Five Good Things
Sometimes, when everything seems to be burning and the morning sun is red behind a pall and the first thing you do is check the daily AQI and masks are once again de rigueur and you can’t tell if that person is smiling at you or scowling, sometimes you have to look for five good things. Searching for the positive in the Schiddygarden can seem like such a hopeless endeavor—but sometimes there are no alternatives.
This is a checkered skipper, Pyrgus communis. I saw it the other day and was immediately enchanted because I’d never seen one before, although a little research reveals that this is one of the most common butterflies in North America. If you are a butterfly aficionado this pic is probably causing you to yawn and want to take a nap. It’s entirely possible our yard has been filled with P. communis for years and I have failed to notice until now, but nevertheless this little guy is adorable. And now that I think about it, I am a little sleepy.
Say hello to my little chili pepper—a chilhuacle negro. Rick Bayless says it’s absolutely essential for making authentic black Oaxacan mole, and if there’s anything I want in this life it's exactly authentic homemade black Oaxacan mole, I’m not kidding. Rick says the authenticity of this particular mole is dependent on this very rare, hard-to-find chili, but I was able to get seeds from Refining Hot Chilis, a mail-order biz in San Diego. I started a few plants from seed, and lo and behold they have grown and are actually starting to produce fruits. The fact that a chilhuacle chili plant has survived nearly an entire growing season under my stewardship has renewed my faith in miracles. BTW, the Rick Bayless recipe for black Oaxacan mole requires 27 ingredients and apparently takes about 11 days to make. Here’s hoping I don’t screw it up.
We have a smoke tree in our backyard, and a good way to describe its flowering characteristics is capricious. It sort of happens, then doesn’t, then does again. Cotinus has fluffy, 10-inch-long blossoms that apparently resemble smoke, hence the clever common name. I have seen other smoke trees in our neighborhood and they seem awfully content to offer thick, billowy layers of everlasting flowers. Ours, by comparison, doesn’t. However, every once in a while it comes up with a single gem, and there are times, like now, when that’s good enough.
This guy landed on a pepper plant leaf. I figured it was up to no good, so I took its picture to add to my pantheon of garden things that are bad, then I flicked it off. Turns out it was a black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens. The BSF looks like a wasp, but it isn’t. It can’t sting or bite, doesn’t eat garden plants, and it won’t buzz about your backyard barbecue. In larval form it’s one of the most useful bugs in the world. I have more info on that topic but I’m saving it for another blog because I know if there’s one thing readers have come to expect from me it’s illuminating information about maggots.
The giant leopard lily in the side yard is an amazing plant and one of the more fetching things growing in our yard. It gets up to seven feet tall and in summer shows off gaggles of winsome blossoms hanging down with exotic, primal elegance. It was planted by someone else, big surprise. Here’s an example where things are better off if I leave them alone, which I have faithfully done.
Bonus good thing: Props to me for this recovering Fatsia japonica. I planted it then sort of forgot about it and during this period of neglect it tried seriously to die. I more or less rediscovered it and motivated by a guilty conscience, nurtured it back to a semblance of health. It’s still small, but it’s surviving in our side yard. If you could have seen it in its previous uncared-for incarnation—it looked like someone had doused it with kerosene and set on fire—you would have bet against me saving it. I certainly would have bet against me. But I took a personal interest in this particular plant, perhaps formed an empathetic, two-way, plant-and-human kinship. Is that possible? I gave it plenty of water and removed encroaching greenery and now it has actually turned green. Up high, Fatsia! Um, okay, down low then. Oh yeah!