Monday, August 20, 2012

From Succulents to Roses

To mark the end of summer, we spent last Saturday at Berkeley. My boys had a lot of fun building Lego racers at the Lawrence Hall of Science, while I spent the afternoon at the University of California Botanical Garden nearby. The garden spans 34 acres and maintains one of the most diverse plant collections in North America.

A peaceful view of the San Francisco Bay through a picturesque tangle of hollyhocks, cosmos and cleome
There is a big display of carnivorous pitcher plants greeting visitors at the entrance.

Are they there as a reminder not to linger at closing time? Or as a warning not to stray off the paths?

Venture off the path and you might be impaled too. The collection of cacti is vast. This one is a cleistocactus buchtienii.
Turning away from the pitchers I was dazzled by a fountain of xanthorrhoea glauca surrounded by aloe and cycads. It is not often that one sees so much spiky foliage massed to such great effect.

I was fascinated by the symmetry of succulents and by sunlight streaming through the leaves.

But however perfect their geometrical shapes, I can't say I feel at home with such spiny plants.

Even when they look like a muscle man at a body-building contest.

Pachypodium lamerei

So it was a relief to leave the New World desert behind and see some cheerful kniphofia blooms in the South African collection.

Hummers liked them too.

 I wish I could show you all the amazing exhibits that I saw, but this post is already getting too picture-heavy.

A summer blooming aloe mitriformis/perfoliata whose leaves acquire a red tinge in dry conditions

 One of the plants I fell in love with was an ornamental oregano (below). It looks somewhat like heather but, like many Mediterranean plants, prefers hot and dry conditions. The only plant of it they had at the propagation shop went home with me (as did a mite-resistant fuchsia).

Origanum Sipyleum

But the best was still to come. At the very edge of the garden there is a small collection of old roses.

A big arbor with Lamarque
Some better-known cultivars from the 19th and early 20th century are blooming here along lavender-edged paths.

The roses were all well known to me but what attracted me was the choice of companion plants.  The garden seemed to rely heavily on annuals, with cleome, sweet peas and cosmos scattered widely among the roses.

I can see the benefit of having a few young and energetic college students on hand to plant the flowers anew year after year.

Some of the combinations were pretty unusual, such as a phytolacca icosandra with Fellemberg (below). Their color is almost identical which made the difference in their shapes even more striking.

After so much colorful wonder it was nice to sit down and contemplate a soothing and unsurprisingly traditional combination of Marie Pavie and lavender.

 And listen to the birds. It felt like home.

Western scrub jay

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Close Encounters

I was going to post some pictures of beautiful rose hips, but I still can't find time to go to the Heritage and shoot some more of them, so for now, here are some pictures of fast moving objects from my garden.

Sometimes in the afternoon, if all the chores are done, I take a book, a cup of tea and the camera to the patio.

I sit quietly, hardly moving at all and not making any noise.

After a while, curious creatures start stirring all around me, coming closer and closer. All I have to do is zoom in on them carefully and click away.

Here is our resident hummingbird, The Boss.

 Sometimes I think wistfully it must be a different bird from last year because it seems more afraid of camera clicks. It is not afraid of us though.

One evening when my husband joined me on the patio with a glass of red wine, which must have looked like nectar to a hummer, the Boss swooped angrily at my husband diving inches away from his face and spilling the wine. Now we only drink beer outside, which has not yet met with any disapproval :)

I have become extremely careful about sticking my nose inside a rose bloom for a sniff.

You never know who might be staring back at you from inside. Some of them are not at all happy about sharing.

And I am not at all happy about sharing my roses with some of them, such as this impudent cucumber beetle (below). I have had a bad infestation this year, and my fingers are tired of squishing these pests. Fortunately, they seem to prefer roses to vegetables, so my cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant have been doing well. 

As I am watching my visitors, they are watching me. We have many lizards in the garden, and they are shy, but curiosity still gets the better of them :)

Sparrows are frequent visitors too. They remind me of small boys: cheeky, curious, loud and fast. Here now and gone in an instant.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bee Watching

I have been very busy this past week, and all a quick glance into the garden seemed to reveal were flowers wilting in the heat. I didn't have any thoughts for a post, so I took my camera and went out to take some pictures of bees.

A honey bee on a penstemon
 I knew we had lots of honey bees: our neighbors across the street have twelve beehives.

....and on Julia Child

But only when I started looking at the bees closely did I realize how many other species come to the garden.

A wool carder bee (anthidium) (?) really liked my spanish lavenders which are just beginning their second cycle of bloom

As I was taking pictures, differences in behavior became apparent. Some bees didn't like me to come close while others (honey bees and carpenter bees) didn't seem to care. Some bees had a definite preference for certain flowers, but honey bees seemed the least discriminating. Watching bees turned out to be quite a lot of fun.

Ceratina bees (?)
I thought I would find a bee identification site and rattle off their names to you as if I were an expert, but that didn't turn out so easy: the University of California, Berkeley's site told me there were over 1,600 species of bees in California. I tried my best, but I am not at all sure the right names were assigned to the right bees :) But I hope you still enjoy the pictures.

This female Melissodes robustior (?) really took to a large plant of Cupid's Dart (catananche caerulea). I found the same bee there for days on end, and it looks like it collected lots of pollen.

A carpenter bee robbing nectar from a salvia

Carpenter bees are so slow it is quite easy to capture them in flight. Lots of pollen on this one.

A brief respite from photographing bees' bottoms :)
A leafcutter bee (megachile) (?)

Basye's Purple Rose is a big favorite of honey bees

I am not sure it is a pollinator :) but 'Mrs. E.G. Hill' is beautiful

An agapostemon texanus (ultra-green bee) (?)