December 25, 2021

Life in a SoCal winter 2021 garden

When I was a young girl, I remember several pyracantha shrubs in our Santa Clara backyard. Our family was the first owner of that tract house and my mom planted several along a side fence. Then, as now, I really think they are a kind of funny, thorny and yes, stinky plant. But if you mind the thorns and are far enough away, they are pretty nice to look at year round. I looked them up in my Sunset Western Garden book and found that pyracantha can grow in a variety of zones, depending on the species. I also read that they look best if they are allowed to grow naturally and that seems a good idea as they have needle-like thorns. I also like it when a plant can grow the way it seems natural and not trimmed into submission by a misguided gardener. It also seems they will tolerate most soils, but should not be over watered. They are evergreen and have small bright green oval shaped leaves. In the spring pyracantha shrubs are covered with clusters of tiny, cream colored flowers. You might think the flowers would smell nice, but they don’t. I don’t think they smell good at all. However, the bees love the flowers and hover around them until tiny orange/red berries form on the plants in late summer. Guess what, the berries are just as stinky as the flowers. You are probably wondering why anyone would plant such a bush. As I said, it’s a really pretty shrub—shiny green leaves year round, with sweet looking white flowers and then bright orange/red berries from later summer through the fall. If you’re lucky you’ll have birds come to eat the berries—a definite reason in favor of having one in your yard. As a girl I remember looking out our back window at the robins that came to eat the berries every fall. But this was always best done at a distance. For starters, birds really won’t come near if you are around, making any kind of noise. Also, swarms of robins drop lots of poop as they gorge on the berries—another reason to watch at a distance. Finally, probably the funniest and most curious aspect of pyracantha berries is the fact that as they sit on the stems the interior of each one begins to ferment. Maybe it’s hard to imagine robins getting “tipsy,” but they do. Soon they seem to almost bump into each other as they fly in and out of the plant, with no regard to his or her drunk behavior. 

I don’t have any pyracantha in my SoCal garden, but as I sat to sketch this one at the Descanso Gardens the other day I wondered if I would see a robin. Sure enough, as that thought passed through my mind, one showed up as if on cue. I quickly grabbed a black pen and captured the bird as he quickly ate a berry or 10. 

We’ve had some blessed rain the past couple days and I worry about this monarch butterfly. (Last Sunday I spied her/him visiting a milkweed plant I have in my back garden.) But I’m hopeful that if there is one here, there must be many others. Besides, we are in such desperate need of rain, I’m sure the butterflies headed south when they got wind of this storm.

Good riddance to 2021!

And here’s to a more hopeful and happy 2022!!

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