And the Wind Blew…

April 9, 2013

IMG_5742It’s spring again, and whew are gardeners busy.  We are so consumed with thinking about plant needs (everybody’s different!) that we forget to find a moment’s peace to reflect on just how dang cool it all is.  Stuff is growing, literally popping before our very eyes.  Buds are whispering.  Blossoms are singing either operas or Billy Holiday songs.   The bees and other buzzers are back.  When we stop a moment to take in all that wonderment, there is no gladder heart than a spring time gardener’s.


Spring means that I shed my skin and become a baseball widow once more

And so, in homage to the insistent wind, the much-needed spring rains, and all that glorious green, here is a pictorial love letter.  (Bloggettes, double click on the pictures to make them bigger…i know I need a new blog style that shows off the photos, but i am apparently not done with this sweet, intimate one just yet.)

Yarrow for days at Alemany Farm...

Yarrow for days…


Brand new Maidenhair fern frond


One of the Nuccio’s Camellias

I love you dirt.  I love you brand new frond.  I love you Sun.  You  sustain us all so well.   Thank you.

The very special bloodroot

The very special blood root

What’s next??

May 2, 2012

I just spent a week at my parents’ place in Wisconsin, and there is nothing like the country to lend perspective on all human endeavors.  My city slicker problems melted away as we discussed more relevant matters:  Which recycled materials in the basement were going to become a proper chicken coup?  How were my brothers and partner going to extract a giant boulder from the middle of the garden?  What shape would this year’s deer fence take?  What was for dinner?

The old hay fort...remember?

Admittedly, I sat out on most of the physical labor.  My sciatica has been bothering me, and my body needed a rest from the very regular work it does as an urban gardener.  I took a few naps, played with my son, and practiced not doing much (something quite challenging for me, actually.)   But as I observed the projects in action, I felt refreshed from the sidelines.  Country living is more about survival, and there is something both difficult and thrilling about that fact.

Please don’t get me wrong—this city mouse isn’t trying to romanticize “the land.”  I think I was just excited to get back to a tangible Process.  Can you build something from the materials you have?  Will your contraption keep the critters out?  And so on.  It’s almost as if life  feels like more of a process when you are engaged in a practical project.  What can I say?  I’m from Midwest farming stock.

The end results were good.  The boys built a stylish coup for the new chickens.  I did some cooking and with my Mom’s expert guidance, I learned to make a Schaum torte (an old family recipe.)  My folks got some work done, but most importantly we celebrated my Mother’s 70th birthday.  Another poignant reminder that life is a project, best done one day at a time.

Spring has been a little messy this year–not so great for projects.  Here are a few examples from my life (though I am sure you have your own.)

Bay area rains have come very late wreaking havoc on my schedule.

My son’s school is having an administrative meltdown for the second year in a row, and community moral is very low.  More serious conversations are in store, with no resolution in site.  I am feeling very sad about this, and have been looking around for some kind of fourth party perspective to help me understand why people will treat each other like like dirt (back to surviving…)

I’ve not had the stamina to market my business, and have been struggling with how best to represent what it is that I do in the world.   In short, “microcosmic” emotional work is still a very humbling project.

Yet I am still doing this work of herbalim and gardening, even though many don’t know about it and I don’t know where it will lead me.   I can’t stop even though there is some part of me that just wants to sign up for the ‘couch potato’ or ‘I don’t care’ position.  I know they have openings…

I’ve also learned a few things, like:

Some projects just take a long time, even though I wish it were otherwise.

Projects with other people take as many times as long as there are participants.   And some steps in a project are simple, but others are extremely complicated–one must take the long view.

It is good to just start by asking “what’s next?”  What’s my next step in my life’s project?

Happy Birthday Mom.

So I’ve been ruminating on roots…inspired by their undergroundedness.

Roots are the below to what is above.  It’s deep.

In a healthy plant, the root structure reflects the foliage.  As the leaves and stems reach wide, so do the root hairs branch below.  It’s the literal, physical foundation for the beauty we witness and appreciate on the surface of things and a wonderful metaphor for these winter times.  A mirror image in the darkness.  A good, quiet secret.

