Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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August Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and the pumpkins continue to take over the yard. Our July pumpkin is still sitting on the front porch, but three more have ripened since then. One is sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to get around to turning it into pumpkin puree and choose some recipes to use it in. One is fully orange but still attached to the vine. Another I cut off the vine but left sitting in the back yard; that one has a somewhat unsightly hole in it where it began to rot while still on the vine, so it's not a good candidate for carving or eating. Meanwhile, at least three more green ones are already large enough that I expect them to start turning orange very soon.

I took this picture before cutting the one in the kitchen and the one with the hole in it off the vine. You can kind of see three orange pumpkins at once here: one against the fence on the far left, another against the fence a bit to the right of it, and a third nearer to the right side of the picture, between the bases of the two shrubs.

I'm not sure how well pumpkin farming would combine with a more typically dry California native plant garden than mine, since they do need a decent supply of water, but I have to give them credit for making a huge aesthetic contribution to mine. Without the pumpkins, my entire yard would look like . . . well, pretty much like this picture from last month of a pumpkinless corner of the yard, except that an additional month of dry summer has now passed, which has caused the big clump of black-eyed Susans in the foreground of that picture to die, and has singed the edges of the yellow prairie coneflowers to a brown and shriveled crisp. It's still perfectly acceptable for a single corner of the yard, but if not for the pumpkins, the entire yard would look like that: a dull brown desert with a muddy intermittent pond carved through the middle of it and little green clumps scattered like polka dots across the rest. I think it would get to be a bit much. The pumpkins add a welcome splash of exuberance, a wild green mass of life running rampant and uncontrolled, which breaks up the timid little polka dots quite nicely.

The pumpkin flowers wilt by around noon each day, but they're impressive while they last - and when they're gone, the orange of the ripening fruits is more than adequate to keep the yard looking interesting. This pumpkin is now fully ripe and still on the vine, but I think the partially ripe look is more interesting to photograph.

This is the same pumpkin in front, and the one with the hole in it behind. In the foreground, you can see a honeybee inside a pumpkin flower.

This is the one that's now sitting on our kitchen counter. It was distinctly pear-shaped when it was small, but it's only subtly pear-shaped at maturity. (The picture shows only the broad base of the pear shape.)

I think the most distinctively "August" phenomenon among my flowers is the tendency for seedlings from the spring flowers that already bloomed and went to seed to start sprouting and blooming themselves. The flowers they produce are nothing like the huge spring show that the parent plants made after spending all winter growing huge in preparation for spring. This late-summer generation barely gets its seed leaves above ground before it notices the climate cues signaling that it's the warm season, time to bloom! So plant species that were three or four feet tall in the spring are now blooming at only three or four inches tall. For example, compare this month's tiny, single-flowered black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) plant with last month's three-foot tall plants that produced about 30 flowers at a time.

Or compare this tiny mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) plant that has produced only two bright pink flowers with this raging mass of four-foot flower spikes last May.

Meanwhile, the white flowers of the yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are quickly transforming into fluffy brown seedheads. Next month, will I have tiny yarrow seedlings blooming?

The garlic I planted (using cloves from the grocery store) is blooming. Most of the garlic plants were actually trampled to death recently by our overly excited dogs when we took them out for a walk, so I dug up the bulbs and have been chopping them, a few each evening, for Susan to use in our dinners. The one plant that survived has produced this somewhat crumpled-looking flowerhead.

Last month, I was just calling this "the mystery plant." Now that it's bloomed, I'm pretty sure it's a max chrysanthemum (Leucanthemum vulgare). What disturbs me is that it (and dozens more just like it) sprouted in my pots, which means it had to have sprouted from seeds I purchased. The only seeds I put in those pots were from two seed mixes that were both labeled "California native wildflowers" without indicating which species were included. Max chrysanthemum is not a California native, so it never should have been included in those seed mixes. I bought one of the seed mixes from a local native plant nursery (it sells California natives only, and sells the seed mix in little plastic sandwich bags) and the other from Home Depot (which sells a more professionally packaged native seed mix). I can't be sure which seed mix contained the mistake. There is a hybrid version of max chrysanthemum that is commonly known as 'Shasta Daisy,' which makes me wonder whether someone stupidly assumed that since the flower is named after California's Mount Shasta, it must be native to there. It's actually a rather nasty invasive weed that has displaced native species across rather large areas of California, so I suppose it's also possible that whoever collected the California native seeds just couldn't avoid accidentally getting some of these seeds mixed in, because the plants have become so ubiquitous in wildland areas.

I don't think it's actually very well adapted for taking over my garden, because each of these plants in my garden has turned brown and shriveled up within about two or three days of producing a single flower. However, to make sure my garden doesn't contribute to the spread of the weed, I've taken to clipping off each flower as soon as it blooms, so that the seeds don't even get three days to start developing. The plant can also spread by underground rhizomes, but I don't think it's likely to do that when they're all shriveling up and turning brown at the current rate (probably from excessive moisture). If I allowed the seeds to develop, the seeds could conceivably blow into some neighbor's yard with better drainage where the plants could really thrive and start reproducing like mad, but underground rhizomes would have to work hard enough to travel out of the yard that I'm not worried about them traveling that far anytime soon. And, uh, the clumps of green leaves are kind of attractive, so I'd rather wait for them to finish shriveling and dying on their own than dig them up to hurry the process along.

The yellow flowers here are prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera), another non-native plant that sprouted from one of the supposedly California native seed mixes. (I don't cut off the flowers of this plant, because it's not considered particularly invasive.) The leaves in the upper left corner are from a max chrysanthemum. The spikes of narrow, yellow-green leaves just a little taller than the prairie coneflowers, however, are my new mystery plant. I have no idea what they are.

