Category Archives: creatures

a garden visit with bixbybotanicals

It all started with a very sweet and generous offer of some foliage for vases. Via bixbybotanicals Instagram, I learned that his Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ was in full winter dress, and he was willing to share some of the largesse with anyone in Long Beach. The South African conebushes are prized for their long vase life, and since my leucadendrons at home are too young to pillage for vases, I jumped at the chance to pick up some ruddy-leaved branches.


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The Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ in question, so you’ll know in case you’re ever offered some branches. Just say yes.
And you never know — not only did we leave with a bucket stuffed with cone bush branches, but also some delicious duck eggs, which were ravenously consumed for dinner that night.
Okay, great taste in shrubs and garden fowl — who is this guy anyway?

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The shorthand answer to that question?
Just an Italian Renaissance art scholar/teacher and incredibly busy father of two with a big love of dry garden plants and a strong affinity for garden design.

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Of course, I immediately began pestering Jeremy for a return visit with the AGO crew (Mitch), and he graciously agreed to let us explore.

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And on an average suburban lot, there is an incredible amount to explore.
The parkway is filled with California natives, including milkweed and self-sowing Calif. poppies, making a plant-rich corridor between the hell strip and the front garden.

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And here’s where Jeremy’s garden and other front-yard lawn conversions part ways.
Just behind that thick band of plants bordering the sidewalk is this surprisingly private piece of serenity, just feet from the street.
I don’t think I’ve seen a river of blue chalk sticks/Senecio mandralsicae used to better effect. And, yes, Jeremy says they do require a stern hand to keep them in check.
A ‘Creme Brulee’ agave peeks through salvia, the red echoed by callistemon in bloom opposite.

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All anchored by the shiny simplicity of that lone stock tank. (There’s another one in the back garden.)

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I love how he took featureless, flat panels of lawn and sculpted the space into a multi-faceted garden that works for the family, wildlife, and the neighborhood.
A strong sense of enclosure without a fence — who knew? My own street-side (and mangy) box hedges are striking me as unnecessarily claustrophobic now.

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Jeremy seems to have effortlessly managed balancing the broad strokes that strongly lead the eye with the detailed planting that rewards closer inspection.
I counted a total of three Yucca rostrata, but there may be more.

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The front garden was started in 2012, when it was nothing but a flat expanse of lawn and a couple palms. Not a trace of either is left.
(Those are a neighbor’s palms in the background.)

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Now there’s nooks to watch the kids chase butterflies.

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That Salvia canariensis on the corner of the house behind the nasturtiums is going to be stunning in bloom.

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Mixed in amongst the nasturtiums is the charmingly nubby Helenium puberulum, a Calif. native.

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And opposite the chairs and table is another gorgeous bit of planting, deftly angled to screen the house on the driveway side.
Obviously a collector of choice plants, nevertheless his design instincts are manifest in subtle screening and massing for privacy balanced by openness/negative space.
A sentinel arbutus stands apart, with the strong afternoon sun blurring the outline of a 5-foot Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’ to the arbutus’ left, one I’ve killed a couple times.
Jeremy admitted to lots of failures, too, but his successes are envy-inducing.

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Encircling ‘Pom Pom’ is a detailed planting of aloes, yucca, golden coleonema, senecio, Euphorbia lambii.
Like me, he browses for plants at local H&H Nursery as well as flea markets.

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Detail of arbutus bloom.

But where are those ducks? we asked, hoping to steal a peek into the back garden. The ruse worked.

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To visit the ducks, we were led behind a sleek black fence at the end of the driveway guarded by Acacia cognata.

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And a dombeya, the highly scented Tropical Hydrangea. Jeremy said he chased this small tree’s identity for years.

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All was finally revealed during a visit to Disneyland, where the dombeya was growing, and labeled, in Toontown. In an instant, the silly and the sublime converged.

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Meet the ducks.
Mural in the background was done by Jeremy’s brother.

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I want ducks!

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I asked how the gardens were handling the recent (relatively) heavy rain, and Jeremy said the front garden came through like a champ.
But there has been a bit of flooding in the back garden.

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I’m sure I was told but can’t remember who built the duck enclosure.
What duck wouldn’t obligingly lay as many eggs as possible in such cheerful digs?