Now that all the rushing of the holidays is finished, we need to rest and restore.  Most likely our nervous systems were overstimulated with travel,  parties, and tons of social time.  When all that goes away, there is a tendency to wonder “Is that all?  It happened so fast.”  Enter the root as metaphor…

A root moves micronutrients and water up into the aerial plant parts.  It’s also a storehouse that feeds the plant in lean times.

Similar to a dormant plant,  it’s important to get back to what roots us–to go back to listening to our our inner dialogue.     Really take the time to ask yourself “Did I have a good holiday?”  “Did I really enjoy that (literal or symbolic) wild airplane ride?”

The New Year is a great opportunity for coming back to the “underground” energy  that feeds us.  The pulse of what gives us our vision,  strength, and stability.

This late fall and early winter season I’ve had the very good fortune of making some amazing roots into medicine.  Both are adaptogenic in nature– a plant that works on moderating the human stress response, helping to develop stamina for life’s bumps and thrills.   Introducing the dynamic duo:

Rhodiola~Rhodiola rosea,  a northern beauty!!  Literally smells like a (rootish)   rose.  Native to Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia.  Used to nourish the lungs, and often taken to prevent sickness in said cold climates.  “Shown to enhance alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve memory and depressed mental states” (Adaptogens, Winston and Maimes.)  Beneficial for the heart, helpful for regulating blood sugar levels and compromised immune systems.  Life feels a little brighter with this plant on your side.

And then there is…

Ashwagandha~Withania somnifera:  the Hindi name for this plant, asgandh, refers to its horse sweat odor.  This fellow may stink up your kitchen (if you are processing it into medicine) but it will also strengthen your chi like no body’s business.  It is calming plant, yet perfect for perking up a sluggish thyroid gland (suitable for hypo folks, not hyperthyroid.)    Works on anxiety and nervousness.  Good for stress-induced insomnia.  I love this plant for how strong it makes me feel…just a small dose once or twice a day makes a noticeable difference when I’ve got projects and no one to complete them but me.

Both handsome roots do so much more than I’ve just given them credit for.  They are the tonics of the winter, the quiet yin heart dirt energy.  Root medicine.   I love that we can both be rooted, and take roots into our bodies.

It’s time to get deep…

Deep rootedness, part one…

November 17, 2011

Lately I’ve been thinking a ton about being deeply rooted..being planted, really.

Secret:  there are days when I long to actually be a plant.  It seems to be a more peaceful, predictable experience.  But when sense starts talking again, I realize I am personifying the phyto-experience, and that is the wrong thing to do.  Both humans, plants, and all species are in the same boat when it comes to control.  That is, we have very little.  We respond to our environment, and respond again.   Leaves move to greet the sun and are literally shaped by lack of water or other extreme conditions.  Roots grow directly into sewer pipes when necessary.

While I am a bit fragile in extreme conditions, I can at least water myself.  I won’t forget and die of thirst, thank goodness.

This fall has been full of lots of harvesting and chopping…Yellow Dock, Skullcap, Blue Vervain, just to name a few.  I am learning how to be an herbalist, and  to remember the deeper cycles of things.

For instance:  Guess what?  You have to harvest when the harvest is ready.  You can’t just put it on your to do list and get back to it.  I am reminded of my mom putting up food (tomatoes, green beans, peaches) until the wee hours of the night.  As a child, I was always so amazed at how late she would stay up to get the job done.   Close enough to being a farm girl, she would fret about picking the peas and what to do with all that zucchini.  Poor dear.  I get it now.  Even though I am tired, getting the herbs chopped up and soaking in the alcohol (to make the medicine) is very important to me.  They receive a lot of star energy as I work late at night after my family has gone to bed.

So as I am dwelling on rootedness, and how I am not so good at it, I am cooking up roots.  Pots of them.  Because I’ve had a bad cold, and now I must make medicine for me.  (Roots for rooting.)  I like this…

Hey folks…I’ll be giving an herb walk on Sunday September 18, 2011 10:00-11:30 at the fantastic Alemany Farm, San Francisco:

We’ll be talking about all kinds of nice plants,  most of which are easy to grow in your own backyards.  Learn a handful of simple remedies for enhancing the health of you and your family.  Herbs can be powerful allies in keeping us well as we move into autumn and winter.

