If you look very, very closely at the top of the fence directly above Boston's head in the photo above, you may see a new addition to the garden this month. I added a birdhouse in the pecan tree. I have another birdhouse to add somewhere also, but the other one needs a bit of painting before I hang it. I'm planning to paint it at the same time I paint a lot of other things, which I hope will be soon, but it probably shouldn't be quite yet because if I were to get even one drop of paint on my extremely fragile irradiated skin, well, scrubbing it off would not be a good option.
Now for the actual plants. Where shall I start? Boston posed for quite a few of my pictures this month. Other pictures she just walked into, oblivious of the camera. This picture was just going to be about how nicely the color of the blue bench I painted last fall matches the color of the blue flax (Linum lewisii) that is one of my favorite plants, but now it's also about how nice blue flax looks with Boston's red hair. And also, of course, with the similarly colored California poppies (Eschscholzia californica).
The California poppies have shown up in many different colors this year. I scattered a multicolored seed mix in Fall 2012, but I've heard that the multiple colors tend to hybridize and return to orange within very few generations, so I wasn't sure whether the multiple colors would return this year. They did. There are several distinct shades of orange on different plants in this picture as well as one clearly red plant in the foreground here and one clearly pale yellow plant in another part of the yard.
Everything you can see in these pictures (the one below and all the ones I've shown you so far), except the cement patio and the extremely narrow strip of dirt along the back fence in the distance, was lawn when I moved in. I installed the flower bed in the foreground,just out to where the cement patio ends, in Fall 2012, immediately after moving in. In Summer/Fall 2013 I extended it along the rest of the fenceline and created the large bed under the pecan tree. I think the bed under the pecan tree will remain mostly mulch (provided by the pecan), both because the pecan tree is hostile to smaller plants and because I don't want to have to look through a lot of tall plants to pick up fallen pecans from October through December, but I do want to find just a few additional plants that are willing to grow there, especially for along the fenceline. It's a tough spot to grow anything.
In addition to hostility from the pecan tree, my plants have to contend with some hostility from Boston. She's been particularly destructive this month. In fact, both my mammalian pets have been particularly destructive this month, in their own separate ways, and probably for the same reason - they're fed up with me leaving the house for two and a half to three hours every weekday for radiation treatment, leaving them all alone and bored out of their minds. Well, I'm fed up with it too! Only a little over a week left to go, though!
My cat, Stardust, has not done any harm to the garden since she's an indoor-only cat. But she's been pushing objects off shelves and countertops with a vengeance and has thereby managed to crack and destroy the plastic caps of two different bottles of cancer-related skin treatments. Boston, in the meantime, has been digging up plants. She doesn't dig just for the sake of digging; she digs to create beds that she sits in or sleeps in. She's also rather selective about which plants she digs up; in six years of native plant gardening, I've never known her to uproot any locally native plant. I generally assume this is because local natives develop strong roots more quickly and are thus not so amenable to being yanked out of the ground by her, but who knows - maybe she's developed more of a sense of ecology than I give her credit for. Whatever the case, the annoying thing is that sometimes she does dig up plants that I like, plants that I planted myself, and even plants that are native to other parts of California. This month she dug up my bush anemone (Carpenteria californica) and one of my island alum roots (Heuchera maxima), and I didn't find either of them until it was too late to save their lives. Both plants are native to California, but not to as far north as here.
Here you see Boston smiling at me through another of my island alum roots. This one is significantly bigger and better established than the one she dug up, so I don't think she's likely to kill this one. At least, I sure hope she's not. I try to protect all my small and recently planted plants by arranging large rocks around them, but they have to be pretty seriously large rocks or else Boston will just pick up the rocks and move them. Right now I don't seem to have nearly as many large rocks as I need. I'd go on a rock-hunting field trip, if only I had any free time whatsoever.
At least she's gentle with the locally native plants! Here she is wedging herself delicately between some globe gilia (Gilia capitata) seedlings. If they weren't locally native, I can assure you that at best, she'd have plopped herself down right smack on top of them. More likely, she'd have yanked them out by the roots and then plopped herself down right smack on top of where they used to be. Well, I suppose it's good for me to have a dog who's a native plant purist around to reinforce ecological correctness.
