Flowers for evening and fog

Ha, joke's on me. The fog came back and the weekend was cool. So gardeners near the coast won't be needing heat protection information for the time being. Probably still pretty hot inland though.

Some flowers, like California poppies and gazanias, don't open fully when the days are foggy, but others open more fully on such days. Good to grow some of these flowers that open in low light in a climate that is often foggy.

Since last week my Oenothera odorata has been blooming. It is an open sort of perennial that eventually reaches nearly 2 feet tall, bearing yellow flowers that are nearly 3 inches across. One common name for the genus Oenothera is evening primrose, and this one really does open in the evening. It is wonderful to see blooming in the dusk or in the dark. There aren't a lot of flowers at a time, and they are held on thin stems with only small, dark, linear leaves, so it looks kind of lanky in the daytime, but in low light the flowers seem to float in the air like fluttery yellow butterflies. Though the flowers stay open longer on foggy mornings, they only last one day, fading before the next evening. I don't think this species has a particular common name. I got my plant from Annies Annuals, and it has seeded itself. I wasn't sure I wanted it back, but decided to leave a few seedlings, and when it started to bloom, I realized that I had been missing it.

Most Nicotiana alata (flowering tobacco) types are also most fully open in evening and morning, though some of the newer cultivars seem to stay open all day. But I have older, tall ones with white and purple flowers that are stunning in the evening and morning, and stay open fully as long as the day is foggy I particularly like the white one, because it has naturalized, coming back each year, though it is sold as an annual. It reaches a couple of feet tall, and stays covered with starry blossoms whenever light is low for weeks in late spring and in summer.

Nasturtium stays open day or night, but has the quality of seeming to glow in the light of late day. In fact, Darwin's daughter presented a paper on the fact that nasturtium glowed in the dark because it was actually phosphorescent. Of course she was quite wrong, but I think the science society at which she spoke probably listened out of respect for her father. How embarrassing if she later realized it!


Heat Wave in SF

Another hot day yesterday in San Francisco, and, though last night the fog did come in, this morning, at 8:30, it has lifted, so we expect more of the same. And inland, we are having, as they say, three digit temperatures.

We don't get hot weather in San Francisco and near the coast very often. It is great weather for going to the beach or sitting in the shade in the garden, but it can be hazardous for dong strenuous outdoor work. I have seen one professional gardener this week with heat exhaustion, and imagine there have been others.

So if you plan to work in your home garden this weekend, take care of yourself as well as your garden. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen. Wear loose clothing in light colors to reflect the sun. Drink more water than you think you need (don't wait to become thirsty). Avoid sudden changes of temperature, such as getting into a superheated car (air it out first). Don't garden too long in the heat. Try to limit your more strenuous tasks to early or late in the day, when it is cooler.

According to Kaiser Permanente, symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or nausea, cool, clammy, pale, red, or flushed skin. I'd add headache, as it certainly always happens to me. If you get these symptoms, get out of the sun to as cool a spot as you can find, drink lots of water (a little at a time if you are nauseated), lie down. Maybe sponge yourself with a little cool water, but take care not to overcool and start to feel chilly.

If you continue to work in heat you could get heat stroke, which shows itself through confusion, delirium, or unconsciousness with hot, dry, red or flushed skin, even under the armpits. If this happens, the victim needs emergency medical attention. Call 911 or get to an emergency room.

Scary, huh. So do enjoy your wonderful warm weekend wisely.

Near the coast, people have 2 reactions to high temperatures. One is "Wow, we are finally having some nice weather." The other is "It won't last very long, right? The fog will return soon?" (Yes it will, and even as I write, the fog is, indeed, drifting in again over our house.) So many of us are living in a dilemma. We would certainly love to grow some big, sweet, juicy, beefsteak tomatoes. Heck, we'd even like a few honeydew melons. But then again, we'd really hate to part with our wonderful natural air condtioning.


The Parts of the Flower

Every time I am about to teach the parts of a flower I am struck by how small are the parts of so many flowers. I am looking for a nice stout flower, with big, obvious parts, and all I can find are tiny, delicate ones the parts of which will require a magnifying glass to see.

If it is spring, and I can find tulips, or if there is, perchance, a lily in bloom in early summer, then all is well, but the geranium flower keeps itself to itself and the deceptive daisy presents dozens of tiny flowers in the center, surrounded by "petals" which are really individual flowers called "ray flowers." And, in the case of daisies, the ray flowers may or may not have sexual parts. They may be reduced to a petal alone, just enough to attract the insects that pollinate the central florets.

