Tag Archives: penstemon

I sip nectar with the tiniest.

I sat in my garden reading Penelope Lively, who when writing about garden fashions that come and go, kept using the word “rill.” I picked up my phone to look up that word and see what the British might mean by it, and quick as a wink a tiny fly, almost too tiny to see without reading glasses, lit on the screen, with its wings open for about one second, a flash of shimmering rainbows.

Then it fell off, on to my book. Was that the fly, merely a black gnat? I got him to crawl on to my finger and back on to the screen, where he was kind enough to display his bright wings again for a moment, and then took flight.

On my walk yesterday I saw just one insect in a sea of catsear blooms. And I worked hard to get a picture of a flower with him on it. Not like most years of my photography, when I tried to avoid bugs on blooms, and would be disappointed if my flower were spoiled by a spider or something I hadn’t noticed when I clicked. But most of those critters had come out blurry anyway. No, getting a sharp image of an insect is not easy with a little phone camera. But I have time, don’t I? And a lot of digital storage, too, in case I don’t get around to deleting all those blurry pictures.

I started looking for flowers with insects, and of course, there were bees! It was so warm by this time, they were flying fast and furious, and couldn’t decide which of many privet or blackberry blooms to drink from, like kids in a candy store. The best shot I got was of one flying away with her loot. And I found a near relation to catsear beetle closer to home, descending a wide staircase of rose petals.

Obviously, I also am a kid in my own candy store, and can’t choose just one or two pieces of ambrosia to gaze upon or aim my camera at or share with you. If the temperature were constantly mild when I sit out in that paradise, I think I would fill to bursting with the joy of the place. But usually I get too hot or too chilly or find a task to do, so I don’t get dangerously stretched.

In my front garden many insects are buzzing back and forth and not lighting on any flower. I think they are just hanging around, or more precisely, swooping around — coming back to check every few minutes, so they can be the first to drink at the ocean of teucrium flowers that are going to start opening any minute now. I’m not sure that walkway will be wide enough for human feet to walk without colliding with honeybee wings.

Many of the cistus, Jerusalem sage and helianthemum already need shearing! Alejandro my sometimes gardener was here yesterday and we moved one of the big pots that hold olive trees, and found two salamanders underneath! How they ended up in this droughty place I don’t understand, but I didn’t think about that at the time.

I grabbed the two of them, who looked like Mama and Baby, and put them to swim in the fountain for a minute while I ran into the house for my camera. Then I released them near a faucet with good luck wishes. Maybe I should have carried them to the creek? (Which reminds me, a rill in a British garden is a water feature.)

 

Back to the insect kingdom and their food… The word nectar carries a heady meaning. Drink of the gods – delicious. But the origin of the word is also pretty tasty if you like words: The first step back is to the Greek nektar (we’re talking about Greek gods, after all), “which is perhaps an ancient Indo-European poetic compound of nek- ‘death’ + -tar ‘overcoming,’ ‘cross over, pass through, overcome.'” No one used this word for the sweet liquid in flowers until about 1600.

Those links to the thought of overcoming of death could lead to an intellectual/writing exercise about how it’s all connected, but I’m not willing for that kind of workout today. I just want to join my fellow creatures in imbibing the sweets.

 

Lots of mountain wildflowers and a little work.

Indian Paintbrush with Mountain Pride Penstemon

Last weekend I spent a few days in the High Sierra at my family’s cabin, where the winters bring such deep snow, the village by the lake is only accessible for four months of the year – or if we’re so unlucky as to have a year of little snow, four and a half months.

Sticky Cinquefoil – Potentilla glandulosa
Larkspur – Delphinium
Enjoying the nectar of Arrow-Leaf Senecio.

Every year there is an annual meeting of the village property owners, and two or three community work days. I have never before participated, because I live far away. In the past I have let my sister and brother take care of these things, and count myself blessed to even get myself to the cabin once or twice a summer. But last week I was able to go up for the group effort, to work and attend the meeting!

