the zen of pruning roses

It’s been a few years since I had a pruning job. I forgot how joyful the simple process can be. The weather has gotten colder and the leaves have fallen off the roses, the perfect time to break out the pruners. Note,”pruners,” if you think pruning roses is about breaking out the hedge trimmers, you’re wrong. It’s much more than that.

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It’s about sliding your hands down the stem to find buds you can’t see. Feeling for which direction the bump in the stem is pointing and either accepting the position or moving further down. You’ll mostly want to cut right above the buds facing outwards from the plants but I leave a few on the inside to fill the center so it’s not completely void of foliage.

Pruning roses is about peaking underneath the top leaves to find the stems breaking through the soil and underneath the graft, yelling “you chopped my head off!” These shoots that come from below the graft aren’t the rose you necessarily desire but they don’t know that. They just have a will to live but you must remove them or they will take over. You remove them to form the shape, to prevent overcrowding of stems and leaves that can cause poor airflow and disease.

You’ll want to take a step back from the beautiful specimen to examine it’s form. Often you can get so consumed in the pruning that you don’t know what it looks like from a regular viewing distance and not from the twelve inches your eyes are seeing it from. You may find a branch that you missed, a rose that wasn’t deadheaded, or a shape that just seems slightly off. I believe rose pruning has parallels to life. We can get so caught up in our day to day that we don’t take a step back to take a look at the larger picture. Maybe we need to trim something that is not serving us or change ever so slightly the direction of our life.

fort worth botanic garden in texas

last week, while visiting family, i got the pleasure to visit the fort worth botanic garden in texas. it was the final day of my tri.p i wasn’t at the top of my game. this time of year in texas, the air is humid and the temperature had been floating around 100 degrees. all the businesses in texas like to keep the temperature around a freezing 60 degrees (at least compared to weather outside!). the combination of switching from hot and humid to cold and dry finally gave me a sore throat and aches all over my body. my body was telling me no, don’t go! but i forged ahead.

the fort worth botanic garden is the oldest botanical garden in texas, originating in 1934. that’s make it about 80 years old this year. it’s open daily and most of the gardens here are open to the public for free. some of the gardens such as the conservatory (very cool!) cost two dollars (worth it!) and the japanese garden cost five dollars for adults.

i wasn’t thrilled by the cookie cutter annual plantings. i did enjoy the native forest walk and i felt the conservatory was the best part. if you have kids, the forest walk is great because there is plenty of educational signs and activities to interact with. one of my cousins favorites were the tubes that would relay the sound to a different part of the garden (think tin cans and a string). one thing i did not like about the gardens were that the signs for the plants were absent. the conservatory did the best job providing signs for each of the plants. they may forego putting labeled signs out because most people only want to admire the beauty and not know the name. being from california, it was not easy for me to identify all the native plants.  i would recommend going to fort worth botanic garden if you’re in the neighborhood. if you’re a plant lover or looking for some low cost fun, try the fort worth botanical gardens!

spicy hot cocoa with kava and cayenne

here’s an antianxiety, stress reducing, aphrodisiac, cancer reducing, antioxidant, digestion improving drink that will help you relax when you need it!

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what’s in the cup?

  • water
  • whole organic milk or cream (can also use another liquid that contains fat i.e. soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, butter)
  • the fat soluble constituents will bind to the fat in the liquid
  • kava powder
    aphrodisiac, antianxiety, sedative, expectorant, antibacterial, helps with sleep and stress
  • raw cocoa powder
    aphrodisiac, antioxidant, diuretic (eliminate fluid buildup while retaining minerals).
  • vanilla extract
    anticancer, carminative (helps with gas and bloating)
  • cinnamon powder
    warming, aphrodisiac, antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidant, astringent (drying, constricts tissue, helps with healing, creates barrier against infection), improves digestion.
  • cayenne powder
    warming, antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, antispasmodic, carminative, improves digestion and metabolism and increases blood circulation.


1) 3 cups of water, 2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup kava, 1/4 cup cocoa,  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, a sprinkle of cinnamon and cayenne powder. (4 servings)
2) add everything together and bring to a simmer…continue simmering for at least 15 minutes…
3) strain and pour…although i don’t strain, i let the contents settle to the bottom of cup then enjoy!

the vanilla extract, cinnamon, cayenne powder should all be done to taste. cayenne powder will add a considerable amount of heat so if you don’t like a lot of heat, use sparingly. of course, you can leave it out all together but you will missing out on some of the great healing properties of cayenne.

warning: don’t drink kava if you have liver problems or are consuming multiple alcoholic drinks.

