Wildflowers & Creeks

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Elle's first time in a creek

Believe it or not, this photograph shows Elle experiencing the joys of walking barefoot in a creek for the first time in her life. That sounds a little unreal, doesn’t it? You have to remember, though, that she is Florida-born and bred, with the exception of the last eleven months of her life here in Oklahoma, and little girls from the South, at least mine, just can’t walk around barefoot in creeks and ponds for worry of gators and poisonous watersnakes. There was a single reminder of our Florida days, however, when we came across a mound of miniature seashells. Ah, Oklahoma’s Cretaceous Period?

Oklahoma seashells!

The two of us were attempting to make our walk worth at least a couple of miles but I really underestimated the heat and foolishly left my thermos of ice-cold water in the car. After a short stroll around the creek we crossed an old iron bridge and found ourselves near a field of wildflowers. Elle and I snapped a few photographs while getting eaten up by mosquitos and chased by bees the whole time. All those bug bites were worth it, though, at least to me. I am quite enamored of wildflowers, especially the field of Mexican hats I stumbled upon.

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mexican hats

mexican hats

Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

Macro? And Mammoths.

Having a camera doesn’t make one a photographer, but it’s still fun to play around with pictures. I have a few friends who are photographers and, as artists of any medium will probably argue, some believe in the art of digital manipulation while others do not. I am not a photographer, I just have a camera, so I can do whatever I want and not feel like I’m cheating.

Last weekend, before all hell broke loose, I decided to enjoy the few hours of decent weather we were expecting to have for three days. My hour-long walk in a nearby park in full floral bloom produced some gorgeous photos. When I was finally able to upload and filter them, and just downright redesign them into what I wanted them to look like, I ended up with these:

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a rose

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an iris

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a marigold

yellow goatsbeard

the fuzz of yellow goatsbeard

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a petunia

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another rose

I don’t dare call this macro photography because I didn’t exactly follow the rules. Actually, are there rules? I simply cropped close-up photographs for an even closer-up view of the flowers’ insides. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with my camera without the help of editing software. Besides, it’s fun!

Some of these flowers are from my own front porch. I think a lot of this might be stemming from my need to be in the garden. Stemming? The pun was not intended, but now you can possibly see where my head has been lately. Speaking of stems, though, my mammoth sunflowers have broken through the soil, way ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting them for at least another ten days but the rains during the last week must have hurried them along. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll reach their full height of 12 feet when I’m still here in Oklahoma to enjoy them!

mammoth sunflower seedlings

my mammoth sunflowers, in infancy

 

Preparing for Spring

Spring is coming! At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. From the looks of things, central Oklahoma has a long way to go before the trees start bursting with green and the flowers bloom vibrant again. I doubt I’ll even be convinced of a warming until I hear my first buzzing bee. Only then will I believe it’s actually happening.

My spring fever is spiking right about now for two reasons:

1)      Daylight Saving Time is right around the corner!

2)      This is the season when the azaleas start to show off in North Florida.

I started thinking about this a few days ago when I saw my hometown of Jacksonville was getting drenched with much needed downpours while Oklahoma was under the threat of a crippling blizzard. Our blizzard never even hit Oklahoma City (phew!) but I hope all that rain in Florida helped push off the drought.

The following photos were taken last year in March at my friend’s house outside of Gainesville, Florida, a few weeks away from where we are right now and after a very mild winter. Their colors only last for a short while, but they are a welcome sight to anyone who has become bored of the standard green of loblolly pines and palms.

After reading that last sentence back to myself, it sounds ridiculous. Who would ever become bored of evergreens and palm trees? It sure beats the dead shit scenery I’ve been looking at here for the past three months – leafless trees, brown leaves covering the ground, snow, melting snow, mud, muddy dog paws in my house. So, in short, azaleas just make what is already pretty prettier.

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It’s your turn now, Oklahoma. I see you have a spectacular wildflower show in the springtime and I’m quite anxious to experience it for myself!

Also, I’m eager to get my hands dirty and dig a native flower garden, to grow my giant sunflowers that will greet me every morning from outside my bedroom window, to find fruits and vegetables at the farmers market (instead of buying all that frozen bagged stuff at the grocery store, which feels like a form of blasphemy in this local food-networked city).

