Temporarily Sidelined From the Garden

Campanula Serbian bellflower Campanula (Serbian bellflower) and hydrangea hugging the fountain

It feels good to be back in the garden. I did something to my back a few weeks ago and for a few days the pain was unbearable. It subsided and then my neck went out. Good grief, I am so over it! It’s spring for gosh sakes. This is no time to be sidelined from the garden.

I pulled a few weeds sitting in a folding chair, making it official: I’m an “old woman gardener.”

Last weekend, in between back pain and neck pain, we got things done. Mike hung the shade sails on both patios which we leave up for six months of the year. Shade sails make the San Jose sun bearable, while at the same time creating “rooms” in the garden. Once our shade sails are up we spend more time outdoors.

I repurposed a decorative shower curtain once again to cover the swing cushions. After sewing two or three replacement covers over the years, only to see them in ruin, I no longer dedicate any sewing time to a swing cover that is generally faded by the sun and gnawed on by squirrels at season’s end. It’s a decent compromise.

I hung a few mirrors from a local shop called Not Too Shabby along the back fence. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It creates a focal point while covering up the boring fence. The mirrors are in the shade of the fruit tree and reflect different plants in the garden, depending on where you sit.

mirrors arranged on fence Patio and garden with mirrors on the back fence. (Pictured: Mouse and Lindy)
four mirrors on garden fence Your’s truly holding the camera for a closeup view of the garden mirrors

I planted tomatoes in my EarthBoxes® this year. Last summer’s crop was a bust, so I’ve moved the boxes into a more open space. Wind is more important for pollination than bees, so I’m hoping the new location on the gravel path pays off in delicious summer tomatoes.

pair of Earthboxes planted with tomatoes Pair of Earthboxes with tomatoes and red mulch

Astoundingly, this is the first time in ages that I don’t have any self-seeded pumpkins. That said, as the garden fills in, there is less and less room for the seedlings to take hold.  I’m going to plant pumpkin seeds in the front garden this year, so as the sweet peas die back in June, the pumpkins can fill in the space. It just doesn’t feel like a garden without pumpkins.

We had above-average rain this year, so everything looks healthy and refreshed.

My favorite, self-seeding flowers are back this year including Nigella (love-in-a-mist),

sweet peas,

nasturtiums,

and our state flower, the California poppy.  I liberally scattered poppy seeds at the end of last summer and it paid off.

Front garden Front garden natives mix with annual self-seeded cornflower, California golden poppies, & sweet peas

For any of you royal watchers, here’s a bit of California poppy trivia:

To commemorate Meghan Markle’s Californian origins, Clare Waight Keller included the golden poppy in the coat of arms.
Source: Wikipedia

Perhaps the most important plant in the garden each spring is the Nepeta. Nepeta, also known as cat nip or cat mint is briefly intoxicating to cats. Lindy likes to eat it, Tessa dives in head first and all three cats take turns using the plant as a lounge.

cat sleeping near cat nip Lindy snoozing between the Nepeta and the violets
native garde Back garden and patio. Lindy standing near the Nepeta
cat with nose in nepeta plant Tessa dips her nose in the Nepeta
two faced Tessa Tessa enjoying the garden

Spring. There’s a little something for everyone.

An (Almost Spring) Garden Posy

Ahhhhh…

It’s been raining off and on for several weeks, leaving the air fresh and clear. I managed some garden time between storms, pulling together a spring garden posy. I love this time of year.

Spring bulb posy

Spring posy nestled in the planting bed. The wind kept tipping it over, but I finally got this shot

cat vase with spring bulbs

Hyacinth, Daffodil, Nigella, and Freesia in a tiny vase

It’s cheering seeing bulbs emerge from the dark, wet soil. Most are brightly colored and in some cases scented, too. They’re an intoxicating mix and a harbinger of things to come.

The hyacinth come up first…

Pink striped hyacinth

Pink candy-cane striped hyacinth

pink hyacinth

Fragrant and lovely hyacinth

followed by narcissus (daffodils)…

Daffodil and hyacinth

Garden posy: daffodil, hyacinth and Nigella greens

white freesia

White freesia

and then freesia.

The freesia are the garden darlings these days, growing larger and spreading farther year after year. They pop up in whites, reds, yellows and pinks, and seem to last for weeks.

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that hope traversed them at night and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.”

–Charlotte Brontë

As I said earlier, “Ahhhhh….”

A Little Sorrow, a Little Joy

Thank you to readers Lisa and Eliza for correctly identifying the songbirds posted in A Tale of Two Wrens. Our feathered guests are House Finches.

