Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Surprises

Even in Southern California, winter is a time of relative quiet.  As the days get longer and the temperatures grow warmer, the plants gradually wake up from their winter slump.  The process starts slowly.  You notice a plant here or there putting on new growth.  A tree bursts into bloom.  Bulbs poke through the soil.  Then, suddenly, everything seems to come alive all at once.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about spring is that it always feels like a surprise, even if we know it's coming.  Gardeners eagerly anticipate the event and make preparations to herald its arrival.  Weather forecasters and news anchors remind us that it's coming.  Birds act as envoys, building nests and visiting feeders in ever increasing numbers.  Despite all the advance notice, there's generally one point, usually when I'm at work in the garden, when I realize - on a visceral level having no relationship to the calendar or new reports - that spring is indeed here.  For me, that day was yesterday, when I looked over and realized that my columbine was blooming.  From that point, everywhere I looked, spring was staring me right in the face.

I spent some time on Easter morning recording its presence.  The columbine was aptly named.

Aquilegia hybrid 'Spring Magic'
These daffodils, in a variety I planted this fall for the first time, bloomed in unison, unlike my other varieties.
Narcissus 'White Lion
 Yellow blooms showed up wherever I looked.

Papaver nudicaule

Another Iceland poppy

Genista canariensis

Phlomis fruticosa (aka Jerusalem Sage) now reaching full bloom

When I noticed this bearded Iris, I thought it was going to be the first in my garden to bloom.

Bearded Iris (No ID)
That is, until I saw this one down near the bottom of my back slope.  I dug up a number of small Iris tubers from my back border last summer.  They hadn't bloomed during our first 2 years here and I didn't hold out much promise for them but, when I was looking for cheap ways of filling in the bed created along our slope, I tucked some of these in, not expecting much.  The appearance of this one, especially this early, was a real surprise.

Bearded Iris (No ID)

I shouldn't have been surprised that the California poppies I planted from seed last year returned with vigor.  They're intertwined with a Pelargonium here.

Eschscholzia and Pelargonium peltatum

Pelargonium peltatum in bloom

My pink Cistus, which grew rapidly to a height of about 4 feet from a plant in a 4-inch pot, is producing its first blooms this season.

Cistus 'Sunset'
 The thyme I used to replace some of what was formerly lawn is now in full bloom.

Thymus praecox 'Pink Chintz'

My new rose is about to bloom for the first time.

Rosa 'Ebb Tide'
 And the established shrub roses that fill my front yard beds are just coming into bloom.

Rosa 'Pink Meidiland'

Even the Pittosporum tobira I thoroughly thinned last year is blooming.

Pittosporum tobira

New foliage is showing up everywhere, from shrubs to trees.

Calliandra haematocephala

Fig 'Black Mission'

Persimmon 'Hachiya'

Two plants appear to be back from the dead.  The Michauxia campanuloides, which I planted last June and which appeared to have died by August, has unexpectedly reappeared.

Michauxia campanuloides

The tree peony I planted in March 2011, which I mistakenly stepped on just as was emerging from dormancy, has forgiven me and produced foliage, renewing hope that, maybe this year, it'll bloom.

Paeonia 'Shimadaijin'

I hope your spring also brings pleasant surprises.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blooms at last!

In January, I featured Eupatorium sordidum in my foliage follow-up post.  At that time you could see flower buds just beginning to form.

Miniature buds in January

In February, the buds were well-formed but still far from opening.

I thought it a certainty that the plant would be in bloom by Bloom Day in March.  But nooo...

Well, the plant is finally in bloom now!

Eupatorium sordidum in bloom

Close-up of Eupatorium sordidum bloom

In flower, the plant looks like an ageratum on steroids.  In fact, when I purchased it from Annie's Annuals & Perennials, an on-line nursery based in Northern California, it was sold as Ageratum corymbosa.  Annie's site reports that it blooms nearly year-round there but that hasn't been the case here, although I recall that the bloom period extended a few months last year.  Our relatively hot summers may be an issue.  It grows about 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  Mine receives about 2 hours of early morning sun but it's in shade the rest of the day.  I tried one plant in an area with afternoon sun and it's struggling there.  The leaves appear greenish to start and become purple-tinged as they age.  It needs just a little grooming in the summer here to keep it looking neat.  It's a very satisfying plant - even if it did take its time coming into bloom.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Neighborhood Stroll

When we first moved into our current house a little more than 2 years ago, I made a habit of strolling my immediate neighborhood, eventually extending my walk-abouts into other local neighborhoods and along nearby public trails.  It was a great way to get exercise, acquaint myself with my new surroundings, and meet my neighbors.  Then my right knee started pitching a fit.  After consultations and tests, my orthopedist suggested that I find exercise that would put less strain on my knee.  Physical therapy, joint fluid injections, and arthritis medication have helped forestall surgery.  That's great but but I miss my walks - a stationary bike just isn't as interesting.  When I walked I was in tune with changes in my neighborhood but, now, almost 9 months after giving up those daily walks, I'm very out of touch.

