Garden & Sky

Sunflowers & Jewelweed

Yesterday, it rained. With the rain came cool, soft air with a strong hint of fall. Joe and I thought it was a bit like Vancouver weather–grey, misty, mysterious. It was the perfect weather for soup, and the restaurant where we were dining served up an amazing bowl of ramen noodle soup. Joe is going to make it at home–his own version, of course, which is never the same twice but always wonderful.

Today, the sun, heat, and humidity have returned, and soup of any kind no longer sounds good. A cool beer on the back patio is what is required today.

Now, at the tail-end of August, our willow-leaved sunflower is beginning to bloom.

This tall, gangly, narrow-leaved prairie plant spends the entire summer growing taller and taller, outdoing the common milkweed and the other sunflowers. It really looks like some alien life form, reaching out to catch something… anything…Most likely, it’s simply reaching for sunlight. Over the years, our trees have grown, and more and more of the flower beds are shady for a good part of the day. Every year, the garden is a little bit different.

For instance, we have jewelweed in the back corner garden for the first time this year. It arrived and grew on its own, as many interesting plants do, and now, in late summer, it is full of small dark-orange flowers that the hummingbirds love. Today, there have been three or four of these helicopter-like birds buzzing up and down, left and right, forward and back, throughout the patch, stopping briefly in front of each flower to gather some refreshment. Often, a bit of a fight breaks out as the pressure is on to bulk up before the long flight south.

We’ve also had the stunning goldfinch stop by the sunflowers and the zinnias. When he sits on the willow-leaved sunflower, he seems to be just another yellow and black bloom, swaying gently in the breeze. You have to look twice to notice him.

There’s a lot of eating going on out in the garden these days, and I hope there will be some seeds left for us to gather… but I think we have enough to share.

By this point in the summer, our cardinals are raising their last set of young. I can hear them chittering and cheeping each morning in the neighbor’s arbor vitae, which seems to be their favorite nesting place. The parents make good use of our nearby vegetable garden, scouring the tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants for caterpillars to take back to the nest.

We won’t see the young cardinals for another few weeks; cardinal parents are very cautious. But, their energetic squeaking and the quick rustle and shaking of leaves lets us follow them as they venture away from the nest. Soon, they will appear alongside their parents on the garden fence, making their first attempts at finding their own caterpillars. πŸ›

The Inspiring Distraction of Nature

It’s surprisingly hard to write while sitting outside. Nature is inspiring, but it’s also distracting. No sooner do I begin to compose a coherent thought when the sudden waggling of a tomatillo plant indicates the woodchuck has stopped by for a snack. A flash of orange and black among the zinnias tells me the monarchs are here, looking for their daily allotment of nectar and pollen. A loud buzz and a quick series of “cheeps” is a sure sign that the hummingbird is working the jewelweed and the sunflowers and is not too happy that Athena is watching. Or is she? No, she’s not really into it at the moment…

Then there is the sky… On days like today, the sky is active and full of stored energy, just waiting to let it go when it feels ready. Warm breezes carry the cottony cumulus over the yard and beyond the trees; they seem to be on a mission. Above the clouds, the sky is a powdery grey-blue, a bright but hazy melange of water vapor and dust particles that may coalesce at any moment into a towering cumulonimbus that produces a rip-roaring thunderstorm… or not.

A small plane comes into view over the trees, it’s engine changing pitch as it circles the neighborhood. Another warm breeze brings the sound of the late-summer cicadas, their whirring buzz rising and falling in intensity. Who can concentrate with all this going on?

It is, of course, all worth the distraction. When the words don’t come, you can just sit back and take it all in, soaking Nature up in all its distracting glory like a thirsty sponge. It’s really amazing that there’s so much going on in what is usually just a distant backdrop to our lives. And when we do want to bring this backdrop closer for our inspection, we feel that we need to create artificial enticements in order to experience this connection. Not true!

For example, we have, in the past, fed the birds from various feeders throughout the year. Not just winter, but through the summer, too, so that we could enjoy their beauty and intriguing behaviors. Turns out, there’s no need to purchase expensive bird feed and put up feeders (only to watch helplessly as squirrels and raccoons and chipmunks make off with the precious loot, destroying the feeders in the process). Just plant a variety of flowers and let native plants have their way. That’s all there is to it!

This year we planted a large area along the back fence with various flower seeds–a sunflower mix, marigolds, zinnias, borage, lemon grass, and chamomile. Everything sprouted and grew with vigor except the lemon grass, and perhaps that’s not such a big loss. The chamomile did surprisingly well (I’ve tried it before with little success), but it was quickly overshadowed by the other larger flowers. Besides adding beautiful color to the backyard, all summer these flowers have attracted butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds in search of nectar and pollen. Now that most of the flowers are going to seed, the cardinals and the goldfinches spend hours there every day. I’m hoping to collect some of those seeds, myself, but there certainly seems to be enough for everyone. Of course, with an abundance of greenery around, you often get the occasional uninvited guest…I did take some time yesterday to collect a few seeds. Some of the zinnias and marigolds have finished blooming and are ready for harvest. Then there are these yellow aster-like flowers that I bought last year but can’t remember what they’re called… they reseeded themselves and did pretty well this year.

I really want to cut some sunflower heads, but I don’t think the seeds are quite ready yet, even though the birds and squirrels seem to be going ahead. Sunflowers are a new thing for us; seed collection (and next spring’s planting) may be successful, or it may not. Either way, we’re learning.

It’s all an experiment, though… our gardening motto is “go ahead and try it… see what happens.” There’s always next year. 🌸


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