Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Author: xensen Page 1 of 22

Red-flowering Currant

Red-Flowering Currant

Red-flowering Current

The genus Ribes includes currants and gooseberries (the name is derived from a Farsi word meaning “acid-tasting”). Gooseberries bear thorns but currants are thornless. Gooseberry fruits are larger and sweeter, and more often eaten raw (though birds favor the small berries of currants).

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering or Pink-Flowering Currant, is native to the Western US. It produces pendant flowers that are beloved by hummers, in late winter or early spring. This one began flowering in our garden around Groundhog’s Day, that is, the cross-quarter known as Imbolc in the druidic calendar, which is the beginning of our spring here in the Bay Area. The flowers are long lasting, hanging on through our dry summer. Small blue berries appear in the fall, to the delight of birds.

I think we purchased this plant from Watershed nursery in Richmond last spring. It is now about five feet tall in a large container. In the ground it would probably get to be six to ten feet. It seems to like part sun rather than full, and is said to produce fruit even in nearly full shade. It is drought tolerant once established.

Ribes sanguineum has a bushier shape than Golden Currant, Ribes aureum, which is almost vinelike and in our garden seems happy against a fence. The red-flowering variety is also more deciduous, although this one never went fully deciduous. But the new leaves are glossier and greener, while last year’s leaves are more mottled and tend toward yellow. In some situations the plant will produce excellent fall color as the leaves turn. The leaves are fragrant.

This is a great habitat plant for Bay Area gardens, and a real beauty besides.

Citrus infusions

Citrus infusions

These are a few of the infusions I’m preparing to be used in a new citrus amaro. I like the different colors. Left to right: Eureka Lemon, Satsuma Orange, Bearss Lime.

These are just infusing in vodka, so they will take a little longer than if I were using grain alcohol.

All of the citrus I use is from my garden and has not been treated with any pesticides or other nasties.

January garden detail

The January Garden

January Garden

We are fortunate in the Bay Area to be able to have decent-looking gardens in January. Using native plants as the bones of the garden helps.

This January has been a good one, with pretty steady rains but few sustained very strong storms.

Senecio talinoides

After several years in the garden, the plant is starting to flower. Stay tuned.

wasp on sedum flower

Wasp on Sedum

Wasp on Sedum

This wasp, which I believe is Prionyx thomae (P. parkeri and P. canadensis are similar), seemed very interested in a flowering sedum. It appeared to be collecting nectar, though conceivably it was just watching for prey.

Fairly common in the western U.S. and south to Argentina, Prionyx thomae is a solitary wasp. The female kills prey such as grasshoppers by injecting them with venom, then carries the remains back to a nest where it can serve as a host for its offspring. Because the stinger is not barbed like that of a bee, it doesn’t break off in its victim, and the female can inflict multiple stings. (The male lacks a stinger entirely.)

If my insect identification skills were better I might be able to tell if this is a male or a female. Guidelines from Bohart, R.M., Menke, A.S., 1963, A Reclassification of the Sphecinae: With a Revision of the Nearctic Species of the Tribes Sceliphronini and Sphecini:

  • Male—Average length 12 mm; head and thorax black, gaster red, tergites rarely with darker markings; wing clear in cellular area, darker beyond; erect hair of head and thorax white; flagellum as in figure 103; sternite VII entire
  • Female—Average length 13 mm; pronotal lobe and vertex, scutal furrows, mesopleura behind pronotal lobe, and pleura above mid and hind coxae with appressed silvery pubescence; labial palpus generally not visible in museum specimens, much shorter than maxillary palpus

The female carries its prey, sometimes larger than itself, to a chamber it excavates at the end of a tunnel that it digs for the purpose, then lays its egg.

Bug Eric (my best source) describes such a wasp grappling with its grasshopper prey.

California Cleome

California Cleome (Peritoma arborea)

Many California native plants have been given unloving common names, and Peritoma arborea — best known as Bladderpod — counts among them. More blandly called Californea Cleome, it is notable for its unusual yellow flowers, which bloom year-round, and its globular fruits, which rattle when shaken. Native to Southern California and Baja California deserts, it is extremely drought tolerant, without turning gray or silver like many such plants, but instead remaining cheerfully green.

