California Gold

California Poppy—Eschscholzia californica

With their vivid orange, saucer-shaped flowers, California poppies are familiar to anyone who has lived in the West. The showy blooms are set off by gray-green, fringed foliage that grows about six inches high. Named varieties may have double flowers, frilled petals, or come in a wide assortment of colors.

Although Colorado may lack the poppy-covered hillsides of the Golden State, these wildflowers are easy to grow here. They are not fussy about soil. Sow seeds directly into the sunny garden in early spring. Melting snow should provide plenty of moisture for germination. Watering during dry spells will keep these drought-tolerant plants blooming for several months. Although the tender plants won’t survive a Colorado winter, allowing them to self-sow will ensure plenty of flowers for next year.

California Poppies are perfect for naturalizing among native grasses or in a rock garden. Try growing them in a parking strip, or along a long driveway. They quickly fill in bare spots in a new landscape.

Support Sustainable Forests

Migration has died down. The birds have arrived at their destinations, and are spending their time and energy raising a new generation. But where were all those birds headed, anyway? Most went north, far north.  The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds.

evening-grosbeak-home-2008jun05-lah-033cOne familiar bird impacted by the fate of our forests is the Evening Grosbeak. Evening Grosbeaks are birds of boreal and montane forests and are therefore susceptible to all the incursions into those habitats. Chemical control of spruce budworm and other tree pests lowers this species’ food supply and may also cause secondary poisoning. Competition and the spread of disease among house finches, goldfinches, and other feeder birds may also be playing a role in the decline. Finally, populations are affected by fluctuations in insect populations and the frequency and intensity of forest fires.

Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling. Become educated about the issues and write those legislators who are most likely to make critical decisions. The informative article in the Sept./Oct.,2008 issue of Aikorns is a good place to start.

Eating Your Landscape

Rhubarb surrounded by dianthus in a 4x4 ft bedCrunchy, greenish tomatoes at $2.75/lb. Wilted, road-weary lettuce and limp green beans. We’re supposed to eat more veggies, but the offerings at the local supermarket aren’t very appealing. You’d like to grow some of your own food but you don’t have room for a vegetable garden. What can you do?

Try edible landscaping! While it’s traditional to sequester our food plants apart from the ornamentals, many fruit and vegetable plants are very attractive. Let fruits and vegetables take center stage in your garden, as well as in your kitchen.

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A Delightful Read

a-guide-to-the-birds-of-east-africaI recently read a book that I just have to recommend. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson, is a delightful read about love and birding.

Combine un-confessed love, complicated by a long-standing rivalry, with detailed descriptions of life and politics in Kenya. Add a generous helping of Kenyan birds. Stir with charm. It’s the perfect recipe for a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Mr. Malik is short, round, and brown. He has a classic comb-over. At 61, he has been widowed for 8 years. Burying himself in his  family-owned manufacturing company only led to a heart attack. To relieve stress, he has taken on several other pursuits, including birdwatching. Although he has never let on, he is in love with…

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New Photo Galleries

paradise-tanager-denverzoo-20090527-lah-236rI’d like to highlight my two new photo galleries, featuring my favorite photographic subjects: birds and flowers.

Instead of writing an article this time, I’ll let my pictures speak for me.

You will find them in the list of  links to the right side of this page. I expect to be adding more photos as I get chances to go take them, so check back every so often.

House Sparrows

You see them everywhere… singing outside your bedroom window, eating squashed bugs off your car windshield, cleaning up spilled crumbs at sidewalk cafes. They mob bird feeders full of millet and take up space in nest boxes intended for other species. I’ve even found them in a tiny town in the middle of the Utah desert, miles from anything wet or green. One would think that House Sparrows are one of the most successful species ever to populate planet Earth.

Male House Sparrow

Not closely related to North American sparrows, House Sparrows are relative newcomers to the Western Hemisphere. They were deliberately introduced during the latter half of the 19th century in repeated attempts to establish a breeding population in the U.S.

While the story is a bit foggy, apparently the birds were imported to eat insects that were damaging crops. If so, it was an egregious error. House Sparrows are primarily seed eaters, and according to one study, 78% of those seeds come from agricultural crops intended for livestock or human consumption.

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Dalmation Toadflax – Linaria

linaria-toadflax-santafetrailcsco-2008oct07-lah-001More charmingly known as Butter-and-Eggs, the common name “Toadflax” applies to several similar species. All sport cheerful yellow flowers resembling snapdragons, to which they are related. Two-foot tall clumps of smooth green stems are covered with narrow, pointy leaves two and a half inches long. The flowers appear whenever growing conditions permit.

Originally imported from Eurasia as ornamentals, the plants quickly escaped cultivation and are featured on many wildflower posters. Unfortunately, Toadflaxes are now officially listed as noxious weeds. As such, it is illegal to grow them or sell their seeds.

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