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There’s a serious container fanatic at work here too…

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A termite-infested pergola attached to the house had to be knocked down when they moved in, leaving this low wall along the driveway as the perfect spot for staging containers.

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In case you bloggers are feeling that it’s all about Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, Jeremy is a faithful reader of blogs.

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Melianthus major

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Winter-blooming Dahlia imperialis, after several moves, in a spot obviously to its liking.

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For the leucadendron branches, the duck eggs, and the inspiring garden visit, thank you so much, Jeremy!

All photos by MB Maher.

Wallaby, the Nursery Dog

When I last visited Austalian Native Plants Nursery this past June, I had the good fortune of meeting this little one:

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Jo O’Connell, the owner of ANPN, is devoted to the Blue Heeler breed, which originated out of her homeland Australia. I’ve only encountered this breed twice, coincidentally both times at plant nurseries, and was immediately impressed with their charm and intelligence. Like my corgi, the Blue Heelers were bred to herd cattle, so I have a natural sympathy for this breed’s work ethic and single-mindedness.
Jo was over-the-moon excited the day of my visit about her brand-new puppy.

I was shocked to learn that young Wallaby went missing over the Christmas holiday. Thankfully, she’s been found but has sustained serious injuries.

In Jo’s words:

Dear Friends of Australian Native Plants Nursery,

My beloved Australian Cattle Dog pup, Wallaby, was hit by car on Christmas Day. She is my “nursery greeter,” loved by everyone who visits the Nursery.

After being taken to the Ojai Humane Society and then to a vet in Thousand Oaks, she is now at Ventura Surgery Center in critical care. We thought we had lost her, but she is breathing independently now and the vet says she could make a full recovery.

She has a fractured pelvis, fractured hip, broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Despite being in obvious pain, she was visibly relieved and happy to see me when I visited her this morning and evening.

Wallaby is a strong young dog so she will pull through. But the vet’s bills are racking up and are going to be over $12 thousand (US).

My good friends have made a GoFundMe page to help with expenses.
We would so grateful if you were able to 1) donate to Wallaby’s recovery and 2) share the fundraising campaign with your contacts.

Please click on any of the pictures of Wallaby to donate and for more information.

Thank you so much,

Jo

You can go here to help get this little nursery dog back up on her paws and greeting customers again at Australian Native Plants Nursery.

bug report & EOMV

None of the ants previously seen by man were more than an inch in length – most considerably under that size.
But even the most minute of them have an instinct and talent for industry, social organization, and savagery that makes man look feeble by comparison
.” — Them! (1954 movie on gigantic, killer, atomic-radiated ants)

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End of month view down the pergola looking east.
Possibly the best thing about my summer garden 2015 is Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon’

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In late summer it’s putting out this chartreuse, willowy new growth, which is mesmerizing against the backdrop of its own tangled-up-in-blue leaves.
(Speaking of color, where’s your famous fiery red response to strong sun, Aloe cameronii? Not hot enough for you? It’s been plenty hot for me, thanks.)

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A very telescoped view from the west gate to show the wash of blue that’s taken over the garden.
‘Moon Lagoon’ in the foreground, Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ in the background (and blue apartment building in the distance).
Just looking at the froth of blue cools me down.

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The three that I was possibly most anxious to see make it through summer are just outside the office.
Columnar Cussonia gamtoosensis is almost fence height now. The Coast Woolybush to the right, Adenanthos sericeus, has been a peach all summer.*

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And Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems safely established here too.

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Impromptu birdbath, which looks an awful lot like a headstone monument to a fallen aloe.

That’s an abbreviated EOMV so we can get to the bug report. Possibly the worst thing about my summer garden 2015 has been the ants.
Apparently, if Southern California had a resident population of feisty fire ants, we wouldn’t be experiencing a scourge of Argentine ants, but we don’t, so we are.
Linepithema humile stowed away on ships bound for our ports sometime in the 1980s, and life just hasn’t been the same since. Native ants were pushovers, no contest at all.
I don’t like to dwell on this fact for long or I’d probably run away from home, but scientists tell us that the Argentine ants all belong to one giant SUPER COLONY.
Which in practical terms means, because they’re all bros, they don’t fight. They amiably cooperate in a tireless, jack-booted bid for world domination.
They are the Uruk-hai of ants. They seek out the same conditions we do, not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, just nicely warmish and humid.
So when it’s too dry they line up around the shower with their tiny towels, circle the sinks with itty-bitty tooth brushes.
They’re everywhere. Them!

