Spring is here and Earth Day is fast approaching. Sonoma Syrup Co. & Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance have joined with me to bring over 330 Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Seed Gifts to anyone who is visiting Sonoma Valley from April 15th through the 25th. These gifts, as seen above, will be available at the shops and wineries listed on the last post at no cost, only with the thought of helping our winged friends.
This lovely swing on a spacious wine country property’s front porch is the perfect spot to pop on a straw hat, pick up your binoculars, and enjoy the afternoon light while getting a closer look at the hummingbirds and butterflies who come to visit flowers in your garden.
We hope you’ll take a moment to read two fabulous articles recently published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that speak to the importance of butterfly & hummingbird gardens.
The butterfly and pollinator garden at Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, was designed to encourage a trip around property to view the sanctuaries created for our pollinating friends. Read the wonderful overview here.
A simple, meaningful afternoon project with mentors and mentees.
It is a joy to see such happy faces and to understand that this effort is truly making a contribution to the community and our greater ecosystem.
We were inspired by our surroundings as we created with enthusiasm this gift to benefit butterflies and hummingbirds in the Sonoma Valley and beyond.
Tina Baldry, the program director at the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, spearheaded this project with Karin Campion Mattoon and myself.
We look forward to hearing from you with pictures and thoughts on how your garden grows. Enjoy a beautiful Earth Day!
Bring Beauty to your Home this Spring with a Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden Let’s Celebrate Spring, Earth Day 2021 and Help our Pollinator Friends!
I want to share with you a community outreach butterfly & hummingbird flower garden seed distribution program created just in time for Spring planting.
Gardens are an important element of homes here in Sonoma Valley. In a spirit of celebration for Spring and mother earth, Brenda McNeill and friends will help you to enhance your own with a gift of seeds to create beauty and abundance. These high quality seeds have been specially curated to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, treasured contributors to our larger ecosystem. Whether in a personal garden or expansive field, they bring inspiring beauty and joy to our lives. The garden above is my own, wisteria in full bloom, and is often visited by local pollinators.
The butterfly and hummingbird flower garden seed gift packets will be available to residents during the week before Earth Day 2021. Each packet contains a mix of seeds ready for planting and chosen to promote beautiful flowers. In addition to the seed packets, a complete list of flowers will be enclosed, as well as an overall information sheet and simple planting guidelines.
Brenda McNeill, Karin Campion, Sonoma Nature Club members and Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance mentors + mentees have lovingly created these seed packages for community gifting to be retrieved at local businesses. Our intention, in addition to helping the birds and butterflies, is that this Spring gift will serve to support our local Sonoma business community.
Explaining the idea to the wonderful members of Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, partners in this gifting program.
I love this picture of a mentor and mentee taking a closer look at a hummingbird nest I had found alongside the road recently. Nature + Science + Curiosity are a bedrock of what I hope to encourage.
We all had a wonderful afternoon of filling seed packages and chatting about butterflies, birds and bees. Here we are at Sonoma Garden Park.
We will deliver the gifts to Sonoma businesses by April 15th. The community can visit one of these local business participants to pick up a Butterfly & Hummingbird seed packet from the 15th through the 25th of April. A few participating businesses are listed below. This list will be updated regularly until the 15th.
In and around Sonoma, the Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden Gifts can be found at:
Baker & Cook
Bartholomew Estate Vineyards And Winery*
Basque Boulangerie Café
Off Broadway Cleaners
Prohibition Spirits Distillery
Scott Nichols Gallery
Sign of The Bear
Sonoma Country Antiques
Sonoma Mission Gardens
Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
Taub Family Outpost
The Corner Store
Tiddle E. Winks
Vinny’s A-1 Shoe Repair
Williams-Sonoma, Sonoma Store
Wine Country Garden Center
Gifts will be available at Bartholomew Park beginning on Earth Day, the 22nd.
The Butterfly & Hummingbird Seed Mix contains seeds that will grow some version of the following flowers from Spring into Fall. Flowers reach about 3 1/2′ and create a meadow effect.
