Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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July Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Now that it's officially summer and nearly all the spring wildflowers are gone, I had expected my Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts to get significantly shorter. But it turns out that there are still plenty of summer flowers to show. I do think the front yard has slowed down noticeably, but the back yard seems to be even more covered with flowers than before. I'm sure this is due to some combination of the back yard being naturally wetter (too wet, really, for most of the spring wildflowers' tastes) and the back yard being the only one I water in the summer. I'm not really watering the whole back yard, but I'm refilling the ditch every few days to keep the water-loving plants in it happy, and I'm spot-watering under a few water-loving plants outside the ditch: the red-twig dogwood, the buttonbush, the scarlet monkeyflower, and occasionally the California polypody fern.

Anyway, the plants seem pretty happy. As you can see from the picture, July is turning out to be primarily the month of white yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and yellow Hooker's evening-primrose (Oenothera elata ssp. hookeri). There are also some yellow prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera) at the lower right and some yellowish rosillas (Helenium puberulum) in the upper right - you can hardly see the flowers from here, but you can see the stems poking up in the upper left. You can also see little green tomato fruits in the ditch, front and center.

Frankly, some parts of the back yard are becoming rather frighteningly overgrown. It's hard to believe that this has happened only a couple of years after I despaired of ever being able to keep anything alive in the back yard at all. Of course, I still yearn to cover all that exposed dirt in the foreground of the picture. But the area just out of sight to the left of this picture is fast becoming an impassable jungle of yarrow, asters, rosilla, and evening-primroses. I'd trim it back, but how can I bring myself to do that when it's all either blooming or due to start blooming soon?

Here is a closer view of the jungle. The branches leaning in from the left side of the picture are the California asters (Synphyotrichum chilense), which aren't likely to reach peak bloom until September, although you can see a clump of their flowers at the left center here. This species is probably the most responsible for the jungle-like appearance of the area, because it has no interest in growing upright. All the California aster plants are flopping every which way on top of all the other plants, giving the impression that a tiny tornado has recently passed through the yard. Though perhaps the two 50-pound dogs running through the area have something to do with that as well.

Last summer I had white yarrow planted from seed and red yarrow planted from pots. The red yarrow didn't seem to do as well as the white yarrow, and I had kind of expected that, since white yarrow is native here and red yarrow isn't. Anyway, I wondered whether any of the red yarrow would be back this summer. So far I have no red yarrow, but I do have a few spots of distinctly pinkish yarrow mixed in with the predominant white.

Here is a closer view of the Hooker's evening-primrose. This plant should really be called morning-primrose or perhaps middle-of-the-night-primrose. It's called evening-primrose because some other evening-primrose species do actually open their flowers in the evening. This one opens its flowers sometime between the time when the very last lingering ray of sunlight vanishes in the evening and the time when the very first rays of dawn peak over the horizon. It's in full bloom at 4:30 in the morning, but by noon most of its flowers are at least half closed.

Here's an even closer view. The evening-primroses all sprouted from seed that I scattered last fall. Some of them (the ones next to the house) are taller than I am and have trunks two inches in diameter. It's not really desirable to have them get quite that tall, because the tallest ones fall over and break off at ground level. They're all multi-trunked, though, so only the tallest trunks of each plant break off, and the rest of the plant lives on. The ones next to the house don't have many flowers so far, though, so I haven't been photographing them.

Here's another view of the evening-primroses, yarrow, and rosillas. The rosillas self-seeded madly last fall in the wetter half of the back yard, so they're now finding their way into nearly every picture I take.

The yellow seep monkeyflower has gone to seed and basically vanished (leaving only a few leaves at ground level), but a scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) right next to it has begun blooming. This is supposed to be the "golden form" of scarlet monkeyflower, meaning that it has yellow flowers rather than the red flowers more typical of this species. But actually it seems to have both. Even more strangely, the yellow flowers it produces seem to be shaped slightly differently than the red-orange ones. The red-orange ones have the typical shape of the species, while the yellow ones are broader and resemble the flowers of the yellow seep monkeyflower. I think this plant has multiple personalities. I'm sorry I didn't manage to get a better picture of it, but you can see the mixture of flower colors.

