But Alaska's weather is going or gone from us now. It's 96 degrees outside right now, and that's the proper June weather I know so well. My photographs just won't reflect it, because I took most of them on cloudy days between rainstorms. See the muddy water in the ditch in front of Boston? That's gone now. As wet as this yard gets in the winter, it only takes a few days of normal summer heat to dry it out. And now we have our normal summer heat.
The flowers in the picture are yellow seep monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus) in the foreground, hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula) and rosilla (Helenium puberulum) just behind it, white yarrow (Achillea millefolium) farther back, and two different shades of mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) with California golden poppies (Eschscholzia californica) along the house.
Despite the brief glimpse of the back yard above, I'm going to follow my usual pattern of recent months by showing you the front yard before I show you the back yard. We'll start with a picture from late May, with the farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) putting on their big show.
The absence of much else left to bloom along with them made it kind of a sad show at first. I took mostly closeups, hoping that his would make the absence less obvious, but I found that I couldn't really reduce the obviousness very much.
These would look so much better with live green leaves as a background rather than dry brown skeletons.
To make matters worse, the front yard was the site of a gardening massacre in mid-May. We had received a notice in the mail saying that people were coming soon to install a water meter in our yard. The notice said that these people would turn off our water for a short period of time, and it gave a phone number to call to have our water turned back on in case it was not correctly restored to normal functioning when the people left. The notice did not mention nor give any warning whatsoever about the fact that these people would be bringing gigantic hoses that they laid on top of my plants - some of them brand new plants I had just put in the ground a few days before, prize specimens that I had only one of, that I did not realize would be trampled on, and the gigantic hoses could probably just as easily have been lain up the driveway and over the lawn rather than over my flower bed. The final death count was three plants purchased in four-inch pots and countless others grown from seed. The three major victims were my brand-new red larkspur (Delphinium cardinale), my only larkspur, snapped off at ground level before it had a chance to bloom; my brand-new yellow mariposa lily (Calochortus luteus), my only mariposa lily, flattened and weakened so that it died within a week and never bloomed; and one of my two common tarweeds (Madia elegans), uprooted entirely and tossed on the ground ten feet away, where I did not discover it until the heat had fried it to death. (This was before the bizarre cold rains arrived in late May.)
Then, for good measure, the water meter installation crew smothered hundreds of tiny seedlings (mostly California poppy seedlings) under a completely gratuitous and utterly pointless layer of gravel. (The cement thing in the middle had already been there for as long as I've lived here. All they did was put a water meter underneath the cement thing. How do I know that there was absolutely no need for the gravel? Mainly because the gravel will be gone in no time at all - it's just a thin layer of loose gravel, so our cat Spider has already started digging through it and moving it elsewhere, and even a few of those California poppy seedlings have managed to push their way up through it and go on living.)
And if only someone had thought to mention in the notice we received in the mail that water meter installation would involve dragging large hoses across our yard and might damage some plants, I would definitely not have planted my brand-new larkspur and mariposa lily in the front yard a few days before this happened.
So I'm not entirely recovered from that massacre yet. The massacred garden has started to recover in some ways, though. The bizarre rainy weather confused the plants enough to add a wider variety of flowers to the show. Some of the April wildflowers that had mostly died out when the May heat arrived were not quite entirely dead yet when the cold rainstorms of June showed up and revived them. We still don't have a ton of flowers like we had in April - most of them were already too thoroughly dead to be revived - but a few straggling tidy tips, goldfields, and gilia have come back to life. The picture below shows the revived globe gilia (Gilia capitata) and bird's eye gilia (Gilia tricolor) mingling with the always-blooming scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana) and surrounding the newly blooming Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).
I love the combination of farewell-to-spring, scarlet mallow, and Mojave buckwheat. The tininess of the buckwheat buds and flowers allows them to perform the same aesthetic function as baby's breath might in a traditional bouquet, and the subtle pink markings on the buckwheat flowers perfectly echo the colors of the farewell-to-spring and the scarlet mallow.
