Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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September Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Although I do own most of the usual suspects among fall-blooming California native plants, such as buckwheats, coyote mint, and California fuchsia, none of those are blooming in my garden for this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Neither of my two coyote mint plants is very happy; I think they may be getting too much shade. The California fuchsia looks plenty happy but shows no interest in blooming. The Eastern Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is budding for the first time, but hasn't quite bloomed yet. The sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) shows no sign of blooming.

So although I do have some flowers to show you this month, I may be spending more time showing you wildlife instead. I'm trying to pay more attention to wildlife in my garden since Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home clarified that native plant gardens are likely just about the only things standing between most of this wildlife and imminent extinction.

First, though, let's summarize my summer gardening experience this year. I've never made it through a summer of gardening without losing at least one well-established, major plant, and I didn't make it this year either. There were several close calls that I nursed back to health, though, before I lost one. At the beginning of summer, I planted a pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) near the base of my Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) and in the process disturbed a major root of the redbud. As a result, one of the redbud's two trunks immediately died, and the remaining trunk hasn't grown at all the whole summer. It's definitely alive, though - it's even produced its very first flower buds this month! I had always assumed that when the redbud got around to blooming for the first time, it would do so in spring - but as Susan said when I mentioned this, adolescents are often confused about these things.

The other close call was the blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), which had been six feet tall all winter but died back almost to the ground this July - which may have had something to do with the fact that the neighbors kept emptying their pool into our yard every few days throughout June and July. The neighbors stopped doing that around the beginning of August, and the elderberry has been steadily recovering ever since. It's only half its former height, but it looks like it will make a full recovery eventually. By the end of August, however, with the pool flooding ended, I lost my most significant, well-established plant all summer: my Fremont's bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii). It had some dirt piled around its crown, and I didn't notice the problem until too late. Well, it was beautiful while it lasted.

And then there was the unexpected pumpkin farming. Pumpkin season started early, in July, but the pumpkin plants are going to be entirely dead by the time October begins. They've long since stopped blooming, and the final two pumpkins are nearly ripe now. One of them is attached to an otherwise completely dead-looking vine. The other is attached to the one remaining stretch of live-looking vine: directly down the middle of the drainage ditch, for maximum water absorption. In this picture, you can also see the much shortened elderberry at back left, and the much grown, considerably leafier buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) at back right.

Below and to the right of the buttonbush in the picture above, you may notice some of the garden's few September blooms: my scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis), planted in late August and blooming almost every day since. The individual flowers don't last long, but the plant does produce a lot of them. I had tried to grow this species earlier this summer and failed, so I'm particularly glad the current effort has been more successful.

An even more reliable bloomer lately has been the California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense). I have at least three of these - I bought one a year ago, and it reproduced. Several times I've seen our dog Boston chowing down on the flowers of one of them. It produces so many flowers, though, that she hardly makes a noticeable dent. These pictures are of two of the babies; the original is larger but has turned brown in the middle so it isn't as pretty.

If you look closely at the flower on the far right in the picture below, you can see a tiny red beetle on the petals - the first of the wildlife I have to show today.

The third reliable bloomer in my back garden this September is California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). One of them has intertwined itself with the valley oak seedling that volunteered here this spring, creating pretty much the quintessential plant combination for the Sacramento Valley. I've learned some new things about this valley oak seedling in the few months since I discovered it in the yard. First, I learned that the acorn was probably brought here within the past year or two by a passing bird, rather than lying dormant for years as I had at first thought. Second, I learned that it's already too tall to be transplantable. This is unfortunate, since it's volunteered a foot and a half from the house and can't possibly be allowed to remain there. Third, I learned from Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home that even though the seedling is doomed to have to be pulled because of its location, it's worth letting it remain for a year or two first just because it can support so many at-risk insect species.

I've also discovered another volunteer, in an equally doomed location, which I think may also be an oak - specifically, I think this one may be interior live oak (Quercus wislizeni). If so, alas, it too is already too big to successfully transplant. Still, it's nice that the native ecosystem is still healthy enough somewhere within bird-flying range that the birds continue to plant these.

Getting back to flowers, I arrive at my fourth and final really showy September bloom, which is in the front yard: the non-native scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana).

