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.

October beauties

Where did October go? I blinked, and it’s already almost gone.

Fall is putting on a beautiful display here, and the rains have returned. The salmon are back, and the vultures along with them. Where there were one or two vultures flying around at the river a couple of weeks ago, now a dozen or so try to fit into the same tree at one time. Not beautiful. But important.

The trees have turned showy with the shorter days and cooling temperatures.

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Pumpkins dot front porches, and children run past in partial costumes, preparing for Monday’s trick-or-treating.

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Summer hasn’t quite loosened its grip, though. Recent rains and my deadheading efforts a month ago have resulted in one final crop of rose blooms. I wish you could smell the perfect fragrance of this rose:

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The last few buds promise to welcome November, but they’ll be gone long before December arrives.

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Whether summer pinks or autumn oranges, October has its share of beauties.

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I hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy what’s left of the month. We have more rain in the forecast here, a blessing for sure, but also one that keeps my camera and me indoors more than I’d like. (I’m fortunate, at least, to have a dog who doesn’t mind trooping around in the rain. She’s a lot tougher than the camera.)

It’s good to know that November will bring its own kind of beauty when it arrives. I look forward to sharing some of it here with you in the coming weeks.

In the gardens of my friends

And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
— Isaiah 58:11

Earlier this summer, friends from North Carolina began posting pictures of their gardens on Facebook. Their posts reminded me of times we chatted about gardening or wandered through public gardens together or visited our favorite nursery for plants and lunch. (The best nurseries have cafes to encourage you to linger.)

Their photos stirred up a longing to visit with my North Carolina friends but also inspired me to reach out to California friends who have green thumbs. I asked if I could wander through their gardens and take some pictures. Most apologized for their garden’s appearance because of the drought, but I think you’ll see that, even in a dry land, beautiful gardens abound. (Sprinklers and less restrictive watering rules have helped this summer.)

August can be a tough time for gardeners. In the south, too much heat and humidity. In California’s Central Valley, too much heat and no rain since May. Whether your own garden looks a bit scraggly these days or is bursting with beauty, I hope you’ll enjoy touring these friend’s gardens with me over the next few weeks.

First up, the garden of a friend who welcomed me to California with the gift of a poinsettia the day after I arrived here. (A plant is a perfect housewarming gift, especially for someone who has moved cross-country and likely had to leave all the houseplants behind.)

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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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Celebrating Earth Day but not the pollen

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
– Psalm 96:11–12

Today is Earth Day, and I wanted to celebrate by sharing some photos of what’s blooming in my garden right now.

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The previous owners left behind lots of beautiful roses.

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Rhododendron in bloom

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A delicate iris

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Deep purple bearded iris … so velvety beautiful!

How’s the earth exulting (and celebrating spring and Earth Day) where you are?

One thing I simply cannot celebrate today, though I know it has to exist for all these wonderful plants to grow, is pollen. I’ve struggled with springtime allergies for many, many years. I had hoped the move might bring fewer allergies. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise.

California has brought me the worst pollen-related allergies I’ve ever experienced. My tried-and-true allergy medicine is barely making a dent in what’s happening in my head and throat, and my constant coughing leaves me exhausted.

California won me over during winter, but in the NC2NC contest, I have to declare North Carolina a winner in the springtime pollen game. I never thought I’d yearn for NC’s thick yellow pine pollen. However, the drought and warmer-than-usual temperatures here in Northern California are making me sick. Bleh.

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North Carolina wins when it comes to the pollen war, at least for me. Are allergies getting the best of you, too?

Let’s talk about something more fun this Earth Day. I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite places on earth. Some are near home, and some I may never see again. One favorite I hope to visit again some day is Knocknarea in County Sligo, Ireland:

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Serene Knocknarea overlooks Strandhill (the little village you can see sparkling at the shoreline) and Sligo Bay. My husband and I hiked up late in the day to see this stunning vista.

Do you have a favorite spot on earth? If so, I’d love for you to describe it in the comments below. Happy Earth Day!