Sometimes when the farewell-to-spring flowers close up or start getting old, they look almost like roses.
But summer officially arrives in one week, so the farewell-to-spring probably won't last much longer. It's already being replaced in some areas by summer flowers like these prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).
That's enough of the front yard for this month. I have a lot more to show from the back yard. I guess I'll start where I often start, with the view from where we first come around the corner from the side yard to the back yard. I made a big change in the view this month, but you probably won't notice until you look closely. I moved the compost bin - a large black plastic cylinder - from its former prominent location (where it was in full view from the side yard patio) to the far back corner, hidden behind the buttonbush.
The buttonbush wasn't big enough last summer to provide an effective screen. Now it's big enough. It's deciduous, though, so it still won't hide much in the winter.
My motivation for moving the compost bin was not only aesthetic, however. I also moved it because our dogs kept deliberately overturning the compost bin, often multiple times per day, to eat the old food dumped into it. Susan suggested that we stake it to the ground with tent stakes, so we tried that. However, the compost bin had been in its old location for long enough that the compost had done what it's supposed to do - broken down all the hard clay beneath it to a rich, crumbly soil that is excellent for growing most plants but hopeless for holding tent stakes in place. So I moved the compost bin to a spot with hard clay soil and staked it there. Alas, it did not really slow down the dogs. As soon as we put some food scraps in it that they really like (specifically: corn cobs and corn husks), they wasted no time in knocking the bin over. It seems the only solution is to avoid ever putting anything into the bin that the dogs want to eat. (Those of you who have dogs are now laughing hilariously at the idea that there is any such thing whatsoever as a compostable object that a dog wouldn't want to eat. Yes, that's exactly the problem. Apparently the compost bin is doomed to stand empty forever and ever. (I used to be able to fill it all the way to the top, but that was before the dogs caught on to the fact that they have the power to topple it. Also I had more plant waste in those days, from the weeds that the yard was still overrun by, and the plant waste may have helped to disguise the smell of the food waste.)
The flowers shown are California poppies, arroyo lupine, and mountain garland along the house wall, white yarrow and yellow seep monkeyflowers a bit out from the house wall, and 'Blue Springs' foothill beardtongue mingling with tidy tips and globe gilia on the other side of the ditch. The California poppies, alas, are not looking anywhere near this good anymore. They're one of the few plants that really suffered because of the bizarre June rainstorms; nearly all of them drowned.
The picture below is a view I've hardly ever shown you before, because the compost bin used to be right in the middle of it - along that fence there, halfway between the redbud tree in the upper left corner and the ditch full of muddy water toward the upper right. Nothing screened it from view at all. I just avoided photographing it, most of the time, because it wasn't pretty.
If you look closely at the picture above, you can see some little white flowers silhouetted against the fence near where the compost bin used to be. They are probably the biggest excitement I've had this month. You see, two years ago, I planted a soap lily (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). It bloomed that spring and then receded underground for its normal dormant period. The next spring, however, it did not reemerge. I didn't see the slightest sign of it - not one leaf. I assumed it had died - drowned like so much else I had planted back then. But early this spring, I saw its leaves re-emerging from the ground in exactly the same spot where it had been before. I recognized it. I hoped it would bloom again. And in late April, it sent up a stalk full of tiny buds. Then I knew pretty much for sure that it would bloom, as long as the dogs didn't break off the stalk by running over it at 50 miles per hour as they are all too prone to doing with all my favorite plants.
I thought at first that it would bloom very soon. But no. Weeks passed, and more weeks. The stalk lengthened, branched, and then branched some more. By this point it was a much, much larger stalk than it had produced during its first bloom two years ago. Here is the stalk in late May, still without any flowers opened yet.
At the very, very end of May, it finally bloomed. Catching it in action was tricky, because it doesn't bloom in the daytime. Each individual flower opens just once, for just a few hours on just one evening, from early dusk (around 5:00 p.m.) until sunset. By morning there's nothing left but a few dry, shriveled petals. And just like when it bloomed two years ago, I didn't know it had bloomed at all until I saw the dry, shriveled petals of a flower already gone. But that evening I checked on it and saw the flowers at their best. For the first few nights, it opened only one or two flowers per night.
