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All photos and posts on this site are copyrighted by Lee Oliphant. Please ask permission before use and give proper credit or link to this website.


• African daisies
• Black-eyed Susan vine
• Daffodils
• California Poppies
• Irises
• Ivy geranium
• Jasmine (pink)
• Spanish lavender
• Nasturtium
• Passion Vine
• Potato vine (white)
• Society garlic
• Sweet Pea Bush


• Arugula
• Onion and garlic greens
• Thyme
• Rhubarb

Baked Custard – Using up All Those Eggs

Ingredients for simple baked custard for 12 desserts.

People with hens have to be creative to use all the eggs that their hens produce in the spring. This late winter and spring, I actually had an excess of eggs. And that was when only three hens were laying. While I love giving eggs to people who really appreciate the goodness of fresh eggs, I usually end up giving away the best of the best. Ones that are jumbo and don’t have blemishes. I end up with seconds. Doesn’t make sense. With only three hens, I’ll make an effort to use the eggs myself.

We use our eggs in all kinds of ways. We like egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, huevos rancheros, quiche, omelets, poached eggs, and eggs Florentine. I’m going to make a soufflé as soon as I get up the nerve.

Since we needed some comfort food after loosing Tulip, I went back to an old egg recipe for a dessert that turned out to be a hit at a recent potluck: baked custard. People my age have fond memories of Mom (the depression era kind) serving egg custard for dessert. Smooth, creamy, rich, topped with a mound of whipped cream, takes you back to a simpler time, before Ben and Jerry’s and chocolate mousse. This easy-to-make recipe is the basic kind. I didn’t get it off the internet (those were all altered with flavors and additions). This was out my old Better Homes and Garden “New Cookbook”. You remember, the one with the red plaid cover. Anyway, I tripled the recipe for the potluck but the one below is fine for 4 people. Double for 6-8 servings, and enjoy. Beware, some people may want seconds.



  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Ground nutmeg (optional)


Baked custard for 8.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in milk, vanilla, and salt. Place one-1 quart casserole or six 6-ounce custard cups in a 13x9x2 inch baking pan on an oven rack. Pour custard mixture among the custard cups. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Pour boiling water into the pan around the casserole or custard cups to a depth of 1 inch. Bake at 325º until firm and a knife, inserted near center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled.

To unmold chilled individual custard, first loosen edges with a spatula or knife; slip point of knife down sides to let air in. Invert onto a serving plate. Top with whipped cream if you wish.


Happy Mother’s Day to Chicken Lovers

Happy Mothers Day to those of you who have mothered and will always mother, and who understand the maternal instincts that are so apparent in hens. It is really so touching.

I took this picture off the internet last year. I’d love to give credit to whoever took it and a hearty thanks for the chuckle it gives me each time I look at it. Many thanks.


It doesn’t matter what you mother, just mother. The world will be a better place.

A Garden Tour in Cambria – 2012

A charming Cambria residence for birds.

Cambria Pines by the Sea is full of gardeners and people come from all around to participate in the Cambria Garden Tour. Cambria has had a garden tour for the past 18 years, but last year the sponsoring group took a break. We were tour deprived last spring! Now it is back in full force with seven gardens to visit, a continental breakfast, gourmet treats at each site, and a wine tasting and raffle finale at the Cambria Nursery to end the day.

This year I worked on the committee to select the gardens. What fun! The four members of the committee visited many of the beautiful gardens in Cambria and chose ones that we thought would inspire gardeners. I don’t want to give all the secrets away but here’s a peek what you’ll see on the tour.

Hold on to your garden hat! This garden is “BIG and BEAUTIFUL”! The Cambria Pines Road estate grounds have been recently renovated with a lush green lawn (rare in Cambria), charming greenhouse, water features, bridges, and creek bed. The rock-walled vegetable garden makes “growing your own” a beautiful experience.


Seaside landscape frames ocean view.


In another location, a simple garden landscape is perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. The landscape provides a foreground for a vast water view. Low-growing, drought tolerant plants like ceanothus and rockrose provide color, and a carpet of dymondia surrounds the rock pavers.  There’s a modified Zen garden, an enclosed area for potting and growing grapes, vegetables, and herbs, and a pizza oven in a sheltered area by the front door. A few local classic cars will be on view on the street out front for your enjoyment.

