Tag Archives: milkweed

Popsicles and pastimes of summer.

“Grandma, look at that wasp!” This colorful insect was resting near us on a geranium leaf.

“I’m impressed that you know that is a wasp, Ivy. Lots of people call all bees and wasps ‘bees.'”

“Bees have hair,” she informed me, “and wasps don’t.” The supposed wasp had floated away to a lamb’s ear flower, but not before I’d snapped its picture, wondering why it was so lazy and unthreatening, unlike our ubiquitous yellow jackets who seem only to rest when they perch on the rim of my fountain for a drink. We zoomed in on my picture to see that indeed, it was pretty bald — but maybe not entirely. After looking at more pictures of wasps online, I’ve decided this is very likely not a wasp after all, but a syrphid or hover fly. It’s more like a fly in its shape and wings, and pictures of syrphid flies came up as “yellow jacket look-alikes.” On the other hand, this insect approaching the salvia has more the look of a wasp, with its legs dangling down:

But as an example of hairy bees, I showed Ivy a picture of my favorite bee of all, which you might have seen here recently in a slightly different pose. She definitely has the darling fuzzy hairs:

It’s always fun for me if the grandchildren are visiting during hot weather. Popsicles and water play and the play house keep them happy outdoors, where I can play also, doing little garden tasks and walking back and forth to the clothesline with the towels and swimsuits. And many pairs of shorts, because Jamie was too tidy a boy to endure having popsicle drips drying, as I thought harmlessly, on his clothes. Eventually I gave him a bib, a largish bowl for his lap, and a spoon, so he could enjoy the treat to the fullest.

When the sun is baking all the air and sucking up moisture, I think it the most fun ever to wash a little shirt or whatever in the kitchen sink and hang it on the line. One shirt didn’t get that far, but dried in no time draped over a pomegranate bush.

I clipped my fast-growing butternut vines to the trellis, and swept the patio while the children sat in the old galvanized trough we call the Duck Pond, named for its use in another time and place, keeping three ducks happy in what was mainly a chicken pen.

Ivy played in the “pond” by herself one afternoon while Jamie napped, and I sat nearby rereading passages in Middlemarch. She found the tiniest spider floating in the water and held it on her finger, wondering if it were dead. “Why don’t you put it on a hydrangea leaf, and maybe it will revive,” I suggested. Of course, I took a picture of it on the leaf, because neither of us could see the minute creature very well with our eyes only.

When I zoomed in on my photo, it revealed a flower with eight petals. 🙂

At the patio table a few feet away I trimmed my six Indigo Spires salvia starts that I had propagated from a branch I accidentally broke off several months ago; I’m reluctant to transplant them to 4″ pots during this hot month, but that’s probably what they need…

Having gained confidence about African violets from a Martha Stewart video that I watched a few weeks ago, I tackled my plant that had grown two baby plants, one of which was already blooming. The babies I managed to cut off with roots attached, and potted them up snugly.

 

We thought to walk to the library, but the tires on the Bob stroller were too flat and I didn’t feel like pumping them up, so we drove. It happened to be a craft day there, and Ivy wanted to do all the things — but first, to design a Loch Ness monster from clay, because she said she had recently watched a video about that creature. Jamie patiently held the monster and observed, while she went on to make a jeweled crown and a flag.

 

The children actually looked up unprompted into the dome of the kids’ room at the library, and we talked about the stories pictured. I picked out some books to borrow but wasn’t thrilled with the three we read later at home. What I did love was a book someone gave me recently — was it one of you? — titled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. I read it twice to the children, because they liked it, too.

Joseph seems to be a Jewish man, and his overcoat gets tattered, so he cuts it down to a jacket, and when that gets overpatched, into a scarf, and so on. When he ends up with nothing at the end, it seems he doesn’t exactly have nothing after all. Good-natured resourcefulness and humor make for a charming story. I loved the ending, and the proverbs and sayings, and the many unique outfits and beard styles and colorful details. Joseph looks like this every time he realizes that his garment needs altering>>

Some of the artwork includes photographs in collage. I think if I were Jewish I might enjoy the book even more because I suspect that the photographs might be of famous people pertinent to Jewish history and culture.

A typical proverb quoted in a frame on the wall of Joseph’s house,
showing barely over an inch square on the page:

Over four days I read lots more books, like In Grandma’s Attic, The Ugly Duckling, Finn Family Moomintroll, a Thomas the Tank Engine collection (not my favorite, but a chance for Jamie to share with me his vast knowledge about that series), and one that I’ve read more than once to them via FaceTime, How Pizza Came to Queens. I got out my collection of costume jewelry, much of which used to be my grandma’s, and which I keep in her broken down jewelry box; and my small group of Moomin figures, and puzzles that are many decades old, but The Best and treasured.

One morning we cleaned in and around the playhouse
before eating a breakfast of sourdough pancakes in the garden:

With more washing up afterward…

As I was showing Ivy some rosemary and oregano she might pick for pretend cooking in the playhouse, I glanced up and gasped so that she started. “My milkweed bloomed!” She looked on admiringly and I told her that I had seen the same species of milkweed growing wild near her house up north.

Ivy and Jamie departed with their mama this morning, and I’ve been transitioning back into my quieter life. They all were the best company for kicking off summer.

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

Fall ramblings to the north.

For five days and nights I drove here and there, a total of about 20 hours on the roads and highways so that I could visit with twelve family members and two dear friends in three places. There was a good deal of time spent at Pippin’s, where we went for a walk right away, to see if the aspens in the nearby grove were turning yet.

The aspens were still green, but as we looked up in the blue sky we saw several vultures flying in a line above us… and several more following close after them, and we began to count… eventually about 30 of the birds had streamed past, making us wonder what it could mean.

Little Jamie was thrilled when a long freight train passed close above us on the track.

In just a short time exploring the neighborhood we saw Showy Milkweed about to pop its pods, ruins of a concrete hut, and mullein, first and second year specimens growing close together. Scout has been studying herbs in his homeschool group program and I learned that if you can find some larger leaves on the younger plant they make good bandages for wounds, not least because they are absorbent.

Can you see why I called these Mrs. Tiggy Winkle Burrs?

Jeffrey Pine cone and seed

The next day I drove a little farther north to my Oregon family and watched my oldest granddaughter Annie in her first cross country meet of the season. The setting and the weather were so perfect, most of my pictures show her as a soft shape blending into the golden landscape.

I reveled in more visits with those children and older grandchildren, hearing from them about an Italian sister-city, doula training, country music, 70’s Ford trucks grandson Walt is dreaming of restoring, and the same boy breaking an old horse for children to ride. Two of the grandsons have plans to fix up a truck to sleep in on upcoming ski trips. Most of my six older grandsons own or have owned or plan to buy a truck, or another truck! I love boys.

We picked apples at a farm, took walks to the library and post office, and ate tender pumpkin bread Walt decided to bake on the first day of fall. Sunday morning six of us made the short trip on foot to church, I being the only one of the family not wearing cowboy boots.

With my taste buds in mind, Pathfinder and Iris had bought some ginger beer — not the carbonated sweet and spicy kind, but this smooth alcoholic version. It was wonderful.

Then it was time to head back to Pippin’s, for the birthday of Ivy!!! Ivy is now five years old, and if my grandma were still alive, she would have turned 125 on the same day. Before the excitement of the evening, including an over-the-top leopard cake and oodles of presents, Pippin and Ivy and I had a quiet outing of the kind we all like, exploring a meadow and a creek, and feeding the fish at the hatchery.

A couple of weeks before my visit, Ivy had dictated a letter to me, including these lines: “I have new shoes…and they’re good for running, climbing, hiking, and also for walks. I really want to take a walk with you — I know you love them!”

We arrived at the fish hatchery just as a man was about to refill the fish food machines, so he filled our containers directly and to the top. We strolled along the ponds and tried to share equally among all the different sizes of trout.

Then Ivy fell in! She lost her usual cool and made a big fuss, because she thought the fish would bite her. The fish, however, cleared the area very fast, as Pippin and I hauled our girl out.