Not a flower, but a puffball fungus, Calvatia Sculpta. It was 5″ in diameter.
Leopard Lily- Lilium pardalinum

The most fun for me was seeing the high country in July rather than my usual September, and the many wildflowers. I took hundreds of photos, and have been trying to learn the names of new species.

Even when I was cleaning out a culvert as part of the community work, I discovered some columbines and was glad I had my phone in my pocket, even if there was no cell reception.

Crimson Columbine – Aquilegia formosa
Stream Hosackia – Lotus oblongifolius

Some flowers are tiny tiny, about a half centimeter in diameter, but even so, scattered like confetti below showier blooms, they make a nice backdrop. Those are my fingertips in the second photo down.

I haven’t figured out very many species, and some will no doubt remain a mystery for the foreseeable future, but Pippin helped me identify some right away via text messages. 🙂 The one below I found at a lower elevation and it is still unnamed. UPDATE: Thanks to Mary’s helpful prodding (see in comments), I have researched what these puffy things might be, and decided that they are probably Grand Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris grandiflora.

These I am sharing are just a few of the many I saw; there were also lupines, Pearly Everlasting, other penstemons, yarrow…. On a gravelly turnout Pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum) had bravely erupted heedless of cars that might soon crush them.

Yellow Monkeyflower – Mimulus, with Shooting Star

The Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon) were in wet areas. From my perusing of wildflower guides I’m guessing that the bright pink one is Jeffrey’s Shooting Star and the pale pink is Bog Shooting Star.

My plan is to return to the mountains a month from now. It will be interesting to see if I find any new species that bloomed a little later. Or do most of them pop out as soon as the snow has melted? I’m just glad that I arrived in time to meet them!

Pretty Face or Golden Brodiaea

The heat makes me glad.

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Today was one of the hottest days of the summer, at least 97° in my garden at the peak. But after a week of my being indisposed and then out of town, there were piles of yard work that needed to be done. Piles to be made, of pine needles and trimmings of spent flowers, and wisteria vines. I was able to plan my day so as to work (or walk) outside until 11:00, and then again at 3:30 or 4:00. When the sun is slant, the heat is not so unendurable and long-lasting.

The Apple Blossom penstemon is at its peak right now, so it doesn’t need trimming – only admiring.gl-27-lemon-p1050606

 

 

Last month I gave the lemon tree another iron treatment and some extra food, so the new leaves are looking healthy. And the lemons are growing, too – yay!

Some things are a little out of sync with the seasons – a couple of the lavender plants are in full bloom, almost three months late. By next spring I expect they will be on track with the rest.

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Rudbeckia with toys

In the greenhouse, some greens and hollyhocks are coming along – and on the front right, those are the little lily plants that I managed to start from the black jewel-like seeds I collected at church.

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Strawberry Tree – Arbutus unedo – fruit with pine needles

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I pulled all the remaining leeks to make room for planting those greens, and lots of pea seeds. I hope later this week.

In the afternoon I chopped the roots and the upper tops off the leeks, standing at the patio table in the shade. It was still very warm, but since I was not exerting myself very much I could just bask in the balminess, and remember periods of my life when I lived in places with less coastal (brrrr!) influence.

I was a little worried when I noticed that about half of the leeks had started to form tall stalks. I wondered if they would be the woody and unusable parts that happen when flowers are forming.

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But I read online that if that is the case, there will not be layers of flesh. And if you do find a hard and tough core, they say you can just discard that part and use the remainder of the leek. These stalks had no signs of flower buds, and inside they looked normal. So I cleaned them and added them to the pile ready to chop and cook.

Today was probably the last hottest day. Tomorrow won’t likely get above 90°, and the next day the high will be in the 70’s. As I type, at 7:30 in the evening, it is still 80° outside. 🙂 This weather is too late to ripen the tomatoes, but comes at the perfect time to warm my soul.

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The rain blesses.

My sister joined me at the cabin on Saturday afternoon (This was almost two weeks ago now – I have been writing these reports from home); it was the first time juP1000828st the two of us had spent any time together as long as we can remember – maybe since our younger sister was born! We didn’t have any real adventures, but we had a lovely time.