Around the corner, within walking distance of the sea, you’ll visit an enchanting small garden with sweeping hillside views of the Fiscalini Ranch. The greenhouse provides a retreat where the owner nurtures and collects exotic flowers. Clay sculptures and pottery adorn the property.


Above the fog, beyond the wind, you’ll meander through a garden that’s evolved over a generation. There’s a playhouse for grandchildren, a pond, roses, and pathways of brick and stone. Water features abound. Art objects and staghorn ferns decorate corners and fences, and benches and a hammock provide “places to ponder”.

A perfect little greenhouse.

On Lodge Hill you’ll visit a hillside retreat where native and Mediterranean plants  thrive in poor soil. A huge native Toyon shade the rhododendrons. You’ll find a dry creekbed, bridge, and sitting area with an overhead structure. Fruit trees and small vegetable beds provide produce for the kitchen. The plants will be labeled to help visitors identify the hardy native plants.


A Japanese inspired front gate, complete with Japanese maples, welcome you at yet another lovely Cambria garden. The guesthouse is “one of a kind”, and the vintage trailer that serves as an art studio is a treasure. Using a bridge, cross the dry creek bed and see lesser-known Australian plants that tolerate summer drought.
A kind of “secret garden” that cannot be seen from the street awaits you at this shady Cambria home. You’ll have to climb the stairs and make your way to the back of the home to find a spacious outdoor living area complete with seating areas, fireplace and stained glass windows. The garden of Mediterranean and semitropical plants covers six lots. A large custom carved Buddha presides over the outdoor space.

Big and Beautiful!


For more information on the Cambria Garden Tour on May 19, visit www.CambriaGardenTour.com or call the ticket hotline at 805 909-0052. All proceeds benefit the Cambria Education Foundation and the New Dawn Montessori.



The complete article on the Cambria Garden Tour  (written by Lee Oliphant) will be published in  The Cambrian, on May 17th.

New Sunset Western Garden Book, Do You Need It?

Old Sunset Garden Books-We Go Way Back

There’s a new Sunset Western Garden Book out and I had to buy it. Sunset Western Garden Books and I go way back. When I was young I used to leaf through my mother’s old “First Edition” 1954 publication. I knew nothing about gardening, but in the sandy soils of Orange County, you could put a sunflower seed in the ground and grow a 10-foot behemoth.

Of the newer Sunset Western Garden Books in my library, the 2001 seventh edition was my bible during Master Gardener training. I didn’t think the 2007 edition had enough new material, so I passed on that one. But what gardener can resist the newly released ninth edition?

Here’s my rationale for buying it. This edition is the first to feature plant photos exclusively. Not that I didn’t enjoy the illustrations of the older versions, but a color photo is irresistible. Color is all-important in gardening. The plant encyclopedia of the new 2012 edition has been updated and includes 1,000 more entries. There is a “Gardening, Start to Finish” section for beginning gardeners. Information is based on steps in the creation of a garden rather than in alphabetical order; planning comes first, then planting, growing, and dealing with problems. I like that. There’s a guide for growing vegetables called “What Edibles to Plant When”.

I like the green “tip” boxes included in the plant encyclopedia. They cover subjects entitled “Paw Power”, information on using kangaroo paws in the landscape. They’re entertaining and informational. There is a digital component to the New Sunset Western Garden Book. You get the free mobile edition of the “Plant Finder” for your smartphone. There’s a companion online Plant Finder that lists plants as you browse by color, height, spread and special needs. There is no ebook edition. You can go to the Sunset web site for a video on a topic when you see the little camera icon at the bottom of a page. I’ll admit, sometimes a video is worth a thousand words.

Assortment of Sunset Garden Books to Look At

The Sunset Western Garden Book has improved over the years, but it’s not perfect. For example, why don’t they include the pronunciation of the plant under the titles of the entries in the Plant Encyclopedia rather than in a separate section in the back of the book? Then there are the thin pages that are already rippling in our damp climate.

Like many of my gardening books, The New Sunset Western Garden Book is practical, inspirational and informational. My list of gardening “things to do” grows longer with each page. On days I can’t get the energy up to “dig and plant”, I’ll just sit with my new book and dream. I really don’t need another garden book but this one is hard to resist.

