Recognition for your work in support of water conservation, sound good?

Hi Everybody,

I haven’t posted for a while, so sorry! I have been busy updating my front yard to water-wise landscape.  This is what it looks like six months after removing the lawn, installing a drip system and planting drought-resistant plants. (Some freesia bulbs just showed up to add a touch of yellow to my spring landscape!)20170321_123655 (002)

It was brought to my attention that I can enter my yard into this year’s WaterSmart Landscape Contest! This competition rewards beautiful drought-conscious landscaping created or commissioned by customers of numerous San Diego County Water Agencies.  I have been looking at the past winners‘ pictures and am inspired by the commitment we have to keep our neighborhoods appealing and charming while saving water. Here is a  picture (below) of the progress I have made in my back yard.  Enter your yard in the contest by 4/7 to win more money to invest in your outdoor living space.

Visit to the Old Ranch

We sold our old ranch when I was about 30, right after I got engaged on a horseback ride there. After it sold, I did not go back, although I still think about it almost every day. The pictures I have in my mind are very vivid. We had an airplane that we used to fly over it to check on things — many of the images in my head are of flying over its great expanse. No photo could capture those aerial images of great plains of yellow grass with antelope running this way and that as my father chased them with his plane.

So I got the idea lately that my girls were big enough to go on some adventures with their grandpa and that I should visit the old ranch with him and them.  He also became friendly with the new owner who said we could stay there (thank you).

We went for one night last August, and it was still as stunning as I remember and just like walking into my dreams.

Here are some pictures.


This is the entrance road looking back at the mountains. There was a monsoon that afternoon and even though it was late August, it was very cool.  My oldest daughter and I sat in the car with windows rolled down and tried to take photos of lightning.


Above: This is the view that seems to go on forever and is forever in my mind.


This photo above what I did a lot — sit and play in the sand of a dry creek bed while my father hiked around looking for something for hours.  My mother sat in the truck with the newspaper or her magazines and we waited for hours after driving around the ranch for hours. We probably had no food or water either!

Below: these are the corrals at the headquarters. They weren’t as nice when we owned them. That’s horse hill in the background where the horses were kept. I hiked around it and up it countless times.wp-1472844674211.jpg


Grandpa and the girls in the Ranger that he learned to drive that weekend. He took off with my littlest daughter around the time it turned dark, and I had a panic, but they came back after driving to the well about a mile down the road.wp-1472844572693.jpg

The ranch dog getting some love…IMG_4285

A lone stallion…


I even love the road home…



Bye bye ranch. I love you.

A Visit to Horse’n Around Rescue


, ,

In May, I went to Tucson, and my dad, my niece and I went on a day trip to Horse’n Around horse rescue in Hereford, Arizona. I saw some great horses here, and it is a truly beautiful location — right next to the border with Mexico. In the background of this picture below, you can see the fence. It’s that black line on the horizon. It looks like a train track.

It’s also on the photo behind this giant donkey in retirement from the Grand Canyon.

We were there about three hours and saw all 48 horses. They had some great horses and some sad stories to tell. Like this gorgeous guy below who broke his knee in a team roping competition.

You can’t tell now, but if you ride him about an hour he begins to favor it. He is in a mountain pasture where he has to climb around a little and they hope it rehabilitates him.

Here are two mares I wanted to adopt. The first photo is of horse I keep thinking about– Desert Rose, the appaloosa. The second photo below is a mare named Kaluha that I learned was already adopted this since my May visit — she will be a great horse for someone! Dad liked her because she reminded him of a horse he had a long time ago. He is feeding her in the picture below Rose.

They were from a seizure of more than 40 starving horses at an old dude ranch– so sad.

I may go back and ride Rose soon! She is stuck in my mind, and I keep thinking about her. I love her color and her markings. I love the idea of helping her out. She was so thin when they got her.  Now she has filled out and grown up. She looks like a cowgirl’s horse…

If you are looking to adopt a horse, please consider going to Horse’n Around Rescue Ranch. When you adopt a horse, you pay a fee (basically you buy the horse) and you get 10 hours of riding instruction with your new companion before you can take her/him home. When I brought my horse Bayito to San Diego, I learned that it isn’t very expensive to trailer a horse to Southern California so if you are looking, you might consider one from Horse’n Around.

Cotillion Cowgirl


, , , ,

I inherited some of my Aunt’s photos a few months ago, and looking through them, I was inspired by this fact — my aunt, who was always glamorous and social, who wore beautiful clothes and surrounded herself with beautiful and glamorous things, was also, a cowgirl.

