Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hummingbirds and Albizia

While on my lunch break today, I was pleased to see the hummingbirds (there are usually 2, chasing each other) in the lower yard, checking out many of the flowers, including the Albizia tree next door.

Our upper neighbours planted an Albizia julibrissia tree (Silk tree, Mimosa tree) near our fence, so I am able to admire it from my kitchen (as always, click for a slightly larger view):
Albizia julibrissia with American robin
I read that it was brought to North America from Asia in 1745, and that in the Southeast parts of the U.S., it is an invasive species. However, here in the Northwest (Vancouver, BC), it seems to be quite uncommon, and I love its exotic, tropical look. The foliage reminds me of the Mimosa pudica (Sensitive plant), which is a special childhood experience which is not to be missed. The airy pink flowers are strikingly beautiful, appearing to float gently on top of the greenery.

It is a double delight then, when the hummingbirds visit the Albizia. I managed to capture a couple of photos, from my deck:
Hummingbird in Albizia julibrissia
Hummingbird in Silk Tree

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More Hummingbird Photos

Last night I filled the wheelbarrow full twice with weeds and cuttings, taking frequent breaks to sit on the porch of our shed in the shade, since it was still unbearably hot even in the late evening.

I took my camera with me, and took a couple of breaks to photograph the hummingbirds again. I am pleased with the results, below (click on any image for a slightly larger view).

The Buddleia (Butterfly bush) is blooming now, and provides a sweet treat:
Hummingbird and buddleia
This one looks like a little airplane, next to the red Monarda (Bee balm):
Hummingbird and Bee Balm
I like how this photo shows the hummer's little feet:
Hummingbird and Monarda

Monday, July 20, 2009

Garden Glimpses : Mid-July 2009

A couple of blogs I've visited recently are celebrating anniversaries... Which got me to looking back to when I started, which was 19 Jan 2006. So yesterday was half way to my 5 year anniversary. I guess that's some sort of half-anniversary...

When I first started this blog, I had all sorts of ambitions of providing plant information, tips, maybe even plant advice.... But it seems that visitors have appreciated my garden photos more than any witty or intelligent information which I had hoped to provide.

One of my favourite "series" has become my Garden Glimpses, where I post photos of my garden at specific times in the year. It is fun to go back and compare year over year, so I had created (mostly for myself, but feel free to check it out in the left margin of my blog) a keyword "garden glimpses".

So here goes for another (as always, click the photo for a slightly larger view)...

I love this handsome daylily Kwanzo / Kwanso I received from my father-in-law. It has a large triple bloom, and spreads somewhat aggressively (sending out fans some 6" or 12" from the mother plant), so is great for filling an area and for sharing:
Daylily Kwanzo
Here it is again, in front of shaggy red Monarda:
Daylily Kwanso
I don't know if I have the name of this maroon daylily, but I like the colour:
Maroon daylily
I was surprised to see this Campanula glomerata "alba" finally blooming this year, but long after its purple counterparts had faded away. I had bought and planted it last year, and thought I lost it over the winter, and the Euonymus alatus (Burning bush) had grown over it (wow, that is a fast-growing shrub!!), so that the bloom ended up poking out from under the bush upside-down:
White Globe Campanula
This borage plant sprouted up between the crocosmia I dug & replanted earlier this year, perhaps delivered by birds, or the seed was in the soil (although I haven't grown it for some while). The star-shaped flower is edible (just pull off the hard dark bit), and pretty as a garnish for potato salads or fruit salads or even cakes... So I left it there, just in case (wishful thinking on my part). I was trying to catch the bee in flight, which I did:
Borage with bee
I planted this young Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) to block some of the view of my lower neighbour's house. I was amazed at how strong and vigourous it grew this year. These are the green flower spikes, before they bloom purple. A dragonfly landing on the bush had prompted me to pull out the camera, but sadly he didn't wait for the photo:
Butterfly bush

Friday, July 17, 2009

Black Velvet Apricots - Not Worth the Money

I just finished the last of my 1 lb box of "Black Velvet Apricots", which prompts me to share my unsolicited opinion : they're not worth the money!