Events for Gardeners This Weekend April 28-29 in Cambria

There are several events here in Cambria this weekend that should be of great interest to gardeners and appreciators of the beauty of flowers. At the annual wildflower show in the Vet’s Hall at 1000 Main Street, you’ll find hundreds of freshly picked wildflowers for viewing and smelling  (if you dare). Wildflowers are picked before the event from the Monterey County line to the Morro Bay Estuary and from the coastal bluffs to the Santa Lucia Mountains. If you’ve ever wondered what the names of wildflowers are, this is the perfect event for you. Noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Cost is $3.00.

The 18th annual Faerie Festival, with storytelling with Susan Pendergast, crafts, food, and music is taking place at Heart’s Ease Herb Shop and Gardens at 4101 Burton Drive. Time 11:00-2:00 on Saturday, April 28. Free.

Across the street from Heart’s Ease, on Saturday, April 28, there will be a plant sale at the Cambria Historical Museum on Burton Street. You’ll see maypole dancing at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 p.m. and you can buy root beer floats to refresh you.

If you still have energy, take a walk on the Fiscalini Ranch trails overlooking the ocean and breathe the spring air. Delicious!


Tulip the Ameraucana Has Passed Away

Queen Tulip 2009-2012

Tulip, the Ameraucana, also called an Easter Egger because she lays green eggs, has been sick for six months now and passed away yesterday afternoon. She had what is called egg yolk peritonitis, also called “internal laying”. It is something that backyard hen owners struggle with because our hens provide us with eggs but are also our pets and live longer than commercial egg producers so are susceptible to organ malfunction.

Egg peritonitis is the result of an egg yolk initially moving into the abdomen rather than being “captured” by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. In a normal egg cycle, the ovary releases a single ovum (yolk) which is picked up by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. Birds have only one oviduct. The egg passes down through the oviduct picking up albumin (egg white), the egg membrane, and then the egg shell, before being passed out through the cloaca. The cloaca also has the ureters from the kidneys and the rectum passing urine and feces through the same exit point.

We knew Tulip had problems when she began laying those huge rubber eggs (shell-less eggs) several months ago. She was treated with antibiotics but showed no improvement. Oh, it was hard to watch.

Husband Don and I made a “no vet” agreement when I got the chicks but I broke down and made an appointment to see one. We never got there. Because prognosis for this disease in chickens is poor, I pretty much knew that Tulip would be euthanized. There was the possibility that the vet might suggest major surgery to remove her “egg maker” but I don’t think I would have agreed to that.

Yesterday, she stayed inside the little coop until late morning, then joined the others who were scratching around in the garden. She stretched out on her side, absorbing the sun. When I locked the other hens back in the run, I put Tulip in a little crate in the garden shed with food and water. She lay down, and never got up. By nightfall, she was dead.

We buried Tulip near Rosie who passed away two winters ago. She is no longer in pain but Husband Don and I are sad. I didn’t sleep well last night. Our original flock of six is down to three. Three really wonderful hens that are now over three years old. There will be decisions to make but I’m not in the mood to make them. Loving and caring for animals is both joyful and heartbreaking. I’m experiencing the latter now.


Gophers, Gophers, Everywhere

A naughty labradoodle uncovers a gopher den

A colony of pocket gophers has set up residence in our yard, and Maddie, the labradoodle decided to expose them. She dug a hole, five feet in length and two feet wide in the soft soil between the roses. The pretty California poppies went flying but she did her job; she let us know that gophers had invaded our garden and we must get off our duffs and get to work to rid ourselves of these pests.

As soon as the soil dampens with winter rain, gophers become active. You will know they arrive when you find piles of earth in your beloved beds. These burrowing rodents are called “pocket gophers” because of their large external cheek pouches used for carrying food and nesting materials. They have powerful forequarters, large claws on their front paws, short fur, small eyes, and sensitive facial whiskers for maneuvering in close, dark quarters. Their lips, which close behind four large incisor teeth, keep dirt out of their mouths when using teeth for digging. Practical I’m sure, but hard to visualize!

We’ve had both moles and gophers this year. If you aren’t sure of the difference, see the post I wrote a couple of years ago. The smaller moles burrow close to the surface of the earth. They do not eat plants but dine on grubs and earthworms just below the surface. While they can disrupt newly planted annuals, they are far less harmful to your plants than the notorious pocket gopher. A little tolerance of this smaller cousin is encouraged.

