Monday, October 27, 2008

Arizona Wildlife

No gardens here--I'm still processing photographs and (more time consuming) trying to identify at least SOME of the plants I saw in Sun City, Arizona and in Venice, California. But I haven't posted in almost a week and I had to break up the pics somehow, so here are some of the critters I encountered while I was looking for flowers.

This little tortoise has been adopted by my niece, Erin.

Box turtles and snappers are a common sight here in VA, but these desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) are more rare and are protected in Arizona (my sister Carrie, not Erin's mom, that would be Kelley--anyway, Carrie has a mated pair and finds homes every year for the babies). So it was a bit of a surprise when this little one just wandered into Kelley's yard. This is probably a female, though she's young and it's easier to tell when there's a male and a female together--but females have more dainty horns (what we'd see as a nose) and their shells are rounder. She'll get to be about a foot long and maybe 6 inches high, and if she survives predators and real estate development, she'll outlive most humans. Erin has made her a pen and feeds her gourmet meals:
We're not supposed to take these tortoises directly from the wild (there's an official adoption procedure), but this one is actually safer in controlled surroundings. Kelley lives in foothills, in a formerly remote area that is now being heavily developed--the combination of the human threat and the threat posed by natural predators whose terrain is being drastically reduced makes Erin's pen a safe haven: plenty of water, plenty of food, plenty of room to burrow. So don't tell.

I live with wildlife, as anyone who reads regularly knows--deer, turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits call my backyard home (and, unfortunately, sometimes my gardens). Still, I'm fascinated by some of my mom's wild "pets." These are desert quail (Callipepli gambellii--the species name means "beautiful robes")--they trek across her yard at the same time every morning. By fall, the covey is all adults. Here, they congregate under a rosebush--these quail fly only short distances, and so make their homes (and find their safety) in thorny shrubs. Their chief predators on the golf course behind my mom's house are coyotes, roadrunners, and hawks--but judging from the quails' numbers, the rose bushes are doing their jobs.

I want to say "here's a couple," but all I really know is that it's a male and a female--you can tell the male by the more intense coloration, including the black face, the little rust "helmet," and the topknot (I have these vague memories from childhood of a cartoon quail who kept blowing the topknot up out of its face--not too inaccurate as far as I can tell).

And here's a male close-up, posing on a boulder near a Cereus cactus:

My mom's backyard extends onto a golf course, and the other course mascot is one of the quail's natural enemies, the coyote.

Despite the cartoon, I have to say that given the choice between a roadrunner and a coyote, I'll take the coyote any day. I SO wish I could have captured a picture of a roadrunner, but sightings are rare (and often brutal--they show up when they're chasing prey) and ephemeral. But they are aggressive and, IMHO and oxymoronically, pretty ugly--the one "truth" of the Warner Brothers cartoon is that the roadrunner is in fact more ruthless than the coyote (I think of them as really fast buzzards after live prey).

On the other hand, I have an affection for coyotes (a dog lover to the core). I don't underestimate the potential danger--they pose the same threat as any wild or strange dog does. On the other hand, they've been weirdly domesticated on Sun City courses--sometimes you have to golf over them, and they're not perturbed by humans or golf bags or carts or flying balls. And so they're easy to capture on film. Here's one (could we say, posing?) on the course just outside a neighbor's yard:

And another sauntering away after my mom and I disturbed his sunbath (on the edge of a sandtrap)--notice the resentful look?

Arizona is lovely in October--it can hit 90, but as they say, it's a dry heat (which is true at 90--Arizona's low humidity 90 is pleasantly warm, as opposed to Virginia's 90, where the humidity renders the heat index in the 100's--however, at 120, it's another story--do you want some broth around you as you braise or do you prefer to be dry roasted?) Still, the coyotes seemed to relish the sprinklers:

I'm still learning how to shoot video on my camera, but this one was fun:

I'll be posting more on these trees in my next post--but for now, Mr. Coyote says it all:

Gotta go (for now).

