I mean, it certainly doesn't look bad. There are definitely many more flowers blooming right now than there were over the winter. But the flowers that were late to the party last spring, like baby blue eyes, haven't shown up at all this year. And some of the flowers that were spectacular last year are almost completely absent this year. The most noticeable losses are the blue flax and the unusually colored California poppies. The poppies have probably just interbred back to their usual orange, so the disappearance of the unusually colored poppies is probably not related to the drought. But the drastic reduction in my blue flax population is almost certainly attributable to the drought.
Blue flax (Linum lewisii) cand California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are both short-lived perennials, meaning that some of them survive from one spring to the next, but a lot of them don't. To keep their populations up, they need to reseed. And the number-one thing I'm short of in my garden this spring is seedings. Of any sort at all. My weed problem is greatly reduced this year! But of all the seeds I bought and scattered last fall, that should have brought dozens of exciting new species to my yard this spring, I've seen only one plant of a new species sprout. And of the short-lived species I already had, that should have reseeded themselves last spring, virtually all the populations are reduced. Blue flax is among these. I have only a couple of blue flax plants left now, from what were several dozen of them last year. And the couple of plants I do have are so far opening only one or two flowers per day.
So let's start off this post with a discussion of seedings. Zooming out a bit from the photo above, here's that same single blue flax flower in context with Western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis). All my Western buttercups last year sprouted from seed. This year I seem to have an equal number of Western buttercups, and in all the same places, but I think they're all or mostly the same plants as last year; these often survive from one year to the next.
Like all tiny flowers that sit atop long, thin stems, Western buttercups are difficult to photograph. The camera has trouble focusing on them.
This next species is an annual, tidy-tips (Layia platyglossa). I have exactly one of these in the entire yard this year: this one. It's blooming in, of all places, a crack in my concrete patio. (What looks like soil around it is bird seed spilled from the bird feeder above it.) Maybe the concrete helps hold water in the soil? I don't know. Generally speaking, cracks in pavement are not considered ideal growing locations for any but the weediest of plants, but this is the only place where a tidy-tip has survived for me this year.
Here are some more annuals and short-lived, reseeding perennials. The clump of white flowers at the top left is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a perennial that has definitely reseeded itself fairly effectively this year, unlike most other species. On the right, the white flowers with lavender edges are bird's-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor), an annual that is decidedly less numerous here this year than last year. To the left of it are some farewell-to spring (Clarkia amoena) seedlings that haven't bloomed yet; this annual seems to be about as numerous as ever this year. Farther to the left is Douglas' meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), which has yellow petals with white edges, a similar color scheme to the tidy-tips in the picture above. These are prolific reseeders that don't appear to have suffered any this year. And if you look very closely, mixed in among the yellow-and-white Douglas' meadowfoam is a closely related species, white meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba), which is brand new to me this year.
Here is a closer look at the white meadowfoam. This single white meadowfoam seedling, so small that I didn't even notice it at the time I took the picture above, is the one and only seedling that has shown itself so far from the vast quantities of seeds I bought and scattered last fall of various native species that I hadn't grown before. You can see here that the leaves and stems of the white meadowfoam are covered with tiny hairs, whereas the Douglas' meadowfoam is hairless. I'm quite fond of furry plants, so the white meadowfoam is already well on its way to winning my heart.
Over in the food garden, the Douglas' meadowfoam has reseeded itself as prolifically as ever. This is somewhat surprising since meadowfoam is generally associated with wetlands; you might expect the drought to make its life difficult. But meadowfoam is a very tough little annual that competes readily with all sorts of terrible weeds, and it'll take more than a
Here are some slightly closer views.
And a very much closer view.
In past years I bought some of the Point Reyes variant of Douglas' meadowfoam, which is has slightly smaller flowers that are solid yellow, as if someone had trimmed off the white parts. The picture below is an obvious hybrid between the Point Reyes variant and the regular meadowfoam; the flowers are the larger size, and the tips of the petals are a paler yellow than the rest.
I noticed that the hybrid plant went to seed sooner than the regular meadowfoam. Below are its seeds: five round seeds from each five-petaled flower. They're edible and can be roasted for flavor. I tried one raw; it had a sharp, mustard-like taste, perhaps because this plant is distantly related to mustard. (It's not in the mustard family, but the meadowfoam family is closely related to the mustard family.) I didn't like it, but that's because I don't like mustard or anything spicy-hot, which this kind of was. Later I tried adding a few seeds to a dinner to roast them, because it seemed silly to roast just a few tiny seeds on their own, but they were so tiny that they got lost in the dinner and I never found them to find out what they tasted like after roasting.
Mixed in among the meadowfoam are a few clumps of chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
And also common oregano (Origanum vulgare). The chives are blooming now, with beautiful pinkish-purple flowers, but the oregano is just plain green leaves that you can see among the meadowfoam. I probably should remove the oregano, actually, before it grows much more; it's the sort of mint that will eventually take over the world if not carefully controlled, and I have rather more of it at this point than I can ever realistically eat.
