Tag Archives: echium

I slake my thirst with gardens.

Way back in October, I think, was the last time a certain one of my favorite plant nurseries was open — until Saturday, when I drove over for the reopening. The retail aspect is a small part of a larger sustainable agriculture/ecological/educational project, and is only open on weekends in the warmer months. Over the years I’ve bought lots of annual vegetables there, but lately they focus on perennial edibles and and medicinal plants.

It’s a beautiful drive, out into the more rural areas of my county. I remembered to wear my sun hat to keep my scalp from burning, but when I got into the nursery area itself there was netting all over above, which probably made it unnecessary. Passionflowers bloomed like stars up there.

For an hour I got a huge rush of excitement and energy, as I saw more and more species of perennial salvias and echinacea species that I could take home and add to my pollinator garden. Echinacea Purpurea, Pallida, and Paradoxa. Salvia hians (Kashmir Sage), Salvia forsskaolii, Clary Sage and Dune Sage. The forsskaolii, or Indigo Woodland Sage, I used to have in my “old” garden, but it didn’t survive the transition. None of the new plants is in bloom yet so I’ll show them later after they are revealed in their fullness.

There was one plant that I had no desire to bring home for my garden, though they say it is grown worldwide as an ornamental. That is the Porcupine Tomato:

Solanum pyracanthos

This flowering tree grows near the entrance/checkout. Does anyone know what it is?

In my own garden, June seems to have arrived early, and so suddenly… I guess that’s because I’ve been sitting around moping and confused; I know I am way behind in planting the second planter box. But the rest of the garden just went on doing its thing, and is ready to comfort me now that I desperately need it. When there is a lull in the strange high winds we’ve been having, I can sit out there and silently bake, in the company of other creations and creatures. For a few moments at a time I revel in just being.

The showy milkweed is over five feet high already, and in the back yard it’s a favorite of the bees, along with the lavender and the echium. Oh, speaking of echium, I saw my type at the nursery; I must have bought it there several years ago. It is not the Pride of Madeira-echium candicans that is more typical here. As recently as last week, though, I thought it was just an oddly growing form of it. If it were Pride of Madeira it would have blocked the path by now; good thing it’s more vertical!

See the bee on the left, against the sky?
Pretending to be real trees.
In a spring storm two branches broke off.
Back before spring had fully sprung.

At the nursery my kind was called Tower of Jewels, and just now I found a helpful site that explains all the different forms. Mine is also called Tree Echium, echium pininana. I never noticed before how the echium flowers resemble borage and my newer plant, bugloss. Well, they are all in the borage family.

echium Tower of Jewels
bugloss

I took a slow-motion video of the bees out front on the germander (teucrium). In real time they seem very excited, almost frantic, in their buzzing from flower to flower, but when I watched the video it showed their true selves as purring bee-copters taking all the time in the world, that is, the whole day and their whole short lives, to do their work.

I’m needing to take long breaks from talking this week, mostly my own, which seems like more and more idle talk. No one talks in my garden. Even the tropical birds have been moved to their new home far enough away that I can’t hear them; now I can hear the native singers’ quieter tunes and gentle chirps.

I think I was looking for a quote on a different topic this morning when I ran across this beloved one (a beloved quote? really? Yes.) from G.K. Chesterton:

Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical;
there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste
as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.

Forget for a moment the reductionist nature of these ideas — most short quotes, in order to be pithy, have to focus on one or two ideas and lay aside the complexities of the subject. Just think about what we are thirsty for… (You men also thirst, naturally.) I realized just this morning — by bathing in the the sunshine and the lavender scent, the breeze and the humming — and this afternoon, by speaking briefly about it with a wise person, that the very concrete realness, the materiality of my garden satisfies something. Maybe my garden has to do double-duty right now because of the recent lack of human touching.

How it helps me pray… I don’t need to figure out that mystery. I just want to enter in.

On Passover afternoon, ten days ago now, we had Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost. Almost everyone took part at home, but I live close to the church and I drove over in hopes that there would be few enough of us that I could participate indoors. My hope was realized! I’m sharing this picture because of the golden sunshine. May God fill us with His light!

Bugloss is prettier than it sounds.

Now that the garden is growing, every day some brilliant color or flower jumps out at me. The pansies I have scattered around in the asparagus bed, irises and poppies and the dear plum trees, which never looked so sweet. I walked all around them to find the best presentation.

Today a handywoman named Julie sanded my playhouse. I was surprised at how thorough a job she was able to do with the mighty power sander. Now I must seal it up against next winter’s weather. It lost its little dormer decoration and I’m thinking of having a church friend stencil something on the front to restore that cuteness — or repair the dormer piece.

I worked outside a little in the garden myself and wondered why the peas are so late; they only now have a few blossoms. I’m afraid they have some kind of wilt as well. One of the planter boxes has nothing but parsley – and weeds – in it, both trying to go to flower and seed, but I found quite a bit of parsley that is still as sweet to the taste as the plum blossoms are to the eyes. And things blooming in the greenhouse, cold and damp as it is.