We have an emergency weather radio, a basement, and a tornado siren a few blocks down the road. I’M READY.

Cyanotype

Our friend is a photographer who works strictly in the old school ways, meaning he uses no digital manipulation on his photographs and crafts all of his stuff from film. There have been times when he has tried to explain photography tricks and styles to me that go right over my head, seeing as I am of the digital age when it comes to picture-taking, but he mentioned something a few weekends ago that got me wanting to try this technique called cyanotype.

This printing process has been around since the mid-19th century, courtesy of Sir John Herschel, and was mainly to preserve and copy diagrams. Anna Atkins, it is recorded, was the first to use this technique for documenting plant life. There are plenty of websites out there in the Land of Google that will tell you all about cyanotype’s importance in the world of engineering, architecture, and blueprints, but I find that stuff boring. Instead, I was more drawn to how botanists used the technique to preserve things they found in nature: flowers, algae, ferns, etc.

This technique involves two solutions but I won’t get into that stuff here. While researching cyanotype, I came across a few websites that suggested using other solutions or adding chemicals to the two original solutions in order to give longevity to the paper one uses in this method. I would hate to be held responsible for someone losing their eyesight in a horrible potassium ferricyanide explosion (see, I just gave you one-half of the concoction right there – you find the rest!).

Last week, our friend brought over two bottles of solution, mixed media paper, a paintbrush, and a case for pressing objects to paper and gave Elle and me a quick tutorial. So for a short time one afternoon, while he and a bunch of other bearded men poured concrete in my backyard in exchange for a lunch of hot dogs and future hot tub time, Elle and I played with chemicals and paintbrushes, henbit and dandelions. And sunlight. That’s the most important part of the whole process.

A bonus was blowing the mind of a little boy who was visiting us that afternoon, too. He wanted to help with the water wash process. Remember hypercolor t-shirts from back in the 1990s? The change of colors from light green to Prussian blue in a matter of 3 seconds practically made his eyeballs pop out of his head.

Here are our first (and, so far, only) attempts at cyanotype. (Click here to view other people’s cyanotype art.) Come springtime when there are more plants outside to play with, we will definitely try this again.

cyanotype

cyanotype

dandelion

cyanotype

henbit

 

The HAPPY Lamp

On Christmas morning, my husband gifted me with a light therapy lamp. For those of you who are not familiar with light therapy, it is a home-use lamp that helps combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I use my SAD lamp every day, but in this house, per the  husband’s request, we refer to it as the HAPPY lamp (oh, silly wordplay and optimism!) and that is how I will refer to it here.

While it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between my winter blues and my homesick-fueled pining to be back in Florida (where it is 74 degrees today, FYI), the HAPPY lamp was a justifiable purchase. We have jokingly suggested that it was a Christmas gift for the whole family because when I’m feeling a bit dispirited or wholly miserable, everyone knows it. I make sure to tell my family and do my best to convince them that they should also be miserable. Misery loves company, right? Well, the HAPPY lamp keeps me company these days, especially when I’m no fun to be around.

Does it work? A friend of mine in Pittsburgh asked me this the other day. Her husband is having a hard time this winter and she’s considering buying one for him. While I cannot say yes or no at this point (light therapy is recommended daily for 3-4 weeks before any positive changes are felt), I can make a few other suggestions, on top of the HAPPY lamp, that are helping me get through winter here in Oklahoma. If you have suggestions of your own, please share!

