Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November or April?

Okay, I'll admit that it's a bit surreal gardening in the milder zones of the Bay Area. Today in Oakland has felt more like April than November. My garden is not complaining. In fact, it is prospering with the mix of rain and sun.
There are two schools of thought about gardening. Call them the Chicago and Oakland schools. There is no gardening in the Chicago winter. This can be a good thing. You get a chance to step back from all the demands that gardening imposes on us. You concentrate on other things. Then come spring, as the snow melts and the temps rise, your love of gardening is renewed.
The Oakland, or mild winter, school of gardening says 'Why not garden year round? I enjoy it and it gives me something to do on December and January days.' One approach is no better than the other, although of course if you live in a cold climate area you do not have a choice in the matter.
Consider it a musing on the day before we hit December.
And now here are this week's photos.

Camellia Little Babe Variegated. I love the unique combination of colors on each flower. It's always one of my earliest blooming camellias.

Late or early? Normally my Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' blooms in summer but here it is, putting out flowers at the end of November.

I bought this maple many years ago and no longer have the variety tag. All I know is that it's a green, palmate-leaf  type and that it's gotten big. As in 25' tall. Here it is at its maximum fall color.

One more shot of my intriguing Rudbeckia Chim Chiminee. I love its 'quill' petals.

Clethra alnifolia. That's Summersweet to the layperson. It too offers fall color, in this case golden hues.

A squirrel keeps digging up my Arachinodes standishii and I keep putting it back. I finally packed it with shredded cedar bark and that seems to have done the trick. This species is related to the Squirrel foot or Rabbit's foot ferns.

Black bamboo. Here's a shot of what all the fuss is about - the black culms. Very lovely.

Mother ferns may be common but they're still pretty. And they have a lovely spilling habit.

What does Foghorn Leghorn and this Begonia have in common? Well, it's a Wild Pony begonia and I can hear Mr. Leghorn growling "I say hold, I say hold, I say hold on there wild pony!" We now resume our regular programming.

This rare Camellia reticulata is Winner's Circle. Love the coral color, the wavy petals and the generous size of the flowers.

Golden Veronica makes a great ground cover and it gradually creeps out to cover a good size area. It needs to be in the sun to achieve its maximum golden hue.

Somehow this photo of my Hebe ochracea EC Stirling makes it look golden when its really a yellowish-orange. A small guy, it tops out at 18" T and W.

Even when it's not in bloom - and it's in bloom quite often - my Aloe striata is a handsome fellow.

Blue Cloud is certainly an accurate description of this Wahlenbergia variety. Blooming seemingly year round it puts out masses of sky blue flowers that the bees adore.

Dogwoods are one of those 'Early and Late' trees. It blooms very early in the year then puts out its fabulous fall color very late in the year.

I can't remember the botanical name for this sedum but I've always heard it referred to as the Jelly Beans sedum. You can see why.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Woodpeckers of the World

Bird lovers are well aware of the charms of woodpeckers. Though we mostly get Downy, Nuttall's, Red-breasted and Acorn woodpeckers (with the occasional Pileated) here in the Bay Area, there are of course woodpeckers found throughout the world. And you might be surprised to find just how exotic they can be. Today's blog is devoted to some of the more colorful woodies we might never see in person but can at least enjoy wonderful photos of. I am not a woodpecker expert so the brief notes for each woody are culled from the internet.

Banded woodpecker. It is found in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests.

Great Spotted woodpecker. Found in Eurasia and North Africa. Great spotted woodpeckers chisel into trees to find food or excavate nest holes, and also drum for contact and territorial advertisement.

Yellow-fronted woodpecker. Nope, this isn't a 'fake' photograph. These guys really do look like this. They're found in Brazil, Paraguay and NE Argentina. Their natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forests. They are a fairly common bird with a wide range and its conservation status has been classified as "least concern."

Imperial woodpecker. The world's largest woodpecker (22" in length). Owing to its similarity in appearance to the Ivory-billed woodpecker, it is sometimes called the Mexican Ivorybill. This large and conspicuous bird has long been known to the native inhabitants of Mexico.

Lewis's woodpecker. Unlike other American woodpeckers, it enjoys sitting in the open as opposed to sitting in heavy tree cover. It ranges mostly in the western to central United States but can winter as far south as the US border. Lewis's woodpecker engages in some rather un-woodpecker-like behavior in its gregarious feeding habits. Although it does forage for insects by boring into trees with its chisel-like bill, the bird also catches insects in the air during flight, a habit that only a few other woodpeckers, such as the Acorn, Redheaded and Northern Flicker, engage in.

Banded woodpecker (second photo and additional notes). The banded woodpecker feeds singly or in pairs, foraging unobtrusively among vines and dense cover as well as higher in the canopy, probing into crevices, moss and epiphytes. Its diet consists of ants, their eggs and larvae, as well as other small invertebrates

Black-headed woodpecker. An uncommon woodpecker of the northern coniferous forests, its breeding range is boreal forests across Canada, Alaska and the northern U.S. states. It prefers burned-over sites, moving from place to place, following outbreaks of wood-boring beetles in recently burned habitats. It is also known as the Arctic Three-toed woodpecker.