More on Arizona and California VERY soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bloom Day October 2008

First off, a confession. These are pictures from my garden in Virginia, but I've been in Arizona for about ten days on an extended Fall Break, so these blooms are about ten days old. But I'm pretty sure most of the flowers I've represented here will still be around when I get home.

Second, if anyone's reading who doesn't already know about Bloom Day, do check out May Dreams Gardens for Carol's cornucopic compendium of fall blooms!

It's been a relatively warm (and thank goodness, relatively wet) fall in Virginia, so the garden is still pretty lively. I've featured the buddleja all summer, but it deserves special mention this month because the monarchs have arrived!

Monarch in Buddleia

Their bright orange is spectacular against the pale purple of our volunteer. In fact, this bush is so popular that the bees and butterflies are fighting over it. Forgive the little burps in this video--it's my first--but listen and watch for the bee toward the end:

The Rosa moyesii is almost as abundant as it was in the spring, and the combination should be spectacular when the chrysanthemum around it opens.

R moyesii rebloom

The tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is in bloom. I've heard the fragrance described as apricot, but I think it's more like orange blossom. Anyway, it's heavenly--I grow mine near windows so that the scent wafts into the house when we open the windows to the cooler fall evenings.

Tea Olive

Not a great picture--and I'm not sure I'll find this clematis still blooming when I get home--but we had a little surprise blossom at the top of our vine (I don't know the cultivar).

Late Clematis Bloom

Beneath the clematis, a few Echinacea purpurea have decided to rebloom--more fresh seed for the goldfinches if the weather stays warm-ish.

Echinacea rebloom

And another critter is enjoying the coneflower--I assume this is some kind of spider, but I couldn't identify it (for one thing, my Virginia native stuff books are three time zones from here!)

Echinacea and spider close up

The Loropetalum chinense is blooming again as well.

Loropetalum rebloom

And in the new blooms department--my leopard plant's flowers are starting to open. My tag (from Elizabethan Gardens) calls this plant Farfugium japonicum. I've also seen it (or something very similar to it) called Ligularia tussilaginea and Fulfugium tussilagina. The plant should still be in bloom in November--the daisy-like flowers are wonderful as other plants in the garden begin to nestle underground.

Leopard plant

The azaleas are still in their full fall rebloom:

Azalea rebloom

Azalea rebloom

And the Pelargonium I pulled out of an on-sale hanging basket at a local grocery store is loving the cooler weather.


The Mandevilla vine is still going strong. The first frost will kill it, but it thrives in the early fall when it gets a bit more rain. I will probably try to overwinter it--when the nightime temperatures dip into the low forties, I'll trim it back to about 12" and bring it in to a sunny space in the house (if weather permits, I'll leave it just outside the back door for a couple of days to provide it some transition). If I keep the soil dryish, the plant should stay alive but stop growing--then, after frost date in the spring (April 15th here), I'll start its transition outdoors again). Overwintering the whole plant gives me a better shot at a large vine next summer--if it doesn't work, I can always get another one at Lowe's . . .


The Salvias guaranitica and uliginosa are still going strong--the leaves are actually fading faster than the flowers!

Two salvias

Black and Blue Salvia

And the mums are blooming like crazy. These orange ones started as a small housewarming gift in 1993--within a couple of years, they were all over the garden at my old house, but I just had to take a few with me.

Mums mums mums

And now they're all over my gardens again--here, they grow with coneflower and salvia--

Mums and salvia 2

--and here, delightfully if thanks to my lazy weeding, it grows with clover.

Mum and clover

My annuals are doing well, too--the Mexican heather, angelonia, pansies, and even the heliotrope are still blooming. But here are a few other things I've found around the garden:

Ranunculus seeking shade when I spend too much time taking pictures--

Ranunculus takes cover

--a black and yellow garden spider moving her web from the garden to a window (perhaps she's a bit vain?).

Garden spider

And to close: here's my Euphorbia lomi, perpetually in bloom, but now safely inside when the temperature dips below 60.

