Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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July Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's about time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again, and July in my garden has declared itself to be Pumpkin Month. I always thought that was supposed to be October, but my garden has other ideas. Do you see the big green pumpkin with the orange patch on top? There are three smaller, all-green pumpkins as well, not visible in this picture. One is directly beneath the pumpkin flower on the far right, and two are against the fence, between the locations of the other two pumpkins.

Here's the same pumpkin, the biggest and only partly orange one. The big orange flower is a pumpkin flower. The white flowers are yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and the yellow flowers are hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula), with a few (less visible) rosilla (Helenium puberulum) flowers mixed in.

This is my smallest pumpkin, which I just discovered this morning. It's about the size of a bell pepper right now.

This is my only pear-shaped pumpkin, shown with a shriveled pumpkin flower. It's next to the elderberry and the drainage ditch. It's propped up on a piece of broken cement to keep it out of puddles, because our neighbors have been flooding our yard with their pool water about once a week all month. I've been propping up all our pumpkins this way.

This is the biggest pumpkin a few weeks ago, when it was still all green. (It's actually almost all orange now; my latest pictures of it are from a few days ago when it was mostly green with a big orange spot on top. When it's fully orange I'll get around to taking new pictures of it.)

This first pumpkin was not originally propped up on broken cement. (It is in this picture, though the cement is partly covered by a torn pumpkin leaf so you can't see it very well.) It was growing bigger and bigger every day until one day the neighbors flooded our yard badly enough that I found it sitting in a puddle of water with a big yellow patch on its underside, where the water was. I shoved the cement under it and also twisted the whole pumpkin around to lie with the yellow patch facing up, so as to dry it out faster. After a few days, the yellow patch turned green again - and then a few days after that, it turned orange. That's how the orange patch you see in later pictures came to be.

I wonder whether, if the neighbors hadn't flooded our yard and damaged it, this pumpkin might have just kept growing and become prize-winningly huge. Even with the flood, though, it's become bigger than a basketball. It's certainly bigger than our Halloween pumpkin from last year, which is where the seed that produced it came from.

Here's a closeup of the hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula) and rosilla (Helenium puberulum) growing next to it. Both plants are in the aster family, but the gumplant has the traditional daisy-shaped yellow flowers associated with the aster family, while the yellow rosilla "petals" are tiny and hang down below the much more visible center portion of the flowers, so the rosilla flowers look almost as if they're just the centers with no petals at all.

Of course, what looks like petals in daisy-style flowers are more properly called ray florets - because what looks like a daisy flower isn't really a single flower at all. The actual flowers are tiny and clustered in the center of the daisy. The flowers on the outside tend to open first, which is why in this picture, you can see some rosilla flowerheads with a dark, reddish-brown circle on top - the reddish-brown is closed buds, while the yellow surrounding it is the tiny flowers that are fully open.

Here's an even closer look at the gumplants and rosillas. The gumplant buds are spiky and filled with white "gum" until the yellow petals start poking through. The rosilla buds are smooth and all green at first, then all reddish brown, and then the tiny yellow ray florets beneath them show up, and the yellow true flowers start opening from the bottom up.

The elderberry, which you'd think would be enjoying the regular flooding, has actually been looking rather unhappy. The leaves and berries on one of its two wooden stems have all fallen off, and the ones on the other of its two wooden stems look like they're not going to last much longer. Even the wooden stems themselves are dying; today I crumbled a foot of the wood off the top with my hands. Most of the new growth this month has been from the three new green trunks sprouting from the base, but if you look closely, you can see that some of the lower leaves even on those are looking quite crispy. During the hottest part of every day, every leaf on the entire tree looks wilted.

This confuses me, because when I planted the elderberry at the end of last July, it loved the heat and shot up at incredible speed. Its conditions this summer are exactly the same as last summer, except for the fact that the neighbors acquired an above-ground pool last month and have been dumping the entire pool's worth of water into our yard about once a week (once even on consecutive days). I have no idea why the neighbors seem to think their pool needs to be emptied so often; this is not a part of any standard pool-care regimen that I've ever heard of. The maintenance guy from the apartment complex on the other side of us has been complaining about the pool water that comes through our yard into the apartments' property, and the portion of the water that passes all the way through our yard into there is nothing compared to the portion of the water that just sits in our yard and refuses to go anywhere.

So, is it possible to drown an elderberry after all? Or is the water chlorinated to such a degree as to harm the elderberry? None of the other well-established plants seem to be suffering from the water. Along the pool-owning neighbors' fence, where most of the flood problems happen, I have a year-old golden currant (Ribes aureum) on one side of the elderberry and a new buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) on the other side of it. The golden currant is looking as good as ever, and continues to produce fruits that Susan makes delicious reduction sauces from. The buttonbush, which I purchased just two months ago at the annual spring sale of one of the local chapters of the California Native Plant Society, has doubled in size and looks better than ever - I had fully expected it to go dormant from summer drought by now and was barely even persuaded that it would get enough summer water here to survive at all, but thanks the the neighbors incessantly dumping their pool on it, it seems to be planning to keeps its leaves all summer.

Anyway, here's the elderberry with a pumpkin flower in front of it, and another rosilla blooming in the shadows to the right of it (behind where the drainage ditch ends). Also visible to the left are a clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis) and the seedheads of a new volunteer grass I haven't been able to identify.

This is the elderberry in better days, about three weeks ago. The berries never ripened beyond this point. The blue ones have all shriveled and dried up, while the green ones are still there, still green, and still tiny. What's going on? Is the elderberry diseased?