We’ll walk and talk about the medicinal plants in the garden and have picnic afterwards.  Please bring a potluck dish to share.  Come discover this amazing urban farm.

Inspiration steeped in fog

August 22, 2011

Well, it’s been ages.  The title of this post is a dead giveaway that my own inspiration seems to be coming and going with the fog here in Northern California.  In and out, not always burning brightly until 3pm, and then only for an hour or so.  Inspiration is a thin, smudged-up hard to open window these days.  Still, it’s a window.

After a frantic early summer, I have literally been head down in the garden, working the dirt and working it some more.  Learning these lessons again and again:  beginnings, leavings, plants gracefully growing and sometimes tragically ending.   Mildewy bud upon mildewy leaf.  Such is the way of the garden, and it is not always easy to accept.  (Like the fog.)

Still, there are glimmers of loveliness and some clear blue skies (which are always a guaranteed inspiration for me.) And of course the fog itself has very important things to offer:

First of all,  a deep and lasting, quiet.  I love how it becomes a buffer for city sounds.  Instant auditory insulation.  Amen.

Then there are the soaked bumblebees early in the morning.  There is something so dearly vulnerable about their damp, slow bodies.  They are a metaphor…we must move slowly through this dense blanket.  Buzzing is for warm days.

With the fog we don’t need to water our gardens as much.  And topical moisture is very nice for the skin.  I know you are appreciating my optimism here, but of course there is a cold side…

When it’s foggy, it feels to me like the world has been turned inside out and we are surrounded by our inner lives.   No more turning from the shadowy side of our existence.  It’s damn foggy.  The fog is in (us)!  It can be spooky sometimes.  Grumbly.  Nurturing.  Either way, it’s always a teachable moment, asking us to take a closer look at ourselves, as we can’t see the nearest (any)thing.

And so, while I work on developing my patented “Fog Suit” (No, I am really not kidding),  I thought in the meantime I would make a fog serum.  Because it never hurts to have a little help from our (plant) friends.   A lovely extract of Lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, and Ashwagandha.  Stamina for the fog, in a bottle.  One ounce is $10.00.  Available in fog-sized quantities, whatever that means to you.  To order call 415.613.7010 or email at   Shipping available.

Photographs by the wonderful Daniel Norris.  Thanks Dr. Dan.

Journey into deep winter…

February 21, 2011

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go
To take the time
To bless your going forth
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you …
John O’Donohue

I love John O’Donohue….what a way with words.

I must admit, the winter inner “ballast” feels very heavy indeed after slogging around in the pouring rain this past week trying to “stage” a client’s garden.  (I think it was fine the way it was.)  There is this sense of a heavy cold body, and then there is the actual heaviness of cold wet dirt turning to mud that must be moved across white carpet without leaving a trace.  (I wish I were kidding.)  And the spirit begins to follow suit…sodden!

Where is the compass of my discouraged soul pointing after such work?  Toward my bathtub!!  I could soak for hours to try to recover the warm that was lost and it still wouldn’t feel like enough.  I realize this is a personal problem.  Anyway…

A useful realization occurs to me while I am soaking:  Now is the time for careful resolve~for determination, and grit, and visioning the sunshine again.  All of you who live in “grey-sky-snowed-in-land” you know what I mean.  I used to live there too.  We must go on! We must imagine the equinox on March 20th.  We must treasure how dry we are inside our rainsuits and snowpants.  We must feel grateful when circulation moves back into our numbed hands and feet.  (Ah, feel the literal burn!)  It reminds me of the energy moving back up the tree, promoting bud break and leaf growth.  That too is coming.  For some of us it’s already here.  We must look up, no matter how heavy the winter heart ballast.  As John says, perhaps its weight has measure we should attend to before Spring.

Every once in a while, when you’re really lucky, you go to a place that helps you feel whole again.   It never matters how you get to this gifted landscape.  It certainly doesn’t have to be far from home.  It can even be inside yourself…a lucid dream, a reality check on “what is,” a sense that despite being a fragile human in a weird world, you are not that broken.  Or rather, despite the perceived brokenness/broke-ness/ whatever, you can handle this thing called life.

Where ever it is, you can feel it~your senses come alive and a silky peaceful sense drops in…you are home.  Sometimes the landscape is far away, martian territory.  Sometimes not so much.  Either way, the place has hopeful words for you.