The story goes that the “bull” gopher (a male gopher of breeding age) stakes out his territory and creates a maze of tunnels that he hopes will attract females seeking the “good life”. Sex always makes a story more interesting. If all goes well for the bull, the area is soon populated with young. Perhaps this maze is what Maddie found in her digging.

Black Box Gopher Trap is set in place.

Gophers feed on a variety of plants using their sense of smell to locate food. Most folks, who’ve gardened for any length of time, will have a horror story to tell of watching a plant slowly being pulled underground if front of their eyes. A few years ago I observed a six-foot hollyhock list slowly to the side until it lay prone; its roots devoured by a subterranean pest. I found a prized seven-foot butterfly bush lying wilted and prostrate on the earth. The trunk appeared to have been eaten by a beaver. My guess is the culprit was a gopher who had left his run and “taken down” the shrub at ground level. I cut some of its branches and made some nice plants with the cuttings that still live in my garden today.

Old Macabee Traps need to be put in tunnels

My husband uses a metal trap, called a Macabee, to keep down the gopher population. The trap requires brute strength to set.  Then there is the problem of removing the dead gopher after it has been squeezed between the “pinchers”. I have neither the hand strength nor the stomach for this type of entrapment. We’ve also used the “Black Box” trap which is easier on the hands. In areas where the dog and chickens are excluded, I use the sissy method of gopher annihilation. I insert pellets of poison using a probe that puts it directly into the burrows. One must be extremely careful that none of the poison is spilled on the ground where birds can ingest it or pets come into contact with it. As I was taking pictures of the excavation and traps this morning, that little gopher had the nerve to stick her head out of the hole and look at me. The audacity!

The audacity! A gopher looks up at us as we prepare traps!

There is no easy solution to the gopher problem. Some people in the area plant new plants in wire baskets. I’ve done this with expensive new plants that I think are vulnerable and it seems to work until the plant is mature and doesn’t need root protection.

Our property adjoins open space on one side and a vacant lot on the other. I’m realistic enough to know that we will have to deal with these underground critters one on one, and, at best, keep them under control. As for Maddie, the Australian Labradoodle, a little more training is in order.



Hens Need Their Nails Clipped

Sweetpeas nails have grown too long.

Our hens needed a manicure. We have to clip the nails of our two labradoodles nearly every month. But with our hens, once a year does it. Living in the wild, chickens wear down their nails scratching in coarse dirt and even rocky soil. But our pampered hens scratch around in a run where most rocks have been removed and the soil is raked once a month to keep it clean.

The hens all needed to have their nails clipped this spring. We’ve only done this twice in their three years and it always makes me a bit nervous. Just like the dogs, if you cut a nail too short it bleeds. I took the nail clippers and some styptic powder (a blood stopper for dogs, cats, and birds) out to the coop and picked up Sweetpea who seemed to have the longest nails. Her nails were so long her toes were turning to the side.

I’m not very brave about clipping the nails of animals. I’m afraid of hurting them. Taking one toe at a time, while Don held the hens on his lap, we cut about 1/4″ off the ends of the nails on each hen. I did make one of Sweetpea’s bleed but it stopped with a little powder pressed on the blunt end of the nail and she forgave me. Sweetpea and the others were out scratching around in a few minutes.

Clip only the dark part of the nail.

These hens are relatively easy to handle. They squawk a little when we pick them up but usually settle right down when we put them on our laps. We’ve had to handle them quite a bit in their lives; giving them medicine, cutting off poop that has become hardened around their vents. We had to give Daisy a dose of mineral oil into her vent to remove a broken egg then let her soak in a warm tub.  We turn them upside down occasionally to check for problems “down south”. Chickens are no different than any other bird. Stuff goes in and stuff comes out. Feathers fall out and feathers grow in. Hormones go crazy and make them cranky and broody. Clipping their nails is just a little thing we can do occasionally to keep them healthy and is relatively easy. Chickens who are kept in cages don’t live long enough to have this pesky problem!.







Growing Cymbidium Orchids on the Central Coast

Cymbidium orchid from the garden of Carol Frane, Cambria

Cymbidiums orchids do well in our coastal climate, and just about anywhere else in San Luis Obispo County, if given filtered sunlight, water, and lots of food. Shade cloth or an open tree can provide filtered shade. Cymbidiums can tolerate morning sun in cooler climates and I’ve seen cymbidiums growing in full sun in coastal Cambria.

