My Garden Sows Content

The sweet peas are out, but the cornflower will remain for awhile

Life is full.

Since my last post we’ve celebrated three family birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and my oldest son’s graduation from college. My youngest son came home from his first year away at college and my oldest son moved home mid-June. Somewhere in there we took a two-day getaway to Las Vegas after Mike finished a big work project.  Next week I leave for a long-anticipated trip to British Columbia and Alberta. I’ll be traveling with my friend Kelly, a dear friend whom I met through blogging nearly eight years ago. I am really looking forward to this trip.

Through it all though, my garden continues to sow content.

We had some brutally hot days in the low 100’s (104 F or 40 C), but it has settled down into cooler temps.  During the heat wave I arrived home to wilting hydrangeas and burnt ground cover. The flowers recovered but the ground cover is done till the rains return.

On the subject of rain, we had the loveliest, late-season rain in May, bringing about larger and taller flowers, fuller blooms and a short-term delay in the unbearable heat. It was such a gift.

I spent some early mornings this week pulling out the spent Nigella, also known as Love-in-a-mist and the sweet peas. I let both of them go to seed, reaping the benefits of a self seeded garden each spring. The cornflowers are the last of the self-seeded spring flowers. The bees are still pollinating the remaining blooms while the birds swoop in for the seeds.

I’ve been musing to myself that some of my garden favorites are the ones that return year after year with no effort on my part. They attract birds, bees and admiring neighbors. I get several month’s worth of small garden bouquets, and enjoy sharing the bounty with others.

Now that summer is here, our plums are ripening and the four o’clocks are about to bloom.

My miniature Hobbit garden, planted a year ago in celebration of my New Zealand friends and hosts is also robust.

I’ve added a tiny rusted table and a few flower “lights”, a gift from my friend Laura. I noticed this week that a tiny violet has self-seeded near the Hobbit door. We’ll see how it grows.

The tomatoes are looking promising this year!

Over the years people ask “is your garden a lot of work?” and the answer is always the same. Yes, it can be back-aching work, bending and lifting, pruning and pulling weeds, especially during the hot days of summer.  But the work is joyful. It’s not so much the ends but the means. I love working in the dirt, discovering new things, seeing what works and learning from failures. Working closely with nature is uplifting.  I marvel at the different shapes and sizes of the bees. I’m honored when a hummingbird comes close, inquisitive and open. I hear the rustle of the lizards and hope the cats will let them be. I laugh at myself when I’m startled by a spider, but I’ve learned to manage that fear while respecting the gifts they bring to the garden. A few ladybugs came for a visit last month and polished off the invading aphids. These are some of my favorite examples of nature at her finest.

I get dirt under my fingernails and sometimes in my teeth. Bruised knees and a sore neck mean I’ve stayed out too long. It takes me a lot longer to get up from the ground, and the pain in my hips reminds me of my advancing age. It’s all worth it for that time in the garden where I find a real connection to this earth.

Laboring in my garden sows content.

 

 

 

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….”

Once the Heat Descends

sweet peas in vase

I continuously cut bunches of sweet peas to keep the plants blooming.

When you live in sunny San Jose, the heat waves are inevitable. What’s new, however, is the duration. In the past, the temps would rise for three days, then drop back to a seasonal norm. Now they seem to last five to seven days at a stretch. With my fair, cool-weather complexion I wilt. Sadly, so do the sweet peas.

Love in a mist collage

The Jungle, a self-seeded garden of Love in a Mist, Sweet Peas, California Poppies and Cornflowers in their prime.

Sweet peas going to seed

Snap, crackle pop. There’s beauty at every stage of the cycle.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the jungle in all its wonder. Sweet peas self-seeded early this year, followed by love-in-a-mist and then cornflowers. All of the flowers are various shades of purple. I love the way they offered each other support.

One by one though, they’re calling it quits for the season.

Encouraged by Pauline, Lisa and Kelly, I cut blooms several days a week.

sweet peas in vases-002

Close up view. The tiny hummingbird is a wine glass charm, a gift from a friend.

sweet peas in vases

This sweet little tea-pot is also a gift from a friend

I found miniature milk bottles at a craft store for $2, wrapped the neck with purple baker’s twine, then filled them with fragrant blooms. Sweet pea is the birth flower for April, and, coincidentally two of my Pilates classmates have April birthdays.  I brought each of them a small bouquet. I enjoyed sharing them with friends and neighbors, and even brought a few to a client.

Alas, the heat descended and the plants quickly dried and went to seed. Sweet peas prefer a cool 65 F (18C). We’ve had sustained temps ranging from 89 – 94 F (31-34C). I left them for a week till they were completely brown, then started pulling them out of the ground. I shook each plant liberally to drop any of the loosened seeds, then made a big pile to sort through on a cooler day. Ha!