Maybe the landscape looks austere and washed out, punctuated with the occasional really bright pink cactus spine.   Maybe the charred remains of a yucca beg you to reconsider your take on “how life is.”  (Fire is strange and dramatic like that.)

Maybe you visited Joshua Tree during the winter like I did.  Now I know why my friend Jacks makes an annual winter pilgrimage to the desert.  I get it now.

I hope you have a beautiful New Year, filled with feelings of home.  May your heart be the oasis.

Words can be fertile ground…(a garden fairy tale come true.)

Some of you will remember a post about my friend Marion.   Marion and I were planting a medicinal herb garden at her home in Piedmont, CA this spring when she passed away suddenly.  This was a very sad happening, and her family wondered what to do with the herbs that she had planted.  There was much consternation, and then her husband Zafiris said the magical words “Take them away.  I don’t know what to do with such things.”  Really?!?  (Tears watered the soil beneath Marion’s oak tree.)

And so I bravely dug those happy plants out of their home dirt, and ferried them across the Bay Bridge to land in their new location–an under-utilized garden in the Inner Richmond.   A vast landscape of quick-draining soil, amended with homemade compost.   Hip hop music blasting in the background.  Old relics of the past garden lying around.  Woodchips from the trees that used to stand on site.  In other words, a blank canvas, a new beginning.

Forgive for a moment a narrator’s interruption:  I want to be clear.  I’m not the hero of this story.  I’m just the dopey sidekick.  The plants are the brains.  And despite all the unpredictable variables of their new destiny, and in spite of the gardener within that keeps saying “we’ll see…” they are looking really good!  Like sticks of a plant, with brand new basal growth where dirt meets aerial parts!  New growth!

And this gardener is so happy I could spit.  Honestly.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time:  sunny San Francisco location meets herbal medicinals.  An herb garden of my own!  To share with others, eventually.  First we’ve got some growing to do.

Sticks and stones get moved around to host Solidago, and Chamomile, Blue Vervain, and a ton of Grindelia…

Take a peek.  It may not look like much, but come next Spring and Summer, these baby plants will be usefully engaged in soothing your sore throats, calming your fried nerves, and pepping up your tired bones.

For now they look like sticks among the stones.  We are moving toward the winter solstice.  It’s cold and dark, it’s raining.  But eventually the rains will stop.  And then the plants will be lush.  And I’ll pick some of their leaves, and make you a tea.   See?

A deep thank you to Mary and Ted


I’ll miss you.  It was too much fun and and work as usual.  But who’s complaining?  The pictures speak for themselves.

The summer began with a hay fort house. Stick becomes art. Men become boys.

In July, the wild fields of my parents’ new land on Washington Island, Wisconsin are filled with Queen Anne’s Lace, Red Clover, Evening Primrose.  Turns out it’s an herbalist’s paradise.

One of my favorite medicinal tea ingredients...a big part of the healing is in its beauty.

Did you know that Queen Anne’s Lace is an old herbal remedy for dropsy (edema), chronic kidney disease, and bladder infections? (It’s a diuretic.)  Also good for breaking up kidney stones.  The seeds help with digestive distress, farts, and chronic cough.  But before you go harvest your own, make sure you aren’t trying to get pregnant, as it’s historically been used to (effectively) control fertility.  Also make sure you have the proper plant, as it’s sometimes confused with Poison Hemlock, the plant by which Socrates met his end.

Steve with Queen Anne's Lace

And then there’s Camp Mather.  We are all so addicted to it’s jumble of beauty and dusty fun.  What could be more amazing than a mountain-watered swimming hole?

I Love this picture of Uncle Jessie’s hat-it just kind of sums up summer…

And who can forget the sun washed landscape of Hetch Hetchy?

Destined for drinking...

Autumn brings it’s own special blend of soft light and crisp nights to the the Bay Area.  It’s actually sunny and hot and nice for us this time of year, and it tricks us into thinking that summer will indeed last forever.   And yet the rains have mysteriously started.  And so have the fall colds…I suppose it’s time to talk about a whole new set of herbs to get us going on staying healthy for Fall and Winter.  Next post.