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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Home Alone 2020

By Jim Bishop.

In December, I wrote about the January of 2020 early in the pandemic. (Note: here is a longer blog about January 2020 travels.)

One good thing that happened in 2020 was that I turned 65, which qualified me for the vaccine when it became available. I’m happy to report that I received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in February of 2021. Consequently, I’m looking forward to a bit more freedom in 2021 and hope to be able to safely get out a bit more.

Here’s a pictorial summary of how I spent 2020:

On January 2, I toured the New Year’s the Rose Bowl Parade floats on display in Pasadena. Little did I know at the time this would be the only crowd I would be in for the entire year.

On January 3, I visited one of my favorite places, the Huntington Library and Gardens.

Scott joined me in Santa Monica and we toured the Getty Villa in Malibu.

After several days exploring Los Angeles museums and attractions I headed home, spending the last night in Laguna Beach.

By mid February the aloes at home were in peak bloom.

In early February, we flew to the Mohave desert to watch the launch of SDSU Rocket Project launch of the Lady Elizabeth rocket. It was named in honor of my maternal aunt who had passed away the previous year. You can see the full story of the rocket and launch here.

In late February, we did a bike tour of Death Valley. I hadn’t visited there in over 15 years. We rode electric bikes. By the end of the tour, the first cases of the virus were showing up in the United States.

I stopped off on my way home for a quick hike in hidden valley in Joshua Tree National Park.

Another stop on the way home was the Living Desert in Palm Desert.

March brought a hike in Torrey Pines preserve. It would be our last hike there until months later. The park would be closed due to the shutdown and trail maintenance for most of the year. However, I was able to find this unusual vining milkweed, Funastrum hirtellum, which I had first seen 10 years ago in the park and hadn’t seen since.

Realized by March and the next several few months would be about staying at home. Here’s our seldom visited, except by delivery people, front gate.

In spite of no rain at all in January and February the garden burst into bloom on schedule in March.

In the middle of the stay at home order, we became aware that the desert was in full bloom. We did a very safe and socially distanced run to see the wildflowers and visit one of the palm canyons. We never got within 20 feet of the two people we saw that day.

By late March, I was trying to figure out appropriate mask to wear for neighborhood walks. This is one of my aunt’s handkerchiefs, but it has since been replaced with a more substantial mask.

With time on my hands in April, I worked on details in the garden. Here’s the cleaned up potted agave area.

In spite of the pandemic, the Amaryllis bloomed right on cue.

In spite of no rain in January and February and almost none in March, the skies opened up in the second week of April and gave us record rains for one of the wettest April’s on record. The San Diego River flooded the golf courses across from our house.

All of the April rain led to an amazing amount of plant growth and the California poppies took over the hillside.

We took an Easter drive through the foothills of east county to check out all of the green hillsides.

Towards the end of April we did a hike along the Sweetwater River. A new place to hike for us with more wildflowers than we had anticipated.

By late April the garden was in peak spring bloom. This photo won a competition on the San Diego Gardner Facebook page and was featured as their banner for one month.

By May, the National Forest trails were still closed, but we found a trail off Lyon’s Valley road was open. There we found this Fairy lantern flower, Calochortus albus. I knew they grew in San Diego County, but this was the first time I’d seen one.

At home, one of the seed-grown Hesperoyucca whipplei started coming into bloom. It only took over a dozen years!

In mid-May we tried our first social distanced cocktail hours in the Casita with friends, Mark and Jean. Jean is a healthcare worker and the first person I know that received the COVID vaccine.

On a hike at one of my favorite locations, Green Valley in Cuyamaca State Park, we spotted this swallowtail butterfly on a thistle. We passed no other people on our 6 mile hike.

We were able to continue our weekly bike rides and spotted this masked statue on the deserted UCSD campus.

On a late May hike to Lake Laguna, there were fields of Cream Cups, Platystemmon californicus in the soggy meadow.

June brought my 65th birthday celebrated in isolation. I made a chocolate buttermilk cake using the recipe on the side of the Hersey’s Cocoa mix can like my mother had made for many birthdays. The ‘can’ is now plastic. You can read the full blog about the birthday cake and yarrow here.

By June, the national forest hiking trails had reopened. We finally got to hike to Horsethief Canyon on our third attempt since the shutdown. It would be closed a month later due to the large wildfire.

Surprisingly the April rains brought these Calochortus weedii into bloom in mid-June along the road to Cabrillo National Monument.

Several Agave bracteosa bloomed in the garden this year.

A June hike around Mt. Laguna still found plenty of wildflowers.

A mid-June hike on Mt. Palomar found these white Western Azaleas, Rhododendron occidentale, in bloom. I knew they grew there, but had never seen them before.