The turkey-tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is filling in the ditch nicely and is now covered with tiny flowers. Here it is, along with a bit of yarrow in the upper left corner.

Here is a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on a turkey-tangle fogfruit flower.

Poking up out of the turkey-tangle fogfruit (what a great name for a plant! I can't get enough of saying it) are my volunteer tomato plants. More fruits appear with each passing day, but they're all still green.

In the far corner, between the compost bin and the shallow end of the ditch, the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is blooming for the first time ever. It starts out with tiny brown buds, progresses to the slightly larger green buds you see below, and then blooms into the white globe you see below. (The globe is actually a cluster of many extremely tiny, tube-shaped flowers.)

The three flowers on the left in the picture below are the same ones you see in the picture above, shown about one week later. A native bee was enjoying one of them.

Those of you who remember my pumpkin farming experience of last July may be wondering where the pumpkins are this year. The answer is that I have just one pumpkin plant this year (last year I had two), and it's not as far along as last summer's because I pulled all the early-sprouting seedlings before eventually allowing this latecomer to take hold. It's shown here with alkali sacaton grass (Sporobolus airoides) and hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula). It's located right where the compost bin used to be and sprouted from the partly composted remains of last year's pumpkins.

It gets more shade than last year's pumpkins did, and it seems to like that. The flowers are staying open later in the day than last year's. It appears to have some tiny fruits going, but I certainly won't be harvesting huge bright orange pumpkins in July this year like I did last year.

After taking the picture above, I noticed that the mock orange shrub I used to have here has died, so I planted a Fremont's bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) in its place and added a boulder to protect it from being trampled to death by the dogs. (Actually, Susan added the boulder for me, at my request. It was too heavy for me to carry from its previous location in the front yard by myself.) But I'm going to have to watch carefully to make sure the pumpkin doesn't trample the bush mallow to death. The pumpkin is already doing its best to trample the oddly out-of-season arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) that showed up this month.

Back in May when most of my arroyo lupine was dying off, I really would not have believed that I would have new arroyo lupine plants blooming in July. I also would not have believed that arroyo lupine would go on happily blooming with a giant pumpkin leaf squashing its main stem flat against the ground. But the plant doesn't really seem to mind. It just pokes up its stem again in whatever spot the pumpkin leaf allows it to.

Here is another distance shot: the view from the jungle in late June, when the jungle hadn't fully grown in yet and I could still walk through it more easily. The shrubs hanging over the fence from the neighbors' are oleanders (Nerium oleander), a species imported from the Mediterranean and planted in virtually every freeway median in California (and planted pretty nearly everywhere else in California as well). More about them shortly.

But first - see the spot of hot pink in the picture above? That's a clump of farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), shown close up in the picture below. It's still there now, but looking much the worse for wear than it was when I photographed it.

Now about the oleanders. I was standing underneath them yesterday when I looked up and saw an extremely bright red dragonfly land on them. I went inside to get my camera, and the dragonfly was still there when I came back to take this picture. The dragonfly is a male flame skimmer (Libellula saturata). The females of this species are a dull brown. The male was actually an even brighter red than it appears in the picture. It was truly stop-sign red.

We have oleanders in our front yard as well as oleanders hanging over the back fence. The house that I grew up in also had oleanders in both front and back yards. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether there's any house in California that doesn't have oleanders in both front and back yards. They're so omnipresent that it's hard to really take any notice of them, but the other day I realized that some of the ones in our front yard are double-flowered cultivars, and the pink double-flowered cultivars look almost like some other species entirely. Roses, perhaps? Anyway, they're a little more worth looking closely at than I had assumed.

So this brings us to the front yard, where a monstrosity has recently arisen. A few months ago I purchased and planted a hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta), which is reputed to grow about two to three feet tall. Other people's photographs of it show it looking like this. Well, it turns out that tarweeds grow to extremely widely varying heights depending on the conditions they're planted in. Mine grew to be taller than I am. This wouldn't have been such a bad thing if it were reasonably attractive, but no such luck. Everything about this plant screams "weed" to every passerby. On top of everything else, it reeks. So much so that if I brush against it even slightly when I go out to get the newspaper in the morning, I can smell it on my clothes for the rest of the day - not intermittently but constantly. Desperately, I hoped it would hurry up and redeem itself by putting out beautiful flowers everywhere.

