Category Archives: My Garden


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

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

Barbara’s Seed Pals

My sister’s name at birth was Barbara Ann Schmidt. How she acquired the nickname of Becky is family lore. My mother’s maiden name was Beckman. When my parents were dating, my father often called mom “Becky”, a diminutive of her surname, Beckman. When my sister was born – she became “Little Becky”. Consequently—to everyone within the family she was always “Becky”. She was never crazy about that name and was known to everyone else as Barb or Barbara. To her seed pals, she was “Barb”.

Now, within the family – I had been the one with penpals. I acquired my first penpal, a distant cousin, when we were about ten years old. The Internet has changed much of how we perceive penpals and my sister was no exception. She joyfully embraced becoming acquainted with people via the Internet and developed quite a network of friendships. Most important of these were her “seed pals”. Unlike me, who didn’t have a green thumb and like Erma Bombeck, belonged to the Black Thumb Terrorist Organization (we killed plants), my sister had inherited our paternal grandmother’s ability to make anything grow (flowers, plants, vegetables, children).

When Wendy expressed an interest in learning more about my sister’s seed pals, I wrote to them, asking them to tell me how they became acquainted with my sister. I had begun sporadic correspondence with some of these seed pals several years ago, when my sister’s illness left her too debilitated to continue writing, I would provide updates on her condition. Many responded to my request for information. There were over a dozen women throughout the USA with whom Barbara corresponded and mailed seeds from her garden (Often in empty pill bottles!). Some seed pals live in Montana, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, California, and Ohio. (She also sent seeds to various family members, including myself).

Mary, in South Carolina, wrote “…I met your sis on an AOL Garden web site about 3 years ago. I posted for something and so did she and we swapped. Every year since, I have giant, carnation-sized marigolds of hers, some bell flowers and a Malva Zebrina. In turn, I have shared her seeds and they have made it to Canada and England, along with PA, TN, FL, SC and NY. As you can see, the ‘pebble in the pond’ has indeed spread far and wide…” Mary says they would also exchange garden information and tips they’d learned along the way, and would also discuss crafts. “I think of her each year when my giant marigolds show their heads in the garden” Mary concluded.

A seed pal named Demaris, in Texas wrote “Barb sent me many more seeds than I sent her. I sent the excess seeds to others and some to Croatia.” Some of those seeds did not survive the hot Texas weather except for a Four O’ Clock plant which has returned for the past three years…” Demaris also met Barb on an AOL message board.

A childhood friend, Patty, who lives in Ohio wrote, “Barb and I swapped perennial seeds. She also sent some gourds for my daughter’s Christmas crafts”.

Vicki, a niece, confided that “Aunt Becky” sent her a lot of seeds over the years. The most recent seeds were hollyhocks. When the seeds arrived, Vicki called her aunt who told her where to plant them and not to expect too much the first season, but if they liked their location, they would bloom the following season. “I remember walking past the flower bed and seeing these huge stalks! Then, of course, a few weeks later they bloomed in beautiful shades of pink! I felt like I was growing my own ‘beanstalk’ because they kept growing and growing until they were 8’ tall!”

Another Buckeye penpal wrote “I was one of Barb’s seed pals. Several years ago she sent me seeds for cosmos…and then I moved from a house with a large garden space to a condo with a tiny space, so the cosmos seeds went into my daughter’s Christmas stocking. My older girl planted a feathery cosmos border along a piney log fence in back of her house, so she can look out on that picture when her kids cut through backyards to catch the schoolbus…”

Stella, in California, wrote, “I met Barbara on the online garden boards. We started out exchanging seeds and began corresponding…we seemed to click and she enjoyed having another ‘youngster’ to correspond with…and dubbed herself as Granny Barb when she signed her letters to me…she sent me quite a number of different seeds collected from her garden…also two dried gourds from the backyard. Seeds were hollyhocks. Sunflowers, cleome and blue morning glories…”

Bre, who lives in Northern California, wrote, “I met Barb online…through a seed exchange. We started to chat about gardening and later about cancer. We laughed and cried together as we shared our stories…I loved her straight away…I remember when she sent flower and gourd seeds to [my son] so we could grow them in our garden. He loved the gourds and still carries around the hand painted gourd she sent for his first Christmas….my gardens are starting to bloom and my “granny Barb” section; I have a Granny Barb angel in her special section of the secret garden…”

Possibly one of my favorite stories came from my sister’s sister-in-law, Lois, who wrote, “I had a Night Blooming Cirrus which had not bloomed in several years. All of a sudden a bud appeared; I watched it carefully since it takes several days to open. On October 12th it opened to the fullest with the most beautiful scent. I later learned that Barb died about the same time. The bloom doesn’t last but a few hours and it was gone when she was…”

My sister Barbara, aka Becky, lost her battle with breast cancer on October 10, 2004—but her seeds continue to grow and bloom in many different parts of the country.