Female Anna's Hummingbird on lemon tree

Anna's Hummingbird in lemon tree

Taking a break between sips of sweet nectar out of the lemon blossoms on our Eureka lemon tree, this little gal was the perfect model.
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New pollinators visited the garden and heralded the official arrival of Summer

Honeybees on garlic bloom

I was standing outside in the late evening the day before the official arrival of Summer, and I noticed some activity on a lone volunteer garlic bloom growing at the edge of the pond. I quickly got my camera, installed my new zoom lens and made my way back out to garden to try and take some shots.

The garlic bloom was covered in little golden specks of pollen. Some honeybees were gathering sweetness from the tiny flowers while other honeybees were gathering water a few feet away on the rock of the pond waterfall.

Honeybee gathering water on pond waterfall rocks

I focused my attention on the garlic blossom again. Then I saw her!

Valley Carpenter bee on garlic bloom

I had never seen this garden visitor before. I didn't know what she was (or that she was a SHE) until I took my shots back in to the computer and did some quick internet hunting.

She is a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta)!

The honeybees moved aside and continued gathering while their much larger cousin did her share of gathering. I noticed she had a sister that was buzzing around the other flowers in the vicinity. When the first female I saw would buzz away to check out the other flowers, the honeybees would go back to gathering from the spots they had vacated while she was there.

Valley Carpenter bee leaving garlic bloom

Ms. Valley Carpenter Bee came back around and seemed to be particularly smitten with the nearby Japanese Water Iris. I didn't think the iris were a favorite of pollinators but I was wrong.

Valley Carpenter Bee on Japanese Water Iris

Ms. Valley Carpenter Bee loved the welcoming throats of the iris bloom because she could fit her whole round fat body inside without much effort.

Valley Carpenter Bee in Japanese Water Iris

I was also surprised to discover later that the Valley Carpenter Bee is usually in Southern California and in the Central Valley of California (the large flat topography running vertically through the center of our state). I don't know why these two girls are so far from "home" close to the waters of the San Francisco Bay, but I'm happy they came for a visit so I could see them for the first time.

And, ironically, this week just happens to be National Pollinator Week. Maybe the girls were doing a special publicity tour?
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Sometimes food is so beautiful...

Green grapes

... I have to photograph it before I eat it

Thank you Kim Klassen for the use of two of your free textures ("Not Too Shabby" and "Love")
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The heat of summer has finally arrived

Provence lavender

I think it's finally decided to be summer around here. We've had an unseasonably wet and cool May and June. Finally, the heat decided to arrive this week with temps hovering around 85-91F (29-32C).

The only problem is that with the heat comes the western sun shining in my southwest facing studio windows in the late afternoon and evening. Since I don't have air conditioning this becomes a problem. Like every summer, I'm having to find a way to shift my creative clock so I feel inspired at different times of the day other than when the sun is streaming in my window.

It seems counter intuitive really. Artists and photographers love natural light. But when heat comes with that light it changes my priorities.

Thankfully, it cools off after the sun sets when gentle breezes blow in off the water of the San Francisco Bay. Then I can open my studio windows, air out the stuffiness and start creating again.
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Two views of a purple Japanese Water Iris

Japanese Water Iris (cropped)

I think many people wonder why so many of my photographs and paintings feature flowers. I discovered the 20th century artist Georgia O'Keefe when I was an Art History major at Mills College in the early 1990's. Her floral work moved me and intrigued me. I felt myself connecting with the way she was viewing and representing the flowers in her work.

Georgia O'Keefe said:
"Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.

"If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
"

"I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty."

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."
Her words could be my own. The small and subtle details of the many flowers that grace this earth have drawn me in since I was a small child. And finding a way to celebrate what I see in a flower through my art and photography has been one of my strongest creative motivations both before and after my discovery of Georgia O'Keefe.

The two images I've included in this post are a perfect example of what I mean. Below, is a photograph I took last week of one of the Japanese Water Iris that grows and blooms at the pond's edge in the back garden here at Rosehaven Cottage.

