Virginia Robinson Gardens…

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I have been receiving the Virginia Robinson Gardens e-mail newsletter ever since I saw a small article about the Beverly Hills estate in my AAA magazine a few years ago. It looked like just the kind of garden I love to visit–interesting and progressive garden originators, a historic home and a size pretty easily covered in a single day. The kind of garden that locals cherish but is not widely known outside its broader neighborhood. This six and a half acre jewel is smack in the middle of historic Beverly Hills–in fact it is often called Beverly Hills’ first estate. Vintage photos taken circa 1911 show a ground hugging house built in the Beaux-Arts style on a rise surrounded by acres and acres of bare dirt. Some 100+ years later it sits behind a modest stucco wall at the end of a residential cul-de-sac.

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The home was built by Harry and Virginia Robinson in 1911. Mr. Robinson, originally from Massachusetts, was the fourth generation in a family of dry goods merchants and heir to what we know today as JW Robinson, the Los Angeles based department store. Virginia was known for her social, business and philanthropic activities and their garden, much of which was modeled after architecture and gardens she and Harry had seen on their 1911 world tour, were often used to entertain the Beverly Hills and Hollywood elite and fundraise for causes dear to the couple. Although Harry died in 1932, Virginia continued to live on the estate for another 4 decades. Upon her death in 1977, the estate was donated to the public for their enjoyment and is currently owned and maintained by the County of Los Angeles.

The Virginia Robinson Gardens can be seen only by pre-scheduled docent led tours–in part this may be due to their good neighbor policy of having all visitors park on the property rather than on the street. They have a small lot which probably only accommodates 20 or so cars and thus must maintain strict control over the size of tour groups. Every Southern California trip I have made in the last several years has started with a e-mail to them checking for an available tour spot coinciding with when I am passing through–they also periodically update days & times with open spots on their website but you must email them to secure your reservation–no online booking. Go to http://www.robinsongardens.org for all you’ll ever want to know and some really wonderful photos. The newsletter announcement of a short class entitled Re-wild Your Garden on the day after I was planning to attend an event at The Huntington in nearby San Marino was a no-brainer for me–not the docent led tour but an opportunity to see the gardens and learn about their efforts to create a more sustainable garden and habitat for pollinators and other local birds and wildlife. I’m in!!

So…the day did not go as smoothly as I had hoped–the first challenge a result of being gone too long from living in a city where you measure your trip in terms of traffic and minutes rather than miles. I checked my Map app as I wound down from my Huntington visit and noted the 39 minute driving time to Beverly Hills. All y’all from SoCal know how this turns out–that was a Sunday night about 7 pm and my drive was to be on the following Monday morning. When I got into the car (fortunately pretty early) I turned on my navigation to reveal the 1 hour and 34 minute drive time which meant that if all went well (??) I would still be 11 minutes late for class. And then there was the route over winding Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Road…

Arriving semi-intact at 10:06 am, it was already 91° but hey..I’d made it and I was not, in fact, the last person to arrive. Tom Lindsay, Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens, introduced the concept of Re-Wilding as creating sustainable garden spaces that offer opportunities for meaningful interaction with nature and people while nurturing the health of the planet. We would walk the gardens as a group using them as an outdoor classroom to illustrate various techniques and concepts such as composting and using plantings well suited to the natural climate/rainfall.

Our first stop was the Kitchen Garden, home to this little lathe greenhouse and its surrounding veggie garden. Composting was the message here–Tim is super hands on in the management of this property and gave concise, clear explanations of how they produce and use their compost. As a note–the home, large back lawn, pool and pool pavilion are on flat ground but everything else falls off precipitously to either side of those areas. The veggie beds have only a small swathe of level ground then go right up a hill.

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To further illustrate that, base of the stairs are at the driveway level–at the top of the stairs you are on the level of the lawn and pool.

