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COVID-19, the Art of Leisure and 300 Victory Gardens

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.

Victory Gardens

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.

Sonoma City Hall

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.

Sonoma Gardens

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.

Creating Victory Gardens

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.

Seeds for Victory Gardens

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.

COVID-19

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.

 

Victory Gardens Starter Pack

 

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.

Planting Victory Gardens

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.

Victory Gardens in Sonoma Valley

Wishing you a lovely garden, and to stay well during this time of shelter-in-place.

Hot Summer Days

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!

Mustard and Magnolia in Garden and Field

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.

Sonoma MustardMustard 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.

Napa Mustard

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.

Sonoma Valley MustardNapa 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.

Local Purveyors of Provisions for Wine Country Home Comforts

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: A new day in the Sonoma and Napa Valley

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!

Winter sunrise

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

Sonoma Lifestyle

Sonoma Valley

 

Napa lifestyle

Napa Valley

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.

 

 

Food, Gardens and Agriculture in Sonoma and Napa

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.