Blond-crested woodpecker. Nope, this gorgeous creature is not a 'bottle blonde.' It is widely distributed throughout eastern Brazil and south into Paraguay and Argentina. It has three recognized subspecies and could possibly be split into more as ornithologists learn more about this poorly studied bird. It eats fruits and berries, making this bird an important seed disperser, though its main diet is tree ants and termites.

Chestnut-colored woodpecker. The natural habitat of this handsome fellow is the subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests of Central America. Its plumage appears very dark, with many V-shaped black marks on rich chestnut above and below. Its crested head is creamy brown, its bill greenish ivory. Males sport noticeable red markings, that being a broad mustache mark, part of an ear patch and sometimes on the lores.

Chestnut-colored woodpecker. Here's a closer photo.

Cream-colored woodpecker. My favorite! Celeus flavus is unmistakably recognizable by its pale but distinct yellow plumage and beak, long erect crest, dark brown wings and black tail. The male is identified by its thick bright red malar stripe. This South American native gets to 12" long. It displays interesting vocalizations. It emits a high-pitched laugh: "wutchuk kee-hoo-hoo-hoo" or "pueer, pueer, purr, paw" with the final note in a lower pitch. During interaction with other bird species, it may repeat "kiu-kiu-kiu-kiu".

Crimson-mantled woodpecker. My second favorite, mainly for the rich reds it displays. Most Neotropical species of woodpecker have plumages that predominately are brown, olive, or black, but the Crimson-mantled Woodpecker is a spectacular exception to this general trend. The upper parts are bright red, with a prominent white patch on the sides of the head, and the lower breast and belly are yellow. This species occurs in humid montane forests of the Andes from northwestern Venezuela south to Bolivia. Fortunately for bird lovers, it is fairly common, though spotting it may be difficult  as it is relatively quiet and inconspicuous in behavior.

Greater Flame-back woodpecker. Gets the Woody Award for the coolest name! Large for a woodpecker (15"), it features an erect crest and a long neck. Coloration is highly variable between subspecies, though it always displays unmarked golden-yellow to dark brown back and wings. It has a red rump and black tail, while the underparts are white with dark markings (chevrons, stripes, or bands). The striking head is whitish with a black pattern. The straight pointed bill is longer than its head and – like the legs and four-toed zygodactl feet – lead-grey

Greater Yellownape woodpecker. This cool customer is found in the forests of the Himalayas to eastern India and Sumatra. This large, olive green woodpecker features a prominent yellow-crested nape and throat. Wings are dark olive green with grey underparts. Flight feathers are chestnut barred with black. In the breeding season they perch on dead trees, and peck on them, making a loud sound (drumming) heard throughout the forest.

Grey and Buff woodpecker. Don't look too long at this woodpecker's back or you'll get dizzy! This woodpecker is native to tropical southeastern Asia. It is usually seen singly or in pairs, but sometimes occurs in mixed species flocks foraging in the canopy. It mainly feeds by gleaning rather than by drilling into the wood, the diet consisting of insects and fruit, including mistletoe berries.The birds roost communally at night in shallow holes they excavate near each other in the dead wood.

Helmeted woodpecker. This woody is endangered due to habitat loss in its native NE Argentina and SE Brazil regions. They sport long bills (1.5") that are wide at the base and shaped like a chisel. Their head, lores and ear coverts are cinnamon-coloured, brightening to red on the crown and crest. The mantle, wings, upper back and nape are brown-black, the lower back is cream and the underparts barred black and cream. The red crest, black back, and barred underside of the helmeted woodpecker resemble those of two larger woodpeckers, Lineated woodpecker and Robust woodpecker, a form of mimicry which helps prevent attacks by other animals.

Hispaniolan woodpecker. This distinctive woody is endemic to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The back is covered in yellow and black stripes. Males have a dark red crown and nape while in females, the red color is restricted to the nape. The tail base is brilliantly red while the tail itself is black. This woodpecker is quite vocal, emitting a range of sounds including yapping, squeaking, rolling and nasal calls. Drumming is done only occasionally..

Kaempfer's woodpecker. If you're going to have a woody named after you, this cute guy seems like a good choice. The head and remiges are mainly rufous-chestnut, the underparts and back are buff, the wing-coverts are barred in black and buff and the chest and tail are uniform black. The male has a red malar and mottling on its crest. It is native to Brazil and only seen in small numbers. It appears to be dependent on dense woodlands, often along rivers and much like its closest relative, the Rufous-headed woodpecker, it is a bamboo specialist.

Lita woodpecker. This smaller (8") woody is found in humid and wet forests as well as in lowlands and foothills of Western Colombia and NW Ecuador. Both males and females have a large yellow facial patch and a red head patch which extends to the crown on males. Their main vocalization is a hissing “shreeyr” or “peessh.” Not a lot is known about this woody, due in part to its small numbers.