Tim shared that a mandate from the City of Beverly Hills several years ago requiring them to cut their water use by 30% was integral in sparking the desire to be more sustainable. At that time the property had two large lawn areas in the front, the Great Lawn in the back and two smaller lawn areas immediately in front of the pool pavilion. He felt the Great Lawn was necessary for siting large numbers of tables and chairs for events but decided to eliminate all the other lawn. The first season after the lawns were removed they reduced their water usage by 33%.

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Looking from the Great Lawn to the Pool and Pool Pavilion
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One of 14 water features on the property–all maintained with the use of mosquito fish and without chemicals–provide habitat for birds and insects
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Lone pond bloom
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Pool nestled in front of the Pool Pavilion–the areas to either side of the brick surround now contain pea gravel and a tough ground cover that will take both foot traffic and dining seating when needed
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Looking back toward the house from the Great Lawn

The Italian cypress seen in this photo are a prominent feature throughout the grounds and provide a baseline of water requirements for any future plantings. The automated sprinkler system runs once every seven days and anything to be added must be adaptable to that watering schedule. Newly planted materials may get a little supplemental hose watering but only until they are established. From the Great Lawn we moved toward the Dry Border and then on to the Italian Terrace Garden both of which are off to the right of this photo and then downhill…way downhill by means of multiple sets of brick steps and walkways. It was in the Dry Border that I dropped my camera on the brick walk and it bounced off and downhill about 3 feet under a bush–good thing I was at the end of the group! Well…everything seemed to be working and it wasn’t until I got home to download my photos that those from this point on are totally black. See–I told you that you would enjoy those great photos on their website! I so wanted you to see the Musical Stairs-a set of brick stairs which have a rill in the middle (little rivulet of water) traveling downward down from a neighboring small water feature. The hillside terraced garden was spectacular as was the skyline view of LA skyscrapers. Go ahead and close your eyes and maybe you can imagine it.

Tim took the class on through to the meadow garden which has replaced the turf on both sides of the front walkway from the street. The meadow is at its peak in March, April and May and looks pretty dreadful now–which is just as you would expect it to. The dead vegetation has been tidied up and Tim demonstrated how he uses a whirlybird spreader to broadcast seed to beef up the meadow for next year. Many plants are reseeding annuals or perennials but each year something new is added to keep it filled in.

It is here our class ended but Tim offers us the opportunity to walk down into the Palm Forest across the driveway to see the newly installed pond which will be the centerpiece for many children’s programs. There are old and new narrow sloped walking paths, not yet having handrails all the way down. My camera strap was irritating my now pretty sweaty neck so I tucked the camera in my bag and pulled out my phone for some photos. I am convinced now there must have been a garden fairy on my shoulder giving me that idea or I would not have a single shot of this amazing part of the garden.

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Palm Forest seen from the driveway

The Palm Forest is a roughly two acre sloping area originally planted with citrus and other Mediterranean plants. Poor drainage and heavy soil eventually caused their demise and a consultation with a landscape architect in the 1920s led the Robinsons to dedicate the area to tropical plants. Hundreds of King palms from Queensland, Australia were planted and now provide a shaded canopy 60+ feet high. It is not known if the palms were planted from seed or small plants but it is agreed that this grouping is now the largest of this species outside of Australia. The forest floor along the upper part of the walkway is planted with Clivia miniata. Although only a few remnants of it remain today, Harry Robinson tended a serious collection of ferns in this area.

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The new pond is very large and bordered with large boulders. A duck house awaiting a coat of stain rests on the corner of a small terrace. It is hoped that a few outliers from a duck colony living in nearby Franklin Canyon will take up residence in the pond and lay their eggs in the house once it is installed on the water’s surface.

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Amazing King palms
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Looking up from the forest floor, newly planted with sun perennials, near the pond to the house above

Insane hilly driving and lost photos notwithstanding this was a worthwhile visit. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time talking with one of the children’s program docents (for 26 years!) who encouraged me to come back and take the guided tour for more history of the garden and generally more time in each area.

