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: 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: Sunday Snapshot

Here’s a snapshot of our garden at the end of another lovely weekend.

I spent a little time pulling weeds and dead-heading flowers, but I had to buckle down and write my Lifted Spirits board report, in addition to other mundane activities.

Mike finished assembling the glider, and we all took turns sitting on it. I promise pictures soon.

In the meantime, here are several photos of the garden at dusk. This is such a wonderful time of year in the garden.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Sweet Peas

The first of the sweet peas came up this week. The soft petals and gentle scent fill me with a sense of nostalgia.

Sweet peas are easy to grow. This vine is growing on top of weed cloth and pea gravel

My friend Kelly got me hooked on sweet peas (the flowering vine variety) a few years ago after a chat on our blogs. Up until then, I had grown the vegetable sweet peas, but not the flowering vine. I didn’t know what I was missing?

The petals remind me of butterfly wings

I planted the seeds late that first year, with a so-so crop. The seeds need to go into the ground early. The following year they came up on their own, and I’ve had a beautiful, self-seeded crop ever since.

The white flowers are a soft yellow before they emerge

The vines grow close to the sidewalk on both sides, ensuring a sweetly scented stroll past my house.

Sweet peas emerging on both sides of the sidewalk

I enjoy making small bouquets, mixing in some lush fern cuttings, and whatever else is in bloom at the time. I save empty jars throughout the year so that I have plenty to give away.

It will be a few more weeks before they take off, but we planted several stakes over the weekend so they can happily climb skyward.

Sweet peas and California poppies growing near the curb

I can’t wait.

Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*

Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*


Can you imagine a world without color?

Not me!

There’s room in every garden for the full rainbow spectrum. In my post Some Like it Hot, I featured many of the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues of my garden.

The cooler range of a primary rainbow includes blue, green, indigo and violet. They’re also my favorites.

In addition to providing a cool and lovely contrast to the heat of the garden, the cooler colors serve an important purpose. Green of course is the very backbone of plant life.

Plants derive their green color from a pigment called chlorophyll, literally translated as “green leaf”. This allows the plant to draw light and energy to thrive.

 

While the bright flowers get center stage, green is working hard in the wings to keep the garden healthy and strong. Green leaves also serve as excellent camouflage for beneficial insects such as praying mantis. Earth tones of brown and grey, provide birds with cover from predators.

Purple, violet and blue-like blooms attract bees, hummingbirds, bluebirds, and jays. Perhaps I should add “and gardeners” as green and purple are my two favorite colors.

 

I recently learned that

Purple is common in plants, largely thanks to a group of chemicals called anthocyanins. When it comes to animals, however, purple is more difficult to produce.

Source, Natural History Museum

I read years ago that there is no real blue when it comes to flowers. According to Mother Nature Network

There is no true blue pigment in plants, so plants don’t have a direct way of making a blue color,” Lee said. “Blue is even more rare in foliage than it is in flowers.” he added. “Only a handful of understory tropical plants have truly blue foliage.

While I’m on the subject of cool colors, I forgot to let you know the answer to the quiz on my Hobbiton Movie set post. I posed the question, “which of the three trees picture below is a fake?” The answer is The Oak Tree

From the blog The Curious Kiwi

The large oak tree above Bilbo’s house was cut down and transported to Hobbiton where its branches were bolted back in place. Thousands of artificial leaves were wired to the branches, all for a few seconds of filming.

*Cool as a cucumber – Bloomsbury International. Extremely calm, relaxed and in control of your emotions. This phrase may have originated from the fact that even in hot weather, the inside of cucumbers are approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.How cool is that?

Spring Colors: Some Like it Hot

Orange nasturtium

This orange nasturtium has a banana-yellow center and a lovely pair of eyelashes

Nature always wears the color of the spirit.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unless you’re an allergy sufferer, you probably love spring. It’s a magical time in the garden when spring colors emerge from winter’s slumber while the birds sing their happy tune.

Red and Pink

 

After years of planting assorted bulbs and spring-mix seed packets, it’s fun to see the color assortment burst forth. Wrapped around the perennials, and sometimes hiding below, touches of spring color emerge. To be fair, many of the weeds are colorful too. You just have to decide what stays and what goes.

Orange

 

According to birder Melissa Mayntz of The Spruce:

Different birds are attracted to different colors. Individual bird species may see the “best” colors as indicating a food source. Other birds may be more attracted to the colors of their own plumage as those could indicate a potential mate or another bird that is surviving well.

Most bright colors, however, can be used to attract birds, with certain bird species being more attracted to particular shades.

Red and Pink: Hummingbirds
Orange: Orioles, hummingbirds
Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds

Yellow

 

Interesting that red, orange and yellow are the first three colors of a primary rainbow. I think nature is on to something, don’t you?

Not to be undone green, blue and violent show up every spring as well. They’re the cooler colors, providing a lovely contrast to the heat of the spectrum. Stay tuned for their turn in the garden.