Perhaps this is a good place to transition to showing you the plants I'm most excited about this month, the ones that are thriving under my care for the very first time, in some cases after many failures on past attempts. Checker mallow (Sidalcea malviflora) is one species that I've failed with repeatedly in the past. Last spring I learned that it can't tolerate any moisture whatsoever during the summer, so I planted it in a pot with some native bulbs that have similar needs (and some California poppies because there isn't any spot that doesn't need some California poppies) and kept the pot out of reach of the sprinklers. It worked! This is the first time that checker mallow has ever survived the summer for me and bloomed a second year.
The flower buds open from the bottom to the top of the stem. It's been blooming for a couple of weeks now, on several different stems much like this one.
This is the checker mallow in context, in the ceramic pot on the patio with my summer-dry native bulbs and corms. This is the same pot where the native glassy onion bloomed last month, and there'll be other bulbs and corms blooming here soon.
Blue witch (Solanum umbelliferum) is another plant I've killed repeatedly in the past. This is the first time it's survived to bloom a second time, a year after I planted it. I didn't gain any specific new insights into how to grow this one, but I already knew that it needs partial shade, and now that I have a much bigger yard than I used to, I searched for the absolute most perfectly moderate combination of sun and shade on my entire 0.29 acres and reserved it for the blue witch. And the blue witch appreciated my efforts! I only wish I'd managed to take more pictures of it. I didn't even get a picture with the flowers open! I saw it just once with one flower open, but I thought I could wait and take a picture a few days later, when there might be a second flower open. Then we had a big rainstrom, and when I looked a few days later, the flowers were all gone.
Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) is a plant I almost didn't buy at all, because I was so unsure about whether I'd be able to grow it in the heat of the Sacramento Valley. But I decided it might do all right among the ferns on the north side of my house, so I tried it for the very first time this year . . . and it's doing fine so far! It's been in the ground since early last fall and is now blooming for the first time.
It's named, of course, for the shape and color of its flowers.
A less showy species that is also now blooming for the first time for me is mountain meadow rue (Thalictrum fendleri). I'm excited about this plant not only because it's blooming for the first time but also because it's blooming in a particularly hard-to-fill spot: under the pecan tree, where many plants get poisoned by juglone from the pecan roots or simply smothered to death by the vast quantity of leaves the pecan tree drops in the fall and winter. I researched meadow rue and found no indication of juglone sensitivity, so I tried it. It lived! It survived the winter! And now it's blooming.
Meadow rue is a member of the buttercup family. I would never have guessed by looking at the flowers. Once you know they're related, though, you can kind of see some resemblances.
Here (with a hummingbird sage that hasn't bloomed yet) is a Western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis). You can kind of see a resemblance between its leaves and the leaves of the meadow rue, and the five petals of the Western buttercup resemble the five green sepals of the meadow rue.
Here is a closeup of a Western buttercup flower. You can sort of see a resemblance here between the dangling purplish stamens of the meadow rue and the dangling yellow stamens of the buttercup.
Here's another Western buttercup, this time with a California poppy. I scattered seeds of Western buttercup last fall, and now I have a handful of the plants in bloom. The California buttercup (Ranunculus californica), which I've grown in the past, has more petals and is generally prettier, but the Western buttercup is okay too. I saw a lot of Western buttercups in the wild last Sunday in the Sutter Buttes.
Continuing with plants that have never bloomed for me before . . . one of my California lilacs (Ceanothus 'Concha') is blooming for the first time. This is a cultivar I wanted to try for a long time, but I didn't have any space for it until I bought a house. Actually it still may end up a little cramped in the space where I've put it now, but we'll see. It looks gorgeous surrounded by pink roses!
I was impressed by how deep a blue the flowers are. The other California lilac cultivar that I've grown before has somewhat paler flowers.
