I came into the garden on Tuesday morning before Christmas and heard a bunch of crows "cawing" loudly behind the greenhouse. Continuing the morning duties of unlocking doors and opening gates the sound of the crows was replaced by "shack, shack, shack", a flock of Steller's jays in the same location. As I wandered out back to see what the ruckus was, little woodland birds frantically flew left and right. Raven sounds ,"crunk, crunk" replaced the jays. High on a branch, through the fog, back lit by morning light, I could make out the silhouette of a great horned owl and two ravens attacking from either side. One raven would peck high and other low. Then the owl let out a strange sound that resembled simultaneously a hiss and a growl. It raised its enormous wings and then flew silently away.
Our managed wetland has been weeded and pruned by one of our Albany High School EDSET (Environmental Design Science Engineering and Technology) student interns. Staff, volunteers and EDSET interns have been replacing the decomposing acacia fence with a split bamboo railing to keep foot traffic off newly planted upland native grasses. along with bee and butterfly plants. We also planted some water loving willows and a new tree, Box Elder, Acer negundo to provide more diversity for the habitat. Pacific chorus frog tadpoles were spotted in the shallow pool.
Crestmont kindergarten students came to the garden recently to study birds and bird habitat. We started off by observing the robins looking for worms in the irrigated lawn. Next we learned how to use binoculars by first trying to site the bird then pulling up a handmade binoculars( two taped card board rolls) up to our eyes. Next we tried the real set of binoculars. We toured the garden listening to bird song, looking at different bird habitats and seeing if we could spot the male and female mallard that have taken up residence in our ponds. After a snack we looked at bird nests found in the garden and then worked collaboratively on our own nest in the Create with Nature zone.
Strange folding forms appeared growing by the front gate. The fasciated plant is Echium candicans or commonly known as "Pride of Madiera". Fasciation describes the way a plant grows in unusual or ribbon like forms. And it can happen to different parts of a plant, the root, stem or flower of many different species of plants and can be caused by bacteria, fungus, genetics, environmental, or insects. Some plants such as Celosia or cockscomb are actual grown with this defect to create an unusual "flower" that resembles the top of the head of a male chicken.
Three new bee hives were installed in the garden by bee keeper Chris Bauer.
Chris Bauer from Beard of Bees/Bubble Farm Soap Co. came with a new hive to add to the existing hives. He dropped off some honey from his last visit along with some soaps and salves made from the beeswax.
We found an interesting design in a landscape magazine of an "Underwater" theme garden made with succulents. We have just finished some construction at the front entrance of the greenhouse and thought we would give the design a try. The plants we used are echevarias, sedums, aeoniums, aloes, agaves, euphorbias along with some interesting rocks, sea glass and shells. Our Albany High School EDSET interns Micaela and Carl helped by the planting the beds.
A very large Octopus Agave, Agave vilmoriniana, was donated by our neighbor, Rudy Schmidt, a retired botany professor at U.C. Berkeley. We planted it out on the lookout as a replacement for the invasive Acacia baileyana trees that have been doing their job to stop the steep slope at the lookout from eroding, but when allowed to flower and go to seed they spread throughout this area of the garden.
While U.C. arborists Doug and Bill were working on other tree issues in the garden they also helped us with a sagging, sinuous outreaching branch of a coast live oak in the Mediterranean section. They carefully jacked up the branch and propped it up with a galvanized steel pipe for support. Doug artfully chiseled out a mount at the bottom of the branch for the support to be inserted. Over time the bark will grow over the wound and preventing fungus and bacteria from entering into the tree.
Recent clearing along the northern edge of the Australian Hollow has exposed several of Blake Garden’s beautiful eucalyptus trees. Until about month ago these were among the mystery trees of Blake Garden. We have identified them as E. ovata (Swamp Gum), E. polyanthemos (Silver Dollar Eucalyptus, or Redbox gum), and E. obliqua (Messmate, or Australian Oak). Eucalyptus obliqua was the first eucalyptus cultivated outside Australia. Seed was taken to England in 1774 and successfully grown at Kew Gardens. Eucalyptus is an enormous genus; here in California, over 700 species are in cultivation. While most are tree ranging from 20’ to over 350’, there are also multistemmed types known as mallees, and even a few shrubs which are less than three feet tall. While a few problematic species has given the genus a bad name, eucalyptus is an economically valuable tree. It is the second most important cultivated timber and pulp tree (after pines) in the world. Approximately 75,000 square miles worldwide are planted in eucalyptus plantations. Eucalyptus are of value to honey production, provide shelter and nectar for migrating monarch butterflies, and are a source of essential oils. Furthermore, the leaves and bark are an excellent, substantive dye source for wool. Colors range from khakis, greens, browns, and even brilliant oranges. Watch for the upcoming post on dyeing with eucalyptus.