Here's a closeup of the seedheads of the volunteer grass that recently volunteered under the elderberry. I've never seen anything like it in the yard before, and I haven't had any luck trying to identify it. Its seedheads are also shown up close in the picture of the pear-shaped green pumpkin near the top of this entry.

And here's the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), just across the drainage ditch from the elderberry. It hasn't shown any sign of blooming, though.

Besides the pumpkins, the major highlight of most of this month was the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta). They're all gone now, though - I removed the last ones from the garden this morning and put them in a vase on our fireplace mantle. They really didn't finish blooming at all, but simply reached their peak, looked fantastic for a couple of weeks, and then flopped over horizontally. I've been putting them in vases as they flop, so as to keep the flowers looking pretty a while longer. They're painful to handle, though - the lovely soft fur on their leaves that makes them so appealing in early spring dries into hundreds of needle-sharp prickles by summer. One of my firmest gardening rules is that I don't tolerate plants that hurt me, so I'm really hoping that these things didn't last long enough to produce viable seeds. (I do put them in the compost bin when their time in the vase is done, though. If it turns out that they did produce viable seeds, I'm just going to have to force myself to pull next year's crop before the fur transforms into prickles.)

The pumpkin plants are a bit annoyingly prickly too, but at least the prickles of the pumpkin plants don't detach from the plants and remain embedded in my skin like the black-eyed Susan prickles do. And once you learn where to handle the pumpkin plants, you can generally move them wherever you want them, bare-handed, without incurring lasting injury. (The stems seem to be the most painful part of the pumpkin plants, so I handle them by the leaves or the fruit instead. The prickles on the leaves don't particularly hurt.)

Anyway, this picture shows bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) to the left of the black-eyed Susans, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis) in front of them, and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in the foreground, along with a mystery plant that hasn't bloomed yet and that I haven't been able to identify. The mystery plant came from an unlabeled seed mix that claimed to contain only California native seeds, but it has since become clear that the mix also contained at least one species of United States native seeds that are not native to the state of California.

The mystery plant does have some buds. I think it's in the aster family, and I think its petals are going to be white, but I can't be quite sure since the buds haven't quite opened yet.

Here is a closeup of the black-eyed Susans and the yarrow.

And a closeup of just the yarrow.

A little strand of my red yarrow (Achillea millefolium 'Heidi') grew up through the huge clump of black-eyed Susans.

Here's a bit of red yarrow by itself.

The green stuff off to the right in the picture below is California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense), not yet blooming but spreading like mad. It should make a great show in the fall.

A smaller clump of black-eyed Susans sprouted on the other side of the drainage ditch. Garden designers often talk about which plant combinations look best together, so Boston would like to point out that black-eyed Susans combine very nicely with red-haired dogs.

She also seems to think mud combines very nicely with red-haired dogs, but I disagree with her on that point. In the background here, though, behind Boston's head, you can see the one species of United States native seeds I mentioned - the one that came from my unlabeled seed mix that claimed to contain only California native seeds but is not native to the state of California. It's prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).

You can also see a few blue flax (Linum lewisii) flowers near the left side of the compost bin, some more California poppies, more of the mystery plant that hasn't bloomed yet, a little foothill beardtongue (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs') that's recently finished blooming (to the left of the prairie coneflowers), a mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) against the right side of the compost bin, an alkali sacaton clumping grass (Sporobolus airoides) behind the prairie coneflower, and a very small hairy gumplant off to the right, not blooming.

Here's a closeup of the prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera). Like the rosillas and black-eyed Susans, these are members of the aster family, so you can see their tiny true flowers blooming from the bottom up.

Here's a closeup of the blue flax Linum lewisii) blooming with the mystery plant.

Here's Boston posing with the alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), which is another plant I bought at the annual spring plant sale of the California Native Plant Society. I'm absolutely delighted by its seedheads; I hope it spreads all over the place. I only wish it were as big as deergrass, because I'd love to have a grass the size of deergrass with seedheads like this.

In the lower right are California poppy flowers and mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) leaves.

Here's a closeup of the poppy flowers and mock orange leaves.

And here's one more picture of the black-eyed Susans. You can see how the true flowers in the center of these, too, are blooming from the bottom up.

Last and definitely least, here are the almost microscopic flowers of my chaparral coffeeberry (Frangula tomentella), just opening today for the first time. It's not a very pretty plant at the moment; it grew at a weird angle to reach for more sun, and then the dogs ran through it and topped it at half its previous height, and now most of its branches are longer than its trunk. Also, for whatever reason, most of its long branches seem to bend sharply downward the moment they leave the trunk, which makes the whole thing look even weirder. But hey, it's blooming!

Although that's the end of this month's blooms, I still have some new wildlife pictures to share. First, a Pacific tree frog that seems to live in a little hole directly under our front door. We're calling it Blondie because of its color, although since they change color seasonally, I expect it was green in early spring.

This is a damselfly, probably an Aztec Dancer. Like dragonflies, they eat mosquito larvae. And the Pacific tree frogs eat the adult mosquitoes, so we have lots of wildlife to help us control the mosquito populations. Too bad the mosquitoes still keep getting in the house anyway. But I do think the mosquito problems have been a little less terrible so far this summer than the last two summers.

It's sitting on the rosilla that is next to the elderberry. The brown leaves in the background are from the elderberry. Please tell me what's wrong with my poor elderberry!

I haven't seen mosquito larvae in the drainage ditch, which doesn't generally hold water long enough in the summer for mosquito larvae to mature. But certainly the muck in the water implies some sort of life growing there.

When the drainage ditch dries out somewhat, we get little white puffball fungi on the sides of it. They like moisture and dead plant material, and, well, my garden has plenty of both.

Tags: native plants, photographs
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