Monday, May 26, 2014

Spot the Pollinator #2

Welcome to my new weekly segment - Spot the Pollinator - where photogs young and old can share their insect photos.  Please link your photos below.

Photography is a great way to connect with nature and it is even more fun to share those photos.  My 11 year old started a blog this weekend of his nature photography so his new blog is linked below.

Okay boys and girls, spot the pollinator.  Or in this case, which one is NOT a pollinator. 

Answer: The dragonfly.  While a wonderfully beneficial insect which eats mosquitos and such, a dragonfly is NOT a pollinator.

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden Party and Green Thumb Thursday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Unpaving Paradise: Starting a Wildlife Garden

I make my home on the San Francisco Peninsula - on the crust of Silicon Valley.  Here, where orchards and oak trees once mingled, houses shoulder together, the occasional hedge and obligatory fence dividing the land.

We bought our current home four years ago - lured by the large empty yard full of possibility.  I embraced the blank slate, but bemoaned the lack of life in my new home.  Pollinators were few and far between. Occasionally, a sole scrub jay would stop by the property and rats ran rampant in the ivy but, otherwise, the only life here was ours.  It was lonely.

Four years later, we have had nearly 40 different species of birds visit our yard.  About 2/3s of those are regular visitors and at least four species of birds - Juncos, chickadees, titmice and wrens - nested in our backyard just this year.

A wren sings to welcome evening - and a break from watching the nearby nest.

Continued at The Green Phone Booth ...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Spot the Pollinator

First step into the garden, and you do not hear the buzz.  You don't see the wings.  Or understand the work being down.  

But slow down. Come to a complete stop and look around you.  Pollinators are everywhere in every shape and size.  Without them there are no flowers, no beauty.  There are no fruits, few vegetables, a diet of unrelenting blandness. 

Savor the small creatures who pollinator your garden. Welcome them with blooms for much of the year. Leave bare soil for solitary ground nesting natives. Eschew pesticides for good. 

Because nothing is as good as pollinators - and everything they bring to the world.  

Can you spot the pollinator?

 Two for the price of one!

I believe this is a native fly of some sort.  Pollinator nonetheless.

Pollinators prefer California poppies over almost everything else in the garden.

What did I tell you?

Beautiful butterfly - West Coast Lady? - with a shredded wing on Phacelia, a California native annual.

Want more pollinator porn?  Check out my post, My Big Fat Pollinator Garden.  This post is part of the Tuesday Garden Party, Homestead Barn Hop, and Green Thumb Thursday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Building a Container Water Garden

I long dreamed of having a pond. I ogled them at botanical gardens. I pinned pictures of them on Pinterest.  I snapped photos of them in hotel lobbies (see below). But I did not have somewhere to put a pond or the wherewithal to dig one out of the hard clay in our backyard.

Enter the container water garden!

This container water garden at a hotel gave me the idea that I could have a water feature, without digging.

Despite the hours I spent researching how to create a container water garden, it is very simple to establish.  All you need is

  • a water-tight container 18" or more deep
  • water plants (preferably native)
  • water  
A water lily in my water garden (second garden year).

Keep your plants in their nursery pots and submerge them in the water.  Use bricks, upturned pots and whatnot to situate your plants at the right depth.  Some plants just want their toes wet while others like to be a foot or more under water.  Still others - like water lettuce - float on the surface without any need for a pot.

I am on my fourth year with several plants in their original nursery pots.  I suppose you could pot them up but I have not had the need yet.

My first water garden was 18 inches high - a small galvanized tub stuffed with a couple of big box store water plants (before I knew that those plants may have been pre-treated with bee-killing pesticides).  

I have since traded up for a 3 foot deep stock tank.  It is not ideal for wildlife due to the steep sides but sticks stuffed into the tank offer amphibians an escape route, birds a perch when they pause for a drink and dragonflies a place to bask in the sun.

Water gardens are not the most attractive during the winter - even here in California. Most water plants are winter dormant.  Come spring, though, the plants from back to life.  Pollinators rest on the water clover and drink, without fear of drowning.  They cling to horse tails and sway in the breeze.

Maintenance is a cinch. You do not need to water because, duh!, the plants are already in water.  Add water periodically to your garden to maintain the water level and, that is pretty much it. 

Container gardens add depth, interest, microclimates and wildlife value to even the smallest yard or balcony.  Now knowing how easy they are to establish and maintain, I wonder why everyone doesn't have one!

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden Party and the Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gardeners Are Good People

And other observations from the Native Plant Tour of 2014.

As I pulled around the corner, I saw people exiting their cars, groups congregating on the sidewalk.  This must be it.  The next stop on the California native plant tour.

I had been surprised by the number of eager onlookers at each house I had visited.  They peppered the homeowner with questions.  Snapped photos with their smart phones.  Gathered up brochures from volunteers parked under an umbrella on the driveway.  In the midst of devastating drought and increased urbanization, more and more people were looking to reduce their water consumption, improve wildlife habitat, and "go native."

What was my number one takeaway?  Gardeners are good people.

A number of houses on this tour - and the edible garden tour I went on last May - were peppered with signs, showing just how much gardeners care.  Wildlife Habitat.  Pollinator Habitat.  Bay Friendly Garden.

Gardeners, true gardeners, do not use pesticides.  Instead they strive to bring their small plot of land into balance by inviting in beneficial insects, amphibians and birds.  

Gardeners are some of the least wasteful people I've ever encountered.  Their compost bins overfloweth but their gardens are full. 

Leaves instead of wood chips for mulch. Less sent to landfill, better for wildlife and soil.

Gardeners are not fastidious.  They accept mess and the cycle of the seasons. 

And yet, gardeners have the greatest appreciation for beauty.  They see it in the smallest butterfly wing, the gentle opening of a flower and in the way the mature oak tree sculpts itself against the sky. 

Gardeners are patient, with a stillness inside them. One that comes from drinking the fresh air, from watching pollinators buzz from plant to plant, from standing stock still when that mother bird jets in to a hidden nest with a beak full of worms.  Gardening, as they say, is better than therapy. 

Gardeners will be the first to take your hand and guide you through their small bit of paradise. This plant does well in shade.  That one does not like summer water.  I've had great luck with this variety but not that one.  

They start seedlings and propagate plants - then set their plants out for free ("I just want to help the monarchs!") or for a donation to the local plant society. 

Gardeners want to make the world a better place.  And they start with their small plot or yard.  But their warmth, their acceptance and their good hearts do not stop at property lines.  They extend to each person who passes by the garden.  To each small creature who stops to visit, for a drink or a nip of nectar.  To each child whose eyes light up at a dragonfly or whose mouth waters at a fresh picked peach.  

Gardeners are good people!  Seriously good.  

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop and the Tuesday Garden Party.


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