Sunday, August 31, 2014

You’ve Been Voted Out of the Garden

In my last post, I mentioned this mystery plant with spiky pods. It looks cool, but what they heck is it?

I googled “plant with spiky seed pod” and found some info from a reliable source: Dave’s Garden. Dave’s Garden is a great site for looking up plants. Not the best designed site in the world, but useful.

I found out my attractive mystery plant is incredibly poisonous. Various names for it include Jimsonweed, Devil’s Trumpet, Common Thorn-Apple, and Datura stramonium. Ah, Datura. Attractive plant, but highly poisonous – any and all parts of it. No wonder the seed pods are so threatening-looking.

 But look at the gorgeous flower...

What is this doing in my raised bed that contains vegetables?! I had planted two yellow squash here that I had gotten from a local nursery. This Datura must’ve been a seed in one of those plants. Here I was thinking it was some unusual plant I found that I had purposefully planted. I would never in a million years knowingly put a poisonous plant in my Kitchen Garden. Never.

Some people actually use this plant to get high, from what I read. Why would you do that when it can so easily kill you? I guess hardcore drug users don’t care about that. I don’t want this thing anywhere near my garden. Not when I have at least four neighborhood cats that visit my garden daily, plus my little next-door-neighbor friend likes to pop in for an unexpected visit every now and then. I can’t have this in my yard, no matter how cool-looking it is. 

It has really gotten big, too. It is about three feet high and about two feet wide. 

According to Dave’s Garden, it “May be a noxious weed or invasive.” Sheesh, gotta get this thing out of there fast. Last thing I need is more of these popping up.

Some people may think I am being too cautious. I know that plenty of people grow various forms of Datura as ornamental plants, including the well-known Moonflower version. And there are plenty of other poisonous plants that your average gardener grows and doesn’t even know it (I’m talking about you Digitalis!). But sorry, Datura, I vote you out of the garden. Because you’re such an interesting plant, will I pot you up for the greenhouse where there is no chance of child or animal accidentally eating you? I admit it has crossed my mine, however, it’s looking highly unlikely. Just can’t risk having you around. I un-friend you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Up Close and Personal With Plants

I was playing around with the macro extension tubes that I have for my camera. Would’ve been better if I had gotten out the tripod, but still got ok close-up shots of some of my garden plants. I love looking at them in detail like this – you notice things you never saw before.

The Maypop Passion Flower is so uniquely beautiful. I planted this in the garden in the spring and bought a trellis especially for it. It is one of the only passion flowers that is hardy to this area, so I hope it feels at home and survives.

This is the Sedum with tiny leaves that is in a pot on the back porch steps.

I have lots of little Venus Flytraps in my potted bog gardens right now by the back steps. It is just about the time of year that my bog plants seem happiest – usually in September.

Also near the back steps, Sage. You can really see the soft, fuzzy texture of the leaves here.

I love the varying colors of the Ninebark leaves. They are especially lovely when the sun back lights the leaves.

I was chasing bumblebees for awhile trying for a good shot. These were the best that I got. This handsome fellow was enjoying the pollen of the David Phlox.

Here you can see the yellow pollen all over him.

There are still a few Shasta Daisies hanging around.

This is a close-up of the flower buds of a Black and Blue Salvia.

When you magnify the buds and flowers of Sedum flowers, they really are delicate little beauties.

The same with these Hydrangea flowers.

The shots of the Purple Coneflowers didn’t come out great. This was the best one and it really is blurry and washed out, but it kind of has a neat, abstract look.

Now heading to the Kitchen Garden...this Alaska Nasturtium looks positively fierce this close. It is like the mouth of a dragon or some other scary, mythical creature.

I really wanted to get some fabulous pictures of the Cut And Come Again Zinnias because the centers of the flowers are so delicate and intricate, but these really aren’t great shots. You get the idea of what they look like in the middle, though. So cool. They’re like flowers within flowers.

This one looks like a funky layer cake.