Days later, on an overcast afternoon, I sat in a chair in the middle of the pile and harvested seed pods. I learned a few things. If the seed pod is still green, the seeds need to dry before storing. The brown seed pods, fully encased, give up wonderful, dry, ready to plant seeds for the following season.

sweet pea seed collage

Harvesting seeds, upper left, a twisted seed pod squeezed out the seeds for next year. Different stages of drying seeds. The garden natives start to fill in.

The most interesting for me though is what happens when the pods are ready to give up those seeds on their own. The pod cracks and then twists so that seeds are wrung out of the pod, dropping back into the soil for next year. That cracked, twisted pod has a beauty of its own.

The birds didn’t seem interested in the dried seeds. According to this Wiki article, unlike edible peas, the seeds are toxic.

bird cornflower

Feathered friends stop by for cornflower seeds

But here’s what happened the minute I cleared away the dried plants. I propped up the bedraggled cornflowers and the birds flocked to the plant by the dozens. I could see three to five at a time eating seeds, but when something startled them over a dozen birds emerged from the plant. They may have been there all along, but with the love in a mist and sweet peas dominating the jungle, the cornflowers were largely out of view.

birds eating cornflower seeds collage

It looks like they whole neighborhood stopped by. Aren’t they cute?

That too has now gone to seed and I’ve gradually cleared away the last of the plants for the season.

The garden looks a little bare without them. I’m also missing the bees that kept me company for weeks. Even the birds are scarcer than they were.

Yup, it’s a hot, dry summer in San Jose.

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Xylocopa varipuncta: Love and Romance in the Garden

What a romantic! Did you know that the Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as the male Valley Carpenter Bee emits “a rose-scented blend of volatiles”  from within “massive thoracic glands.”¹

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

While courting the shiny black females,

female carpenter bee

Female Carpenter Bee

the amber male, with his bright green eyes and fuzzy amber body, emits a special cologne.²

Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee

The female decides if she likes his cologne and only then does nature takes its course.

When Love-in-a-mist met the Valley Carpenter Bee, it was a match made in gardening heaven.

love in a mist with Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee circling a Love-in-a-mist flower

Love in a mist flowered all over the garden this spring, both front and back and the bees love it. It makes me so happy to see them buzzing from bloom to bloom. Sometimes I just sit nearby and watch them work.

bee on love in a mist

The more typical, seen daily be the dozen

What surprises me is that most of the bees are small with stripes. There are dozens of them throughout the day working in the garden.

Conversely, the golden hunk of bee is an occasional visitor.

Meanwhile, his female counterpart is out back pollinating the pumpkin planted by the squirrel.

pumpkin vine

Runaway Pumpkin Vine…and yes, love in a mist

The pumpkin vine is racing across the garden at record speed and it’s only June. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never seen anything like it.

The bees working in my garden are docile. They don’t mind my presence as I brush up against the flowers, currently referred to by my family as “the jungle”. Love in a mist has completely taken over.

love in a mist takes over

The Jungle

slinky love in a mist

Slinky guards her catnip near the love-in-a-mist

Slinky likes to rest near one of the flowers in the back, but to be fair, it’s also close to her secret Nepeta plant, also known as catnip.

Mouse is also enamored with this flower, attracting lots of camera time with his antics.

In case it’s not obvious by now, I love this beautiful plant and the ease with which it grows. The original seeds were part of a “seeds that attract hummingbirds and bees” packet a few years back. They didn’t do much throughout the drought, but they’ve loved our season of rain.

We’re in the midst of a long heat wave now, so it could spell the end. I’m enjoying them while they last.

¹Wikipedia: Xylocopa varipuncta

²Native Bees: What’s the Buzz

Who’s That Pollinator: Wasp or Bee?

flower garden poppies love in a mist sweet peas

An Amazing Spring: Everything you see here self-seeded thanks to gentle, frequent rain. The Love in a Mist are now blooming, along with California poppies and sweet peas which appear to have swallowed the trellis

Late afternoon is a happy time in the garden. With spring in full bloom, bees and possibly wasps are doing what they do best: pollinating.

One of the many joys of blogging is learning new things. Though humbling, it’s also interesting when a long-held belief is knocked off its center.

For starters, take a look at this all-black bee.

Xylocopa tabaniformis

Xylocopa tabaniformis visiting the sweet peas

Someone told me years ago that these were carpenter bees. I took that at face value, having no reason to contradict it. They love traveling between my pumpkins and sunflowers. They’re frequent and welcome visitors in my garden, moving quickly from bloom to bloom. I’m always enamored with the yellow coating after they’ve dipped into the center of a flower. They’re docile as well, a nice quality when you’re up close taking pictures.

I was also told they would eat wood, including your house and that they were “bad” bees. I’ve since read that some carpenter bees are more problematic than others, but that overall they should not be viewed as pests but as beneficial pollinators. Are you as confused as I am?

