Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best of Nature photos 2017

I recently came across a fabulous year end collection of nature photographs from the BBC (www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures) and thought I'd share a few of them with you. The explanation underneath each photo is taken verbatim from the site. Make sure to click on each photo so you can see the larger versions (where they are much more impressive).



Cold temperatures on Shodoshima Island, Japan, sometimes lead to monkey balls, where a group of five or more snow monkeys huddle together to keep warm. Thomas Kokta climbed a tree to get this image.


These snow geese almost seemed like ghosts in the pink early morning light as they landed among Sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, US.  (Gordon Illg)


Stephen Belcher spent a week photographing golden snub-nosed monkeys in a valley in the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve in the Qinling Mountains, China. The monkeys have very thick fur, which they need to withstand the freezing nights in winter. This image shows two males about to fight, one already up on a rock, the other bounding in with a young male.


 Andrea Marshall was snorkeling off the coast of Mozambique when she came across hundreds of large jelly-fish. Many were covered with brittle stars - opportunistic riders, taking advantage of this transport system to disperse along the coast. Delicate lighting makes the jelly glow, so the viewer can focus on the subtle colours and textures.


Sabella spallanzanii is a species of marine polychaete, also known as a bristle worm. The worm secretes mucus that hardens to form a stiff, sandy tube that protrudes from the sand. It has two layers of feeding tentacles that can be retracted into the tube, and one of the layers forms a distinct spiral. (Marco Gargiulo)


The bird's wing acts as a diffraction grating - a surface structure with a repeating pattern of ridges or slits. The structure causes the incoming light rays to spread out, bend and split into spectral colours, producing this shimmering rainbow effect. (Victor Tyakht)


It was a crisp, clear day in January when Annie Katz saw this Colorado red fox hunting in her neighbour's field in Aspen, Colorado, US. The light was perfect, and she took the photo as the fox approached her, looking right into the lens of her camera.


Reinhold Schrank was at Lake Kerkini, Greece, taking pictures of birds, but the conditions were not ideal, so he looked for other options. He saw this caterpillar on a flower and encouraged it on to a piece of rolled dry straw. He had to work fast because the caterpillar was constantly moving.


The kingfisher frequented this natural pond every day, and Mario Cea used a high shutter speed with artificial light to photograph it. He used several units of flash for the kingfisher and a continuous light to capture the wake as the bird dived down towards the water.


David Maitland photographed the crystallized chemical salicin, which comes from willow tree bark. Salicin forms the basis of the analgesic Aspirin - no doubt this is why some animals seek out willow bark to chew on.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The C&H show

No, the title of this blog (C&H show) doesn't refer to the sugar company but rather to Camellias and Hellebores, two genera that are in bloom now (or getting ready to). Four of my nine camellias have already begun blooming and the fabulous C. reticulata 'Frank Hauser' is well underway. Though my established Hellebores are still filling in and yet to bud, it won't be long now. And I just brought home a fabulous new H. orientalis called 'Amethyst Gem.' It's a pink-veined double hellebore and it's in bloom now (photo below).
Since these are both 'shade' plants, let me offer a few thoughts on the subject. First off, at the risk of making things too complicated, there are five kinds of shade. Full, darker shade that gets no direct sun and not a lot of indirect light either; bright shade (no direct sun but bright light); an hour or two of morning or late afternoon sun; full morning sun and finally mixed sun and shade (caused by buildings or overhanging trees). Add in whether the spot is dry shade or will get regular water and you can see that calling something a 'shade' plant is rather like describing white stuff on the ground as 'snow' to Eskimos.
Hellebores can handle more shade and be fine than Camellias, which in my experience benefit from a greater intensity of light or more morning sun. That's not to say that Hellebores won't be happy in more sun. They will. Both plants have a well-earned reputation for toughness, making them valuable additions to anyone's garden. And there's no need to sacrifice beauty or variety with either of these plants. They come in all colors and forms. So go ahead and treat yourself to these 'shade' denizens and liven up your winter garden.


