Tag Archives: arbutus unedo

Flora, fauna and future of the garden.

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens –
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”

-Katherine S. White

I received a Christmas gift of flower seeds, which made me realize that I really do need to get busy and finish the upgrading of my greenhouse that was begun by my neighbor Bob in October. He supplied it with electricity and installed grow lights, but it remains for me to set up the heater, thermostat, fan and timer.

Then I can get seeds started a little earlier than would be otherwise possible during this season when the greenhouse sits in the shade of my two-story house. In the meantime, neighbor Terri and I can talk about our gardens past and future. Yesterday she gave me this heavy Pink Banana squash she grew last summer, evidently a good keeper!

I can eat one thing from the garden currently: collards — and I found a wonderful, vegan recipe for collards in coconut milk that I will try to post here. Fruit from the arbutus or Strawberry Tree got spoiled by the rain this year, but before that, at least it didn’t have anything like the mysterious pests or diseases of last year, which was a big relief.

Not my photo!

I received New Year’s gifts in my garden, not plants flowering or fruiting but birds visiting. Their energy and personality are even more welcome when the landscape is dark. On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day a pair of Northern Flickers came by; they got my attention fast, such big birds acting like woodpeckers on the pine tree, but nothing like any woodpecker I’d ever encountered before. They hopped around the garden for hours, pecking in the bark mulch, so I had plenty of time to leaf through all the pages of Peterson’s guide until I found them. This was the most exciting Bird Event (repeated this morning!) since my first sighting of Hooded Orioles at the hummingbird feeder some years ago.

A different sort of event was when a bird flew into my slider and sat stunned on the mat for such a long time that I was able to take its picture. I had been thinking that these were some kind of sparrow, but once I got such a clear image, it was hard to fit the little creature into that family.

Attached to a suggested blog post in my WordPress feed that very evening, I glimpsed a photo that looked very much like mine. It was a blog post about Pine Siskins — what do you know! It’s Pine Siskins that I have been enjoying here for a couple of years at least.

They feed alongside sparrows, finches, and warblers, while chickadees and bushtits enjoy the suet feeder nearby. Juncos and titmice, jays and doves fly in and away. Occasionally a towhee visits… then the Cooper’s Hawk swoops down for the kill and adds drama, only three feet away from me across the glass. If I don’t take a break from watching these busy birds, I won’t get any seeds planted. Yes, that could happen….

…because the world is full of delights.

How to love a strawberry tree.

This summer my strawberry tree got my attention as never before, for a couple of reasons. First, there was lots of fruit. This is probably because of the wet spring we had, and because the tree is bigger than ever, and has been pruned twice in the last few years.

When I was popping the “berries” into my mouth I noticed that some of them were damaged, or that they were inhabited by other hungry creatures. That began my months-long more intensive engagement with my tree.

Let me tell you why I love this tree so much:

1) My husband and I planted our Arbutus unedo together, perhaps 15 years ago, so it’s got history with me.

2) It grows and grows without demanding any attention; it’s drought-tolerant, shade-tolerant and frost-resistant.

3) Even without its fruit it’s a handsome tree, but its blossoms and fruit add to that beauty over a long period.

4) The fruit is yummy and bears over a long period in late summer and fall, and the birds don’t seem to eat it.

Below, those are pine needles from the tree above, hanging like tinsel all over my tree.

The Strawberry Tree is native to the Mediterranean region, and also western Europe and southern Ireland. Here in California it’s grown a lot as an ornamental and usually the people who are familiar with it as a good landscape tree are surprised that I like to actually eat the fruit. Even the volunteers at the nearest Master Gardener help desk were surprised. I regretted that when I took in a few inedible fruits for their scrutiny I hadn’t brought a bunch of prime examples for snacks as well.

The Master Gardeners thought that the dark mottling of some fruit, which fruit also never ripens but remains hard as it dries up, was likely caused by a watering issue. That seems strange to me, because we had such a wet winter, and late rains, you’d think the tree would still have its roots down deep in the moist earth. But I had given it a long drink even so, before I asked.

They studied and studied my pictures of the worms that were not around anymore for me to bring in as live specimens, but they could not identify them, though a couple of the staff consulted at length their University of California entomology databases. That didn’t surprise me, because if you look online, no one ever mentions one problem with the fruit – all the pests and diseases mentioned affect the leaves or the bark.

We are hoping that these worms will not come back in greater numbers next summer, but if they do, I’ll bring in a live worm for our research. They are icky. I can tell you, they get very excited when you slice their food-house in half, and their writhing about makes them more unlikable.

Let’s switch back to a photo of robust and radiant, healthy fruits. Yum. I think they are best when they are just turning orange, because they are plenty sweet, but still slightly firm. Their flavor then is also brighter than when they turn red and are starting to get soft.

I saw a picture of a crumble cake made with the fruit, in one of the many countries that appreciates them as a food crop, so when I baked a fig and almond cake recently, I added some cut-up fruits. Either they disappeared, or turned blue as did the figs, because there was nothing remotely red or yellow in that cake when we ate it, except the dried apricots.  😦

We haven’t had a frost yet, and I have a feeling I’ll have “berries” to enjoy until we do.

September is a benefaction.

figs with strawberry tree fruit

This might be the first September in ten years that I have stayed home all month. I usually go to the cabin or to celebrate Ivy’s birthday, or both. This staying in place has given me time to pay attention to all the sweetness, and I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite month of the year. Where I live the earth has not lost its deep warmth, the bees are still humming away, and there is more time to just wander in the garden and be astonished.

Instead of the rush of springtime and all the related chores that pile up urgently in that season, late summer/early fall in this mild climate brings with it rudbeckia flowers, bursting milkweed pods, and figs that softly droop on their stems. Am I not the most favored of humans, that I can walk a few steps out my back door and pick a ripe fig to eat then and there?

The heat waves are less intense than the spells in August. We can comfortably leave the windows open all day and night and enjoy the breezes blowing through, as they cycle from cool to warm and back to cool and damp again in the evening. I respond in my several mood and sweater changes.

Many people talk about Indian Summer, but it’s just normal California weather to have hot spells in late September and even into October. If it gets hot after a killing frost, I think that is what they call a true Indian Summer… Call it what you will, I love it, and hate to see it go.

But October is nearly here, and suddenly I need to put toys under cover, order firewood, and plant peas. Last night I had to put another blanket on my bed. Good-bye September! I love you!