Red-headed woodpecker. This strikingly tri-colored species, with a black back and tail, red head and neck and white underparts, is native to southern Canada and the northeastern part of the U.S. Interestingly, adult males and females are identical in plumage. These birds hunt insects, whether flying or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole or the dead part of a tree.

Here's one final shot of the colorful Yellow-fronted woodpecker.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

With a Little Help From Our Friend

Today's rain may cause motorists some problems and those working outside headaches but it is certainly welcomed by our gardens. There is no substitute for the life force that rain brings. A good soak like we're getting today penetrates the soil and nourishes both our plants roots as well as the beneficial organisms in the soil. And for those with bulbs in their garden, the rain stimulates new shoots to pop up. Of course the rain also cleans the air. There's nothing quite like walking out in the garden after a rain.
Today's photos cover a wide spectrum, with diverse groupings such as shrubs, succulents, bromeliads, flowering perennials and fall trees making an appearance.

Unlike most Japanese maples, whose fall leaves turn a bright red, Coral Bark maples offer a stunning display of gold. Here's my 3 year old tree offering up a wonderful fall show.

One more shot of my spotted Billbergia and its vivid flowers. From this angle it looks for all the world like an exploding star. I urge all of you who haven't explored the world of bromeliads to do so. Tough. Easy to care for. Colorful. 

For some, air plants are just ... well ... air plants. They are of course another type of bromeliad (Tillandsia) and their variety is something to behold. Here's a less common one - T. tectorum. It's really like nothing else out there, with its silvery-white slender branches.

Art is a great way to both add color to your garden and in the case of animals invoke their spirits. Although this new acquisition is listed as a gecko, his colors make him look much more like a chameleon.

I'm a lover of caudiciforms (Fat plants) and this new addition is a Pachypodium lealii v. saudersii. He's still a baby so hasn't undergone the swelling on the lower trunk that's representative of many caudex plants.

"When at first you don't succeed ..." I had no luck growing Canarina canariensis before but the second time is the charm. This Canary Island's bulb likes a dry summer and leafs out in the late fall. It's quick to add its distinctive orange bell-shaped flowers and this year mine is producing a good crop. I'm so glad I wasn't discouraged by my initial failure as the flowers are so lovely.

Beauty Berry bush (Callicarpa) is a familiar sight in winter gardens, being a plant that produces purple berries that often cling to leafless branches this time of year. Here's a white flowering variety, already despite its diminutive size (4" pot) producing a good crop of berries. It's
Callicarpa japonica leucocarpa and is hard to find in the trade.

Although most people buy Nicandra physalodes for its pretty purple flowers, it also produces highly decorative seedpods. They resemble closed, nodding paper lanterns, with a distinctive upper black blush. 

Hebes are still one of the better kept secrets in the world of shrubs. Compact and offering surprising variety of form, they can be used in a great number of ways. Here's a H. hinerua I've put in a decorative yellow pot. I love its soft, bright green foliage and bushiness.

Dogwoods are another great way to add fall color to your garden. This Cornus florida turns a deep red in the late fall before dropping its leaves. For those who may not already realize this, the color comes from the tree pulling the nitrogen in its green leaves back into the main body of the tree. That leaves a red color that indicates leaves about to fall.

Whether you call this color red, hot fuchsia or ?? this stock plant is making a bold statement. Vivid colors and a spicy fragrance are this fall and winter annual's calling card.

I thought the dappled light on my Salvia libanensis made for an attractive photo. It has grown quickly and time will tell whether it blooms in its first year and if so whether it does indeed bloom in the winter.

Hibiscus have such dramatic styles that it's fun showing them off in a photo. I'm still waiting for my Hibiscus schizopetalus to bloom, a species that has one of the longest styles of any flower.

Though I'm still waiting for my Caryopteris Hint of Gold to bloom, it has retained its burnished golden foliage. Here the leaves are reaching out for more sun, through a patch of Iris confusa.

Azalea Mangetsu. This is one of the latest blooming Azaleas I know of. It's just now producing its first pink-rimmed white flowers. This is one tough customer, having survived not one, not two but three attacks of thrips.

The Pelargonium that Ate Oakland! Well, almost. My P. crispum variegatus Lemon just keeps growing and spreading out. One of THE most fragrant plants you'll ever smell.

Phyllitis scolopendrium. Better known as Hart's Tongue fern, it's one of the simple or broadleaf ferns. I love its lime-green colors and wavy margins. Kind of looks like a sea star who just kept growing arms.

Has anyone seen my lipstick ... plant? It's not always easy to get this houseplant to flower but a little fertilizing seems to have done the trick. If this plant were outside, hummers would love it. For now that love will have to come from me.

I've always loved batik and this is a new addition that I've hung in front of a kitchen window. Those are two dragonflies.
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