Thursday, May 28, 2009

Smith River

The clear aqua blue water of the cold, fast middle fork of the Smith River is visible from the top of the gorge. During our recent road trip, we meandered through this wilderness area on the way to I-5, known as "the Five" in southern parts of the state. One way to recognize southerners is their use of the word "the" (pronounced "thuh") before an interstate freeway number. BayAreans look at each other quizzically when a Southlander lets loose "thuh 101".

The water in the undammed Smith River is so clear that you can almost see the fish from here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Having spent hours looking at irises - even attending an iris society competition, this picture of a little girl running through the Schreiner's display garden was my favorite. It does not even have stunning irises in the frame, but still... the joy of running in a garden wearing a favorite flowered dress and pink shoes shows how liberating a lovely garden can be. Many fine specimens in the show garden and acres of field grown irises to select from:

At Cooley's, the hunt was on:

...and another small out of the way garden with irises and tree peonies:

This being the tree peony of unusual size (Hephestos), like the rodents in "The Princess Bride". A much younger version of this one came back to Napa with us:

Monday, May 25, 2009


Stopping at Greer Gardens in Eugene, OR - we looked at rhododendrons, azaleas and shade loving plants. The nursery is now hemmed in by urban development, and the 13 acres or so of mature specimen plants and nursery grounds are likely to become a condominium development in the future. Right now, though, the operation persists. We discovered this rose/orange splashed Exbury hybrid azalea in the far reach of the grounds, then found one smaller one gallon sized plant to bring back to Napa and try in the garden. Colors are deeper than the native azaleas in the Azalea Preserve near Arcata - and this is a deciduous azalea - but still... we shall see how it adapts to the Napa climate.


The backroads of the fertile Willamette valley are home to a mind-boggling array of horticultural nurseries. Plants include rare peonies, irises hostas, ferns, rhododendrons, azaleas, evergreens and - grass seed. Lots of grass seed. But the sight of several acres of peonies in bloom is definitely something to behold.



I'm sitting back home in Napa after an ALL day drive back from Oregon, sipping some homemade Meyer Limoncello (recipe to follow some day) and posting these pictures. John of course did all the driving - probably due to my still slightly creaky left hip. Sun-baked describes the feeling. The weather was glorious over the Memorial Day weekend - and the nurseries were prepared for a seasonal onslaught. The flowering season for peonies and irises is NOW. These are not hoticultural plants that give months of flowers. We saw some mature tree peonies of unusual size, much like the rodents in "The Princess Bride".

Tomorrow - irises and enormous tree peonies...
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Friday, May 22, 2009

Roadies and Rhodies

On our current road trip to Oregon to seek out irises and peonies, we stopped near McKinleyville at the Azalea State Natural Reserve. I had never seen these soft pink native azaleas (Rhododendron occidentale) before.

The reserve seems a neglected little corner of the California State Park system, and I expect that the spot is rather forlorn most of the year. But this week, the azaleas are in bloom, and in a few locations can be seen in proximity to similarly sized native ceanothus, also in bloom. Late May is the time to see these plants.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

hard headed hard hat

Thinking about the long and winding trip from this lovely pile of bricks to current land use skirmishes in Napa, I must remind myself at times that I am still that "hard headed hard hat" who broke the gender barrier in North Carolina over thirty five years ago. The main reason my construction career was not limited to one intense summer during college was this building - the North Carolina Governor's Mansion.

A week or so after marriage and moving back to an 1870 cottage in Raleigh, NC about two blocks from this home, I noticed that the building had a familiar construction company sign posted. I wanted more than anything to go into this house and to work on it. I also needed a job. Should I work in an architecture office drawing toilet room partitions and running blueprints - or march up to the door and seek a laborer job with my former employer? Not a hard choice, actually...

Mr. C-, the superintendent looked startled and nonplussed at my effrontery to be standing there asking for a job. I'm a "girl", for heaven's sake. Girls don't do construction work. He needed laborers - right then - and asked if I had any experience and could do the job. Looking around the jobsite, suspiciously clogged with men within earshot, I noticed Mr. P- my former superintendent. Looking a bit further, I noticed a couple of other superintendents I recognized. I said, "Mr.P- can vouch for me."

"Hey P-, do you know this girl?"

Mr. P- (who was working, not lurking) turned - and wreathed in smiles came over to greet me. "Great to see you again. What are you doing here, Juli?"

"I'd like to work on the Governor's Mansion. I love this house!" I said.

Mr. C- and Mr. P- talked for a minute, while I greeted Mr. P-'s son Arthur - also working on the project. Arthur was a quiet, quick moving carpenter whose hammer loop always squeaked in a rhythmic way. He pointed out several other superintendents working on the job. All were master carpenters, and the company, Clancy & Theys Construction Co. had put every top craftsman on this job. I knew this was the right place to be. Mr. P- did the sales job for me, and I started that day.

Within a couple of months I was assistant superintendent for Mr. C-.

The Governor's Mansion was so close to my house, that I walked every day. I still have my lunchbox and hard hat, but the thermos is long gone. My 1953 deluxe cab Chevy pick up truck sat quietly in the drive, happy to be a weekender truck working on the weekend project...