Last week I rescued a finch from our walkway. It sat fluffing its feathers but not otherwise moving. I brought him inside, made him a little nest inside our cat carrier and drove to the local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility. I learned a few days later that the sweet little songbird suffered from a highly contagious and generally incurable eye disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis or MG. Our rescued finch has been humanely euthanized by the caring folks at Wildlife Center Silicon Valley.

There is small comfort knowing he died in a pair of loving hands. Left on the cold sidewalk he would have surely fallen prey to a cat. Further, since it’s highly contagious, removing any diseased bird from a community gives the others a fighting chance.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Male House Finch with MG, a highly contagious eye disease prevalent in songbirds

Clinical Signs
House finches with mycoplasmal conjunctivitis will exhibit swelling around the eyes, crusty eyelids, and watery ocular and/or nasal discharge. Extreme swelling and crusting can lead to impaired vision and at times blindness. In severe cases, birds may become debilitated, depressed, lose body condition, and die. Some birds can act as carriers of MG while showing no clinical signs of the disease. 
Diagnosis
Mycoplasmosis is diagnosed based on clinical signs and the isolation of M. gallisepticum by culture or other laboratory tests. 
Treatment
Treatment of wild birds with MG is not recommended. Although antibiotics may clear clinical signs, birds can become asymptomatic carriers that can spread the bacteria to new locations. 
Management
Management efforts to control mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in finches focus on transmission prevention. Bird feeders and baths should be kept clean and spaced far enough apart to prevent crowding. Only clean, fresh feed should be provided at feeders. Tube-style feeders seem to be particularly problematic in MG transmission. During outbreaks of mycoplasmosis, bird feeding should be discontinued to eliminate this source of transmission.

https://www.northeastwildlife.org/disease/avian-mycoplasmosis

We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

Armed with this new information, I was anxious to learn of the wellbeing of our second House Finch. He arrived in December and continues to sleep under the eaves each night. Most nights he’s facing in so I can’t see his face. I finally captured this photo showing no outward signs of MG.

Male House Finch, San Jose, California
Male House Finch Closeup San Jose, California

 His healthy presence brings a bit of joy to each day.

Please consider sharing this post with anyone attracting songbirds to their garden.

 

A Garden in Rest

We’re quite spoiled living in California this time of year. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and we’re frequently treated to several days of unseasonably warm conditions. 

Curb garden perennials going to seed

While much of the country is dealing with weather known as the polar vortex with insanely cold and hazardous conditions, I’m wearing a t-shirt as I go about my day. I wish I could send all my mid-west and eastern seaboard friends a bit of warmth and sunshine. Come June, I’ll be looking on enviously at your summer rains.

Nigella and sweet peas populate the curb garden

I’ve been popping into the garden at the end of the day, pulling young weeds before they get a foothold. It’s a joy to observe the daily treasures nature has to offer.

Nigella bud just before opening
Nigella in all its beauty

When fall arrives in late October, my garden cleanup includes pruning, grooming and dead-heading perennial plants and shrubs. Last fall, I consciously let things go. This wasn’t born of laziness. In fact, it took some resolve to let things be. My propensity for organization and a tidy garden are nothing new, however my awareness of the benefits of a garden to all the visitors comes with a sense of responsibility.

Rose hips in the curb garden

Emerging growth on a miniature rose

Letting perennials go to seed means there are seeds available for birds passing through. Allowing a bit of leaf drop to cover the garden floor provides cover for some beneficial insects, while at the same time providing a natural mulch. Mulch keeps the soil warm and moist, while reducing weed growth and protecting roots from uneven temperatures. Leaves breakdown quickly, feeding the worms and improving the overall health of the soil.

Excess leaves, swept from the sidewalk and deck, made it into our compost bin. After working my way through three different compost systems over the past decade, I finally found one that I like.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

New habits take time. I’m itching to get out there so I can prune some of the dead growth. I’ve had a little chat with my inner gardener, and together we’ve decided this is best. After all, the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere is only 49 days away.

I can hardly wait.

About Those Christmas Lights

The jokes abound about leaving up the outdoor Christmas lights well into January. It’s always more fun to put them up than to take them down (says the woman who does neither). The outdoor lights are my husband’s thing.

That said, I had a vested interest in their removal this year after noticing a small deposit of bird droppings at the corner of the front steps just before Christmas. I looked up hoping to see a bird’s nest but alas, no nest in sight.

I got a jug of warm soapy water, rinsed the steps and carried on with my day.

A few days later the droppings were back, but still no sign of my feathered neighbor.

As luck would have it, we drove up the driveway around 5 pm one evening and I got out of the car to fetch some packages. In the process I startled a small red-breasted bird who is apparently sleeping on the edge of the extension cord used to hang the Christmas lights.