I'm a sucker for trying new things, especially when it comes to food. So when I saw a box of deep purple and slighly fuzzy Black Velvet Apricots from Kingsburg Orchards in Kingsburg, CA, I had to try it, even at $4.99/lb. But I was quite disappointed. The texture and taste is very much that of a plum, and not a very exciting one, at that. Although the flesh was sweet, it was quite soft (and quickly went mushy, after sitting on the counter a few days), but the skin was comparitively tough, and much too tangy. The pit was not freestone (which I love about apricots), but very much clingstone, so that a good portion of the fruit is lost with the pit.

I decided to search online, what anyone else had to say. There is a good post at "the kitchn", except that most comments on it seem much too favourable.

The marketing, I have to admit, was very effective (just like the beautiful image I borrowed from a marketing site). The "Black Velvet Apricot" name stirs up a wonderful image, much more exciting that "plumcot" or "pluot" or another term for a cross between a plum and an apricot, which would have only fetched $2 to at most $3 per lb. But I give them two disappointed thumbs down.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Hummingbird Photos of the Season

In my upper yard, I have a hummingbird area which is frequented regularly by hummingbirds, attracted by the shaggy red monarda and a towering butterfly bush, and the safety of a large alder tree behind (outside my property line, on the edge of the ravine).

Tonight after dinner, I decided to try for some hummingbird photos. Since it was the first time this year, it seemed they were a little shy, and kept mostly to the back of the butterfly bush (where I couldn't photograph at all), and within the monarda (where I was moderately successful). Here is a collection of shots from today.

Of all the places to sit, she chose to return to this dead branch of my Ribes odoratum (Missouri currant) a number of times.

Ah, that's better:

I believe it is the Rufous Hummingbird which I usually see, or at least I read that it is a common visitor to this area (Vancouver, BC). I seem to get the females. I don't know if I've ever seen the male, with the red throat. Perhaps an immature one, with some red showing, one year.

Not bad for the first day. I'm encouraged to try for some more another day.

More Flowers on my Little Carnivores

I posted earlier about the little carnivorous plants which my kids picked at the Van Dusen Plant Sale in Spring of 2008. They lived happily in the garden over the summer, catching quite a number of spiders and flies, and then kept me company on my kitchen windowsill over the Winter.

I meant to place them back outside this summer, but somehow I have bonded with these little guys, and don't feel as motivated to put them back outside. It didn't help that first the Venus Flytrap surprised me by sending up its beautiful white flower.

Then the Sundew decided to beat that by sending up a stalk which has been showing off a succession of pink flowers, about 30 in total, over the last couple of months.

I wish I had paid more attention to the timing of it, but it is something like this: A single flower opens every second day. Each flower lasts only one day. The bud closest to the plant opens first, and then the next, until the one at the very tip. But as each flower emerges, the flower stalk bends at that point, so the flower is at the top, and the buds curl down below it. Here it is in June, half way through the blooms:
Cape sundew flower stalk
Now, just as it has about 4 more buds to go, a second flower stalk has started. How delightful.
Cape sundew in flower
Both the Sundew and the Venus Flytrap have produced offshoots, which I should be able to pot up if I want to share these little wonders with a friend. They are bog plants which like full sun, so they enjoy the window, but are easy to care for, I just top up the water (pretty much daily in the summer) in the outer cup whenever the water level drops too low.

The tags on the plants read:

Red Cape Sundew
Drosera capensis "Red"


Venus Flytrap
Dionaea muscipula "Regular"

Both are from Hawaiian Botanicals and Water Gardens, 604-270-7712,

Currently, they only ship within Canada. They direct US visitors to search by Google, or visit

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Chess and Incessant Chirping and Birdhouses

It turned to overcast / wet on Monday, but last weekend was wonderful, sunny and hot. Perfect for our company BBQ on Saturday, which we hosted in our back yard. We had somewhere close to 60 people. My husband pulled out his chess set again. So far, this has been an annual tradition, each time we host the annual BBQ. Otherwise, he is just too busy, and when he plays with my son, it is on a smaller, indoor board. (Click any photo for a slightly larger view.)
Outdoor chess set
Outdoor chess set
The morning of the BBQ, our carbon monoxide detector downstairs started making a shrill chirp every 5 minutes. We managed to find the instruction sheet for it, and it had some confusing instructions on how to silence it for 36 hours by pushing the Test button in some sequence. We managed to set off our house alarm before turning it off. Then within the hour, the second CO detector started the same thing, and sure enough we set off the alarm again, trying to disable the annoying beeping. Happily for us, the alarm monitoring company offered to ignore our CO detectors until they could come and replace the units on Monday.

