At the risk of jinxing the string of recent good gardening weather, I have to say it’s been nice to get some rain and cooler temperatures after the extreme heat of spring. It rained last night and the night before. It’s cool and breezy today and the air has the freshness of April, but not this April, which felt more like August. After an explosion of flowers on the Leccino olive tree, I had high hopes that we might get another good crop, two years after the first. But I noticed yesterday that neither the Arbequinas nor the Manzanillos flowered at all. Dang! It so happens that, of the three cultivars, only the Arbequinas are supposed to be self-fertile. So the Leccino, unless another olive cultivar was flowering synchronously nearby while I had my back turned, will likely be barren again this year. Ouch.
Luckily, the fig in section B is finally recovering from the radical reconstructive surgery I performed on it over the last five years. It’s more like a fig bush than a fig tree now, but it’s bearing fruit again. The fruit used to go almost entirely to the birds, but humans are now sharing the bounty.
It is July and, of course, many flowers and fruit are still in the process of developing, but others are in full display. The native roses have already flowered, but their fruit persist on the plants for a long time, food for an array of herbivores, including some humans.
Fifty feet to the west, the American plum has produced fruit. Last year’s heat (or something) caused it to abort all of its fruit. I think they will ripen this summer.
According to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (KRBG) website, Alexander the Great, while out conquering and adventuring, lost men who made the mistake of skewering their meat for grilling on the toxic branches of oleander. Yes, it is quite toxic, but, as KRBG also points out, oleander can be used by some heart patients as an alternative to digitalis. The same is true of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). The oleander in the garden made it through the last (mild) winter with no damage. How it will do if temperatures get below 20F for a week or two, I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.
Most species of milkweed in the Medicinal Herb Garden have no discernible scent (nothing that I’ve noticed anyway), but the showy milkweed has beautiful, star-shaped flowers with a delicious aroma that draws people in as if by gravitational pull, as they try to figure out where the scent originates. Perhaps they’re human-nose pollinated. Once before, I grew showy milkweed in section C and it performed dismally. It seems to like its new spot and is thriving as one of the garden’s more charismatic specimens. If it spreads out of its bed like the nearby Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) and American licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), well, so be it. Garden borders are an unnatural encumbrance (as are gardens…) and I support all plants that will not be neatly domesticated. Amen. Anyway, it’s a small price to pay for being able to grow wild plants.
And then there’s yi ye qiu; the flowers are tiny and unremarkable, but who cares? It just happens to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It doesn’t need to look good. Unfortunately, I neglected to look closely at the flowers on the other plant. Yi ye qiu is dioecious, meaning there are both plants with only male flowers, and plants with only female flowers. These pictured below are male (or staminate) flowers, so, first duty on Monday is to investigate the flowers on the other plant to see if they’re female (or pistillate). If not, I need to start more plants to hopefully grow a female to plant near the male and get some fruit (small, unremarkable seed capsules…).
This has been a banner year for the eastern prickly pears in the xeriscape bed, but this is the only species of Opuntia that is flowering. Don’t ask why. What you see is what you get.
That’s the flora report. Now for the fauna report. Raccoons, herons and coyotes…and now deer. The edge of the University of Washington campus has a lot of green space connected to other green spaces around the city. These green spaces are excellent corridors that allow animals to pass through the city without being seen. Sometimes it feels more like a park than a college campus.
I wanted to get pictures of the coyote (Canis latrans) pups by the Union Bay Natural Area (near where I’m starting my plants for the next two years, until the new Biology Greenhouse is built), but I was too late. Apparently a few of the neighbors felt they could not live near coyotes that had a den nearby, so they called in the USDA to shoot the mother and two pups last week. I suspect there will be more coyotes. They’ve been seen in that area for years, so the habitat must be good for them. They haven’t acquired the title of Trickster for nothing. My guess is that shooting a few coyotes, assuming at least one escaped, is the first step in selecting for stealthier, wilier coyotes. If they learn to stay out of sight, only those of us who look for their signs will know they’re here.
Last week, on the same day I heard about the coyote extermination, my source told me that a deer (Odocoileus virginianus) had been seen walking through the same area. There aren’t many off-leash dogs running around the north end of the city and there are a lot of gardens with tasty plants to browse, so it’s probably a pretty nice place for a deer to bed down for a while. It’s exciting to know that a walk at first light or evening twilight might lead any of us to a close encounter with a wilderness visitor, creeping in at the edges, outside our control. Here’s a YouTube link to a favorite song by Exene Cervenka, written from the perspective of that irreverent outlaw, the coyote.
eyes catching firelight
nearby but beyond our reach
watching us depart
See you in the garden.