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Ann garden January 1 12When people ask what I'm growing in my community garden this time of year it sometimes takes me awhile to respond. It's not that there isn't a lot going on -- living in Southern California, just as much growing as there is in the summer -- it's that it's all so subtle. Except, of course, for the poinsettia and the roses, which are pictured here and continue to be just spectacular.

Otherwise, I've got greens: red and green lettuces, arugula (which is going nuts) and some very cool Osaka Purple Mustard I grew from seeds ordered from the D. Landreth Seed Company that I'm using both for salads and on sandwiches. Also continuing to do well is my celery plant, where I can take a stalk or two a week for my chicken salad and let it continue to grow, the jalapenos (although they're almost done) and -- and this is the most fun -- the strawberries. Gotta love the ability to pick a perfectly ripe strawberry and pop it in your mouth in January.

Looking forward, I've sent away for some new seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They include kale and a Japanese cucumber variety (Sagami Hanjiro) that Baker Creek identified as one of their favorites for 2012. So far, it's a very promising year in the garden.

Rose in garden Dec just as gorgeous. There really is something about the beauty of a rose that always astounds. This year has been a particularly good year -- mine have not stopped blooming for 12 months straight. This beauty came out of the blue, which they often seem to do. I'd come home from a trip to New Mexico last Saturday and went straight from the airport to my community garden, not only because it had been almost a week and I needed to water but because there had been a wicked wind storm while I was out of town and I wanted to make sure everything was in place. Surprisingly, it was -- I think the cement wall my garden backs up to was a big part of that.

So, with everything fine, nothing out of the ordinary, I watered and went home. Four days later I went by and, again seemingly out of the blue, I had five new blooms -- with this one the star. Gorgeous, right? Also starting to bloom is my poinsettia plant (just to the left of the rose in this photo). This will be the third year since I planted a Christmas leftover in the garden and, just in years past, the red leaves come out right on time at the holidays. I'll be sure to post more photos as we get closer. In the meantime, in this time of holiday craziness, let this be a reminder that it's never a bad idea to slow down to smell the roses.

Ann Garden November 2011Earlier this week I went to water my garden. It had been five days since I'd been there (combination of damp conditions that meant no watering needed and my travel schedule) so imagine my surprise when I discovered that at some point in those five days someone had given the hanging vine I've had on the cement wall since I got my garden more than three years ago (and have constantly been cutting back to keep it from attacking my garden) a radical hair cut. As you can see from the photo, it was a total crew cut. Nothing but cement wall for as far as the eye can see.

Now, I'm not against someone (not sure if it was the city of Santa Monica or the owners of the parking lot on the other side, which is where the vine begins) cutting it off, but it would've been nice if I'd been given a heads-up that it was happening. It also would've been nice if whoever did the shearing had cleaned up after themselves. There were leaves and branches everywhere and a lot of my stuff (including the Frantoio olive tree that is, for the first time in seven years, actually growing olives) moved and not returned to the proper place. To say I was distressed would be an understatement. But, I cleaned out the leaves -- which meant taking out most of my alyssum (which used to be between the two olive trees and, as you can see, is now gone but should come back on its own) -- and also took out the mass of mums (see previous blog post) while I was at it, filling a good three big trash bags in the process.

Ann Garden Nov 2011The other new surprise in the garden is a very interesting looking little volunteer (aka weed) that's been growing next to my celery plant. It's so odd looking I've let it keep growing but at some point will have to figure out what it is and then will decide what to do with it. It's in the photo to the right so if you have any ideas on what it is (and suggestions as to what I should do with it), please send me an e-mail at and let me know. Thanks!

Muns in my garden oct 2011As I mentioned in my last blog post, I love discovering surprises in my garden. Wait, that's not exactly true, so let me clarify: I love discovering good surprises. Bad surprises (like the squirrel eating all my corn), not so much. This week's nice surprise was the absolute explosion of mums that greeted me after a few days away (a few days, I should add, that saw the first healthy rain storm of the season). I knew they were coming -- I'd had a few here and there and could see the buds -- but the explosion of color was really amazing. It's also made the bees very happy. Let's not forget the bees. Also producing is the jalapeno plant -- lots of great big red jalapenos.

Lettuce seedlings in my garden oct 2011Otherwise, the fall garden has been a time for cleaning out and new planting. So far that consists of lettuces and radishes and sweet peas. Because I had a bit of a late start, I picked up some lettuce seedlings at Merrihew's (my local nursery) and am following them with the radishes, sweet peas and other lettuces by seed.

I ordered some of my seeds from the D. Landreth Seed Company after reading about them in an article in the L.A. Times. The "oldest seed house in America," Landreth is trying to raise money to stay in business by selling advance copies of their 2012 Heirloom and Vintage Seed Catalogue. It's just $5 and, according to the site, includes detailed histories and descriptions of heirloom and vintage seeds along with original historic horticultural information. After checking out their site, I ordered both the catalog and some very cool looking seeds (Osaka Purple Mustard and Black-seeded Simpson Lettuce seeds) as well. The catalog is expected in December but the seeds have already arrived -- talk about nice surprises!

Ann olives Oct 2011To say I've been remiss in posting here on the community garden blog would be an understatement. So, in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (from "The Princess Bride"), let's sum up. This summer could be summed up in one word: tomatoes. As a friend pointed out, there always seems to be a star in the garden each season and, for me, this year it was the tomatoes. They were amazing. I had at least 50 from the three seedlings I picked up from Tomatomania. The superstars were the Purple Russian (in shear abundance) and the Rose (in shear beauty). The Pineapple was also delicious. The fact we had so many amazing tomatoes lessened the heartbreak when other things didn't do so well. Like the melons. Not sure why, but the Ali Baba watermelon showed promise and then petered out at the end, with the small melons that started growing either dying or splitting. I have been enjoying strawberries (a few a week; the seedlings are still young) and the peppers and roses have stayed consistent.

Crows in ann garden Oct 2011As you may recall, one of the reasons last summer's crop was a disappointment was the marauding squirrel(s) that attacked each and every thing I was growing just as it became ready to harvest. This year, the squirrels seemed to stay away, helped I believe by the stuffed crows my friend gave me last year as decoys (one of which is looking over the strawberries in the photo on the left). I would move them around the garden to whatever was about to ripen and the squirrels stayed away -- until it came to the corn. Yet again, each cob was destroyed the minute it was ready to be harvested. Evidently, fresh corn on the cob is worth the possibility of meeting an imminent end by crow and the others are not.

Now that it is fall, most of the tomatoes have been pulled out -- I have one seedling started by a branch taken from either the Rose or Pineapple (at a certain point you couldn't tell which was which plant-wise) still going -- and it's time to start the fall garden. The big surprise as I did the big clean-out to get the garden ready was to find some olives growing on the five-year-old Frantoio olive tree (see top photo -- if you look close you can see them). I have two olive trees -- a Mission (which is self pollinating and has had olive crops before, although not for a couple years) and the Frantoio (which is not self pollinating and has never grown an actual olive). Essentially, the bees have been doing their job (yea bees!). So, here's to surprises in the garden -- always a nice way to start a new season.

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