But gradually it opened more and more flowers per night. Now it regularly opens more than a dozen flowers each night.
It's not easy for my six-year-old point-and-shoot camera to focus properly on such narrow flower petals in semi-darkness. It takes numerous attempts to get a good shot. So when it finished blooming two years ago, I was terribly disappointed to realize that I hadn't gotten any good pictures of its flowers at all. Now that I finally have a second chance, I'm making sure to take lots of pictures. Here you can see some of the old, shriveled flowers along with the new ones (and blue globe gilia out of focus in the background).
In this next one you can clearly see that the flowers open progressively from the bottom of the stalk (at right, where you can see shriveled old flowers) to the top (at left, where you can see new buds).
At the base of the soap lily are blue globe gilia (resurrected from near death by the June rains), California poppies (not suffering as badly from the June rains in this area as they are near the house), and foothill beardtongue.
One of the California poppies that has survived near the soap lily is a white one. I was very surprised to see this. I know that many places sell seeds of California poppies that bloom in a wide variety of colors, but I've never bought any of those seeds, and I've never had anything but orange poppies in our yard before. I still have exclusively orange poppies, except for this one lone flower, slightly splashed with mud.
Here is the foothill beardtongue (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs') nearby, with some tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) resurrected from near death by the rains. For those of you who can recognize that the foliage shown here is not beardtongue foliage, I should clarify that there is a prairie coneflower growing right out of the middle of it but not blooming yet. I should probably pull the coneflower for having seeded itself so close to the beardtongue.
I mentioned earlier that the dogs are all too fond of charging through the garden at 50 miles per hour, slicing the stems off my favorite plants with their sharp canine claws. One of the species they are fondest of doing this to is checker mallow (Sidalcea malviflora). Last spring I had just one of these plants, with just one flower stalk on it, and the dogs broke off the flower stalk almost immediately after the first flower opened. This spring I have two of these plants, and they each produced two flower stalks. The dogs wasted no time in breaking off one of them. Well, at least this year I have three remaining flower stalks. Also, I have to admit that in a way it was sort of good, because these flowers are absolutely impossible to photograph while attached to the plant. My camera simply cannot handle such tiny flowers when the stalk is standing upright and blowing around in the slightest breeze. So here is the broken flower stalk, lying on a dirty wooden chair on the patio.
And here is the broken flower stalk again, held up against the fence. One other good thing about the broken stalk is that it kept extremely well in a vase. Several of those buds actually got a chance to open while the flower was in a tiny vase that proved just the right size for it.
Now I'm ready to show you another big excitement of this spring. Non-gardeners may not understand what's so exciting about this one, because there aren't a lot of flowers to be seen yet. But I'm excited because I've been experimenting with planting wetland plants in the bottom of the ditch, where they stay underwater for weeks after rainstorms, and the June rainstorms showed me that the plants I've placed there are actually happy to remain underwater for so long. Here is one end of the ditch. The two large, pillow-like clumps on the sides of the ditch are turkey-tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), which I transplanted into the yard last spring and already knew would do well in the ditch. The leafy stick at the end of the ditch is an arroyo willow (Salix lasiocarpus) cutting I collected from the Yuba River in January, which has taken root and is growing very well. And the plant in the center of the puddle, in front of one of the fogfruit clumps, is Sacramento rose-mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus), an endangered species that I had tried to grow two years ago and had no luck with. I had planted it in the winter, hoping that the winter flooding would help keep it alive, but no matter how much water it got, it kept looking worse and worse until it died. Actually, it may have just been going dormant due to cold - but it never emerged from dormancy in the spring. Anyway, I planted this one in the spring instead, about a month and a half ago, and it's grown tremendously. It had only four tiny leaves when I bought it, and all of those leaves are completely submerged in this picture, so everything you see here is new growth.