What you do with your cymbidiums orchids in the spring will affect how your cymbidiums produce next winter. After your blooms have faded, begin a fertilizing routine to stimulate growth. Fertilizing is important to orchids because they are “hungry” plants. A complete fertilizer high in nitrogen, 30-10-10, and applied once a month, should do the trick. I also use worm compost tea for watering in the spring and summer as it is high in nitrogen and is not as high in salts as commercial fertilizer. During the summer, the fertilizer should be changed to a balanced 18:18:18 feed and then, in the fall, to a bloom booster like 10:30:20. If you don’t have time for this kind of routine, a handful of slow release fertilizer like Osmocote, once a month, will work.

Divide your cymbidiums if they have become too crowded in the pots or when the planting mix has broken down. If you wait until summer to divide, it may affect their blooms next year. Healthy cymbidiums need to be repotted about every few years after blooms have fallen off. Divide plants by breaking apart at the natural divisions. Clean the old potting mix from the roots and cut off any dead or damaged roots. Place a mound of moist potting mix in the center of the pot and spread the roots over the mound of mix. Fill in around the bulb until the lower 1/3 of it is covered. Lightly tap in soil so it is tight and not too loose.

Cymbidiums like a slightly acid potting mix that provides good drainage. You can buy this mix or use fine orchid bark with perlite, shavings, and coarse peat moss added for water retention. Larger bark will require more frequent watering.

Speaking of watering, you should water your cymbidiums often enough to keep them moist. They should never be allowed to dry out. This could be twice a week in the growing season and less, of course, in the winter.

Another Cymbidium from Carol's garden.

Pests can be a problem to cymbidium plants and flowers. Red spider mites and scale are the two most persistent cymbidium plant pests with snails and slugs being the primary threat to the delicate blooms. Spider mites are a problem inland where the humidity is lower. Try misting your orchids in the warm, dry season to keep them moist and use a miticide if all else fails. Aphids like the buds and flowers and should be washed off with water when first noticed. Hand-picking at night or a safe, granular form of bait should control snails and slugs.

Cymbidiums are also subject to bacterial, fungal and viral diseases that are often associated with being too wet. Like roses, they can be victims of these diseases. Watering early enough in the day so that the plants can dry out before dark is the best prevention. Cymbidiums are also susceptible to the common orchid viruses. Transmission with contaminated tools or hands during dividing and repotting can be a problem.

I’m not always successful at growing these beautiful Asian terrestrial orchids; I’ve certainly had my failures. But I know people who have beautiful healthy orchids growing in pots under the pines. It requires consistency in watering and fertilizing and cleanliness in handling and repotting. Now, all I have to do is put my knowledge into practice!



Chickens Clean Up Bugs and Snails

Sweetpea and Tulip looking for bugs

We’ve been letting the hens out in the late mornings to scratch around and clean up snails and bugs. This is a good time of day for them to forage and free-range. After a morning run, the labradoodles sleep inside the house for a couple of hours and the hens can have the run of the yard, sans canines.

I don’t know if the labradoodles would really harm the hens but I’m not taking any chances. I heard, through a friend, that a husband let her dogs out when her hens were in the garden. The dogs made short order of the “girls”. Needless to say, the woman didn’t know who to be madder at, the husband or the dogs. I know whom I’d blame!

So we are careful. Labradoodles are inside in their crates when the hens are loose in the garden. And the “ladies” are lovin’ it! They’re finding lots of snails and slugs. They grab them in their beaks and run. The others will join in the chase unless they see something better to eat. They’re finding lots of sow bugs and earwigs. They are unafraid of us humans and our weed diggers and hoes. They stay underfoot, ready to pounce on whatever we uncover for them. I’ve stepped on toes more than once.

Pulling Weeds with the Hens

We’ve been clearing the rose bed of alyssum “Carpet of Snow”. I shouldn’t have let in go crazy this winter but it provides a little color and covers the bare ground around the roses throughout the winter. Now, I need to remove it. Don has been helping me for an hour or two a day this week and we’ve just about finished. The hens have kept us company. I find their little clucks soothing as they go about their foraging. Such a sweet sound.

If you are at all curious about our Australian Labradoodles, I have an article on them HERE.