Tag Archives: milkweed

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.

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!

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!