House Finch Happenings

The House Finch pair are back. I’m so excited.

Not the best photo, but here they are together on the curtain rail

The female of the pair started a nest on our deck last month. You can catch up here. Mama finch had been building the nest for a while before we noticed. Once we noticed, she disappeared. I’ve since learned that house finches build several nests before deciding where to lay their eggs.

Friday morning, I looked out the kitchen window, and there she was. She had a mouthful of tree twig, which she deposited on the nest before immediately taking flight. Her red-breasted mate remained close. Together they flew to our Magnolia, then back to the neighbor’s tree for more twigs.

Mated pair of house finches in the Magnolia

I captured a few photos from a safe distance, not wanting to disturb the process. Eventually, I had to head downtown.

They’re singing to each other in the afternoons, so I’m hopeful this is a good sign that they’ll stay. If not, it has still been a pleasure watching this simple act play out.

Male House Finch, the object of her affection
A well-protected nest on top of the stacked curtains
Closeup shows how cleverly she’s hidden her nest

In other potential nesting news, I finally saw a bit of stuffing pulled from my squirrel offering cushion. I somewhat belatedly realized that a bird might also dip down for some fluff so I’ve moved the nesting material to the nearby orange tree instead.

I nervously watched a hummingbird either teasing Tessa or warning her off. Tessa likes lounging under the patio table A hummingbird flew from a nearby shrub, dipped toward her, and then flew away. I held my breath through that transaction.

Tessa lounging under the table

Life in the back garden is a balancing act. Squirrels and birds visit by day. At night we see opossums and the occasional raccoon. The kitties come in at dusk and stay inside until 8 or 9 in the morning. At 18, Lindy spends most of her time at rest. Mouse, the cat, is overweight, despite our best efforts, so he’s not much of a threat. I worry about Tessa, though. I want to keep all the garden visitors safe.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Spider Plants and Bloggers

Once upon a time, I hung three spider plants in baskets under the eaves of the house. Our boys were young, so I needed something low-maintenance and green. I enjoyed watching the spider plant flower, then send out off-spring like runners on a strawberry plant.

Mourning Doves
Nesting Mourning Dove

One spring, a mourning dove took up residence and built a nest in one of the plants. We couldn’t believe our luck! We could watch nesting activity from our living room window without disturbing the occupants.

Within two weeks, I noticed that mama dove sat higher on the nest. Shortly after, a pair of young ones fledged.

Mourning doves spend a lot of time on the ground, which is nerve-wracking when you have cats. When the fledglings first left the nest, they spent time in the back garden. Not realizing they were spending time in the garden, we sat outside to eat lunch on a warm day. A distressed mama kept flying low and away, low and away. She didn’t want us there. We eventually spotted the young ones and went inside.

Spider plant camouflaging the back-end of a squirrel

A few months later, we started a long-planned remodel on the back of the house. All three pots had to come down. They limped along for a while, but the house remodel dragged on for nine months. At some point, I unceremoniously dumped one out of the containers in an area I refer to as the back 40. It’s sink or swim back there, where sadly some plants go to die. Not the spider plants.

Spider plants don’t mind all those pine needles
One becomes many

They swam! One spider plant became many. The first plant set roots on the spot, then propagated under the tree and along the fence. They’ve filled the garden beds with a lush and lovely shade of green. They feel like an old friend.

Spider plants and blogging have a lot in common. You start with one, but you quickly follow many. In the early days, you’re happy that anyone wants to read your posts. You follow bloggers, they follow you, and before you know it, you’ve found a community. You find yourself moving from “don’t trust anyone on the internet!” to “I’m flying to New Zealand for two weeks to spend time with my blogging tribe.” It’s extraordinary.

I’ve missed this blogging space. Last month I embarked on a thirty-day journey back to blogging. I posted every day for thirty days in a series I called Thirty Days in the Garden. Today I’m publishing my thirtieth post.