That other California lilac (Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter') is in the back yard, in the brand-new bed that I cleared under the 60-year-old magnolia tree. Clearing a new bed under a 60-year-old magnolia tree is very much not recommended, because magnolia roots are very unlike most tree roots and are extremely sensitive to digging. However, I went about it extremely carefully. The lawn was shallowly rooted because of the shade, so I just pulled it by hand, one handful at a time, occasionally using a hand trowel for leverage on particularly stubborn roots but basically never putting the trowel any deeper than half an inch into the soil. I knew I wasn't getting all the roots out, but rather than digging deeper, I just waited for the grass to resprout from the roots and pulled it all over again, until eventually I got all of it. Then I planted almost all the new plants from seed) to continue avoiding any digging. This California lilac was an exception, though; I planted it from a four-inch pot, though I reduced its rootball to two inches before planting, to minimize digging. The tree seems happy! And the plants under it seem happy too. California lilac and magnolia are an odd combination since the magnolia needs a lot of water and the California lilac needs to avoid water, but my theory in combining them is that the magnolia will tend to consume all the water and leave the soil dry for the California lilac. We'll see how that works out. If it doesn't, well, I'll lose one California lilac. Worse things have happened. So far, so good.
This is a closeup of the 'Joyce Coulter' California lilac. I had one of these for several years at my old duplex (I actually managed to find a dry spot for it!) and it bloomed year after year, but it never grew any larger. I'm hoping this one will actually grow. It's supposed to stay fairly prostrate, but it's not supposed to remain just a few little twigs.
And another species that is blooming for the very first time for me . . . I was very surprised to see apple blossoms this spring! I planted two apple trees a year ago and didn't expect either of the to bloom yet. The 'Gala' apple tree didn't, but the 'Jonagold' apple tree did. These are the apple blossom buds (Malus domestica 'Jonagold').
We had a huge rainstorm before the buds even finished opening, so the flowers looked a bit bedraggled from the start.
In the background here you can see that the fences are soaked.
But I had apple blossoms! They're all gone now, but maybe next year both apple trees will bloom and I'll get actual cross-pollination and fruit!
Least showy of all . . . purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra) is blooming for the first time since when I first planted it, a year ago. This is the California state grass. Boston tells me it's delicious. (Of course, Boston thinks practically anything organic is delicious.)
What shall I show you next? I suppose I'll give you a proper tour, starting in the front yard. Here is my house! That neatly mown lawn takes a lot of work. This summer I may dig out the portion of lawn between the cement path and the house. Already since I moved in (late July 2012) I've removed four huge overgrown foundation shrubs that were wedged into the brick raised beds along the house and replanted with much smaller plants. And I added the blue pot next to the front door with an island alum root (Heuchera maxima) in it, and another blue pot that you can't really see here.
. . . But you can see it here a bit, if you look closely. There's a square blue pot at the far end of the brick raised bed, in addition to the round blue pot in the foreground.
Three of the four hugely overgrown foundation shrubs were in this brick raised bed over here, to the left of the front door. Now it just contains several native mints, a native strawberry, and California poppies.
This isn't really a great place to grow poppies, under the eaves of the house. They look great while they last, but they get more shade and more water than they really want, so they mildew rather quickly. Eventually I'll learn my lesson and stop letting them grow here. The mints and the strawberry are filling up the space well enough by themselves.
What else can I show you in front yard? Over by the garage, a blue-eyed grass cultivar (Sisyrinchium bellum 'North Coast') is blooming its heart out and spilling onto the lawn. It makes lawnmowing slightly complicated, but for a flower show like this, who cares?
Here's a closeup. This is a great cultivar, noticeably more vigorous and larger-flowered than the species.
On the far south end of the yard, the unidentified white-flowering shrub that I'm rather in love with is blooming, as are the roses. They're all rather nicely set off against the low brick wall at the edge of my yard and the slightly taller, undulating brick wall surrounding my across-the-street neighbor's house. (Yes, there's a house behind there. A very large house surrounded by an impentrable fortress of plant foliage, featuring tall trees where turkey vultures roost all day long, all year round. I do appreciate getting to watch the turkey vultures from my home office window all day.)
One of my ex-future-sisters-in-law identified some of the front yard roses for me last spring. This appears to be Rosa 'Peace.'
Also on the south side of the front yard, the Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora) has started blooming. Its buds look like lollipops.