Regional Parks Botanical Garden at Tilden in Berkeley, California

Spring is a great time to invite your neighbors or friends who aren’t necessarily interested in plants to take a hike through a local park or botanical garden. Even if their interest lies far away from the ‘natural’ world, the showy blooms of many of our native and non native flowers will spark their interest for an hour or two. Who knows? Maybe they will catch the plant bug. I know for me, once I’m introduce to something, I began to have more appeciation for what it is, whether it be a plant, mushroom, make-up technique, fast car, anything!

I visited the Botanical Garden at Tilden in Berkeley with my friend Samantha the other day. This place has been around since 1940 and it shows. There is an amazing display of plants from all regions of California. It’s a great way to see the state’s flora in one place. Did I mention it’s free?!? There is also tours on Saturday and Sundays.

Here are a few pictures from a recent visit to the gardens…




Reading about Henry David Thoreau, living a life of simplicity near his lake in “Walden” or John Steinbeck, traveling with his dog across America in his truck ‘Rocinante’ in “Travels with Charley:In Search of America”. And my own pursuits of living a more simple and less complex life have brought me to talk about oats. Yes, oats. Oats can be prepared in many ways, it can be grown by oneself, it’s healthy, provides energy, and is not expensive (even the organic oats). A mason jar of oats can prepare breakfast for weeks. Add a few strawberries, maple syrup, maybe dates or raisins, there are so many possibilities. Don’t have access to hot water? If you blend the oats before a trip, you can just add any nut milk and let it sit for four hours or longer then the oats will have absorbed the water and be ready to eat. That is what I call ‘overnight oats’ (view my recipe below).

tea is a great way to consume the health benefits of oats.
tea is a great way to consume the health benefits of oats.

I’ve had that problem of overdosing on oats. Yeah, there comes a point where the last thing you want to eat is a bowl of oats for breakfast. But, by mixing it up with different additions or doing every other day a bowl of oats, you can reduce the possibility of the dreadful OD on oats.

Not only, are oats great for eating but they are amazing taken as an herbal medicine. They are what you consider a nervine, the properties of oats (Avena sativa) work on the central nervous system to calm and relax the system. I take these when I feel I have frayed ends or under a stressful circumstance. Oats tincture and some deep breathing go a long way! Check out my ‘how to make a make a basic tincture’ post here.

Also, making a tea works just as well if not better than a tincture. Plus, the process of making tea is a natural calming process in itself. It’s important to know that buying oats for medicine is slightly different than buying for food. You’ll want oats that is picked during it’s milky stage which hasn’t quite matured to a viable seed. The milky stage is when you pierce the oat and a milky substance comes out. If you go to a local herb shop, all their herb will be (or should be) harvested at that milky stage. If you’re buying oats for food, well, you can go to local Whole Food’s or Co-op bulk bins.Either go to your local store to buy teas that contain oats or buy oats bulk through your local herbal medicine shop. If you don’t have a local herb store, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great place to buy online.

Recipe Time!
Here is a recipe on a pudding I like to make which involves oats, chia seeds, berries, and banana. It’s a form of overnight oats but thicker.

1 cup of oats
2 cups of nut milk or dairy
a handful of strawberries
1/2 a banana
2-3 dates
a tablespoon of chia seeds
optional-hemp seeds

overnight oat pudding

Blend the oats in the blender. Then add milk, strawberries, banana,dates and chia seeds. Blend those together. Pour into glass jar, sprinkle with hemp seeds and more chia seeds. Let sit for at least four hours.

vermicomposting (composting with worms) diy

Do you juice a lot? Drink coffee? Use a lot of vegetables and fruits? Where does your “waste” go? If you’re in some states, you can throw that stuff in your green (yard waste) bin and save it from going to the landfill. Vermicomposting is a way to use that “waste” which call a resource, at home. This is especially useful in areas with no yard waste bins. I see a lot online about people juicing and lining their pulp trays with plastic bags then throwing it out.

