Wednesday, February 27, 2013

wring buds

The Vernal Equinox will officially usher in Spring on March 20, and until then Steve and I will enjoy wring, the spring-like days that occur during winter. Winter will assert itself from time to time. I remember once when March 17 was the coldest night of our year, and the record low temps for this current week are in the 30s.

Meanwhile, our white azalea, the 'anchor' plant at the southeast corner of the garden, is covered with buds. One west-facing blossom has opened. At first glance I thought there were two azalea flowers, but then looked more closely and saw that the second was actually an African white iris* poking up through the lower branches of the azalea. 

A couple of fat freesia buds are showing hints of their purple and white colors, and look ready to burst open any day. Unfortunately, this is not true of the buckwheat for which I had such high hopes last fall, but sweet alyssum has stepped into the breach thanks to my shaking their seeds hither and yon when the flowers faded last fall.

Calla lilies are starting to unfurl against the background of creeping fig that's finally filling in the width of our chimney, as so hopefully predicted in my first blog post back in January 2010.

In the cactus and succulent bed, a tight bundle of buds is barely visible at the center of a thick leaved aloe.** Clusters of bright orange flowers will emerge at the top of a tall stalk and will last far into spring. I am especially glad to see these buds, since several years ago I almost exterminated our dense clump of aloe and saved only this one specimen.

I am surprised by some of the plants that are not participating in this virtual frenzy of budding. None of the volunteer sweet peas or hyacinth beans is showing anything like a bud, and the Idaho daffodils, though they produced a few blossoms last year, show foliage only. 

In Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost talked about how the leaves of deciduous trees look like flowers when they first emerge from their tight golden buds:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
The buds of wring give us the SoCal equivalent of that shining hour: a week of promise on the verge of full-blown spring.
- - - - -
* The white iris is an evergreen and blooms intermittently year round with flowers that last for only one day. Years ago, Kay gave me a small clump which has spread to form a dense border along the south side of the garden. I am surprised that this plant has not been declared invasive, but the University of Florida Extension website claims that it is "not known to be invasive." Obviously they never saw how it filled Kay's north garden in spite of dense shade, or spread unkempt along a neighborhood alley.

** This is not aloe vera but a pricklier, thicker leaved cousin which I hope to identify soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

wring is right

One day last week, we were having lunch at our bistro table in the front garden when Steve said something on the order of "Spring is here!" Wisely sensing that I was about to insist that it was really fring, however, he quickly backpedaled: "Maybe we should be calling it wring (with a W)."

Wring is right, indeed. When I defined fring back in 2010, there was some ambiguity, if not downright confusion, as to whether it was a composite of first + spring or fall + spring. Clearly, though, wring is a composite of winter + spring.

There was no question that fring (as initially defined) could last too long. It could start any time after the autumnal equinox, but would always last through the vernal equinox. Thus fring could theoretically take up half the year -- not this year of course, since it didn't start until the second week in December.

Fring and fall may occur concurrently (though the fall rains so rarely start before October). Likewise wring and winter may be concurrent, but are likely to be punctuated with an occasional wintry day or week. Five days of lows in the 30s (January 12-16, 2013) were wintry enough to kill most of the leaves on Jacob's newly transplanted papaya tree.

After lunch, Steve took off on some errands and I spent an hour contentedly pulling wring weeds in the parking strip: common chickweed, dandelions, petty spurge, two kinds of oxalis, wild carrot, elm tree seedlings, and perennial as well as annual grasses.  Dichondra, fring-blooming sweet allysum, and volunteer sweet peas had made greater inroads against the weeds than they had last year at this time, during whatever season that may have been.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

one bug's nectar, another bug's poison

Jim, the Garden Club speaker last Tuesday, talked about insects. Some thought his topic would be 'Beneficial Insects," but he disabused everyone of this notion at the outset. It was just "Insects." His point of view was purely aesthetic. 

Jim likes to watch insects in all their metamorphic stages, and listen to their distinctive sounds. His slides were beautiful closeups of insects. He accompanied them with appropriate clicking and buzzing, while using his arms and head to mimic the movement of mouth parts . 

Every picture of a butterfly on a flower was balanced with that of a caterpillar eating the leaves of that same plant. When milkweed and buckwheat were touted as host plants for butterflies, I thought lovingly about the little holes I'd seen in some of my buckwheat plants -- now nearing maturity and starting to show tiny white buds.

By revealing his love for mosquitoes, Jim laid to rest anyone's expectation that he was going to focus on beneficial insects. Evidently Jim's wife empties vessels of standing water whenever she finds them around the garden. Jim patiently refills them so that mosquitoes will have a place to breed. Next, I heard shocked whispers of "termites!" all around me when Jim advocated having a woodpile to provide nesting places for insects. He also uses wood to build homes for mason bees, one of my preoccupations from last year.

Less flagrant ways to attract insects were also described. Evidently bugs eschew mowed lawns and prefer a diversity of plant sizes, colors, and flavors, along with a carpet of decaying leaves. Plants that taste 'nasty' to one insect will be the favorite food of another (hence the title of this post).

A few of Jim's slides showed lifeforms other than insects. Spiders and hummingbirds, attracted by insects, were also featured. This prompted me to ask about legless lizards. "Legless lizards are wonderful," Jim replied, but he didn't want to go on record as saying that they would eat snail eggs.

After the presentation, I talked with a lovely woman who told me that she has to "go inside and lie down for a while" when she encounters a spider in her garden. I was on my good behavior, so didn't mention spiders' "noiseless, patient" attributes.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License