There are three or four additional plants visible in the photo above that I couldn't identify for a very long time. I suspected that they were some kind of horrible new weed, but I have a policy of allowing all plants to keep growing until I can identify them, so with a great effort of will, I refrained from pulling them. Earlier this week they started blooming, and their flowers told me what they are: tomato plants! I do not eat tomatoes myself, but Susan eats them, and apparently she put enough of their remains into our compost bin that some of the seeds sprouted.
I also have some of their relatives, potato plants. These were a bit of an accident too. We both eat potatoes, but I've never made a serious effort at growing them because I would have to massively amend our hard clay soil to have much chance of getting good potatoes. I did half-heartedly plant a few seed potatoes a few years ago - ordinary russet potatoes - and I got a bit of top growth, but the plants never got more than a few inches tall. Then this winter, maybe in early March or so, I discovered two bags of fancy potatoes - one bag of red potatoes and one bag of Yukon gold potatoes - that had sat in our cupboard for too long and sprouted dozens of foot-long, viney stems. Since they no longer looked appetizing, I decided to stick them in the ground. I half-expected the dogs to dig them right back up again and eat them, but the dogs left them alone. I did not plant them in ideal conditions at all - I didn't really expect them to do much more than my previous potato plants had, so I just figured I'd fill up a too-visible bare spot in rock-hard clay and hope they'd at least put out a few leaves. I'm sure I overcrowded them terribly, too. A week or so later, they started putting out leaves in two very different colors. I suppose the light green is the Yukon gold and the dark green is the red?
I never really expected them to get any larger than that, because my previous potato plants never had. But a few months later, those potato plants had turned into this.
The different colors of the foliage vanished early on, but all the plants seemed to survive - they just all changed to a more medium green. I couldn't believe how much they grew! Now that the bizarre June weather has ended, however, they seem much less happy in the heat. Several of the plants have wilted in recent days, and watering them doesn't seem to revive the wilted ones - it just prevents additional plants from wilting. Or at least I hope it does. I don't know right now whether they're all going to die or whether they'll just thin out to be less overcrowded. Here's one last shot of the potato plants.
Back to the plants in the ditch now. I have more of them than I showed you in the earlier photo. Farther along in the ditch, I've planted something known as fiber-optic grass (Isolepis cernua). It's actually a sedge, not a grass, and it's closely related to the tules from which the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley tule fog takes its name. But how cool a name is "fiber-optic grass"? And the name actually describes its appearance very well, at least when it's covered with tiny brown flowers as it is right now.
Even farther along in the ditch, I've planted another new wetland plant: cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis). In this case, planting it in the ditch serves two purposes, both keeping the plant well-watered and preventing us from accidentally brushing against it. Cardinalflower has a reputation for causing contact dermatitis in many people. I have touched the plant a few times without any problem, but I try not to touch it terribly often so as not to push my luck. Generally I avoid planting anything with a reputation for causing any kind of pain when touched - for example, I have never planted anything with thorns - but cardinalflower also has a reputation for being among the most spectacular of our native wildflowers and is also spectacularly well-suited to growing in our ditch. And since the ditch is spectacularly badly suited for being walked in by humans, there shouldn't be much risk of us brushing against it. (As a bonus, the ditch is also badly suited for being walked in by dogs, which helps prevent the dogs from snapping the stem off it.)
I also have a better photo of the arroyo willow cutting to show you. Look, the willow is blooming already! Soon I will find out whether it's a boy willow or a girl willow. The juvenile flowers look alike, at least to my eyes, but the male flowers eventually produce yellow pollen, whereas the female flowers eventually produce cottonlike seeds.
But green willow flowers and brown sedge flowers aren't quite what Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is really about, are they? What you really want to see is the other colors. All right then - I'll get on with it. Here are California poppies with arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) and mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) along the house wall. Barely visible away from the wall are California asters, a hairy gumplant, and the yellow seep monkeyflower.