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She also helped me with the purchase of this wonderful book written by Mr. Lindsay and colleagues which is chock full of photos of both the home and garden from its earliest days and of Mr. & Mrs. Robinson and their friends and family in addition to descriptions  of each garden area including plant lists. I will study it before I visit again so I can be on the lookout for interesting features and details which I’m sure I passed by this time.

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Harry (named after Mr. Robinson) the Kitchen Garden cat hopes to see you soon!

Virginia Robinson Gardens is located at 1008 Elden Way in Beverly Hills, California

All things Robinson, including a timeline of the garden’s development, great photography and information you need to visit at http://www.robinsongardens.com

 

 

 

 

 

Dog and other woods…

The last trip to our cabin in Fish Camp near Yosemite National Park had a few hours for leisurely walks and Yatzhee! on the wraparound deck but was mostly about accomplishing chores necessary for the coming winter. We take the removable snow rails down from the deck and pull out the painted plywood snow doors for installation on two of our three entry doors. With central heat and a nice wood stove, we make use the cabin every few weeks throughout the cold season. It’s impossible to know whether we will have 10 feet of snow or none at all and so the smart money is to be prepared for whatever comes well in advance the the first icy flakes.

In my 2018 post Dogwood day…Memorial Day I featured bloom photos from the lone Cornus nuttalii, Pacific dogwood, on our property. I’ve since found that we have one other but certainly that’s not really the making of a dogwood forest, especially when the spring blooms bursting out along the highway to our place have almost a wedding like feel. On this visit the dogwood’s leaves are starting to show their fall color.

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Shaded by a high canopy of cedars, firs and pines it is a little hard to see the russet and purple tones creeping in.

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I got pretty excited when I saw a number of seed clusters well within my reach–maybe I can grow my own little dogwood forest! I texted my native plant mentor Ann for counsel and spent a bit of time on a few California native plant propagations sites to get a sense of the best way to go. The consensus was that directly sowing the seeds would probably be more successful than trying to start in pots. I was amazed to learn that germination could take up to 18 months!! Seed collection is #1 on my to-do list for our next trip–hopefully I won’t have missed my window of opportunity.

Number one of this trip’s list was to take care of our wood supply for the winter. We are able to cut firewood every year in specific amounts and from designated locations on public lands with US Forest Service permits. Every couple of years we supplement that supply with a load of cured and cut almond.

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In preparation for the new wood we shift the older wood remaining on the second set of wood cribs to the front one, making a nice open space for the new wood to be delivered. Even with two sets of hands this is a several hour job.

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The big truck makes the big dump

The weight of the wood truck (this one hauling 4 cords of wood stacked in the bed with vertical partitions separating each cord) dictates that the wood must be dumped at the TOP of our year old asphalt driveway–the truck could come down but would never be able to get back up!

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Our wood moving method involves Dave backing up our truck to the pile. We then fill up the bed, drive the truck down the hill and back it up near the wood cribs and unload it into another pile…three times.  A strong motivating factor is that we cannot drive off our property until the wood is moved.

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Then that big pile gets stacked onto the empty crib. The whole process takes about six or seven hours. Dave is strong and I am slow but steady. I am not sure I would have survived “the olden days”. He always gets the honor of placing the last log. With every stick tucked in its spot both piles get tarps and bungee cords to keep the wood dry. We use these two wood storage stacks to refresh the smaller wood supplies kept closer to the cabin. I am here to tell you this work makes even the most strenuous garden tasks seem lightweight!

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Missing these beautiful blooms until next spring (taken May 2018)

 

 

Getting down into the gutter…

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There are no finer blooms than those of the hellebores in late winter. The only even slightly negative thing I can say about these lovely nodding bells is that you almost have to lay on the ground on your back to photograph their blossoms! This is one of a half dozen or so I sited up the slight slope of a narrow long side yard on our corner lot. So indeed, I was literally in the gutter with my camera propped on the curb trying to get this picture.

