Creating a Perpetual Garden Journal

One of our ongoing regrets around the Root Simple compound is not having taken better notes on the garden in the 24 years we’ve been here. What year did we plant that toyon? How long do the avocados take to ripen? What’s the best date to pick the pomegranates? To some extent the blog functions as a diary and I can sometimes go back through entries to figure out, say, what month I picked the olives two years ago. But there are a lot of gaps.

Towards the goal of better note taking and inspired by the work of botanical illustrator Lara Call Gastinger, I started a perpetual garden journal. To make one, you get a blank journal with enough pages to devote one or two pages for each week of the year. When you want to record something you go to that week and do your drawing. You can, of course, add written notes. As the years roll by you keep adding to the same pages thus creating a week by week visual diary of  what’s going on in the plant and fungi world in your garden or in the world around you.

I know that drawing is intimidating to most people (myself included) and looking at talented folks on Instagram only makes this worse. But drawing is not really about the end product, it’s about the act of observation. You could make a perpetual garden journal with digital photos or just written entries and there would be nothing wrong with either approach. However, I’ve noticed that when I draw things I tend to observe details that I think I would have missed had I just taken a quick photo or written notes. For instance, when I drew the prickly pear cactus fruit on the page above I noticed that the spines (technically, glochids) on the fruit form a kind of spiral grid.

You can use any medium–pen, pencil, watercolor etc. For most of my drawings I use a pen, ink wash and watercolor. I use ink so that I don’t overthink things and just commit to the lines. I would recommend finding a journal with enough pages to devote a spread of two pages to each week. I have only one page per week and I think the results will be a little cramped.

Are my drawings great? Nope. But I’ve decided to embrace my slightly wonky draftsmanship and just roll with it. It’s the act of seeing, after all, that’s more important.

Lara Call Gastinger’s Instagram is a great introduction to the perpetual journal idea.

If drawing ain’t your thing here’s a way to use Google calendar to do the same thing.

Thomas Pynchon on Pizza

Still from the movie Inherent Vice based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon.

Blog reader BLDinMT left a kind comment responding to my silly post on cooking out of the Café Gratitude cookbook which triggered a memory of a passage in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Vineland. I don’t remember much about the novel but I do remember Pynchon’s spot-on description of 1970s era California health food cooking,

Prairie worked at the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple, which a little smugly offered the most wholesome, not to mention the slowest, fast food in the region, a classic example of the California pizza concept at its most misguided. Zoyd was both a certified pizzamaniac and a cheapskate, but not once had he ever hustled Prairie for one nepotistic slice of the Bodhi Dharma product. Its sauce was all but crunchy with fistfuls of herbs only marginally Italian and more appropriate in a cough remedy, the rennetless cheese reminded customers variously of bottled hollandaise or joint compound, and the options were all vegetables rigorously organic, whose high water content saturated, long before it baked through, a stone-ground twelve-grain crust with the lightness and digestibility of a manhole cover.

Pynchon being Pynchon, pizza appears frequently in his novels as a multi-valiant symbol. In Vineland it’s a symbol of the Dharma wheel and the eight-fold path of Buddhism (pizza is usually cut into eight pieces).

Weekend Linkages: Smoking Chickens

I really gotta stop looking at Twitter but that’s where you find images of smoking chickens.

Is that a dishwasher or a Hindu temple? Inside kitsch pomo masterpiece Cosmic House (Thanks for the link Nic!)

One Work: Gelatin’s The B-Thing

Meet Thatcher Wine: the ‘celebrity bibliophile’ you didn’t know you needed

The Last Glimpses of California’s Vanishing Hippie Utopias (Thanks Daniel for the link!)

How To Build Your Own Trippy Meditation Pod

Insects are vanishing from our planet at an alarming rate. But there are ways to help them

Improving tiny urban greenspaces causes huge boosts in insect life

If Hollywood Workers Strike, the Entertainment Industry Will Grind to a Halt

Chicken of the Woods 2021

We begin this post with a disclaimer. The very last thing you should do is act on edible mushroom foraging advice from this particular blogger. That said, we enjoyed two delicious meals of chicken of the woods mushrooms this week thanks to friend of the blog Lee. And, yes, it really does have both the taste and texture of chicken.

Back in 2019 Lee alerted us to a secret stash growing on one of LA’s many carob trees. Our 2021 harvest was on another carob tree, this time on Lee’s compound.

In the two years since that first harvest I’ve learned a few things about the edibility of this mushroom. You need to cook the mushroom thoroughly or nausea and vomiting can result. It’s also good to harvest on the young side as the older specimens are tough and can cause stomach upset. You also need to avoid specimens growing on conifers or eucalyptus trees. I’d advise eating a small amount first and seeing how you do. We consumed copious quantities of it with no ill effect.

Recent research has shown that what was once thought of as one species of chicken of the woods in North America is, in fact, a complex of species. Here in the west we have Laetiporus gilbertsonii.

Here’s some good photos showing Laetiporus gilbertsonii at various stages.

Note that should this mushroom show up on one of your trees you’ll want to hire an arborist as this fungus can cause serious structural problems. On the plus side you’ll have many gourmet meals.

To review, eat the young growth, cook well and know the species of tree you’re harvesting from and you should be fine. Chicken of the woods is sort of a gateway to edible mushroom foraging as it’s one of the easiest wild mushrooms to identify. The only problem you’ll have is what to do with the many pounds of delicious bounty that will appear, I guarantee you, when you’ve got other stuff to do.