Here's a final closeup of the chives, which are very popular with the European honeybees.
I planted a few other non-native bulbs this year - purely ornamental ones, unlike the chives. I planted a few grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), which are extremely tiny. This one is surrounded by sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), a non-native that I inherited from the previous owners of my house.
Below is what the grape hyacinths look like when they've gone to seed, which most of them have now.
I also planted a few dwarf irises (Iris reticulata) from a box of assorted colors. There was a yellow-and-white one . . .
A yellower-and-less-white one . . .
A lavender-and-white-and-some-yellow one . . .
And a royal purple one.
The details on an iris petal are amazing.
I also planted some native bulbs, the vast majority of which have languished unhappily, not actually dead but not looking very happy and not showing any sign of blooming. There are a few exceptions though, a few old standbys that bloom reliably for me every year. One of them is Hartweg's doll's lily (Odontostomum hartwegii).
Doll's lilies are named for the extreme tininess of their flowers; one of these flowers is about the size of a fingernail.
They're difficult to photograph, but here's one last effort. The petals always hang down from the flower; that's the way these flowers are shaped.
Below is a showier native bulb, blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum 'North Coast'). The 'North coast' cultivar has significantly larger flowers than the species, and the plant as a whole seems more vigorous. I like this cultivar very much.
Here's a closer shot.
That's the end of the bulbs. Let's pause now for some longer shots. Boston wants to pose for the camera.
The flowers that Boston is posing with are island coral bells (Heuchera maxima). They're native to the Channel Islands, off the Santa Barbara coast. Although this is neither the coast nor anywhere near Santa Barbara, island coral bells have been one of my more reliable shade plants. The other plant visible in the picture below is elk clover (Aralia californica), a plant in the ginseng family that is native to the foothills not far from here. It dies back to the ground every winter but re-emerges every spring. This is its third spring here - mine too! - and it has yet to bloom since I planted it, but I hope it'll get around to that some year soon.
Checker mallow (Sidalcea malviflora) is one of my favorite plants, probably partly just because it took me so long to figure out how to keep it alive that I'm now inordinately proud of myself for having finally mastered the art. (The trick is to put it somewhere where it will receive absolutely no water whatsoever during the summer.) Also I just tend to be quite fond of the entire mallow family. Plants in the mallow family tend to bloom for a long time, are essential to many butterflies, and are often pleasantly furry and pettable.
Plus, you can make marshmallows out of some of them. I recently learned that the leaves and flowers of this species are both edible. I tasted a flower petal, but it wasn't very good. And although my plant is a couple of years old, it's never grown big enough to produce all that many leaves, nor has it ever reproduced, so I don't really think it can spare any leaves for salad-making.
Below is a recently planted plant, a cultivar I've never grown before of a species I've tried to grow but didn't have much luck with. This is sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum ('Proliferum'). It's named for the color of its flowers, not for any propensity to grow in sulfur. It seems happy here so far.
I have monkeyflowers of various colors and species all over the yard. This one is the one that's blooming most prolifically right now: red bush monkeyflower (Mimulus puniceus).
A closely related one nearby is also beginning to bloom: sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus 'Point Molate').
I also have California lilacs of several kinds scattered around the yard, but only one of them has bloomed. This California lilac (Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter') is near the end of its bloom season.
The part of the yard I'm most excited about lately is the very narrow flowerbed I installed in the front yard last fall and planted with bulbs, seedlings, and a few transplants. Most of the transplanted plants were beardtongues. Not all the species have bloomed yet, but two have: foothill beardtongue (Penstemon heterophyllus 'Blue Springs') and desert beardtongue (Penstemon pseudospectabilis). The former is a local native that has blue flowers with a few pink tinges, and the latter is a California native (but not local) that has hot pink flowers. They combine beautifully! I think they'd look even better if the purple-flowered beardtongue (Penstemon 'Blackbird') I planted along with them would start blooming, but no such luck so far. The lavender-tinged dwarf irises are blooming along with them, though, and the white-flowered yarrow is beginning to bloom as well.
For a piece of dirt that was lawn last September, this is definitely a success.
Here's a closeup of the desert beardtongue flower buds.
I think it's now time to talk about poppies. It wouldn't be a California April if I didn't have a California poppy show. Look, California poppies! And the little blue spike behind them is more foothill beardtongue.
And more poppies! Along with the white flowers of non-native sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), the purple flowers of native blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum 'North Coast'), and the tiny yellow flowers of Western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis).
Here's another poppy! With sweet alyssum and Douglas' meadowfoam.
With that, I'll move on to fruits. My woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is in bloom and in fruit. Since this is the wild species, unmodified by any human-guided breeding programs, the fruits are extremely tiny. Personally, though, I think they taste better than the humongous fruits you find in grocery stores. It just takes a while to pick enough to get much of a snack out of them. Incidentally, if you ever need a very fast-growing groundcover that's happy in dry shade and needs no care at all, consider a native strawberry. This plant fills in any space I allow it into in no time at all.
