Celebrate Roses in El Cerrito

The don’t-miss event for flower-lovers, gardeners and rosarians is coming up next Sunday – that’s right, it’s the 36th annual Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Rose Group Bay Area! This year it’s on Sunday May 15th, from 11 am to 3:30 pm at the El Cerrito Community Center, a few blocks east of San Pablo Ave at 7007 Moeser Lane. The Rose Show and parking are free.Vintage roseThe glorious heart of the event is the hundred-foot display of roses — everyone from expert cultivators to people with just one rose bush in their yard bring cut roses to show. They’re grouped and arranged by type, the result an intoxicating display of scents and colors. George roses You can buy heirloom and hard-to-find roses from specialty nurseries, and rose experts will be there to answer your questions. Remember to bring your clippers and loppers for on-site tool sharpening. This year there will activities for children, and while supplies last, children can get a free rose plant courtesy of the Heritage Rose Group Bay Area. Along with the roses, there’s an array of arts & crafts and rose-related goodies for you to view and buy as gifts for someone special or for yourself!

Show table

We’ve had a booth with our artwork & crafts at the Rose Show for the past eleven years! Look for us in the Main Hall, with the work that I make from my original rose & flower and nature-related photographs -jewelry, purses, boxes, vases, sachets, greeting cards, and much more! I’ll also have my upcycled creations – handmade bracelet cuffs, purses, phone and e-reader holders, all from fabric books and silk neckties.

Upcycled bracelet cuffPlus, while it lasts – a new batch of our sublime local honey. Many people swear by it to help with allergies.Local honeyAnd for the first time at the Rose Show, try our Honey Kissed skin lotion and lip balm, handcrafted by George from our honey and wax.Honey kissed lotion and lip balm

If you have any questions about the Rose Show, our honey, or Garden Delights Arts & Crafts, please email me at HeidiRand@gmail.com  Hope to see you there, with a rose or three!

Stanhopea Orchid Blooms Again

Mid-July last year George’s glorious Stanhopea stevensonii orchid bloomed for the first time. An epiphytic (plants that grow on other plants rather than rooting in soil) species orchid native to Colombia, each flower spike produces two large flowers. This year there are SIX flower spikes, and the first opened this morning!

Stanhopea stevensonii orchid

The rest of the flower spikes, in varying stages, should open over the next week.

Stanhopea stevensonii

You can see why they’re sometimes called upside-down orchids: the flower spikes grow downward and the flowers open facing down.

Stanhopea stevensonii orchid

A wonderful passage from Robert Lauri’s blog, Stanhopea Culture, describes the elusive scent:  “The fragrance of this Stanhopea is difficult to describe and smells sweet but rather chemical-like.  The fragrance is similar to sweet grass with trace amounts of fresh pine needles.” The strong scent helps attract its pollinator, the male euglossine bee, to the flower because it doesn’t bloom for long.

Stanhopea stevensonii

This is a video of George showing and talking about the orchid.

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Arum Blooms in the Garden

After spending the day at the Tilden Park Botanical Garden ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the abundance of lovely and sweetly scented spring flowers, we arrived home to find a flower of a different sort. Dracunculus vulgaris is a very large exotic flower, but its dubious claim to fame is that it’s one of the stinkiest flowers in the world. And we’re proud to say that one is now blooming in our garden!

Dracunculus vulgaris

Mr. Stinky has some vividly descriptive nicknames, including Dragon Arum, Black Dragon, Voodoo Lily, Snake Lily and Stink Lily. Actually not a lily at all, the Dracunculus is in the Aroid family, and is related to Calla lilies and skunk cabbage. The Dragon’s extremely unpleasant smell of rotting meat attracts flies to pollinate it.

Dracunculus vulgaris

George remembered that the first time the parent of this flower bloomed, “it attracted a poor Turkey Vulture, which was circling the house low over and over looking for the corpse. I kept seeing it flying and went outside to see if I could find what it was searching for. I could indeed smell the carrion, but where and what? I followed my nose … and there it was!”

Happily, the bad odor only lasts until the Dragon attracts some pollinators, then you can enjoy the exotic flower close-up. The spadix, the long dark appendage, protrudes from the frilly deep purple spathe. Dracunculus vulgarisThe Dragon is easy to grow in many climates, and spreads by self-seeding or bulb-offset. Even when it’s not blooming it’s a very attractive plant, with a sturdy stalk and frilly leaves.

Anything small and sweet or large and dramatic blooming in your garden this spring?

Celebration of Roses in El Cerrito

Happy Mother’s Day! My mom loved roses, and she would have swooned over the amazing profusion of blooms in George’s garden.

