Tag Archives: dwarf pomegranate

My birthwort is modest.

I’m plant-sitting for a friend who is between lodgings, and one of the specimens in my charge is a pot of healthy nettles. The owner told me to be sure to snip and eat the leaves frequently, because she (the plant) likes that.

Yesterday I stayed home all day, and accomplished a lot of little tasks, including much puttering and pottering outdoors. Though at first I just sat in my corner by the guava and the olive trees, while eating a late breakfast, because the whole Creation had pulled me out of the chilly house into the garden to soak up its benefactions and warm my blood.

We have entered the season when I leave the garden hoses lying around untidily; it adds “human interest” I’m sure. All the lightweight collapsible hoses I invested in got leaks, and I have gone back to heavy and sturdy hoses that last. They are good for strengthening my arms, which is something Proverbs 31 tells us women to do anyway. The bushes with the new leaves that glow like the sun are dwarf pomegranates.

Nutmeg-scented pelargonium in greenhouse.

The day before yesterday, I had told myself, “You only have to do one thing after another — and keep doing it — and in that way you will make a dent in the disorderliness that represents a disheartening backlog of work. Even a little improvement will ease your load!” Of course it helped that I ran no errands at all and in that way avoided having any of those transition times coming and going, which seem to confuse my mind.

First thing: feed the poor lemon tree. I was taught not long ago that it wants feeding four times a year, and after I fed it only two times last year it gave me a good crop. Then I “paused,” and don’t know when it got its last feeding. Now I have set an alarm in my phone to remind me. After the feeding, I gave it a little trim, mostly on top. The photo is “After.”

Near the lemon tree is my little California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica, which I mentioned here recently. It is growing a lot and has several flowers and many new leaves. I read quite a bit about it last night and learned that it is native only to Northern California. It’s very modest compared to showier species of Dutchman’s Pipe, but it is exotic enough to me. I kept wondering what the flowers would look like when they open, but it appears that this is it! If you think it looks carnivorous, you are not alone; in the past people did think that, but it seems they trap but don’t eat:

“The flowers have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and often become stuck and disoriented for some time, picking up pollen as they wander. Most eventually escape; the plant is not insectivorous as was once thought. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) may prove to be the effective pollinators.”

They call this “pollination by deceit.” The flowers dry up and crumble and thereby let the insects out to do their bidding. There are over 500 species of Dutchman’s Pipe, known as birthwort, or Aristolochia. Equally exotic and gorgeous butterflies lay their eggs on pipevines all over the world. Do you have any growing wild in your part of the world? Here are some from Sumatra and Brazil:

The flowers are known to have a bad smell, but mine are few and hard to get at, so there is not enough scent for me to notice. It dawned on me that if a Pipevine Swallowtail laid eggs on my plant, and caterpillars hatched out and began eating, they would die of starvation very soon, and I would be sad about that. And if my plant gets so robust that it covers the fence and draws lots of butterflies because its many flowers are exuding stinkiness… well, that would be a mixed blessing. I guess I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Perennial Showy Milkweed coming up.
Yellow Bush Lupine background, lavender at right.

In the meantime, I took a whiff of these geraniums who are also in my temporary nursery section; they only smell delicious. For dinner I cooked up a modest mess of nettle leaves.

Splash of fall – then Christmas.

The dwarf pomegranate bushes that are at the four corners of the fountain, are just now at their most beautiful. You can see how they contrast with the dark corner where the greenhouse spends winters, in the shade of my tall house. In spite of that darkness, I have hope for a more favorable growing environment in the greenhouse, because I got it wired with outlets for heat and light and even a breeze when needed.

Many unripe figs  held on to the tree, until they turned purple from frost and had to let go.

The day after I took this picture, I drove north to Pippin’s, for a sort of early Christmas. Here there is also some color — mostly forest-green and white; the snow began to fall just as I was arriving! But also some bright spots like this pumpkin.

The snow on the road turned to ice, sending one of our vehicles into the ditch. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t hear about it until everything was resolved. Pippin baked a pie with Honeycrisp and vowed Never Again. Pippins (the apples) are the best! But the deer relished the peelings; I watched the doe repeatedly kicking one fawn away from the bowl in which they had been served. Other humans liked the pie very much and it was beautiful and tasty — just not appley enough.

