Jun 27, 2010

Enjoying the dog days

Well, as we get older, time seems to move faster, and sure enough it doesn't seem half a year since I was lamenting the early daily disappearance of the sun (and hence early end to the yard-work-day in California's peak gardening season). Yet here we are in the dog days, and from yesterday until mid-week we'll enjoy the latest sunsets we're gonna get. The sun sets at about the same time for a span of evenings (according to this site, from June 25 to July 1) just as it sets at the same frustratingly early time for a span in the winter. Yet around the time of the equinoxes, the sunset times change rapidly--by as much as a minute per evening. My brother says this is because the sun and earth have a sinusoidal relationship and at the solstices we're sitting at the top or bottom of the wave, whereas at the equinoxes we're climbing up or down. This blows my mind a bit too much, and all I really know is that long summer days rule.  The irony for California native gardeners is supposed to be that it's during the short winter days when there is a lot of work to do (like planting, redesigning, propagating, weeding) and in the long days, the garden is supposed to be kicking back in semi dormancy, and the weeds are theoretically gone and not returning, due to lack of moisture. But somehow I still feel pressure to get out there and get things done.

One task screaming to be done is the cutting down of the annual wildflower stalks, which are now pretty crusty and sad looking. I'm sure my neighbors are eager for me to do this, but I want to let a few seed capsules finish ripening and dehisce, so that I can have more wildflowers next year.  But not as many. I still plan to do a post where I discuss designing with annuals, and the main thing I'm learning is that while they look fantastic when they're not thinned, they take a toll on the garden's permanent residents--smaller perennials and bulbs--by shading them out. Here is a mess of annual and perennial action from a couple months ago:

The other work I can't get on top of is babysitting and eventual potting up of plants grown from seeds or cuttings during the winter. And finally, there's watering, watering and watering of containers on the patio. I don't feel good about it because conserving water is one of the reasons for gardening with natives. But those in containers seem to be thirsty every dang time I turn around. My plan is to install drip, at least in the containers that are grouped together along the fence, and this will cut down on their dependency on me, and I hope will sort of cut the overall water use as well as keeping the conditions consistently moderately moist, rather than subjecting the poor plants to a  crazy moisture pendulum that continually swings from saturated to parched.

So once I get the crusty annuals down, the baby plants potted up and the entire patio on drip, then I will get some Mojito mix and start enjoying the long dog days.  Which I hope won't be over by then. And for those curious about why we say dog days, I was too.  Seemed to remember hearing it had something to do with our  buddy Sirius, the dog star, but didn't know what, since we don't see him this time of year. Turns out "dog days" refers to the days when our brightest star Sirius rises at the same time as the Sun, and apparently, the ancient types reckoned it was this convergence of two bright celestial objects that caused the summer heat. (Not quite, but I'm impressed those guys could figure out any of that cosmic stuff at all.) All I know is that in summertime, the livin' is supposed to be easy, so I better get out there and get those chores out of the way.

Jun 24, 2010

What's this butterfly doing?

And what kind is it? I'm hoping some of you knowledgeable folks out there can tell me, because regrettably I don't know much about butterflies yet. The thing is this one was hanging out on my Aster chilensis but not moving, even when lightly prodded (by a gentle kitty paw).  Was it dying? Sleeping? Laying eggs maybe? I'd be incredibly supportive of any butterflies and moths who want to raise families in my plants--especially the Aster, because it's not like a few caterpillars are going to make a dent in my supply of that, no matter how hungry hungry they are.  (Aster chilensis spreads by rhizomes, and quite enthusiastically.)

I had to thank my little quadrupedal  gardening buddy for pointing this insect out to me.

I had to sort of keep my eye on him to make sure he didn't attempt to harass or eat our winged guest, and he was actually quite cooperative.  Also, he asked me to ask you to not hate him because he's beautiful:

Thanks for any info on the butterfly!  I hope I'm doing something right for it to have been there.

Jun 17, 2010

Spring by Hallmark

I'll do a post in the near future about how my yard was taken over by wildflowers. I never have been good at saying no to a wildflower volunteer. But for now, a picture show highlighting the showiest players, the Clarkias. These are Clarkia amoena (Farewell to Spring) and Clarkia unguiculata (Elegant Clarkia).  They got their start in my yard two years ago when I decided to buy a measly two of each from Annies Annuals, and I planted them in a tiny area where I had cleared just enough ivy to fit in a few 4-inch annuals. They didn't even do well, because 2008 turned out to be our driest spring on record. But they managed to fulfill their life cycle as Nature intended, and dropped enough seeds that the following year, when the ivy was all clear, I had a veritable Clarkia Forest.  Then the forest begat another forest this year.  They are a little over the top for a native garden--I think they are hybrids designed by the nursery to appear hopped up on steroids--so last year I felt like that was sort of cheating, and I actually tried to cut most of them down before they went to seed so as to keep their reproduction at bay and have a more "realistic" yard this year. I didn't succeed. And I'm glad too, because, well. Take a look. They strike me as worthy of a greeting card you'd send to your granny.  So for all the grannies out there: