No quiet on the western front! 5:00 pm and I just was out in the garden inspecting a visiting bumblebee on an Agastache when a blackbird parent swotted me on the head from behind. They have no respect this year and our miniature Schnoodle dogs are taking refuge on the porch due to incessant dive-bombing by upstart parents. I keep thinking the baby birds will be fledged soon- but one new nest after the other appears- in the arbor, trellis and tree- and so it goes on and on. There must be plenty to eat with all the insects attracted to the lush vegetation and flowers in our garden as I see the parents with multitudes of caterpillars and crane flies.
A visitor to the garden yesterday asked what we do about all the cabbage white butterfly caterpillars on the kales and cabbage. There are many butterflies but almost zero damage from the caterpillars- all nabbed by the birds and ever-vigilant predatory wasps. It is not until the fall, when the birds have finished fledging and the wasp populations drop- do we see caterpillar damage on the brassicas and monarch butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed.
Midsummer- and our garden is like a swimming pool of life. The locusts, wild plums, crab apples, native oaks, and Sargent cypress create ever-waving walls which serve as hotels for many bird species and a multitude of songs emanate from the premises. The soft coo of morning doves, the chatter of blackbird parents, crazy mockingbirds, staccato kingbirds, cheerful gold and house finches, the self-contained twittering of titmice, and the busy forms of towhees, sleek waxwings, dueling hummingbirds, chittering tufted titmice, and small hopping nuthatches inform us of current residents. Brilliant orange tanagers are feeding on the festoons of golden plums like modern décor poised against faded gold, velvet curtains. In the slant of early sunlight, dust mote like- a vast array of insect life is visible: hovering, zipping, cruising- yet there is no insect damage on any plants.
Many flowers are blooming and everywhere are busy forms of honey bees, bumblebees, and countless native bees. The squash bees are in clear evidence early morning in the zucchini blooms, the males having overnighted in their soft yellow recesses. Both honeybees and bumbles have been mobbing the lambs ears. This plant is further encroaching on the pathways each year- so now there is a very large amount of floral resources offered- clearly appreciated by both bee types. There is also a great deal of mauve coyote mint- Monardella villosa blooming and climbing through the manzanitas and over the driftwood benches- a bumblebee favorite.
In the pastel department- the blue and purple Catmint Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ is in full bloom, as well as Agastache ‘Purple Haze’, Verbena bonariensis, Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’, the mauve spikes of Teucrium hircanicum and the deep purple chaparral solanum Solanum xanti. The bright yellow wild sunflower ‘Delta Sunflower’ is just starting and holds a feast as yet unrealized for the finches and nuthatches. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’- as the name suggests- a deep crimson- but with a strong directional horizontal stance so the blooms appear to be pointing directly at you- is holding forth behind the Verbena bonarienis. The hummingbirds appear to be the only miscreants imbibing.
In another area Myrtus communis compacta tucked with delicate white blooms, pink curled flowers of Monarda fistulosa (that look like they spent too long at the beauty parlor) and deep purple Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ are frothing together in tasteful pastel tones.
My favorite floral combination is through the green Victorian door leading to the vegetable garden. A huge spray of red trumpet vine laden with warring hummingbirds graces the premises of the door- on the other side the soft yellow rose, Lady Hillington, with the golden oat grass Stipa gigantea, a silvery mound of dusty miller and deep burgundy Knautia macedonica hold sway. Beyond- the unreal purple cauliflower ‘Grafitti’ (a new favorite), zucchini ‘Magda’, onions, potatoes, chichory, strawberries, rainbow chard, basil, carrots, beets, and soon cherry tomatoes- fill the spaces of the vegetable garden and feed us daily. Our tomatoes are already 5+ feet tall and are over the trellis. They present a problem. It is only late June.
We participated in an Open Garden Day with the Garden Conservancy on June 18th. Over 200 people came and stayed and stayed. Miraculously it rained all night the night before and was only 80-degrees. The most asked about the plant was the Annual Centaurea americana– the basket flower. Sweet-scented, native to the Midwest, super bee-friendly, great cut flower and utterly soft- super easy yet rarely grown now- the few plants dominated the garden.
My favorite plant of the moment is the orange regal lily ‘African Queen’ Lilium regale. I have one stem in the house in a vase and it perfumes the whole kitchen and living room. Its soft orange blooms have darkened and the whole ensemble is just too much. It persists well in the garden and reaches heights of 6-7 feet. I have a few other colors: a yellow- very nice but unscented and a satin pink that is also very fragrant. These elite but obliging lilies should be more widely grown.