Eschscholzia californica – California Poppy (A)
Gaillardia aristata – Blanket Flower (P)
Gaillardia pulchella – Indian Blanket (A)
beris umbellate – Candytuft(A)
Liatris spicata – Blazing Star (P)
Lobularia maritima – Sweet Alyssum (A)
Lupinus perennis – Perennial Lupine (P)
Monarda citriodora – Lemon Mint (A)
Ratibida columnifera – Prairie Coneflower (P)
Rudbeckia hirta – Black-eyed Susan (P)
Salvia coccinea – Scarlet Sage (A)
Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Milkweed (P)
Callistephus chinensis – China Aster (A)
Centaurea cyanus – Bachelor’s Button (A)
Cheiranthus allionii – Siberian Wallflower (P)
Clarkia amoena – Godetia (A)
Coreopsis lanceolata – Lanceleaf Coreopsis (P)
Coreopsis tinctoria – Plains Coreopsis (P)
Delphinium consolida – Larkspur, Rocket (A)
Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower*
An example of wild California poppies ,which grow naturally and in abundance along Valley roads and open fields.
Early Spring blooming lupine can be found in and around Sonoma Valley. Both lupine and poppies are favorite pollinator plants for bees and butterflies and are included in the seed mix.
Sonoma has a beautiful pollinator garden at Sonoma Garden Park which is carefully tended by a few dedicated volunteers.
Nearby at the Garden Park is this very active bee hive. Bees are one of our most essential pollinators. California has close to 6,000 flowering plants, and bees perform a key role in the dissemination of pollen, allowing these plants to provide much of the produce that we consume.
These white pear tree blossoms are aglow in the late afternoon light. I recommend the Picture This app which was well reviewed by a renowned gardener recently. Capture a photo of a plant or tree with the app for immediate identification.
Simple Planting Guidelines:
DAYS TO GERMINATION: 10-28 days at 65-75°F (18-24°C)
SOWING: Direct seed (recommended). Prepare a weed-free area or pot. Broadcast mixture lightly and evenly over the planting area. Gently tamp seeds into the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Plant no deeper than 1/8″. Keep the area moist to aid germination.
PLANTING SEASON: Plant in spring, early summer, or late fall. For fall sowing, wait until the soil temperature is too cool to allow seed germination (below 40ºF/4.4ºC).
LIGHT PREFERENCE: Sun.
PLANT HEIGHT: 10-48″ Plant heights vary depending on species.
SOIL REQUIREMENTS: Average, well-drained soil.
A favorite food of the monarch butterfly is milkweed, included in our Garden Seed packs.
I wish you a lovely Spring and hope that you will stop by one of these Sonoma Valley shops or the Visitors Bureau to pick up your Butterfly & Hummingbird Flower Garden Seed Gift, beginning April 15th.
Those of us who are sponsoring this community gift would love to hear how your garden grows. We are so excited to support our pollinator friends and look forward to making a contribution to the Sonoma community and our friends who own businesses in this area.
These last few months have brought us to truly appreciate the value of our homes and gardens as we shelter in place. For the combined good of our communities, we have a new understanding of our health and our friends near and far.
It is in that spirit that I would like to share the project that I recently completed for the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC). As my real estate business in Sonoma and the “Art of Leisure,” is constantly circling around the home and garden, this was so personally fulfilling to both imagine and complete with the SEC. In many circles they say it takes a village. That was certainly true of this garden project. It was only with the help of leadership, staff and many dedicated volunteers that we were able to gift 300 “Victory Garden starter kits” to the greater Sonoma Valley community. The following are a few highlights of how these hundreds of starter “Victory Gardens” were given in celebration of the SEC’s 30th Anniversary and in honor of Earth Day.
As we like to start a project with a vision of its end in mind, the picture above was seen in the local Sonoma Index Tribune newspaper the day before the gifting event of April 25, 2020. It was appropriately titled, “Sow the seeds of ‘Victory’.” You can see that I have full COVID-19 mask and gloves in place.
