It's time for April Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! This will be a rather long post, because my garden generally peaks in either April or May, and I can't really tell which month it will peak in until May arrives. So I just spend April taking a million pictures and hoping this is the right time to be taking them.
The front yard is looking every bit fantastic enough right now that it may well be at its peak. The back yard is a little more disappointing; although it doesn't have as much exposed dirt as it had at this time last year, it also doesn't seem to have many of the flowers it had last year. In particular, last June featured an amazing display of elegant clarkia in one corner of the back yard, but I don't think this coming June is going to repeat that, because hardly any clarkia seedlings in the back yard appear to have survived our wet winter.
But let's start in the front yard. I can tell that the front yard is looking fantastic even to people much less biased about it than Susan and me, because our newspaper carrier, who has been persistently smashing plants to death by tossing newspapers right on top of them every day of the year, finally noticed this month that there are flowers here and started bothering to toss the newspaper into less damaging locations, such as the driveway and the lawn. Also, one of our next-door neighbors confessed that she had never thought that my native species gardening would ever amount to anything, because "it just looked like weeds" until this month, but now she's impressed. Of course, she'll probably stop being impressed by July or August, when the flowers are mostly gone. But for now, everyone's a fan. (Including our new cat. As the only indoor-outdoor kitty of the household, Spider will probably do a lot of posing with my plants from now on.)
The four-foot-wide strip of garden along the front sidewalk is the part of the garden that is attracting most of the admiration from the neighbors. Not all of the admiration has been expressed in a positive manner. The negative part started when a next-door neighbor saw someone walk by and snip off a big purple flower spike from the arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) and take it home. At the time, that was the only flower spike that individual plant had produced, although a second arroyo lupine plant in the same bed had produced an additional one or two flower spikes. It was not very nice for someone to walk off with approximately a third of the most spectacular flowers in the yard.
The plant did produce a bunch more big purple flower spikes the following week, though, so I didn't have to grieve for long.
Next came a tulip theft. We had two tulips (Tulipa gesneriana, no special cultivar) blooming in the yard. There would have been three, except that I accidentally stepped on one when it was first emerging from the ground, breaking off the bud before it ever emerged from the leaves. But the other two bloomed very nicely. All three were the descendants of a tulip I bought last spring and kept in a pot on the porch until it finished blooming. Long after the foliage had withered away, I left the pot of soil still sitting on the porch. In the fall, I emptied out the soil and found that the original tulip bulb had divided into several bulbs, so I planted each bulb separately. In February, three of them sprouted, and in late March, two bloomed. But a few days later, in the middle of the night, someone dug up one of the blooming tulips and stole it.
Tulips are neither difficult to find nor expensive. Why is it apparently too much to ask that people go buy their own tulips instead of stealing mine?
I would like to know whether the person who dug up one of my two blooming tulips is the same person who, about a year and a half ago, dug up one of my two newly planted sacred datura (Datura wrightii) and stole it. The fact that I have two of something does not give you permission to steal one of them!
The one remaining tulip lasted a bit longer, but eventually a neighbor kid pulled a petal off it, and a few days after that, the remaining petals fell off on their own.
But it was pretty while it lasted.
I liked the way the shape and color of the scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea philippiana) echoed the shape and color of the tulips. At least no one has stolen the scarlet mallow (so far).
See? Scarlet mallow with golden prettyface (Triteleia ixioides) and baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii).
Here is the scarlet mallow with five spot (Nemophila maculata), a cousin of baby blue eyes that doesn't grow quite as well here. Both this year and last year, I scattered the same amount of seeds of five spot as of baby blue eyes. Both years, I got tons of baby blue eyes and just one five spot plant. Oddly enough, even though this is an annual, the one five spot plant is in exactly the same location this year as last year. I guess that location is the ideal place for it.
Baby blue eyes don't get as much attention from the neighbors as the lupine and tulips, but they are the unifying theme that makes this bed look complete.
They were also the first flowers to open. The lupines and goldfields came soon after, but the tidy tips (Layia platyglossa, upper left in the picture below) and Chinese pagodas (Collinsia heterophylla, upper right in the picture below) are more recent additions.