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta gathering pollen on a love in a mist

I spotted this beauty today touching down on the love in a mist. Research tells me it’s also a carpenter bee, though the golden color is quite distinct from its shiny black cousin. Varipuncta looks like it’s wearing a golden fur coat, making it hard to distinguish between the bee and the pollen it gathers.

Xylocopa varipuncta

Xylocopa varipuncta alternate view

Rounding out the collection is a pollinator formerly known by yours truly as “A bee”, a nondescript, generic term I use for any sort of flying, pollinating “bee” in my garden. Now I’ve been forced to reconsider this description as well, allowing for the possibility that this is a wasp or a hover-fly. Any guesses?

bee or waspEvery year I find a paper wasp’s nest under the eaves, but they’ve never been aggressive. Today I read that yellow jackets and hornets are aggressive, but like most bees, paper wasps are gentle.

Why We Need Bees:

If you’re as fascinated as I am, here are a few links:

It’s The Little Things

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. Khalil Gibran

I’ve always loved this quote. It’s beautiful, lyrical and true.

This little nest landed in the garden under the Chinese pistache tree. I spotted it in the tree late last year after the leaves dropped for the winter. Before I could take a picture, it came down in the wind. It is actually illegal to remove a bird’s nest, but once it’s on the ground…and empty, you can pick it up and admire mama bird’s nesting skills. I kept the little nest indoors through the wet months, then returned it to the garden for bird recycling.

Bird's Nest

Bird’s Nest

My friend Marcia and her lovely daughters dropped of this sweet little heart on Valentine’s Day. It’s a birdseed cake, shaped into a heart and ready for hanging in the garden. I love this little heart, and the big hearts that placed it on our doorstep.

birdseed heart

Heart Shaped Birdseed Cake

And on the subject of big hearts and little things, my friend Kelly, sent me a few packets of sweet pea seeds for our summer garden. She thoughtfully included purples, so that when my purple-loving sister stopped by, she could enjoy them too.

sweet pea seeds and gift bag

Sweet pea seeds from Kelly

Those tiny seeds didn’t amount to much in the first year, leaving me wondering what I did wrong. I take it personally when I can’t get something to grow.

Last year, they came up on their own, filling a corner nicely till the first heat wave laid them low. Like me, they wilt in the heat. They were stunning while in bloom though, and those little seeds taught me a thing or too along the way.

sweet peas

Sweet Peas, 2015

This year something big happened. It rained. Then it rained some more. I noticed seedlings spreading all over the front garden, right next to the newly planted California natives. Those little seedlings shot up and out and eventually filled out an entire corner of the front garden.

sweet pea collage Nov to April

Self Sown Garden

The garden is flourishing with an all-volunteer mixture of sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and bachelor buttons also known as cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus).

Now that I have several blooms, I’m going to start cutting indoor bouquets. The scent is out of this world.

sweet pea blooms april 2016

Bachelor’s buttons, pink and blue, Love-in-a-mist in the background, lavender and fuchsia sweet peas

“…for in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

What is your favorite little thing?

Purple Garden Palooza

garden triangle may

Purple garden palooza

Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers, but I’m picking purple petals from my perfect garden. It’s a purple palooza.

Ha! Say that three times.

The small corner garden near the walkway to our door looks like royalty. It’s awash in three shades of purple, with dots of orange and green accents. Last year’s sweet peas re-seeded and came back in a royal flush.

sweet peas

Sweet peas

sweet pea flower gives way to seed

Sweet pea flowers give way to seed pods

They’re in good company too. Love-in-a-Mist scattered seeds everywhere and now lines the sidewalk in a purple haze. Pay no attention to the dying grass in the background. The lawn is on its way out.

love in a mist lining the sidewalk

Self-seeding love-in-a-mist line the walkway

The Statice flowered early this year, showing pearly white blooms in the center of the calyx.  I love the way they compliment each other.

statice with flowers

Statice: calyx and flowers

One California poppy grows at the edge, but I fear a dog is lifting its leg once a day as the foliage is looking a bit…tired. The plant is still hanging in there though. Go Team Violet! Go state flower!

california poppy

California poppy wrapped up for the night

love in a mist closeup

Love-in-a-mist blooms and seed pods

Things you many not know:

(I didn’t)

The word ‘purple’ comes from the Old English word purpul which derives from the Latin purpura, in turn from the Greek πορφύρα (porphura), name of the Tyrian purple dye manufactured in classical antiquity from a mucus secreted by the spiny dye-murex snail.-Wikipedia

Today, science has revealed much more about purple than our ancestors ever realized: Purple is the most powerful visible wavelength of electromagnetic energy. It’s just a few steps away from x-rays and gamma rays. – Color Matters

The color purple is a rare occurring color in nature and as a result is often seen as having sacred meaning. Lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers are considered delicate and precious. –Bourn Creative