For tomorrow, I am considering agapanthus, which has nice lilylike flowers with 6 petals, 6 stamens and a single pistil. Well, not quite right. It really has 3 petals and 3 sepals. But unlike many sepals, which are green, these look exactly like the blue petals. Botanists call them tepals. Another possibility is the foxglove flower. It has, technically speaking, 5 petals that are fused into a tube (you can see five little lobes at the top of the tube, all that remains of the separate petals), and 2 pairs of stamens that form two elegant arches within the petal tube.

But for clarity, we need at least one flower with an inferior ovary. This is inferior in the sense of "below" rather than in "not as good as." It just means that the petals and sepals are attached at the top of the ovary, so the ovary sticks out behind them. In these flowers, we can see the ovary without dissecting the flower. An example is the flower of the fuchsia. You can see the little bulb that will develop into the fuchsia berry behind each flower.

So tomorrow will find me out poking around the garden, seeing what I can find that will relate the real world to the terms botanists use. It's an exploration that always produces a surprise or two. If you head out to explore on your own, take a magnifying glass for best results.


What Did the Katydid Sing?

Two weeks into writing a garden question column for the Chronicle, that is 2 columns published, though I've written 4. The letters are pouring in and they are all interesting. I've gotten the first reply that I want to reprint.

The letter is about birds as a management method for katydids, those green, leaf-imitating relatives of grasshoppers that sing at night and munch on plants. The letter writer says that the insects hatch at the same time as baby birds, so if you leave a birdbath or bird feeder in the garden at that time, the birds will go after the young katydids to feed their young.

While I know that most birds need insects to feed their babies high protein food in spring, it is great to know that they are particularly fond of katydids. I don't have the critters, but for those that do, I'm sure this will be good news. And, because the katydids in question only hatch in the spring, this method would certainly be a big help.

I still think that one would need to tip the scales a bit with other methods, since the katydids have apparently built up to a large population in a small garden, but here is another reason not to use pesticides toxic to birds. I suggested a garlic oil spray (recipe in last Wednesday's column on www.sfgate.com) and other methods, most of which should spare the birds.

Incidentally, the Chinese, for a couple of thousand years, have kept both crickets and katydids as pets in order to listen to their songs. The insects have been kept in little cages, some of them quite elegant, and some of them designed to be carried everywhere the owner went. However, the songs of katydids vary, some being little more than clicks, and I don't know whether the ones in our area have a nice chirp.


Hunting, Gathering, Gardening

Today, in the process of researching newly developled blueberry varieties for parts of California with very mild winters and cool summers, I came across a link to a poem by Robert Frost on picking wild berries, specifically blueberries, in New England ("Blueberries", Robert Frost, from North of Boston, 1914). The link is http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/robertfrost/12073.

Frost gives us a picture of a rural area in which people, especially those with less income, collect wild berries to supplement their food supply. He also gets just right the coyness of a hunting or gathering person when asked about locations of treasured food sources. (Ever ask a fishing person to tell you how the fishing is going? Often it's something like: "Oh, it's OK, I guess. Could be better, maybe." End of discussion.)

And then Frost finishes with a paeon to the pleasures of picking berries, in his case, blueberries glistening in the rain. In my case, it has more often been blackberries shining in the sunshine with mockingbird song as accompaniment. But I recognized his description of wandering in the bushes, with birds nearby and the feeling of peaceful joy.

Furthermore, I often get the same kind of feeling while I'm harvesting from my garden. Even a 3 by 4 foot patch of red raspberries can do it, or a 4 foot long trellis of cucumbers. As I hunt for the fruits to pick, peering this way and that, I feel a kinship to all who have gathered. It is a feeling that goes deeply into the human psyche, that ties us to nature and lets us feel ourselves as a part of nature. This is one of the strongest reasons I know to garden.

Oh, and the result of my blueberry research is that the southern highbush variety 'Sunshine Blue' is a mighty good selection for coastal Bay Area gardeners. It requires only about 150 hours of winter chill (hours between freezing and 45 degrees F). A dwarf type, it grows to about 3 feet tall and is easier to grow in a pot than the ground. Plant 2 per person, locate where they will get sunshine and not too much wind, learn to prune them, restrict fruit for 1 to 3 years to allow the plant to get bigger first--then, mmmmm! Here is a link where you can learn directions for making a soil mix for blueberries and caring for them in a pot: http://www.davewilson.com/homegrown/promotion/bluecontainer.html