Euphorbia moves inside

Ranunculus says, "Happy Bloom Day!"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Yucca yucca yucca

This one's not going to be pretty--no photos of charming European cities filled with charming European flowers. I'm back in my own backyard, doing one of the things I enjoy most--dividing crowded perennials and deciding where to put the new plants.

So one of the things I've put off too long (as you will see in a minute) is dividing my Yucca filimentosa. I was raised a desert rat--in Glendale, Arizona--and although I've lived in and loved Virginia for most of my life, my family ties are in the West and I try to fill my house and yard with reminders of it. And besides being a little echo of my own past, this plant has a past of its own. It comes from my old house, which was a heavily wooded lot of about an acre. When I first moved in many many years ago, I wanted to plant herbs, and there was only one small area with full sun. The previous owners had filled it with low growing juniper and a yucca plant--and in my garden naivete (this was my first house), I pulled them up and tossed them back in the woods (I've learned my lesson. . .)

I'm so glad I didn't toss them in the trash--because several years later, when something drew me back into the woods, there was the yucca plant, flourishing in leaf mold and in the shade. I brought it back to its place in the sun--and when I moved, it was one of the plants I brought with with me.

Yucca isn't a plant one normally associates with Virginia. By all accounts, it likes sandy soil and dry conditions, and it's prolific in desert states. Nevertheless, it's a native plant in the Eastern U.S., and it's almost as popular in VA as it is in AZ, despite our heavy clay and humidity. And it's a very low maintenance plant (as mine's tenacity in its woodland exile shows).

Of course, in my gardens anyway, the low maintenance plants suffer from benign neglect, and I noticed when the yucca was sending up its 6-foot stems of white flowers this summer that it needed dividing--so when the weather cooled down a bit, I resolved to give it some attention.

(And talk about lack of attention--although I started taking pictures for this blog in late May, this is the only one I have of the yucca plant, right before it bloomed--the photo's not great to begin with, and the stalk is barely visible on the left side of the photo, at the far end of the white garden).

Here's a more recent close-up. Yucca can be propagated from seed, from cuttings, or from the offsets that grow up on the sides of the parent plant. It grows from a very dense rhizome, so division isn't especially easy--but this plant clearly needs dividing.

Before division

Here's one baby:

Here's a baby

And another:

Another baby yucca

The offsets don't just pop out--I had to dig up the whole plant just to see how many there actually were and to be sure that I got sufficient root on the new plants. Here's a photo of three offsets just on one side:

Yucca root

When I could cut out a piece of rhizome, I did--but in some of the denser parts, I had to cut the root by inserting two shovels back-to-back and prying it apart. The root on this offset maybe gives a sense of the size of the mass I was dividing.

Yucca Root
I ended up with many more babies than I anticipated--I thought I'd be taking out about three, but I ended up with nine.

New plants laid out

I transplanted three of them into other parts of the garden, and I added a little bit of hummous around the parent when I replanted it (but not a lot--they don't need rich soil). I potted up the rest of the babies and nestled the pots against the parent--it's thriving there, so I figure the light is right. Yucca is hardy to Zone 4, so the pots should be fine in our 7b climate until I find new spots (or new homes) for them in the spring.

Baby yucca repotted
The little orange pots have little pieces of rhizome in them that chipped off when I was separating the offsets--we'll see what comes up. The plant grows in 3x3' clumps and sends up magnificant 6' flower stalks in summer; it's almost maintenance free and incredibly drought resistant; the deer don't bother it . . . I think I can find a spot for these little ones.
P.S. on time, posts, and desert plants: I started this posting a couple of weeks ago, and it's maybe a little ironic that I'm actually finishing it in Arizona, where the yucca is still in full bloom. When I left Virginia 2 days ago, 8 of the 9 transplants looked great--maybe I'll design a yucca allee or something. And I'll be posting on my trip to Arizona soon--but not until I provide a little more evidence that I actually do occasionally work in my garden!