blissful far cry from Starbucks and city bustle, and we sat on the decking out over the water, sipping our tea from delightful little cups.

Had we our own boat, we could have simply tied up at their little dock just on the other side of the wooden rail from where I was sitting.

It was the perfect perch to watch the world not go by.

Lovely to have this time with my Mum to soak up the things we both like - water ways, tea and sunsets. Harmonious in our togetherness.

I think you can get that I loved Tai O. Hopefully someday I'll get back there or at least visit more places like it. The number 11 bus gets you back to Tung Chung town center and the MTR line.

And the wedding - simply spectacular. Our niece and nephew-in-law both looked gorgeous. She had six different dresses, each one more beautiful than the one before. The day started at 9am when we gathered at the brides place and ended with a banquet that evening.

My Husband had the honor of giving the bride away. A momentous and emotional moment for the Mother-of-the-bride mother, who was also stunning in her gowns - yes that was plural too. Each one a show stopper. I was so proud of them all.

The bridesmaids were adrift in peach fabric - pretty gowns for beautiful young women. In fact everyone looked downright fabulous! I do so admire the petite figures these Hong Kong women have. I felt huge in comparison, but I'm used to that in Hong Kong. But as I stood for photographs, I couldn't help but wonder - does this family make my bum look big?

Byddi Lee

Friday, November 11, 2011

Flashes of red

I'd never even seen a pomegranate until the Autumn of 1997. Granted that is 14 years ago, but to me it still feels relatively recent.

Then, when we moved into this house, pomegranates were the first things that we harvested from our garden.  You know it's time to harvest again when you see the red fruits amid the yellowing leaves.

Pomegranate popularity practically exploded when anti-oxidants became the big thing. They are good for your heart, a great source of vitamin C, in fact, there are a gazillion good reasons to go through the tedious process of seeding them if the taste alone doesn't grab you. So whats not to love?

The staining factor for one!  Last year my Mum was visiting during pomegranate season. She  loved to prepare them for My Husband to eat because traditionally, Irish mothers do not believe that men can do anything for themselves with respect to food, and in extreme cases, with respect to anything at all. It explains a lot about our culture!

It was dark outside, so the white kitchen blinds where pulled. I was preparing veggies for dinner on our white Hanstone counter top. Mum was scared to squirt red pomegranate juice on the white leather chairs at the dining table, so she set up shop in the kitchen sink. Things were awfully quiet as we each bend our heads concentrating on our tasks. Until I glanced over at Mum and shrieked (in a totally Ned Flanders kind of way)!

The kitchen sink was right below the window and the blind resembled a scene from CSI, with pomegranate spatter halfway up the once immaculate white blind. Poor Mum was so upset.

"Don't worry, it will wash off," I said as I scrubbed at the blood red spots with a damp dish cloth, trying to keep upbeat and cheerful. "All this white stuff is amazingly resilient."

The red spots were turning a mauve grey color, something similar to the tone in my stricken Mums face! Was it only a matter of time before she'd recover and launch into a lecture on my color choices for my furniture and decor?

But to give Mum her due she just contined to apologise and accepted responsibility for the mess. This was harder for me to deal with than the "Well, what do you expect when you have all this white stuff?" line of defense.

I felt so bad for her being upset that I brushed it off and laughed, saying something along the lines of, "That's payback for all the times I spilled stuff growing up." But I couldn't even bring a specific example to mind. And then I realized that it was not because I hadn't spilled anything but that I didn't have a memory of her making me feel bad about it, though I'm sure she might have scolded me at the time.

The spots dried out a pale, barely noticeable grey. And we forgot about it. I figured that someday I'd get around to replacing that blind or cutting off the damaged part.

Today as I washed a pomegranate in the sink I looked at the white blind, and then I realized that it was white. The grey spots had completely faded - probably aided by the sun that blasts in there in the early mornings before we get up and pull the blinds. And I thought - that's what families should be like, mishaps occur but we move on so that the sheet gets wiped clean by forgiveness and acceptance.