This is historic Sonoma City Hall the morning of April 25th, as we begin setting up tables to distribute the starter gardens. Our scheduled start time was 10:00 a.m.
At around 9:00 a.m, the boxes are placed on tables and cars start to line up around the Sonoma Plaza, waiting for the gifting to begin.
That then brings us to the beginning: Our goal was to appropriately celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Sonoma Ecology Center on their birthday of Earth Day 2020.
We started by searching for available plants and seeds. This was found to be quite difficult due to virus-related closures, so we changed to growing the plants ourselves. Here we see Bee-Well Farms, the grower with whom we worked to plant vegetables, fruit, and flowers. We needed 2,100 seedlings for the 300 starter kits. With shelter in place orders have just been given, the available national seed supply was dwindling by the hour. We were so fortunate to work with this wonderful grower who had the varieties of organic seeds that we desired and packaging supplies in stock.
We were then able to locate and purchase 85,000 organic seeds online. Delivery was slightly delayed due to the incredible demand. Once received, we needed to count seeds to prepare 600 custom seed packages for the kits.
A few wonderful volunteers and I measured seeds into the 600 packets. Each envelope contained either 100 carrot seeds, 150 spinach or 175 lettuce seeds. The picture above was taken on my front lawn with full COVID-19 measures followed, except for a moment as we drew our chairs closer for the photo.
On March 30th, the project is announced by the Sonoma Ecology Center to the press and community through social media, print, and our individual networks. In the community, grocery store lines were increasing and some food supplies were becoming scarce. This only made our project the more relevant and needed. Here you see what was in each Victory Garden box. Eventually, the boxes went on to include a 4 inch potted tomato plant and a small bag of Biochar.
Very positive marketing material and messaging was created and distributed by the talented SEC staff. A few parts of the messaging contained simple watercolors that I painted.
On Earth Day, the plants are delivered to the Sonoma Garden Park. Here, we water these 2,100 young, sprouting fruits and vegetables and tend to the new shoots.
This is our first sample box, waiting to be copied 300+ times the following morning.
Putting together the boxes; so many fabulous, dedicated volunteers gathered in the old barn at Sonoma Garden Park.
Success…the boxes wait patiently for sunrise on Saturday, April 25th, when we will collect them from the barn and ever so carefully deliver them to the Sonoma Plaza for distribution.
We are ready, and beginning to offer guidelines to the hundred of cars waiting for a safe, COVID-19 appropriate gifting of the garden boxes.
Soon, traffic control is in full force as we creatively direct traffic. The quantity of cars was so much greater than we had expected.
A gift box is delivered to the trunk of the car while recipients stay safely inside. In this picture, you can see two reporters from the local paper and a Wall Street Journal photographer recording the event.
Law enforcement arrives and traffic management is in full bloom.
Due to our advance planning, amazing volunteers, and the Sonoma Ecology Center organization, this was all quite orderly and successful. Celebrating the “Nonprofit of the Year 2019’s Birthday,” began to unfold and the feeling of gratitude surrounded us.
After a brisk 45 minutes to an hour, we were running out of Victory Gardens. It became necessary to turn away cars. The enthusiasm was completely beyond our imagination as a board.
This is one plant which found a home in the soil of a local resident. As an organization, our goal was to gift all 300 on Saturday. Our mission completed, we were thrilled.
The Sonoma Ecology Center is involved in many areas of the Sonoma Valley community.
Wishing you a lovely garden, and to stay well during this time of shelter-in-place.
As the temperatures rise in Sonoma & Napa Valley, I wanted to share with you a few pictures of this wonderfully relaxing time of the year. To begin, the orderly march of vines in late afternoon light.
cresting the hill at Clos Du Val Vineyards, Napa Valley
mid-summer fruit on the vines
the Scribe Winery Hacienda, truly a beautifully restored structure where you can sit outside and enjoy the view with refreshments
a quiet field of Queen Anne’s Lace, swaying with the light breeze on a hot summer afternoon
inviting cool & scenic resting spot under a stately tree
late afternoon amidst the vines at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma
for the child in all of us, a moment of fun at a summer camp, Harry Potter’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Sonoma Garden Park
What would summer be without a neighborhood Farmers Market, this one is located on the East Side of Sonoma, very casual & authentic, all the produce & products are from either gardens behind the barn or from farmers who live and work nearby.
