I’d love to spend an afternoon with you, swirling ice cubes in frosty glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade. We’d talk and swing, feet tucked under our bottoms, in the cushioned glider on my wrap-around porch.
Meet me at the corner of idyllic and realistic. When you come through my garden gate, you’ll no doubt be greeted by hummingbirds and fragrant flowers. I’ll offer you iced tea or hot chocolate, your preference. But truth be told, my front porch has a pretty small footprint. There’s room here for a sprawling fern, double doors with beveled glass, and a shaded bench that provides visitors a quiet spot in which to daydream.
I bought the porch bench for a song, about two years ago. It was sun-bleached and scarred, as you can see, but far sturdier than it looked. It’s got good bones, I told myself. With a little bit of elbow grease, I’ll bet I can restore it to its former glory.
Thing is: I love the patina of timeworn furniture. I prefer a subtle glow to a high-gloss sheen. If I were asked to define my decorating style, the closest I’d come is coastal-garden-casual. Chic, but not pretentious. Storied, but not shabby. I’m a sucker for vintage pieces with character. If that also describes your design sensibilities, here’s a quick-and-easy way to refresh your front porch bench:
Gather some soft cotton rags and protective gloves.
Accessorize your newly restored bench with comfy pillows and cozy throws.
Sit a spell, listening to the songbirds as you drink your morning coffee.
I love how my bench turned out! It really brightens up that corner, don’t you think?
On a related note, I came across a new book on Facebook: RESTORATION HOUSE, by Kennesha Buycks. I offered to review it, based on our shared interest in creating a warm, welcoming home–a sanctuary, if you will, for family members and guests. But since I wasn’t yet familiar with her blog, the religious overtones took me by surprise. Envisioning a beautiful house, Kennesha says, isn’t limited to furniture placement and choosing the right color palette. It’s a spiritual journey, as well, whose goal is a Christ-centered home that “gives life and connection to all who enter.”
In her introductory chapters, Kennesha describes the unmoored feelings that came of being the wife of a military professional. They moved from pillar to post, many times over, within the span of a few years. As the daughter of an interant preacher, I remember how painful it is, to be repeatedly uprooted. I remember the perpetual impermanence, and the emotional tug of that elusive place called home. Over time, Kennesha resolved those yearnings– first by anchoring herself to faith, and then creating a design aesthetic that mirrors her personality and religious leanings.
RESTORATION HOUSE is a highly personal book, tailored to a very specific (i.e., Christian) audience. Written in a casual, blogger’s style, it provides readers with fresh ideas for home renovations and remodeling. The photographs are beautiful, stylized representations of her preference for all things “simple and minimal, yet not too minimal, cozy and warm yet uncomplicated.” Pull up a chair, the images seem to say, Let’s break bread together, you and I, and bring to the table our dreams and aspirations.
Given the heavy emphasis on her spiritual journey (including verses from the New Testament, Bible stories, and prayers), I’d describe it as a devotional, more so than a how-to book about home interiors. That’s an observation, not a criticism. When asked, “If you could design a mug, what would it say?” Kennesha responded, “Do you, boo.” In writing RESTORATION HOUSE, she does just that.
Two years after I brought it home from the garden nursery, my pineapple guava tree is finally blooming–edible flowers that, left untouched, magically transform themselves into sweet, juicy fruits. And I’m remembering today a sweet little folk tale I read when I first planted it.
“Honi and the Carob Tree” speaks to me of the quiet joys that come of communing with Mother Nature, being rocked in the cradle of our ancestors, and mothering our loved ones. Pull up a chair, and read it for yourself. Breathe deep those fragrant memories and revel in their sweetness.
One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?”
The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”— A Talmud tale, via SPIRIT OF TREES
In a way, light unites the spiritual world and the ephemeral, physical world. People frequently talk about spiritual experiences using the vocabulary of light: Saul on the road to Damascus, near-death experiences, samadhi or the light-filled void of Buddhist enlightenment.–artist James Turrell (Allen’s hummingbird in my backyard)
Jan’s writing style is breezy, and her illustrations are dreamy. But make no mistake: This book is chock-full of substantial, ingenious ideas that come from years of accumulated knowledge and experience.
From visualizing the finished garden, to gathering materials and getting down to work, Jan covers beautifully every facet of what it means to create an outdoor oasis. As with her previous books, she carefully lays the groundwork for her readers’ success, intertwining creative inspiration with practical guidance.
Eye-catching color combinations + elevated containers = visual exclamation points
Dream about your very own Garden of Eden, as you flip through the pages of this book. I guarantee you’ll get a better sense of what you want your garden space to look like, and be. Allow your mind and feet to wander, Jan suggests; in turn, your garden will “reveal itself in stages, hiding and offering up its delights in turn.” Over time, visitors (humans, pollinators, songbirds, etc.) will want to join you. Your garden will become your sanctuary, rewarding you with countless seasons of sensory pleasures.
I highly recommend GARDENTOPIA. It’s for novice gardeners and longtime landscapers alike. It’s pretty enough to be a coffee table decoration, but I have a feeling it won’t be long before my copy is dog-eared, highlighted, and smudged with dirt! Matter of fact, I just ordered it as a gift for a new homeowner, who’s just now developing an interest in outdoor spaces. I know already that, like me, he’ll refer to it often, as he infuses his own landscaping (and life) style with Jan’s practical advice.
