I Moved a Garden … and more unsolicited gardening advice


“Plants that wake when others sleep. Timid jasmine buds that keep their fragrance to themselves all day, but when the sunlight dies away let the delicious secret out to every breeze that roams about.”
~ Thomas Moore, Irish poet

I started a little container garden on our patio soon after we moved to Riverside in 2013. As I wrote here  Stop! Smell This Rose! it gave me surprising pleasure and an occasional tomato.

Riverside is an amazing little city and Don and I loved living in the Inland Empire. I found the best yoga and an awesome veterinarian in Redlands. But then we were Gramma and Grandpa (now BahJah and BahJah!) and it was time to move back to Los Angeles. We drew a 15-minute circle around the kids’ Highland Park house and began the dreaded apartment search. (Lessons we learned: Start early. Take your time. Enjoy the journey. And be comforted by this statistic: One must look at 18 places, on average, before finding the perfect place.)

Fortunate to have a partner with similar goals, we looked for a place with a good outside — along with all our other top priorities: okay for the dog and the cat, in a pleasant neighborhood, with a great kitchen, good light. Good thing we started early!

Joyously, we ended up here in La Crescenta. I used to sneak up here to shop when we lived in Highland Park and my favorite freeway in Los Angeles has always been The Two but I really had no idea what a delightful community it is!

[How nice is it? La Crescenta aside: Today in Ralph’s I turned to the first person who looked like she might know what fennel is and said, without interjection or introduction, “What’s fennel?” She missed no beats, smiled, and off we went in search of fennel. After a bit, I got polite. “I could ask someone who works here,” I offered. “Nonsense!” she said. “This is so much fun! I love this!” Eventually we found something called Anise and I shared the name of the recipe for which I was shopping. Wonderful thing, this is a common kind of interaction!]

We found the perfect place and cozied ourselves into a delightful apartment – with a yard!  It’s a small “yard,” but it is outside, it has dirt, water, good summer sun, and it is mine!

Julie y Benji y Bella 10-16Before we moved I cut everything growing on my Riverside patio down to nubs. It made me sad to do it but that was the only way to move my little garden.

The movers lost only one pot; I found shards of broken hidden imitation terra cotta all through the weeks I dug through wood chips to the Crescenta Valley rocks which lay beneath. The rocks are notorious. Talk to an old-timer long enough and you’ll hear about the Great Flood of 1934 and alluvial fans.

Once I determined that the rocks simply, somehow reproduce themselves, I piled them up in the corner, planted a couple of bigger cactus in the back, succulents in the front, and called it a perfect day!


I approached the rebuilding and expansion of my little garden would as a developer. Location! Location! Location! Every plant in the correct spot! Starting at the edges, I worked my way in, creating flower beds all along the walls: Moon Flowers, Morning Glories, and Sweet Peas there, Scarlet Runner Beans there (for the hummingbirds), (eventually) Daylilies with wildflowers there, recalling my perennial gardening aims:

  1. A pleasant scent, especially at night
  2. Edibleness
  3. Attractiveness to butterflies & hummingbirds
  4. General and extreme prettiness

I started gardening on a patio in Riverside. If it wasn’t edible, it had better be really really pretty if it wanted to stay! Finding the right plant for the right spot also means accepting that I can’t grow apples because we’ll never get sufficient hours of winter chill (Amen!). Also, I have no room for trees.

Gardeners are as generous as are dog people. There are myriad reliable guides and resources, forums and question-answering sites. This beginners gardening guide from the master gardeners of Los Angeles County is solid and complete; this Garden Guide for Southern California from Better Homes & Gardens is helpful and beautiful to look at (quality flower pictures make me happy!); I refer to this one-page vegetable planting cheat-sheet with regularity!

165-P1040828I bought and built raised beds for veggies, added a round cloth bed for herbs just outside the back door, carved out a corner spot for Benji’s little table, chairs, and easel, and laid plastic patio stones for two patio chairs and a small table and a separate area for the BBQ grill to come.

P1170576The roses came back the quickest and we only lost a couple.

Some of the Jasmines are growing back nicely, including, I hope, the night-blooming one. It’s the only plant I specifically sought; one waft of it in the early evening takes me right back to my first California fall, knocking on doors in the Hills of Oakland. What is that smell? I thought, for nights. Only this year did I realize it may have been dearer because I’d never smelled that smell before. Not a Jersey aroma!

For me, it is the scent of youth and hope, deep drenching rain in Pinole, the faith and optimism of a cross-country move, my new home ~ California, in the fall of my twenty-second year.


Besides catnip, cat grass, and catmint, our herb garden boasts cilantro, dill, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, chives (garlic and regular), Italian parsley, and many other herbaceous plants of questionable identify and origin.

Initially I was determined to avoid plating anything that I would have to mow. I imagined peppy clover and paths of creeping thyme. But the animal lobby was ultimately too powerful to resist. I struggle now to grow a small lawn.

Along the way, every day, I learn new lessons.  These random bits of advice I share with you!

  1. Only grow vegetables you like to eat. With any luck, you’ll grow a lot of them and all plants do better if you pick their fruit and flowers. So, no kale here.
  2. Plant peas. Everyone loves to eat them fresh from the garden. Everybody! Plus they improve the soil and help things around them to grow better.
  3. If you really want a plant but don’t have room for it, look for a dwarf version. There’s a smaller size of almost everything!
  4. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it! There is an incredible amount of fauna that loves the summer drought of life in southern California. Some does not.
  5. Find a place for Milkweed. It is the only plant upon which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. There’s a Milkweed perfect for every garden.
  6. Use the best soil possible. In the LA area, the City of Los Angeles gives away glorious free dirt and excellent mulch at several sites. Personally, I love the drive up the 210 to the Lopez Canyon Landfill!

(Tons) more garden pictures here:

And hummingbird pictures here:


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