Japanese Water Iris

This shot is "SOOC" or straight out of the camera. That means that I haven't done any digital editing to it once I imported it into my computer from my camera. I just added a watermark and that's it.

The image at the beginning of this post is the same photo except I cropped it digitally after I imported it into my computer from my camera. It's the same photo of the same flower but looks at what you see now:

A closer look at the image

Because the flower doesn't automatically register in your mind as, "Oh, that's just a flower", your eye can pay attention to the details that your mind would gloss over otherwise.
  • The pearlescent sparkles on the petal of the iris become evident. It's a beautiful detail on most iris petals that is often missed.
  • The edges of the petals become more obvious and the forms they create become more striking especially against the darker background that creates the negative space in the composition of the photo.
  • Little details like the curl of a petal become strikingly prominent and make your eye follow their fluid flowing lines. Your eye moves through the composition differently because of it.
  • The small patch of yellow in the throat of the iris is now the central focus of the photo. Against the purples of the rest of the petal, it becomes an example of a perfect pairing of complementary colors (colors that sit opposite one another on the basic color wheel). Yellow and purples are complementary colors. The combination of red and green is another one. And the pairing of blue and orange is yet another. Complementary color pairings are very pleasing to the eye. And nature is demonstrating this with this flower.
  • Nature's artistry is also seen in the beautiful veining of the petals. The lines create symmetry, flow and interest in the photo.
The flower is no longer just a flower... it is a work of art that made you look more carefully. That is why there are so many flowers in my work. Yes, I love flowers, but what I truly love are their artful details.
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A lizard named Scott: How he and his buddies help me grow strawberries, oranges and tomatoes

Coast Range Fence Lizard

We have a number of lizards that live in the nooks and crevices of our garden. Over the last few years I've built raised planters made out of chunks of concrete that needed to be re-purposed (it was that or send it all to the landfill). The planters were built with the lizards in mind because the planters offer lots of "hide-y holes" to get out of the rain but are also great for sunbathing (something lizards LOVE to do). I also have various sized rocks stacked around the edges of the pond I dug. The lizards like those too because they can sunbathe close to the water and snatch bugs that come by.

If I walk through the garden with calmness, lightly treading the paths, I can often catch a lizard sunning itself like the one pictured above. The little guy (or gal) is a Coast Range Fence Lizard Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii that is native to our part of California.

During the summer and into September, I will often see very tiny little lizards scurrying about. Those are the babies that have recently hatched. They are less timid than the adults and will often let me get very close to snap a photo of them, sometimes cocking their head in curiosity as I approach.

I love having the lizards as part of my garden. Why? Because these lizards eat lots of small bugs including crickets, spiders, ticks and scorpions. The lizards live in the raised planters that my citrus trees are planted in as well as my strawberries, tomatoes and other seasonal veggies. They eat the bugs and I get to grow pesticide-free produce. It's a perfect partnership!

And you may be wondering why the lizard is named Scott... well... when I showed this photo to Hubby he said, "That lizard looks like a Scott". That's why.

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The ladybugs in my lavender

Ladybug and lavender

A beautiful phenomenon has happened in my garden... a phenomenon that's taken quite some time to come to fruition.

Over the last 10 years, I've made a conscious effort to transition away from using garden chemicals (particularly pesticides and fungicides) and tried more organic practices like companion planting.

After a year or two, I incorporated the necessary elements to be certified as a backyard wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation--food sources, water sources, cover and places to raise young. Being a backyard wildlife habitat isn't about turning one's garden into a zoo or safari refuge. It's more about providing a place where smaller critters like birds can live, eat and visit. I had a feeling deep down inside that if I welcomed them, they would benefit my garden--even my fruit and vegetable gardens. We don't have a big yard, but it didn't matter. Even with our lot only 50 feet wide and much of it taken up with the house, as long as I provided the four basic elements I trusted the critters would come.