Name this camellia! Well, that's not as odd a request as it seems as this new selection from Nuccio's, Winner's Circle, is so new there's barely any photos of it on the web. When I looked last year there were only the two I posted of my specimen. This flower is large and offers a lovely salmon-pink color. I'm looking forward to a fuller crop this year.


Camellia 'Jury's Yellow.' Okay not the greatest shot but this gives an idea of the lovely butter-yellow shades at the ruffled heart of this camellia. This year that center is showing a bit more color than from last year's crop.


Every year I pick one or two plants that are my success story of the year. This year one of those is my Helichrysum bracteatum 'Monster Red.' This plant has been nothing short of amazing, flowering nonstop since June. It's supposedly an annual but it's showing no sign of dying off. 


Okay why am I including this 'ugly' photo? It's my Magnolia 'Butterflies' and the yellow leaves are of course an indication that the tree is going deciduous. Did you know the explanation for fall color on deciduous trees? At this juncture, the tree is pulling the remaining chlorophyll back into its branches, to store up for next year, and the removing of this green pigment leaves the remaining color in the leaves for that short period before the leaves drop.


Say the word 'Heather' and many will no doubt think of the Scottish moors or some other specific place but in truth the diverse collection of plants with that common name take all forms. This is Calluna 'Firefly' and it's doing what it's supposed to at this time of year - acquire more red tones (brought on by cooler weather). Callunas are closely related to Ericas, a genus more commonly thought of as a heather.


Fantastic! No, that's not my description of this Kalanchoe but the actual variety name. With its large planer leaves and intriguing combo of greens, creams and pinks, it's easy to see why it has acquired such a name. Mine is still a 'baby' but these plants can get to two feet tall and wide.


Beschorneria albiflora. These sturdy plants have yucca-like strap leaves and when in bloom tall, arching spikes of red and green tubular flowers. Native to Guatemala and the Honduras.


I know it's early but my Magnolia stellata already has its first finger-like, pure white flowers. If we have the White Rabbit in Alice decrying "I'm late, I'm late!" we need another creature to represent the way early blooming plants ("I'm early, I'm early!").


Speaking of fall color, here's one of my Exbury azaleas showing some lovely red tones. Exburys are a type of deciduous azalea that offers up flower colors you rarely see in evergreen types, such as golds, peaches and oranges. 


Here's a Gulf Fritillary butterfly resting on one of my Passiflora citrina leaves. In the lower left are two unopened yellow flowers. 


Abelia 'Kaleidoscope.' This variegated abelia falls in the category of beautiful yet tough. It's a mystery to me why abelias aren't more widely used in local gardens. They're evergreen, easy to grow, resist diseases, flower readily and are a manageable size. 


Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' I know I've taken plenty of pictures of this vigorous salvia but I swear it's almost the perfect plant. Super easy to grow; grows quickly; holds onto its golden/chartreuse color; blooms prolifically in the fall and doesn't mind being hacked back. Oh, did I mention that hummers dig it and the leaves smell like pineapple?


Here's a photo of the Hellebore I mentioned in the opening (H. 'Amethyst Gem' ). The sun wasn't out so you don't see how sparkling the reddish-pink colors are but this gives one an idea.


On the other end of the spectrum, this Helleborus argutifolius 'Pacific Frost' has pale green flowers (which certainly are pretty in their own right). The white-speckled leaves add another design element, holding the gardener's interest long before (and after) the flowers are gone.


Thunbergia 'Arizona Red.' This variety has the deepest reds of any Black-eyed Susan vine. It is scrambling along my fence and I think complements the earthy tones of the wood fence.


Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow.' Not sure how this variety got its name - umm, where exactly is the burgundy color? - but no matter, its combo of greens, grays and pinks makes it a lovely way to add cascading interest to a container.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

After the Flood

Okay, it wasn't a flood this week but parts of the Bay Area saw close to 5" of rain in three days. Oakland received much less (one inch) but that's been enough to cause our gardens to really perk up. That's been especially true for the bulbs in my garden. Apart from the South African bulbs that are always some of the earliest (Lachenalia, Ferraria, Chasmanthe, Sparaxis, Ixia and Freesia), I have Ipheion, Dutch Iris, Saxatilis tulips and Scilla popping their heads up. Though it will be awhile before any of these but the Lachenalia are in bloom, just their presence is a harbinger of things to come in early spring.
The rain and warmish days have also prompted my earliest Camellias to put out their first magnificent flowers. Leading the way this fall is C. reticulata 'Frank Hauser.' Its showy, ruffled orchid pink flowers are a sight to behold. Also making an early appearance is the singular C. 'Black Magic.' It offers up perhaps the deepest red flowers of any camellia, being almost a blackish-red. It wasn't until I did a Chronicle column on this variety that I discovered a) how many camellia societies there are  and b) how passionate camellia lovers are about new varieties entering the market.
To paraphrase that old saying, "There are two kinds of gardeners in this world. Those that take the winter off (because they choose or they're in a very cold climate) and those that can't help themselves from gardening year round." I guess I fall into the latter category.
To that point here are photos of my late November garden.



Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola.' The species name refers to the downy, lavender-like grayish foliage. This variety features familiar red and cream colored flowers and will eventually get to 5'H and 7' W. Grevilleas are one of my favorite Protea family members, a view that I think is shared by many people.


Primula Primlet. Primlet primroses especially evoke the roses part of the common name. They stay mostly budded, with smaller tea-rose like blooms in a variety of colors. 


This handsome shrub would not seem at first glance to be a Melianthus (African honey bush). The foliage is very different from M. major but once you rub your fingers on a leaf and inhale, you immediately smell that distinctive peanut butter fragrance. 


Cassia phyllodinea. Here it's not the yellow flowers but the thin, dark red seedpods that are the attraction. As I've mentioned, I did a recent piece on Unusual Seedpods for Pacific Horticulture magazine. This shrub wasn't included but could well have been.


This lovely Echeveria species is gradually colonizing in a sunny, front yard bed. A closer look will reveal the beads of rain left over from last night's rainfall.


Leptospermum lanigerum. I love the downy, silvery foliage on this New Zealand tea tree. It's grown as much or more for this foliage than the simple white flowers. This species doesn't get as big as most tea trees so can be kept in a pot.


Phlomis fruticosa. This salvia relative, known as Jerusalem sage, is one tough and pretty little customer. Normally it wouldn't be blooming this late but well this is the weird and wacky Bay Area.


 Snapdragons + tulips. What you see now are the snapdragons but underneath are tulips. They'll join the party in February and make for a nice full and colorful pot. This is one simple example of vertical planting, making the maximum use of space.


 Just simple stock. OK, gardening quiz. Do you know the botanical name of stock? It's Malcomia and these hybrids are derived from Virginia stock. No matter what you call them they all exude that lovely spicy fragrance.


Every connoisseur's favorite Dicentra (D, scandens). This yellow bleeding heart is almost impossible to find in the trade and it's a mystery why. It's one of the toughest and prettiest vines you'll ever grow. It too is blooming later than usual.


It's nearly impossible to resist the charms of cyclamen this time of year. Of course the flowers are the main show but the patterns on the leaves are equally charming. 


This photo doesn't quite capture the color and charm of this Lachenalia aloides Orange. The first of the South African bulbs to bloom, Lachenalias are an early winter delight.


Echeveria pulvinata. This furry-leaved Echeveria is a real delight, with its red tips and frequent blooming.


Pandas in Oakland? Yes indeed if we're talking Panda-faced ginger, otherwise known as Asarum maximum. The leaves are similar to the more common Asarum caudatum, though to me a bit darker and glossier, but the round, waxy, cream and purple flowers are definitely different.


No, Sango Kaku isn't Klingon but rather a variety of Japanese maple. It's better known as Coral Bark maple for the reddish-orange stems that hold winter attraction. Rather than its late autumn leaves turning red like most maples, this variety's leaves turn golden. You can still see a bit of that as my specimen starts to shed its leaves.


