The Oak Titmouse is a common resident of Northern California Oak woodlands. Typically monogamous throughout its short (about five-year) life, it nests in comfy moss-lined cavities. It is vocal, and its songs and calls are often heard when one is walking in our woods. Birds of Northern Californiadescribes its call as a nasal tsick-a-dee-dee, but as you can hear at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, its sounds are more varied than that suggests. A bit high-strung, it can often be seen hopping about in search of insects, nuts, berries, and seeds (it also frequents feeders). Though not brightly colored or patterned, it boasts a jaunty head tuft (hard to see here), and all in all is quite the charmer.
Plants live their lives just as we do, surrounded by loved ones, competitors.and enemies; seeking to find harmony and health; and hoping to leave behind a legacy of well-adjusted progeny capable of carrying on after their demise. Like us, they have evolved complicated pathways and behaviors to accomplish this. We are not really that different …
Who doesn’t love pak choy (bok choy)? It’s a kind of Brassica rapa, a relative of turnip, mustard, cabbage, etc. In the past I’ve grown a variety called violetta, which is both beautiful and tasty. But this fall I felt I was a little too late to start a winter crop from seed, and I picked up some seedlings at a local nursery.
In our region we can grow cool-season vegetables as winter crops. Essentially there are two winter seasons, which are defined by the dormant months of December and January, when most plants shut down. There is an early winter crop, which can be planted in August or September and harvested in November (as a rule), and then there are others that take a little longer, getting started in the fall, shutting down in midwinter, and then maturing for harvest in February or March.
This pak choy is a small variety, growing to five inches tall, called Toy Choy. It’s very early, being ready for harvest in just thirty days. So we will be harvesting this one in the late fall / early winter. Growing pak choy as a winter crop has advantages: less watering is needed because of rain and shorter, cooler days, and the plant is less likely to bolt since it’s not subjected to summer heat.
One pleasure of gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area is the ability to grow citrus. While we don’t get the heat that produces the bountiful harvests of Southern California groves, we do have mild enough winters that we can grow many types of citrus and get a decent harvest from them (where I am anyway, maybe not in the sun- and heat-starved city). And citrus trees usually do well in containers, which provides great flexibility.
The latest addition is a Eustis Limequat (Citrofortunella japonica, I guess, though there seems to be a lack of consensus about the plant’s botanical name). As the plant’s common name suggests, this is a hybrid of kumquat and lime, specifically Key (Mexican) lime. It typically grows to about six to eight feet. The hybrid was created by Walter Swingle in Florida in 1909, and Florida remains the main area of its popularity. But the tree should be grown more widely, because from its kumquat parent it inherits greater cold tolerance that most limes. According to Gardening Know How, “It can usually survive temperatures as low as 22 F. (-6 C.), and it can sometimes survive as cold as 10 F. (-12 C.).”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*
Some rights reserved 2021 Tom’s Garden. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via rightreading.com/contact.htm.