Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter in The City

Easter brunch, at the venerable - and much re-built -  Cliff House.

It sits perched above the City's popular Ocean Beach where even on this day surfers, looking like black seals in the choppy surf, waited belly-side down on their boards for the perfect wave.

Seabirds hovered, landed, then took to the skies again from their perches on Seal Rock just outside the window.

While champagne flowed freely into our glasses amid the gentle strains of a harp, a tray of fresh popovers passed by our table.

We quickly claimed then, delaying our trip to the buffet table and allowing us to settle into the warm rays of the sun through the window.  Slathering on butter and strawberry jam,  the Cliff House's famous popovers melted in a sweet obsession.

The butterscoth pots de creme-in-eggshell are a newer sweet obsession.  A deep creamy butterscotch, richer than a pudding, is topped with a dollop of whipped cream and crystallized ginger



Could you resist?

Peter, the Cliff House's Cuban-born pastry chef, handcrafted each one of the 300 pots de creme, using a  special tool to cut the shell which is then drained of the egg, washed, baked and filled with dessert.  (The eggs are sent upstairs for use in omelets.)

After lunch, a stop downstairs at the lookout to watch a pod of whales spout and play in the surf, just yards away from the surfers.   The Pacific's cold water is always a delight for some.

Then a leisurely drive through an unusually uncrowded Golden Gate Park where roses were not yet ready to make their first bloom bonanza but the rhododendrons were.

There were Easter Sunday picnickers waiting for the sunset....

And  brilliant yellow irises along the banks of a lakeside pagoda

California may be in drought but this waterfall,  that flows under a stepping-stone pathway, is a pleasant reminder of wetter winters.

A tourist reads a plaque denoting that this set of marble columns was once the portal of the residence of the A.N. Towne before it burned in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.  A. N. Towne was the general superintendent of the Central Pacific Railroad and a California senator.

A newer resident seems to have taken up house in the Towne Portal.

Just in time to see the "calla lily" lights in front of the De Young Museum lend boomerangs of light into the dimming sky.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Giveaway Results

Congratulations Pixforyou2 and Orchid Cathy!

We loved your secrets.  Thank you so much for sharing them.

And, are the winners of the latest garden giveaway so you split all the prizes - yay!

Look for our email in your inbox so we can get your address.

Again, thanks for sharing!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Garden Goodies

We found some wonderful garden products at Sloat Garden Center's "vendor night" last week and asked the companies if you could try them. So, we're having a contest.

Simple rules:  The contest closes at midnight on Wednesday, March 4.  To enter, tell us what is your favorite uncommon gardening secret.  That's it.  We'll choose the winners and announce them in the next post.  (If you experience any trouble logging in your answer, try switching browsers, e.g. Firefox or Safari).

Mark your calendars because you must check back by Saturday March 7 to see if your name is listed as a winner so we can send you your prize.  If not, your prize will be awarded to a new winner.

Ready? Set? Go! And,  good luck!

What we love about American-made Smart Pots? They're portable and reusable.  They warm the soil quickly in the spring and cool the roots when it's hot.  They air prune roots for a more efficient root system and prevent roots from "circling" and, instead, force them to set lateral roots.    Just unfold the bags, fill them with soil, drop in your plants, and water. So easy!

There are  two sizes in the giveaway:

One Big Bag Bed, Jr. that offers 7 square feet of of "raised bed" gardening for vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits.


One Smart Pot (the 20 gallon size) for growing melons, pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes.

What we love about Tappin' Roots: It's vegan and not tested on animals.  Three cheers for that!
It's handcrafted on an organic Sonoma County farm and relies on willow tree extract, sea kelp and a non-animal derived calcium.  These ingredients are used to build strong root systems and stems, lush foliage and dense flowering.  It can be used as an all-in-one fertlizer on any plant, any size and at any lifestage and also great for cuttings and transplanting.

There is one bottle in the giveaway.

What we love about Maxsea: Besides featuring their five-member "Canine Crew" on their website's staff page?   Definitely, its long history of pleasing fussy gardeners including garden club members who swear by it.

There are three fertilizer containers  (All-purpose, Bloom and Acid Plant) in each set and there are two sets in the giveaway.