For the first time, as I looked through the numerous photos of her in ballgowns, costumes, tutus, pearls and neat 60s sheaths, I also saw her riding a horse. A horse!

She grew up on the Agua Linda farm south of Tucson and had ranch in her blood. The “farm” was more about feeding cattle than raising crops, and while my grandpa had sold the old ranch headquarters, he still had the Aros Ranch for a while. I never thought of my aunt as a ranch girl so when I found all the photos of her on horseback, I was surprised. I never saw her on a horse, or near one, for that matter.

But in this old plastic bag of photos that I collected from my brother’s dining room table after he retrieved the remains of her estate, I found a few hints of the cowgirl my aunt once was.

Most of the photos, of course, display her understated glamour — many show dinners with my grandma and grandpa, lady’s lunches and social gatherings.

As a stewardess for American Airlines in the 60s, she had her hair styled by Vidal Sassoon, wore her uniform with pride and lived, no doubt, the high flying life of an elite flight attendant jet-setting around the world. Just look at her expression! Don’t you want to know what she is thinking?


Before she left home, she wore quite a few ball gowns. Here (see girl on right) decked in satin shoulder-length gloves, her hair golden and shimmering as any movie star, she posed for photos at parties I can only imagine.


But here she is on my Grandfather’s  horse Tom Thumb, Nov. 1958 in Prescott. The faded inscription on the back says something about “camp on Plum Creek” and “just before sold” is written below  in purple pen. I can’t even believe she’s wearing jeans and look at her belt buckle! (That saddle looks oddly familiar. I wonder if that’s the one I use today.)


Standing in her white satin cotillion gown, pearls at her neck and bow encircling her tiny waist, she looks pensive. I love how the  black tree enhances her white gown and flowers. The picture is inscribed Dec. 1963, and I wonder where she is heading after this photo shoot? Did she have to drive 60 miles to town or was she already at her destination? (I called my mother and she told me that my aunt was probably heading to the Tucson Symphony Cotillion.)


In the photo below, she smiles at the camera while riding a “big red horse,” as I like to call them–where? I do not know but it looks like somewhere near Tucson. Tamarask and eucalyptus trees rise to the monsoonal clouds.


Then years later,  in her red slicker and equally red nail polish, she grips the reins on a winter day. I know that signet ring on her pinkie — I hope one of my nieces have it.


In her 50s and 60s she moved away from Tucson to live with her husband on a homestead in a log cabin in Mule Creek, New Mexico. She had acreage, fought brush fires, and hung wreaths on all the gates along the highway at Christmas time. She seemed to love that life just as much as her Jr. League days. Whenever she went back to Tucson, she let you know how much she despised the traffic. She was content with her country life.

She said, “you go back to what you know.”

When she passed away, way too soon from breast cancer, my sister and I drove to New Mexico and cleaned out her closets. While she had adapted her wardrobe to her rural life, she still had many of her clothes from her old self: lace, satin, and many brocade shawls. The main thing that struck me was how many outfits she had hanging in her two walls of closets. Probably five hundred different outfits were neatly arranged on tiered hangers — each hanger held two or three different outfits: pants and a shirt with a matching shawl. She had more shoes than we knew what to do with–many of them mail ordered and still in plastic wrappers–unworn.

Something of the old cotillion girl hid there in her closet waiting for the next ranch potluck, or maybe, an invitation to a fancy gala in an exotic location.

We can only wonder what possessed her to keep all those clothes.


Here I am as a baby in her arms. I am her namesake and I am proud to have been her niece.



Here’s two other photos that I wanted to share–in the first, she’s in some kind of costume that she no doubt invented and she’s holding a cat ( also in costume) and the other is of her and her favorite dog. I’m not sure here it was taken –maybe along the banks of the Santa Cruz.

WaterSmart Makeover Class Two



I tried making a path to the back yard to test it out.

I tried making a path to the back yard to test it out.

Our second class was about turf removal and landscape design.  Depending on if you have cool season lawns or a warm season lawn, turf removal can be easy or with warm season, more difficult. I’m not going to talk about warm season here because I am already writing too much.

Fortunately, I have a cool season lawn (which pretty much means it is green year round).  The great news is that you don’t have to dig it out like I did. You can basically smother it with newspaper and cardboard and mulch to kill it.  If you don’t want to wait until it is entirely dead (which takes 3 to five months or even 6 to 8 weeks) you can  dig holes through this smothering layering and plant new plants in the soil below. For people on deadline with water rebates, this is a tremendous help.

