Monday, December 29, 2014

Post Christmas Crumbs

Writing a blog is great when the writer - that's me in this case, has something to write about and some good pictures to share but sometimes inspiration fails.  Another blog author once wrote that he had no shortage of things to write about, only a lack of time to do it! Well I envy his creativity. I love writing but have to have something worth saying. Yes - I'm struggling today but I hope you'll read on!

Not quite 12th night - an interesting variation on Christmas decorations for the desert!
I had this quirky idea that I would write about the local wildlife - well not really wild but the strange animal-like ornaments that people use to 'adorn' their gardens.  So I set off on safari round our local community with my camera but I think it must have been the hibernation season or my camera scared them away. That's that idea down the drain! 

Can you just imagine the thought pattern behind wanting a plastic swan to adorn a desert landscape?

Why would one ever want a plastic humming bird when we have the real things here.

Last week I went off for a trip to Bob Williams nursery in Indio to buy some cacti and succulents for my planned new desert bed. The local Lowes have succulents but they are not much more than rooted cuttings and two in a pot which seems to be the norm, doesn't make a very balanced plant. Nearby Home Depot (B&Q for UK readers) have better plants but bearing scant inaccurate labels - 'prickly pear' and so on. Mollers have wonderful, properly labelled plants but the prices! Some beautiful unusual Agaves at $89 each  - ouch! So I set out for Bob Williams but arrived and found it closed. Yes - another frustrating moment!
Pic from my last visit - this is what we hoped to see and will next time!

Anyway the trip wasn't entirely wasted. On impulse we called in at a restaurant called Jacalope with a beautiful garden. The restaurant wasn't open for service and so the water features weren't working - another hiccup but the surroundings are lovely and I must return.  Lots of beautiful plants and quality sculpture - no plastic humming birds here!

What is this tree?
Just love the steel cactus bollards!

A climber I don't know - Chad - are you reading? Update - Disticus 'Rivers' - thanks Chad!

And another challenge! Update - Cordia boissieri - he did it again!

We also walked along El Paseo, an area of upmarket shops and art galleries. It includes an area called The Gardens which has recently been refurbished in desert style - a great redevelopment but difficult to photograph. Very stark and modern and in total contrast to the lush gardens of Jacalope.

Well - I guess that's it for 2014.  Its chilly here with night temperatures in the 30's but the sun is shining! Hooray for California! Next week Philip and I are off to San Francisco, in part to see an exhibition at the art gallery but I hope to escape to the botanic garden at some point, so hopefully more of a feast and less crumbs next time!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take a hike!

As much as I love the backdrop of the beautiful mountains here in Palm Springs, I have little interest in climbing or exploring them. However, last week I was persuaded by Jim to take a hike into Tahquitz Canyon. Whilst a regular runner, I am not a walker or hiker, so this was new to me - did I need a compass and survival kit? The canyon is owned by the Band of the Cahuilla Indians and so  we passed through the modern visitor centre and paid the statutory $12.50. Leaving the building we were greeted by the sign 'Beware Rattlesnakes' - a great welcome for all visitors! I can see why they place the sign after you have paid your money!

The canyon in spring - internet pic!

Visitor center to welcome you!
Not so welcoming!

For centuries, the ancestors of the Cahuilla Indians lived in this and the nearby canyons. The constant water supply enabled them to grow crops and raise livestock.  A legend says that Tahquitz was the first shaman and had much power, that he used for the good of all people. But over time, Tahquitz began to use his power for selfish reasons and to harm the Cahuilla People. They became angry and banished Tahquitz to this canyon that now bears his name. A variation on the legend says he kidnapped a young woman and eventually struck her dead. He made his home high in the San Jacinto Mountains, in a secret cave below the towering rock known today as Tahquitz Peak. It is said that his spirit still lives in this canyon and that he steals the souls of those who venture too far into his canyon at night as well as being responsible for local earthquakes. As this was an afternoon walk, we hastened down before dusk!

Fall colour from Californian sycamores
The day we visited - a bit grey!

Looking back down over Palm Springs set in the desert

The canyon still shows faint remains of habitation but generally it appears as a natural environment. There are no signs and footpaths are not clearly marked, so you need to be aware of your route. The path does however roughly follow the creek that bisects the canyon. Its a rough path with rocky steps, which leads up into the mountain, crossing the stream at various places. The huge and beautifully coloured rock formations are amazingly impressive.  Sadly most of the ancient tribal art that used to be visible, has faded or been destroyed.

