Betty Victor wrote a wonderful blog about Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens recently. She encouraged blog readers to visit, and I can heartily second that. What many may not know is that December is actually a beautiful time to visit. While the summer-blooming flowers are gone, there are still a lot of others that are just getting going including the rhododendrons. I can also think of two other great reasons to visit.
During weekends from the end of November and into December, the gardens come to life at night. Thousands of Christmas lights illuminate the core of the gardens. Lava pours from a stump. A dragon blows smoke in the green area. I was there in late October of last year, and volunteers were already hanging the lights. When I returned for a weekend evening in December with my husband, the gardens were truly magical. The imaginative light placement and designs were amazing. It was chilly and a little damp, but a choir was singing in the heated tent at the end of the trail. They were really good, and so was the hot cocoa!
The other reason to visit late in the year is that the whales are migrating. Take the time to walk the trail to the coast. If it's rainy or drizzly, there is an enclosed area with a large panel of windows and a front-row view of the coast. You can watch for whales in there. We took our dogs (yes, they let you take your dogs into the gardens!), and we walked out to the coastal edge of the gardens. We stood there for about an hour and saw at least a half-dozen whales' spouts and flukes, a pod of orcas, and lots of sea birds.
It takes a while to get there, but it's well worth the trip!
photos by Michelle Davis
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Eight microscopes will be available at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Jan. 18. Visitors can view the research projects of doctoral students. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ants will be the topic of Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. This image shows emeritus professor Jerry Powell of UC Berkeley identifying insects at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
As one year passes and another begins, I think we all pay a little more attention to time. Whether it was watching that clock for the big countdown, throwing away our old calendar, or writing that new number on checks and documents, we all are a little more aware of time moving on. And when that change is not only the end of a year but the end of a decade, that awareness is even more acute.
I got to thinking about time and plants and realized that several have common names related to time. Some like Morning Glories, Ipomoea pupurea; Four O Clocks, Mirabilis jalapa; Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis; and Moon Flower, Ipomoea alba, have common names that refer to the time of day or night that the blossoms open. Others like Daylilies, Hemerocallis sp., and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Brunfelsia pauciflora, describe a length of time of bloom or a pattern of blooming.
Then I remembered another connection between plants and time. In 1996 my husband and I saw a floral clock in Weymouth, England. In a public garden, a large plot was decorated with a clock face made of beautiful blooming annuals. Even the moving clock hands had plants on them. It had been built in 1936. But this was not the first floral clock.
According to Edinburgh City Guide, in 1903 John McHattie, the Superintendent of Parks, collaborated with a local clockmaker, James Ritchie, and Sons, to create the first floral clock. It continues to this day. The clock is replanted annually and changed to represent a topical theme or an important anniversary. This clock has inspired floral clocks around the world. There is a beautiful floral clock in Niagara Falls, Canada and even one near the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
Carl Linnaeus (the father of the binomial, scientific identification and classification system) had ideas about a different kind of floral clock back in the 1700s. According to an article by Brian Gardiner published in The Linnaen in 1987, Carl Linnaeus kept records of the opening and closing times of the blossoms of plants. He found that certain plants seemed very consistent and he generated long lists of these plants and their respective flower opening times. He envisioned a clock that would have plants sequentially placed around the clock face depending on their opening time. The clock would not need clock hands for people would see what part of the clock had open flowers.
It turns out that Linnaeus' ideas were not that easy to actually put into practice. Blossom opening times can be affected by too many variables including latitudes, amount of sunlight on a given day, changes in weather, and even changes in seasons. It's a lovely idea though.
“I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself.” – Sir Peter Smithers
“Don't do it,” the nurseryman said as I wistfully admired the Mexican lime tree. “They are too frost-sensitive for our area.” So I didn't buy the tree. At least not then.
Years later, when redoing the backyard, I decided to take the plunge. Although I had a Bearss lime in the front yard, it wasn't thriving in its windswept location. Plus, I was still intrigued by delicious, cute, little fruits produced by the Mexican lime.
The Mexican lime (Citrus aurantifolia) is known by many names, including Key lime, bartender's lime, and West Indian lime. The limes are juicy, aromatic, and flavorful. Some plants are thorny, while other selections are thornless. I have a small yard, so I selected a thornless Mexican lime to avoid having to dodge thorns when I brush past the plant. As with many citruses, the white blossoms are fragrant. The green to yellow-green fruits are smaller and rounder than the usual grocery store limes, growing to approximately 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Once the limes ripen, in fall to early winter, they turn yellow and drop from the tree. In my yard, the tree typically produces most heavily in October and November, but it seems like I can pick a lime almost any time of year.
The trees are moderate growing, to 12 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. I planted a standard because it would take less room. The tree is still young and well-behaved, which is good because it is planted a little too close to our deck. So far, it has done well with pruning.
The Mexican lime has a more limited growing range than other limes and is very sensitive to cold. It is suited to USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11 (for example, southern California). Here, in zone 9, it is pushing the limit for the plant. The Mexican lime cannot tolerate freezing temperatures and starts to incur frost damage at 32 degrees. Since I live near the water in Benicia and temperatures are relatively moderate in the winter, I was willing to gamble. I have non-LED Christmas lights strung through the tree in case of frost and am ready to take other measures to protect the tree if temperatures really dip. In inland areas of Solano County, however, the Bearss lime is a better choice.
Although I know I can lose the tree in a hard frost, I've really enjoyed the fragrant leaves and blossoms and tart fruit. I'm glad I took the chance!
photos by Erin Mahaney
mex thornless lime
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This is an adult Caenorhabditis elegans, one of the nematodes that Sebastian Eves-van den Akker studies. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)