  • Candles: There is something comforting in soft light. I also heard a few days ago on some news show that lighting a candle that give off one’s favorite scent is an easy way to jolt one’s happiness levels. I believe this. Our house usually smells like red velvet cake, vanilla, pineapple-cilantro, or lemon-lavender at any given time.
  • Greenery: I love being surrounded by trees and flowers. Winter kills this for me and, in turn, I think it makes the world ugly to me for a few months. The palm trees and loblolly pines of the south don’t shed in the fall, so to be surrounded by bare trees (and no trees, sometimes) is challenging. I brought my potted plants indoors and tend to them every few days. In fact, I’m thinking of bringing in more (my husband doesn’t know this yet) and putting a plant in every room in the house. Yes, I would like a tree in here but I can’t promise Teddy won’t pee on it.
  • Comfort food: My daughter loves my homemade chicken soup. I love big, hearty breakfasts and biscuits with gravy. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn soufflé! Basically, I wish I could eat Thanksgiving dinner every day until spring, although I do find some comfort in the frozen bags of okra in my freezer and the citrus fruit my parents sent to us. Spring and summer are going to happen again, one day.
  • Wistful nostalgia: In the form of photographs, I’ve been reliving warmer, sunnier days here in Oklahoma. I figured I would share some of these photos with you, too. This gives me a boost when I realize that in only 3 months I might be able to start digging up my first Oklahoma garden (even though we’re actually considering trough gardening this year, but that’s another post for another day). I plan to grow sunflowers of all sizes and colors, hollyhock, more lavender, and native wildflowers. I can’t wait until my world looks like this again!
cape honeysuckle

cape honeysuckle

salt marsh caterpillar

salt marsh caterpillar on yellow mums

dayflowers

dayflowers

Indian Blanket

Indian Blanket

I’ve got a few months to go.

In the meantime, I will continue to follow through with my daily dose of HAPPY lamp rays. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, increased appetite and sleep (not decreased as with other forms of depression), social withdrawal, irritability, and quite a few others. I believe wholeheartedly that the purchase and daily use of a HAPPY lamp is worth the money and time spent in front of it (it only requires 30 minutes a day for 3-4 weeks to receive the full benefits of light therapy).

I want to love Oklahoma so I do not blame Oklahoma for this. I refuse to let winter thwart my attempts to feel at home here. I suffered the same ill-effects during our Florida winters when Nor’easters would drench our coastal city for days at a time or when temperatures fell to unusual lows resulting in ice on the roads. Jacksonville natives still talk about that day in 1989 when snow flurries fell as if it were the apocalypse.

Winter happens. The seasons happen. The cycle, the renewal, and the rebirth, blah blah blah. My husband occasionally brings up the idea of vacationing in Colorado for a ski trip. I cannot be tricked into this as I know skiing involves snow which involves cold. I counter that with an idea of my own, of vacationing somewhere not covered in snow, someplace warm!

Perhaps I’ll be converted. Perhaps I’ll come to enjoy winter. Perhaps I’ll need a bigger HAPPY lamp.

Fluttering Frenzy

caterpillar

These gulf fritillary caterpillars and butterflies are certainly keeping me in a constant state of wonderment. Mostly because there are quite a few chrysalises hanging around my house, more than I have ever seen before. It’s quite exciting!

A week or so ago, I stumbled upon a mess of gulf fritillary butterflies in the passionflower vine and it took me an embarrassingly long minute to realize I was witnessing a fluttery threesome. Most entomologists would probably find the whole thing interesting to watch, as I did, but probably wouldn’t feel like entomological perverts, as I did. It was a little awkward.

three gulf fritillary chrysalises

on the porch railing

gulf fritillary chrysalis

in the passionflower vine

As of right now, I can count ten chrysalises on my front porch alone (some are even attached to the brick frame, flower pots, window sills, etc.). This place is going to be a frenzy of butterfly hatching activity once the weather warms up again – by next week, I hope. There is a cold front moving in Thursday night and a second push on Saturday. The butterflies will emerge once they’re warm enough to do so and, in this case, I’m crossing my fingers for warmer weather so these little guys can easily carry on with their happy little life cycles.

gulf fritillary

gulf fritillary on passionflower

Ladybugs & Aphids

A fellow gardener/blogger (Linda at Southern Rural Route) mailed me some seed packets a few months ago, one filled with rain lily seeds and another filled with milkweed seeds. They were both from her garden so it is nice to know I have a little piece of Florida right on my front porch (and, because milkweed is the food source for monarch caterpillars, I am hoping to add to the butterfly population).

I have never grown milkweed before and I didn’t do much research on it, only looking up when and where and how to plant. So when I started seeing little yellow dots on the stems of my seedlings, I figured they were part of the plant. I even stared at them for minutes at a time some mornings trying to convince myself they were actually bugs, but they never moved so I assumed all was okay.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a really good look at them from a different perspective: my camera’s super close-up lens. And yes, those things have legs! They are yellow aphids (or Oleander aphids) and are definitely not part of the plant. Silly me – always trust your instincts. Or at least Google.