Here's a closer view of the arroyo lupine and mountain garland, with a California poppy, some tidy tips, and a globe gilia plant at the upper right. This arroyo lupine plant is the only one that sprouted in the back yard this year, and for some reason, it didn't even start blooming until after all the arroyo lupines in the front yard had gone to seed and died. As a result, it continued blooming long after they were dead. Plants are weird. But even this last arroyo lupine has mostly gone to seed now.
Here is a slightly closer view of the hairy gumplant, yellow seep monkeyflower, rosilla, and white yarrow. I like the way that one of the odd rocks we brought home from somewhere or other looks like a giant striped egg in a nest in the lower right.
Here is a closeup of the white yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
I found a moth hiding in the yarrow foliage one evening earlier this week. Actually, I think it had been hiding in the clustered field sedge until I walked by and disturbed it. It fluttered around and resettled in the yarrow, where it did a remarkably good job of looking like a dead leaf. I would never have noticed it if I hadn't seen it land there. I later identified it as a depressariine moth (Agonopterix sabulella). Unfortunately, I still know nothing about it other than its name. There doesn't seem to be any information about it available online other than photographs.
The following evening, I saw a different kind of moth pollinating the mountain garland flowers. I didn't get a good picture of that one, though, and as a result, I wasn't able to identify it.
Here are the California asters (Symphyotrichum chilense) with the yellow seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and a single rosilla flower (Helenium puberulum) poking in from the left. California asters are a huge butterfly magnet in the fall, but they don't seem to attract as much life in the spring.
Here is the hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula) in front of the yellow seep monkeyflower, with a few rosilla flowers poking in from the right. There's also a narrowleaf milkweed mixed in that is just beginning to bud.
Here is a different hairy gumplant, barely poking up through a mass of clustered field sedge. This is an incredibly wild-looking combination. Hairy gumplant is a fairly wild-looking plant to begin with, and the image of it combined with tall sedge leaves looks very much more like something I'd expect to find in a wilderness area than like something I'd expect to find in a garden. I didn't really plan the combination, although I did place both plants by hand rather than scattering seed. I just stuck them both (at different times) where I had some space and thought they'd be happy.
Okay, one more pretty picture now, before I show you something ugly. I took this shortly after one of the recent rainstorms. The shrub in the foreground is red-twig dogwood, and there are woodland strawberries at its feet, along with a few tiny globe gilia and mountain garland flowers. Keep this relatively idyllic scene in your head while I show you the jarring new scenery I discovered when I paused during the process of writing this post and ventured out into the back yard.
Most of you who are reading this have already heard a few things about our horrifying teenaged neighbors who live in an upstairs room of the apartment complex next door to us. Specifically, you may remember me describing how they drink and drive, use the N-word approximately once every five to ten minutes, spout racist/sexist/homophobic/otherwise offensive garbage on a pretty much nonstop basis, periodically toss their litter onto our patio roof, and once recently tossed used condoms into our yard. However, you may have had some difficulty believing that they could really be quite such living caricatures as I have described. Now I can bring you photographic proof that I was not exaggerating. This is what I saw displayed on their balcony when I went into our back yard this evening.
Do not despair for me, however! The display above only remained for about half an hour after I first noticed it. Then I heard someone - perhaps someone from the apartment management? - speaking to the residents from the ground below their balcony. I did not understand any of the words spoken, but after this conversation, I watched as a guy on the balcony flipped the giant plywood sign around and turned it sideways, displaying this ever-so-much-better alternative view, which remains in place at this moment. I cannot even begin to express how glad I am that we do not own this horrid little property in this ghastly little neighborhood that we have somehow ended up living in.
But in the future, when I show you pretty pictures like the one below, I hope you'll bear in mind that I've been striving to create this beauty directly next door to ugly pictures like the one above. That balcony directly faces our patio and looks out across our entire back yard. That piece of pale grey metal projecting from the right side of the picture above is our patio roof, the one they throw litter onto. Those fence posts along the bottom edge of the picture above are the same fence posts you can see behind Boston in the picture below. In fact, if I had taken the picture below this evening, I could have panned the camera up a bit and probably caught a bit of the corner of the balcony and graffitied plywood a little above Boston's head.