Monday, July 23, 2012

The House Wren

Now is the time to venture out in the cool of the morning to scout the garden looking for the darling House Wren. She has probably made a nest in some odd place so finding it is an interesting scavenger hunt of sorts and a fun game. They famously choose unusual sites for their nests, including door wreaths, lamp posts, garage shelving, and even old shoes that have been left outside The Wrens come here in the spring with the male signaling their arrival with an almost incessant stream of burbles, warbles, buzzes and rattling churrs. Native Americans called this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, meaning ‘making a big noise for its size’. They are considered a songbird even though their wonderful song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Since the diet of the House Wren consists almost entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, and grasshoppers they are a valuable asset to the gardener for natural control of pests. As indicated by their common name, they are intensely interested in humans and often nest where they receive our attention. They will make a cup sized nest of various materials including string and pieces of plastic and sit on three to seven creamy white eggs. To encourage this valuable little bird to nest in the garden some people find boxes with a hole small enough to prevent competitive nesters is an option... and knowing their location makes spying on the babies easier than looking for the nest through a hunt. Small and overly confident, the brown House Wren is extremely territorial and will make efforts to destroy the nest of competitive birds. It is said they will occasionally destroy the eggs of other birds by breaking the egg shell. They have also been known to vandalize the cavity of other bird nests by placing sharp sticks in them therefore rendering them unusable. Both parents will raise their young and the family will leave here for winter quarters in Mexico by early October. When their sociable behavior is added to their abilities to control pests, it is no wonder this dear little bird is among the all time American favorites. The photo was taken in our shop, where a wren had nested behind some steel. The babies are happy visit with the welders!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Cicadas Are Singing~

The magical Cicadas have arrived and their melodic song foretells of temperatures over ninety degrees for the day. There are 2,500 species of Cicadas and they exist on every Continent except Antarctica. Their name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "buzzer" and their remarkable song is actually produced by the males calling to the ladies. Yesterday listening to the songs was a delightful concert and one could hear the differences in the singers. Several sang decidedly distinct with longer and more masculine compositions than the others; one may assume they were the ‘rock stars’ of the evening, drawing throngs of female fans.

For their song, the Cicada is a favorite by universal standards.
There is amazing folklore surrounding this marvelous insect. Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) wrote a series of famous fables for the pleasure of the court and one was about the Cicada. Much like Aesop’s ‘Grasshopper and the Ant’, the Cicada is gadding about as the ants work, which is much to his dismay as winter arrives and he does not survive. The Cicada is portrayed in Japanese literature, and Japanese Haiku poetry. More significantly, the Chinese considered the Cicada of import even using the phrase ‘shed off the golden cicada skin’ as an example of a strategic tactic to avoid enemies. Mentioned as one of the Thirty-Six Stratagems used by generals, the Cicada leaves the shell behind to deceive enemies as the body itself escapes danger. The Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' (published 1590) is one of China’s four great classical novels. It has remained popular for centuries possibly due to it’s interesting story line of adventure, transformation, and symbolism. In it one of the journeying characters, the Priest of Tang, is named the Golden Cicada with the shedding of the skins symbolic of stages of transformation as he evolves to enlightenment.

As one listens to the concerts...picking out the rock stars, as one recalls finding the shells as a child... and storing the collection in a box under the bed, as one marvels at an insect that can foretell the temperature... it is indeed awe-inspiring that we are able to sit back and rejoice in what the Master Plan has provided as entertainment in our own back yards.

Cicada Princess, in production now, will be a 'must have' video...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Amaryllis Belladonna... Naked Ladies

The lovely Amaryllis Belladonna has made her arrival at the garden party this week. Commonly called ‘Naked Ladies they appear from a leafless base and are also called ‘Surprise Flowers’ for their overnight appearance in the garden from a barren spot. The stunning Naked Lady comes from a clump forming bulb. Each year the bulb will increase in size and the flowers will appear at the outermost edge so over the years one bulb becomes a mass of exquisite flowers. The foliage appears in the garden in the very early spring and looks at first like jonquil leaves. Very soon however the foliage out-grows everything around it and begins to collapse early in the season requiring binding or staking to keep it from overshadowing its neighbors. The foliage dies away and is easily removed as debris by late May. The spot in the garden now appears quite bare until mid-July when suddenly the flowers begin to appear. A tall sturdy stem supports a mass of with six to twelve flowers which have a heady and intoxicating fragrance.

This wonderful plant seems undisturbed by severe growing conditions and will bloom faithfully in shade or sun regardless of the heat. The ease of these ‘Ladies’ growing habits makes even a novice gardener joyful and will add beauty and grace to any garden setting. Often planted with Shasta daisies to cover the bare base, they bloom at the same time allowing for a visual garden bouquet. As with so many of our lovely flowers this one is originally from South America where it grows in wild abandon in dry and dusty sites.

Mine arrived in my garden quite by accident. When my father died in July of 1994 I was distraught and could not be comforted. I was walking in my garden the day after his funeral when miraculously before my eyes was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen. It was the first of 12 Naked Ladies to arrive, one each day for 12 days, each in an odd place in my garden. Since no one planted them my family has long been convinced my father sent them to me. These flowers will always seem special to me and each time I see them I think of my father and thank him for sending them to me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dazzling Dragonflies

Dazzling, daring dragonflies are seen darting about at all hours of the day. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a dance above the meadow. This year they have appeared in a stunning array of brilliant colors by mid-morning. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches!

Dragonfly adults are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, translucent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may include sudden aeronautical chases which exhibit extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect, from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae.
The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late Summer and early Autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

Regardless of their artistic and intrinsic importance, the fact they will purge the garden of mosquitoes make them an extremely welcome visitor anytime.

Photo Credit: My friend Sharon Madison Bastianelli