Beating the summer heat

The unofficial start of summer kicks off with Memorial Day weekend, but where I live, we’ve already seen triple temperatures. Bleh. This no longer counts as springtime to me. Some of my friends love the hot weather. I do not. Though I was raised in a place of heat and humidity, summer is not my favorite season. It’s not even my second-favorite season. Life in California—with its cloudless days, searing heat, lack of shade, and rattlesnakes—has bumped summer down to my least favorite season.

As a runner, I find myself getting up earlier and earlier to dodge the baking sun and rising temps each morning. Yesterday, desperate to avoid a repeat of Monday’s too-hot, too-late-in-the-morning run, I found a handy tool that tells you when the sun will rise and set where you live. (Just for fun, I’ve set it to show times for Daphne, Alabama. You can type in your own city/town and see how it changes for today. Drag the daily line along to see how it will lengthen until June 21 and then begin to shorten. Type in a place south of the equator, and you’ll see the opposite effect.)

I’m not the only one trying to find ways to beat the heat. Western screech-owls have returned to nest in the box on our house, and a couple of evenings ago, I looked outside to see this:

A thirsty owl

An owl sat perched in the waterfall of our backyard koi pond. I didn’t want to scare it away, especially because the fish didn’t seem concerned about its presence. I grabbed the camera and took some shots from inside the house.

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Seen along the way

I’m traveling west today, sitting too long among strangers after spending several lovely days with family and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, I got to see one of my dearest friends and two of her children, now grown into amazing young women. We met in Napa and spent a fun day together.

Worried I’d get slowed down in traffic, I wanted to arrive at our first destination early. I hit traffic (of course) but still arrived with time to wander the gardens at our first stop. I thought you might enjoy wandering along with me for a few moments.

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Welcome predators

I’ve been traveling (too much) lately, and all the coming and going keeps me more unbalanced than I’d like and makes me a neglectful gardener, too. This is not the time of year to ignore the garden or the pests it attracts. But every year about this time, there’s an infestation of aphids, and every year, I do very little about it.

A few days ago, I had been home long enough to start wandering around the garden to see what needed attention. One sad rosebush faces an extra barrage of aphids every year and was coated with the pests this particular day.

Aphid infestation

Now, I hate spraying plants with anything. I don’t mind sprinkling powders and fertilizers in the soil, but I have always hated sprays. I wanted this rose bush to do well, though, especially because this was the first year my husband mulched around the plant with proper mulch (pine bark nuggets, in case you’re wondering) instead of leaving the little pebbles the previous homeowners had put around the bush. The pebbles did nothing to help the rose flourish. After the new mulch, the rose bush put out more new stems and shoots than ever this spring, and I wanted to do my part to help it bloom.

A rare bloom on the besieged rosebush

On the other side of the house, where we have a number of healthier roses, the aphids had begun their assault, too.

I’d had it! Time to get some friendly predators in the garden.

Ladybugs as cold-hearted killers? It’s true.

I’m a slow learner when it comes to gardening, and, only in the past year or so have I learned about the benefit of ladybugs when it comes to getting rid of aphids.

I headed down to the local hardware store and bought a little plastic container full of ladybugs. The instructions said to release them at dusk after spraying the aphids with water, and so that’s what I did two nights ago along with several quick prayers: Please don’t let them be dead. Please don’t let them be dead. Please don’t let them be dead. I mean, how sad would it be to open a plastic container full of dead ladybugs? These were alive (most of them, anyway) and very, very happy to escape their plastic “home.”

When I checked yesterday morning, the rosebush was host to a ladybug extravaganza. They were happily chowing down on the aphids, and I was happy to see them do their work.

This morning, very few were left, and I fear other garden predators I enjoy and usually welcome (birds, dragonflies, etc.) had their own ladybug banquet yesterday. My hope is that, because surely those ladybug enemies couldn’t have eaten all of them, some of the ladybugs will reproduce to keep our roses safe all summer.

That slow-learner part of me I mentioned? When my husband and I moved out to California, we began trying new wines and quickly found an Old Vine Zinfandel we really enjoy: Predator. You’d think I would immediately make a connection between the name and the sweet little ladybug on the bottle. But I didn’t.

It took me reading about aphids and how to get rid of them to learn the delightful nature of ladybugs as welcome predators in the garden.

Do you rely on ladybugs in your garden? Have any other natural remedies that work on aphids?

The truth is, while I love rose blooms, I detest their neediness in general. All the thorny pruning, the vigilance against black spot and powdery mildew and rust and aphids and … I could go on. I’m not always sure they’re worth the effort. And while I’ll do my best to keep the ones that are already in my garden thriving, you won’t find me rushing out to buy more roses to plant. With my level of gardening knowledge, I need something lower maintenance and have no trouble finding plenty of lovely blooms that don’t require quite so much effort as the roses. Then again, the roses are forcing me to learn, and I will never complain about having the opportunity to learn something new.

Nature’s wild palette

I had a wonderful blessing two weeks ago when I got to accompany my husband on a trip to Southern California. He had to go there for work (far more scenic than some places he has to travel), and we were fortunate to tack on an extra day for a bit of rest and rejuvenation.

We started in Coronado and ended in Dana Point. As I loaded photos from the trip, the beautiful array of colors in the scenes, flora, and fauna struck me. What an amazing palette Nature has.

I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you today, with only a few words, so you can soak in the images and their colors.

Sunrise in Coronado

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Life imitating art imitating life

In last week’s post, I mentioned a recent exhibit my mother and I went to at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The museum has an impressive permanent collection, and each spring, florists descend upon the galleries to interpret works of art using flowers.

Though the exhibit is an annual four-day event, this was the first time for both my mother and me to see it, and I’m so glad we braved the crowds. I only had my cell phone with me, but I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of my favorites from my phone’s camera.

Calla lilies and one of my favorite paintings in the museum

In some cases, as with the arrangement above, I could easily see the inspiration for the colors and shapes of the blooms the artist/florist chose.

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