One More Non-Pharmacological Way To Handle The Butt End of Winter


Mark_bittnerI hope you all live in climates where you are now planting your lettuces. I live in a climate where I am still shoveling out from the two feet of snow we got Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s almost beyond human endurance.

Thank God for the movies–particularly movies with lush gardens. Last week, my husband brought home Judy Irving’s 2005 documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and it was as good as a week in the tropics. It’s the story of a slightly unmoored San Francisco street musician named Mark Bittner who feeds and cares for the city’s flock of wild parrots, who in turn lead him to a much bigger and better life.

The movie is worth seeing just for the portrait of San Francisco, which I’ve always considered the chilliest and least friendly of beautiful cities. Irving’s San Francisco, on the other hand, is a utopia of goodness and tolerance where the sun seems always to be shining and it’s always the Summer of Love. Bittner himself could not be sweeter or more intelligent. Even the supporting players are unimaginably nice, including the rich couple who allow Bittner to live rent-free for three years in a cottage on their spectacular property on Telegraph Hill just because he is an interesting person. 

Of course, no fairy tale kingdom is complete without a magic garden, and the gardens of Telegraph Hill more than qualify. Fuchsias the size of Volkswagens dangling their intricate little flowers casually over the path! Sherbet-colored brugmansias planted right in the ground! Pink pelargoniums treated as groundcover! Giant Monterey cypress making sure there’s a note of seriousness in all this wonder! And cherry-headed green parrots swooping in and out of all this greenery, echoing the vibrant colors of the plants. Where do I want to live? That’s easy. In Judy Irving’s world.


  1. Oh I hear you. I am really about ready for spring, and for me it’s showing a few signs of arriving like daffodils and crocus. My neighbor’s quince is blooming, but my shrub varieties are not yet. The forsythia has popped, the Redbuds are looking pretty…
    More than anything I am ready to sit on my deck and soak up some sun on my skin… I am tired of feeling cold.

  2. Actually, I’ll thank upstate New York to take its snow back. Now, please.

    Portland has received 90 inches of snow this winter, ahead of Buffalo and Albany by 20 inches, and we trail Syracuse by only 4 — with another 4-8 to fall overnight. Did the Great Lakes sneak into Maine or something? I haven’t seen the ground in my yard since December 1.

    I’m just glad I don’t live in Caribou or Fort Kent, on the Canadian border — they’re up to 137 inches, and they’re about to get hammered by this storm too.

  3. Actually, that should be “ahead of Buffalo and Albany by 20 and 36 inches, respectively.”

    Three years ago we got 102 inches of snow through winter, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t at least equal that.

    Now I know why I’m not fond of white flowers.

  4. I love this movie and can watch it over and over again.
    In our very friendly city of San Francisco ( who did you not meet last time you were here Michele ?, cuz this city is filled to the brim with friendly folks)
    we have an informal pot luck every month held at the Hall of Flowers. Last year one of the hosting members brought Mark and his film along .
    It was just another fun filled evening of friendly San Franciscans together with great food, good Californian wine and some nice plants to trade amongst ourselves.

  5. Hi! When my husband and I used to tuck in to our favorite Chinese joint in SF’s sunset district after a tour though the Museum at the Legion of Honor, I’d make him drive an extra few blocks so I could behold the ten-foot east-facing windowbox bursting with orchid cactus! Year-round. Blooming to beat the band nearly any time. Your “volkswagen” fuscias reminded me. Thanks for the memories! I live in WA now and ain’t no outdoor orchid cactus happening here… Bonnie

  6. Michelle Derviss, I’m never visiting anybody when I’m in San Francisco, so maybe that’s the problem! I’m always just an unloved tourist.

Comments are closed.