Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains

These are pictures taken during three consecutive hikes in the San Gabriel mountains in the vicinity of Pasadena. The first hike was with our friend Marina. She picked us up at grandma Milica's house on Saturday morning at 6 sharp. It was before daybreak and I felt, as we were driving to Eaton Canyon, still dazed by this early wake-up, as if I was being taken back to the airport...

Marina is an avid hiker. She knows many hiking trails in the area. The landscapes in the San Gabriel mountains remind her of her native Croatia. It was still dark when we arrived at the trail head. Yet, there were other cars already parked there. Other hikers on an early schedule. We then climbed up pretty briskly with Vladimir trailing back a bit. This was a short hike, as we had planned to go to the Pasadena green market on the way back. (That market is well-worth the detour)

The picture of the clearing was taken during the second hike, also in Eaton canyon, where
we went with Vlada's uncle Peter on Sunday morning. We had planned to walk to a waterfall but a slide had blocked the way so we had to head back before reaching the falls.

The last two pictures were taken on a longer hike that Vlada and I did on Monday morning: Echo Mountain Trail which climbs up Mount Lowe. Marina had recommended this beautiful trail the day before. The trail starts in land which, according to local lore, used to be the Marx brothers estate. The trail then climbs up quite a bit, going through different micro climates. At times, we could have been in the Alps and at other times in Brittany. There was a great variety of plants and wildflowers growing along the trail. Most impressive were the great bushes of wild sage.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Walks in Monrovia

These pictures were taken during morning walks in Monrovia: downtown Monrovia and along street that go towards the San Gabriel Mountains. I was fascinated by the citrus trees along the way (oranges, mandarines, lemons, grapefruits). The tall lavender plants in people's yard were another source of wonder.

We saw plenty of wildlife during these walks: blue jays, a flock of green parrots, a flock of vultures (or buzzards - scavenger birds of some kind) perched on a tall eucalyptus tree, and plenty of hummingbirds.

Compared to notoriously dirty streets in Manhattan, Monrovia seemed pristine. No litter on the sidewalks. Blue painted signs on the sidewalk (picture on the left) remind people not to dump trash in the sewers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Milica's garden

As I am sitting on the plane taking me back to New York, with a small fragrant branch of grapefruit tree in the mesh pocket of the seat in front of me, I am remembering what I did during the past five days in Milica’s garden. We arrived at the home of “baba Milica” (“grandma Militsa”) in Monrovia Thursday shortly after noon. Once there, I made a beeline to the backyard which Vladimir had advertised last fall as being a bit of a jungle. He had come back from his November trip to California with alluring tales of citrus trees in bloom in Milica’s backyard which he had said were overgrown and in need of pruning and possibly other care. The idea had then been planted in my mind that I should make sure to accompany him on his next visit to see his grandmother.

Milica had turned eighty-nine the week before our arrival in LA. She has been living in the same house in Monrovia, in the flat lands at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains, for the past twenty two
years. On first impression, the trees and backyard looked disappointingly “groomed.” The lawn had been recently mowed. The grapefruit tree was lush and in full bloom as well as bearing many fruit – the fragrance coming from it heavenly: a very strong and sweet scent similar to jasmine, which attracted throngs of buzzing bees. I picked up a ladder and clipped dead branches and a big dead vine which had once invaded the top and back of the tree.

During the next three days, I would gradually discover a number of gardening tasks, both in the back and front yards. Along the façade of the house, red geraniums had grown to rather incredible size are were
screaming for an intervention. In their eagerness to grow they had covered all sorts of plants that had once been planted in the same border but in front of them: a two-foot tall jade tree which I dug out and replanted along a neighbor’s fence, various ferns and tropical plants which in less extraordinary climates normally grow indoors, a spiky aloe with many young shoots. I kept being amazed at how easily plants grow in southern California. Up in the mountains surrounding Monrovia, wild sage is everywhere and at this time of year is a beautiful shade of green.

Vlada and I got tomato plants which I put in the backyard along the neighbors’ wall – Milica told us that she used to grow tomatoes back there (she even had pictures of them). She also remembered the kinds of tomato plant she used to buy (“early girl”), so we
made sure to pick the same kind. Milica had zinnia seeds which I planted in the border along the driveway, where she wanted them. During our stay, I found it hard to resist getting lavender plants during visits to green markets and grocery stores, so I ended up planting five lavender plants (three Spanish, two French) mostly in the front yard where I expect them to thrive. Spanish lavender in Monrovia yards grows into large bushes with myriads of flowers, as does rosemary – something rarely seen on the East Coast.

Rescuing the numerous cacti which had once been put into pots and set in the border in the backyard but had over time fallen over and been almost entirely covered by weeds and ivy was another unplanned project which turned out to be fun despite its spikiness. This occupied a hot and sunny late afternoon while Vlada was doing something or other inside the house. My therapeutic gardening spree lasted until our last day in Monrovia: with only an hour to go before we were due to be driven back to LAX, I made one last dash before breakfast to the nearby nursery, nominally to return the many plastic pots that this nursery recycles, but also to buy creeping rosemary and seeds of nasturtium and hollyhock which I rushed to plant in the front yard border. If all goes according to plan, Milica's garden should look pretty good this summer.

PS: Milica came to the US (from Belgrade, Yugoslavia) in 1957. She has been living in LA since the late 1950’s. She loves to talk, is an excellent cook and an even better baker but unfortunately rarely writes down her recipes. She is a staunch supporter of President Obama whom she voted for in November.