Oleander aphids on milkweed

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Don’t they kind of remind you of the minions from Disney’s “Despicable Me”?

After researching a little more on aphids (gee, you think I would have done this last month), I learned that ladybugs are the aphid’s natural predator. I couldn’t adopt that gorgeous little schnauzer at PetSmart this weekend, so Monday morning I decided to adopt approximately two thousand ladybugs.

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ladybugs attacking the aphids

This is my favorite ladybug shot because of that little guy hanging halfway off the stem and waving his arms around like it’s Spring Break. Woooo!

It was overcast enough that the gardeners at my local nursery said I wouldn’t have to wait for dusk to release them. I’m not quite sure of the reason why and, judging by my past record, I will probably not research this either. I just did as the experts told me to do and released the ladybugs around 10am with gray skies and a cold wet chill in the air. They all seemed very excited to get out of the bag.

ladybugs on me

I scattered them all over my “problem site” (the aphids-infested milkweed seedlings) and since I had seen ladybugs in my passion flowers many times before, I decided to put quite a few of them on the vine, too, as well as on my lavender, lamb’s ear, and cockscomb. I would seriously hate to have brought home thousands of ladybugs for my benefit only to have them find something better over at the neighbor’s house.

When I put it that way, it sounds almost adulterous.

yellow ladybug on my lavender

Click here if you would like to see photographs of ladybugs on things. If I had more ladybugs and things to put them on, I could totally start a new blog to rival this one.

My Own Private Ecosystem

It’s funny that just a few weeks ago I was struggling to find much to like about Audrey II, my passionflower vine. Then I got really into it when I discovered all the caterpillars and butterflies that need the passionflower to survive. This is an interesting plant even though at times it can be an unruly monster.

Some of the passionflower’s residents, up close and personal:

green lacewing

green lacewing

gulf fritillary caterpillar

gulf fritillary caterpillar

can anyone tell me what this is?

mystery insect

ladybug

hello, ladybug!

I submitted the third photograph to a website and asked for help identifying the insect. Everything I have come across claims it is a stinkbug, but I don’t think it is. I won’t ruin the beauty of this post by showing you a photograph of an actual stinkbug that climbed up my window screen last week, because it is just hideous and unnaturally large. The creep factor with that stinkbug ranked high, up there with that one time my friend and I trapped a cicada fly under a Tupperware bowl and it screamed like a human baby.

Front Porch Gardening

It’s too late to start a garden here in Oklahoma, at least with the intention of growing anything worth eating. The only things that might make the endeavor worth the late season dig would be radishes but nobody in this family eats enough of them to grow them and I don’t know anyone else who would want the bounty (yes, I expect I would be successful!).  There is always garlic and onions although both of those won’t be harvested until next year and I’m too impatient for that. Besides, I researched a bit and came to find out that the time to actually plant for fall harvest is ideally no later than the first of part of September. I have no seeds, I have no Okie red dirt know-how, and I have no dugout or patch of dirt with which to work. Not now, anyway. That’s what spring time is for. Matt is quite relieved, I’m sure.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been tending to a few potted plants that line my front porch. It started with my Spanish lavender, which after the most recent rain has doubled in size, and a couple of petunias that grew so quickly that they could actually fend off the strangling tendrils of the passion flower vine. Over the past few weeks, though, I have acquired a few more flowers and herbs: daylilies, Indian blanket, black-eyed susans, lamb’s ear, celosia, cockscomb, French lavender, milkweed, rain lilies, and a couple different types of mint. All of them are living in pots at the moment and have to be watered each day by hand.

new cockscomb

budding cockscomb

lamb's ear

fuzzy lamb’s ear

celosia

celosia

Sadly, Elle’s beloved ruby-ball cactus, named Ophelia, keeled over. It seems when I showed Elle how to water the cactus, I didn’t specify how often and so the poor thing was watered nearly every day. Ophelia drowned, practically choked on her own stem-goo (it was odd), and flopped over sideways. Have you ever tried pulling a cactus from a tiny ceramic pot? It’s uncomfortable at times and wearing gloves seems pointless, too.  Just know this.