Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Wildlife Profile: Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

Common name: Swallowtail, Anise Swallowtail 
Latin name: Papilio zelicaon - "pah-PILL-ee-oh ZELL-ee-con"
Size: Wingspan ranging from 52 to 80 mm (2.0 to 3.1 in)
Description: A pale yellow and black butterfly with striking blue and red spots.
Geographical distribution: Western North America

We regularly see this lovely butterfly at the gardens - it's a common butterfly of western North America. It's has a striking look - you might call it a black butterfly with a yellow stripe or a yellow butterfly with black edges. Both the upper and lower sides of its wings are black, but the upper wing has a wide yellow stripe across it There are bright blue spots on the rear edge of the rear wing, and it has tiny tails pointing down from those wings too, giving it the swallowtail name.

Bright yellowish-orange to red eyespots near the tails of each wing each contain a black pupil. This pattern is thought to be a form of mimicry where a spot on the body of an animal resembles an eye of a different animal to scare off predators, or even draw a predator's attention away from the prey's most vulnerable body parts (in this case a butterfly would rather get pecked wings than a pecked body.) They might even make the butterfly look inedible or dangerous.

The Anise Swallowtail likes open areas - bare hills or mountains, fields and roadsides, in towns and in gardens or vacant lots. From British Columbia and North Dakota at its northern extreme, south to the Baja California Peninsula and other parts of Mexico, it's occasionally also seen in the southeastern United States, but its normal range does not extend east of New Mexico.

Adult females lay eggs singly on the undersides of host plant leaves. The caterpillar starts out dark brown, almost black, with an irregular white band at its middle. After that, it becomes more green at each successive molt until it's almost all green, with markings in black, orange, and light blue. And guess what it likes to eat? Members of the carrot family, including fennel - our most hated weed - as the common name suggests. So I have to say we encourage that... more swallowtails for everyone!


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter weeding week

Look - a butterfly! Wait, what was I going to say? Oh yes. Every year around the holidays Matt and I try to get as much garden work done as we can.

This year we have been weeding, pruning, and also planting. And this week we planted the following:

1 large Agave tequilana "Sunrise" to replace the Agave weberi "Reiner's Selection" that flowered in the brights bed.

1 Agave mapisaga "Lisa" to replace the Agave weberi that flowered by the sidewalk. Per the photo it looks really small now... haha... but it's one of the biggest Agaves in the world so WATCH OUT!

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus at the top of the garden

3 Artemisia "Powis Castle" in the middle left bed

2 Yucca guatemalensis at PRG

I also cut back the Salvia canariensis at the top of PG and ripped out piles of weeds... how satisfying!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Plant Profile: Aloe "David Verity"

Latin name: None - this is a hybrid.
Common name: Aloe "David Verity"
Originally from: hybridized in the USA from African Aloes.
Blooms: Tall spikes with red buds and yellow flowers in winter
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 4-6' x 6-8'
Zones: 10a-11
Where to find in P. Garden: Straight in front of you when you're sitting on the bench at PG.

The legendary David Verity passed away at the age of 90 in November 2020. Manager of the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden from the 1960s to the 1990s assisting director Mildred Mathias, he was a widely recognized expert horticulturalist and plant breeder.

Among the various genera he bred like Diplacus (Mimulus), Iochromas, and Echiums, he created a number of Aloe hybrids, mostly larger species. Only one of them carries his name, and it's the one we have at PG: Aloe "David Verity" and it was given to us by Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens. This plant was selected and named by UCLA Biology professor Boyd Walker, who grew out some of Dave Verity's hybrids at his Pacific Palisades garden.

The parentage of this Aloe is thought to be a cross between an Aloe arborescens hybrid with Aloe × principis, which is a natural hybrid between Aloe arborescens and Aloe ferox that is also known as Aloe salm-dyckiana

It's flowering for the first time now, and it is gorgeous. The branching multi-colored flower spikes pop up above the blue-green leaves with light pinkish buds in a spiraled pattern. The buds darken to red before the flowers begin opening in a soft yellow from the bottom of the spike to the top, giving a two tone effect that's pretty spectacular.

Well drained soil, full sun and pretty much no water will suit this plant, so it's perfect for your low water garden, though in very hot areas it will need some water in summer. It can even tolerate coastal conditions to some degree, and makes a great focal point.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Weeds vanquished

Another warm, sunny December day in California dawned, and Matt and I headed out to the garden for our monthly volunteer day on Saturday looking forward to meeting friends old and new, and tidying up the gardens.

