Tag Archives: bees

Joanna and the sleeping bees.

It felt very coastal this morning with high fog and chill breeze. Along the front walk where I have allowed a volunteer sunflower to grow in the middle of the germander, one flower was close enough for me to notice the cluster of bees.

How did they happen to all bed down for the night on that one flower? Were they even alive? A half-hour later on my way to the car to drive to church I stopped by again; one or two had left, and the others had shifted position, but were quite motionless. About noon, not one remained. [Update: the next morning they were back, and after watching them off and on for an hour, I think they are not bees, but hoverflies. I’ve mistaken them for bees before.] [UPDATE No. 2: I was right the first time. They are bees. They fold their wings over each other, but flies leave theirs splayed out. I think I’ve learned this more than once, on a site such as Beekeeping Like a Girl. And other differences…]

Today was the day we celebrated St. Joanna, and it was also the meeting of our parish women’s book group — in my garden! The weather was as perfect as could be for that. Our group of six included several gardeners who didn’t sit down until we’d discussed borage and the borage flowers hanging into the pathway. The bees draw your attention to them! I quickly dug up a few of the many little borage volunteers for a couple of women to take home later.

It just so happened I had made two trays of borage ice cubes and it was time for me to add them to the lemonade so we could start talking about Frankenstein.

The table where we sat is near my garden icon stand with the stone icon of Christ’s mother; for the day’s commemoration I nestled a TV tray under the olive tree to hold a few more icons. You can read here why I included St. John the Baptist among them.

Early in our talk about Frankenstein I showed the group this adaptation of the novel that had been given to me, and it got passed around the table so that everyone could take a look at the illustrations.

We had a lively discussion about elements of the story, and also concerning ethical questions about the uses of science that are still pertinent in our day. I read only a few lines to the group from this article in the current issue of The New Atlantis about recent questionable experiments.

Various of the readers in our group knew more than I about the historical and philosophical context in which Frankenstein was written, which made it a pleasure to be with them and muse about much more than what had impressed me personally. I think we all were glad to have read the book, especially those who before had only known the movies, but no one exactly loved it.

It didn’t have a satisfying ending, in that, as our moderator said, she had hoped for redemption and there was none. We all agreed it was too long and repetitive. Several women said they definitely wanted to read something “lighter” next time. What constitutes a light novel? Here are the (not necessarily light) possibilities we had brought with us. As we went around the table making our suggestions, it seemed to me that the enthusiasm mounted with each one.

  1. A Long Walk with Mary by Brandi Schreiber
  2. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne De Maurier
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  4. Shades of Milk and Honey
  5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  6. The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge

My Cousin Rachel and The Giver were deemed too heavy. Milk and Honey didn’t engender any discussion, and I was personally torn between Potato Peel Society and Scent. Several had already read Potato Peel so they were leaning toward Scent; I was the only one who had read it, and I told them what I loved about Goudge’s books generally. A Long Walk with Mary seemed like a good one to read during our Orthodox Dormtion Fast.

So, we voted in a very informal way, and decided that in six weeks we will meet again and discuss two books: The Scent of Water and A Long Walk with Mary.

Before everyone went home, we toured the other side of my garden, and I told them about acanthus and why I used to not like it, but now I do. The acanthus is more beautiful than ever, its spires taller, and in their prime right now. My 24 lavender bushes are at the height of bloom, too. We got to hear from our sheep farmer lady how she made lavender simple syrup to use in cool summer drinks.

How sweet it was to have these friends to be with me for my name day. After they were gone, there was still lemonade left in the pitcher, and floating among the melting ice cubes, the lemon-bleached borage blossoms.

The vitality of insects and my heart.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
-Thornton Wilder

I’m home from my travels, and have been wandering about the garden to see what has changed in the last three weeks. My housemate Susan watered all the pots through a heat wave, Alejandro staked sunflowers and trimmed perennials, and my neighbor Gary trained the pumpkin vines to the trellis.

Mylitta Crescent

When I departed in late May, the bumblebees were the dominant buzzers among the flowers, but once the lavender and the germander opened, the honeybees returned. They are very alive, diligently about their business, and not ignoring the salvia, either. This gray bee likes the echinacea blooms that are just now available for nectar refreshment.

