January 23, 2021

Winter Solstice 2020-2021, the fourth, Descanso Gardens (crayon pastels on Australian grey toned pastel paper)

Sketch of third winter solstice tree (see 1/15/2021) from a different angle (pen and ink with Intense pencils and water on mix media paper)

Up until yesterday it just hadn’t felt much like winter here, but this is one CA girl’s final homage to the winter solstice SoCal style. It’s kind of crazy, but just the other day it was almost 90 degrees outside my house. (For those of you in a polar vortex winter, I am truly sorry.) We’ve had almost no rain this winter and believe it or not, beautiful sunny weather can actually be kind of a worry and not really that wonderful. You might think you’d like to trade weather with us, well OK. All that heat without sufficient moisture can easily lead to a fire. It seems to me that each US region has its uniquely wonderful weather stories, as well as horrendous naturally disastrous weather. It also seems we are all experiencing unseasonal temperatures that feels like global warming to me. And to add to our already SoCal tinder box we had hours and hours of wind last Wednesday. In the early hours of that morning I heard not only the wind whipping around my house and trees, but also the sound of nearby fire/paramedic sirens four separate times. We had similar dry and windy weather last year and that lead to devastating fires here. (You may have read about it.) I don’t think I could stand that again. We were all indoors because of COVID, but weren’t really safe inside our homes either as smoke from the fires crept into our houses every time we opened the front door, even just to get the mail or take out the trash. Maybe all my weather worries are wrapped up with my hopes for better 2021 times. What about you?

The pastel close up of the specimen sycamore tree from the Descanso was an interesting challenge that unintentionally arose from the pinkish “under” color I chose. It’s actually called Australian Grey, but it really looks pink to me. In fact, that’s why I chose it. I was interested to see specifically how it would handle the yellow leaves and cobalt blue sky I layered on top. I had also hoped that the rosy hue would help me render the bark of the tree. Sycamore bark has a kind of scabby appearance, in my opinion. In fact, I am not really sure what I think of this tree in general. I mean, this specimen at the Descanso Gardens is huge and quite lovely, but I have seen sycamores that are giant and rather unattractive. I spoke with a “real” gardener a number of years ago and she said that it wasn’t her favorite either. And I guess that those in the “know” say it gets all kinds of diseases and is referred to as a “sick a more.”

Speaking of sick trees, I think my CA pepper tree (see 11/7/2020 post) that blew down in our last wind storm was probably not really very healthy. Maybe some of you already might have suspected that a healthy tree should not just drop huge branches, or completely uproot and fall over whatever kind of wind is blowing. Now that the tree is gone, I am wondering what to do with that spot. I do enjoy being able to see the hills, and was able to easily view the recent jupiter and saturn conjunction. But I think the birds and squirrels would enjoy another tree. First, I am going to try to “beef up” that soil by planting a cover crop that will hopefully add extra nitrogen in the soil. In past springs I have been delighted with the sight of fields of a cover crop known as crimson clover. The flowers are really quite fun—bright little fuzzy red spears and all. I ordered some seed, as well as “clover inoculant” to help ensure the soil would really be improved. I treated the seeds with the inoculant and planted them last weekend. As the weather was unseasonably dry I tried to keep the ground damp so the seeds would germinate and then hopefully grow. When I looked at the patch of ground after the Wednesday winds, it looked like a lot of the top soil I had added had blown away. I was pretty disheartened and wondered if anything would come up. When I looked again on Thursday I could see tiny crimson clover seedlings pushing through the dirt. I was ecstatic. I ringed the area with a tacky temporary fence to keep people from walking in there. (Of course you have to look hard to see anything growing, so maybe I just wanted to draw attention to my “idea” of spring flowers in a garden even though it looks like there’s nothing there.) But my best winter news from a patch of SoCal garden is that it rained last night and it is raining right now. Winter is finally here. Hallelujah! 

We did have some sad news this week. My son’s other grandmother passed away on Wednesday. She loved flowers (especially dianthus) and vine ripened tomatoes. When she spoke to my son over the summer she often asked about what was growing in my garden, and was keenly interested in the progress of the milkweed and monarch butterflies. His grandma always had dianthus growing in her raised beds. I think this year I will tuck some dianthus seeds into my garden as well. She would be glad to hear I had done that and would want regular updates on their progress. I know my son will miss telling her about them.

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