Thank you for reading and commenting on WordPress or through Facebook. Thank you to the readers who lurk. I know you’re out there, and I hope that one day you’ll leave that comment that’s rattling around in your head. It will be good to hear from you, too.

Thirty Days in the Garden: A Fraction of Rain

April 25, 2021 rainfall (source noaa.gov)

The promised rain arrived today, but it didn’t amount to much. Most of the news outlets are recording it in fractions. San Jose’s International airport recorded a trace.

We were home most of the morning but ran errands around 2. The seagulls pictured below flew inland during the storm, so I snapped a pic. Perhaps I’m presumptuous and the seagulls bank at Chase?

It’s all I’ve got as proof that a small amount of rain fell to the ground. Yawn.

I recorded a short video of the front garden with my phone. It’s looking pretty under the grey skies.

Video of the front garden today

Here are a few other pictures from the garden this week:

Mystery plant near mirrors

I hung these thrift-store mirrors on the fence two years ago to fill the space and reflect the garden. Something self-seeded (or returned) in front of the fence, and the plant is now taller than the mirrors. It requires further investigation, but what a surprise.

Spring garden under welcome grey skies

I hope you’ve had a good weekend.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Waiting for Rain

I’ve been following the weather forecast all week, daring to hope for a bit of rain. When I drove downtown this morning, NPR reported possible rain by midnight. The forecast changed again, and we’re now hoping for Sunday at noon. The rain may pass us all together, but that’s too sad to contemplate. We need this rain.

Gathering storm

I walked through the garden at dusk, enjoying that special charge in the air when the weather approaches.

If you’re a weather nerd like me, you probably know that: “people can smell a storm from far away. A sensitive snout is smelling ozone, petrichor, and geosmin; in other words, the nose smells oxygen, the debris that raindrops kick up and wet bacteria.” Move over Chanel No 5: there’s a better smell in town.

Negative ions are also present when it rains. This WebMD article, Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes, explains the science behind the mood-elevating properties.

In anticipation of a bit of precipitation, I brought the outdoor cushions inside. I folded back the cover to the VegTrug, so the plants don’t miss a drop if it rains. The strawberries are producing fruit, and with the cover in place, they’ve been left undisturbed.

VegTrug with the cover pulled back
White flowers give way to green berries
Another strawberry

Unfortunately, I don’t think the tomatoes are doing as well undercover. They look a bit pale. I’ll have to stake them soon anyway, so I’ll remove the cover for good this week. Hopefully, Tessa behaves herself so the fruit can thrive.

Tomato plant in the background

Come on, rain!petri

Thirty Days in the Garden: Serbian Bellflowers

As the azaleas drop the last of their flowers, it’s time for the Serbian bellflowers (Campanula poscharskyanato) to put on a show. The bellflowers started to flower last week, and now they’re producing color in earnest.

2021, Azaleas and my “Dr. Seuss” succulent
2021, April, the same containers a month later

The plants are small, so I placed several under the azalea’s canopy. They took a few years to establish, but now the star-shaped flowers push their way through the azalea’s foliage when the azalea finishes blooming.

The bellflowers are a beautiful shade of purple to almost blue. We have several growing along the front of our living room window as well. They’re easy to grow, and unlike the azaleas, they bloom for some time.

I tried to get Lindy to look up at the camera, but she wanted no part of it. I snapped the photo anyway. Lindy adds charm to any picture, face-on or otherwise. She’s a sweet cat with a lovely disposition.

Lindy-Lu, almost 19

It’s Friday evening as I write this with an eye on the weather. We’re forecast for a 70% chance of rain on Sunday. We’re all doing our version of a rain dance, hoping that the wet weather materializes. Here’s hoping my next post is full of rainy day garden pics.

I hope you enjoy your weekend ahead, rain or shine.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Can You Spot the Imposter?