Serendipity! I’d heard rumors that the California poppies were ready to burst, and our houseguests were excited to see them as I was. So we hopped in the car and followed the crowds to Lake Elsinore.
It was a cloudy afternoon when we set out, just a few hours before sunset. Seventy mountainous miles later–beyond the brake lights, and just past the impenetrable wall of traffic cops–we saw bright patches of green, purple and gold. The rain-soaked hills were awash in wildflowers.
We walked through shadows and dappled sunlight, followed large families and solo travelers. Every place we looked, we saw a profusion of poppies.
The sun reached into the flatlands, tinging the flower tips with a subtle glow. At the crest of each hill, brighter sunshine and day-glow petals. Think Wizard of Oz, with bright orange poppies instead of red. No way you’ll fall asleep in these wildflower fields!
Golden State, indeed.
We watched our step, so as not to disturb the delicate flowers. But not everyone was as mindful. Professional photographers –who arguably should’ve known better–lugged their heavy gear over hill and dale, mowing down flowers and planting their tripods in prime viewing areas.
Selfie-lovers careened from one flower patch to the next, on a quest for the perfect Instagram post.
But for every careless visitor, there were dozens of nature lovers who treaded lightly, talking in reverent tones about the beautiful sight before us.
Behold the handiwork of Mother Nature! These hillsides are typically barren, but for Super Bloom 2019, she’s stitched together a patchwork quilt of lupine, cream cups, coreopsis and dozens of delicate wildflowers.
We explored every nook and cranny, followed the last vestiges of light. Poppies lifted their petals toward the waning sun–golden chalices, soaking up every last bit of glory.
When night fell, the temperatures dropped. The poppies drew their petals closer, and tucked themselves into a blanket of lupine.
We snuggled deeper into our jackets and headed down the mountain. I managed one last picture before we reached our car: A bouquet of wildflowers, collected at the edge of the road. Uniquely California, for my European friends.
I’m so glad they were here during peak blooming season! Such a rare and wonderful phenomenon, made even more magical for their presence. Our eyes sparkle, and our faces shine, whenever we talk about this special day.
Sometimes circumstances align in a way that feels like pure magic. For example, last Friday, when I was driving home from our garden nursery with three milkweed plants, Mystic Spires salvia, and frilly little fuchsias. As if from nowhere, a flurry of Monarch butterflies drifted into my field of vision. Dozens and dozens of them, floating past my windshield and side view mirrors. When I stopped at a traffic light, they cocooned my car with their colorful wings.
Later in the day, that I came to know that the Monarchs are migrating north right now. Lucky me, I got to witness firsthand this amazing phenomenon! Sorry, no photos–I don’t fiddle with my camera/phone while I’m driving. But here’s a quick snapshot of the milkweed that rode shotgun with me. Clearly, I need to get these flowers into the ground, and soon.
I spied this Painted Lady on my walk last week, hovering above the sea lavender at Laguna Beach.
I slowed my pace, lifted my camera.
She flitted from flower to flower, dipping her proboscis into the purple blossoms, sipping nectar.
I could’ve circled back later, once my exercise routine was over. But ohhhh, those gossamer threads along her wings and back…!
She seemed totally unaware of my presence. I, however, was wholly engrossed in the slant of her antennae, her perfectly balanced wings and feet. Part physics, pure magic.
When she eventually flitted away, I stashed my camera and resumed my walk.
Mind you: I had a parking meter to feed, errands to run, writing projects in the queue, and…well. Unscheduled activities have their tradeoffs. And still: You can’t perform a cost-benefit analysis in moments like this one! Because even when we fall out of our target heart rate zones, even when our to-do lists are longer than the hours in a day, some things invite (and deserve) our full attention.
You know already that I’m a nature girl. Whether I’m posting photos of hummingbirds or harbor seals, I love sharing with you the treasures that come into view when I slow my roll and zoom the camera a little closer. No surprise, then, I’m happy to promote this landmark occasion. Such a wonderful opportunity to celebrate biodiversity with the global community!
Is it possible to transform this one-day fete into something even more powerful and sustainable? I think so. We can support ocean-friendly legislation, while also giving license to our own imaginations. As the WWD suggests: “Every person’s small actions add up to a much larger solution – making the difference between a species surviving or disappearing forever. Just #DoOneThingToday to make a difference and help wildlife conservation.”
I invite you, dear readers, to consider your daily lifestyle choices, and the myriad ways they impact marine animals and their habitats. What mindless habits can we change, to affect positive change? Think: self-awareness, not sharp rebukes. Can we give up plastic straws and bottled water? Bypass single-use packaging and toxic chemicals, in favor of organically grown, locally sourced produce? Join beach cleanup crews and carry away our own garbage? Let’s make a pact to choose at least one new way of doing things. Each one, teaching one, showing by example our shared commitment. When multiplied by all the participants in #WWD (including you), we can make a whale of a difference! It’s a gift to ourselves, really, given that we are all interconnected, and very much dependent on a healthy ocean.