Unless you count losing our power as an adventure, but we are used to that. The cabin is off the power grid, but we have a solar collector and batteries that usually provide enough electricity for lights.

We were brushing our teeth, getting ready for bed, when the lights went out on Saturday night, and we never got the system going again. We think the batteries may need replacing. So we used lanterns and flashlights, and two dim gas wall lamps. The refrigerator runs on gas.

We read on the decP1000818k, until we got too hot, or too cold, or too sleepy. We cooked lots of vegetables, and Sister barbequed enough steak to make me happy for days to come. We talked about our favorite trees around the cabin, two of which I show here.

Storm clouds gathered all day Sunday, and we watched them eagerly, hoping some moisture would fall out, and in the late afternoon it finally did. Immediately the fragrance of the conifers and the duffy earth rose up and all around us and we felt better about everything. The trees were happy and able to exhale and share their essence again.P1000846

Monday I spent the whole day combing through the Sunset Western Garden Book and some books from the library, picking out the most flowery drought-tolerant plants that would attract bees, birds and butterflies, and making lists to prepare myself for an upcoming meeting with a landscape designer. She will help me with my garden at home, once the pool is gone and I am left with a vast dirt canvas on which to paint my garden art.

I know, that was a little odd —  you’d think I should have been focused instead on nature’s glorious garden all around me. But it helped me greatly to invest some time in that landscaping project so that my mind would not feel as chaotic and overwhelmed as my yard looks right now. The mountains were a restful place where I would not be distracted by any environmental mess.

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P1000826 cabin fire crop

My sister anP1000823d I collected firewood from the stash under the cabin deck, and pushed and pulled it up the hill in a cart, to build our magnificent fires. She built one, and I built the next.

We read, and talked about our reading, and planned our next sisters cabin retreat, which will include all three of us at a different cabin in October. This place will be closed down by then, to protect it from the snows, which we pray will be heavy this year. Sometimes the cabin is completely covered in snow, just a bump showing under the white blanket.

Sierra or Whorled Penstemon - Penstemon heterodoxus 7-15 CR
Penstemon heterodoxus – Sierra Penstemon

The storm clouds had gathered again that day, and serious rain began to fall in the early afternoon, and continued all day and night. We were gleeful, as if our own skins haP1000849d been shriveled and were now plumping up again. We tried to take pictures of the wet skies. On our way to the firewood pile between showers I took a picture of the most common wildflower at the cabin right now, a tiny drenched penstemon.

Too soon it was the morning of our departure. It was certainly nice to have someone to work with, turning off the water valve and getting the cabin tidied up for the next family members who visit.

Once again, I departed late, but I didn’t expect to feel the need to take pictures on the way down, as I had done so much of that on the way up. I was really surprised therefore when the one-hour drive from 8,000 ft to 5,000 ft elevation took almost double that amount of time.

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Meadow Goldenrod

Now that I’m back home, I’m very glad I did stop a lot on that curvy road flanked by layers of wildflowers. Using my several wildflower guides I have identified three new flowers that I didn’t know before, or that I had wrongly named in the past, just from that morning.

The Meadow Goldenrod was popular with the bees. I had seen it in the meadow with the cattle on the way up, but here it was growing along the roadside.

Another plentiful flower along my course was milkweed. Like the goldenrod, it has a hundred miniature flowers making up its clusters, and the insects were feasting on nectar there, too. I think this one is Indian Milkweed, asclepias eriocarpa.

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Indian Milkweed
P1000906 sneezeweed
Bigelow’s Sneezeweed

Years ago I had mistaken this next flower for something else. It is Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, which is an ominous name; one can imagine how it got that title. The blooms I saw were pretty far spent, but easily recognizable — and I actually was set straight on this one while perusing a guide from the cabin library.

So…the rain is blessing the forest, and the bees are blessing the flowers, and the flowers are blessing the insects with nectar.

It is comforting to remind myself of these things that were going on under my nose. At the time, I was hurrying down the mountain, to Pearl’s house, to get a granddaughter to take home with me. That will be the next chapter of my summer story collection.