We had the best sort of evening with a few family members I haven’t seen since last Christmas, and even sang carols — for a blessedly prolonged while. (We had already sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” around the Advent wreath before dinner.) Enough of us could carry a tune and even lead off, that the two pianists present were glad to be able to sing rather than play, and it was truly joyous singing.

The cousins made paper airplanes together, and Scout told his uncle all about the latest novel he is reading. He also played his newly learned guitar piece. He has been busy cutting Christmas trees in the mountains and then selling at the Boy Scouts’ lot, and their tree was one of those. It is so pristine and elegant, and pointing straight to the heavens, that I could not believe it was real. It is a red fir.

Several of our group have been working really long and odd hours lately, and it seemed a miracle that the logistics worked out for us to be together. I am joining two church school meetings on ZOOM in two days, which meant that both teachers of our high school class and the special guest we had were all participating from a distance. If we weren’t meeting online I’d have had to get a substitute. So that worked well, too.

Too soon, I’ll be driving back down the road and home again, and will proceed with Advent. I think I might add to my preparations a new tradition, and start singing remotely — but oh, so closely — with my family, a nightly round of  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The balm of thistles and a mighty tree.

tarweed

“Mmm-mmm, star thistle and tarweed — the scents of fall!” That’s what my daughter Pippin said as we started out from the trailhead on our latest outing together. Every time I am outdoors with her I learn something new. I should say, I don’t remember being introduced to tarweed  before, and that feels as exciting as brand new.

Pippin and the Professor had come from their home in more northern California for the weekend. Saturday we hung around my neighborhood in the morning, and went afield in the afternoon.

Ivy adopted the doll Madeleine for the day and took her out to gather strawberry tree fruit. Scout dissected the ripest-looking dwarf pomegranate, and we decided it was almost sweet enough to be worth the bother. We walked along the creek path to the playground at the park, but probably the “playground” on the way was the most fun. In two places kids had hung rigging from big trees, from which you could swing out into the space where the ground fell away steeply toward the creek channel. Pippin was the only one with the strength and length to hoist herself up on to what seemed to be a launching platform. Jamie tried to be patient, but reminded us, “Let’s go, to the park!”

Our destination in the afternoon was a giant California bay laurel tree that may be the largest of its species. I had visited this particular tree at least twice before, but probably not since the 80’s.

Our short walk up the hill stretched out, as we stopped to observe lichens and poison oak, the tarweed and star thistle. Two of us had painful feet that slowed us down. We saw a wild buckwheat, Eriogonum, taller and bushier than the species we were familiar with. From my reading today I think it might be California Buckwheat. But as you can probably guess, the first photos below are of star thistle, a plant you never want to have to break a trail through.

Eventually we came out of the woods onto the grassy hilltop where lots of cows were grazing with their calves, and bellowing almost without stopping. There was The Tree on the horizon, and a smaller companion alongside.

Umbellularia californica is the only species in its genus, in Oregon known as the Oregon myrtle. It’s been called by several other names including pepperwood and balm of heaven. The flavor of its leaves is similar to the true bay leaves from Laurus nobilis, only stronger, and most of my life I’ve used leaves from the abundant local “bay” trees in cooking. For a long time I didn’t know they were not the real thing. The map shows its natural range.

Umbellularia californica range map.png

I hadn’t read that nickname “balm of heaven” before our outing, but standing under the massive canopy with thousands and thousands of leaves exuding their aromatic oil, I definitely felt the olfactory presence as a balm, its scent filling my nostrils as hugely as its image filled my vision.

The children right away began to climb, and to stake out their “houses” in the several neighborhoods that have been formed under branches as thick as big tree trunks, some of them weighing themselves down horizontal with the ground. The adults took pictures of the wide views of the landscape below. Pippin and I studied the tree’s flowers, trying to figure out where they are in their bloom cycle. If it hadn’t been late in the day it would have been the perfect place to have a picnic and linger a while.

In the last few years I’ve been buying the few bay leaves I need. But I brought home a handful of the mega-flavored, special California-and-Oregon pepperwood/balm of heaven leaves, and will simmer them in a winter soup. When I get a whiff of their essence in the steam that rises from my bowl, it will keep me connected to that magnificent tree until I can get back for a longer visit.