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I put together this little birdbath to take the place of an Aloe capitata that fell victim to the ants.
All summer our insect overlords have relegated us to squatter status on our own property.
This summer it seems like they’ve really stepped up their association (“mutualism”) with their nasty symbiotic playmates, scale insects and mealybugs.
Ants offer safe transit and escort the pests into the crevices and crowns of some plants. Not all, just mostly my favorites it seems.
The stemless aloes have been hit hard this summer. A perky Aloe capitata var. quartzicola went flaccid seemingly overnight.
Upon investigation, the lower crown was stuffed with scale. Them!
For weeks I enraged the ants by scraping off scale from the aloe’s leaves, pouring cinnamon onto the crown, digging in coffee around the base.
The ants supposedly hate strong smells. The aloe seemed to partially recover but lost so many leaves that I dug it up to nurse along in a pot.
Aloe cryptoflora has also succumbed, and a large fan aloe was weakened and killed by ants, though it wasn’t in great shape when I bought it.

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Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is now taking its chances after A. capitata var. quartzicola was dragged off the battlefield.

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Aloe capitata var. quartzicola in better days. If I find one again it will live in a container.

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The ants favorite victims are stemless aloes planted close to hardscape, but they also favor beschornerias.
The hardscape of bricks laid dry, without mortar, on a layer of sand has provided perfect Ant Farm conditions.
Agave ‘Cornelius’ seems impervious so far, but ants are herding scale on some agaves like the desmettianas.

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Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ has had its lower leaves stripped away frequently due to infestations. B. albiflora is under attack too.

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This former wine stopper holding the birdbath together sums it up: we’re barely treading water against the ants.
A vinegar spray solution stops attacks indoors, and cinnamon spread on window sills has been an effective barrier.
(The glass shade was in the house when we bought it, and the concrete base was part of the chimney flue.)

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I can’t remember ever having mealybug problems with agaves. I’ve been frequently knocking them off ‘Dragon Toes.’

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Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ still seems clean.

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Since the yucca has bloomed and become multi-headed, it seems to be attracting ants and scale too.

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The furcraea is clean and has mostly outgrown damage from hail earlier in the year.

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Aloe elgonica still looks clean from scale.

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Potted plants have to be watched too. This boophane is clean, but pots of cyrtanthus are targets for scale.

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I admit to indulging in some self-pity shopping. I’ve been wanting to try Artemisia ‘David’s Choice.’ The ants helped clear the perfect spot to try three.

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Euphorbia ‘Lime Wall.’ I’ve yet to have scale on euphorbias, but you never know.

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No more talk of bugs. Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ loves August, so I love xanthosoma.

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I was this close to composting these begonias but gave them a reprieve, daring them to grow in a very shallow container.
I thought I wanted some hot color in August, but turns out, nope, not really.
I had a bunch of rooted cuttings of Senecio medley-woodii which grow lanky in very little soil, so stuck them in with some rhipsalis to chill this begonia the hell out.

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Happy plants grouped under the light shade of the fringe tree on the east side of the house.

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This succulent is very confusing. With alba in the name, I’m thinking white flowers.
No, Crassula alba var. parvisepala reportedly has stunning trusses of deep red flowers
This is mine in bloom. I guess we’re both confused.

I have to say that there’s been a splendid show of butterflies all summer. The June bugs fizzled out, which is fine by me.
(So weird that image searches of the June bug bring up what I know as the fig beetle. My June bug is, I think, Phyllophaga crinita.)
It’s also been a banner year for the flying fig beetles, Cotinis mutabilis. The grasshoppers surprisingly haven’t been too bad.

End of month views are collected by The Patient Gardener, with or without bug reports.


*But was dead when I returned after a week’s absence, the soil bone-dry. Another has already been installed elsewhere in the garden.

All About Evie

All of my cats have been garden cats, but none more so than Evie. The usual drill for my cats has been lounge all day in the garden, then come into the house at night.
Not Evie. She insisted on sleeping in the office (former garage), whose screenless window on the garden was always left open just for her.
Evie’s last day was spent in the garden over the weekend, so I’ve put together a little tribute to my sweet little garden cat.
She was born here at home some 17ish years ago and never spent a day anywhere but in her garden, so she was frequently spotted on these blog pages.