Hyssop, chamomile, basil and parsley are making a jungle of buds and blooms in the vegetable box out back. I’ve been waiting for the hyssop to do something for two years, while it took up a large space in that planter. It is famous as a bee plant. When I see bees acting like this one below, it makes me want to grow hyssop again… but not in the planter next time:

This Hyssopus officinalis is not the anise hyssop that I grew in my previous landscape, which “is neither anise (Pimpinella anisum) nor hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis),” but Agastache foeniculum. But they are both members of the mint family, and bees appear equally devoted to them.

The insects focus intently on what gifts they are given from the Creator, and I have been bowled-over conscious of my own treasures, during my travels. The grandchildren in Colorado, and their parents trying to keep up, impressed me with their youthful vitality, compared with Grandma, who liked to sit on the deck, play Bananagrams, take leisurely walks… and never once jumped on the trampoline with them.

While in Idaho I was acutely aware of what treasures my friends Rosemary and Jacob are. Being with them is like swimming in a refreshing, nectar-rich pool of friendship.

We worked to identify various plants on their property, and found dewberries, thimbleberries, and wineberries; wild roses are everywhere, and white spirea. Along the country road where we walked, these Baker Mariposa Lilies dotted the foliage on the forest floor. Every one was dotted itself with one or more insects as conscious as an insect can be of its sweet treasure.

I think Jacob and Rosemary would agree with me that it is the Lord who has given us this prized possession that we hold as a threesome, love that is an overflow of the Holy Trinity, from whom all life emanates.

My friends are my estate. Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them. They tell me those who were poor early have different views of gold. I don’t know how that is. God is not so wary as we, else He would give us no friends lest we forget Him.  –Emily Dickinson

I realize now that my aliveness is of a different sort from bees and children. My heart was continuing to sing and dance with thankfulness while my body sat quietly on airplanes for hours yesterday. So many treasures and the consciousness of them, and riches waiting for me when I arrive home… All this activity is making me sleepy like a toddler. Must be naptime!

Watching and watchfulness.

 

The birds are happy today and so am I. While I’ve been sitting in my garden corner both a wren and a chickadee came by to say hello. You can hear what the Bewick’s Wren told me here. A while later, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the collard patch.

The plants are tall, and with half a dozen house finches hopping from stem to stem and pecking among the flowers, they reminded me of their mustard cousins mentioned in the Bible, in the parable of the mustard seed.

A pair of bluebirds have been flitting about the garden for a week at least. They do appear to be playing, randomly flying from tree to tree to arbor to birdbath, swooping across each other’s paths. Weeks ago we saw them checking out the birdhouse, and now I find that there are at least the beginnings of a mossy nest in there, though I haven’t seen them working on it. They don’t sit still for long, but I got this shot that at least shows the male’s bright blueness.

I’ve selectively removed a couple of established ornamentals from the back garden so that I could carve out spaces for all the young plants that have just this week been liberated from the greenhouse. Last night was their first to stay out all night. Normally I wait to plant until May 1st, but that is Holy Saturday, and I won’t have time. No frost is forecast for the next ten days, so this year I will join the many people in my area who commonly plant in April.

Yesterday I invited neighbors over to see my back garden for the first time; I only met them in Covid-time and we have chatted on the sidewalk and texted a lot about our gardens, we have shared seeds and plants and produce. They brought their 2-year old and we had a good visit strolling about and drinking iced rooibos tea. The little boy insisted that both of his parents come into the playhouse with him. I told them that is the first time I’ve had a whole family in there together.

While we were looking at the pea vines, I asked them if they had seen any honeybees yet this season. They said they’d seen one. Suddenly the carpenter bees we’d been watching were joined by excited honeybees and bumblebees! I think they had just got the news about the borage.

I sent my neighbors home with a dozen plants, most of which I’d grown from seed this spring, but a few propagated from cuttings, or volunteers removed from the garden and potted up. In the last category were Yellow Bush Lupine and Showy Milkweed.