The same mid-June visit to Mt. Palomar also found this rare flower in bloom, Frasera parryi, near the parking lot of the fire lookout tower.

Milkweed in bloom. With Torrey Pines still shut in late June, we hiked up Penesquitos Canyon to the crowded waterfalls. I used to mountain bike there regularly over 20 years ago and hadn’t been back since. Not much had changed.

Another first time spotting of a native heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum, on a June Penesquitos canyon hike.

By July, I was slowly working my way through a list of home projects and finally repaired this candelabra that we found in house we flipped back in 2008.

On a relatively cool day in July we hiked Ellie Lane trail on Iron Mountain. We found the Delphinium cardinales still in bloom.

A July sunset from home.

Looking for more home projects, I converted several gift Tequila bottles into soap dispensers.

August garden with backlighting. Completed another mosaic walkway.

A mid-August hike near San Elijo Lagoon found this tarweed in peak flower.

The heat and humidity of a very warm August, made the tropical plants very happy, but kept me mostly inside. Hoya bloom dripping with nectar.

By late August we started meeting people (Tim and Jaime in this case) on Shelter Island for social distanced dinners. They brought dinner including dessert.

An early September neighborhood walk in La Jolla and one of my favorite houses in San Diego with an impressive Dracaena draco.

Another neighborhood walk on a hot August day took us across seven bridges in the Hillcrest, Bankers Hill and North Park neighborhoods.

On a September 22 bike ride we decided to ride up Mount Soledad which we hadn’t done in months. Crossing an area of black algae on the street my bike came out from under me and I landed hard on my left hip. Scott also fell and landed on top of me. My hip turned black and blue and was sore and swollen for over a month. I still have pain in the hip when walking up steps, but it is finally much better. Scott is fine.

Algae growing on the street were we fell.

In September, with all of the wildfires, we worried about the wildfire danger that the debris from a neighbor’s timber bamboo created for our house. So we bagged up as much of the 2 feet of dead leaves that had collected against our fence to see what plants had been able survive under it. However, some of it ended up back on our neighbor’s property. They filed a police report that claimed we were throwing trash on their property. It was one of 5 times they’ve called police when we’ve tried to address the threat their bamboo presents to our both of houses and plants.

Cleaned up steps.

Another socially distanced dinner on Shelter Island.

In late September we took a day trip to Orange County. We stopped at Casa Romantica in San Clemente. Like everywhere else we were the only ones there watching the late afternoon sunset into the ocean.

On an early October walk through Point Loma Nazarene University we discovered this hidden beach below the school.

More home projects in October, we added some more tile to the front fountain and cleaned and updated the paint.

Throughout the year we’ve been doing countless walks through many of the older and beach neighborhoods of San Diego. We spotted this fabulous house on the side of Mount Soledad.

Gracie playing on the veranda.

Our cats are going to be very spoiled by all the attention they been they received in 2020.

Another project was updating the portico under the balcony off the living room. A tiled bench, stenciled ceiling and new light fixture were added.

After a year, I finally got the metal Tyrannosaurus rex mounted on the Casita fireplace. It reminded me how much I hated working with contractors and how incredibly difficult they can be. Still waiting for the iron workers to return and finish their work they started in November.

Our first rain of the season, which wasn't much, came on November 7. We wouldn't see more rain until the end of December.

Table set for a socially distanced Thanksgiving dinner in the Casita.

Made a wreath in December from broken opuntia pads left when raccoons damaged the plant in the garden.

A December walk at La Jolla Cove found these nesting cormorants above the caves.

Kniphifolia 'Christmas Cheer' blooming in the neighborhood at Christmas.

Checking out the December king low tide at the Sunset Cliffs tidepools.

Sunset Cliffs sunset on the winter solstice.

Another project that finally happened in December, that I’ve been trying to do for years, was constructing this shade cover over the landing outside the kitchen door. We also had the wall opened up on the sideyard and replaced by an iron gate. We can now take out our trash via the kitchen door and no longer have to walk through the house and out into the street to get to our trashcans.

New expanded landing and patio cover.

Had the final 14 Eucalyptus cut down and removed from our property. Will use much less water and also be expanding the garden in 2021.

Visited Mission Bay Park on December 21 to check out the celestial conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Don't have a camera good enough to capture it, but here's closed down SeaWorld.

A Christmas day walk in Old Del Mar took us by several homes that had been on earlier San Diego Horticultural Society garden tours.

The year mostly at home ended the way every other year for the last decade has ended with the start of the aloe blooming season. So here's to 2020 and hoping for a better 2021 and many more garden and projects and a slow return of travel.


Past President, Jim Bishop, is the current publicity chairperson on the Board of the San Diego Horticultural Society and he was the 2019 - 2020 SDHS Horticulturist of the Year among many, many other things.

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