Here’s the formula for sheet mulching: First cut out three inches of turf along the edges or hardscape. Then right on top of your old grass, overlap newspaper or cardboard by 6 to 8 inches. Water. Add 1-2 inches of compost; water, then add a top of 3-5 inches of soil building mulch (brushy mulch); pull compost and mulch away from leftover plants and tree trunks.  Don’t plant in the mulch. Dig through and cut holes in the cardboard to get to dirt (if you must plant). Otherwise, let this bake and decompose and you will have great soil for your new garden.

The process of layering actually improves your soil as the mulch, newspaper and old grass decompose and re-enter the “soil food web” our fearless teacher/landscape designer Sharon Lowe told us about. If you can enhance this process and enrich the soil, you won’t need to use fertilizer because the plants will find the food they need in the soil.  She calls it the “chocolate cake” recipe for soil improvement.  I found this one of the most interesting topics of the class.

old grass--good bye

old grass–good bye

Next we talked about plants–ooo goody, plants.  We learned about balance, color, contrast and unity in our choices. This is something I’ve learned from hiring a plant designer previously and I have tried to implement these good practices over the years. The problem is sometimes plants die and then I go nuts trying to find the right thing to grow. I think, “I will plant one, and if it grows them I will know to get four more or two more, so I have a pattern of three or five plants, etc.” But you forget what your plans were and something will live or die and you find another pretty thing to add in. So I’m a big like a bird collecting shiny objects….

Front yard with dg resting area--an idea to consider

Front yard with dg resting area–an idea to consider

Oh well, not doing that this time. Next class, I have to turn in a map of the front yard and a bubble plan with use areas and plantings.  If you want to take it to the next level, you can draw in hardscapes and plants you want. Then you meet with a design coach  for 30 minutes to review your plan. They will fill in suggested plants for you and create a legend of plants showing you what goes where. Of course, you can come in with this done already…what do you think I will do? Is it hard to guess…of course, I’m going to draw all the plants!

2015-04-23 09.34.59

Pretty low-water plants

Pretty low-water plants and a rock. I want some big rocks.

The one thing that changed from my original idea for the yard is from the advice of my nine year-old. In class, you are taught to really think about how you would use the area and throw out pre-conceived notions of how your yard looks. You need to think of the function of the yard and these ideas should influence the form. I knew I wanted a path to the back yard (function) and a full cottage-y effect (form), but my daughter, who was unhappy we took our the grass, said, “Where will Cleo (our dog) run in circles when we get home?” She was looking at the mulch-covered yard–and thinking of function.

Sample path we made with extension cord

Sample path we made with extension cord. We also might make a flagstone circle or a dg circle where the chairs are.

And I thought, she’s right. There is no where for us to throw the dog a ball in the front yard any more, or a place for the kids to play. So we decided to add a “bubble” for kid playing and dog playing. Right now, we plan to make a flagstone circle with some chairs on it but maybe it should be decomposed granite (like in the picture above)–that’s one question I have for the design coach at our meeting. I also want to make sure it won’t be weird to make it too symmetrical with the other side of the yard which has a flagstone circle with a fountain in it (see below).

2015-10-11 17.30.49

So yes, that’s how we celebrated our anniversary.  My husband was a good sport about it and we are well on our way to a new yard.

WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Class



It took about six hours to dig up the turf.

Bye, bye lawn. It took two guys about six hours to dig up the turf.

I attended my first WaterSmart Makeover Class a few weeks ago. It was really inspiring, so inspiring that I went home and ripped out the grass in the front yard! Actually, I learned that you don’t have to do that. There is a way to eliminate your turf without the expense and hard labor of digging it out, but that is for the next class.

Workbook for WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series

Workbook for WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series

The class is put on by the San Diego Water Authority and started with an overview by the Assistant Water Resource Specialist Joni German. I won’t get into all the details of the drought in the state of California but for San Diego, I learned some interesting facts that explain why my Hydrangeas look dead and my vegetable garden won’t grow the same way it did.

First of all she explained that the rainfall in San Diego this year is actually above average! We usually get 10 inches a year and this year we have had 11 inches already. Then why do my plants look so crappy? It is because our temperatures have been hotter than normal for the last fifteen months. 2014 was the hottest year on record for San Diego. This heatwave, combined with our water conservation efforts, have left my garden looking horrible. It’s definitely time for a change.

Change requires work–and homework. I had to do some drainage testing, soil testing, and draw up a basic sketch of the existing landscape and irrigation features. It was stuff I like to do…

Dig a 12 X 12 foot hole fill with water. Let sit 8 hours. Then fill with water. Let sit one hour. Measure how far water has gone down. Look up your results on drainage scale.

