November 25, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly (Wednesday vignette)

Huey, Louie, and Dewey.

Lock, stock, and three golden barrels: Patty, Maxine, and Laverne? Rock, Paper, Scissors?  Gödel, Escher, Bach? Chico, Harpo, and Groucho? Faith, Hope, and Charity? Tinker, Evers, and Chance? Shake, Rattle and Roll? Wynken, Blynken, and Nod?  Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy? Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics? 

I'm here all week, folks. Try the turkey! Heartfelt thanks today to the Gates Cactus & Succulent Society. Kind friends, patient mentors, plants for sale each month,  field trips, trades, great guest speakers, and rescue opportunities with nice plants available for a song: all courtesy of Gates. (Need a pickup truck for a rescue? I'm your girl.)

One of the loveliest things about Gates is their willingness — eagerness! — to rehome plants. That's a blessing for a gardener or collector who lives by the adage "Prune with a shovel" (™ Clair Martin, former Huntington rosarian). If a plant isn't working in my 20 x 50 foot space, it's gone. Thanks to Gates, plant and gardener part as friends. Farewells are painless when good homes are waiting in the wings. 

The top photo was taken in July, and now, in late November, only the dudleya at upper left, the tiny trio of barrels barely visible at far right, and the golden barrels — all three of them from a rescue operation — are still here. Negative space? New plants? A nice puzzle for winter.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum: follow the link for much vignette goodness. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Week

Love this parryi. Brought him home from the school garden two years ago, after the district banned spiky plants. Sun, snow... he doesn't care. Errant leaf is from one of the recent Santa Anas. On the right is Salvia mexicana 'Limelight.'

Much for me to be thankful for. Family, friends, beautiful weather, home, health, the whole week off for dogs and gardening and walks and tamales. I'm very fortunate: all loved ones and I live safe and sound here in the most beautiful region on earth.

Over to you, Pope Francis: 

 A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this
earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
And a favorite quote from a rabbi: "Our prayers are answered when we are moved to do all that we can."


Looking south into the sun this morning. The cholla at upper right, behind the Opuntia basilaris in the old feed trough, looks like an x-ray of itself, spines translucent in the sunlight. That's a little Russelia equisetiformis in the foreground.

Last Sunday, looking north at the same group. That broken pot was one of my favorites :~( I am never throwing it away. To the left of the cholla is a new Opuntia azurea, the second one I've brought home from a UC Riverside Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Love those spines. 

I stumbled across this Gymnocalycium chiquitanum over at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery and couldn't leave without it. It should look more like this. (Scroll down a bit). Beautiful flowers. Needs new soil and a sip of water. Think I'll keep this one inside for the winter.

The closing-shop sale at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery was mostly rained out last weekend, and so there are still a few days to visit and grab some very nice plants. There are BIG golden barrels (>2 feet across) for $50 and under, a gorgeous big Aloe marlothii, a huge Agave titanota, and lots of smaller plants. The nice people running the sales will help you dig up plants (if necessary — lots of choice stuff in the ground) and help carry them to your vehicle. No need to bring the wheelbarrow! Cash only. Black Friday freeway traffic will probably be insane, but towards the end of the week I'd like to drive back to the Mexican Hat for one last visit, maybe buy two or three more plants... two big golden barrels to flank the front door...? Hmmm...


Few things are more beautiful than a Monarch chrysalis, but I'll nominate a Monarch chrysalis hanging on an agave leaf. From a local blog, too: click here, then scroll down and click to embiggen. Also check out this link from the comments: more about the native vs. tropical milkweed debate, by a UC Davis professor. ("Ideologue"? Ouch. Big native plant advocate here, and wouldn't plant tropical milkweed, but look at my patio: I just bought two cactus from Bolivia, for Pete's sake.)

Meanwhile, east of the Mississippi... Julie Zickefoose is an artist and author from Ohio. She has a wonderful blog that I've been following since Chet Baker was a pup. Right now she is getting her garden ready for winter. Japanese maples, sweet potatoes, the story of 'Rio Samba' and the zinnia... and Boston Chet warming himself by the fire. Love that boy.

In the background as I blog, inimitable Chavela Vargas is singing the milonga-candombe 'Negra Maria.' True sad song (and yet so danceable) set during Carnaval in Buenos Aires. Great mix: milonga and candombe from Africa, adopted by descendants of Europeans in Argentina and Uruguay, where these musical influences were crucial to the birth of the tango. And speaking of tango, here's the awesome Gabriel Missé dancing with Analía Centurión at a studio in New York City. Skip ahead to 15:10 and watch them go all Corny Collins Show to Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. (Can't miss Little Richard's all-white 1956 audience.) In my fantasies, warring factions and evil despots hear this song on the radio, and they all put down their weapons and start to dance.

November 18, 2015

It was a dark and stormy night (Wednesday vignette)

Overpotted, bare root, waiting for a real pot...