We were joined by Josh who set about weeding the entire Aloe nobilis hedge along the bottom path, among other piles of weeds. Meanwhile, Matt set about weeding the Agave pup farm behind the Wrong Way sign. As tough as Agaves are, when they get overgrown with damp weeds they can quickly rot out so clearing around them at this time of year is critical.


I pulled a big swath of weeds from the lower path, and new volunteers Kai and his dad Kresh weeded around the bench area with a great deal of gusto (see photo above.) Kai's mom eventually came to take him for a walk, but Kresh stayed on and we removed SO many weeds. Whew!

Great day to be outside, enjoying the gardens.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Plant Profile: Encelia farinosa (Brittlebush)

Latin name:
Encelia farinosa("en-SEE-lee-ah far-in-OH-sah")
Common name: Brittlebush, Goldenhills, Incienso, White Brittlebush (Spanish: Rama Blanca, Incienso, Hierba del Bazo, Hierba [rama] del Bazo, Hierba de Las Animas, Palo Blanco, Hierba Ceniza)
Originally from: northern Mexico and the southwestern United States
Blooms: Yellow, fragrant 2" flowers from February to May and again from August to September.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 12"-36" tall and wide
Zones: 7-24
Where to find in P. Garden: Three have recently been planted in the brights bed.

This common desert shrub of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States is a new one for us. The common name "brittlebush" comes from the fact that the branches are brittle and woody, and contain a fragrant resin.. Another name for it in Spanish is incienso because the dried sap was burned by early Spanish missions in the New World as incense.  

It does well on dry, gravelly slopes and sandy washes, needing a very sunny position in very well-drained soil. Used for border, erosion control, and ground cover, Caltrans has begun to use it in hydroseeding  which has quite dramatically increased its spread.

This plant has big yellow flowers, rich in nectar and it's much appreciated by bees and butterflies, and leaves that are more or less silvery depending on rainfall.  

The hotter and drier the growing season, the smaller and whiter are the leaves produced, which helps the plant cope with water loss.  During dry seasons the plant goes drought deciduous, shedding all of its foliage, and relying on the water stored in its thick stems.

Cutting it back by half after flowering or in fall keep this little shrub looking bushy, and with a bit of luck it will find PG a great place to be.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Oh! What a little rain can do!

It's been a minute... um, actually several month since I posted an update. Why? Boring old work and more work and a bit more work. But we have been at the garden. There have been workdays. In fact we have another coming up this weekend - please join us! (Saturday 10am!)

What have we been up to? Weeding like maniacs! You can see from the pictures here that our amazing volnteers have been working hard to get ahead of what's going ot be a big year for weeds after our early storm.

We have also been planting lots of things! In the last months a slew of plants have gone in, among them the following:

3 Euphorbia mauritanica 

3 Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

6 Santolina chamaecyparissus

3 Agave cupreata (at PRG) 

3 Artemisia "Powis Castle" 

1 Ficus benjamina tree that outgrew it's pot at home and will make a great street tree, if it survives...

Several various Agaves in various places, and probably some Yuccas too!

We've also been removing yucca flowers. Why? Well someone has made it a habit to go to the garden and cut the flowers off the yucca plants, presumably to eat. Yes, you can eat the flowers - deep fried or in an omelette or in lots of other ways.

Unfortunately, whoever has been taking the flowers has not been thoughtful - they go through and break down branches or whole trees just to get one flower, which you can see in the image left. 

Yes, eventually we can replant the branch and the tree will resprout from the base, but at least for the next couple of years that plant will look bad.  Not cool, and very selfish, when we are working so hard to make this area of the city look better. So we are removing the flowers before someone steals them and trashes the garden more.

In other news, the tool chest got broken into and a big mess was made - Matt took it apart and reinforced it thoroughly this time, so hopefully these ridiculous acts stop happening. We don't leave anything valuable in there but there's a limit to the capacity of our truck so bringing EVERYTHING back and forth from our house every work day isn't doable.

Someone also decided to dump the contents of their weed growing operation at the garden, making a mess we had to clean up. Not the first time this has happened - we always have piles of trash to remove each workday, when we'd rather be gardening. Well, if you ever wonder why there are weeds now you know - we have to clean trash or pull weeds: there's not always time for both!

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