I threw caution to the wind this morning and took a walk.  I wanted to see what was going on in early spring at other people's houses.  The first yards I looked at were those nearest to our house and, as I see these when I drive into and out of the neighborhood, there weren't many surprises there.

I can't put my finger on the name of this shrub, distinguished by its bright red spring growth
This house boat-like house has been empty for years and is currently for sale but I don't know what the Salvation Army is doing there

Nasturtium and pelargonium wrap a neighbor's mailbox

My fingers itched to pull the weeds in this recently installed succulent bed

Cistus in full bloom

Self-sown lupin

A lot of the houses in the large circle that constitutes our neighborhood are set behind tall hedges, gates or up steep driveways so there often isn't much to see from the street.  This hedge, with a mallow peaking through other shrub material represents a case in point.

8 foot hedge with mallow poking through

I could see bulbs in bloom behind the bars of this gate as I wound my way around the corner.  In addition to daffodils and a camellia in full bloom, this neighbor had tulips, which I've never been able to grow successfully here.  Maybe this spot is more protected from the strong Santa Ana winds that always knock out my tulip blooms before they get started.

Bulbs behind bars

I walked up to the entrance to our area, where I ran into a neighbor I hadn't spoken to in months.  While we got caught up, what little was left of the fog we started the morning with lifted, which made subsequent picture-taking more challenging.  However, even better photos probably wouldn't have helped the appearance of this bed at the entrance to our street.  To the credit of the neighborhood, residents have added drought-tolerant plants here and there but the mix hasn't coalesced yet.  It doesn't help that the area's ridden with weeds.  I may have to volunteer some time there soon.

Weedy bed near street entrance

As I came back into the "circle," I saw this pine covered with cones.

And then I saw that the house of an elderly neighbor has been put up for sale.  I haven't seen her in quite awhile.  One of her 8 cats showed up to say hello so I assume she hasn't moved out yet.

House for sale

Friendly cat

Here's another hedge long a wall 2 doors further down the street.

Hedge bordered by bedding begonias

A renovation that's been in process for 6 or more months is still in process.

A big house getting bigger or just a face-lift?

The next house on my left is one of the few in the area that maintains a large planting bed fronting the street.

Pelargoniums, agave, aloe and miscellaneous other succulents
Diverse mix including phromium, osteospermum, dietes, euryops and succulents

 The neighbor across the street has a vinca "lawn."  Vinca can be invasive here but these plants seem to be effectively contained between the agapanthus on one side and the street paving on the other.

Vinca in lieu of grass
Two neat front doors face a recently hatcheted hedge across the street.

This house always has succulents on the doorstep

The orange clivia looks perfect every spring

I''m not sure what this hedge is/was

As I proceeded in the direction of our house, I passed by an empty lot.  This property, consisting of 2 large parcels with a view of the harbor, has been empty for years.  I've been told that the house that once stood here burned down and the owner is unwilling to sell unless he gets the price he wants for it.   I'm sure the wildlife enjoys the space in the meantime.  There's an interesting plant growing there I wish I could identify.  It grows to the height of a small tree; has large, textured leaves; and produces lavender flowers that the bees seem to adore.

Weeds grow through what remains of the old driveway

This plant is everywhere but I can't identify it

In bud, the flowers resemble Borage on steroids

The blooms attract bees

This is the best close-up I could get

I passed the elaborately terraced front yard of another of my neighbors, an avid gardener.  In addition to alstroemeria, California poppies, salvia, and citrus trees, her front yard contains a spectacular leucospermum in full bloom.

View of terraced slope

Alstroemeria and California poppies

Another view of the terraced slope

Cleveland sage and polygala

More California poppies with daffodils

The Leucospermum

Her garden puts the rest of the neighborhood to shame.

A neighbor who finished construction on his house last year has finally put in a garden.  He's kept the front garden simple in keeping with the simplicity of the design of his house.

Poorly focused shot of neighbor's new garden bed

Iceland poppies in mass near driveway

I came across a pretty 6 foot tall Abutilon as I neared home.

Abutilon (variety unknown)

My own front yard is partially hidden behind a well-established shrub hedge as well.  I'll share a view of my front garden in a future post.

Hedge in front of our own house
I'm off to ice my knee.