Not a Zucchini?

There are three volunteer pumpkin vines growing along the side of our deck. At least I thought so. Upon closer inspection, one of the plants might be a zucchini.

Zucchini or Pumpkin plant

Zucchini or Pumpkin? July, 2017

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Zucchini or Pumpkin? August, 2017

Zucchini is an American term for courgette or summer squash. They’re harvested when the fruit is small and cooked in a variety of ways. When left unchecked, they will grow substantially. I learned from Sarah the Gardener that overgrown courgettes are known as marrows.

I’ve never been a fan of zucchini. People wonder “how can you be a vegetarian and not like zucchini!?”  I don’t mind it in soups or zucchini bread, but otherwise I’ll give it a pass. My favorite greens, in the following order, are broccoli, green beans, snow peas, bell peppers, and several others I’m forgetting and then zucchini. Technically, zucchini are a fruit, but most of us think of them as a vegetable. That said it still doesn’t make the list when I could be eating pears, green apples, kiwi, grapes, and melon. Sorry zucchini.

I digress.

Pumpkins and zucchini (or courgettes) are members of the Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita genus. The leaf and flower of both plants look quite a bit alike. Our plant, however, didn’t develop a trailing habit. It grew more like a shrub.  While making the garden rounds, I notice the unusual growing habit of the fruit. Unlike a typical pumpkin it was long and narrow. When Mike returned from a long trip to South America, he pronounced “It’s a zuke.” He grew up in an Italian family where his mom prepared lots of zucchini in her day.

Apparently I had an overgrown zucchini (marrow) on my hands. I would follow Sarah’s lead and prepare it for eating. Sarah made marrow chips with her overgrown fruit. She’ll show you how here.  Sarah says they’re delicious. I could disguise the flavor and texture through food preparation. Brilliant!

I cut the fruit from the plant and left it to harden off on the deck for a few days. I kept an eye on it outside my kitchen window.

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Miniature Buddha for scale

You know where this is going, right? It started turning orange!

Not a zucchini?

Time will tell.

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Results May Vary

pair-of-snails

A pair of voracious snails

The expression “results may vary” always make me laugh. Since the early days of advertising, we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

  • One size fits all (ahem)
  • Guaranteed results (or your money back)
  • New and improved

and so on.

Do you ever find yourself applying these terms to everyday life?

Mine would go something like this: I’m going to head out into the world today, knowing full well that results may vary. I’m going to shrug into my one size fits all sweater, which is actually a size large…just in case. Life does not come with guarantees, but if it did, I might be able to get compensation for that big bruise on my shin.  (My life’s mantra: slow down, Alys, slow down!) And finally, far from being new and improved I would like to offer up a more accurate slogan: Old and improving.  I like the idea of being a better person with the rise of each day, but there is nothing new about the four step maneuver it takes to get out of bed.

These same advertising slogans have been rattling around in my head when I’m in the garden. One example:  I planted an old packet of broccoli seeds figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained. A small cluster of seedlings sprouted giving me hope. I thinned them to a respectable number and waited for the plants to take off. They’re not dead, but they’re not growing either. The seedlings remain in a suspended animation weeks after planting. Results may vary.

broccoli-seedlings

Broccoli Seedlings: Grow baby, grow!

Last summer I planted our fountain with succulents. It’s a long story for another day, but suffice it to say that is one expensive planter. I’m not well versed on the variety of succulents available, and the nurseries provide scant clues. The pot might say “two-inch succulent” or “four-inch succulent” which tells me nothing about growth habits.  As you can see from the photo below, it’s not a one size fits all proposition. The plan was to have the center plant gradually grow up, while its companions to the left and right gracefully trailed over the edges.

copper-planter-with-succulents-september-2016

Copper planter with succulents, September, 2016

copper-fountain-planted-with-succulents-nov-23-2016-10-13-am

Copper fountain planted with succulents, November, 2016

Nature is as nature does.

As for “guaranteed results or your money back”, I’m pretty sure there is a disclaimer for acts of god or nature. There are no guarantees when it comes to gardening. You can plant a seed, water it, and hope that it grows. Have you seen those seed packets? Those plants are amazing! I’ll buy a hundred, and grow produce for the entire neighborhood. I’ll have vases of gorgeous, fresh flowers scattered throughout the house. It’s guaranteed!

tulip-bulbs-in-packets

Tulip Bulbs: So much promise, so little return

Darwin knew what he was talking about. It’s all about survival of the fittest. I plant seeds, and they refuse to grow. I plant bulbs, and the squirrels dig them up and either eat them or toss them on the deck. Seedlings pop through the soil but then snails eat them in the dead of night. Plants that overcome these obstacles, must contend with birds, squirrels, rats, drought, stink bugs, fungus, scale and sometimes this careless gardener who forgets to water a dried out pot. Guaranteed!