I scattered seeds of two goldfields species this year: common goldfields (Lasthenia californica) and yellowray goldfields (Lasthenia glabrata). All the goldfields in the back yard look the same as last year's, which were common goldfields. Some of the goldfields in the front yard have slightly smaller flowers and slightly thinner stems, so I think those may be the yellowray goldfields. However, it would be odd for the yellowray goldfields to sprout only in the front while the common goldfields sprouted in the back, because yellowray goldfields are supposed to like more water than common goldfields, and the back yard is definitely wetter than the front yard. (The front yard has a bit of slope to provide drainage.) Anyway, these are some of the smaller kind of goldfields, in the front yard. (There's also a tidy-tip bud toward the right.)
I have blue flax plants (Linum lewisii) in both the front yard and the back yard, but only the front yard ones have started blooming.
I had sand-dune wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) in both yards last year, and only one in the back yard bloomed. But the ones in the back yard all drowned over the winter (the one that bloomed and also some that never bloomed), while the ones in the front yard survived and have now begun to bloom. This one is being watched over by one of the many flower stalks on the creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis).
The very most recent species to start blooming this year is the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which just started blooming in both yards two days ago. Here's the first front yard poppy, shown with tidy tips, goldfields, baby blue eyes, and scarlet mallow.
Cream cups (Platystemon californicus) are members of the poppy family. I bought one for the first time this year. I knew it would need better drainage than any part of the back yard could provide, because even the California poppies often struggle to survive in the back yard, even in the driest spots. So I put the cream cups plant in the front yard. It immediately started yellowing due to poor drainage, as you can see in this picture from March.
It has survived and is now covered with flowers, but the foliage has changed from the reasonably attractive yellow to an ugly tan. I don't think I'll attempt to grow this again.
Almost all the spring-blooming plants in the sidewalk garden are blooming now.
But my favorite flowers are still the ones that started blooming earliest: arroyo lupine and baby blue eyes. I don't think it's possible to have too many baby blue eyes.
But that's enough of the sidewalk garden. There's another bed adjacent to it that has hardly any flowers so far, because I installed the bed over the winter and didn't plant things there as early in the year as I planted the rest of the yard. Here is Spider crouching at the border between the sidewalk garden and the lawn, with the newer, largely flowerless bed visible behind him.
Spider will now lead us across the lawn toward the front porch.
There's a very small, triangular bed in front of the front porch. This is the oldest of the three beds I created in the front yard. Susan had created a tiny, rectangular bed here before she met me, about four feet wide by one foot deep, with yellow snapdragons and purple alyssum. I expanded it to a pie shape, about four feet long on each of the straight sides. The yellow snapdragons and purple alyssum are still there - you can see the snapdragons blooming here - but I added two island alum root plants (Heuchera maxima) and a red bush monkeyflower (Mimulus puniceus). Everything in this bed is blooming right now.
Here's a closer view of the monkeyflower and alum root.
And closer yet, just the monkeyflower.
Now Spider is going to wander off and hunt birds while we continue our garden tour in the back yard.
The back yard has been on quite a roller coaster of water levels recently. We had nonstop rain during the first several days after last month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and the back yard filled up with water as thoroughly as I've ever seen. I pumped some of the water out to the street with the sump pump, but a lot of water continued to sit in the yard for weeks.
The water stood in the yard long enough to produce a very different kind of bloom than is normally displayed on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: an algae bloom. We've had algae bloom in the back yard before, but rarely quite as much of it as we had in late March. I could stick my arm into the ditch and pull it out and have clumps of thick green algae all over it.
The golden currant (Ribes aureum) seemed to particularly enjoy the standing water. In past years, its bloom season has been very short, and it only remained at peak bloom for about five to seven days. This year it seemed to remain at its peak for more like three weeks. Here it is soon after the big rainstorms, when almost the entire yard was underwater.
And here it is after the water had receded to the ditch and turned very green. The golden currant really never started declining from peak bloom at all until the ditch was mostly dry.
