It's been a bad year for baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), which in past years have been the dominant blue flower in the front sidewalk garden in early spring. I've only seen a handful of them this year, and I didn't get a single good picture of them. However, the blue flax (Linum lewisii) has more than compensated for the absence of baby blue eyes, filling the garden with more little round blue flowers than ever before.
The purple spikes of the arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) are just as spectacular as they have been every year since I started planting them.
And the white spikes of the chick lupine (Lupinus microcarpus var. densiflorus) that I just started planting last year are beginning to pop up between the purple spikes.
The tulips (Tulipa gesneriana) have returned again. I bought a single hot pink tulip for Susan two years ago, in a little pink pot, and I've propagated the current tulips from that one. I have three tulip plants this year, but one of them was trampled on soon after sprouting, so it didn't bloom. The other two did bloom. Interestingly, they're not hot pink anymore. You could mistake them for hot pink before the buds open, but . . .
. . . after they open, they're quite unmistakably red.
They seem to keep getting darker and darker with age. Soon after I took this picture, the petals fell off.
But here you can see them in their full glory, in context with the rest of the front sidewalk garden.
Probably my favorite new plant this spring has been one that I thought would hardly be new at all: sand-dune wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). I've grown sand-dune wallflowers from seed for the past couple of years, and in fact I'm still growing one from seed this year, in a pot in front of the front garden hose (along with some elegant clarkia that hasn't bloomed yet). The ones I've grown from seed have always been about eight inches tall, with one or two little clumps of lemon-yellow flowers, like this.
But this year I bought one sand-dune wallflower in a pot from Annie's Annuals, because I wanted one that was more orange rather than yellow. On a camping trip a couple of years ago I had seen an orange-flowered one growing in the wild, considerably taller than my garden plants and with a larger flower cluster as well. Still, I didn't remotely suspect how much better the potted one would be than the ones I've been growing from seed. Instead of an eight-inch plant with one or two golf-ball sized yellow flower cluster, I got an eighteen-inch-plant with nine softball-sized orange flower cluster. Even the orange-flowered one I saw in the wild, which was about eighteen inches tall, had only a single flower cluster. This plant produced nine of them! I definitely want more of these.
There's something wonderful about orange and blue flower combinations. Blue is obviously rather wonderful by itself. Orange can be overdone, I think - I often see shopping malls with solid masses of nothing but fluorescent orange asters, and I don't care for that look at all. But occasional orange flowers scattered here and there among blue flowers are pretty much the best thing ever.
I have several other spots of orange in the front garden as well, although I have only one of each orange-blooming plant. There's a California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) plant in the top left and a Munro's globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) plant in the lower left.
I don't think the Munro's globemallow would have survived the winter if we hadn't had an unusually dry winter. It needs excellent drainage. I planted it in the sloping front yard that gets significantly better drainage than the back yard, but the plant's lower leaves still started turning yellower and yellower after each rainstorm, and some large branches dropped off it entirely. Still, the plant has survived and bloomed.
The plant is a bit spindly-legged, but I like it anyway.
What else is in the front garden? You can see a few tidy-tips (Layia platyglossa) in the lower right corner of the picture above. Here's a closeup of one of those. Like the baby blue eyes, the tidy tips have been less numerous this year than in past years, but we do still have a few of them scattered around.
Same story with this other native annual, bird's eye gilia (Gilia tricolor). But these are only just starting to bloom, so we may still get a full complement of them in another week or two.
As for perennials, I also have a Sonoma sage (Salvia sonomensis) in the front sidewalk garden. It's always one of the first plants to bloom each spring. Its flowers are too small to have much visual impact, but they're always welcome. The plant's bigger impact is olfactory. For whatever reason, I don't seem to have much sense of smell compared to most other people, but even for me, the scent of sage foliage is impossible to miss.
And of course, there are those California poppies that you already caught some glimpses of in the previous pictures.
Oh, and a tiny, prostrate California lilac shrub (Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter'). This plant is three years old and still no bigger than it was when I first planted it. But it does reliably produce a clump or two of tiny, electric blue flowers each spring.
Next to the front porch, we have the same combination blooming as we've had for the past few years: from left to right, yellow snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), island alum root (Heuchera maxima), and red bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus). The monkeyflower hasn't been very showy so far this year, but it may still get better.
And now we move on to the back yard. Let's start with a picture that's almost a month old now. This is how the back yard looked for March Bloom Day. It was the first part of the yard to bloom this spring, but for a long time, only the shrubs bloomed. The low-growing plants in the front yard were spectacular while the back yard had hardly a single tiny flower that wasn't on a shrub.
The golden currant (Ribes aureum) was sufficiently spectacular that it merits showing you pictures that are nearly a month old. It did bloom for significantly longer this year than last year, though - and last year it bloomed for significantly longer than it had the year before that. It just keeps getting better with each passing year. A month ago I told you that it was just starting to wind down. Now it's considerably more wound down, but even now it still has a few remaining flowers on it.
