Tale of Two Lilies

What’s blooming in your garden this week? It’s a lily extravaganza in ours. Just opened: this stargazer lily.  Stargazers, along with their stunning beauty and impressive size, also smell heavenly.

Stargazer lily

And just feet away in the garden, the glowing orange and brown-freckled Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum), smaller than the Stargazer but just as gorgeous, opened this morning. George grew this one from a bulb.

Humboldt's lily

 

Wisteria hysteria

How many times in this blog have I told you that x, y, or z is my favorite flower or plant? Well, right now – my very favorite flower in the world is wisteria (that’s the ‘w’). And in our little town, the wisteria is bloomin’!

Wisteria

George and I drive around the city, imperiling ourselves and others when we see a dramatic wisteria vine cascading over a fence or adorning a front wall – we point and shout:”Wisteria! Over there!!” The south end of town must get more sunlight, because theirs are going great guns. The one over our front door isn’t blooming at all yet, but the picture above is of the one in our back garden. I took that photo last Monday. Here’s what it looked like on Friday:

Wisteria

This is a close-up of a few of the buds:

Wisteria

I made a blended collage using the image above, duplicated and altered digitally:

Wisteria blendAre you a wisteria hysteric, like me? Any blooming in your neck of the woods yet?

Vanilla orchids by George

Did you know that vanilla (the real kind, not imitation) comes from an orchid flower?

Vanilla orchid flower

Vanilla orchid flower

My amazing husband George grows vanilla orchids, cultivates vanilla beans from the flowers, and makes extract from the beans! I’m going to track the steps, beginning with the orchid flowering, through pollination and cultivation of the beans.  I’ll add photos along the way, since the entire process takes more than a year (and you wondered why real vanilla costs so much) …

The vanilla orchid grows on a vine.  It helps to have a lot of space, but George set up a trellis, so the vine winds up and down and around.  Here’s a photo of George’s helper, Lars, watching the vanilla grow..

The first step of the process: the flower.

This is one of the flower buds, as yet unopened. You can see a drop of nectar – so sweet! I’m not sure what the purpose of the nectar is, some think it may be there to attract ants, which would protect the flower.

This is one of the flower spikes on the vanilla plant. There are five separate flower buds, unopened, on this one spike. There are at least four other flower spikes on the plant.  Finally, one of the flowers opened!

Unlike many other orchids which have flowers that can last for a month or more, each vanilla flower only blooms for one day.  If you want to cultivate the vanilla, you have to pollinate the flower before it fades.  The natural pollinator isn’t present in most places, so it’s usually necessary to hand-pollinate vanilla.  It’s not easy to do, but George has a really good success rate.  He takes a wooden stick and transfers pollen from one part of the flower to another (the anther to the stigma).

Hand pollinating the vanilla flower

Hand pollinating the vanilla flower

This is the flower, immediately after pollination.  You can see the other unopened flower buds on the spike.

After a short time, the flower collapses.

Stay tuned for more … next, the flowers that were successfully pollinated will develop into beans ..  If you want to learn more, there’s a great wikipedia entry on vanilla.

Butterflies and Flowers of the Bay Area

We’re taking our show on the road! George and I will present “Creating and protecting local habitats for butterflies, birds and other wildlife,” a slide show with my photographs and George’s informed and entertaining narrative, on Saturday February 13th at 7:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center at San Pedro Park.

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Have you seen my photographs of the life cycles of the monarch and swallowtail butterflies?  We’ll show those and describe the process of attracting, protecting and raising butterflies.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium
Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium

We will also show many photos of other Bay Area butterflies and of plants and flowers that are larval hosts and nectar or pollen sources for butterflies and birds.

Bird nest in ribes tree

Bird nest in ribes tree

George will talk about how to garden to attract all kinds of wildlife and how to restore wildlife habitat, in line with guidelines of the National Wildlife Federation.

Pipevine

Pipevine

Join us if you can, we’d love to see you there.

Hummingbird mother on nest

Hummingbird mother on nest