Signs of Life in the Winter Garden

Mushrooms are signs of all the fungal activity happening out of sight underground in the winter garden

Trees have lost their leaves, flowers are dormant underground, and cloudy days cast everything a little grey. But take a closer look and you’ll find lots still going on in the winter garden.

In one Friend+Sweet garden in Richmond, CA, on some Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Gold’ just yesterday I found two caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly, looking plump and ready to begin their metamorphosis. In this photo you can also see the distinctive bright orange aphid, Aphis nerii, that is specific to milkweed and oleander, and the argentine ant that it attracts. Milkweed can be covered in these little orange insects but they don’t seem to do a lot of harm to the plant–and I’ve heard a theory that the scent of a milkweed infested with this aphid may be particularly appealing to Monarch butterflies looking for a place to lay some eggs. The caterpillar looks massive next to the aphid and ant! I’ll be keeping a close eye on this fella.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Fungi live underground most of the year, slowly building their network of hyphae–microscopic filaments that look like white webbing when you turn over a rotting log or dig under the mulch. Rainy season means that fungi put on a massive growth of hyphae that pushes up to the surface to form a mushroom that will deliver millions of spores into the wind. Here are some stunning Fly Agaric MushroomsAmanita muscaria, found recently in a Friend+Sweet winter garden in Lafayette, CA. This toxic mushroom starts out as a brilliant red-orange sphere, which eventually opens up into a flat cap 6-8″ wide:

Juvenile Amanita Mushroom

A mature Amanita mushroom

Next is a plant I featured in a previous post on yellow-flowering shrubs: Kerria japonica pleniflora, the Japanese Rose. Winter is when Kerria lights up shady spots with canary-yellow inch-wide blooms on bright green stems:

Kerria japonica pleniflora blossom lights up the winter garden

Some other common winter garden flowers that we take for granted are worth stopping to admire. Camellias, when their blooms aren’t spoiled by cold rains, can be quite stunning:

Camellias are some of the stars of the winter garden

Lastly, while summer-heat-loving tomatoes and peppers are now rotting away in compost bins, the edible winter garden in our temperate bay-area climate keeps giving with winter greens like like chicory (edible dandelion), and citrus like this mandarin orange:

Chicory is an edible dandelion

Mandarin oranges ripen in the winter garden


- ebfriend