A fight broke out on the adjacent hillside, just after daybreak. The animals’ movements were cloaked by dense chapparel, but their battle cries echoed through the canyon. First, the bark-howl of a surprised coyote, followed closely by the low pitched, guttural growls of a bobcat (similar to, but more robust than a domestic cat). It seemed to me a territorial dispute, which the coyote apparently won, because as the bobcat’s angry yowls faded, the coyote’s yip-howls got louder.
As if on cue, a stranger rolled up in his late-model sports car. I watched from my picture window as he rushed out of the drivers’ side door, cell phone poised for snapshots. His timing was impeccable, from his point of view, but he apparently left his common sense at home.
“Here, boy,” the man called out, as he inched his way into the bushes where the coyote was singing his victory song. He responded to the yip-howls with kissing noises. “Come,” he said, followed by whistles, ignoring completely the coyote’s territorial warning as he advanced.
When nature refused to answer his beck and call, the man threw up his hands and retreated. As I watched him climb back into his convertible, I couldn’t help but wonder how far removed from nature we sometimes are, to assume a scene from nature begins and ends with us.
(I didn’t want to encroach on the coyote’s territory with my camera, so I offer you instead a zoomed-in photograph of a hummingbird who helps stitch together the wildflowers on the hillside and the cultivars in my garden.)
This Swallowtail visited my garden, earlier this week. It perched itself on a nearby Pentas Nova, oblivious to the camera slung around my neck and the pruning shears I carried.
It lingered for a long while, basking in the sunlight and sipping nectar.
I snapped a quick photo and then observed quietly from a distance.
I was mesmerized by the slow, steady rhythm of its beating wings and the seemingly infinite patience it demonstrated as it unfurled its proboscis and drew it up again, probing for food in one flower and then another. A metronome of the natural world, its tempo was unaffected by the take-offs and landings at the bird bath adjacent, fluttering palm fronds, and the swirl of activity at the goldfinch feeder.
And in those singular moments, I was a student again, learning life lessons in nature’s classroom.
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.