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