Monday, April 21, 2014

looking under rocks

Sometimes I have to move rocks or concrete stepping stones so I can pull weeds or put in new plants. I consider the sight of a sleepy garden snake a fortuitous occasion. I have spied at least 8 or 10 of these rough brown earth snakes (Virginia striatula) in both front and back yard. This is a small non-venomous snake (7-10 inches) that eats earthworms and soft-bodied insects. To gauge its size, on the right side of the photo you can see a plant shoot just emerging from a seed.

I took a lot of photos before the snake disappeared into the grass. Note the black spots on the head and the forked tongue testing the environment.

Take time to look under rocks sometimes. It's such an interesting world.

CAVEAT: Respect Nature! I wear gloves when probing around rocks, just in case there are UN-friendly critters lying in wait. Depending on where you live, consider doing the same.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

easter-egg colors

I've been looking online at a lot of record album cover art from the 1950s lately. I thought framing a couple of old covers would be an inexpensive way of inserting some mid-century art into my wood-paneled living room. I learned these old albums aren't as thrifty as I'd like them to be. I couldn't found anything I liked at local thrift stores, so I ended up paying about $10 apiece for 2 records on ebay. This cover isn't one I bought, but I do like the happy colors, and maybe I'll buy it someday. The artist is George Giusti and this happy illustration seems typical of many of his album designs. I could probably fill a whole wall with his bright colors. Giusti was active mainly in the 1940s through the 60s, and he not only designed album covers, but also book covers, and he illustrated articles for magazines. This was back when commercial artists weren't considered to be "real" artists. Giusti knew better: he said, "Art is art." I agree.

Here are a few easter egg colors from my back yard: phlox, iris, marigold.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

prickly protection

Prickly Pear Cactus is one of my favorite plants. There are about a dozen different species native to the American Southwest. Most varieties are from the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts. This is a detail of one of the prickly pears I have growing in my back yard. I call them jumping cacti because you can't get too close or it'll "jump" out and stab you. You think you're not touching it, but ouch! You've suddenly got one or more stickers in you that will be almost impossible to find, and will drive you crazy until you do get them out. It's not those long spines you see in the picture that get you, but rather one of the many really short stickers in tufts you see at the base of the big spines. Those things are called glochids.

I don't know which variety of prickly pear this is. It may be an Engelmann's. A friend gave me two pads a few years back and they have grown by 4 or 5 more pads each year. I have two of these in pots which I will be planting near some windows in the front yard. The windows are close to the ground and the previous occupants of this house had boxwood  or waxleaf ligustrum shrubs growing up against the windows and halfway up the house, I guess as a burglar deterrent. The shrubs were half dead, a real fire hazard so close to the house, and they weren't native plants, so I've been gradually cutting them out so I can replace them with native drought-resistant plants. These prickly pears will make a much better burglar deterrent than those boring old ornamentals.

P.S. The easiest way I've found to get those glochids out of your skin is to make a thick paste of water and baking soda and smear it thickly over the area you've been stuck. The skin absorbs a lot of moisture, swells a bit, and squeezes out the spines. You might have to repeat a few times, but it usually works.

Monday, April 14, 2014

windy day

I finally got a good shot of one of our local house finches. His feathers are ruffled from the big winds blowing through the neighborhood. Windy and wet means No Yard Work Today.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Irises are blooming! A few plants had buds in March, but a late freeze put them on hold. Purple irises are my favorites. We're not having a fabulous show like last year because I dug up a bunch of bulbs when we moved and didn't get them planted right away. They're still getting acclimated to their alien surroundings. (I still have a few dozen in a box that are sprouting without the aid of dirt or light.) There are 4 or 5 dutch irises in several shades of purple and yellow blooming right now and one small Louisiana iris that bloomed for a day. Next year they should be more comfortable in their new home.

The best news is the hummingbirds are back. I spotted one in late March so I put out the feeders. Soon there were two birds. Two or three more arrived this week. This one is a male ruby-throated hummingbird, and I saw one male black-chinned hummingbird. They aren't acting overly territorial over the feeders yet, but I don't know if their comraderie will last.