Here an orderly march of freshly picked blackberries, just waiting to be brought home and made into jam. With this seasonal abundance from the nearby berry bramble, jam making is a satisfying activity on a hot summer afternoon.
The Saturday market also sells jars of jam & honey from nearby 5th Street Farm in Sonoma.
Afternoon light on a few summer flowers at the Community Garden Park, everything is refreshingly simple and real on this warm day in August. I hope that you will be visiting Sonoma or Napa Valley on a hot summer day soon!
This time of the year, yellow mustard blankets the fields of Sonoma and Napa Valleys and much of our agricultural soil. The vines are resting. Soon this plant will be gently tilled into the land to provide valuable nutrients to the awakened grapevine roots. In the garden, the tulip magnolia is in full bloom. Such a welcome sight, with its large purple and white flowers it has a beautifully subtle fragrance as you stroll or ride a bicycle quietly by.
Mustard in Kenwood
The brilliant yellow wild mustard signals that spring is upon us. The days are getting a touch warmer and we see the sun just a bit more. This mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family of flowering plants. Broccoli, cabbages, horseradish, watercress and turnips are fellow members of this large and complex family. Distinguishable by its sharp, distinct, somewhat sulphurus taste, it is most commonly grown here to bring nutrition to the soil. A feast for the grape vines, it thrives just until bud break when it is then turned under to mulch and provide valuable phosphorus to the emerging vines. When grown for it’s greens, as the weather becomes warmer, the hot flavor continues to develop. That is why early spring, when it is still cool, is ideal for viewing and tasting this valuable flowering plant.
Legend has it that a Franciscan missionary first spread the mustard seed while landscaping church properties throughout California. The seeds were simply carried in a large sack slung over his back, each sack had a small hole in it, as the missionary walked the seeds would fall to the soil and take root. Today, much of that early mustard is still growing wild and is quite useful to hold steep hillside soil in place during heavy rains, such as we have had this year. Of course, very smart vineyard managers also plant the seeds for soil nutrition reasons and for the simple beauty of the yellow, gold and orange blanket which it creates amongst the orderly march of the vines.
Napa mustard after a storm
among the vines, small vineyard in Sonoma
red tail hawk with a watchful eye
speaking of Spring, the magnolia trees are just beginning to bloom
Magnolia flowers in Sonoma
The magnolia is loved for its pretty foliage and glorious flower display; it is also heat resistant and tolerant of damp soil. Although this slow growing tree can take some drought, they look their best only when amply supplied with water. That was certainly the case this year in the Sonoma and Napa Valley. With our record breaking amount of rain, the blooms of the trees shown here were especially abundant and lovely.
Watching the coming of spring is a miracle of reinvigoration. It is always such a welcome and immutable act of joyful continuity.
Sometimes it is the simplest thing that you are looking for to make your home or retreat elegant and comfortable. In that case, I have curated a few favorite places to find everyday staples and accessories in the Sonoma or Napa Valley. Especially when the weather is chilly, it is so pleasant to visit any of these purveyors of home and garden provisions and linger while the rain falls. From soap to seed these locally owned businesses have been providing for the finest houses in these Valleys with just the right, many times, all natural, organic or hand made version of a necessity. These shops are part of the area we call UpValley, which means that they are in cities which are in the northern part of the Sonoma or Napa Valley. Whether in the downtown section of St. Helena, Yountville or Healdsburg, they all have a contemporary California, open feeling when you first arrive. With a particular specialty and style which is unique, each offers the ability to invite a fresh, leisure spirit into any home.
