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.

Winter roses

We’ve had a recent cold snap, and though last week I may have poked gentle fun at rainy day behaviors out here in California, I have to make fun of myself this week. I am quickly losing my tolerance for cold.

Monday’s cold weather brought a bitter wind, and all I wanted to do was hide inside—after a morning run, of course. I have to dust off the winter running clothes every now and then, right?

It was cold here over Christmas, too, and when I returned from balmy North Carolina after the holidays, I knew I had to tackle a winter gardening chore: pruning the roses. (Not my favorite gardening activity, I’ll confess.) I left three stems taller than the rest because small buds graced them, and I hoped they might bloom, despite freezing temperatures in December.

One bud finally began to open within the last week. So I cut all three buds to bring inside and finished the pruning chores.

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To me, this is the exact color of dusty rose

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Finding home in a garden

My mother asked recently what was blooming in my new garden, and her question provided the initial inspiration for this post.

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These yellow flowers have been blooming since we arrived here.

The beautiful early spring weather has also encouraged me to share some photos with you. While locals assure me this is too early—February can still bring freezing weather—spring is here nonetheless. I plan to celebrate even if winter resurfaces later.

I still find myself unsure about planting anything given our extreme drought, but I must tend the garden that surrounds me, coaxing it to be its beautiful best. Even if I don’t plant something new, the gardening chores—pulling weeds, picking up spent camellia blooms, trimming dead blooms—invite me to put down roots of sorts, to invest my time and make myself at home in this garden.

I’m excited to see what will spring up. Perhaps this is a tulip magnolia?

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Will this unveil itself as a tulip magnolia?

I’ve discovered mint, and the lavender continues to bloom in force. A variety of yellow flowers bring cheer as they open, and several camellias are showing off.

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The most prolific of the camellia bushes

Familiar plants remind me of home and remind me that this new home is not so foreign after all. There are unfamiliar plants, too: smaller, quieter blooms I cannot yet identify but welcome with eagerness.

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I carried my camera on this morning’s walk, hoping to capture the early spring in pictures. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, a hopeful soundtrack to accompany the beauty budding out on trees and along the ground.

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This tree started blooming a week or two ago and stopped me still mid-stride when I noticed its first blooms, stark against the dark limbs.

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Little purple flowers grow amid grass and rocks by the trail.

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My favorite moment came as I readied the camera to take a close-up of the purple ground-cover flowers. I heard the deep buzz—the kind that rattles your brain in a way a bee could only dream of doing—before I saw the motion. A hummingbird reveled in the purple flowers, too, and I just managed to click the shutter before it sped off, too shy of the dog and me to linger longer.

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Not my best shot but my favorite surprise of the morning.

Before I left Raleigh, one of my dear friends prayed for God to show off for me out here. This morning felt like God delighting in the early spring “garden” and wowing me with hummingbird moments.

Is it humanity’s origins in the garden that cause us to crave what gardens provide? Though not all of us enjoy the feel of cool dirt caked under our fingernails, God can speak to us and make us feel at home in the “gardens”—cultivated or wild—surrounding us.

Some of you may be grumbling that spring seems impossibly far away, but know that the earth is at work even under ice and snow, preparing a showy display of spring for you, too.

And all too soon, I imagine I’ll be wishing to trade places with you to escape the scorching heat and drought of this place. To shore up my spirit and embrace Jeremiah 17:7-8 (flourishing like the tree that doesn’t fear when the heat comes), I need to drink in these beautiful moments so I can call upon God’s showy, golden, thriving spring garden once it is just a memory.

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How do you see God showing off for you these days?