I have a lot of calendula seedlings from seeds that a friend at church gave me from her garden, the Indian Prince mix (picture from seed packet at right). Calendulas are blooming now here; they often overwinter and reseed themselves, but I only have two currently, so I’ll fill in with several new plants. This is one of the established ones:

It is the 5th Sunday of Lent for Orthodox Christians. After this last week of Lent proper, we enter Holy Week; Pascha is May 2nd this year. In this last week the tone changes a bit; it shifts from repentance to watchfulness, our rector told us, and we begin to look forward to the raising of Lazarus, which is a sort of pre-feast of the Resurrection of Christ Himself.

I arrived early today, so I could stop by the hall to drop off a bag of onion skins, which are being collected for dyeing eggs for Pascha. I couldn’t help taking pictures of the wisteria and other beautiful flowers there.

Today we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt, who in our hymnography is often called “Mother Mary,” which can be confusing to those who think of Christ’s mother by that name. We usually call that Mary the Theotokos (“God-bearer”) or the Mother of God, to affirm Christ’s divinity.

This hymn got my attention this morning:

The image of God was truly preserved in thee, O Mother,
for thou didst take up the Cross and follow Christ.
By so doing, thou taughtest us
to disregard the flesh for it passes away;
but to care instead for the soul,
for it is immortal.
Therefore thy spirit, O holy Mother Mary,
rejoices with the angels.

St. Mary of Egypt by her life exhorts us not to slacken our effort in this last week, not to think that we can coast the rest of the way to Pascha. She was repentant and watchful for decades in the desert, and the fruit of her life and testimony has nourished the Church ever since.

As Abba Zosimas said of her, “Truly God did not lie when he promised that those who purify themselves will be like Him. Glory to You, O Christ our God, for showing me through your holy servant, how far I am from perfection.” 

What any kind of pruning can do.

It’s surprising how much glory has bloomed and gone, in my garden and by the creek. Well before the end of July we’ve cut back the purple explosion of germander and forced the bees to move to the echium and salvias, which continue to branch out and lengthen their nectar offerings. The Jerusalem sage and lavender I always think of as long-lasting…. How can they be done? Santa Barbara daisies at least come again and again after each shearing.

By the creek, the Queen Anne’s Lace and fennel will continue for months more, and other insects feed on them. But I never see honeybees there.

Early on when the gyms first closed because of the covid-19 quarantine and more people were walking those creek paths, I saw that many of the fennel plants down there had been mutilated and dishonored. I wished I had clippers with me so I could cut them off neatly to relieve the humiliation.

But three months later, those same plants are most beautiful! For all they cared, the breakage of their stems might have been expert pruning by loving horticulturists. Now those specimens have branched out gracefully to outshine their fellows that shoot straight up. The ladybug above is posing on one.

Last fall I planted a few begonias in pots on the patio, but so far only this older one has opened:

In the vegetable boxes many of the things I planted rather late and experimentally did not even sprout, but currently collards are coming along. And in the greenhouse, moringa! I bought the seeds two years ago at an event I blogged about: here. (I also had a bunch of little amaranth plants from that source growing nicely, but something ate them off at the stem.)

This spring I managed to keep three of the seeds warm and moist long enough for one of them to sprout. If the seeds had not been so unusual, I might not have invested in the project, but who knows… and whether I will ever use it, no one can predict that, either!

I plan to grow my little tree in a pot, and then a bigger pot if I manage to keep it alive long enough for it to outgrow containers. The leaves can be used like spinach, or for tea. It’s supposed to be one of those “superfoods,” which I’ve noticed become fads and then after a while you don’t hear about them anymore. I’m more interested in this species because it’s not a sweet fruit to add to the carb load of a diet.

My fruit trees are looking good. The plums and fig got their solstice pruning to keep the size down. For the fig, that mostly meant taking a foot or two off the top. I’m keeping them at a size where I can pick the fruit without a ladder, and take care of the trees on my own. The fig tends to grow horizontally, which makes it easy for me; it’s a dwarf species also, called Blackjack. But it doesn’t seem particularly dwarfish in its fifth season of bearing! It’s loaded with fruit. Yum.

I have four Elephant Heart plums on my two trees, which this morning I thought I better take pictures of, because in previous years they have not only started out few but mostly disappeared. My lemon tree I have in the last year or so been more diligent than ever to feed regularly, and it has responded by producing a score at least of little lemons that are getting big fast. They will be ripe next winter.

Must leave you now and go see what else needs pruning!