When in Healdsburg it is always a delight to venture into the very hip shop of SHED. This lovely store has everything you may need for your “country house retreat”. From local flowers to amazing food and home goods, it is the finest the area has to offer. For a special gift or kitchen supplies, SHED is always prepared!
A potted white orchid and a few fresh towels feel very airy and refreshing in winter and can be found in a variety of shops. Bringing nature indoors has a magical feeling which pairs beautifully with most homes in the winter.
Napa Valley Vintage Home is known for its beautiful and hand selected home accessories. From hand blown glasses to French linens, it is always an inspiring place to visit. They truly know the basics and little luxuries of a wine country style, comfortable, well kept home.
The Gardener in Healdsburg is known for its high quality garden supplies, unique clay pots, books and much more. They use the most amazing colors for outdoor furniture and indoor pillows. Located in an updated barn, it has a very “of the area” feel and always a pleasure to leisurely wander around the gardens.
Did you know that Thomas Keller has opened up a retail store? It is only a few steps away from the Bouchon Bakery and called, “FINESSE the store”. He actually opened it a few years ago, but it seems to be a bit of a local secret.
When I look at a few of the cookbooks which I have that Thomas Keller has signed for me over the years, it is clear, he has been “all about finesse” for quite some time. Thus, the name of this new store, his most recent business venture in Yountville is quite fitting. It is a very white, beautiful shop with food and cooking items which have been carefully curated with an artistic eye. Many of the products are from fruits and vegetable grown in the French Laundry garden just a couple of blocks away.
This picture from my French Laundry cookbook was probably signed in the year 2001.
Who could resist this cute puppy who was outside a store in the Sonoma Valley on a recent shopping trip.
Beginnings: the start of something yet untouched is filled with a fresh sense of hope and wonder. This is true whether it is a new home, a new friend or a new day. The first thing we love to do in the mornings is to put the kettle on, throw open the kitchen door and let in cool, fresh air. Often you will hear a distant rooster crowing at the sunrise, tame geese asking for breakfast, or sheep (as I mentioned in my last post) gingerly leaving their night stall and wandering into the vineyards. Although it is quite cold outside and the middle of winter, these country sounds are only more appreciated when you glance up and see a dramatically colored sunrise. This seem to signal the first note of a very special day to come!
Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley
Sonoma early morning
We then brew an amazing cup of coffee or pot of loose leaf tea. This has most likely been sourced from a local roasting company. In Sonoma and Napa we love to support our small purveyors of specialty goods whether that is coffee, tea or wine.
locally sourced tea
Next, we step outside, take a seat on the porch or in the garden, preferably a spot with a lovely view and enjoy the beauty of this fresh new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley.
The fog has settled on the vineyards in Sonoma and the vines are now officially asleep for a few months. Although they are resting peacefully, the gardens and new kitchen at The French Laundry in Yountville are quite lit up and full of activity and promise for future celebrations. Food, gardens and agriculture are such an integral part of life in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It seems almost everyone has some sort of a flower or vegetable garden at their home. Many times you will see a lovely persimmon tree standing regally in a front yard. The owner of the house may even have a small stand selling the fruit to anyone who passes by. At the Farmers Market on Friday morning a local baker has created a special persimmon cake.
Farmers Market, Sonoma
The French Laundry kitchen and vegetable garden
Personal garden and Vineyard
Additionally, sheep are now in the gardens and vineyards to share in the bounty of this season. They love the tender grass and are quite helpful as a natural, organic way to manage the planted cover crop, fertilize the soil, and eliminate the use of herbicides in both personal gardens and agriculture. It is so interesting that they help the vineyards in a variety of ways. Their small hoofs have much less impact on the steep, wet, environmentally sensitive ground of many properties than tractor which find it difficult to navigate between the rows of vines in winter. Sometimes called sheep “mowing”, they also decrease the erosion and soil compaction which adds to the health of both soil and vines. All of this helps to create the flavorful fresh fruits and vegetables which these two valleys are so known for.
Lambs in the field
In summary, winter is a mixture of the resting of gardens & vines with the renewed activity of winter foods and footed friends enjoying the season.