My Garden in Summer — But Is It Really Mine?

A pink Japanese anemone blossom with coral stamens and a yellow ball center blooms in August. Photo by BF Newhall

Just one of the hundreds of Japanese anemone blossoms having their way with my front yard right now. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

OK. Full disclosure. This is my garden, but I’m not the gardener. Not really. I don’t plant things. I don’t do the big weeding. I don’t make plants grow or buds blossom. I leave that to God and Jillian the gardener.

But it is my garden. It’s my special place. It’s planted with the pinks and purples, the soft yellows and splashes of burnt orange that are my personal palette. It has the blousy, unkempt look that

Small blue daisies with orange centers are abundant on bushy plant. Photo by BF Newhall

A blue flowering plant is bushing out, hiding the bower vine behind it. Photo by BF Newhall

I like, punctuated by interesting rocks — moss, volcanic, sharp-edged local sandstone — and some rock garden classics, isotoma, succulents, snapdragons, blue-eyed grass.

I look at this garden first thing in the morning when I open the bedroom shutters. I peek at it over the fence when I go out to get the mail. I pull the occasional weed and deadhead a fading

White bower vine blossoms grow against a worn redwood fence. Photo by BF Newhall

Next to the fence, the bower vine holds its own. Photo by BF Newhall


blossom from time to time, and on a good day, I might take a few minutes off from finishing up my book to pick flowers and bring them indoors.

It’s mid-August now and the garden has lost its delicate spring look. The Japanese anemones have gone mad. The star jasmine is fat and aggressive with greenery. The isotoma is sprawling out in the spaces between the steppingstones.

Volcanic rock steppingstones with leaves of ferns, japanese anemone and wild strawberry. Photo by BF Newhall

The volcanic rock stairs Jillian installed last fall are now crowded with greenery. Ferns are popping out from  between the steps, and at right, wild strawberrys and Japanese anemones compete. Photo by BF Newhall

And everywhere the wild strawberry vines are slipping their red and succulent fingers between the leaves of their more demure neighbors.

Jillian keeps eyeing those Japanese anemones. Left undisturbed they would march right down the garden slope and take the place over. But I won’t let her remove them completely.

My San Francisco Chronicle colleague, Bob Rothe, planted them when Christina was still a toddler. That means those anemones have been going at it for nearly thirty years, pushing the envelop, grabbing up space in my front yard, staying just this side of out of control. Bob died some years ago. But his anemones live on.

Because I want them to.

To see what was happening in my garden this spring, go to “It’s Blooming Springtime on Our Hill, in March” and “Look What Happened in Our Front Yard, in May.”

A pink and fuchsia Japanese anemone blossom viewed from below. Photo by BF Newhall

Yet another one of Bob’s anemones. Photo by BF Newhall

SFBay Area garden in August with Japanese anemone, ferns and star jasmine. Photo by BF Newhall

Japanese anemone, star jasmine and a volunteer local fern bump elbows. Photo by BF Newhall

Newspaper copy editor Bob Rothe. Photo by Ginger Rothe

Bob Rothe, the journalist, with a pica pole, used by copy editors  in the hot metal days  for measuring type. Photo by Ginger Rothe

Peach and pink snapdragons up close. Photo by BF Newhall

I don’t remember planting these snapdragons; they came out of nowhere. Photo by BF Newhall



  1. i could visualize your garden even if i had never seen it, so many years ago. your words are as beautiful as the plants and flowers, and i am touched by what you wrote about your friend bob.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I looked all through my boxes of pictures for one of Bob, but the only one I could find was of him — kinda small — assembling baby Peter’s wind-up swing a few days after Peter arrived in our house. I wish I’d take one of him and “his” garden.

  2. Yay! You look at the garden first thing when you open the shutters — I’m so happy to hear that 🙂 It’s true, you are the Goddess of your garden. We take our cues from you, and it’s very true that your garden is a unique expression of your taste and personality. And, while we intervene with compost, nutrients, and other care, things simply want to grow in your yard — it’s naturally fertile. I love that the native plants keep blowing in from over the fence. This includes at least at least two fern varieties — Giant Chain Fern and California Sword Fern. The purple/blue daisy is an aster (I think it’s our native aster but I’m not sure), and we put in a 6-pack of snapdragons over a year ago! Hugs,

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks for the plant ID’s, Jillian. And I love our native ferns; makes me feel I’m in the woods somewhere. I just pulled myself away from the computer to cut some of those anemones and asters to make a bouquet. But I had to fight the bees for them. The bees think it’s their garden. That’s OK. I can share.


  1. […] More garden stories at “In the Garden With the Grammar Geek: Is It Ever OK to Use the Passive Voice?” and “My Garden in Summer — But Is It Really Mine?” […]

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