Byddi Lee

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


We gardeners are all Eco-managers. We take our piece of the planet and we accelerate, sustain and then abruptly halt natural ecological cycles. Even non-gardeners do this, though they may not pay as much attention to it. Take Mr Lawnlover for example:(I'm making this imaginary, yet stereotypical person, male because I'm female and it's my blog!)

Mr Lawnlover will sow grass seeds. He will create a mono-culture - a patch of ground that grows only one species (something which nature abhors nearly as much as a vacuum) thus decreasing habitat options for local wildlife. Then he will add fertilizer, usually way too much fertilizer, so that when he over-waters this piece of ground, (as he is sure to do) lots of fertilizer will get washed into the nearby streams, rivers and eventually the sea, causing a burst of plant life in these waterways that dies quickly and rots. This decomposition leads to oxygen depletion in that area and suffocates any animals living within that body of water. A lot of (scientifically ignorant) folk don't realize that fish do need oxygen even though they live underwater.

So, now that Mr Lawnlover has created a mono-culture and poisoned the water ways, what does he do when the grass actually grows? He cuts it and then throws away the cuttings of grass that he so lovingly nurtured to grow! I wonder what aliens observing our planet would think of that practice? Probably they'd put it on the shelf below the one containing such articles as "A study of humans strapping themselves to boards and sliding down mountains." This lower shelf would be labeled "Stupid Stuff That Isn't Fun."

In nature, the cycle would work like this - Grass grows, uses nitrates and other nutrients in the soil, some dies and releases the nutrients back. We could suggest to Mr Lawnlover that he mows his lawn and leaves the clipping on it, thus reducing the need for adding fertilizers (and drowning fish). The mono-culture issue would require a little more educating of Mr Lawnlover...

So how do we gardeners differ from Mr Lawnlover?

Some of us only differ in that we eat what we cut - i.e. harvest. A bed of lettuce is still a mono-culture.
 Even pretty "Sea of Red" lettuce.
You could mix plants in together.
And it is good to have some that flower, like the arugula in the middle, so that insects can feed. This builds a food-chain from your crop to the insects, birds/lizards and eventually the top predators, like the kite which visits our yard from time to time.
Better still, there is no rule that says you can't plant flowers alongside vegetables. Here are marigolds, sweet-potato and peas.

The bees love this cosmos that has been growing and flowering continuously for the last 20 months!
Sometimes we also have to be a little generous and not stress over the odd hole here and there in our broccoli. This (probably) caterpillar might someday be a beautiful butterfly. I can share.
And to make these plants grow strong and green, we need to add fertilizer. Plants need nitrogen, as this is the building block of proteins, which in turn are the bricks that make cell structures, enzymes that drive chemical reactions in the cells, and hormones that send messages between cells. Without nitrogen nothing will grow.
How fortunate that we exist in a sea of nitrogen, the air around us being composed of 78% nitrogen. BUT not so fast.... nitrogen as an element (i.e. not bonded to any other element) is no good to plants. It is too inactive as the molecules have gotten stuck together and like it that way too much to unglue - ungluing them and attaching them to another type of molecule like oxygen (thus making a compound) uses either lots of energy, (like heat) or special catalysts (like enzymes). Some soil bacteria provide those catalysts, but usually we need to add more nitrogen in compound form (ammonium, nitrates and nitrites) to the soil. The most environmentally friendly of these is manure from herbivores, especially local sources that cut down on the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation.

When deciding what fertilizer to use ask yourself these questions:
Were fossil fuels used in the producing of this? e.g. Natural gas in the production of ammonia in the Haber process.
Was water used in the production of this? e.g. Growing alfalfa pellets
Was heat needed? e.g. Like both of the above processes - heat of course being derived from fossil fuels.
How far was this product shipped to get to me?

If you are making your own compost then you are not using fossil fuels or water (or a very small, insignificant amount of water) and you are helping the environment and saving money too. What's not to love?

Using compost made from our own kitchen scraps and yard clippings is as close to emulating the nitrogen cycle that exists in nature as we gardeners can probably get. Sure, you may have to add a little manure or other nitrogen compound source to replace what you've extracted especially at this time of the year, when temperatures cool causing chemical reactions in the soil and plant cells to slow down. Remember, as managers we're delegating. In my case, it's to the cattle that provide the manure!

Byddi Lee