Thursday, September 20, 2007

Return of the Mantis!

The mantis is back! Well, Fernymoss spotted and caught a mantis again a few times last week. He took these two shots last Tuesday as s/he was hanging out on the stucco near the back door of the house. We're pretty sure this isn't the one he brought back from work a while ago, but we're not ruling out either that it might be the little one I spotted on the Coreopsis earlier in the summer.

This got us to thinking about whether Mantids have the capability to change colour to blend in with the surroundings, especially since this one was playing near invisible on the stucco. I don't recall reading anything about such a talent, but with the huge number of species of Mantids, I can't say definitively ... I'm not an entomologist, nor do I try to play one on this blog. So your guess is as good as mine!

Notes on these shots: Taken by Fernymoss, 11 September, 2007. I think the first shot really gives a good view of the wings in detail, something that we don't usually focus on (at least I don't) probably because the pincers are so arresting that our attention naturally goes there directly. There's so much to take in when looking at a Mantis, and since time is usually pretty short to view them, I think it's just amazing that we sometimes have the chance to capture them up so close. The second shot could easily be called here's looking at you, for obvious reasons! If you look really closely at the enlarged version, you can actually see its pupils.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Heavenly Blues

Almost everyone loves Morning Glories (Ipomoea tricolor ), those carefree, easy to grow vines who reward gardeners almost everywhere with abundant flowers in late summer and early fall, often right up to frost if conditions are right. They also self seed with a vengeance, and depending on how you feel about having them in weed status in your garden, they can be either a joy or an infernal pest and sometimes both.

Years ago we planted a mix of blues, purple and pinks along the sidewalk fence and haven't replanted them since, and they've since reached noxious weed status in that part of the garden now, much to Fernymoss' chagrin about the profusion of pink blooms. We really have been striving to eliminate the pinks (sorry, Olivia!) the past couple of years, but we just can't keep up with the number of seedlings that come up every year. Though
I usually protest that we have more purples ('Grandpa Ott' variety), he's not going to be satisfied until the pinks have been eliminated ... so sometime soon before frost and before the seeds mature, all the Morning Glories along the fence are going to be pulled and sent to the compost.

The new plan is to plant Spanish Flag (Mina lobata) along the fence in an attempt to get it to self seed, and confine our Morning Glories solely to the 'Heavenly Blues' and 'Grandpa Ott' varieties. Lest this plan sound a bit harsh to you, I'd just say that once established, Morning Glories can really become a pest ... they travel around the garden coming up here and there, and unless they are provided with support to grow, they can become positively noxious when a few escape pulling and start dragging down flowers in other parts of the garden. The lesson we've learned is that we needed to be more scrupulous where we planted them, thus the attempt at eradication plan we feel is necessary at this point. Don't get me wrong, we love Morning Glories, especially the blues, but we've decided they need to be reined in a bit and confined to another area, which this year is the small bed to the right of our front steps, in with some Bee Balm, Primroses, Meadow Sage and a couple of Toad Lilies. We'd tried planting a couple of Clematis on a trellis we have in the bed, but they never amounted to anything and eventually died out ... so did the supposedly hardy Passion Flower vines we planted there as well. After all that costly effort to no avail, this year we said: purple and blue Morning Glories only there! And this is exactly where you'll find the flowers pictured tonight.

At least this way we can guiltlessly pull others where they come up and reserve a few seedlings in this area to grace the trellis for the next few years until we've completed the pink eradication. (I know, that sounds suspiciously like a 'final solution' but sometimes in the plant world if you want to get your way with aggressive plants, it's got to be done!) In any case, I do think that any gardener worth the salt (or pepper) should have Ipomoea tricolor somewhere in the garden, and if you're careful about where you let them get established you might escape weed status if you're vigilant about it. Still, even if they get away from you, you're almost guaranteed non-stop blooming pleasure once it starts ... as long as you obey the cardinal rule of growing Ipomoea: don't ever feed them with any kind of fertilizer. If you do, you'll get luscious, profuse, huge foliage and few if any blooms! Plant them only in poor to average soil in full to part sun, making sure that they have a support to grow up on and then let them do their thing. It's that simple. Let them die off at frost and either harvest the seeds or just let the vines go till spring (when they're all crispy and easy to clean up) and you'll be sure to have them come back the following year.

