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Third generation floristsTo say it's been awhile since I wrote on this section of the site would be an understatement. It's not been for lack of things to write about (as I'm sure you all know, there's always something going on in the garden, although since it is winter it's not quite as exciting as other seasons) but sometimes the sitting down and writing part requires an extra bit of inspiration. That inspiration came this last week when I attended an event at the Fleurish flower bar in Brentwood, which I wrote about on the site here.

Among other things (classes, workshops, events), Fleurish allows people to create flower arrangements using do-it-yourself kits, which meant I spent my Wednesday evening working with flowers and other cuttings (including olive branches!). As I worked with the flowers, I couldn't help but think of my grandfather on my mother's side, who was a florist in Oakland (and one of the kindest people you could ever meet). Rather coincidentally, I had recently found this photo of him (second from right in the back row). It's dated September 20, 1929, and titled "third generation florists."

There was something really cool about working with the flowers and feeling that connection to my grandfather while doing so. It also refueled my appreciation for my garden, which I was probably taking a little for granted (especially in this winter season) and served as a good reminder that, as easy as it is to get caught up in all the little things we feel we need to do every day, it's just as important to stop and quite literally smell the roses.

Ann garden May 2014It's impossible to visit my community garden these days without bursting into a big smile every time I do. As you can see from this photo, in addition to the kale, arugula and basil, which were staples all the way through winter, and the new tomato, cucumber and melon seedlings making their way in the world, the garden is an explosion of color because of all the spring flowers, including poppies, lilies, roses, marigolds and alyssum. Not only do they put a smile on my face but they're making the bees very happy and, as we all know, anything that makes the bees happy makes that smile all the brighter.

As is quite evident in the length of time between the last entry and this one, I've been a little neglectful in posting to my community garden blog. It hasn't been that there isn't anything to report in the garden, although admittedly the fall-winter garden (even in Southern California) is not quite as overtly exciting as the spring-summer garden. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot going on.

Fall saw the usual explosion of chrysanthemums and an unexpectedly large harvest of olives (about 100) from my potted Frantoio olive tree, which you can see to the left of the mums against the wall above. I water cured them and then stored them in a glass jar filled with red vinegar and olive oil. Yum.

And then, of course, the poinsettia went off with its usual splash of red right at Christmas. It's still going strong, as is the alyssum, which keeps the bees and other beneficial insects happy. I also still have arugula, basil (yes, basil -- from last spring's basil plant), kale and lettuces. Otherwise, I've been continuing to prepare the soil for the next round of planting and every gardeners favorite time of year: tomatomania (in honor of the good folks who bring us so many wonderful seedlings), which of course also includes cucumbers, melons, peppers and all the rest of the fabulous spring/summer crops.

IAnn garden corn 2013t's official. Summer is officially over. Even the garden says so, even though here in Southern California we're sure to experience a heat spell here and there in the fall. The tomatoes I planted in the spring are done and the tomatoes I tried adding in late August haven't really gotten off the ground -- even with the recent heat.

This year the most prolific of my tomato varieties was the White Tomesol, while the most beautiful (and big) were the Chocolate Stripe. But the real star of the summer garden was my corn. At its peak the three stalks got to about 10 feet in height (left, above the roses) and, unlike in years past when the marauding squirrel(s) took off with the ears as they ripened, I was able to harvest every single one. I'd like to attribute this to my prowess as a gardener but the truth is I learned from a fellow gardener that a hawk family had moved into the park next to the community garden. Bad for the squirrels but very good for the corn, which we enjoyed on Labor Day as a tribute to the labor of the hawks.

For the fall, it would appear I'm going to get a few dozen olives off the little frantoio olive tree, I've still a ton of arugula and the chrysanthemums are getting ready for their fall burst of color. Otherwise, I'm starting to think about what might come next, which is always the beauty of a new season.

Chocolate stripes tomatoToday is Jeff's birthday and I'm happy to report that the biggest and most beautiful of the tomatoes in my garden -- the Chocolate Stripes (right) -- chose to ripen just in time for the celebration. I'll be using it tonight either in a Caprese salad or in the chopped tomato-onion-garlic-basil-caper-mozzarella salad recipe first posted on the site in 2009 (and sent to me by my friend Tasha in Italy).

As part of the salad, I'll also be using one of the Bermuda onions, which I have also been harvesting from my garden. One of them is shown below along with the other tomato variety I am growing this year, the White Tomesol, which as you can see is pretty darn gorgeous as well. If you're wondering what they're like, the taste is a bit milder than some tomatoes and the texture was very firm, with very little water inside, which is great, especially for salads like the one described above.

onion and white tomesolTomorrow I'm heading up to see one of my favorite gardens in the world -- the one at the Esalen Institute. If you are at all interested in learning more about organic gardening, not only should you visit Esalen to see what they're doing but I would also highly recommend Esalen's upcoming workshop set for September 1-6 called "Cultivating and Rejoicing in the Harvest Garden." Led by Amigo Cantisano, Wendy Johnson and Shirley Ward -- three of the wisest and most experienced (not to mention lovely) organic gardeners you'll ever meet -- the workshop is great for both beginners and more experienced gardeners. I've taken it twice over the years -- and written about it in my story on "Celebrating the Gardeners at Esalen" -- and always come away with new knowledge and inspiration. And, for those who really want to get your hands dirty, you might be interested in the five-month Esalen Farm & Garden Apprenticeship program. So, be inspired! And celebrate -- with tomatoes!

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