George with roses

All our dear friends: Graham Thomas, Sally Holmes, Mr. Lincoln, as well as Ispahan, Electron, Sombreuil, Double Delight and more are blooming like crazy. George says it’s the chicken poop; I credit his green thumbs.

Rosa Californica (California wild rose)

Whatever the reason, we’re really excited to show them off at next Sunday’s Celebration of Old Roses, our absolute favorite event in El Cerrito. Always the Sunday after Mother’s Day, this year it’s on May 17th, 2015, from 11:00 to 3:30 pm. Sponsored by the Heritage Rose Group Bay Area, the show is held at the El Cerrito Community Centera few blocks east of San Pablo Ave (the main drag in El Cerrito), at 7007 Moeser Lane (cross is Ashbury Ave).  The event and parking are free, and it’s wheelchair-accessible.

Butterscotch Rose bud

The heart of the Celebration is an overflowing 100-foot display of all kinds of roses. Everyone from expert cultivators to casual gardeners bring cut roses to share and show off. The roses are arranged by type, so just by cruising the collection you’ll get a great education! Need a rose identified? Bring it along for an expert’s opinion. This year for the first time children can get a free rose plant courtesy of Tom Liggett and the Heritage Rose Group Bay Area, while supplies last!

Mr. Lincoln rose

Along with the roses there’s a great collection of arts and crafts and flower-related products for you to enjoy -your chance to stock up on gifts for rose and nature-lovers in your life. I’ve had a table with my artwork and crafts at the Celebration for the past ten years, and I’ll be there with the things I make from my original photos, rose and flower-related, including jewelry, scarves, decorated boxes, purses, cards, prints, and much more!

Rose Show

We’ll have our sublime local honey and all-natural beeswax candles from our beehives. If you can’t wait until the Celebration, you can always buy our honey at Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, or contact me to arrange for pickup.

George with honey

Put Sunday May 17th on your calendar — go to smell the intoxicating roses and then stop by our table to say hello. If you have any questions about the show, please email me at HeidiRand@gmail.com

Killing Our Lawn

This guest post written by my wonderful husband George McRae is very timely as California’s long-term drought worsens and it becomes more critical for people to conserve water.

Killing Our Lawn: Or, How We Made the Transition to a Wildlife Refuge, by George McRae

When Heidi and I moved into our house, I saw gardening as a selfish endeavor: vegetables, fruit, flowers were for the enjoyment of humans only. I even installed a lawn, from seed. Then I got involved in local environmental issues in El Cerrito. Creek restoration was at the top of the list, as a branch of Baxter Creek was at the back side of our home. Not wanting to get involved in a “lawn-envy war” with our neighbor, I roto-tilled our parking strip. I terraced it and planted what started out as an English cottage-style garden, but has evolved into a wildlife habitat. The photo on the left is our neighbor’s lawn, our native garden’s on the right.

Front lawns

I started to read National Wildlife Federation literature about how local back and front yards, and even apartment balconies, are the best hope for many endangered species considering how much habitat is being destroyed by development.

Monarch butterfly depositing an egg on milkweed

Monarch butterfly depositing an egg on milkweed

I began planting native California plants everywhere I could fit them in. Our philosophy evolved into, “if a local critter eats it or needs it, we’ll plant it.”

California grape

We registered as an NWF wildlife habitat. We provide food and water.

Squirrels at feeder

Also required: shelter and places for critters to raise their young. We’ve been rewarded many times over by birds, in particular hummingbirds, raising families here year after year.

Hummingbird mother on nest

And insects galore! Monarch, Swallowtail, Skipper, Red Admirable (Admiral), Painted lady, Dragonfly…. an endless list of species, come here to lay eggs on the plants we provide them.

Anise swallowtail butterfly laying egg on fennel

Other benefits? With the abundance of California native plants, our water bill is extremely low. We use no pesticides or fertilizers, so we’re not adding downstream pollutants to the biosphere. We evaluate any weed as a possible food source. If not, we hand pull. We use no herbicides, as they are proven amphibian killers. We rarely use power gardening tools, reducing our addition to air and noise pollution and global warming. We prune our trees and weed carefully and during seasons when we won’t upset nesting cycles of birds, insects and mammals.

Towhee eggs in nest

Towhee eggs in nest

W H A T  C A N  Y O U  D O ?

1) Plant local native plants in as many varieties as possible, from grasses to flowering trees, like ceanothus. California bunch grasses have deep roots and hold soils together, preventing erosion and drawing deep moisture to the surface for other plants. Many butterflies use them as larval food sources. Grasses are the basis of a sound ecosystem.