Red wriggler worms (Eisenia fetida) work great at breaking down fruits, vegetables, juice remnants, coffee grounds, and more. These worms are extremely efficient and relatively fast at breaking down these fruit cores and lettuce ends to a very rich nutrient compost for your garden. You can sometimes find  these red wriggler worms at bait shops, online, and soon through me! You can farm these worms at home with a rubbermaid container, a few pieces old wood constructed into a box, a five gallon container, a purchased worm farm kit, etc.. I find the more wide and shallow the structure, the better the environment for the worms. These worms generally live in the top 12″ of the soil while night crawlers can go much deeper into the ground. These bins for the worms must be aerated. At the very least, you want drainage holes on the bottom and a loose fitting lid for the top. Worms need oxygen too!

Here is a list of what you’ll need:

  • Newspaper
  • Sticks
  • A box for your worms
  • Worms!
  • Some soil
  • And some leftover food waste (no meat or oils)

Step 1-
Make sure your box is well ventilated. In my case, I drilled hole on the bottom and sides of the rubbermaid container with a 5/16″ drill bit.

diy worm compost vermicompost bin tub

Step 2-
Layer sticks in a crossing pattern. This will help the bin drain.

aeration worm bin vermicompost sticks twigs

Step 3-
Tear newspaper length wise and lay that over the sticks.

newspaper bedding worm bin compost vermicompost

Step 4-
Put an inch of soil in the box over the newspaper.

Step 5-
Lay worms on top of the soil.

Step 6-
Chop of the food waste into small pieces and lay on top. Tip: Don’t overload the bin with food scraps at first. They take a while to get going and giving them too much food may kill them and make your bin stinky! They generally take a month to get used to their new home.

Step 7-
Shred more newspaper length wise and lay on top.

Step 8-
Moisten the newspaper and attach the lid. You do not want an airtight lid.


  • The worms don’t want to be soaking wet but they despise being dry. Think of a wrung out sponge!
  • You can replace the newspaper with leaves too. Make sure not to use conifer (redwood, pine, etc.) leaves because worms do not digest those. Those leaves and needles require fungi to break them down.
  • Do you juice a lot? That pulp is excellent worm food, you’ve done have the work for them by grinding it up like that.

I will be selling worms in about two months, ready for spring time!

when is the best time to purchase and plant fruit trees on the west coast?

Gardeners often mistake spring and summer for the best time to plant fruit trees. But, deciduous fruit trees are often better purchased and planted during the winter months when they lie dormant. Part of the reason this is true is because the fruit tree doesn’t go through as much shock when being planted. It is not actively growing therefore the growth is not being disturbed. Also, nurseries often have a better selection and broad range of varieties that you may have thought never existed. The trees range in age but most are between 2-3 years old. That fruit tree that you buy in a pot in spring and summer is sometimes the same tree you could have purchased for half the price in winter because wholesale nurseries will often plant them in pots to sell them for a higher price later on.

There are a few things I look at when selecting a tree. First is the graft, often they are not completely callused over but there shouldn’t be any space between the rootstock and the grafted variety. Second, make sure there are no gashes, stripped bark, or oozing sap. Oozing sap is usually a sign that a canker is developing which can result in the whole tree dying. I see cankers mostly in apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines. Nurseries check for cankers but sometimes a few will be missed.  If you’re looking to grow a smaller tree, try to select one with lower branches. Sometimes, this isn’t possible and the tree will have to be cutback without any branches being underneath the cut. Don’t worry, those dormant buds should break underneath the cut and you can select your main branches from the shoots that appear.

Many people have small backyards and want smaller trees so they can have a range of fruit. Often, I get asked at the nursery for miniature or dwarf trees. From my experience, the root system is sometimes dwarfed as well, the tree is a little more finicky (resulting in dropped fruit) and the quality isn’t always there. I would much rather keep a semi-dwarf smaller by pruning and making a low initial cut when planting. Farmers sometimes use the knee rule, which means cutting the tree down to knee level. This can be done with smaller diameter trees but with larger diameter trees, I would make the cut higher than knee high.

Another option to have more varieties in a smaller area is to select multi-graft fruit trees. These trees are grafted with sometimes up six different varieties. One fruit tree that is commonly referred to as ‘stone fruit salad’ contains a peach, nectarine, plum, and apricot all on one tree while others will contain 4 varieties of one type of fruit. You can also try planting multiple trees on three-foot centers. This would look like a triangle when planted, one tree on each corner of the triangle.