This is Helleborus x hybridus ‘NW Cotton Candy’ (also sometimes labeled ‘NGN Cotton Candy’) in its first winter bloom. The lawn in this side bed was removed in 2017 and the area replanted between late 2017 and early 2018. This 1 gallon plant went in just about this time last year, at the tail end of when hellebores are in full bloom in the garden centers.

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It is one of three and is tucked under the shady canopy of a mature Bradford pear. I have to give it stellar marks for vigor as this area is extremely dry shade with ample root competition for what little summer water is available. The trio was a little peaked through the hottest summer months but nothing more than to be expected of perennials not yet having settled into their new homes. The recent rains have helped tremendously and there is a nice first year show of blooms on each plant.

The Cotton Candy strain is one of a series of Northwest Garden Nursery hellebores produced from hand pollinated plants in the Eugene, Oregon garden home of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne. The O’Byrnes have dabbled (their words–I’d call it way more than dabbling) in hellebore breeding since the early 1990s. You may be familiar with other strains in their wildly popular Winter Jewel series. I recently bought their ‘Ruby Wine’ which is almost black with a purple sheen. Although they are primarily breeders and wholesalers they do have select retail days throughout the year. Hellebore Garden Open Days each February offer opportunities to tour their garden. The 2019 Open Days are right around the corner–February 16th and 23th. Please visit their website http://www.northwestgardennursery.com to read all about the O’Byrnes and get a glimpse of their garden. Don’t miss clicking on the Gallery tab to see individual photos of their single flowered and double flowered strains–a feast for any gardener’s eyes!

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I first came to adore these so called Lenten Roses when I lived in Georgia where they multiplied readily under the protection of tall pines. While I admire their variety and their propensity to ‘pollinate amongst themselves’ producing seedlings whose eventual blooms look nothing like anything you what actually purchased, I love none more than the ones I just call Mary’s hellebores which were seedlings from the garden of my dear friend Mary S. Transplanted from my Macon garden to my California garden–a very long over the garden fence trip–they did not reach blooming age until after we had left Georgia but now provide me with bountiful blooms and memories, growing vigorously and offering me countless seedlings to pass along to yet another gardening friend.

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The “new” Grevilleas…

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No, they aren’t really new at all but the wide variety of shapes, sizes and flower color in the genus Grevillea has certainly been more visible in American garden centers in the past decade as the prominence of Australian plants surges in gardens where climate and cultural conditions favor the so-called Mediterranean and sub-tropical plant families.

Grevillea is a diverse genus of over 300 species of evergreen flowering plants native to Australia, New Guinea, New Caledonia and other eastern Indonesian islands. The genus is named for Charles Francis Greville who sat in the British House of Commons from 1774 to 1790. He was a very close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, one of the organizers of the Society for Improvement of Horticulture, a precursor to the Royal Horticultural Society.

In my first iteration as a California gardener in the 1970s about the only Grevillea commonly used in Central Valley landscapes was Grevillea ‘Noellii’, a fast growing prickly shrub with fine foliage and with intricate dark pink flowers. For my minuscule first home lot its mature size of 3-6 feet tall and wide was just too overwhelming. I can’t say in the ensuing 40 years that I had thought much about Grevilleas until we returned to California in 2008 and I started seeing them popping up with great diversity in garden centers, especially in very temperate Southern California. Short or tall, upright, mounding or almost prostrate, there seems to be one for almost any garden situation as long as you have a sunny spot with good drainage. They are hardy mostly and 20 degrees C and drought tolerant. The only quirk of note is their intolerance to phosphorus–thus the need to be cautious with fertilizers.

In our seemingly never-ending lawn removal/bed replanting project I have added a few different species and cultivars of Grevillea. One of the first selections was Grevillea rosemarinifolia, pictured above, which I tucked under the loose canopy of a huge weeping juniper anchoring a spot of ground between our driveway and our side yard fencing. With rosemary like foliage, this species will mound up with layers of airy, nodding branches. As we periodically tidy up the juniper, more space for its eventual 4 foot height is made. Even with the dappled shade produced by the juniper’s branches, this area is in full on southwestern sun all day and gets precious little irrigation. Check out This eagle has finally landed… for some pics at the end of the post of this juniper in all its tree-like glory!

