- Author: Mike Gunther
- Author: Melinda Nestlerode
A great deal of effort is being focused on saving a small blue butterfly. Why should we care whether this butterfly survives? Because, if humans can save the mission blue butterfly from extinction, there may be hope for other species that have been impacted by the loss of native grasslands due to human development.
I recently attended a presentation given by Price Sheppy, the Marin Program Manager of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (GGNPC), about the Mission Blue Butterfly Project. The plight of this fascinating butterfly reflects the environmental impact that human development has had on all indigenous wildlife. The mission blue butterfly is small – about the size of a quarter – and adults live for only 10 days. They were first discovered in San Francisco in 1937, and were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1976.
Like many butterflies, the larva of the mission blue feed on only one food source; native California lupines. The larvae, which hatch in mid-March through early July only eat the leaves of silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons), summer lupine (Lupinus formosus), and varicolor lupine (Lupinus variicolor). After hatching, the tiny, green caterpillars spend three weeks voraciously feeding on the leaves of the lupine. Afterward, they wait out most of the year in leaf debris, in a hibernation state called diapause. During diapause, when the caterpillars are highly vulnerable, they are protected from predators by native ant species. The ants surround and cover the caterpillars, and fight off foes. In return, the ants are provided with a sugary honeydew, obtained by “milking” the hibernating caterpillar.
When the lupine are again in season, the caterpillars feed for another four to five weeks before becoming pupae. During the pupae stage, which lasts for one week, the caterpillars transform into a primordial goo, and eventually emerge as adult butterflies.
At one time, large numbers of mission blue butterflies thrived throughout Marin County and the San Francisco peninsula. Now, approximately 25,000 live in small, fragmented spots in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. The GGNPC, in conjunction with California Garden Clubs, Inc., is working to restore the environment where the butterfly is found, by removing invasive plants, and replanting native species. Through trial and error, they have developed a method of growing lupine – notoriously difficult to grow - from seed. Their work is beneficial to other native California wildlife, whose survival depends on native plants. The GGNPC is also working with local school children to create pathways of lupine and native grasses between the disparate butterfly colonies. This will enable the butterflies to interbreed and strengthen the genetic pool.
For more information on the mission blue butterfly, and the work being done to save them, visit: http://www.parksconservancy.org/conservation/plants-animals/endangered-species/mission-blue-butterfly.html, or http://www.sfnps.org/mission_blues.
- Author: Betty Homer
Years ago, I purchased a Kadota fig tree, also known as a honey fig, from a local nursery here in Solano County. Although it took a few years before the tree became established and started to produce, it is now one of the most productive trees I have in my backyard. The Kadota fig tree is pest- and disease-resistant, hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, self-pollinates, requires very few chill hours to set fruit, and minimal pruning; in other words, the Kadota fig tree will reward you with great returns for a minimal amount work and a few years' worth of patience. Kadota fig trees generally ripen from August to October in Solano County, Although I have not independently verified this, I have been told that Kadota fig trees will tolerate container planting if space is an issue A Kadota fig tree will provide you with a steady supply of fresh fruit for eating, canning and baking.
- Author: Lanie Keystone
Have you ever wanted to “peek over the fence” into someone's garden? That “secret garden” holds such mystery and fascination for us. How has the space been designed? Are there unique plantings or special features to be seen? Could we create some of those elements in our own garden? We can satisfy some of that curiosity about others' gardens by visiting botanical gardens, community gardens and fine nurseries, or going on local garden tours. Each experience gives us a special peek into the inner workings of a variety of horticultural wonders. Or, without ever leaving home, we can take an intimate look at the gardens of the world by finding them in a wonderful book.
A perfect place to start is with an historical overview of “the garden”. An excellent example is
Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, 2011 (David R. Godine, Publisher: ISBN978-1-56792-440-4) Reading this book is like walking through the arches of history into a beautiful garden of our imaginations. Ms. Barlow Rogers, a garden historian, is the president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies and the founding president of the Central Park Conservancy and the perfect guide to lead us on our tour.
In her book, the author brings to life a selection of gardeners' writings from across the past two centuries—writers as accomplished with their pens as they were with their pruning shears. Their writings range from the practical to the philosophical and always reveal the culture and attitudes of their times. Each writer displays an understanding and passion for the subject, and, as Ms. Rogers claims, each selection is a “classic among books about gardens and gardening that we can read and reread simply for pleasure.” Her compilation begins with some of the earliest and most influential gardeners and writers of their time, including Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), who viewed gardening as “horticultural picture making”. Writing the Garden makes its way through two centuries to finally capture the ideas of today's devoted gardeners and master garden writers. In the final chapters we hear from, among others, Michael Pollan and Allen Lacy. Each selection in Ms. Barlow's fine book reaches across time and space to draw us into the infinite pleasures and possibilities of “the garden”. Filled with lush historical paintings to highlight the inspiring verbal pictures, this little book is a gem.
Tell us about your favorite books, essays or articles related to gardening, horticulture or botany.
Let's begin an on-line book club!
- Author: Erin Mahaney
I confess that I haven't yet embraced the succulent trend. I understand their appeal given the wide variety of colors and shapes mixed with a dash of eccentricity, as well as their tolerance for dry conditions and neglect. And I'm flirting a bit with the plants in a shallow bowl here and in a strawberry pot there. But I'm not the enthusiastic fan that others seem to be, at least not yet.
My hesitancy stems in part because I don't know enough about growing succulents once they have outgrown their cute little containers. I once kept a beautiful, large, gift bowl of succulents on my front porch and watched it grow taller and taller, and leggier and leggier, for years because I didn't know what to do with the maturing plants (and was too busy to research it). While the Master Gardeners have put on some wonderful workshops in the past, I needed to know more.
In despair of that beautiful gift bowl looking more and more unhappy and shabby, I decided to shop for a book that would help me with my questions. I didn't spend much time and simply grabbed the first book I saw with a pretty cover and comprehensive table of contents. It turned out to be the perfect book for a beginner like me!
Succulents: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Designing, and Growing 200 Easy Care Plants, by Robin Stockwell, is a practical guide to growing succulents. Mr. Stockwell is the founder of Succulent Gardens in Castroville, California. His book, which is wonderfully photographed, begins with his own fascinating story of growing succulents since the 1970s and the change in gardening styles, including a series of droughts that focused attention on drought tolerant landscapes, that boosted their popularity. After the introduction, the book provides inspiration by highlighting design ideas, including designs for small spaces, challenging sites, and living art. A section on DIY projects includes ideas for arrangements, found objectives, gift toppers, wreaths, seasonal décor, and more. The book then identifies Mr. Stockwell's favorite plants, with a succulent selection guide that runs the gamut from basic landscaping plants to hedges to plants with “special effects,” such as colorful foliage and “undersea” succulents. The book then concludes with a section on planting and care.
In the Succulents book, I found not only a rich description of many types of succulent and ideas for their use and display, but also the practical gardening advice that I sought. I emptied my succulent pot, pruned the plants, took some cuttings, freshened the soil, and planted again. With so many cuttings left over, I went a little overboard and planted succulents in every little container I could find. I'm even trying some as landscaping edging in difficult areas. While I still prefer more traditional shrubs and flowers, this book gave me ideas and guidance for integrating succulents into my garden design.