All around are cacti and other indigenous plants and towards the top of the path, the landscape becomes lusher with clusters of scrubby California sycamore. This is actually Platanus racemosa and would in the UK be known as a plane tree - one of the confusions of using common names. Being winter there were few wild flowers but we did see the occasional red bloom on chuparosa, Beloperone californica (correction - this should be Justicia californica - thanks Chad) and also Californian fuchsia, Zauschneria californica which is now correctly called Epilobium canum. (Aren't plant name changes annoying!) Amongst all the scrubby bushes, I was delighted to spot a plant of the desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, although not a particularly attractive plant, being smaller and scruffier that our European  one.  All around, bare areas of the sandy soil are now showing carpets of green seedlings so hopefully with a few more rainy days, we may well get wild flowers this spring.

Red barrel cactus

Dasylirion I think - corrected to Nolina biglovii - a native of California

Teddy bear cholla
prickly pear
chuparosa - lots more flower in spring
Native mistletoe- bit low down for kissing under!
Seedlings bring a promise of wild flowers
 At the top of the path, hidden behind a massive outcrop of rock is a 50ft waterfall that drops into a pool that varies in size. On the day we visited it was a modest puddle but the muddy soil surface all around indicates that in certain conditions, it would be quite a lake. The day of our visit was winter and overcast so my pictures are dull. Anyway that's my excuse for including a few more colourful internet pics. 

The waterfall last week

Internet pic with lake

Well, we survived the expedition, didn't disturb any rattlesnakes and managed to get back without risking Tahquitz's night-time wrath so maybe another trip in the spring!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter Colour on a Rainy Day

Here we are a couple of weeks before Christmas and many folks are busy buying Christmas trees and poinsettias.  A week or so ago we had rain and again yesterday - maybe not so notable back in the UK but headline news here in California where we are still in serious drought. Last week it rained solidly for a whole day, brought torrents of water flooding down off the mountains, together with mud which blocked the nearby roads for days but left the gardens looking sparkly fresh! 

It has been lovely weather for much of the autumn with higher than average temperatures, so my garden here has been thriving. Most of it was planted just back in January of this year but already its giving us so much pleasure and attracting humming birds and butterflies. Annoyingly butterflies lead to caterpillars and the petunias have been eaten to shreds by fussy little purple caterpillars that eat just the soft tissue between the veins of the flowers. A roadrunner (bird) has also joined the home menagerie and I think is feeding on the little lizards which seem to have almost almost disappeared. The following pictures, taken just a few days ago will give you a taste of what we are still enjoying.

Petunias for winter colour - always seems odd planting them in October! You can just see the beginnings of the caterpillar damage, lower left corner.

One of my original bougainvilleas brought from our last home - lost its name!

Podranea ricasoliana - our plant in the last garden just roared away but this one is slow

Tagetes lemmonii - see last blog

Tecoma stans - one of my favourites - so far only 4ft but it will make 12ft

Another transplanted Bougainvillea - probably Orange Ice

Jatropha interrima- recently planted but settling in well

Russelia equisetiformis - Fire cracker plant

Cestrum aurantiacum - doing nicely

Madagascar periwinkles left over from the summer but still flowering like crazy and seeding freely

Euphorbia milii - probably a cultivar

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pungent but floriferous

When I came back from the UK in September, my plant of Tagetes lemmonii, which I had planted the previous spring looked particularly dried up and miserable. But I fed it and it greened up nicely. Just this last week or so it has burst into flower and is one of the prettiest plants in the garden at the moment. This is a shrubby tagetes and native to  mountainous areas of Mexico and southern Arizona. It was discovered in the late 1800's by husband and wife botanists, the Lemmons. It is sometimes called the mountain tagetes. It seems to be a short day plant, so flowering is triggered by the shorter days in autumn and winter. The foliage has a strong, pungent odour which some people may not like. Flowers attract bees and butterflies.

Most UK gardeners will know the name tagetes linked to dainty but similar annuals with masses of tiny yellow flowers. Tagetes is of course the botanical name for both African and French marigolds, neither of which originate from those countries but from north and south America. In some countries, marigold oil is extracted as a flavouring or for use as a food colouring.  Marigolds are significant as part of the 'Day of the Dead' celebrations in Mexico and are thought to attract the souls of the dead. In India and Thailand they are often made into garlands for weddings and festivals.