One afternoon this week I dedicated a solid four hours to gardening. It made me very happy, but also stiff! And it brought to my attention more work that needs doing. In my front yard I need to divide irises, and change some things around, maybe plant a tree or two before the end of fall. I cut off some giant branches of the Delta Sunflowers; their limbs get so heavy and extended that they often break — partially — and lie on the walkway, or in the neighbor’s driveway, while they go on blooming.
I took the nice blooms off and stuck them in a vase outside. These flowers are home to ants and other tiny animals that I don’t need in the house. I took this picture through the (dirty) window showing the cheerful view I get while I am standing at the kitchen sink.
Twenty-four hours later, a bee was still finding nectar on one sunflower.
When my Landscape Lady suggested Delta Sunflowers for my front garden, she said they would reseed themselves year after year. Those in her own garden have done that, and she gave me my original plants from her excess of volunteers when they came up in May of 2017. My plants did make their own starts in succeeding springtimes, but not very many, which I think has something to do with the thick bark mulch. The seedlings that did emerge were not in the right places, so I had to transplant them.
Here I will insert three pictures I took on the dry east side of California’s Central Valley before I ever knew what these sunflowers were, or dreamed that this species would end up in my own garden. These shots show how well they do with no water at all, in temperatures often well above 100°, all summer long. They just keep going.
Last fall and this, I saved some flower heads from my plants, but I could not see any seeds in them. They are very stiff and prickly by the time they are dry enough to be certain the seeds will have matured. This year my second picking of them I set on the workbench as I was going into the house, and there they sat for a couple of weeks, where I walked past many times a day.
One day I noticed seeds under them – the hidden seeds had simply fallen out. I knocked each bristle brush flower hard against the wood and more seeds came out, so now I have a good collection. I can start them myself in the greenhouse and have some sturdy seedlings to plant in exactly the right spots next spring. 🙂
I’m in a good mood, because I cleared the driveway of weeds this morning, and brought sunflowers into the house. My foot feels all better, which had been slightly gimpy merely from wearing sandals instead of boots while gardening last week.
The Monarch caterpillars are thriving on giant leaves of the showy milkweed that I bring to them in their mesh cage almost every day. If they had hatched out on the spindly narrowleaf variety where Mama Monarch had laid the eggs, they’d have run out of food fast. I bought a new tropical milkweed plant when I went shopping for begonias last Sunday, but they don’t seem to care for its leaves. (At the bottom of the page is a milkweed I encountered in the mountains some years ago.)
I’ve been too busy to write good sentences about All The Things. I am trying hard to learn to say NO to myself sometimes: “Remember, Dearest Self, you can’t do ALL the things ALL of the time!” Finally after four months, in the middle of which we think the city lost my application, we got the building permit for my remodeling project that I’ve been preparing for over the last year. It’s taking hours and hours to choose paint and cabinets and faucets and mirrors, and more time to watch caterpillars munch, so naturally there have been fewer hours with which to read, write, and cook.
I don’t know how to apply the principle that wise GKC is telling us about in this quote that I thought was simply lovely when I put it in a draft a while back. The word austerity doesn’t seem to fit with the way I behave, though pleasure and gratitude are the world I live in. I’d like to know what you all think about his twist on these qualities of our existence.
Purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have in the mind a storehouse of sunsets, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.
-G.K. Chesterton — Twelve Types (1903)
The white echinacea were covered in blooms when I got home from my three weeks away. These flowers make striking backdrops for butterflies especially, and a Painted Lady was giving me lots of photographic opportunities yesterday. I’m sharing several pictures because each one highlights a different aspect of the exquisite form; the light changed slightly, the insect opened its wings wider…
The hairs on its body, and the translucence of the wings, the white tip at the ends of the antennae — I couldn’t see these things at all in the glare of midday, but only later in the dimness of evening, in the digital image.
I’ve seen a few other critters on these flowers, but they were mostly in too big a hurry for me to study them with my camera. In the back yard, the narrowleaf milkweed that briefly hosted a single Monarch caterpillar last summer are so colonized by aphids that I can’t imagine any butterfly finding a good place to land, if she did want to try that place again. It was a little later in the season that the Monarch events happened last year; maybe there’s time for me to get rid of the aphids somehow, and hope that they’ve left some nourishment in the leaves for caterpillars…
My Golden Guide to Insects tells me that “The painted lady or thistle butterfly is reported to be the most widely distributed of all known butterflies.” And this may be because the many and varied plants the larvae feed on are also common — including sunflowers. That means, when those butterflies are ready, they can just flutter southward a few feet to find a spot on my nutritious and healthy Delta Sunflowers to lay their eggs. Until then, girls, you are welcome to drink at my hospitable coneflowers.