Updates

It has been rough keeping up with blogging as I have a lot on my plate right now. I’ve been very busy with work, I have been developing my garden and have some big plans for it in the future and I have a few planted aquariums now that are a lot of work.

Leucospermum reflexum

One of my new plants in my garden redesign is this Leucospermum reflexum. Usually I don’t like to post pictures of plants that already had buds when I bought them as I think it is cheating if I didn’t get it to bloom myself. But my track record so far with Leucospermums is pretty bad so there is no guarantee it will be alive to bloom next year! They are tricky. Lots of changes in my home garden coming up so I look forward to sharing more when it is further along.

Finches on Salvia mellifera

I found the above photo while I was looking for inspiration for a garden I just designed. The focus was to be a native wildlife garden and there is nowhere better to look for ideas than my own garden when it comes to attracting wildlife.  Last July the finches were going crazy for the Salvia mellifera which was going to seed. It is not the most ornamental of sages but it gets an A+ for wildlife. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies while in bloom and all sorts of finches and California quail once it goes to seed. Plus it is a local native so very little water is needed to keep it going.

I have kept fish since I was quite young and of course my life for plants found its way into my aquariums as well. It is definitely a bit more tricky keeping aquatic plants and dealing with issues like algae and pressurized CO2 injection. I have run into all sorts of obstacles and problems but I am pretty happy with my results so far.

Hydrocotyle leucocephala

I am pretty impressed with myself that I got Hydrocotyle leucocephala to bloom in a little aquarium in my office.

Panda Lyretail Mollie and Blyxa japonica pearling

And I was fooling around with my new camera and I snapped this picture of Blyxa japonica pearling with a female panda lyretail mollie looking on.

Really happy with my aquarium of SE Asian and Australian fish. The aquascaping still needs some work. I am still at the point where I want to grow every different plant I read about so it is stuffed with plants rather than a cohesive design. But I finally got a problem I was having with green water cleared up so the tank is looking nice and these beautiful rainbowfish and rasboras are really fun.

 

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Emergence

I missed the monarch on my Echeveria that I posted a few weeks ago when it emerged. I kept meaning to check but I got busy and forgot and I found his empty chrysalis one day. But there was another monarch a few days behind suspended from the eaves of my house so I set my iPhone alarm to remind me to check on it every morning.

Monarch emerging

I didn’t get to see it emerge but I did witness it shortly after the fact. When I butterfly first emerges from its chrysalis its wings are all rumpled up. It hangs from its chrysalis and pumps blood into its wings. It is very vulnerable during this period. If something goes wrong and its wings harden before they have a chance to straighten it won’t be able to fly.

Once the wings have fully expanded they wait around a bit for them to harden and then take off. It is definitely worth growing some butterfly weed to attract monarch butterflies to your garden. Prairie Moon Nursery is a great source for Asclepias seed. Just do a search for Asclepias on their site and find out which species is native to your area.

 

Monarch + Echeveria

I just returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon to visit my sister. The first thing I noticed when I got out of my car and was inspecting my succulent collection was this big fat monarch caterpillar forming its chrysalis on my Echeveria gigantea.

Monarch caterpillar forming its chrysalis on Echeveria gigantea.

Looks like it took its time finding the perfect spot. I do believe those are tiny monarch footprints on the leaf to the left.

 

Wildlife in the Garden

You don’t have to do too much to attract wildlife to your garden. Basically if you build it they will come. Certain plant families are have a lot to offer different types of wildlife though. Salvias and any Asteraceae are sure things to attract a wide range of little beasties. Hummingbirds and bees love Salvia nectar and finches enjoy the seeds. Butterflies and bees love plants in the Aster family and once again finches and other birds love the seeds.

Of course bird feeders are helpful too. Bird feeders and seed are pretty expensive though. A nyjer/thistle feeder is probably the most affordable route to go as the seed generally lasts a long time and usually only small finches are attracted to it and can fit on the feeders. Shelled sunflower seeds are an excellent way to attract birds too. I prefer getting the shelled or hulled seeds because the shells make a huge mess in the garden that can prohibit plant growth. Again this makes it more expensive so now I use a cheaper “no mess” mix. I prefer the ones that include things like millet rather than large seeds and nuts.

This male lesser goldfinch is enjoying my Salvia confertiflora. Large flocks come to the feeders but they enjoy my Salvias, Verbena, and Tithonia too.

Female lesser goldfinch hanging out on Verbena bonariensis (could be an American goldfinch. But I think most of my goldfinches are the lesser variety. Hard to tell when they don’t have their breeding plumage).

And another goldfinch rooting around in a Verbena bonariensis looking for seeds. Or perhaps they like the nectar too. I’m not really sure.

I was about to head outside into the garden when I got a bit of a shock. Hawks usually pick a higher vantage point like the top of a tree or telephone pole to survey my yard but this young Cooper’s hawk sat himself down on my fence right near my feeder.

Maybe he was hoping that if he stood perfectly still some yummy little finch would land right next to him. Alas a crow soon did see him waiting here and chased him off. The number one way I notice hawks in my yard is I hear crows and other birds complaining about them. Smaller birds mob large predatory birds when they get too close to their nests. It is a pretty funny thing to watch.

This male Anna’s hummingbird owns my yard. He sits on this Yucca (the tallest thing in my yard) watching for rivals to chase away from his plants. In the next yard another hummingbird watches from a Myoporum and across the street one sits on a tall Cedar. They all sit singing their little hummingbird songs as if daring each other to overstep their bounds.

I finally have monarch caterpillars on my Asclepias curassavica (and some little bright orange Asclepias aphids if you look closely). I purposely planted this food source to entice monarchs into laying their eggs in my yard but I think it was the Tithonia rotundifolia that really lured them in.

Monarch caterpillars go through 5 different molts (called instars) before they form a chrysalis. I think the little one on the left is a 2nd or 3rd instar and the big guy is a 4th or 5th instar. I’ll be keeping an eye on them the next few weeks.

I was thrilled that a big flock of bushtits was hanging out in my garden this afternoon (warning – do not Google bushtit with safe search off). They are the sweetest little birds. I was even happier when I managed to get this picture of one of them on a Fuchsia stem next to some Cuphea ‘Minnie Mouse’. They don’t stay still for very long.

A juvenile white crowned sparrow hanging out on some dried up Tithonia rotundifolia. The Tithonia looks pretty ugly when it starts to die but it is important to leave annuals in the garden as long as you can. The longer you can put up with it looking like crap the more birds you will attract and the more seedlings you will have next season.

In my next garden I’m definitely going to try to grow my fruit bearing shrubs and trees to attract a broader range of birds. A water source, particularly moving water is great for attracting birds too so I will probably get some sort of bubbling fountain. But considering how little life there was in my yard before I started this garden and now it is home to dozens of birds I think I am off to a good start.