And when they open, the flowers look like roses.
On the north side of the front yard, the calla lilies (Zanteseschia aethiopica) that came with the house are in bloom.
So are the violets that came with the house.
And my foothill beardtongue (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs') has just begun to bloom in the past few days.
Also on the north side of the front yard, I planted a peach tree (Prunus persica 'Giant Babcock White') this month.
In the back yard I planted a pomegranate tree (Punica granatum 'Wonderful') this month. Boston posed with it immediately after I put it in the ground.
The back yard has been mostly about California poppies this month. They've been spectacular.
Them and the blue flax, of course. Here's blue flax with Douglas' meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii).
One California poppy plant in particular has been stealing the show, and I really didn't expect much of that plant when I first noticed it. I first noticed it because it was producing mutant flower buds, with leaves growing out of the bud. The petals in these buds were unusually red, but they were also unusually short, probably because of the way the buds had mutated into leaves.
Soon enough, though, the plant started producing properly formed flowers. It's been going strong ever since.
Occasionally the buds are still a bit mutated, but the petals are now properly formed.
Usually in past years I've had far more luck with pale yellow poppies than with red, but this year the red poppy has been much more vigorous than my pale yellow ones. I think it must be an issue of water: this has been a much drier year than most, and the red poppies seem to prefer drier weather than the pale yellow ones.
In fact, my only pale yellow poppy plant this year is right next to the water faucet.
It's a tiny, scrawny thing that rarely produces more than one flower at a time.
And then of course there are the ubiquitous orange poppies. Can't have too many of those! Here they are with blue flax (Linum lewisii), deergrass (Muehlenbergia rigens), Clarkia unguiculata (mountain garland). And if you look very closely, there's also my prized checker mallow (Sidalcea malviflora) in the pot, as well as meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii) and bird's eye gilyflower (Gilia tricolor), both in the very foreground near the blue flax. (And in the background, Boston!)
Here are California poppies with more mountain garland and meadowfloam, as well as blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum 'North Coast') and sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima).
The sweet alyssum is a non-native that came with the house. It reseeds itself in various locations, but not in huge quantities. It just pops up here and there, and I'm okay with that. (So far, even Boston appears to be okay with that!)
Same plants, one more time.
Both of my clarkia species have been ramping up. The mountain garland (Clarkia unguiculata) started first, but in the past week, the farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) has joined in. They're pretty impressive already, but to judge from all the clarkia plants in my yard that haven't bloomed yet, there's still an even more spectacular show of clarkia yet to come. The year 2014 will be remembered as the Year of Clarkia. I'm not sure whether they really love drought or whether it's just that this is the first year I've had enough flower bed space cleared for them to be able to plant quite so many.
The mountain garland blooms all up and down its stem, while the farewell-to-spring blooms in a single cluster at the top of its stem. This is the farewell-to-spring.
And another farewell-to-spring. (I'm not ready to say farewell to it yet, though!)
From a distance, the mountain garlands are the ones really stealing the show. Them and the poppies.
Well, and Boston. Boston steals the show all year round.
Along the back fence, poppies and farewell-to-spring flowers grown from seed are interspersed with the shrubs that came with the house, mainly roses and an oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).
The oakleaf hydrangea has not really recovered from being hacked back almost to the ground by Jessica and Michael in Summer 2012 when they built the fence. It ought not to be so flat on its face as it is.
Well, it's still making plenty of flowers, at least.
Here it is from the other side. The plant in the middle of the lawn here is toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia). If it takes off, I might eventually expand the back fence bed to include it. Depends on how long I continue to own this house. I can keep it if I want to, and if I sell it too quickly I'll lose money from the administrative costs of buying and selling, so I do want to keep it for at least a year or two longer. Ultimately, though, it's ridiculously huge for just one person - it's more than 2,000 square feet! - and it's not very convenient to have to pay to heat and air-condition 2,000 square feet when there are multiple entire rooms that I have absolutely no need for anymore.
Mostly, though, the back fence is full of roses. Yellow roses . . .
Red roses . . .
Pink-and-yellow roses . . .
Miniature pink roses . . .