But then when I spoke to them Monday, they needed to order in the units, which wouldn't arrive until Wednesday, so they are coming tomorrow (Thursday) to replace them! In the meantime, I have been going crazy listening to these chirps starting up at wee hours of the morning, and stumbling through the house to try to disable them. I am sure they are not silencing for 36 hours, but something more like 12 hours.

The crazy thing is how they both started chirping to be replaced at the same time, and it is 5 years this month since we finished building our house. So the coincidence was just too compelling. Then I find in the product sheet the "Replacement Information" as follows: "This product is designed to work reliably for 5 years after the installation date. The End of Sensor Life will activate after approximately 5 years to signal that it is time to replace the alarm." Wow, talk about guaranteeing a repeat sale! At nearly $100 each, that amounts to $40/yr for the 2 units. I'd be real curious if there is a way to reset this device for another 5 years of operation (which I am very sure it is capable of), but when I spoke with the alarm company, it was not a technician but a call taker, who wouldn't know how to do such a thing - nor would she recommend it, of course. I guess I'll just be happy to get rid of that annoying chirping finally - at least for another 5 years!

Tonight I went with the kids to Michaels Arts & Crafts store, and picked up another paintable birdhouse. I love those, and couldn't resist, since it was half price. But then I already had a number of unpainted ones on my counter... So prompted by yet another one, and the thought that my whole family will be over for a BBQ tomorrow night (and would be sure to tease me about my set of unpainted houses), I encouraged my daughter to paint them with me. My son preferred to play with his new Bakugan.

I think they turned out pretty nice. Here they are, all lined up in front of our wacky colourful kitchen aquarium:
Painted birdhouses and birdfeeder
We painted all 6 on the left. The tiki room bird feeder was finished a while ago, it is just waiting to be hung outside. I was very impressed with my daughter's enthusiasm, and that she kept at it until they were all done.

Now I'll have work on getting them displayed outdoors. My dad came last summer to put up our first birdhouse (my son picked the beautiful rainbow colours, and I painted under his artistic direction), after it sat on my counter for quite some time. Good thing for lots of counter space, I guess. The photo is from Aug 2008:
Colourful rainbow birdhouse

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Berry Season

Every year the strawberries send out new runners, and last year I relocated many of the offshoots to the edges of my garden, where we can find and pick the berries. So this year, we were blessed with lots of strawberries for the month of June. I think they're pretty much done, now, but for a while I was picking a big bowl about every 2nd day.
Strawberries from the garden
Now the raspberries are in full swing. My golden raspberries are especially sweet and delicious, not quite as tart as the red ones.
Bowl of raspberries from the garden
Since we hosted a BBQ yesterday, I didn't pick the raspberries for a few days, so there would be lots for the visiting kids to pick. But even though I saw some kids picking, there were still lots for me to find today:
Red and gold raspberry harvest from the garden
My Morello sour cherry had an impressive display of fruit this year, considering we only bought him last year:
Young Morello sour cherry tree
The birds don't seem to touch the sour cherries. And surprisingly, I was able to pick three ripe Rainier cherries this year (I ate one before thinking to take the photo below). The Lapin cherry at the back of the yard was stripped clean by birds, or possibly even a raccoon again (although thankfully, no broken branches this year).
Rainier cherries
We also have grapes for the first time this year. It has taken a few years for the vines (which started from a cutting) to establish. I hope that the grapes will be good for eating, but the garden trading friend who gave them to me wasn't sure what variety they were. So we'll see.
Gardening is always full of surprises. I had a single raspberry plant appear (unintentionally) in the wild area of my upper garden (stay tuned for my garden renovation project which hopefully will take place this summer...). I guess it showed up last year. Of course, I planned to relocate it with the other raspberries, or give it away, but still haven't gotten around to it yet. So I was very pleasantly surprised by the huge and sweet berries it is bearing this year. See photo below, where the huge berries are on the right, and my other red raspberries on the left, for comparison. It would seem that this raspberry which sprung up, is of a commercial variety. The berries are also more firm.
Large and small red raspberries
I hope to renovate my raspberry area later this year also, now that I see how much fruit it is bearing. The way it is overgrown now with other plants (such as my chocolate mint), it is hard to get in to pick the berries, and many of the smaller canes have fallen forward onto the lawn. There is certainly never a shortage of projects to do in the garden, but that's quite fine by me.
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