Photos by Fernymoss, taken 16 September, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Castormania Redux

So now that work has calmed down a bit (at least for this week) I hope I can get some more late season shots of the garden soon. Since rain is in the forecast for most of Tuesday and the evening, I'll have to rely on Fernymoss' shots from yesterday to tide me through the week ... I somehow suspect you won't mind with what else he has in store for you! It's a good thing he's taller than I am because it's getting harder to shoot the really interesting things that are going on in this Castor way up high. And of course since Fernymoss is fascinated by capturing textures he did quite a few in this series that do a great job of getting to the underside of things (by necessity ... point up, focus and hope for the best!) These two shots are the same plants seen in yesterday's post, just from different angles. In the first you can see the shadow of a maple leaf that got caught in the cup of one of the upper leaves ... and you can get a really great look at the texture of the undersides of the leaves as well. Castors just scream tropical! in everything they do, especially in the second shot which nicely highlights a few remaining blooms and a whole stalk of developing fruit.which (with luck and no early freeze) will soon develop into the full-blown seed pods. The blooms are toward the bottom (it blooms from the top down) and look a bit like cauliflower ... nothing quite as dramatic as the spiny fruit they become. Not that I can imagine any critters brave enough to try to eat the fruit (since the entire plant is toxic, remember), but Castors aren't taking any chances that their seeds will be gobbled up before they can start the next generation. Though not as painful to handle as Datura pods, they still get pretty prickly when they dry out, and harvesting the seeds does need to be done carefully. Each pod produces 4-5 seeds, so you can see that if this stalk makes it to maturity, we'll have plenty of these to share!

Now, way back when I first posted the earlier pictures of these Castors in August, I alluded to a story about a neighbor who was frightened by them the first year we planted them in the garden. We share a fence line with the woman behind us, and the second year we were in this house (hmm, that would be spring of 99), we went gung ho and planted all sorts of tall plants right along the fence line, just to see what we could do. We planted broom corn (which gets to about 9-10 feet tall too) and Castors, along with lots of morning glories which quickly came to be called those vines by our neighbor. Uh oh. We realized we had a plant phobe living behind us ... yikes! Come to find out, she was terrified of being 'tickled' by the dreaded vines when she walked her dog by each day.

Now of course we aren't the types to be terrified by plants of most kinds (unless they come with retractable jaws and very long, sharp teeth!) so we were a bit baffled by this and tried to keep them on our side of the fence as much as possible. That was nothing to compare with what came later in the summer as the Castors really hit their stride and grew to about 12 feet when a machete was threatened from her side of the fence. The broom corn wasn't a hit either. In fact, she was quite disturbed by these ferocious looking tropical trees that had sprung up in our garden ... so, we got an ultimatum: if it reaches over and tickles me, I will chop it off. So, in the interest of neighborhood peace (and our early reputation on the block), we said that was fine ... apologizing yet again for having troubled our neighbor (though we laughed a lot about it outside of her presence). Needless to say, the Castors lost a few branches and looked rather 'one-sided' from our perspective, but we had learned a lesson not to go for our gigantic plants in that particular location.

Since then, we try to keep the Castors far enough away from the fence or sidewalk so that no unprovoked tickling occurs ... though we do love to taunt her a bit by planting them in full view (ergo, where we have them this year), but at this point it's all good natured fun between the parties involved. You see, this was the eventual outcome of our friend the flower phobe ... after a couple of years, she got bitten by the bug and has taken up planting up small beds on her property, and no longer complains about the dreaded Castors (
though she did look a bit askance at the Dragon Arum in May!). In fact, we've shared a few perennials with her (the non-scary kinds) and have given her a hardy hibiscus and toad lilies as gifts that she thoroughly enjoys. We take a lot of satisfaction in having converted her to the rampant evils of gardening, and she's done quite a nice job planting various perennials and annuals in her yard. So ultimately, we not only made friends with our initially skeptical neighbor, but also now think of her as an essential person in the life of the immediate neighborhood. And though she's recently retired, we're doing our best to keep her from selling her house and moving away .... that's how much we would miss her. And, since her young son just got married two weeks ago, a bit of the landscape has changed ... a bit sadder with his absence, and the potential change of neighbors should his mom decide to move.

Further proof of our basic gardening philosophy: gardening is sharing and sharing is winning people over in time. The green brings us together ultimately. And that's a good thing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Random Thoughts and Notes on Recently Viewed Films

During my "hiatus" I did have the chance to see some really good films for entertainment and some of my precious off work hours were spent getting lost in a wide variety of films ... titles such as Tout va bien (classic Marxist/Maoist Jean-Luc Godard from the early 70's complete with Jane Fonda and Yves Montand), Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson's classic turn Sunset Boulevard (gloriously remastered for DVD finally!), Network (need I say more about this classic?), Altman's masterpiece (and perhaps my favorite of his) Nashville, And lest you think I've been dwelling in the 'serious film' world too much, we also got lots of laughs from our favorite British comics Simon Pegg and NIck Frost in both Shaun of the Dead and their newest, Hot Fuzz.

And just so you don't think I'm only about those 'British' comedies, I did spend an engrossing time watching Helen Mirren earn every bit of that Oscar for The Queen one night after work last week. Frankly, I could give a sh*t about the British royal family, but Mirren's performance was just so spot on that she had me mesmerized from the start ... if she proved no other point than that she could positively inhabit Queen Elizabeth II (without -- or is it despite? -- making her more interesting than she could possibly be) Mirren demonstrates that she is truly one of the greats of her generation (it's not all Prime Suspect you know, though most of those are really good). Stephen Frears really tapped into the British zeitgeist circa 1997 (e.g. Princess Diana's death) and has created a very smart film chronicling the whole rise to fame of Poodle Boy Tony Blair ... in fact, I more than once wondered if the film were more about him than Elizabeth, despite the titular focus

Add in a couple of Almodóvar films for good measure and just the other night, one of Woody Allen's neglected masterpieces, Zelig. Yes, all that escapism and more, but a lot of times when I'm swamped at work, the best I can do to relax is to lose myself in a well made film ... from which it's difficult to extract me when it's over.