One last shot of my Begonia Nonstop Salmon. This series is well named, as it has been flowering nonstop since August. 


 Echeveria peacockii. I love the slate blues in this Echeveria and like most Echeverias it is quick to flower.


It looks like a Euphorbia but red flowers? It's Euphorbia atropurpurea. This little known spurge is a lovely and vigorous species. Hailing from the Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago off the NW coast of Africa), this especially lovely species will get to about 4-6' tall. Though it can also form a dense mound, my specimen has taken the other form, with arching arms tipped with clusters of bluish-green leaves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sedona photos - Verde Valley Gorge

Here is part three of the photos taken on my recent Sedona AZ trip. Part one was Oak Creek Canyon scenery and part two was the Wild Animal Park. One day was spent taking the historic train ride out through the Verde Valley gorge to the final destination of Perkinsville. The train had open air cars, which everyone took advantage of to get unfiltered and up close and personal views. We also had the company of a naturalist who explained some of the flora and fauna we witnessed. Most fortunately, that included a magnificent bald eagle, perched in a tree not 100 feet from the train on a bare tree. Our final destination was Perkinsville, an historic mining town that is now abandoned. The train provided a unique viewpoint, as there was no corresponding road that took the same route. Just the slow lumbering train and a group of diverse visitors charmed by the experience.


Here's the view from one of the open air train cars. We were lucky to get a sunny day and you can see the contrast between the deep blue skies and the rocky landscape.


This is a second train, on a separate track, seen across the gorge.


The gorge isn't wide but it's deep, a kind of verdant crevice cutting through the desert.


As the train continued on and we crossed one of three bridges, it afforded us a direct on view of the Verde river. 


Off in the distance are the red rocks that distinguish Sedona and the surrounding area. 


Here's a closer shot of the deciduous trees growing along the Verde river. That included a great many Cottonwoods.


Among the local trees was the Mesquite, with its tangled branches and dark trunks.


Perkinsville station. You can see by all the tall, established trees that the river flows through here. It once was a hub and a place where various mining products were hauled from.


It doesn't look like much now, with just a small train station, but there once was a general store that supplied all the basics for people working in the area.

Here are a few photos from the garden, taken today 11/16.


What is my Felicia amelloides doing blooming in the late fall? Consider first that it hails from S. Africa. Some of that genetic history, and the warmer weather we've had recently, is spurring it to flower. Blue daisies as they're called, are one of the toughest sub-shrubs out there.


So, all of a sudden plain out Bidens is breaking out and wanting to party? This is B. Hawaiian Flare Tutti Fruiti. See what happens when you let plants name themselves? Nonetheless it's a fun and exuberant plant.


My amazing Bouvardia is still blooming. Look up 'red' in the visual plant dictionary and there's probably a photo of this scarlet red flower.


Not a great shot but did want to prove that yes, my Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' is still blooming. This photo also shows off the copper-brown bottoms of the leaves.


Primroses are a great way to add color to a part shade winter garden. Here two colors flank my variegated African boxwood (Myrsine africanus). 


This just in - Echeverias love to sunbathe! Or it seems that way this morning as my E. peacockii soaks up some sun. It has been quick to flower and quick to produce pups.


Look closely in this mass of  foliage and you'll see dozens of little deep burgundy flowers. It's my amazing and indefatigable Lotus jacobeus, better known as Black Lotus.


You can 'matric' or you can 'retic.'  The latter would be Camellia reticulata and one of the prettier varieties is this 'Frank Hauser.' Reticulatas are known for their impressively large and often wavy-petaled flowers and this variety holds up its end. When someone says "Oh, camellias, they're boring" I always want to show them this one in bloom.


Did you know that plants 'give birth?'  In a way they do. In this case a Philodendron leaf has unfurled from a tight spike and is still showing its glistening, lime green new state.


Just simple stock but I love this color and of course the flowers' spicy fragrance.


As I've mentioned, I usually take closeups of flowers (or leaves or at least a single plant). Here I stepped back and took one of my central front yard (it faces south). That's the sidewalk in the very front and angling to the right in the main walkway.
 
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