Even after it's well past its peak, it still makes a fantastic background for other plants. When the currant is out of focus, you can't tell that most of its remaining flowers are old and wilted-looking. In the foreground is the Western buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), just leafing out. I adore the way its new leaves start out red and slowly turn yellow before eventually turning green. I love the way the new red leaves look like little flames. And I'm particularly proud of the way I captured those new red leaves against the golden currant flowers in this picture.
Those new leaves have now reached the yellow stage. This is what the buttonbush looks like today. This plant has no fall color, by the way - it just drops all its leaves at once, overnight, while they're still green. Then it displays fall-like colors in the spring instead. Oh, and as you can see, it doesn't object to being underwater all winter, which is the main reason I'm growing it. There aren't many shrubs that could survive in that.
Anyway, the low-growing plants in the back yard are finally starting to bloom. You can see some of them blooming in the picture above. Here's a closer look at that same area, with rosillas (Helenium puberulum) and meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii) in bloom. Okay, so we did have one relatively low-growing plant blooming in the back yard all winter long - the rosilla never stops. Ever. Of course, it's not all that much to look at, and it has fifty gazillion babies that always sprout exactly where I don't want them. Still, the babies aren't hard to pull out and transplant to better spots, and this incredibly flood-prone garden of mine is the kind of difficult gardening spot that really needs some prolific reproducers to help green the place up.
The meadowfoam was new to me last year, and I'm already incredibly fond of it. It's a fairly prolific reproducer in its own right, but the seedlings tend to stay very close to the parent plant, so I transplanted a lot of them around the yard to help the species spread faster. Last year I had more all-yellow meadowfoam flowers (a variant from the San Francisco Bay Area) than yellow-and-white meadowfoam flowers (the more common kind). I wished it were the other way around, because I decided I liked the yellow-and-white kind better. Based on where the seedlings sprouted this year, I sadly surmised that the vast majority of them were going to have solid yellow flowers. Now that they've actually started blooming, it looks like actually a slight majority of them have white edges. At first I wondered whether the San Francisco variant had been less successful at reproducing itself because it needed more coast-like weather.
Then I looked closer and realized that the two kinds had hybridized. I now have a whole delightful spectrum of meadowfoam variations! I can't get enough of this plant. I'd like an entire yard full of this stuff.
This ditch over here is one of the places I transplanted the meadowfoam seedlings to. The big green clump of foliage in the lower right, in front of Boston's front paws, is meadowfoam. It's actually blooming now, but it wasn't last week when I took this picture. The flowers here are goldfields (Lasthenia californica and/or Lasthenia glabrata), baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), and a California poppy. The grassy-looking stuff is a native volunteer annual, toad rush (Juncus bufonius). The grey shrub behind Boston's ear is Fremont's bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii), and the leafy green stuff in the upper right corner is a potato plant. We never get any potatoes from our potato plants, though, because Boston digs up the potatoes every week or so and eats half of them. I rebury the survivors, and Boston digs them up again the following week and eats some more. Eventually we will run out of potato plants. They've lasted surprisingly long, though, considering the relentless digging and eating that they're subjected to.
This is Ganymede interfering with Boston's effort to pose for another picture. There's a reason you don't see anywhere near as many pictures of Ganymede here as you see of Boston: he really doesn't understand how to pose for a picture. Boston is the only one who knows how to smile at the camera. (Also, you can see why I don't post pictures of our patio very often. The landlady had the patio pavers laid on bare dirt rather than cement, and as a result, the pavers are half-submerged into the mud and muck.)
Boston also knows how to smile away from the camera. She can always pull off a very professional modeling pose. Ganymede lacks this skill. (Also, Ganymede thinks outside is yucky. Every time I go out in the back yard, he spends the whole time trying endlessly to lead me back indoors.)
The little reddish-purple flowers to the left of Boston are red maids (Calandrinia ciliata), another native annual that reproduced itself from the plants I grew last year. Here's a closer view of them.
Also nearby is a native annual that I'm growing for the first time this year, from seeds I bought last fall. This is tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii). It's not particularly eye-catching, but I like having some little flowers around that you have to look closely to notice.
Over here is some more meadowfoam and some blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), and a little sprig (at the peak of the rock) of bird's eye gilia (Gilia tricolor). This blue-eyed grass is not a cultivar.
. . . Whereas this blue-eyed grass over here is a cultivar (Sisyrinchium bellum 'North Coast'). Its flowers are slightly bigger and a considerably deeper shade of purple than the species. The leaves and flowers are also held more upright, although that may be because the 'North Coast' plant is growing at the edge of the ditch while the species is growing on slightly higher ground.
This is the 'North Coast' cultivar again.
And what's this over here among the species blue-eyed grass? It's a Western toad (Bufo boreas), about the size of my fist.
And how did it get out here in plain sight, when it ought to stay better hidden among the plants so as not to attract the dogs' attention? Well, actually, I mistook it for a pile of very waterlogged dog poop and picked it up with the pooper-scooper. It disembarked from that device in midair and landed here, making its identity clear to me. The dogs didn't seem to notice, and I'm pretty sure that, despite its unwanted adventure, it's still hanging around in the yard somewhere - I've heard toad noises from under the golden currant while I've been out there. Just don't tell it what I mistook it for.
That's the end of my blooms for this month. I'm sure I'll have some new ones in May!