Planted in very late 2017 from a 4 inch pot this selection has proved to be a robust but well-behaved garden dweller, covered now with pinky red buds ready to burst into bloom.

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My back garden holding area still has a few “new” Grevillea waiting for their permanent homes to be ready and I am on the lookout for additional  ones to try. I am most excited about a little gal called ‘Pink Midget’ which will occupy a spot along the walk from my mailbox to my front door. I can’t wait to see the hummers fighting over a spot at their new nectar bar!

 

 

Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’…

Our so-far mild winter is allowing us to continue work on our final front yard lawn removal. We’ve had just the right amount of rain to loosen up the soil and make digging less onerous but not so much that we have lost too many work days to puddles, sogginess and sinkholes.

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We are marching steadfastly from west to east with my sweet Dave in the lead, having both the tools and muscle. You can barely see him in this photo sitting on the ground behind the red wheelbarrow. This being our fourth time to the party he has got a pretty good system. The lawn was chemically treated in early fall–lawn removal by sod cutting machinery is not such a sure thing with a common bermuda lawn. The roots can be very deep and any small viable bits left behind will roar back as soon as growing conditions are right. I swear there have been viable bermuda roots found in fossils from prehistoric times!

He has divided the area into smaller, more workable sections. First, he uses a hula hoe to scrape off any above ground dead grass up into piles. To not sacrifice so much of our topsoil he then sifts through these piles, separating grass remains from viable soil–that’s is what he is doing sitting on the ground in the photo. The good soil is then moved off to a tarp to be reincorporated later. Next he tills the area and again picks out any grass roots, rocks, etc. including copious wads of the green netting that was the original sod’s underlayment. Step three is to double dig the section–one shovel depth’s down worth of soil is dug and off loaded to the side and then the newly exposed surface is dug a second shovel depth’s down. The rock, roots and various leftover construction material removal continues throughout the process. All the previously off loaded soil is returned to the bed and dug together along with whatever amendments I have selected for the area. I am exhausted just outlining the process! The last step is to grade the section to flow smoothly into large untouched areas at the bases of our mature trees.

As Dave prepares the beds I follow behind adding the plants. As with the areas already finished I am concentrating on more waterwise plants–hoping to create a balance the water needs of the existing mature landscape and the new. Unlike last year, my back yard holding area is not so flush with “plants in waiting” so planting is going slowly. Lots of bearded iris and daylily divisions have gone in along with a number of my favorite salvias. I am trying a few more new selections such as Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’ and Ceanothus ‘Hearstiorum’, both plantings of which will be in the bed’s ground zero for all day  southern sun. Once these are established they should be very low water users which will allow me to eliminate several pesky, always broken, curbside sprinkler heads.

I am on always on the hunt for plants. Our recent Southern California overnight yielded two nursery stops and a few selections were checked off my acquisition list. Not to be found–and no surprise given the time of year–was another Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ to echo the one planted to the west of the front walk last year.

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I probably should read my own blog archives so I can remember if ‘Dara’s Choice’ was purchased locally or, more likely, one of the salvias I bought at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s 2017 fall plant sale. The single gallon can specimen was quite small and unremarkable when planted but over the year it has grown to a beautifully shaped, slightly weepy mound with clear medium green quilted leaves. And in the last couple of weeks it has come into bloom. Not really a show stopper but not every plant has to be covered in big, blowsy flowers to have worth in my garden.