It was cold (mid 30s F), it was blowing a gale (the Lady Banks rose fell over), and there were intermittent downpours, so before it got dark I rounded up the possibly/probably-less-hardy kids and put them under the patio roof. Sharing shelter with the ones above were a tabletop's worth of others, and a box of paddles from the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery — that's a humongous Opuntia 'Old Mexico' on the left ("previously known as (and may still be listed in various places) Opuntia gomei 'Old Mexico', but recent genetic tests indicate it is a spineless form of Opuntia stricta," says Xenomorf), next to a ginormous Cow's Tongue (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis).

I think I need a bigger pot.

Those two are ready for potting. Next week is Thanksgiving vacation, and the weather should be quite nice for working in the garden. Getting colder, though. I'll have to set up frost cloth central in a week or two.

The Wednesday Vignette is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum — visit the link for much vignette goodness. 

November 12, 2015

Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery: Wednesday Vignette

Echinopsis photobombs an opuntia -- or is it the other way around? Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery, Riverside, California.

When a California succulent nursery has a week-long sale and you're there and you hear someone say, "A man from Arid Lands [not to mention others from Tucson, Las Vegas, Reno] was here yesterday," you know right off that the nursery must be a legendary one, with specimen plants (small ones, too), a wide selection, rarities, and happy surprises. Harvey Welton's Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery has been all that for nearly fifty years. And "Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery"? Best. name. ever.

Harvey is selling everything this week, and closing shop. The sale runs through Monday, November 16. Cash only! More info here. Hope I get a chance to go back one last time. Big thanks, Harvey! 

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum.

November 5, 2015

"I don't think it woke up"

Great photography by Bryan Hughes: click (and then click again) to embiggen.

Late vignette: Wildlife Wednesday

Big voice on this little guy.

When I moved here two years ago, the first wild critter (birds aside) that I spotted in the yard was a treefrog. I'm delighted to hear (and see) them more and more often in my garden. You can hear lots of them singing in the arroyo. They live in surrounding gardens as well, and are occasionally swept down into my yard when an uphill neighbor forgets to turn off a dribbling hose. This little one, spotted at night next to my new Opuntia robusta, is a Baja California Treefrog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca hypochondriaca). Love that Latin name — I might borrow it if I become a rap artist. Treefrogs in the inland foothill chaparral? Yep. From the great CalHerps site:
The name "treefrog" is not entirely accurate. This frog is chiefly a ground-dweller, living among shrubs and grass typically near water, but occasionally it can also be found climbing high in vegetation. Its large toe pads allow it to climb easily, and cling to branches, twigs, and grass.
The Baja California Treefrog's range overlaps the range of the California Treefrog. Different voices! The Baja California Treefrog makes the classic "ribbit." You can follow the links and compare their calls.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum.

November 2, 2015

Snapshot: rainy and cold

A few of the little ones huddled together under the patio roof. 

It's snowing in the mountains — in fact, it's snowing a few miles from my house. Rain started at my place about an hour ago. Temps here aren't expected to dip below 40F or thereabouts, but I'm glad I have stacks of frost cloth in the garage. Took this photo a little after 8:00 PM tonight.

Merlin Tuttle and The Secret Lives of Bats

  Breathtaking. "Bright colors of painted bats blend well with dead leaves where they roost. Vespertilionidae, S and SE Asia." All photos by Merlin Tuttle.

¡Feliz Día de los Fieles Difuntos! Rather than whine about last week's Santa Anas (worst ever, say people who grew up here in the foothills) or the ongoing clean-up (Sisyphean) or express endless and well-deserved appreciation to the local cactus club members who rehomed some of my plants on Sunday afternoon (room for more opuntias and agaves, yay!), I want to talk for a minute about bats, and about Merlin Tuttle.

Dr. Tuttle is the founder and president emeritus of Bat Conservation International. Because of his work on behalf of bat conservation around the world, bats (and plants, and humans) live much, much better lives. That mosquito carrying the dose of West Nile Virus that had your name on it? A bat ate her. (Bats eat thousand of metric tons of insects in the US each year.) Those avocados (cashews, coconuts, bananas, etc.) you can't imagine living without? Bats pollinate them. Saguaros, glories of the wild and of many gardens, wouldn't exist without bats. The saguaro opens its flowers at night for them:

"A lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) pollinating saguaro cactus in Mexico." 

And bats also pollinate agaves. Raise a glass of your favorite reposado to the bat!

"Lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris yerbabuene) pollinating agave (source of tequila) in Arizona." 

And raise another glass to Merlin Tuttle. "Mr. Tuttle is fueled by a ferocious curiosity fed by a stiff dose of crazy," writes Julie Zickefoose in the Wall Street Journal review of his latest book. It's the best kind of crazy: he's determined to learn more, discover more, protect more, educate more, and his adventures along the way make Indiana Jones look like Barney Fife. Saving bats, it seems to me, is a way of saving the world, and I'm so happy that The Secret Lives of Bats is getting lots of attention. Check out the New Yorker review, and the Mother Jones review, then run to Amazon and get a copy.


(There's an old documentary floating around called The Secret World of Bats that features Merlin Tuttle and his work for Bat Conservation International. I've shown it to students every October for over twenty years. I realized with kind of a pang that last week's showing will probably be the final one. Not that I'd forego retirement just to keep playing this ancient video for people, but still. Bats are awesome, and Merlin Tuttle is awesome. I can't wait to read his new book.)