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(You can read Evie’s one-and-only guest post here.)

Bloom Day October 2014

Guest-hosted by Evie the Cat.


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Not another Bloom Day…and you’ve got nuthin’

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Wait, I got it! Why don’t you show them your nerines?*

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Let’s see what else we’ve got…

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Evie, those aren’t blooms!

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I better take over. Bloom on the snaky succulent Senecio anteuphorbium

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Oh, that was exciting…except not really. At least the variegated manihot has some personality.

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A self-sown Solanum pyracanthum, long-standing member of the summer 2014 Bloom Day Hit Parade

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Salvia ‘Love & Wishes’ was planted mid-summer.

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Wow, now you’re really reaching. Might as well show the nerines again.

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I know…those orange bobbles!

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The annual Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet’ still looking as fresh as summer.


Carol at May Dreams Gardens collects monthly Bloom Day posts year-round.


*Note to Grace: Remember when finding new plant blogs was almost as exciting as receiving plants in the mail? Well, that’s how I felt when I discovered Matt Mathus’ blog Growing With Plants. In one of his many erudite posts, about five paragraphs deep into a dissertation on his gorgeous nerines, he mentioned that he had lots of extra bulbs, and if anyone wanted any, to let him know. That was probably my first experience of the interwebs made real, when it ceased being an abstraction and became peopled with like-minded sorts full of curiosity and generosity, like Nan Ondra who gave me the emilia seeds, and you too, for instance. And that’s the little story I promised you about how I came to have a pot of nerines.

pandemonium revisited

The New York Times has a very nice article today on Pandemonium Aviaries (“362 Birds, and Unruffled“), which MB Maher visited and photographed in 2012
Since that time, bird rescuer Michelle Raffin has written a book “The Birds of Pandemonium; Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered.


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Also since that time, her marriage of many years has ended, and Michelle is in the process of fine-tuning the perfect exit strategy to ensure the continued care of her demanding flock when she eventually becomes unable to care for them. Now 63, Michelle made that first, life-changing rescue of an injured dove 15 years ago. Since the blog post, I’ve experienced first-hand how bird rescue works. In our case, a lost parakeet landed exhausted in my son’s top-down Miata parked under the jacaranda trees. After a year alone in the bath house off our bedroom, we realized it needed a mate, exactly the pattern Michelle follows with her rescued birds. The character of the bath house has changed too, now more aviary with a tub in it than bath house. Birds are sneaky that way, insinuating themselves into our lives, hearts, bath houses. My original post and more of Mitch’s photos can be found here.

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The aviary now receives birds from some of the country’s most respected zoos for breeding and lifetime care.”
362 Birds, and Unruffled” by Sandy Keenan, The New York Times 9/17/14

Euphorbia ammak’s big impact

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Despite its small and underwhelming size, I finally decided to plant this euphorbia in the ground, hoping it grows faster here than in its pot.
Surprisingly, everybody seems quite impressed, including Evie, who wrapped herself around it like a snake Sunday morning.

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She seems to be enjoying her status as the last cat standing, becoming much more sociable. I think the other ones might have bullied her a bit.
We’ve always assumed her shyness was of the kind shared by all white creatures, vulnerable because of their high visibility and in constant fear of being swooped on from above.
That’s our theory anyway. I can’t attest to its biological accuracy.
If my memory can be trusted, she was named by the boys for the fox character in Pokémon. “Eevee” would be the technically correct spelling.

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Behind Evie is the big iron basket Reuben gifted me, which has been turned into an ottoman/table. Marty sawed off the enormous and sturdy handle, breaking only a couple blades in the process. What a sport.

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Wish I had three more. Nestled under the wings of a beschorneria, Agave ‘Little Shark,’ also going by ‘Royal Spine,’ was planted here earlier in the year.

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As long as she doesn’t lay on top of Aloe capitata var. quartzicola, Evie’s welcome to share this little succulent garden.

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The aloe comes armed as well, so I don’t think there’s any real worry.

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Agave ‘Cornelius’ is also making good size here and capable of defending itself against loungers and diggers.

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I’d love some towering columns of this euphorbia from Saudi Arabia. I wouldn’t refuse some towering Euphorbia ingens ‘Variegata’ either.
I fantasize about knocking on doors and making offers whenever I see mature specimens of these two around town.
Evie can cozy up to E. ammak all she wants, as long as she doesn’t use it as a scratching post.


cowboy corgi and the giant hesperaloe

The corgi got a bath, the hesperaloe got away.