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Mid photo you can see there are a good number of gracefully stalks bearing the small pale blue whorled blooms. The layered foliage performed very well, even though in the ground only a few months, throughout our very hot and dry 2018 summer. Its graceful appearance on the slope is worth repeating in the area we are now working. A little research reveals ‘Dara’s Choice’ to be one of the black sages, botanically Salvia mellifera. Apis mellifera is the scientific name for honeybees to which this plant is highly attractive. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and its relatively low, mounding profile and broad spread makes it a great salvia selection for well-drained, sunny slopes. I am hopeful I will find one soon and who knows what other interesting plants I will meet along the way! Give us a few more weeks on this project for a complete coverage of what we’ve added to the mix of shrubs and perennials.

The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights…

Our ultimate Southern California destination which allowed us the small side trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont was an overnight stay at The Mission Inn to experience their Festival of Lights. Now in its 26th year, this privately produced public event started when Keepers of the Inn Duane and Kelly Roberts decorated the hotel with lights the first Christmas after its reopening to commemorate in Inn’s rebirth. This year’s festival includes over 5 million lights, more than 400 characters and beautiful decor inside and out. The 2017 25th anniversary switch-on ceremony drew 85,000 spectators. The display was voted “Best Public Lights Display” in 2014 and “Best Holiday Festival” in 2015 by the readers of USA Today.

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The historic Mission Inn occupies an entire block in the heart of downtown Riverside, California. The oldest part of the Inn dates to 1902 when Frank Miller built a four story U-shaped hotel enclosing a large center courtyard. Over the next thirty years additional wings were added and the Inn became a destination for the wealthy and famous, many of whom stayed for months at a time. I’ll tell you a bit more about the hotel’s history in a second post when you can follow along with us as we take the docent led Historic Hotel tour.

If this looks like an event you’d like to take in next year my advice would be to arrive at the hotel well before dark to get your bearings. My husband had been to the hotel several times many years ago for business lunches and felt sure he knew the lay of the land. However, during the Festival, the normal valet pull-in area and front entrance of the Inn is cordoned off for the very orderly lines of hundreds of people waiting to walk through the light display. And there are masses of people everywhere on the surrounding streets, making negotiating the foot and vehicle traffic nerve wracking. Valet and self-parking for hotel guests is on the back side of the hotel with a short walk to enter on the Orange Street side of the Inn.

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As we check in we are greeted by this beautiful Christmas tree. The lobby is sumptuously decorated and is full of groups, large and small, having a drink and a few appetizers, awaiting their dinner reservations and having their photos snapped in front of the tree by the tree’s personal elf. It is hard to say when I have seen so many folks dressed in red, green and sparkles recently. The Inn’s four restaurants and private room facilities are clearly favorites for holiday events.

Our home for the night was Room 101, a corner room in the oldest part of the hotel. The room was very large with three windows, 2 of which opened onto Mission Inn Avenue and the other overlooking Main Street which is a pedestrian paseo closed to vehicles. One story above the ground floor, we would be sleeping right on top of the Inn’s Museum. As I entered, the room felt a bit like being right on Bourbon Street in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Even a grinch would have gotten into the Christmas spirit with the carols playing and the sounds of families and friends enjoying the festival just below. My own grinch’s fears about the room being too noisy to sleep were for naught–when we returned around 10 pm it was quiet and calm.

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Looking down from our Mission Inn Avenue window
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Those are our windows right behind the blue lights!

A perk of being a hotel guest is that you may wander as you please through the displays–no lines to wait in. We made a full circle (square?) around the Inn before we approached the main display at the front entrance. Please enjoy the lights while forgiving my abysmal night photography skills.

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Carriages for hire on Orange Street
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Orange Street entrance
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Displays on every floor over Las Campanas restaurant
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Main Street facade
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So many people lined up to see the Festival–happy faces for a cold night!
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Mission styled architecture on the Inn’s front facade
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One of two nutcrackers guarding the entrance to the courtyard

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Historic orange tree decked in white lights
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Pergola connecting the courtyard to the Main Street paseo–this structure once extended a full five blocks to the train station!
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Dining in the courtyard at the Mission Inn Restaurant 
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Courtyard’s fountain decorated for the season

Despite the crowds and our fashionably late European dinner reservation hour, the evening was a lovely experience and the Mission Inn is clearly a holiday destination for area residents. FYI–we booked a single package which included our lovely room, a small credit toward dinner in one of the Inn’s restaurants and the docent led Historic Hotel tour the morning of our check out. Although I was actually born at March Air Force Base just outside of Riverside, I had not been there for decades and wasn’t really aware of the many other places of interest in its historic downtown. We certainly could have stayed another day or two and found many engaging sites to see. A+ on this overnight adventure!