Bay Area House Finch

Possibly a house finch, common to the area, and probably male with the red breast

House finch under the eaves

House Finch under the eaves, December 28, 2018

My feathered guest leaves during the day, then returns at dusk for the night. He tucks his head toward the edge of the overhang, perched on the cord, and though it looks inhospitable to me, he’s clearly content. We replaced our Christmas lights several years ago with long-lasting, cool-to-the-touch LED’s so it’s not the heat that attracted him. Why he’s chosen this corner we’ll never know, but when the lights came down yesterday, the extension cord remained.

House finch under the eaves

Still visiting, January 2, 2019

It’s a lovely start to the new year and a softening of the inevitable melancholy that follows when both boys head back to university for another term. I’m immeasurably happy to see this little bird perched there each night, and hope he remains year round.

What’s new in your corner of the world?

Bay Area Birds

Merry Christmas from the Family Felines

It’s hard to time a holiday blog for two hemispheres. Further, not everyone celebrates Christmas.

If you’re celebrating today, or perhaps you’re reading this on Boxing Day, I hope your season is merry.

And if today is just a random Tuesday (or Wednesday), I hope your days are merry, too.

Tessa in a box near Mickey Mouse stocking

Tessa just took a nibble from Mickey’s ear which is part of my son’s Christmas stocking from many years ago.

Lindy sporting Santa hat

Lindy, 16, sporting the miniature Santa hat. She looks sullen, but mostly because I’m blocking the stream of sun keeping her warm.

Lindy the cat sunbathing

Another one of Lindy sunbathing

Mouse the cat on a jigsaw puzzle

We usually have a jigsaw puzzle going this time of year. It’s a popular place to nap as well. That’s Mouse.

Tessa smelling Christmas greens

Who’s misbehaving? Tessa jumped up on the kitchen counter to smell the fresh Christmas greens.

Tessa under the sheets

“…and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” – Clement Clarke Moore

Wishing you all good things in the coming year.

Love, Alys and the family felines.

A Journey Back to Blogging

I’ll write a blog post tomorrow, I thought, and then, and then, and then. Tomorrow becomes next week, then a month, while life serves up challenges big and small.

I miss blogging. My time on WordPress has yielded wonderful friendships, rich connections, and thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations. How could I be away for so long? In short, life is full.

My youngest son went away to college in August. This included helping him get ready, attempts at helping him get ready, a one-fell-swoop shopping trip and a day-long drive to Southern California.  Within a few weeks my oldest son went back to the dorms, and is now into his senior college year.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary (23 years on September 23rd)

after dinner Santana Row

After dinner at Santana Row

and ten days later I turned 59. Dear friends visited from Canada over my birthday week, including a few days in beautiful Carmel.

My volunteer work at Lifted Spirits kicked into full gear. If I wasn’t working with organizing clients, I spent time volunteering in the boutique. I work two shifts a week, and I’m often there on Thursdays organizing the boutique or other areas of the program. It feels like home.  The work is challenging and rewarding. It also allows me to serve women in need in my  community. I’m learning so much as I go. My favorite organizing project so far is the computer lab. We needed extra space for other programs, so I split the room in two using an abandoned old chalkboard and a fancy shower curtain found in a drawer. How’s that for using what you’ve got?

Mike and I are enjoying our evenings and weekends as a couple once again. In many ways, the empty-nest blahs seemed worse leading up to the boys respective departures. It eased once I knew my young men were and getting on with life.

This past weekend we planned to fly down to see our youngest son for parent weekend. I ended up going alone. I took Mike to urgent care the night before, where they referred us to the ER. They diagnosed Mike with a blood clot or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). It was a long, scary night, but he’s home and receiving good medical care. He’s not allowed to fly for at least three months so we’re adjusting to the idea of possible train travel.  Mike’s not in pain and he’s able to work, so those are both a plus.

Our felines continue to cozy up the place. As the weather cools into a California autumn, I hope to haul out my crochet once again.

Meanwhile, I’m on the committee for our Front Door Communities, Lifted Spirits fundraiser in early November. I’m putting together the program, a soup recipe book, preparing a raffle item and working with another volunteer assembling silent auction items.  It’s a busy time.

Oh, and the garden I used to blog about? It’s still here. The tomatoes were a complete bust this summer, with four huge plants producing about two dozen tomatoes in all.  I planted late-season cantaloupe, only to see them munched under cover of darkness.  I did manage five small pumpkins so all is not lost in the produce department. Overall though, I feel like I lost my gardening mojo. As that tired cliché goes, there’s always next year.

Here in the States we’re gearing up for mid-term elections in three weeks. Once again our garage will serve as a polling place. Change is in the air. I can feel it.

Thank you for stopping by today. I hope you are doing well.