Weeds are imposters. They’re like a spy at a cocktail party, standing tall in their green suit, effortlessly blending in. To the untrained eye, they look like everyone else at the party.

They can’t fool this gardener. I’m a professional.

Not really, but as weeds go, I know things.

I’ve been uprooting the same half a dozen weed varieties in this garden for over twenty-five years. I know when they’ll appear in the garden, and I’ve learned ways to minimize them. Eradication, however, is futile. To garden is to weed.

Walkway to the right of the driveway, weeds running amok

I don’t mind weeding for the most part. I do it mainly by hand and at times find it therapeutic.

Walkway to the left of the driveway, more weeds

Oxalis, however, is a scourge. Oxalis grows along the walkway on both sides of the driveway. Dymondia grows between the paving stones. It’s described as “a dense mat that over time will choke out weeds.” Ha! The oxalis mocks me. It spreads its roots under the paving stones, then grows up through the dense planting. If flowers quickly, so if I don’t nip it in the bud, it quickly produces more weeds.

Weed-free Dymondia

Oxalis hides in other parts of the garden, but it’s easier to pluck when you can get at the roots. I have to be in a reasonable frame of mind to weed the walkway, knowing that the oxalis will live another day before I start.

Oxalis growing through the Dymondia.

Even the origin of this weed’s name sounds sinister:

Early 17th century via Latin from Greek, from Oxus ‘sour’ (because of its sharp-tasting leaves).

Lexico.com

Oxalis is native to North America. It grows in poor soil and needs very little water to survive. It flowers eight months of the year. It’s sounds like a garden darling if you’re fooled by this sort of thing.

Oxalis is easy to spot and remove when it grows elsewhere.

I know better. Yes, it’s a lovely green, but the oxalis has to go.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, the anniversary of the start of the environmental movement in 1970. This year’s theme is #RestoreOurEarth.

Drought tolerant Salvia (Mexican Sage)

Over the past five years, we’ve made changes to our garden, adaptions that honor our fragile environment. We replaced our lawn with native and drought-tolerant plants. We installed a rain catchment system that diverts rain from storm drains, making it available for the garden. Unused rainwater can also be released to recharge depleted groundwater.

Rain catchment system (and Tessa)

I’ve always planted species that attract bees, but we make sure to have water available as well. It’s often the smallest things that create a big impact on the ecosystem around you.

I LOVE bees

I don’t have space for a large composting system, but I found a self-contained one that works wonders. Dried leaves and kitchen scraps, aided by billions of microbes and earthworms, compost scraps into rich nutrients for the soil.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

By removing our lawn, we increased garden diversity. An expanse of lawn is a monoculture. It’s the use of land by one crop at a time. Monoculture farms can produce food in vast volumes at an affordable price but at great cost to the environment. Monocultures require heavy pesticide use. They degrade the soil, leading to erosion. Monocultures require more water, and they place a lot of stress on our pollinators. Without them, we couldn’t survive.

Bee pollinating wildflower

Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.

Earthday.org

I grew up embarrassed by my vegetarian mother, only to become a vegetarian myself at 18. I’ve always loved animals, and I no longer wanted to eat them. Dairy stops me from becoming a full-on vegan, but it’s a goal worth striving for. Eating lower on the food chain benefits everyone on the planet.

Growing strawberries in the VegTrug

There is so much more to do. I’m still using more water than I should. It’s a balancing act, one that I’ve yet to perfect. Our reliance on fossil fuels is of huge concern as well. One of the unexpected benefits of this pandemic is the reduction in commutes. I hope that trend continues.

I pledge to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

My garden will remain pesticide-free.

I will continue to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to my garden.

I pledge to continue my education in best gardening practices. A healthy earth begins with me.

A basket of succulents outside my laundry room window

Are you celebrating Earth Day?

Thirty Days in the Garden: Citrus in Bloom

Our citrus trees are blooming again. The waxy flowers produce an intoxicating scent that invites you to linger below the tree.

