Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dinner for a Mantis

The other day I was walking in the garden enjoying some beautiful rose blooms.

Shön Ingeborg

Everything seemed in order until I noticed that a tallish stalk of a caryopteris plant was bent at the tip. Wilting? But it is a drought tolerant plant. I came closer to investigate.

This is, I think, a female California mantis. I have seen several of them in my garden this summer, hanging upside down by their hind legs, waiting for prey. I brought a chair and my camera, and decided to sit next to it and see what it catches.

That day, everywhere I looked there seemed to be lots of darting little butterflies called fiery skippers. Their larvae are a lawn pest, and adults, being only minor pollinators, are most useful as food for insect predators.

Finally, one of the skippers decided to explore the caryopteris blooms.

The mantis and I were both watching it breathlessly. The poor thing didn't even realize what a big audience it had.

A quick lunge and it was impaled on the mantis's sharp forelegs. In one bite the butterfly was beheaded and dinner was ready.

The wings, apparently of no culinary interest, were quickly discarded.

While the mantis was in the middle of its dinner, another skipper alighted on the flowers. Will greed or prudence prevail? Will the mantis ignore it and continue eating, or will it let go of its dinner and risk a miss at the second butterfly?

The mantis didn't think it had to choose. The first skipper was finished in two quick gulps, and then another lunge, and the second course was served.

And then came a honeybee. Those caryopteris flowers must be full of nectar. I thought, surely not a bee?

But the mantis didn't have any qualms. Good or bad, they were all dinner.

Little insects, however, excited no interest. Barely a mouthful, they were probably not worth the effort of catching.

 But watching honeybees disappear one after another was hard. My only consolation was that my roses are looking wonderful. No katydid damage and very few cucumber beetles.

And there still seemed to be plenty of honeybees.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall is in the Air

There is nothing like gardening to make one aware of the passing of seasons.

Japanese anemones 'Honorine Jobert' are my favorite fall-blooming perennials
 Here in a winterless climate, the changes are, at first, subtle.

Sharifa Asma (shrub) looking down on cape plumbago and geranium 'Rozanne'

Roses are still going strong, but their foliage is beginning to look tired (burned and spotted).

Rosette Delizy (tea) in its fall splendor
Blooms, on the other hand, become bigger and more brightly colored as they recover from summer heat.

Classic Woman is a hybrid tea that is generally white or cream-colored, but often displays a lot of pink in the fall
The color is often retained even when its blooms are fully open. They remind me of scoops of ice cream
But what I most look forward to in fall roses is the hips.

'Wohler Rd. White Eglantine' at the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden

Many once-blooming roses are covered with colorful hips well into the winter.

Hips of 'Sappho', an alba, at the Heritage

 But repeat-blooming roses, both antique and modern, will often set hips too if the gardener is not very diligent about deadheading.

From left: Imposter (shrub), April in Paris (hybrid tea), Regensberg (floribunda), Roseraie de l'Hay (rugosa),  two more Imposters, Golden Celebration (shrub), and two hips from Mme. Berard (tea-noisette)

Roses are related to apples, and like apples, rose hips come in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Purple Pavement, a rugosa, in my garden

An unripe hip of Rosa laevigata,  a species

Hybrids of rosa spinosissima set some of the most deeply colored hips. These are from Fruhlingsanfang, at the Heritage
The aptly named Fakir's Delight, hybrid Bracteata, at the Heritage

Blooms and hips at the same time are wonderful. Meg Merrilies, hybrid rubiginosa, at the Heritage

Seeing hips always makes me think about winter, bare branches and rose pruning. Winter is short here, but even so fall blooms, the last of the year, are my most favorite of all.

Penelope, a hybrid musk, in my garden

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Garden in Autumn

A garden in autumn, thoughtfully planned, carefully tended and illuminated by a softer light, is a joy to walk in.

Salvia leucantha, or Mexican sage, is a frequent sight in gardens all over Northern California 

Especially if a garden is as serene and unassumingly lovely as the one at Carmel Mission (for a tour of the Mission and the garden in spring click to look at this earlier post).

The colors are not as exuberant as they are in spring, but the garden is still pretty in a gentler way, like an old jewel in its lovely setting of old stone and tiled roofs.

In my garden, I am still struggling with maintaining color and interest throughout the year.

Spanish lavender is a classic pairing with l. viridis (green lavender). In my garden viridis never reblooms in the fall (unlike Spanish lavender).... 

 Spring is easy, and so is winter with camellias, cyclamen and daphne odora providing lots of color and fragrance. But at summer's end, the garden often looks tired and messy. Perhaps I lack experience, or perhaps a staff of helpers to deadhead and trim the plants for me :).

It is always useful to observe how well-planned gardens fare throughout the seasons.

I can see how indispensable grasses are for texture.

Repeat-blooming roses still look lovely.

Iceberg rose can be depended on to provide color almost year round

And fall-blooming perennials and shrubs, such as sages, Japanese anemones and tibouchina urvilleana, provide a welcome burst of fresh flowers.

These Japanese anemones are most likely Honorine Jobert, which I also have in my garden

Tibouchina urvilleana "Princess Flower"

Even though Carmel's climate is gentler than that of San Jose, I am able to grow most things that I have seen at the Mission. In particular, their plantings of Japanese anemones inspired me to include them in my garden too. They create lovely flower carpets underneath my climbing roses which don't bloom well in the fall. If only I could also replicate the wonderful background of old adobe walls, fountains and statues...

This visit to Carmel will probably be our last trip for awhile. The school year is in full swing and all of us are getting busier and busier.

 I might even start writing about my own garden again :).

A western scrub jay in a rose that does not seem to be doing so well...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Riot of Color and Dinosaur Plants

It has been a while since my last post - the start of the school year has kept me busy- but today I hope to atone for my long silence with lots of colorful pictures.

A dahlia bloom at the Golden Gate dahlia garden

This weekend we took our kids to San Francisco for a guided tour of the Legion of Honor. San Francisco is a fairly long drive from our home, and it seemed a pity not to stop by Golden Gate Park on the way back. Since my boys absolutely refused to see any flowers on top of the duty tour of an art museum, the only place I could lure them into was a plantosaurus rex exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers. The exhibit was about vegetation at the time of dinasaurs.

You can read more about it at the link above, but the only thing I would like to mention is that for most of that era there were no plants that reproduced by flowering. The predominant color in the exhibit, which consisted mostly of ferns, cycads and even a few ginkgos, was lush tropical green.

However, in one of the main galleries I also got a peek at the orchids, many of which were in bloom.

 It was wonderful to walk among so many phalaenopsis suspended from the ceiling throughout the gallery.

This must be what being inside a fairy tale is like.

And right outside the Conservatory, there is the dahlia garden.

What an amazing riot of color!

 I am not a dahlia person myself, but I can't help admiring the wonderful blends and bursts of color, and the variety of perfectly formed flowers.

 I hope you like them too.