Thursday, January 1, 2009

Plants I'm Growing

In order to pursue my idea of telling time by the blooming of plants in the garden, I suppose it's necessary to know what is already blooming as of January 1, 2009, so I took a stroll around the yard this morning to see what was in flower. None of these will count until they have finished their current show and start to bloom again, late in the coming year. Alyssum, calendulas, at least two types of manzanita, woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum), Coleonema (breath of heaven), New Zealand tea tree, Teucrium fruticans (bush germander), native yarrow, cyclamen, two types of camellia, narcissus, geum, bush honeysuckle (which blooms as the rainy season starts), Mexican marigold (although most of the blossoms have now been blasted by the frost), and a few stray geraniums were all in bloom--a surprising variety. Oh, and rosemary. Musn't forget rosemary--two colors: one standard, the other a pale lavender mother of pearl.  

Edit: I have noticed that Spirea and Westringia (both the white and the lavender flowered varieties) are blooming. I don't know if I missed these in my year-end census or if they have opened up since the start of the new year. These, too, will have to be included in their next bloom cycle. 

Wines I'm Making: 2008 Rosé Bottled

Bottled our 2008 Sangiovese rosé yesterday. It's turned out very well. This is the third year we've made rosé from the Sangiovese vines in the backyard. In the past, the rosé has been good, but everything seems to have come together this year. There is more fruit and body (in part because the vines are older), the wine is crisper (more acid), and the alcohol level is a bit higher. I'm very pleased. Now I have to design this year's label.  

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Miscellaneous: Salmon, Steelhead, and Banana Slugs

Yesterday, we went on a walk through Muir Woods, south of us in Marin County. The idea was to see Coho salmon and steelhead trout coming up Redwood Creek to spawn. Sounded interesting, so we went along. Unfortunately, there has not been sufficient rain to swell the creeks enough to entice the fish upstream. We saw only fingerlings (one-year-old fish from eggs laid around this time last year--forgive me, but I couldn't held thinking of potatoes every time I heard the word). They were small (about two inches long) and very well camouflaged--the color of algae-covered rocks and fallen leaves. The highlight of the hike turned out to be a large banana slug (see photo). Did you know that the banana slug is the California state mollusk? Did you know California had a state mollusk? It's the only slug native to the state. All those garden slugs are imports. Those were among the interesting tidbits the day yielded.

Plants I'm growing: Cuckoos and Clocks, Aloes and Woes

It's said that English gentleman used to vie for the honor of reporting the first cuckoo call of spring each year. (I wonder how many imagined cuckoo calls got mixed in with the real ones and how much paper and ink was consumed staking the claim?) No doubt, the origin of the cuckoo clock is buried in there somewhere. Quaint.

OK, I admit it. I like this way of marking the passage of a year. Englishmen used cuckoos. Egyptians used the flooding of the Nile. I suppose there are any number of natural cycles that could be tracked to gauge the duration of a year. Over time, it would be interesting to see how closely these approximate the astronomical year. It wouldn't surprise me to learn there are people whose hobby it is to follow some natural indicator of the passing of time. So, this is hardly a new idea. I like it nevertheless. 

For several years I've made half-hearted attempts to record the first bloom date of the various plants in our rather diverse garden as a way of marking time. Kept up long enough and carefully recorded, a record of these dates might provide a bit of interesting quaintness for someone to ponder in the future. Typically, I have scribbled notes on scraps of paper and then promptly lost them or given up mid-year. In short, I've never really made a go of this little project. With January 1st looming, however, I'm thinking of trying again. Dates reported here might be easier to keep track of than scraps of paper. Stay tuned. 

Our Aloe arborescens (a large aloe native to South Africa) put up a flower stalk this year for the first time. I've waited several years for this plant to bloom. What else offers showy spikes of bright red flowers in the middle of December? So unexpected, so welcome. Unfortunately, the plant is sensitive to frost. Planted with its back to a stone wall that blocks wind and radiates heat from the sun, it's well protected, but the single flower stalk has blackened and gone limp, a rather depressing development. I will have to wait another year for the chance to see it, a year spent wondering if it will bloom. When it's time to put up another shoot around Christmas, will I be able to see it? I don't know. I can only wait. Perhaps I will be able to use the annual withering of my hopes for this blossom as one of my garden indicators of the annual cycle; it may simply be too cold for it.

(The plants here were photographed at the Strybing Arboretum, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.)

Birds I'm Watching: Woodpeckers and Goldfinches

Not a lot of activity in the garden in the past few days. Our most common residents, the American Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches, have been busy at the feeder and in the garden elsewhere. A small flock of them were devouring Zauschneria seeds this morning from plants I have left uncut (Taxonomists have changed the genus Zauschneria to Epilobium, but I still think of them as Zauschneria; commonly known as California fuchsia. I love them for their scarlet blooms in late summer to late autumn. Zauschneria canum is my favorite). A Downy Woodpecker stopped by briefly, but didn't have much to say. A Spotted Towhee splashed a bit in the birdbath.
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