This is our very expensive dog Boston, finally recovering from last month's stomach ulcer incidents. (You can sort of see some shaved spots on her front legs where the vet attached an IV.) She is posing with a native grass called alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), which is in full grassy bloom, along with the prairie coneflowers and, on the left, a California golden poppy.

The native Fremont's bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) was blooming until early August. It's the pale shrub in the foreground here. It's supposed to be evergreen, and last year it was. However, shortly after I took this picture (in early August - you can see some flowers at the top), its leaves all started turning yellow and crispy. A few days ago I realized that every leaf on the entire plant was so crispy that all I had to do was touch each leaf in turn and they all broke off. I pruned back the now-bare branches heavily, hoping that reducing the volume of the plant would make it easier for the roots to support it and help stimulate its recovery somehow, but I fear I may have actually made things worse. In any case, I'm not feeling optimistic. In my experience as a gardener so far, summer has a definite tendency to kill off many of my largest, most well-established plants. Last year I lost two bush lupines (one in late spring and a larger one in midsummer) and three large deergrasses (in early fall). This summer I haven't lost anything large or well-established yet, unless you count losing one of the two trunks of my Western redbud tree after I accidentally damaged its roots while trying to plant a chaparral clematis vine at its feet. I was worried last month that I was about to lose the blue elderberry, but the blue elderberry is now producing new leaves and seems to be recovering. Now I think I'm going to lose the bush mallow instead. I'm not exactly sure what's wrong with it. It could be drowning because the drainage ditch passes near it, although the neighbors haven't been flooding our yard nearly as often or as badly this month as they did in June and July. It could be dying of drought if its roots don't reach to the moisture of the drainage ditch. (It's amazing how dry some parts of the yard can be when there's a huge puddle just a foot or two away.) It could be suffocating because some excess dirt had piled up around its crown, although I have now removed that excess dirt.

Here is a non-native scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana) that is regularly sold mislabeled as the native Munro's globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana), which is how I came to acquire it. The real Munro's globemallow is practically never available commercially, so if you think you own it, click on that link and you'll likely find that you don't. Well, at least the non-native does bloom nicely.

This is a rather new plant, elfin thyme (Thymus praecox 'Elfin'), blooming for the first time with a few tiny, pale flowers (toward the lower right).

This is another new plant, bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus 'Cherry').

And this is its cousin, scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis). I can't quite decide whether I love or hate the fact that I left a shriveled, dead flower dangling in prominent view when I photographed it. This is also a new plant.

Just above the scarlet monkeyflower, I found a garden spider that had built its home beneath the branches of the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).

And on the narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), I always find tons of milkweed beetles and aphids. The stereotypical thing for a gardener to do with aphids is to kill them; even "organic" gardeners will often turn the hose on them to try to wash them away. But I recently finished reading a book that Susan gave me for my birthday called Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by entomologist Douglas W. Tallamy. I need to write a separate entry to do this book justice, but for now I'll just say that the book convinced me that it is extremely important to encourage native insect species of all kinds in gardens - both for the sake of the garden itself (because if you obliterate the pest species, you also obliterate the species that eat them, and when the pest species eventually come back, the species that eat them may not) and more importantly for the health of the global ecosystem (because many species that eat insects, notably many birds, are in severe danger of extinction due to an inadequate supply of insects; the supply of insects is inadequate due to an inadequate supply of the native plants that the insects evolved to be able to digest).

Most people who plant milkweeds seem to do so to attract butterflies - especially monarch butterflies, which can't reproduce on anything but milkweeds, and only on locally native species of milkweeds, at that. (This is a good example of the way most insects have evolved to specialize in particular native species; their populations necessarily get smaller and smaller as the native plant species they depend upon become less and less abundant.) In my experience, after having grown this locally native milkweed plant for two years, I have never seen a butterfly or caterpillar of any kind on it. I hardly ever have butterflies anywhere in the yard; the only butterfly species I've seen all summer is a white one that I suspect is the non-native small cabbage white, which, being native to the Mediterranean region, depends for its food upon plants that are also native to the Mediterranean region. The fact that this is the only butterfly I've seen all summer says a lot about how badly degraded the local ecosystem is - and we live in a rural area, with orchards and rice fields directly across the street from us! (But not native plants, which is all that matters to the butterflies. Oh, and lots of crop duster planes spraying pesticide everywhere; that also matters.)

My milkweed plant attracts only three species of insects, none of them generally considered desirable in gardens: aphids, ants, and milkweed beetles. It does, however, attract a larger insect population than any other plant in the yard. This is enough to make it valuable for the survival of local birds. Adult birds can survive just fine on berries from non-native plants, and many people who want to attract birds to their gardens plant non-native plants for that purpose. But baby birds need insects to survive, and most insects need native plants. So I'm leaving the aphids, ants, and milkweed beetles alone. Below, you can see four milkweed beetles crawling on the center flower cluster and another milkweed beetle on a leaf to the upper left of it. The aphids are yellow blurs just below most of the smaller flower clusters in the background.

Other plants currently blooming in the yard include hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula), rosilla (Helianthemum puberulum), turkey-tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense), but I couldn't get a good picture of them. The gumplant is winding down, the rosilla is still at its peak, the turkey-tangle fogfruit is not quite fully recovered from transplant stress (so although it's spreading beautifully, the flowers are spars), and the aster has only just started to bloom. This ends this month's Bloom Day tour, but I'll leave you with a non-bloom picture of some mushrooms I noticed in the yard.

Tags: native plants, photographs
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