Make sure you’re selecting fruit varieties that will do well in your area. Ask a nursery person if you’re confused about what ones will perform best in your location. Keep an eye out for chill hours; chill hours are the amount of hours below 45 degrees needed for optimal production. There are maps and charts online (here is one by UC Davis) that will give you an idea for how many chill hours you get in your area. If you’re in a low-lying area, you may get more chill hours than your neighbor who is up on a ridge. The chill hours don’t necessarily need to be reached to produce fruit but you will get much better production if the chill hour requirement is met.

Last but not least, when planting a bareroot tree, it is better to error on planting the tree too high than too low.  The tree will naturally pull itself down by a process called centrifugal force. If the centrifugal force is not enough, you can always add soil to cover the visible roots. Where as, if you plant a tree too low, you will make the tree vulnerable too crown rot and it will need to be completely excavated, often resulting in damaging the root system.

persimmonAfter the tree is planted, side dress with a good amount of rich compost. Do this several times during the year as the compost breaks down. In addition to adding compost, you can put a nice layer of different size wood chips to help conserve moisture and provide a slow release of nutrients to the tree.

Remember, as long as you follow a few rules, shopping for fruit trees in the winter will save you money, you’ll have a bigger selection to choose from, and the trees will be happier in the long run. Happy New Year everyone!

making an infused oil

infused oils small shot

My last post was about making a basic tincture. This post will address how to make an infused oil. When I make an infused oil, I use the folk method. I don’t measure anything. All I do is dry the plant material and cover with whatever oil I choose. You can weigh your herbs to be more precise about how much herb is in solution with the oil. When weighing the herb, I usually do a 1:3 ratio. 1 part plant material, 3 parts oil.

Different oils are better for products that will be applied to the face like almond and sunflower oil (lighter oils). Use these lighter oils especially when dealing with eczema or acne.  If applying to your lips or on other body parts, organic extra virgin olive oil works great and is not very expensive. You can use the oil directly or you can add beeswax to make a salve. The oil can also be used to make a cream which I will cover in a later post.

Here’s some of the plants I’ve used in oils: Calendula flowers, plantain leaf, comfrey root/leaves, cayenne, arnica, horse-chestnut, st. johns wort.

Basic steps to making an infused oil:

  1. Dry plant material (because if you don’t, the water will most likely spoil the oil)

  2. Put plant material in an airtight jar and cover with the oil of your choice.

  3. Either use a double broiler and heat the oil for a few hours. For most plants, I choose to keep in a warm place, out of direct sunlight. Sometimes when using the double broiler, you can cook the herbs causing a not so pleasant smell and the medicinal properties are diminished. You can also put the jar out in the sun but make sure to cover with a brown paper bag.

  4. After two weeks, strain the oil. I use a metal strainer instead of muslin because less oil is lost.  I do end up with some plant debris but that doesn’t bother me. The finer the strainer, the less plant material you’ll have in the oil.

basic tincture using holy basil

Holy Basil aka Tulsi (Ocimium sanctum) is an easy to grow summer annual here in Northern California. Start by seeding the a few plants in the spring. Then by mid summer there will be plenty to harvest. I love the tea made from Tulsi but sometimes I find it nice to have it in a ‘ready to use’ form where tea isn’t an option. That’s where tinctures come into the picture.holybasilgarden

When making a fresh plant tincture, you want to use as close to 100% alcohol as possible to prevent the final product from spoiling. Fresh plant contains a lot of moisture and if the their isn’t enough alcohol (roughly 25%) in the final product, the medicine will not last. If you don’t have access to that high strength of alcohol, dry the plant and use any vodka (40% alcohol) to cover the herbs. How much alcohol do you add? With fresh plant, it’s what herbalist call a 1:2 (1 part plant material, 2 parts alcohol). With dry plant material, I would recommend a 1:4 or 1:5. The alcohol and plant material should be packed into an airtight jar and put in a dark place for two weeks. Remember to shake the jar once a day. At the end of the two weeks, strain through muslin and store in either a jar or dropper bottles.

FYI: Methow Valley Herbs has a great page about the properties, history, and use of this plant. You can view their website here.