All the Species in My Yard

yup-all of them, great AND small

Hopeful stinker: flowering currant July 30, 2009

Filed under: Shrubs — Martin John Brown @ 11:02 am
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As a gardener I haven’t been too successful at growing food for humans — I might get up the energy to plant some lettuce or something, then I always forget and it bolts or dies — but I’ve got a great record at feeding insects and birds.  All I need for that is some tough-ass native plants neglect just can’t kill, especially ones with flowers and fruits that come out especially early or late.  Case in point: Ribes sanguineum, or red flowering currant.

photo: flickr user Elle-Epp, used under CC

photo: flickr user Elle-Epp, used under CC

It is absolutely the first sign of spring around my property, with the leaf buds sometimes starting to break in late December — adding an atmosphere of hope to a most dismal time for the weather.  Then the spring brings huge collections of bright pink flowers, and those bring hummingbirds, especially Anna’s, right to my kitchen window.

Just don’t try to bring that magic inside by making cut flowers.  Leave these stalks in a vase in a closed room and you’ll discover what your grandmother, in discount perfume, would have smelled like if she lived in a high school locker room for two months.  The hummingbirds don’t mind, it seems, or maybe they do — those Anna’s are pretty testy.


Monster magnet: Ceanothus ‘Victoria’ July 29, 2009

Filed under: Shrubs — Martin John Brown @ 3:27 pm
Tags: ,

In the woods of the Pacific Northwest, Ceanothus shrubs are pretty common and unassuming members of the understory, squatting resentfully beneath glamorous firs — like federal employees toiling at their desks below the shiny flagpoles of their elected bosses.

Ceanothus does grunt work, fixing nitrogen at an impressive rate.  Then, one day, it gets its chance, its big break: a forest fire that wipes out most of those trees.  Ceanothus burns, but it regenerates fast from roots and grows thick and tall, making those once-lovely forest stands thick and impassable with 10-foot-high tangles of evergreen leaves.  They become the landscape for a while before the trees get the upper hand again.

photo: flickr user mortimer, used under CC

photo: flickr user mortimer, used under CC

Or at least that’s how I’ve seen it happen, in one burned area where natural regeneration was allowed to proceed.

Now in the garden, cultured varieties like ‘Victoria’ are popular, because of the spectacular purple flowers.  But Ceanothus’ wild properties are still lurking there.  A small bush can turn into a huge impenetrable green blob fast — which for several weeks each year will turn into a huge purple blob, especially impenetrable because it is serving as a kind of Burning Man for bees.