Now, let's dish the dirt on garden secrets.  We'll start! 

With fragrant plants, try to plant "near the nose", so to speak.

A lush standard, or tree, such as a gardenia or rose at your front entrance greets guests before you even open the door.   We adore Fragrant Cloud, Mr. Lincoln,  Jude the Obscure,  and Souvenir Claudius de Nouyel.  For gardenias, try "August".  It's very reliable and fragrant.

The best orange tree for fragrance? Hands down, "Bouquets des Fleurs"

We plant low-growing prolific honeysuckle in large drifts around seating areas and pathways,  and always include marigolds, mint, lavender and rosemary in potagers.  That way, when we accidentally brush up against them while tending the beds, we are awash in their sweet scent.

We can't even tell you how many secrets we just gave away!  Your turn....

Friday, April 25, 2014

Begin the Begonia Buzz and Contest Alert

Longfield Gardens in New Jersey is the one of the country's top bulb importers and retailers, including 18 varieties of the Begonia tuber including these below.

 Begonia Non-Stop Apricot

 Begonia Double Roseform Yellow

 Begonia Double Picotee Yellow

 Begonia Hanging Golden Balcony

 Begonia Double Roseform Scarlet

To encourage gardeners to get a jumpstart on spring planting, Longfield Gardens has assembled a gorgeous cloche kit for $30.  It's perfect for Mother's Day or as a gift for your favorite boss, banker or friend.

Everything you need is included: peat pot and soil, heavy glass cloche and rustic ceramic base, and one tuber (from your choice of 18 begonia varieties).

If you lightly water the tuber for five or six weeks, you should see the beginnings of the begonia emerge from the soil. It's then ready for transplanting outside once all chance of frost is gone.

To order: visit or 1-855-LF-Gardens.  New customers receive 20 percent off their order with the posted promo code and free shipping with orders over $50.

And now one of you gets to try this beautiful kit free. 

Here's how you enter.  Click on the word "Comment" below and tell us what other tuber or bulb, beside a begonia, (click here) you would want to force under the cloche next season and why.

Longfield Gardens will choose its favorite response and send the lucky winner a begonia kit with a tuber of its choice.

Not so fine print:
If you're having trouble commenting, try switching browsers, from Firefox to Safari, for example. 

Please check back here to see if you are the winner in order to receive your prize.

Good luck!

Friday, March 28, 2014

To Bee or not to Bee

Mike Turner, who owns Marin Coastal Bee Co., knows bees. He harvests and sells their honey, he removes their nests, relocates their swarms, and helps set up and or manage hives of them for his customers.  You can even order his local honey here.

Mike will discuss the life and habits of the honeybee at the 38th annual Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society at 11 a.m. on April 12 at Green Point Nursery in Novato where native wildflowers, perennials, shrubs, grasses and seeds will be on sale.  Other talks will focus on butterfly gardening and top native plants for the Marin garden.

You can win one of four plants, grown by the Society's volunteer by entering the contest below.

Image: Deborah Turner

Here, Mike Turner shares his favorite fun facts from The Beekeepers Handbook by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile.   

The Life (and death) of a Busy Bee

In its lifetime, a honeybee produces about 1/12th of a teaspoon, or about five drops, of honey.

It takes 15 adult bees to make one teaspoon, not tablespoon, of honey.

It takes about two million flower visits to collect enough nectar to make 1 pound of honey. 

Image: Bob and Mieko Watkins

A colony can collect 40 to 125 pounds of pollen in a year and eat about 40 to 65 pounds in the same amount of time.

If bees eat eight pounds of honey, they can make one pound of beeswax.

Bees fly from 9 to 15 miles per hour. If bees fly two miles from their hive, they can cover about 8,000 acres of forage area.  This adorable bumblebee, below, isn't known for its honey-making skills, but it's a great pollinator for the garden and needs food, too.

 Image: Bob and Mieko Watkins

If a bee is gorged with 30 mg. of honey, it can cover 34 miles without running out of fuel,  so that's about 1 mg. of honey per mile.  If it is swarming,  it carries 36 mg. Swarms, like the one below in a Mill Valley, CA tree, occur between March and June when hives are bursting with bees and the queen takes off with half of her hive to find a new home.  