This is some sort of weed growing in one of the raised beds and it looks similar to a dandelion seed head, but it is not. It looks as soft as a bunny’s butt.

I like this image of the Sunchocola Tomato because you see the texture of the skin and the green stem.

Danger, danger, seriously big thorns ahead. This is the leaf of the Solanum Quitoense that is in one of the big blue pots in the Kitchen Garden. It’s looking marvelous...and threatening all at the same time.

Here are the fuzzy buds of the Solanum Quitoense. Such a contrast to the sharp thorns on the leaves.

The Bright Lights Swiss Chard looks like something out of a science fiction or horror movie this close. Egads!

Speaking of science fiction, what the heck is this?! I honestly don’t remember, did I plant this???? It has elongated flowers and these weird, pointy pods. I looked through all of my gardening records and can’t find this – what is it and how did it get here? (For an update on this plant, see blog post from Aug 31.)

How can you not love plants when you see how diverse and fascinatingly beautiful they are? It’s enough to make one want to be a gardener. Oh wait, I am. It also makes me want to learn more about botany. I’ll see if I can fit that into my busy schedule sometime.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Flower Garden in July...Yes, July...

Looking back through my blog, I realized I had posted photos of my Kitchen Garden in July, but had never posted my Flower Garden photos.

 July was a happy month for the birds. The three birdhouses on the shed were a constant rotation of families of baby birds. Their little chirps filled the air every day and I enjoyed listening to them in the mornings while watching from the back porch. The mommy birds would feed their babies just about the time I was having my coffee. The garden was full of grown-up birds, too. Then around August it was silence. Or at least silence in comparison to before. They all flew the coop, so to speak. They were done their nesting and I felt kinda lonely and missed them all.

Highlights of the July garden: Shasta Daisies...

Purple Coneflowers...

The Raspberry Monarda was still blooming in the beginning of the month...

 White David Phlox...

And the pink Roses were still blooming...

Mr. Bunny says now I have to post my August pictures. Maybe I’ll get to that...sometime in September.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Attack of the Alien!

Ok, so it’s not really an alien, but when you look with a macro lens, it sure looks like it could be. It’s a praying mantis. Since I have been talking a lot about garden creatures lately, it seemed logical to include my recent encounter with this mantis.

I was sitting on the back porch eating dinner, like I often do, and I spotted this green thing on the screen. I was lucky enough to have a camera-friendly mantis on my hands. I was right in his face with the camera. (Or her??? How can one tell????)

 As usual, I don’t know a whole lot about praying mantis insects, so I had to google them. According to Wikipedia, there are thousands of species of “mantodea” and “about 430 genera in 15 families worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. Most of the species are in the family Manidae.” They are sometimes referred to “praying mantis” due to the “prayer-like posture with folded fore-limgs, although the eggcorn ‘preying mantis’ is sometimes used in reference to their predatory habits.” The “closest relatives of mantises are the termites and cockroaches.” Ewwwww! Then why do mantises seem more friendly and kinda cute????

 Sheesh, here he is looking right at me. Ok, so that’s kinda freaky. Look at his (literal) bug eyes!

I always thought praying mantises were vegetarians. Oh how little I knew. According to Wikipedia, they eat small insects when they are young, but “large species of mantis have been known to prey on small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and even rodents; they feed on any species small enough for them to capture, but large enough to engage their attention.” Wow, really??!?!

I actually see praying mantises somewhat often in the garden. However, I see even more crickets. In fact, the border of my garden is full of them. They come hopping out every time I weed. It’s like a mini-horror movie...attack of the crickets. But I digress...this praying mantis was a good sport. He was still there the next morning, actually. He was gone the next day, though. I hope he (or she) found another praying mantis to frolic with.

