First Year Harvest
My ambition this year is to make the house in Malibu fully self-supporting.
I bought the Malibu house two years ago after selling the property I had owned in Whitstable for nearly thirty years.
The Whitstable house was a slim, 1880’s, three floored, terrace. Clad in white ship-lap it looked over the Swale and I would sit on my wide, all weather balcony watching the sea crawl over the long, shallow beach. Sea Gulls wheeling over the ocean, huge cargo boats on the horizon.
The Malibu house could not be any different. Built in 1972 the house was originally one large family home but had been divided into two apartments in the mid 80’s.
Frankly, it was the ugliest house I had ever seen: Big Sur interior meets Scandinavian sauna. Acres of dark wood, bad carpet, virulent yellow paint and stained glass windows. When I moved in I threw away thirty clinking clanking wind chimes. The downstairs apartment, where I originally moved, was beautifully proportioned and very cozy but upstairs, where I now live, had towering ceilings and mahogany Shindleresq detailing.
By far the most beautiful aspect to the house was the view over the Pacific. I traded cargo ships for schooners and sea gulls for pelicans. In February, every year, the great hump back whale migrates across my view.
The house is either ‘wonderfully isolated’ or ‘terribly isolated’ depending on who you have visiting. It was made more isolated in 1984 when a portion of Rambla Pacifico, the road that leads directly to my house, was destroyed in a landslide cutting off hundreds of people from their homes-mine included. Thankfully, this April, the road will be rebuilt after 26 years. So, instead of a 7 minute drive through the Santa Monica Mountains from the Pacific Coast Highway it will take two minutes.
Why, you may ask, did you buy the house in the first place? Well, the house may have been ugly and isolated with no direct road from the PCH but the three acres of garden was an oasis beyond description. The moment I stepped into that garden I realized that I would have to buy the house.
A long drive, planted with palms and lavender and fruit trees, leads past a deep fish pond to a wide granite path weaving through grandly planned terraces stepping from the top to the bottom of the property. Under a canopy of Brazilian orchid trees the paths are dappled with sunlight.
In the spring, after the heavy rains, waterfalls gush down rough-hewn gullies and then a miracle happens the arid mountain is transformed, becomes lush with wild flowers and green grass.
Last Years Bananas
There are fruit trees planted all over the property and my first year in the house I harvested bananas, plums, grapefruit, figs, lemons, mangoes, guava, oranges, nectarines, peaches, walnuts and tangerines.
There are foxes, coyote, deer and bob-cats. There are hummingbirds, hawks, and quail. At night huge white owls feast on gophers and field mice.
I pride myself on knowing the names of trees and shrubs where ever I live. I could tell you the name of every species that makes up an English hedgerow. I knew nothing of native Californian flora and fauna so I threw myself into learning what was what in my new garden. I found Rye, Coast Live Oak, Black Live Oak, Baby Blue Eyes, Morning Glory Wild Lupins and California Poppy to name but a few.
With my possessions arriving from Whitstable I had to make upstairs livable.
The first great simplification! I painted everything in the huge, upper apartment a pale cream, covered up the stained glass windows, painted the kitchen cupboards a pale blue-gray and one accent wall a Sottsass pink. I hired migrant workers and planted empty parts of the garden with native grasses and drought resistant cactus and the like.
My furniture arrived from London and seemed to suit it’s new home.
My friend Maury Rubin who owns the legendary City Bakery in New York moved into the apartment below and I got hooked to the Internet and the parameters of my Malibu estate.
Today, instead of abandoning Malibu I have decided to move back into my home to enact the second part of this Californian story of how the west was won and hopefully I can take you all along with me.
My intention is this: to get off the grid, to be fully self-supporting, to grow vegetables and graze goats on the property. I want chickens and a pig. I want more than fancy fruit. I want tomatoes and onions for chutney and green vegetables to keep me moving. This year will be the year of the great growing and cooking experiment and we’ll throw some personal drama into the pot no doubt-but this year is about growth of the natural and the personal kind and it will all begin on January 1st 2010.
I am quite sure there is a community of market gardeners and goat owners only moments from my house and to whom I am going to reach out and make this dream come true.
I have no idea if I am even allowed to do any of this-or what laws I may break or if any or all of this is possible but that’s what this new blog is for: to bring you along as my trials and tribulations unfold. I know that you’ll help me, you’ve helped thus far. Let’s have another adventure shall we?