The following was intended to be written as a cookbook review in 1998. It says a great deal about Robert so I am presenting it exactly as it was written in 1998:
“When we moved into this house on my birthday nine years ago, it was clear from the get-go that I was not the gardener who would cultivate this three-quarter acre plot of land with its twenty-six fruit trees. I was, in my OTHER LIFE a member of what someone – Erma Bombeck, I think – once referred to as the Black Thumb Terrorist organization. We killed plants. The only plant I managed not to kill while my four sons were growing up was a poor little cactus that set on the kitchen window sill, refusing to give up. Well, we all know what a hardy group the cacti are.
However, my housemate is a person who was surely born with topsoil under his fingernails. He is happiest out in the yard, pruning, sniping trimming, transplanting, weeding and re-arranging what was once a rather plain front yard has been transformed into clusters of foliage flanked by red bricks salvaged from the last earthquake (1994) when the neighbors’ chimneys collapsed and people hauled brick and mortar out to the curbsides to be picked up. Enterprising people (such as ourselves) could go around and gather up the unbroken red bricks which now line our driveway.
Every time we went to Ventura or Santa Barbara, Bob managed to clip something – a sprig of this or that (which he stored in the cooler), which under his coaxing took root and transformed itself into something like our driveway border of ice plants. Also, equally important, every time I gaze at the ice plants, I remember the Memorial weekend in Santa Barbara when we acquired the cutting that would become the ice plant family.
We planted bougainvillea, which I love, and have been persuading it to grow over the rooftop but even after nine years, I am still envious of the much greater profusion of bougainvillea which grows in many of my neighbors’ yards.
Bob collected rocks from beaches and other places we traveled to, and when he had enough rocks he began creating a waterfall and pond.
The house had a little grape arbor when we moved in; we have since extended the arbor in two directions, hoping to get it to eventually grow across the entire back of the house, to provide some shade form the hot California sun. Our grape arbor has become so prolific that I can’t possibly make enough grape juice and grape jelly so we did what any other sensible people might do; we spent $500.00 on wine making equipment and he began making some of our own wine. (I figure it cost us about $10.00 a bottle that first year). Our friend Stan made darling little labels for our wine bottles, focusing on my love of lighthouses.
Last year, I bought a little St Francis of Assisi statue, to lend protection for the squirrels and birds who inhabit this property. Bob created a little grotto for St Francis so nothing would do but I had to order a statue of St. Fiacre for him (patron saint of gardeners).
My thumb is no longer black. I’ve learned from the master and can now weed, trim, and prune with the best of them. At work I have windowsills filled with blooming African violets and earned the title of African Violet Queen. We’ve added gardening books to our collection of cookbooks, mysteries and biographies. For, I discovered, gardening books are a bit like cookbooks. All you have to do is follow directions.
Which brings me up to my most recent gardening book acquisition. Granted, this may not be for everyone; the title is “GOLDEN GATE GARDENING, the complete guide to year-round food gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California”.
Written by Pam Pierce, GOLDEN GATE GARDENING was published by Sasquatch Books in Seattle in 1998. The thing is, although GOLDEN GATE GARDENING was aimed at a specific audience, I have found a wealth of information for those of us who live somewhat inland as well. The compendium of vegetables, for instance—from A for Amaranth (I personally prefer A for Artichoke) to Z for Zucchini (see S for Squash) provides us with a great deal of information, even some recipes, explaining the history of the vegetable to cultivation. (I confess, I love books that provide me with a bit of historical background).
Also included in GOLDEN GATE GARDENING are lists of useful fruits, herbs, edible and cutting flowers and detailed information about raising vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers in the cool, misty climate of the bay area. There are gardening resources and websites which include mail order and seed companies, garden supplies and books. The resources for gardeners section provides mail order supply houses throughout the United States, not just California.
Having become more interested in growing and using herbs, I found the section HERBS FOR ALL SEASONS especially useful too.
Ms. Pierce is the cofounder of the San Francisco league of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) and has gardened in San Francisco for nearly 25 years. She is a teacher in the Department of Ornamental Horticulture at city College of San Francisco and is also the author of ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GARDENING: Controlling Vegetable Pests.”
A book about gardening was a departure from my regular reviews but this was a book that captured my attention. The 1998 edition is available starting at $3.49 pre owned. A third edition was published in 2010; the book sells for $18.77 new and $13.99 pr-owned on Amazon.com.
We lived in the Arleta house for nineteen years before being forced to move. The move was a blessing in disguise; I bought a house (me! At the age of 68!) and in 2011, Bob was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. We felt blessed and fortunate that all of the medical facilities were a short distance away in Lancaster. My gardening significant other passed away in September 2011.
To this day, despite my growing love and appreciation for the plot of ground I can call my own, I know I will miss 9187 Arleta Avenue the rest of my life. Bob built a gazebo under some olive trees in the front yard in Arleta. He took it apart, board by board and rebuilt it in 2010. It nestles under a fruitless mulberry tree today, in Quartz Hill. He took up all the bricks from the 1994 earthquake that lined our driveway and they make up a patio and the floor of the rebuilt gazebo. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I am out there, talking to him, wondering if he can hear me.
Like Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Lisa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca….who always would have Paris, Bob and I always had Arleta. We spent 19 years there, transforming the entire house and yard. I think Bob refused to face reality; while I steadily, furiously, packed box after box of books, he sat aside refusing to lift a finger, until the very end when my son forced him to take what he wanted to keep. I think he kept hoping it wouldn’t happen. We had so many wonderful memories of the Arleta house, as did many of our friends who joined us for many parties and celebrations.
This is my tribute to you Robert. We will always have Arleta.
–Sandra Lee Smith