Since we pruned the echium correctly last fall, it has sprouted ten stalks! Later I’ll show you its history, but enough to say right now that the first year it had three, and the second year only one, because of me not knowing how to prune it back. I can’t envision what it will look like when they start getting tall and covered with a thousand flowers.

The pink clusters are hanging like jewels on the native currant. On the left, one plant seems to have some dead branches. And it looks like I should sand that bench, too!

The most delightful thing right now must be the bugloss, or Anchusa officinalis, which I had planted in a pot on the patio last fall. It’s in the same genus as borage, and probably forget-me-nots; just starting to bloom, and the main reason I wanted to share the garden with you today.

In Washington and Oregon this wildflower is a noxious weed. 😦 “Common bugloss is a threat to agriculture. It invades alfalfa fields and pastures. The fleshy stalks can cause baled hay to mold.” But it is as popular with the bees as borage. It likes a little shade, which is why I have it in a pot with begonias on the patio. I hope the bees find it soon!

We drink hogwash, and play.

This morning I drove on many narrow and winding roads that I’d never been on before,
on my way to the coast to meet Pippin’s family at the oyster farm.

 

On the way there, I lost cell service, and lost my way, but until I realized how late I was going to be, I was oohing and aahing at the scenery and hoping to take pictures on the way home. After that, I just drove as fast as I could and made myself carsick.

But I got there, and pulled up behind the familiar black van; Pippin and the children were standing next to Highway 1 looking for me, and Ivy ran up and declared, “It’s stinky!” With that we began our tour of the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island is an island in Tomales Bay, where these oysters are raised, several million every year.

 

< < Oyster shells are put to good use
in the parking areas.

Isn’t that an interesting crack-like body of water? It can’t be a fjord, because this is California. The San Andreas Fault, which is “a transform fault–where plates pass one another like cars on a two way street,” runs in a line down the middle of the bay. This classic photo (at left) of a displaced fence shows what happened as a result of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and why rock formations on the east and west sides of the bay are so very different. Earthquake country! Here is another map of the area if you want to get your bearings. It is the county just north of San Francisco.

Oysters really like to grow here, because of the particular mix of fresh and salt water, the currents, temperature, and the rich variety of plankton. The farmers keep constant and close tabs on everything, including bacteria, temperature, and those plankton. The plankton are counted every week! Here’s a chart they use when they are looking through their microscopes at the seawater samples:

(Sorry, I was also looking at it upside-down.) We saw samples of different types of oysters such as French, Pacific, Atlantic… As you might guess, the Pacific oysters are what they grow the most of here. Oysters naturally grow and fuse together and if left to themselves will eventually form a solid oyster wall in the water. Farmers have to be stirring them up all the time or breaking them apart to keep them growing in the most usable form, and a typical smallish Pacific oyster takes one and a half years from seed to harvest.

baby oysters found on the ground
“wild” oyster

These farmers typically harvest 60% of what they plant. There are frequent quarantines for a few days every time it rains, or if a strange bacterium is found in the bay. Regulations come from the government at both federal and state levels, and they can conflict and cause delays that have nothing to do with safety. You can be pretty sure that the oysters you buy or eat here are fresh and safe, but oysters are like Petri dishes if you drive a couple of hours on a warm day, carrying them home in the trunk of your car. With all of the possible complications in oyster farming, I’m surprised that they aren’t more expensive to buy.

The oysters here are raised in bags on a line under the water, and the bags are frequently flipped to jostle them and keep them from growing on to each other. These are a couple of bagsful just harvested.

We did get to eat a few oysters, too, and several other delectable things from the picnic café right next to the barn where they are sorting. With all the variableness of growing conditions and regulators’ decisions, oyster farming is not consistently profitable, so many farmers have branched out and are operating restaurants as well, from which they can earn a somewhat more steady income. Here in Marin they have a lot of clientele from Marin County and the East (San Francisco) Bay.

The little café has barbecue grills where you can cook Hog Island’s oysters in your own way if you want, while looking out at Tomales Bay and the birds. We didn’t use those, but we did eat raw oysters with lemon and Hogwash — this establishment’s version of Mignonette sauce; barbecued oysters, burrata cheese, and trout with roe. Our guide’s son preferred to put the Hogwash on his bread or to drink it straight up. Truly, it’s good to have bread with a meal like this, for sopping up the juices of everything.

Pippin and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the wildlife and the child-life,
and the multicolored buildings of this historic town of Marshall.

After all that fun I said good-bye to everyone and drove home by myself. Sprinkles of rain accompanied me all along my leisurely drive, but not so much that I couldn’t take take pictures. Right across the road from the oyster company were bushes that looked sort of like broom to me… but not quite.

When I got home I found out it is gorse, of all things, like in the English stories. This cousin of broom is not native, it’s terribly invasive and undesirable, and a fire hazard to boot. Broom has leaves, and gorse has prickles! If you want to know more, this article about Gorse the Invader is very informative.

