Who says California doesn’t have seasons?

One of the characteristics of a mediterranean climate is a cool wet winter and a hot dry summer. On the central coast of California the rainy and dry seasons of California each take up about half of the year. The rains come to an end in April or May and usually resume again in October or November. The landscape changes dramatically during this time and it happens very quickly. Shortly after the rains begin in fall seasonal grasses (many of which are invasive exotics from Europe) burst into life and dormant plants leaf out. The hills turn such a bright green they almost seems fluorescent against the bright blue sky.

And then a short time after the last drops of rain have fallen in late winter or early spring the annual grasses die off and many plants start to go dormant and the hills turn from lush green to golds and browns.

I’ve been told that California is called “the golden state” not because of the gold rush in the 1800’s but because of the color of the hills in the summer. Some people hate how parched and dry California is during the dry season but I love it.  To me it is no different from the leaves changing and falling from the trees back east in fall and winter.

Mr. Happy you are KILLING me!


Yesterday went out into the garden and noticed that Mr. Happy had lost one of its three foot long lower side branches. It was covered in buds too.  Grrrr…

Upon closer examination this morning I think it was just too heavy to support itself at the 90 degree angle it was growing. Its trunk was pretty massive and it weighed quite a bit. The whole plant is pretty sturdy and it was on the side that is shielded from the worst wind so I don’t think that was the problem.

The rest of the plant has quite a few buds though at this rate I hope there is something left to bloom!


Improv Medit Garden

As a result of the sewer lateral I had to create a little improv garden for many of the plants in my mediterranean garden.  They were just going to die if I left them out of the ground while I waited for the work to finish. I potted up what I could but some of them were too large for one gallon pots and too small for five gallon pots. Luckily last year I created a garden bed in my back yard that failed. I had to do a lot of traveling last summer during the hottest, driest part of the year and what was mean to be a garden full of Salvia and other hummingbird attracting plants died.  The only survivors were a Kniphofia Flamenco, a Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ and a Grevillea ‘Penola’. There was a lot of empty space.  So I threw together a quick design and planted what I could. It isn’t perfect but I just had to get the plants in the ground quickly.

The picture above is what it looked like back in mid March.

And this is what it looks like now. Not bad considering the horrible dry and hot weather we have had since they were planted. I’ve actually dispensed with my usual hand watering and used a sprinkler to get this garden established.

Altogether about a quarter of the plants in my mediterranean garden got to stay where they were, a quarter were moved to this new bed, a quarter died or were, and a quarter went into pots where they await a future garden.

I used to hate the chain link fence around this part of the yard but now I am relieved it is there. My new neighbor has a dog that always escapes her confinement while he is at work and runs amuck through the garden. This is the one part of my yard that I know is safe from her.  Eccremocarpus and Cobaea are hard at work covering the fence so I can live with it.

Glaucium grandiflorum is a Mediterranean poppy and was the plant I was most worried about losing but it started blooming this week and you would never know that it had been moved.

Kniphofia Flamenco is a seed strain of South African red hot poker. It can be quite variable so it is best to only buy it when the flowers are in bloom so you are sure you like what you are getting. This soft orange and yellow is just what I wanted. Most Kniphofia grow near streams and moist areas and some are from summer rainfall areas of eastern South Africa so they do usually need some summer water to perform at their best but they do really well in California. Surprisingly this is one of the few plants that had survived in this spot from my former attempt at making a garden here.

Astericus maritimus from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean is a great plant if you want quick results.

I actually prefer these Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ in this spot than I did in their old home. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that they had to be moved.

This Lavandula pinnata var. buchii was enormous and in full bloom when it had to be moved and it wad dug up by some random construction guy who “helped” me. It had very little roots left and I thought it was toast. I got it back into the ground as quickly as I could but the entire thing just wilted and flopped over.  I pruned it back almost all the way to the ground and in less than two months it has bounced back really nicely and started blooming again.  Behind it is Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’, which was also a survivor of the originally planned hummingbird garden in this spot, is already getting ready to bloom.

Salvia ‘Aromas’ sulked for a while but has perked up now and started to bloom. I considered moving it back to the front garden but decided not to push my luck. There are only so many times you can move plants this time of year before they give up.

Phlomis purpurea is another sulker that didn’t like being moved. Interestingly I read recently that one of the adaptations of some species of Phlomis, in the hot, dry summers of the Mediterranean areas they come from, is seasonal dimorphism of their leaves. Their winter leaves are thicker and better adapted to photosynthesize and the summer leaves are thinner, smaller, and even hairier and better adapted to retain moisture. I noticed with the shock of the move and the onset of hotter drier weather that these plants lost their leaves and regrew smaller leaves and have now stopped wilting.

Curious about how the newly planted old bed is doing?

The above picture is how it looked in early March. The center strip is mostly California natives. Salvia melifera, Arctostaphylos ‘Sentinel’, three types of Eriogonum, Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’, and purple and white California poppies. They looked so tiny back then it was definitely a bit depressing starting from scratch just when the garden had been ready to take off.

Two months later I have to admit I am kind of shocked at how quickly they have grown. I think by next year this garden will be fully filled out and looking great. Despite the fact that they are now in pure sand and it has bee so hot and dry they are thriving on just weekly watering. In fact they are showing no signs of stress at all so I may start moving them to a twelve day watering cycle and see how they do.

Of course I wish the construction had never happened but I think the garden is coming along nicely.

Mr. Sad

I think I mentioned last month that my Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ was showing signs of fasciation. Pretty disappointing as it is on its main stem. Fasciation occurs when there is some sort of damage done to the growing point of the plant. It causes flattened crested and ridged deformed growth. I can live with it when it is just one of many stems on a smaller plant but I am pretty sad about this. This stem that may not live up to its potential of fifteen feet of pink blooms.

You can see that even the forward facing leaves on the fasciated stem (the top right one) are a smaller and deformed compared to the rest of the plant.

Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ is a hybrid of E. pininana and E. wilpretti. This specimen is still pretty impressive at more than 3 feet across but I’m afraid it won’t live up to its potential.

You can see how bad the cresting is. Completely flattened and deformed. In fact I don’t think I have ever seen fasciation this bad. I guess because the stem is so big everything is magnified.

I guess it is pretty interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when it starts blooming. I have an Echium pininana too but it is showing no signs that it is going to bloom this year. When it does hopefully it won’t be fasciated!

Mentzelia lindleyi

One of my great central California native annuals that reseeded is Mentzelia lindleyi. This clump has been blooming non stop for about two months and looks like it will still keep going for a while longer.

Mixes pretty nicely with Euphorbia ‘Blue Haze’

And perfectly contrasting with the purple flowers of the European Consolida regalis.


Up close the showy stamens look like little fireworks. The plants are a little course and weedy looking (at least according to one of my neighbors who thought it was a dandelion or something) but I don’t think they are so bad and when they are covered in blooms you don’t really notice the foliage at all.

My first clump of these to start blooming began way back at the end of January but they were right by the road and  got demolished by the construction guys. But how tough is this plant?


So tough that this snapped off stem of that planting lay on the soil without any water and stayed blooming like this for an entire week before it wilted!