Some local nurseries to learn more and buy natives:

California Native Plant Society (East Bay), Native Here Nursery

Watershed Nursery

Bay Natives Nursery

Honeybee on fennel flower

2) Before you prune, thin or remove trees, shrubbery or other plants, make sure you’re not disturbing nesting sites or life cycles for birds, insects or other critters making a home there. Late August through late November is best, but be aware that hummingbirds can nest all year long!

3) Certify your garden as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation

Muir Woods Towering and Tiny

George and I headed out early on New Year’s Day to ring in 2015 with our traditional New Year’s walk through Muir Woods National Monument. It was clear but very cold, and tourists from countless countries exclaimed in their native languages about the majestic redwood trees.

Muir Woods redwood trees

Unlike them, George and I poked along slowly, heads down to spot a tiny flower in the Lily family, the first native flower to bloom in California in the winter. Its Latin name is Scoliopus bigelovii, also called Slink Pod, Fetid Adders-tongue (for its unpleasant scent), or our preferred name – Brownie. Though armed with the GPS where George keeps careful track of our brownie spottings, by this time we’re familiar with the place where the flowers come close enough to the trail’s edge for us to see them. This year George earned himself a big kiss for finding the first one.

Brownie flowers in Muir Woods

The Brownie’s Latin name means “crooked foot,” because its stalks curve over after the pollinated flowers become too heavy for the slender stalk. The tiny flowers are at most an inch around, and each plant only ranges from 3 to 6 inches tall. Brownies’ leaves are large as compared to the flowers, and are freckled with brown spots.

Brownie flowers in Muir Woods

When our necks were stiff from looking down at the diminutive flowers, we stretched, and began to notice other wonders in the Woods. With the recent rains Redwood Creek was flowing strong. The Ranger said that salmon were spawning downstream beyond the public part of the Park.

Redwood Creek in Muir Woods

George spotted this magnificent mushroom.

Mushroom in Muir Woods

I also took some short videos. Click here to see one I shot of the redwood trees. Want to see more of our traditional Muir Woods walks? My blog posts from prior years:

On our New Year’s Eve 2012 walk we saw salmon for the first time!

Rainy New Year’s Eve 2011 walk 

New Year’s Day 2011 walk

Happy New Year to you all!

Top Twelve of 2014

For the last oh-don’t-even-ask-how-many years I’ve created a calendar to give George for Christmas. I design 12 pages of my photos from the year, each with a different category from our lives together, and a “Greatest Hits” cover. My walk down Memory Lane means hours poring through all of the year’s images (more than 3,000 in 2014) to pick out the treasures, which I collage into pages for each month. This is the May page: Bees!

George's 2015 calendar: Bees

During my journey through 2014, I pulled out 12 of my favorites to show off. First, this closeup photo of a honeybee landing on a fennel flower went onto the calendar’s cover.

Honeybee on fennel flower

I shot this beautiful Great Blue Heron strolling through a field next to the driveway at Ardenwood Farm, our favorite East Bay Park.

Great Blue Heron

I love the colors, and the delicate and intricate swoops of this bromeliad flower (Billbergia nutans) that bloomed in our garden in January.

Billbergia nutans

In February, George worked hard behind the scenes at the Pacific Orchid Exposition. I’m so proud of his accomplishments as current president of the San Francisco Orchid Society!

George at Pacific Orchid Expo

We found some glorious Calypso Orchids during our hike on Mount Tam in March.

Calypso orchid at Mount Tam

Of the zillion hummingbird photos I took this year, I love the attitude of this Anna’s, and his glorious magenta crown.

Anna's hummingbird

George’s Tiger Lilies bloomed in July, just in time for our birthdays!

Tiger lily

Speaking of birthdays – we celebrated George’s at the fabulous Oakland Zoo. He wants this lion tattooed over his heart, what do you think?

Lion at Oakland Zoo

Of my many 2014 photos of our children, this is my favorite of the furry ones. Daisy is our one-year old sweet and rambunctious young lady, and Lars our wonderful round-faced Russian Blue. It took a while, but they finally get along (well, mostly).

Lars and Daisy

And I can’t leave out my top photo of our feathered children – George cuddling Maureen and Louise while Gloria waits for a space on his lap.

George and hens

Sadly, we didn’t find many monarch butterflies on Albany Hill for the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Several flew around, but we saw no clusters. This one rested on a tree branch. To compare, click here to see my 2011 blog post — a photo near the end of the post shows a large cluster of monarchs in the eucalyptus grove on the Hill.

Monarch Butterfly at Albany Hill

2014 was a bumper year for Anise Swallowtail butterflies, though. This caterpillar happily munched on the fennel in our garden.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on fennel

Do you keep a journal, or go through your photos at the end of the year? I’d love to hear about your favorites! Wishing you all sweet memories of 2014, and many more for 2015.