 Image: Mike Turner

At the peak of summer, a hive can have as many as 50,000 adult bees and 35,000 incubating young bees.  In a colony of 50,000 bees, 500 die each day.   Colonies can live in beehives built by the bees or by beehive makers like Mike Turner.

An adult worker bee lives 15 to 38 days during the summer.  During the winter, it can live 140 days or more.

Queens, on the other hand can live three to five years.  (The queen, below, is the largest one with a harmless dye on her to make her easily recognized by the beekeeper.)

 Image: Doug Fairclough

She mates -  in flight - with as many as 10 to 15 drones, whose sole purpose is mating, and then lay 1,000 eggs per day…up to 200,000 per year. 

All worker bees are female and perform most of the hive duties, including cleaning cells, feeding the babies and the queen, packing pollen, building honey comb, ventilating and cooling and guarding the hive, waking up or clearing out dead bees, and waking up taking out the trash (dead bees).

It would take 10 stings of bee venom per 100 pounds of body weight to kill an average person.  So, a 200 pound man could be killed by 1000 stings. 
On the other hand, it just takes a few bites of the blossoms of the native California Buckeye to kill a bee. They will avoid them unless there is nothing else to eat.  Then, they’ll take the pollen back to the hive, eat it later, and die. 

Image: Bay

So, Mike Turner's best tip for helping bees is to plant flowers that bloom late in summer when other sources have dried up.

image: Bob and Mieko Watkins

Now for the Contest!  Here are the rules:  Please enter the name of one plant for hungry bees that blooms late in summer and isn’t mentioned in this week’s Fine Living column. We'd love to hear why you like it.  The prize for the first four correct winning entries is a bee-friendly plant, courtesy of the Marin chapter of the California Native Plant Society.  

That's it...good luck!

Tiny print:  The contest is open to any Marin resident. You must leave your first name and the first initial of your last name with your answer, for verification purposes, and you must check back on April 4 to see if you have won and to send  your address.  Please mark your calendar. Prizes will be hand-delivered in Marin that week. 

If you have trouble registering your comment, try switching browsers to Safari and see if that helps. To keep it fair and transparent, only comments posted here are eligible.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Great Green Cycler GIve-away

The Green Cycler is an all-in-one odorless composting shredder and storage unit that operates like a paper shredder for produce chopping up fresh fruit and vegetable scraps into ideal sized pieces for the compost pile.

It can reduce green waste volume up to 80 percent and accelerate the composting process by at least 10 times.  

Gail Loos, the Denver mother of two, who invented the Green Cycler insisted upon an ergonomic design with dishwasher safe components, dual-action handles that go back and forth to help chop tough scraps, stainless steel blades that are safe to remove and never need sharpening, a fully removable lid with a viewing window, a drawer that holds up to a gallon of shredded scraps, micro vents to reduce odor-causing bacteria and promote quick decomposition, and lever-activated suction cup feet to keep the machine steady when the handles are turned.  It's also all made in America.

The Green Cycler ranges in price from $99.99 to $139.99

Contest rules:  Please be the first to post the correct answer to this question and win a Green Cycler.  I will need your address to send the prize so make sure you check back here for the announcement of the winner by Friday December 27.  If you're the winner, please email me your address.

Here's the question:
According to Planetsave, what is the third best way, behind giving up cars and household fuels, to prevent (global warming) pollution?

Here's a clue:  musician Jay-Z is doing it, Bill Clinton and now Al Gore are doing it, and baseball great Hank Aaron was doing it before all of them.

What is it? 


Monday, March 12, 2012

Bouquets to Art Contest Winner

Thank you Kimberly Dietrich, Kim B. and Randy Fong for your delightful answers!

Even though we conduct our contests the old-fashioned way - pulling random numbers- we were all inspired to bring in some lavender. It is simple and beautiful and fragrant.

The winning number was #1 so that means commenter #1, Kimberly Dietrich, is the winner of this contest.

Congratulations from all of us, Kimberly, and enjoy the presentation! 

And, thank you to everyone for commenting.