Pomegranate Flower

Pomegrante Flower

This is the pomegranates’ second summer here. They are growing in large containers. I think they were two years old when I purchased them. Now at last they are getting the large red flowers that presage fruit.

Iochroma cyanea ‘Royal Blue’

Iochroma cyanea 'Royal Blue'

One of the prettiest flowers in the garden. It seems to prefer a little more shade than Iochroma coccinea.

Grasses in the Point Pinole Meadow

Grasses in the Point Pinole Meadow

The fishing pier is a popular destination at Point Pinole, as are the eucalyptus forests and the bluff overlooking San Pablo Bay and the salt marshes. But the grassy meadow in the middle of it all is one of my favorite spots, and many types of birds agree. I think most of the grasses are nonnative but, especially at this time of year, they are attractive, particularly in the slanted rosy evening light. P6175346.

Staghorn Fern and Tree Fern

Staghorn Fern with Tree Fern

The Staghorn Fern is a kind of Platycerium; otherwise I’m not sure of the botanical names of these plants, which were in the Australasian area at the UC Botonaical Garden. P6165233

Salvia apiana (White Sage)

Salvia apiana (White Sage)P6145179

A California native plant. I wrote about this in “My Artemsia,” an essay appearing soon.

Fuschia flowers

Fuschia flowers

This fuschia plant was present on our property when we moved in. I don’t know what kind of fuschia it might be. It has suffered considerable neglect, yet has survived. It doesn’t seem susceptible to the mites that have devasted many Bay Area fuschias.*

*cf. Pam Peirce, “Fuchsias Rise Again in the Bay Area” (Pacific Horticulture).

Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’

Cotinus coggygria 'Purpureus' (Smoketree)

Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’ (Smoketree).

Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’

Papaver rhoeas 'Falling in Love'

Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’

Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava)

Poppy pods

Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi'

Poppy (P5172143)

Shameless.

Verbena lilacina (Lilac Verbena)

Verbena lilacina (Lilac Verbena)

With Artemisia californica (California Sagebrush), Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy), and Erigeron karvinskianus (Santa Barbara Daisy).

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (P5142058)

Our native California Pipevine butterfly, Battus philenor, is a handsome swallowtail notable for its deep iridescent blue color decorated with orange and white polka dots. It favors coastal scrub and inland riparian areas, but essentially is found wherever the native California pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica (also known as Dutchman’s Pipe for its strangely shaped flowers) is found. It is the sole host plant for this butterfly, which is consequently entirely dependent upon it for survival.

Among many food plants is Jupiter’s Beard, Centranthus ruber, a volunteer in our garden, shown above and at the bottom of this post. All butterflies, of course, have host plants where eggs are laid and caterpillars develop, as well as food plants that are sources of nectar during the insect’s butterfly stage.

Pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica.

Pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica.

Swallowtails that feed on Aristolochia mainly live in the tropics. This one is a northern pioneer of the species. The host plant provides the insect with toxic aristolochic acids, and the distinctive color and markings announce the toxins’ presence to potential predators, who take note and look for more palatable prey.

It is said of the pipevine plant that in the first year it sleeps, in the second year it creeps, and in the third year it leaps. In favorable conditions, the vine can climb to the top of tall trees. But is also content to crawl along the ground if need be. Our pipevine, shown above, is in its second year.

Art Shapiro has an excellent page with more information on Battus philenor. Las Pilitas is a good place to read about Aristolochiua californica and other native plants.

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (P5142076 copy)

Chestnut-backed chickadee (P3301477)
Chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens).

House finch (Carpodocus mexicanus)

house-finch (P5132028)

Originally native to the arid southwest of North America, the resourceful house finch (Carpodocus mexicanus), is now found in every U.S. state. After nesting, the finches gather into sizable flocks — ours are particularly fond of hanging out in the Pineapple guava (Feijoa). They are attractive little birds with a pleasing sort of bebop jazzy song (performed by the male). You can listen to it at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Gruss an Aachen rose (P5132015)

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