. . . And also white roses. But I didn't get any good pictures of the white ones. Maybe next month!
We've been working our way toward the south end of the back yard, which smells fantastic this month. Why does it smell fantastic? Because the orange tree (Citrus × sinensis) is in bloom. Here are the buds.
And here are the flowers.
And here are the bees all over the flowers. You can hear this tree buzzing from yards away. The bees are there all day long. After the sun sets, most of the bees leave, but you can still find a few of them there in a stupor, pollen-drunk. Also there are large moths that visit the orange blossoms after dark. I haven't gotten a good enough look at the moths to be able to identify them, though.
In the corner of the yard are some yellow irises that came with the house.
These are humongous irises. It always surprises me to find that some irises are taller than I am.
Over in the side yard, the food garden is buzzing with just as many bees as the orange tree, and most of the bees are not visiting the food plants. The food garden has been transformed into a wildflower meadow for this month, just as it was in April of last year. I didn't even plant any wildflowers here this year! They just reseeded from last year, when I tossed some seeds here as a cover crop because I'd just finished digging out the Bermuda grass lawn and didn't have time to plant much else to hold the territory. Well, they do make a beautiful cover crop. Food plants can share their space during April! In May most of this will be gone.
There's supposed to be a stepping-stone path right down the middle of the food garden, edged on both sides with wood, but it's been so overrun with meadowfoam and bird's eye gilyflower that you can hardly see any of it anymore. And you certainly can't walk on it - remember, these wildflowers are covered with bees!
Meadowfoam and bird's eye gilyflower and an occasional mountain garland (the pink spot in the upper left).
There are also a few native volunteer willowherbs that have seeded themselves into the middle of the wildflower meadow and been allowed to stay.
Mostly, though, it's just meadowfoam and gilyflower.
I especially like the occasional darker-colored bird's eye gilyflowers.
But the regular pale ones are all right by me too.
Sometimes I find a mutant meadowfoam flower as well, without any white on it. There's a form of Douglas meadowfoam at Point Reyes in which all the flowers are solid yellow, and I used to grow that at the duplex. I haven't grown it here though, and these solid yellow flowers are appearing on the same plants on which other flowers have white edges.
In case you were wondering, there are some actual food plants in the food garden. Most of them are blooming, though, which is not generally desired in food plants. Here are the chives (Allium schoenoprasum), budding for the first time.
And with the buds beginning to open . . .
And bursting into bloom!
I like the chives flowers. And doesn't the meadowfoam make a great background for them?
There are also carrot plants (Daucus carota) in bloom, and there are some leeks (Allium porrum 'Bandit') among them that will bloom soon as well.
Here's a food plant that isn't in bloom! It's Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare), grown from seed.
That pretty much completes our tour of the yard, except that I skipped over a few plants on the back patio. Here's my only tidy-tip plant (Layia platyglossa) this year. It's actually growing in a crack in the cement of the patio.
A few baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) finally showed up, very late.
And one baby black eye (Nemophila menziesii 'Penny Black'). I had one of these in a pot on the patio last year, and this year I got a seedling . . . but in a different pot! I'm not sure how it migrated from one pot to another. It didn't come back in the original pot.
The bee plant (Scrophularia californica) that I showed you last month is still going strong next to the patio.
The hens-and-chicks (Echeveria glauca) that came with the house are blooming on the patio this month.
And a common garden geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum) that came with the house is blooming next to the water faucet . . .though I'm not sure how much longer it'll survive, because Boston has been digging beds for herself right in the middle of it nearly daily.
And now, I'd really appreciate it if someone could please identify the white-flowering shrub in my front yard that I'm half in love with. (And if you're acquainted with it, could you ask it if I can have its phone number?)
This is what the flowers look like up close. The flowers are very reminiscent of azalea flowers, but the leaves don't look like any azalea leaves that I know of. The flowers also resemble snowbell flowers, but again the plant as a whole doesn't match.
Let me know if you can set me up with it. I've been trying to find out its name for a year and a half already, and it still hasn't even introduced itself. Should I just give up already?
Well, I'll be over here in the hammock, in case you hear anything.