I feasted my eyes on Tomales Bay, cattle, mustard and more mustard, and clumps of calla lilies like you only see on the coast. Often next to a driveway to a dairy farm, a few bulbs were planted long ago and still thrive and expand on benign neglect under the foggy skies, growing into an irregular and wide swath that contrasts in the loveliest way with the green grass. These patches never will appear where I am able to pull over and snap their picture. Pacific Coast iris dot the fields on such narrow stretches of road that it would be dangerous for me to walk back from a turnout in an effort to frame them with my camera.

My favorite Pride of Madeira (echium) is in bloom, too!

As you can see, I did eventually get home, filled with knowledge and images — and oysters!

A palace in the cosmos.

These narrowleaf milkweed flowers were the inspiration for the first draft of this blog post, which I thought to title “Wonders of the Universe.” Their intricacy and delicacy wowed me!

I had been thinking for some time about the gentle bombardment of the senses I experience in my garden, including how on warm days the space hums with the sound of busy insects. Just to sit out there is to listen to Life, and is a privilege. It’s also a sweet gift that God gave me, that I could have a tiny part in creating this environment, doing a little bit of planting and watering and seeing God give disproportionately generous increase.

I knew I wanted a Pollinator Garden, because I like the idea of helping the bees. But it was theoretical, and I didn’t begin to imagine what the physical reality would feel like when these fellow creatures buzzed their flight patterns in a rich tapestry of sight and sound throughout the garden. It fills my senses which in turn communicate with my soul.

“God is the Creator of the world. The world as cosmos, i.e. a created order with its own integrity, is a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen. 1), made by God for the blessed existence of humanity. The Cappadocian Fathers teach that God first creates the world and beautifies it like a palace, and then leads humanity into it. The genesis of the cosmos, being in becoming, is a mystery (mysterion) for the human mind, a genesis produced by the Word of God. As such, the world is a revelation of God (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus, when its intelligent inhabitants see it as cosmos, they come to learn about the Divine wisdom and the Divine energies. The cosmos is a coherent whole, a created synthesis, because all its elements are united and interrelated in time and space.” (From this site)

Now I often think of the book, My Family and Other Animals, which Gerald Durrell wrote about the Greek island of Corfu where he lived for a time as a boy. The one concrete image I’ve retained from my reading many years ago is of Durrell on a baking dirt road stooping to examine and collect whatever fascinating insects and other animals he could find. This quote I found I think is representative:

“…the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas. If the curious, blurring heat haze produced a sound, it would be exactly the strange, chiming cries of these insects.”

I do not have cicadas at present. I have quieter bees and flies, and nearly silent butterflies, and cries and songs from the bird kingdom as well, adorning my garden. A day or two after I took the picture at the top, I saw a Monarch butterfly near the narrowleaf milkweed. I watched out the window for a few minutes and then… yes! She had landed on the plant. So out I went with my camera, and crouched nearby.

She fluttered away, and circled the garden to come back and light again, but only for a few seconds, mostly hidden by leaves, and then off she flew, nearly grazing my head as she made the same circuit, repeating this behavior many times! My knees got a little tired, so I lay on the ground waiting with my camera at the ready. But that didn’t give me enough flexibility, and I moved to the plum tree nearby and leaned my back against it.

Was she laying eggs each time she landed on those narrow leaves? I gave up trying to get close enough, or to catch her at rest, and began to take shots as she was flying. And this is the best one I have to show, proof to myself that she was there. 🙂

A couple of weeks later, back from the mountains, I found the minutest caterpillar on one of those narrowleaf milkweeds. Quickly I went indoors to attach my new clip-on macro lens to my phone, such as son-in-law Tom showed me how to use months ago but which I hadn’t taken out of its box. I hope my one-and-lonesome caterpillar does not get eaten by a bird, and survives to grow large enough to use my camera alone on, because this is the best I could do:

It seems this little lens is best for completely still shots, not flowers or creatures on long stems waving in the breeze. Here is a sharper image I captured using it:

Can you guess what it is?
Clue: It is a closeup of a flower I showed you in a recent post…
You’re right! It’s the center of a hydrangea bloom!

It’s another decoration of this palace into which we have been led by God….

But bees have preferences, and I’ve never seen them interested in hydrangeas.
What they love is the echium! Remember when it looked like this?

Its flowers just kept opening on the ends of what I don’t think would be called a stem… so that those parts got longer and longer, with always new flowers that the bees never tired of.

Until the Autumn Joy opened. Now the echium is deserted.

It has been two days since I wrote all of the above, and I’m sorry to say that my infant caterpillar has disappeared. If I’m around next August maybe I will bring some Monarch eggs into the house to safeguard the latter stages of this project of assisting the butterfly population. This year I will have to be content with having seen progress beyond the planting of the milkweed, my only direct contribution. I saw the milkweed thrive in its second season, I saw the Monarch laying eggs, I saw a caterpillar… and then, I fed a bird!