This brings us to a less showy but still heavily blooming plant, rosilla (Helenium puberulum). The common checkered-skipper butterfly Pyrgus albescens) on it seems to like it plenty. However, because Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home pointed out that most insects can drink nectar from many types of plants as adults but are dependent on a very few native plant species for food when they are larvae, I searched the Internet for information about what the common checkered-skipper caterpillars eat. It turns out they eat mallow species - such as the Fremont's bush mallow that died a mere week before I saw the butterfly in the garden. So maybe this butterfly used to live on my bush mallow when it was a caterpillar - but it can't lay its eggs on the bush mallow anymore. I wonder whether the scarlet mallow in the front yard is sufficiently closely related to the native mallows that the caterpillars will survive on that. Maybe, maybe not.

It's unusual to see a native butterfly in my garden at all. Normally the only butterflies I see are the non-native cabbage whites (Pieris rapae), which are very numerous precisely because they're non-native: their caterpillars evolved to depend on the non-native plants that came from the same place that the butterflies did, and there are far more of those non-native plants in this neighborhood than there are of any native species.

The cabbage white butterflies are rather pretty, I must concede, but they're not at all cooperative about posing for pictures. The only reason I managed to get this picture was that this one was injured or ill or something and couldn't fly well.

The only caterpillar-like creatures I've ever seen in my garden are these dull greyish-brownish ones. I'm not even sure they're caterpillars at all; they might be the larvae of some other insect. I never see them crawling on leaves like caterpillars are supposed to do; instead, I find them buried underground whenever I dig at the roots of any plants. In this case, I dug up a non-native max chrysanthemum (Leucanthemum vulgare) and turned the plant upside down; the little caterpillar-like thing was curled up in the rootball.

But back to flowers! The last of my plants that is in full bloom at the moment is the decidedly not-showy-at-all mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana). I think the act of blooming actually makes this plant less attractive than before. But I would like the plant to reproduce (mainly because it's green and willing to grow in places where nothing else will - and also it's a native plant and therefore good for whichever native insects may depend upon it), so its flowers are a welcome step toward achieving that.

A few of my other plants are partially blooming: the hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula), blue flax (Linum lewisii), prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), and turkey-tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) are all at the tail ends of their bloom seasons, with just a single lingering flower here or there. The native tall annual willowherb (Epilobium brachycarpum) volunteering in the front yard may actually be at its peak, but its flowers are so tiny and sparse that it's still nothing worth looking at. The alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides) is still going strong and really quite gorgeous, but it's a grass, so it only has grass flowers, and I've already shown it to you in previous months. So I suppose the only flower left to show you is the tiny black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) that sprouted last month and bloomed immediately: a tiny yellow daisy at the foot of my coffeeberry (Frangula californica ssp. tomentella). The other plants at the foot of the coffeeberry are an unidentified volunteer bunchgrass; native fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), and fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium); and non-native lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus). All of these are fairly young plants, just put into the ground this summer (or sprouted there, in the case of the poppy and the black-eyed Susan). The coffeeberry itself is a bit older, having been there for a year or so.

Since the pumpkins will be totally gone by this time next month, let's take a final look around at them. I took this picture in late August; this was the last really big pumpkin the plants produced.

Here is the same pumpkin last week, with its slightly smaller cousin. This photo is staged; the larger pumpkin isn't even actually attached to the vine anymore. I intended it to be attached to the vine, but when I picked it up and tried to twist the vine a little so I could move the two pumpkins closer together for photography purposes, it fell right off - that's how far the vine has decayed already. (Those are the rosillas blooming in the background, by the way.)

And here is the very last of the pumpkins, the one attached to the single remaining strand of green vine in the drainage ditch.

You may notice an odd sheen of white dots on that pumpkin. This is what the white dots look like up close. I have no idea what this creature is, but it seems to be reproducing on the pumpkins. Susan has dubbed them "pumpkin lice."

Most of my garden's wildlife, however, is not the herbivorous kind at all, but rather the predatory kind. I have tons of houseflies, mosquitoes, and garden spiders. Here's a garden spider crawling on a yellowing pumpkin leaf.

And my most exciting wildlife is always the amphibians: tiny Pacific tree frogs and somewhat larger (fist-sized) Western toads (Bufo boreas). This is a Western toad that Susan has dubbed Mr. Toad. We had been seeing him regularly for months, in the front yard, but then he moved into the back yard, and I took this picture of him next to the neighbors' fence. We actually haven't seen him at all since the night I took this picture, which was nearly a month ago. We have seen another, smaller Western toad, however, which has more recently taken up his old residence in the front yard.

Tags: native plants, photographs
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