Finally, new and improved might mean pesticide-laden seeds. I like to garden old school: heirloom plants and seeds in a pesticide-free garden. As I mentioned earlier, old and improving.

seed-packets

Beautiful Illustrations of hope and promise…guaranteed!

And that, my friends, brings me back full circle. Results may vary. Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing. My entire front garden self-seeded once again, with Nigella, California Poppies, Cornflowers and Sweet Peas. They seem impervious to the recent frost. They’re lush and green, planted by nature, watered by recent storms and back by popular demand. Now that’s a slogan to celebrate.

Advertising: the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it. Stephen Leacock

If you were running an ad campaign for your daily life, what would you say?

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Pumpkins in July?

Seriously.

After my squash bug infestation a few years ago, and a follow on year resembling squash bug Armageddon, I stopped planting pumpkins for a few years. With little rain over a four-year period, those pumpkin-sucking bugs easily over-wintered and destroyed my meager crop. Twice.

Last summer, something amazing happened: one noble pumpkin grew in the middle of my former lawn. Without any water and not a squash bug in sight, the plant served up a perfectly formed and cherished pumpkin. I’ve since learned that pumpkin plants can survive on morning dew, taking in the moisture through their straw-like stems and delivering it to the root of the plant. Color me impressed!

This year we had our first season of near-average rainfall. We also installed a rain water catchment system.

rainsavers collage

Rain Catchment System

I took the plunge and bought a package of seeds. I prepared one of my Earth Boxes and waited for the temperatures to rise. The packet directions said to plant once night-time temperatures were consistently above 50 degrees F (10C) which for San Jose is usually May.

Meanwhile, seeds planted last fall by our neighborhood squirrels took root. They found a home near the patio in the newly planted, drought-tolerant garden. I let them grow of course, but figured the cold nights that followed would dash our hopes. As the temperatures rose and I planted my own seeds, the squirrel’s garden happily meandered along, pest-free and robust.

Pumpkin Vines 2016 collage

A pumpkin we will grow

One plant stayed small, and produced a single, perfectly formed round pumpkin. It started out dark in color, almost a pine green, before turning a lovely orange. The sister plant took off across the garden, racing toward the swing and sending out runners in both directions.

Pumpkin Vines near gravel 2016

The Meandering Pumpkin

The second pumpkin plant produced four tall pumpkins before the vine started dying back.

We were eager to harvest them before the squirrels stopped by for lunch. We put them in our garage to let the stems dry for a few days, then brought them into the house. Typically we wouldn’t be harvesting until September.

As I ready for my trip to Canada on Monday, I’ll leave it to my son to harvest the last three pumpkins. He’s looking forward to it. Meanwhile, the tomatoes are flush, producing a delicious crop. My new favorite is a ‘Black Cherry’, a sweet and juicy heirloom tomato that is melt-in-your mouth delicious. I’m definitely saving seeds for next year.

assorted heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes: ‘Mr. Stripey’ and ‘Black Cherry’

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

I’m in count-down mode: Edmonton here I come!

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Nature vs. Nurture: A Garden in Flux

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (Water just once a week)

I’m gradually turning our garden into a more sustainable oasis. Instead of nurturing the English garden of my dreams, I’m letting nature do the talking. I’ve learned a lot from four years of drought.

We’re no longer watering our lawn, allowing nature to takes its course. I met with a landscape designer a few weeks ago and he’s putting together a design for native perennials. I’m envisioning a small meadow that attracts native birds and insects.

Last week I submitted an application to the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Conservation Unit. It will take five to seven weeks to process a one page request, but so it goes with many government agencies. That in turn will generate a lengthy packet of materials to complete, and only then can we proceed (if we want to receive a rebate). As the drought drags on, the rebates increased. Original rebates offered seventy-five cents per square foot. They’ve now increased to $2 per square foot for:

converting high water using landscape (i.e. irrigated turf or functional swimming pool) to low water using landscape. These increases are temporary, through December 31, 2015, and certain restrictions apply

Our back lawn is 370 square feet. If approved we’ll receive a $740 rebate. The front lawn is a bit larger so all told, getting this approval will put a nice dent in the conversion costs. With or without the rebate, we’re going forward with the plans.

In addition to converting the lawn into native landscaping, I’m no longer filling pots with annuals. We have three large pots on the deck that receive irrigation from a drip line. Everything that was hand-watered is gone or replaced with succulents that get by on virtually no water at all.

red succulent

Potted Succulents

Welcome to the Garden

Late yesterday, just before sitting down to write my fairy garden post, I received an out-of-the-blue package from my friend Kristi. Along with her lovely note she sent these charming fairy garden treasures.  I wasted no time adding them to the garden. I adore that little sign!

fairy garden welcome to the garden sign

New Welcome to the Garden Sign

I tucked the new hammock among the soft greenery. It’s the perfect napping place and makes me wish I was Thumbelina. Thank you, Kristi!

fairy garden hammock

The napping place

fairy garden sign and hammock

Fairy Garden Vignette