The first couple of years were hard as the garden took time to regain the natural balance that had been lost from not being cared for before I came here. Then I started to notice a shift. It was subtle at first but it was noticeable. I noticed beneficial insects and birds buzzing and flitting around the garden eating the bugs that would damage my produce (like grasshoppers) or make my life miserable (like mosquitoes). Flycatchers like the Black Phoebe, Anna's hummingbirds, dragonflies, and preying mantis all showed up on their own very early after I got the four elements installed in the garden. Then lizards and Pacific tree frogs followed over time.

But I really wanted ladybugs.

I planted a number of rosebushes in the front garden and everyone knows they are a target for aphids. I stuck to my resolve not to use pesticides on the aphids and simply waited. I planted some fennel (not knowing it grows up to 20 feet tall in our climate) and that attracted a few ladybugs that wandered over to the roses to dine on the aphids. Then tiny little birds called bushtits regularly showed up in small flocks to light on the rosebushes and pick aphids off. Even Bullock's Orioles came down from their usually lofty perches to dine amidst the roses.

The ladybug population was still light, but I had hope the ladybug population would continue to grow on its own without any help from me.

Then it happened.

Two years ago, I noticed that an old cherry tree in the back corner of the garden was covered with rather scary looking bugs. When I looked closer I realized they were ladybug larvae. I left them alone. Most of those larvae eventually transformed into beautiful little ladybugs that spread out throughout the garden. Needless to say, I haven't seen very many aphids after that spring when the cherry tree turned into a "ladybug tree". I realized that the more mulch I put in that corner of the garden where the foliage is a bit denser, the more ladybugs I would find. I had happened upon the perfect combination for a ladybug habitat. Without even knowing it I was mimicking a small forest thicket like the ones where wild ladybugs breed and are harvested for retail sale to nurseries.

This year I noticed the ladybugs in February amidst milkweeds that sprouted when I wasn't well enough to pull them. In March, I added two more potted lavender to my collection and repotted one I already had. The ladybugs didn't take any time at all before moseying over to the new lavender. They even found the pots I had put on the deck up away from the garden beds far from the "ladybug tree".

When I'm out in the garden, if I feel a tickle on my arm I look first before swatting because more often than not it's just a ladybug hitching a ride. I had it happen just yesterday when I was out shooting photos. In fact, it happened right about the time I shot the image above. I don't know if this seems weird, but whenever I find a ladybug, particularly when I find it on me, it makes me happy. It seems like a sign that I've done a good thing by helping nature restore balance in this little spot of earth I am a steward over.
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The dance of the skippers and the romance of butterflies

Butterfly romance series No. 1

The sun is finally out after seemingly endless days of unseasonal cool rain and grey skies. The critters in the garden aren't wasting any time enjoying the warm rays.

I took a stroll through the mid-afternoon garden with my camera (and new lens) to see what serendipitous moments I could discover. I always stop at the potted lavender that attracts so many pollinators to its blossoms.

I spotted the female Skipper butterfly first (above). Then she began to flutter her wings while remaining on her perch (below).

Butterfly romance series No. 2

A frantic flapping male quickly fluttered into the scene (above).

Butterfly romance series No. 3

She kept gently fluttering her wings while he flitted all over. He was so fast and fleeting, it was hard to track where he was.

Butterfly romance series No. 4

She would flutter to another stalk and the dance would commence. Then she would move again, and it would continue once more. Sometimes she would take flight and the two would dance in mid-air around me, performing a high-speed reel. I stood in one place and turned to see where they would sashay to next... to the mandarin tree... to the lavender... to a nearby stalk of milkweed... and back to the lavender.

So intrigued was I in the frenetic pace of their courtship. Romance seemed quite exhausting from my vantage point.

I have to chuckle. It's much the same with people in love. The frenetic pace of romance, particularly young love, seems so exhausting to those on the outside of the gyrations of courtship... yet many onlookers wish they could join the dance with their own partner nonetheless.

Sipping the lavender
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Cindy Garber Iverson and Rosehaven Cottage Inc.
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