Flowers, Fruits and Nuts. And Squash.

Kage Baker was an avid gardener. “Avid” is exactly the right word, too. She had extremely personal, emotional relationships with her gardens and with her plants; she went over seed catalogs the way some women look at jewelry or designer kitchens. She admired the vast panoramas of wilderness and national parks – but her heart belonged to formal gardens: tiles and hedges and pleached fruit trees, and perfumed chambers walled with roses and cypress trees.

She grew heritage roses and apples, rare tulips, tiny old-fashioned hyacinths. She planted Lakota squash (a staple of the Sioux people), and heritage tomatoes – Pink Berkeley Tie Dyes and Large Barred Boars. And of course, she grew corn: Stowell’s Evergreen sweet corn (1873),  Sweet Gentlemen corn (1890) Sabina’s Rainbow Pink corn (age unknown; it’s Peruvian!). She grew teosinte one year, which is the astonishingly runty original corn, and ruined the food processor trying to grind the rock-hard kernels for flour. And she grew Glass Gems corn, which is more or less Mendoza’s corn:

Mendoza corn (2)It’s best as popcorn or corn flour, but you can eat it when it’s fresh and soft, just like any other corn. It’s good, too, though it doesn’t have the complete spectrum of nutrients that Mendoza’s super grain will …

You can find most of these goodies at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, BTW:

The Lakota squash was also an heirloom, and quite tasty. And today, I found out that a formerly extinct squash has been found, under the most romantic of circumstances, and will be available as seeds in 2016! It was found in a clay jar, buried in Wisconsin – 800 year old seeds, that enterprising archeology students planted and nurtured. They’ve named it Gete Okosomin, which pretty much means “Really Cool Old Squash”, and it’s enormous!

old squash

Kage loved antique flowers, as well. She adored David Austin’s retro vintage roses, especially Wenlock (which should be familiar to you, Dear Readers, as the name of the sorcerer in The Hotel Under The Sand). She searched for and found Roman hyacinths: small, pale blue, single blooming, but with a scent that was a palpable cloud of delight. And she went nuts over tulips – the older, more fringed, more dagged, more virally striped and spotted, the better.

Mendoza is a botanist because Kage grew up in her mother’s terraced gardens on a slope of the Cahuenga Pass. She grew apple trees from seed, in pots on the roof outside her window; she made exploding wine from the Concord grapes, and canned pounds of apricots. She was one of those industrious children with a watering can that Mendoza marvels over in her early years.

The garden went up at a 45 degree angle in front, bisected by 50-odd red steps; it sloped more gradually down in back, fenced with enormous eucalyptus and dotted with toys, playhouses and forts. The front was a sea of roses, irises, fruit trees and blue agapanthus; the back held a bare dirt round we called “the Druid circle”: it was where the swimming pool went every summer. Kage spent her childhood in trees, under hedges, on roofs; reading and eating fruit off the trees and making bows out of eucalyptus saplings. (I learned how to fletch arrows with the leathery fallen leaves.)

Kage would have made a good botanist, too. She kept track of what she planted, and noted the yearly yields and changes. In Northern California, she experimented with ceanothus (deer candy, it’s sometimes called; or California lilac) to find out which variety the deer liked best, to prevent them from eating our laundry off the clothes line.  In Pismo, she quite deliberately bred the nasturtiums that popped up everywhere to produce a distinctive wine-red blossom, and then spread it all over town. And everywhere we lived, Kage left behind red and white roses, apple trees, night-blooming jasmine …

I don’t know if Kage’s researches went farther because she was constantly building Mendoza, or if she built Mendoza to those specs because she herself was happiest in a garden. Even when she was attached symbiotically to her computer, the windows were open to the breath of her garden, warm on the back of her neck. The whole interlacing spiral of cause and/or effect was the best example of how Kage lived in and for her stories, and made them real while she wrote them.

As she always claimed, she was remembering much more than composing when she wrote. When she composed … it was in leaf and blossom.

A GARDEN is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern’d grot—
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not—
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

                            Thomas Edward Brown




About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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4 Responses to Flowers, Fruits and Nuts. And Squash.

  1. Marc Bailey says:

    Wonderful reading on a gray, chilly morning.


    • Kate says:

      That’s one of the things that inspired me, Mark – it was very cold and grey here yestreday, and I was remembering how Kage would go out in the January chill and start planning the spring garden.


  2. Margo Anderson says:

    I’m moving to Oceano soon, and I’ve made a note to go to Pismo Beach in search of Kage’s wine nasturtiums so I can collect seeds in the fall. My garden will be honored by them.


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