Nilah Ate the Blog

Illustration, books, and baking… probably

LA Times Festival of Books

I am trying to tackle some last-minute deadlines before I hop on the plane to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. LA has called me at last. I’ve avoided travel the last two years, haven’t been back since I moved in 2020. Come see me Sunday, 4/23 reading WUTARYOO on the Children’s Stage at 3:30 p.m.! I’ll be signing in Signing Area 7 directly after. 

plantain-leaved pussytoes

And so, I should be packing and working on those deadlines, but being me, I couldn’t help but take a break and tour the grounds. I was absolutely fascinated to see something I had not noticed before growing along the border between my property and the neighboring apartment complex. Funny enough I’d just bought my own plant a few weeks ago, but had never seen it outside of native plant sales and had never seen it in bloom.

Antennaria plantaginifolia, also known as plantain-leaved pussytoes. It brought a smile to my face as soon as I recognized it! The gentle blooms, like cotton swab tips, are so distinct. I can’t believe I’ve been deliberating on buying more plants and where to establish them around here, and our neighbors are one step ahead of me.

plantain-leaved pussytoes

At least, I assume the neighbors planted them. Pussytoes are native to the region, but aren’t a plant I’ve ever seen in this area. Then again, they do look rather random sitting there, like they sprung up on their own, so who knows? To the apartment landscapers’ credit, they do seem to have a preference for native plants. Our shared border is now home to American witch-hazel, sweet gum, and pine, among other things.

witch hazel, pussytoes, and viburnum along apartment border

It’s pretty neat to be here full-time now and get to see how the plants change with the seasons. Dogwood, cherry, and crabapple are in bloom now. I also spied the start of flower buds on the arrowwood viburnum I planted a few weeks ago (my contribution to the shared border between me and the apartments).

arrowwood viburnum

The Seckel pear I planted last year is also doing well. I recently added a D’anjou tree not too far away, as a pollinator companion. They say when gardening and farming you should always start with the trees, since they take the longest to grow. I don’t expect fruit from either of these trees for another three years at least.

seckel pear tree

I actually did go inside and do some work before coming back out, this time to get up the tomato trellis. I figure I’d rather have that done when I get back from LA rather than a task waiting to be tackled. In a fit of madness I bought a ton of vining and climbing vegetables so I have plenty more trellises to build.

tomato and pea trellis

For this one, I drove a few T-posts into the ground and fastened cattle panel to them. Somehow all the tomatoes I’m growing are indeterminate, which means they vine and grow very tall. I’ve heard the hoop/tunnel version of this is very effective, and I might try that in another part of the yard. I do have an excess of tomato plants!

There are some teeny sugar snap peas there as well. After I took this pic I added some thin bamboo stakes to help them reach the trellis.

toad house

That should have been it, but I paused for one more little project: a toad house.

toad house

In this part of Maryland, there’s always a creek, pond, or river nearby. Nothing terribly close, so we don’t have frogs on the premises, but we do have an abundance of toads every year. And I just happened to find a broken terra cotta pot in the woods which makes a perfect hiding spot for toads and other small critters, to get out of the sun and away from predators.

toad house

And as if to prove my point, I passed by this little guy on my way inside, hiding under the fence.

an actual toad, I hope it finds the toad house

It has been a while since I’ve taken a trip. I’m leaving my niece in charge of the plants and the cat while I’m gone (the dog will be going to stay with a friend). The weather’s been all over the place the past few months. Hopefully when I return, the warm weather will be rolling in and the tomatoes will be ready for their new home.

It is my first time gardening on this scale. Everything is an experiment. I look forward to seeing how it goes!




Nilah is an author and illustrator from the United States.


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