We've received very little rain in April, so at this point there's no standing water left. The abrupt changes in water levels have been hard on some of the plants, and it's hard to be sure whether some of them are suffering from much water or too little. My sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa) vanished without a trace; my bowltube iris (Iris macrosiphon) has turned almost all brown and is probably near death; my California polypody fern Polypodium californica) will probably survive but is looking crispier than I've ever seen it before. I purchased all three of these plants last fall, so I've never seen them try to cope with spring or summer before.
It's interesting to see the back yard finally starting to tell me what it wants to look like. The front yard could probably look a wide variety of different ways, depending on what I chose to plant in it, but the back yard is quite opinionated and kills any plant that doesn't meet its exacting ecological requirements. I recognized that the back yard has the ecology of a vernal pool, and I've seen some vernal pools, but it still was not particularly clear how the vernal pool ecology of this specific yard would look if a healthy ecosystem could be established here. Now I think I'm starting to see the general outlines of it. Turns out it doesn't look a whole lot like the vernal pools I've seen before; the yard seems able to support more sedges and more shrubs than would be typical in a vernal pool wilderness area. But an increasingly decent meadow is starting to take shape here. It doesn't support as wide a variety of flowers as the front yard - in fact, the only flowers that seem to survive in the wetter portions are all yellow ones - but it's not altogether bad-looking anymore.
(Boston will now take over for Spider in posing with the plants.)
At this time last year, the yard had many flowers that haven't survived this year's wetter winter. However, it also had more bare ground, because I hadn't yet found appropriate plants to handle the wettest areas. The best new plants I've filled that gap with this year are clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis) and meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii). I bought two kinds of meadowfoam, the common kind with white edges (Limnanthes douglasii ssp. douglasii) and a rare solid yellow kind that is native to the Point Reyes area (Limnanthes douglasii ssp. sulphurea). The common kind didn't bloom until late March, probably because I didn't plant it as early as the rare kind. Now that I have both blooming together, I can say that I very much prefer the common kind. The flowers on the Point Reyes meadowfoam are considerably smaller - they're what would be left if someone took scissors and trimmed the white edges off all the flowers on the common meadowfoam. You can see both kinds here, along with some tidytips demonstrating their similar color scheme at the bottom of the picture.
Here's a closer view of mostly common meadowfoam, with a few flowers of Point Reyes meadowfoam sneaking in from the upper left.
And here's an even closer view of the common meadowfoam.
Along the edge of the ditch, goldfields mingle with clustered field sedge.
The clustered field sedge is blooming for the first time since I planted it, and there are tons of it - partly because I planted a ton of it, and partly because the ton that I planted has been spreading out from the roots for most of a year already.
In the drier parts of the back yard there are more flowers in shades of purple and blue. Here is bird's eye gilia (Gilia tricolor).
And foothill beardtongue (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs'), just getting started.
And baby blue eyes, of course.
The redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis) is no longer blooming, but here's a picture from late March when it was. It never exactly peaked; the flowers fell off almost immediately after opening, and there were never more than ten or so open at any one time. I suppose this picture was the closest it came to a peak.
But there's more to a beautiful garden than flowers, even in springtime. That's why I have to include this picture of the new leaves coming in on the buttonbush.
When backlit, the new leaves look rather like flames.
And because no garden would really be a garden without a human meddling with it and making occasional really terrible mistakes, I have to tell you about my big back yard project this month. I started in early March by digging out the common rushes and Baltic rushes that I had purchased and planted a year and a half ago but that were now spreading like mad and killing other plants. In later March I also dug out the Santa Barbara sedge I had planted two and a half years ago, because it was doing the same thing.
So far, so good. But then in early April, I planted a new plant that I already know will take over the yard as thoroughly as any rush or sedge ever could, and that will be utterly impossible to dig out when I tire of it. Yes, it's a rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) - a relative of ferns that can send roots 30 feet deep and 50 or more feet wide, that can't be killed even with Roundup. Yes, I know this is a mistake. But if I don't plant it now I suspect I'll eventually plant it later, so surely it's better to plant it here where we can move away from it in a couple of years, right? (And yes, I did try keeping it in a container. It was dying fast while I kept it in there. It needed more water than I could keep up with giving it.)
This concludes April Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Boston says she's already looking forward to next month!