Hornbrook Pastoral


After much trial and travail, lots of words and a lengthy silence, I am departing the hills of Hornbrook, California for my home lands of the Maryland piedmont.  I spent the winter here alone, tending the oak woods, Ceanothus scrub, and new gardens for my dear friends Lara and Derek while they were off having exciting adventures in Central America.  They’ve since returned, and have been building on my winter’s work to create a burgeoning market garden, edible hedge system, forest orchard, and greywater paradise.  The land here has a good spirit to it, and the people are generous.

DerekDerek tending the new raspberries.

ScrublandBuckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) and Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana) scrubland.

FireweedThis plant is called “fireweed” by locals.  It secretes a minor skin irritant, and seems to thrive in marginal soils.  Does anyone know the highfalutin name for this plant?

Better home and gardens.When we started, this whole area was hard-packed dirt with gravel mixed in.  Lots of sheet mulch was added, as was the massive rainwater tank, and the greenhouse.  I threw together a temporary arbor to hold the kiwis and hops this year (if they decide to brave the looming summer and extend some tendrils upward) with plans in the works to put up a sturdier structure once the plants are more established.  The arbor is located over the tank for the well water, with the intention of utilizing the shade provided by the vining plants to keep the tank cool.  The stones in the garden are arranged in a series of spirals inspired by the arc of a scorpion’s tail.  All winter long the wind kept blowing the top layer of mulch off.  While moving some rocks around one blustery day in yet another fore-doomed attempt to create a windbreak, a little scorpion crawled out from a crevice in the hillside and told me what to do.  Sunflowers, beans, lettuces, assorted wildflowers, weeds, and Jerusalem artichokes are all coming up.  Squashes, gojis, Lonicera, and a few other odds and ends will be added to this garden later in the season.

Elf houseTen points and a bright, shiny nickle to the reader who can guess who lives here.

Mary's PeakEvening looking out towards Mary’s Peak.

Grandmother JuniperSunset under the Grandmother juniper.

Mt. ShastaAlpenglow on Mount Shasta.


3 Responses to “Hornbrook Pastoral”

  1. Finally photographs…so nice to see your winter home. Glad that the land is waking up.

  2. Theresa Says:

    Hi Ben
    I have enjoyed reading your blog -and loving the photos. I am baffled by one: “This plant is called “fireweed” by locals. . . Does anyone know the highfalutin name for this plant?” Fireweed for us is Epilobium angustifolium (found in disturbed areas -> locally, very common in the cleared/burned forest areas). This plant looks like it could be a species of Castilleja (paintbrush)? Do I get a shiny nickel or must I continue to search?!
    Hope you are well, and look forward to more photos and wonderful-thoughtful writings.

  3. I’m almost certain the high falutin name for that plant is Amsinckia, probably Amsinckia menziezii. It’s a very neat and tough native plant that tolerates disturbance and hangs in there in competition with the invasive plants. Looks like you found a woodrat nest too. I’m glad you enjoyed California. I still love california… the sort of live where you know you can’t be with them because when you spend more than a few days together it breaks your heart. Maybe someday I will return longer term, but more likely I will remain in Vermont, which is the first place I’ve ever lived that truly felt like home. Not just the landscape, you see, but the people. Maybe I am just jealous. If I could have California to myself… we could still be together 🙂

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