July 18, 2020

Blue hydrangea
Memories of hydrangea in my mother’s garden, 7/2020 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

There are a couple things I want to say about this week’s hydrangea botanical. First, for the composition I chose two stems with foliage and flower. the one in the background is complete and in full bloom, but the second stem is less mature, representing an earlier stage of blossoming. You can clearly see the green/white inner petals that are only beginning to change color, take shape and increase in size. Second, the fact that a hydrangea can be such a shade of blue immediately makes this particular flower interesting to me. I think that’s because there are so few things in nature that are truly blue. And if you look closely you will see that even something that appears to be so true blue actually has some hints of purple. Finally, do you think it’s an “old lady” flower? Would you plant one in your garden? A friend of a friend said they liked the rendering well enough, but that she would never have hydrangeas in her garden as they are just too “old-fashioned.” Hmm… I don’t have any in my garden right now, but would if I had a good spot for one. I like them because it was a favorite of my mother’s and that makes it old-fashioned in all the right ways for me. I have such wonderful memories of a couple magnificently huge blue hydrangeas in her Grass Valley garden. You walked between them as you went through a gate from the back garden to the front, or front to back of course. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible leaves of a hydrangea plant. I very intentionally made them an equal partner to the colorful petals of the hydrangea. If you have viewed any of my recent botanicals posted at One California Girl you may have noticed that the foliage for those renderings play only a supporting role for each flower. But for the hydrangea the large shiny thick and green leaves are definite costars of this showy shrub. Most hydrangeas are deciduous, which means they drop leaves and petals in the fall. I think that’s why the leaves are so lovely, they get to be new and fresh again every year just like the flowers.

The actual blossoms for this one are specific to a particularly healthy real life plant in my aunt’s garden in Long Beach. But her hydrangea flowers are pink. I found a stock photo of a blue one (Nikko blue) that reminded me of my mom’s and I tried to recreate the color from my memory with a little help from the picture. You may have heard that you can change the color of hydrangeas by adding something to the soil. Steve Bender (aka The Grumpy Gardener) of Southern Living says you can only change the flower color of Mountain and French hydrangeas. He says their flower color is all about the pH of the soil and if your soil is very acid (pH below 6) the petals will be blue. However, if the soil is more alkaline (pH above 7) the petals will be pink and sometimes red. And if the soil is neutral/slightly acid (pH between 6 and 7) the petals might be purple, or a combination of blue and pink on the same shrub. (I actually saw such a hydrangea on a SoCal neighborhood walk the other day.) Mr. Bender says that to make the soil more acid, add garden sulfur to the soil, then water it. And to make the soil more alkaline, add some lime and then add water. He said that if you are trying to change the color of the flowers you should be patient as it could take months to change and you might need to repeat applications several times for it to take. 

two larva
Monarch larva in my July 2020 garden

Update on the monarchs in my garden (see June 20, 2020)—

I’ve lost count of the number of monarch worms on my two asclepius plants. As you can see they are out there in abundance. But I am on a constant vigil to keep the wasps away from them. I always thought there was nothing that would bother monarchs because they are poisonous. However, I have seen a wasp bite one of my worms and kill it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I Googled my question regarding this phenomenon and it seems wasps will actually hunt the worms, then kill and eat them. Apparently they are not bothered by the toxins in the monarch’s body. When I read this I whipped into action and hung a wasp trap near one of the plants. (It has been out there a couple weeks now and not caught a single wasp.) I also read that only about 5% of monarch caterpillars actually make it to the chrysalis stage. Yikes! I decided to try to bump up their survival percentage in my garden and I now hunt for wasps. How do I do this? I frequently check the plants to either shoo them away with a squirt of water or swat them with my shoe. And believe it or not, I have killed quite a few. 

I recently noticed another wildlife addition to my garden—baby Western fence lizards. This is going on my third summer in this house and I remember noticing baby lizards last summer and the summer before. Western fence lizards are very common in SoCal. They breed in mid to late March and the females lay eggs 2 to 4 weeks after that. And from what I have read, the females can lay up to three clutches of eggs per year. They are so cute and tiny—tiny being the operative word. Summer before last one slipped into my kitchen and I almost stepped on it just as it ran under the oven. Not sure what happened to the little guy—I always hoped he, or she, slipped back outside and is living the high life in my garden right now.

This brings me to yet another recent critter that seems to have joined my summer family—a skunk, or skunks. The smell of skunk has wafted through my bedroom window at night on several occasions. In fact, one night it was so strong it almost made me physically sick, even with the window closed. I have also seen a skunk digging around under the bird feeder at night. She, or he, was probably looking for left over seed and/or night crawling bugs. I read they are omnivores, so such a food variety makes sense. I also read that they eat berries, small rodents and lizards. Did I just say LIZARDS?! So now what? How can I protect my baby lizards from rampaging skunks? I guess I won’t be hunting skunks at night. Don’t think shooing them away with a squirt of water or the swat of a shoe would be the right approach. In fact, I don’t think I will approach them at all. I guess I hope the  baby lizards have good hiding spots at night, I know when I’m licked!

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