 

 

Not exactly Country Living…

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I have always been an inveterate consumer of gardening, home decorating and lifestyle magazines. If I had a nickel for every issue of Southern Living, Sunset, Country Living and Traditional Home that has graced my coffee tableand now a whole new genre of magazines which have the word cottage in their titles has captured my fancy: The Cottage Journal and Cottage Christmas (substitute Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn to cover the year!) to name few. Periodically, horrified at the amount of money I spend on this quasi-obsession,  I go cold turkey and let all my subscriptions lapse. I can stay on an even keel for most of the year but when those fall and holiday focused issues appear at Barnes and Noble and my local grocery store display I can feel that craving wash over me. I don’t really care about the perfect purse or another piece of jewelry but I am undone at the thought that there may be a life changing idea (vignette, recipe…) in one of my favs and I am going to miss it!

So, with your new understanding of my lifelong fascination with pouring over those picture perfect family friendly kitchens, blooming right-on-cue garden beds and exquisitely curated party plans, you won’t be surprised that I developed a few romantic notions of quintessential cabin life when in 2015 we bought our cedar sided cabin in Fish Camp just outside the southern gate of Yosemite National Park. Most have been dispelled by a basement full of squirrels and the stuff that comes with them, bats in the rafters, 40 year old windows and the realization that we neither have the funds nor the expected lifespan for cabin life to be magazine perfect, except possibly Handyman. Making it habitable and a fun place to host family friends was our ultimate goal in the first place and it didn’t take long for me to circle right back to that.

One lingering  and picturesque thought for me has been to host a wreath making day for my BFFs on the deck overlooking our snowy meadow. I would spend a morning clipping fresh boughs from the array of conifers on our property, arrange them beautifully in bins by variety (complete with identifying tags in hand done calligraphy) and set out all the necessary tools and supplies. My friends would arrive, all perfectly outfitted in the colorful and coordinated cold weather gear–looking like ladies who stepped right off the pages of Lands’ EndWe would enjoy a sumptuous lunch of hearty, homemade soup and crusty bread, sitting around a perfectly dressed rustic table arrangement and breathe in the fresh mountain air while we share our family holiday plans.

On our last cabin stay that thought resurfaced when my iPhone calendar reminders popped up with notations for ‘wreath making at Ellen’s’ on two days early in December. With absolutely no recollection of what these were I reached out to Ellen and we quickly determined that our quilting friendship group had decided LAST year that we would work in this activity in 2018, piggybacking on the class offered by our local River Center for which Ellen is a volunteer. The reality is that holiday wreath making in the Sierra mountains can come with all kinds of challenges: weather that can change on a dime, icy roads, gathering greenery in 3 feet of snow and packing in our lunch groceries in the same. I am not even mentioning the need for the large Lands’ End order to achieve ‘the look’ AND not freeze to death.

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Looking up from the meadow in December 2016

And so before we packed up to come home I cut a few bins worth of boughs and braved our rocky slope for some manzanita. A few days later we gathered in Ellen’s flatland garage with contributions from our Fresno yards and my mountain greens to fashion our holiday wreaths.

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Not exactly Country Living, but real life with friends sharing fellowship, food and a fun activity. We feasted on hearty, homemade soup at at Ellen’s beautifully arranged holiday table and although there was no crusty bread–there was dessert! I think we almost got the outfits right–what do you think?

P.S. Within a few days of coming down the mountain, Fish Camp got its first winter snowstorm.