My evergreen currant (Ribes viburnifolium) seems to be producing only one fruit this year, and this fruit is never going to get even as large as those native woodland strawberries are. This is probably not the type of currant you want to grow if you're looking for major fruit production. Golden currant is better for that purpose. When this currant ripens, though, I guess I'll find out how the flavor compares with golden currants. I've never eaten an evergreen currant before.
That's all my native fruits at the moment, but I also have non-native fruits. My orange tree produced a spectacular crop this past year, and some of last year's fruits are still clinging to the tree even through this year's bloom cycle.
The tiny green globe you see among the flowers is the beginning of a new orange fruit. At this size, though, most of them are just going to fall off without ripening.
The Gala apple tree (Malus domestica 'Gala') that I planted in the front yard a couple of years ago bloomed for the first time this year. Since apple trees need to cross-pollinate with other cultivars, I also planted a 'Jonagold' apple tree in the back yard. Unfortunately the two trees are a bit farther apart than would be entirely ideal for cross-pollination purposes, but hopefully it will suffice. Probably not this year, though. The 'Jonagold' tree bloomed for the past two years already but only bloomed very minimally this year, so I'm pretty sure I won't get any apples this year.
I didn't take any pictures of the 'Jonagold' tree this spring because the bloom was so minimal, so all these pictures are of the 'Gala' tree.
One tree I planted myself only about a year ago is already bearing fruit: my peach tree (Prunus persica 'Giant Babcock White'). This tree is barely knee-high and is trying to produce three peaches! Such an ambitious little plant.
Here's a plant I inherited from the previous homeowners: Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica). I've seen it asserted in some normally reliable sections of the Internet that flowering quinces produce no fruit and fruiting quinces don't flower. This is nonsense! First of all, no plant can produce fruit without first producing a flower, so let me assure you that the fruiting quinces do produce flowers. Second, although it's possible for plants to produce flowers but no fruit (and even to do so reliably, if they've been bred to be sterile), my plant is the flowering kind, and here it is with a fruit. It's produced several fruit this year, though I've yet to try eating any. The fruits are edible but said to be very sour; for this reason, they are generally boiled and made into jams by mixing with sweeter fruits to improve the flavor.
Here's another non-native fruit that's also primarily a decorative plant: roses!
This one (both above and below) is probably a peace rose (Rosa 'Peace').
I also have various other colors. These yellow ones are doing pretty well.
Continuing the "mostly decorative but also edible" theme, here's a non-native violet of some sort; the plant came with the house, and I haven't identified the species.
I don't think geraniums are edible, so I guess we're transitioning now to non-native plants that are purely decorative and not edible. This is a common garden geranium (Pelargonium × hortorum).
One more of the same plant.
Down here, among roses and poppies, is an oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).
Hydrangeas are non-native, water-loving plants, and although this oakleaf hydrangea doesn't seem to be suffering from the drought, my bigleaf hydrangeas are definitely suffering and don't seem to plan on blooming this year.
This vision of purple-and-white beauty is called a yesterday, today, and tomorrow tree (Brunsfelsia sp.) The flowers open dark purple and fade gradually to white over the next several days. The scent of these flowers is second only to the scent of orange blossoms in my personal catalog of the most delightful scents I've ever smelled from any plant.
As long as we're on the theme of non-native garden plants, let's borrow a viw of the neighbors' plants at the edge of my front yard. The green spheres here are my boxwood shrubs; everything else belongs to the neighbors.
And I've been trying to get this plant below identified for years. It's a subshrub, about knee high, that blooms every year in April, but it's blooming much less this year than in past years, presumably due to the drought. What is it?
I didn't photograph any birds at all this month, because the plants kept me so busy. I did photograph a few insects that I stumbled across while trying to photograph plants. Here's a katydid nymph on a yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus).
It noticed me photographing it and started seeking escape routes, apparently even contemplating leaping several feet to the ground. But it decided against this, and I left it alone soon after.
I also noticed some seven-spotted ladybugs (Coccinella septempunctata) on my yarrow. This is a European species that was imported to the United States to control aphid populations. People, we have our own native ladybugs! And they also like to eat plenty of aphids! There was really no need to go import a European species. But it's here now, and doesn't seem to be causing any major ecosystem disruptions. It does seem to enjoy sitting on yarrow flowerheads.
Here are a few final, parting views. Poppies! And through the poppies, you can see the hot pink hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) and the ornamental grass seedheads of locally native deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and non-native pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Also my pecan tree and, to the left of it along the back fence, the Japanese flowering quince.
This really does not look like April to me, though. It looks more like July. Which makes me worry about how bad things are going to look when it actually is July.
Also, in the picture above, do you see the unfortunate spot of bare dirt in the middle of the flowerbed? That's Boston's fault. She knows how picturesque she looks when framed by garden plants, and she's vain about it; she won't leave that spot alone. Oh well: I did get a good picture of her out of it.