Lemon tree buds
Orange Blossom

We inherited an orange tree when we bought the house, along with a tall lemon tree and an almond. I never tasted the almonds, but the squirrels certainly approved. They remained well-fed during the tree’s tenure.

Squirrel eating sunflower seeds on our deck

Sadly, two of those three trees suffered from neglect. The lemon tree had been allowed to fork early. The tree grew two long trunks that started splitting the tree in half. We harvested the lemons as best we could and tied the two trunks together for support.

Alas, I arrived home one day, puzzled by the bright sun at the corner of the house. It took me a moment to realize that our lemon tree had split down the middle. Half the tree lay sprawled across the garden.

The almond tree suffered from a lethal fungus internal to the tree. The arborist recommended removing it before it fell down. Sadly, it had to go.

Only one established tree in the back garden remained: the orange.

Anna’s hummingbird resting in the orange tree

We bought a Meyer lemon to replace the tree we lost and made sure it grew in an upright manner. I’ve also tried to prune it in such a way that it remains easy to harvest. The lemon started in a pot, but it didn’t take off until it went into the ground. It occupies a space in our side yard, where we share it with our neighbors.

Lemon tree, ivy, azalea, lily, and Jasmin vine

It’s easy to forget all these years later how far we’ve come with shipping and refrigeration. As a young girl in Canada, an orange was a special treat placed in the bottom of our Christmas stocking. Oranges weren’t readily available in Ontario at that time, or if they were, they were pricey.

I sometimes look back on a time when things weren’t plentiful. It’s good to keep one’s perspective. When I sit under the orange tree, fragrant blossoms inviting me to lift my head skyward, I’m reminded of the extraordinary gift of citrus in bloom.

Thirty Days in the Garden: A Sweet Pea Update

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit obsessed with sweet peas. I look forward to them every year. These unassuming flowers have the ability to uplift. They’re sweetly scented and delicate, cast in soft colors and pale hues.

Here’s what the sweet peas looked like three weeks.

March 27, 2021

This is what they look like today. I’ve added stakes for climbing, just visible in this photo. In the past I’ve used a portable folding fence, but I prefer the look of these stakes. The stakes are designed for tomatoes, so they’re nice and sturdy.

April 19, 2021
April 19, 2021

I let the sweet peas go to seed every summer. They replant themselves in the fall, impervious to the cooler weather or the ocassional frost. They start flowering in March and fill the garden through May. Our summer heat is no match for these shade-loving sensations, so I enjoy them while I can.

Because they self-seed, I’m intrigued that the color variations don’t change. The flowers come back, year over year, in white, lavender, fuchsia, purple, and soft pink. As the last of the freesias fade, the scent of sweet peas takes over. I’ve cut a few of the flowers here and there, but I’ll soon have enough to start cutting small bouquets. It’s such an enjoyable task filling a small jar with wisps of green and scented sweet peas. I look forward to it every year.

2015: This watering can vase is 27 years old

I didn’t expect to see the sweet peas growing in the gravel this year as they’ve done in the past. Last summer we hired a handyman to rebuild the deteriorating planter box and at the same time replace the weed cloth under the gravel. The sweet peas are back, rooted in the small amount of soil deposited by the wind.

Sweet peas growing in shallow dirt and gravel

What an amazing plant!

Sweet!

Thirty Days in the Garden: Sunday Snapshot 2.0

I’ve put together some favorite garden photos from the week for another Sunday Snapshot. We’ve had temperatures ranging from 45 to 88 F here in San Jose. I’m hanging my hopes on the potential for rain by Friday, but the estimates are low.

I once told a friend that the best time to pull weeds is after the last rain of the season. The wet soil is happy to relinquish the weeds, roots, and all. I didn’t wait this year, and it’s just as well. Things are still looking fresh. I’ll continue to enjoy it while it lasts.

I hope you’ve had a pleasant weekend.