To read more about praying mantises, go to Wikipedia. The more I read, the more I am fascinated by these alien-like creatures. Definitely check out the photo on there of the adult female performing a threat display. Crazy! I think I need to get a field guide on insects. They really are interesting creatures. Creepy, but interesting.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Woolly Bear is King of the Moss

I have been talking a lot about creatures of the garden lately. It just goes to confirm that our gardens are “living landscapes.” A couple of weeks ago I spotted this Woolly Bear caterpillar hanging out on this piece of moss by the shed. I found it kind of funny because it’s the only piece of moss right in that area. I guess the caterpillar thought it made for a cozy bed.

I was a little worried that it might actually be dead and contemplated poking it with a stick. Then I decided that wasn’t a good idea because I wouldn’t want someone poking me with a stick when I was napping. I decided to wait and see if he moved the next day...and indeed he did. By only about a couple of feet, though. Then the next day he was gone. I hope he wasn’t eaten by anything.

I named him Henry VIII. Mainly because he seemed like he ruled this little piece of moss.

I don’t know a whole lot about Woolly caterpillars except that I seem to see quite a few of them each year. Last year I saw more than ever. According to Wikipedia, the “Woolly Bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth (the Isabella Tiger Moth) it has only days to find a mate.” Fascinating.

According to folklore, “the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter. It is believed that if a Woolly Bear caterpillar’s brown stripe is thick, the winter weather will be mild and if the brown strip is narrow, the winter will be severe. In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the tale, it is highly speculative.”

To read more and to see photos of it in moth form, go to Wikipedia.

Make Way for the Monarchs!

Your average person may not have noticed, but the Monarch population has been declining for about 10 years or so. A large part of the problem is due to loss of habitat and their migratory habits are being threatened. Butterflies are an important pollinator and without pollination we wouldn’t have all of those wonderful fruits and veggies that grace our kitchen tables or those beautiful flowers that we have in vases on our tables.

I noticed several years ago that I wasn’t seeing Monarchs in my garden. I get plenty of the black and yellow tiger swallowtails, the white Cabbage Moths, and even the Spicebush Swallowtails from time to time, but no Monarchs. I had decided it was time to look into doing something about it. I found and learned more about it and what I could do to help them. I discovered that I have a VERY monarch-friendly garden with lots of plants they love, but I was missing a key ingredient: Milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed and as butterflies milkweed is where they lay their eggs.

In the spring, I had planted milkweed and low and behold, I saw my first monarch in years just a couple of weeks ago. I was in the garden weeding and was hot and sweaty after a long day in the sun. I was plum-tuckered-out and was ready to call it quits when I looked up and saw it flitting about wildly from plant to plant in the garden. It seemed particularly fond of the butterfly bushes (surprise, surprise) and the white David Phlox. I ran inside and grabbed my camera and ran around after that butterfly like a crazy woman, jumping up and down in excitement. I sure hope the neighbors didn’t see me.

Brian had a friend over and here I am all dirty and sweaty, smiling ear to ear, showing him my butterfly pictures on my camera. Yeh, he thought I was a crazy person.

This is a weird shot of the monarch flying away. Almost looks like it’s flying upside down.

Now that my garden has more than enough monarch-loving plants to qualify, my garden is listed as a Monarch Waystation by MonarchWatch. I even have the certificate to prove it and I think I will splurge for the sign from them that you can get to put in your garden. Yeah Monarchs!

For more information, visit these informative websites:

8/24/14 Update: I saw another one today! Well, it may have been the same one, but hey, I’ll take it. This time it was on the Joe Pye Weed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What to Do With a Sweaty Garden Hat

Saturday was an all-day weeding marathon. I was hot, sweaty, and dirty when I took a break on the back porch. I took my hat off and that’s when Izzy decided to bring new meaning to Dr. Suess’s “Cat In the Hat.”

This is the same cat who likes to sleep on my shoes with her nose buried in them.

She must like smelly, dirty stuff. Being a gardener, I can supply her with lots of smelly, dirty stuff. Next time maybe I’ll see if she wants to sleep on my dirty socks. I bet she will like that.