But no luck there either. Its flowers turned out to be nickel-sized, which on such a tall stalk looks like nothing at all. In fact, they're far too tiny for my camera to focus on. Finally I chopped off the tall stalk at ground level and photographed the flowers lying on the sidewalk (so I was able to focus the camera on the entire sidewalk rather than just on the tiny flower). But the plant still lives on, blooming from shorter stalks that I left alone. It's hard to bring myself to deliberately kill a plant that I paid good money for, but I probably should get around to doing that before the thing reseeds everywhere.

Meanwhile, the hayfield tarweed's distant cousin, the common tarweed (Madia elegans), which turned into six-foot thugs for Country Mouse, has stayed at a perfectly reasonable two feet tall for me - and only about three feet away from the thuggish hayfield tarweed. The common tarweed also produces vastly larger flowers than the hayfield tarweed - about two inches in diameter. Here it is with Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana).

And here is an even closer view of it.

An exciting new bloom this month came from a recent acquisition, Munro's globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana). This is the species I believed I was buying when I acquired the non-native scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana), which is persistently mislabeled as the native S. munroana by, among others, Cornflower Farms wholesale native plant nursery in Sacramento. The two species actually look nothing alike: S. philippiana is a prostrate plant with red flowers and deeply lobed leaves, while S. munroana is an upright plant with orange flowers and leaves that are not lobed at all. I finally managed to snag the genuine S. munroana at a spring annual California Native Plant Society sale two months ago. However, I have to admit that I've been a bit disappointed so far. It was blooming when I bought it, but the flowers all fell off as soon as I put the plant in the ground. Then a few weeks ago it put out these gorgeous new flowers, so I was delighted. But now the gorgeous new flowers have also all fallen off. By contrast, the non-native S. philippiana seems much better adapted and blooms continuously the entire year long.

Another species that bloomed excitingly this month and then rapidly somewhat disappointed me is coyote mint (Monardella villosa). I was thrilled to see it finally bloom, because I've been trying for three years to grow this plant, and this is the first time I've ever gotten any of it to bloom. (I'm not counting the fact that a few plants I bought already had flowers when I first brought them home from the nursery and died within a week after I planted them.) I am less thrilled to see that all these flowers are now gone, leaving only seedheads. They were gone awfully quick. I hope it resumes blooming soon. It's shown here with a single farewell-to-spring flower.

A surprising flower this month was red prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera). I inadvertently acquired prairie coneflowers in late 2009 as part of a seed mix that claimed to be all California natives. These are actually United States natives but not California natives. Anyway, last year's prairie coneflowers were all yellow, and I didn't acquire any new seeds this year, but this year there are suddenly red prairie coneflowers mixed in with the yellow.

The black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) showed up in the same seed mix as the prairie coneflowers and also seem to be mutating this year to have red on their petals for the first time.

A volunteer that first showed up last year, Muhlenberg's centaury (Zeltnera muehlenbergii) has returned this year with a considerably larger population. The flowers are nearly microscopically tiny, but this is a plant that truly belongs here, so I was glad to see its population growing. For a size comparison, you can see some of these near the top of the black-eyed Susan photo above as well as in the photo below.

The two grey stalks below (shown with a flower of the non-native scarlet mallow) are similar in size to the Muhlenberg's centaury - about four inches tall - and are also volunteers, but much less pretty. They clearly belong to the aster family, but beyond that I haven't been able to identify them, so I also don't know whether they're native or non-native. The picture is a little out of focus but sort of shows the tiny flowers (really just yellow dots) and brown seedheads. The seedheads look like cudweeds (Gnaphalium) to me, but the plants seem awfully small to be cudweeds.

This wraps up July Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for me. I leave you with a photo of sticky monkeyflowers (Mimulus aurantiacus) and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) blooming in front of our front porch.

Tags: native plants, photographs
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