Bathed and brushed and made to wear a silly bandana, which he bears with his usual dog grace. Just like cowboys, everybody gets a bath here for the weekend.


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A recent temptation, spotted earlier in the week, the giant Hesperaloe, H. funifera, to 6 feet high and wide.
Those dramatic curlicue fibers on the leaves had me crunching the numbers, garden square footage-wise. It’d be a crime to shoehorn this beauty into a tight spot, so I passed.
Spires of white flowers to 12 feet, and hardy to zone 6.

I know I’ll be spending the weekend prowling the garden for an available 6X6 feet of space I’ve somehow overlooked. May yours be just as productive!

Cinema Botanica Pick: More Than Honey


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I’ve been enthusiastically recommending the documentary More Than Honey whenever the subject of what to watch comes up, and I’ve been getting a lot of “Oh, I noticed that in the queue” as the limp but polite response (streams on Netflix). My youngest son, who’s made a career out of deflecting my advice and interests, recommended it to me, knowing nothing about colony collapse disorder. I was certain the documentary would get to the bottom of the neonicotinoid debate, the pesticide thought to be primarily responsible for the scary decline in bee numbers, which has been banned in Europe but not yet in the U.S. The documentary never even mentions the word. Instead, it suggests that what’s taking out the bees is a complex system failure that’s grounded in the nature of our relationship with bees, our breeding them for docility, our industrialization of bees to keep up with our industrialization of agriculture. Instead of dryly ticking off possible culprits responsible for the decline in bee health and numbers, the film travels the world to interview current practitioners of bee keeping, whether in the Swiss Alps or the almond orchards of California. Rather than a polemic, it is a portrait of the domestication of bees and what that means for the bees and us. It depicts the commercial exploitation of bees as well as the intense love and respect generational beekeepers have for their domesticated charges, and the heartbreak they feel when the hives are checked in spring, only to be found as quiet as tombs.

But it’s the virtuosic “bee cam” that follows the bees everywhere they go, into the hive, into the sky, giving us literally a bee’s eye view of the world, that takes this documentary by Markus Imhoof out of the realm of science into art. It is this astonishing cinematography that elevates the film to the level of March of the Penguins style documentaries.

I found this comment to an online review of the film from Walter Haefeker, President of the European Professional Beekeepers Association:

As a beekeeper, I have seen many documentaries about bees over the years. ‘More than Honey’ stands out due to the spectacular camera work, but also due to it’s thoughtful treatment of this very complex subject. Instead of relentlessly pushing a single message, it gives the viewer a deep appreciation of the honey bee as a super organism while at the same time introducing the audience to different takes on the trouble bees are in from different parts of the world.

Some of the shots are not very flattering to beekeepers. But this is an aspect I particularly like about the film and this film maker. Where someone else might have turned off the camera to avoid unpleasantness, Markus Imhoof keeps it rolling. The result is a very honest look at the relationship between man and bees, which is also very helpful for the beekeeping community to discuss which direction to take. Even though even professional beekeeping in the EU is not quite as industrial as in the US, the movie shows, that what at first appears to be a traditional paradise in Switzerland turns out to have a whole other set of man made problems. What can be seen in the film is that by striving for racial purity of the national swiss bee, the genetic base of these bees has been narrowed so much, that there now is trouble in paradise. In Germany, where some beekeepers also are pursuing goals of racial purity of local bees, the film has caused them think again. One of the key points of the film appears to be, that it is not a good idea to shape the genetics of the honey bee too much towards our narrow goals informed by capitalism or nationalism or worse. But there are many other important points as well. So go see the movie and find out for yourself.”

One of the film’s surprising twists suggests that the hero of this sad story just might be someone we’ve been led to believe is pure, sci-fi villain: The so-called Africanized bee, a hybrid that escaped controlled experiments in South America. They’re mean, ornery, full of strong survival instincts and, contrary to propaganda, capable of making large quantities of honey. They’re the freedom fighters of the bee world, hacking our carefully domesticated paradigm that, for many complex reasons, has been the death of bees. And I shouldn’t call this a sad story, because there’s something amazingly hopeful happening on an island off the coast of Australia…