Another title of particular note I'd like to mention because it was only recently released on DVD, (though I'd like to write about it more at some point) was David Lynch's newest cinematic puzzle, Inland Empire. By turns engrossing, confusing and downright infuriatingly abstract, it's likely a masterpiece to behold when all is said and done (I'd say, oh... maybe about twenty viewings later!). Must see viewing for Lynch fans, but it might be a bit too obtuse for the uninitated viewer of Lynch's work.

Late last night I watched the fascinating documentary Inside Deep Throat, (yes, that movie!) that is currently playing sporadically on HBO (check the IMDB link for next showings if you're interested). It's a remarkably light hearted examination of the 'liberating' and 'revolutionary' porno that almost thrust hardcore into the mainstream of cinema, but ultimately failed for almost everyone involved in its making. At times hilarious and at others sobering, it's an eye opening look into the demi monde of the nascent porno industry, nefarious gangland connections, wannabe censors and wingnut reactionaries of the Nixon era, with
commentary interspersed from luminaries as diverse as Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Helen Gurley Brown, Xaviera Hollander, Gloria Steinem, Dick Cavett, John Waters, Bill Maher (who no doubt masturbated to it in his teen years) and even the inimitable Gore Vidal. It made me think of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights more than once, a film that also grounds itself in those freewheeling days when audiences were more adventurous, the fringes more visible and before the so-called 'sexual revolution' stalled in its tracks. Yeah, another one of those films I have to dig out of the archives and spend some time with soon ....

Finally, we got around to watching The Illusionist last week (which I mentioned in a previous post where I referenced The Prestige), and I must say that it was truly impressive, though spinning a very different kind of narrative from that of The Prestige. While they deal with a similar romantic theme (a magician's love thwarted), the two films take an entirely different approach, and I must say that narratively, I think The Illusionist had a much more complex and ultimately surprising and rewarding story arc. (It was, after all based on a short story by Stephen Milhauser, an author I've long enjoyed for his quirky novels.) Both films, however, are well worth the time you could invest viewing them ... if I had to draw the distinguishing comparison, I'd have to say that The Prestige deals heavily with the 'how' of the illusions and the ultimate implications of the act, whereas The Illusionist focuses more on the 'why' of what we see through the protagonist's perspective. I'm not always a fan of 'period' type films, but both these films are remarkable for their recreations of the magical milieu of the late 19th century. I highly recommend them both if you're looking for an intelligent and literate drama you can really get lost in and let it take you where it will.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Late Summer Castormania!

Well, it certainly has been a while since I've posted, and I'm sorry for the unwelcome hiatus ... but given work demands the past month or so (über busy, one project after another), I've just not had the time or energy to spend here, as much as I would have liked to!

In the meantime, the garden has managed to go a bit wilder than usual, and with the incredible heat and humidity we had for quite a while, neither one of us was really inclined to get out and weed ... so as a consequence, it's positively savage around the place. But some things have persevered and carried on (at least we did have regular rains), in particular, these two Castors we have planted in the back yard. This particular variety is called Zanzibariensis mix, mostly the larger greens but one of these does have a reddish cast to it, much like the Carmencita variety we have out front. These two have passed at least the ten foot mark at this point and could potentially top out at twelve or more before the season ends ... barring any early freezes.

Since they're tropical trees, the Castors really enjoyed the heat and humidity, shooting up quickly since we planted them in late June. They're fast growers to begin with, but these two have truly excelled this year, thanks to Fernymoss' regular feedings with fish emulsion! Who knows how big they could have gotten had we planted them earlier (say, late May) ... in any case, they're a great dramatic accent in the garden and really don't ask for a lot, save an occasional feeding and regular watering. A while back I posted a picture of the smaller plants in August here, and comparing the two photos, you can see just how much they've grown in about a month and a half! The large green one pictured has already bloomed and is putting on its seed pods (more on that in an upcoming post) so we should, with any luck, be able to harvest a bounty of seeds to share and plant again in coming years. I've already reserved a few for some blogging friends, so if you're interested in seeds for next year, just let me know. Providing, that is, that we don't get a killing freeze before they have a chance to mature ....!

Notes on the photos: Taken by Fernymoss, 16 September, 2007. The first view is from an angle that shows the entire plants (and exaggerates a bit, I must admit) so you can get some perspective on how big they've gotten. The second is a closer view including our dear Queen Pepa (approximately) to add just a bit more perspective. I'll be posting a few more in coming entries, so stay tuned for more of these dramatic and fascinating plants. (And if you look carefully in these shots you can see a Kucinich 2004 tee shirt on the line ... right next to the Guiness boxer shorts! LOL)