We exchanged her sopping shirt and fleece for my flannel and corduroy shirt, and that warmed her up enough that she was cheerful again, and happy to stay and scatter the remainder of the granules — in the next pond where the fish hadn’t been scared away — looking at the creatures with a new perspective.

I took the picture above because I’d never seen a trout with such severe scoliosis.

After a stop at home to get a whole new set of dry shoes and clothes, we went back to our exploring, in a meadow with a stream running through, where Pippin and I watched Ivy take risks climbing above a tiny waterfall where she might easily fall and get doused again, but she showed her usual grace and balance and came home dry.

Douglas Spirea fills the foreground above, its formerly hot pink flowers turned to rust. All the textures and scents, the variations on gold, beige and brown seemed especially rich and sweet, set off by the blue sky and evergreen shrubs and trees. The surrounding air was fresh and cool in the slanted sunlight of fall.

We were happy.

I float on a sea with bangles.

snow peas

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. (This and all quotes in green below are from G.K. Chesterton.)

I had another title for this blog post, something about pollinators, but when I saw the preponderance of green in the images, it made me think of Tuesday’s poem, which could be talking about my own garden that is wild with leaves and flowers popping out at a mad rate. All the glory does make it hard for me to hold a thought, and there are many I should not let go of — starting with all the outdoor tasks that won’t wait: feeding and weeding and trimming and tying….

But going back to the poem, I’ve been thinking about how it describes the way the most common natural occurrences — after all, “the world comes back” in spring year after year — can confuse and even shock us if we really pay attention. In my yard it seems that between the time I walk from the front garden to the back and return again, a new weed has sprouted or an iris has emerged.

Why have I arrived on the path by the salvia? I don’t even take time to ponder, but I immediately start pulling weeds. Then I return to the fountain and see a honeybee on a flower, and must go into the house for my camera and “waste” a few minutes attempting to record one of the thousands of thrilling things happening here, right outside my door.

There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.

This road leads to the heart from other sensory “gates” as well. My garden seems primarily visual, but also the rich scents of osmanthus and daphne and lavender have their own direct routes to my heart, as do the bird songs. I don’t have to think about them or know their meaning. In the poem about the “Deciduous Spring,” sounds of words are used to mimic the visual symphony or cacophony that all this burgeoning creates.

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens.
It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

This week I will be adding more plants to the mix, and several of them will be of the sort that the hummingbirds and bees and other insects like. Last fall I planted five types of seeds that did not sprout: poppies, milkweed, prairie echinacea… So — I found a native plant nursery where I was able to buy two species of milkweed plants, orange Moroccan poppies, and penstemon. Visions of Monarch butterflies fill my head.

In the picture below of the waiting plants, the milkweed is mostly in the foreground, two types that are native to the western us: Asclepias fascicularis and Asclepias speciosa

The perplexity of life arises from there being too many interesting things in it
for us to be interested properly in any of them.

Three varieties of peas, mostly flowers soon to bloom.

To mention a pair of not-green things: The orioles are back! Not in the group that I am trying to attract with certain flowering plants, their preference is sugar water.They are very shy, so I’m not going to try to take new pictures of them. This one is from my great photographic effort last spring.

The snowballs on the viburnum are little green things so far. Green fruits are on the fig tree. I ran into a Painted Lady butterfly over there, and bumblebees, but their interest was the lithodora blossoms.

Jerusalem sage

Even the tiny flowers of the Euphorbia myrsinites are swallowed up in their green leaves.

Nearly every day I fall in love again and try to capture another poppy with my camera.
This time my toes got in the picture. At least they are not green.

The whole order of things is as outrageous as any miracle
which could presume to violate it.

And below, I used a clever jar-vase that Mrs. Bread gave me for my birthday, and made a colorful bouquet that will give your eyes respite from green. It is like a little canning jar with a ring that screws on the top, but into the ring is set a florist’s frog, making it perfect for arranging odd little blooms with their often short stems that one finds in a garden like mine.

That’s my show-and-tell for today! How does your garden grow?

snowball bush