Drainage test. Dig a 12 X 12 foot hole and fill with water. Let sit 8 hours. Then fill with water. Let sit one hour. Measure how far water has gone down. Look up your results on drainage scale.

Next class is on landscape design–I’m so excited. The third class is where we put our skills to work and show our design plans to an actual designer. We each get thirty minutes of consultation.  The final class is on irrigation. If you are considering replacing your lawn with water-wise plants, I highly suggest you sign up for this free WaterSmart Makeover Class. It is a very useful and interesting class and it’s FREE. You can’t beat that. You get dinner too.

The next class is on my 15th anniversary. Your spouse can go with you. I’m sure it will be a very educational anniversary. Maybe I can bring some champagne!

Chicken Yard Planting: Euphorbia or no Euphorbia? That is Isn’t Really the Question



I haven’t been planting much with the drought and watering restrictions, and even though it was almost 90 degrees a week ago,  I got the urge to get back in the garden. After all, it was September!

My husband and I did some pruning and raking. With so much to do, I was overwhelmed. I decided to focus on cleaning up the chicken yard. At least, that gave me one corner to focus on.

It was humid and hot beyond belief, but I cleaned up everything while the chickens panted in the shade of the roses and geraniums under our bay window.

I bought two plants that I thought might endure the drought (both are said to need little water) and the chickens’ constant snacking:

Bulbine Frutescens Hallmark Orange–looks like a grass crossed with a succulent. It has long-stemmed yellow and orange flowers. I like it for it cottage-y appeal. The yellow flowers are frothy and I saw them planted at the Balboa Park Alcazar Garden:Alcazar

(See the yellow spikes on the far right? The pink Siskiyou (Gaura) looks good en masse too. It is in the middle.)


Here is my flower pot with the bulbine (above).

Euphorbia Milli–I call it a “secret cactus” because you can’t tell it has thorns. The one I selected has dark green tiny leaves and red flowers. It reminds me of ocotillo from Arizona, but it is actually a “tropical” plant native to Madagascar, common name — Crown of Thorns. I thought — hey, the chickens won’t eat this and it will be water-wise and I like the flowers.

euphorbia milli

I planted both in a pots, hoping the chickens wouldn’t notice. I hoped the thorns on the euphorbia would keep them away and that the bulbine would not attract them because it seemed insubstantial. They looked good there for about a day.

Then I got out my chicken garden book just to make sure the plants were both okay for chickens (yes, I should probably do this before I bought them, but go figure.)  I saw a type of euphorbia on the dangerous poisonous plant list.  Like the euphorbia in my front yard that has a sap that burns your skin, the sap of the Milli is also poisonous and probably burns skin too.  Okay, I thought, still wanting my yard to look good, those chickens won’t eat it. It will taste bad. They have other things to eat that are better tasting.

Wrong. As soon as I quit reading, I went looked out the window and there they were on the edge of the pot, all eating the red flowers off the plant, oblivious to thorns or dangerous sap. I got my husband who got the dolly and moved that giant flower pot right out of there.

Why would they eat something that supposedly tastes so bad? Why? Okay, the chicken brain is quite tiny.  Do we need more evidence?

The Bulbine survived untasted for about a week. Then in preparation to write this post, I went out to take a picture of it. I noticed some of the flowers weren’t looking as good as they did a few days ago.

As I snapped my picture, the chickens saw me and presto, they all ran over and started eating it. Ugh! There is no escaping a hungry chicken–and they are usually hungry, especially when they see me because they know I bring treats!

chickens eating bulbine

What has worked so far in the chicken yard? Rosemary, society garlic and Nandina can survive, although Bubbles likes to eat rosemary and when the Nandina fruits (I say fruits because it doesn’t really bloom), they eat the little berries that come. They don’t eat Society Garlic probably because it smells so bad. The chickens really like to hide under all of these shrubs.

I guess I could just keep planting the same things over and over!

Here’s one of the main snackers! Minnie Mouse chicken a.k.a. Minnie.


Getting Tough on Turf



Now we are on a fast track for turf removal. My first waterwise landscaping class is September 23. The class comes with a survey of your yard to help you make your new landscaping plan. They came to survey our yard last week and let me to take a picture to document the process.

See Cleo in the picture? She can’t stand not being in the middle of everything!

They tested the water pressure of the sprinklers too.

Now I just need to speed up time so I can go to class and make my plan.

Back to school for me too!