Tag Archives: summer


Summer heat finally arrived–in September. Two hours north, Los Angeles hit 113 degrees on Monday, a degree hotter than Death Valley. At least one San Diego County town hit 109 on Monday, though down here near the coast it didn’t get much more than the low 90s. Still, really hot by what we’re used to.

Now that it’s turned hot I feel like as punishment I need to write on the chalkboard two hundred times:

I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer.
I will not complain about it being a cold summer…

It was so hot that the contents of the snack bottle of vitamin Cs (aka chocolate chips) were turning into chocolate goo. John’s emergency response to stick them in the fridge averted disaster.

Over the weekend, knowing it was going to be a stretch of hot weather ahead, I tried to give a serious soak to the plants most susceptible to drying out. Anything in a pot got a good drink–a lesson I learned in August when we had two surprise days of hot summer summer weather. In August this Ceanothus lleucodermis that I’d carefully propagated from seed didn’t survive the hot spell to be planted this fall.

In addition to the potted plants, a small group that was new in August got an extra watering out of the weekly cycle. And the remaining zones of water-intensive plants and bogs got the extra soak.

Some plants didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat or dryness. This native bladderpod (Isomeris arborea) has been one of the most reliable garden plants, expanding and blooming like crazy in a spot where it has shaded roots. Another bladderpod in a more exposed location subsists on a similar amount of water, though it’s just one third the size of this plant.

The non-native Solanum pyracanthum is another plant that gets by with close to zero added water in a semi-sheltered spot near the first bladderpod. It has a much longer bloom season than my native nightshades, and it has the added bonus of a row of decorative orange spikes that decorate the center of each leaf.

A potted Stapelia gigantea also seemed to enjoy the hot weather. You can tell by the burned stems that this plant probably doesn’t get enough moisture. Still, it survives and blooms.

In my last post I mentioned a different stapelia species that stinks like carrion and is pollinated by flies. This S. gigantea has the same charming trait. The fifty pound potfull of stinky plant lives outside the window to my studio workstation. Like most people in the neighborhood we don’t bother with air conditioning, so working in my studio has been an…interesting olfactory experience. At least the stink is only really bad when you get close to the flower.

With heat often comes fire. Two recent evenings had extra-fiery sunsets. What looks like colorful sun-lit clouds in this photo is actually smoke from a 500-plus acre fire in Mexico that made it over the border. Fortunately the fire got extinguished and didn’t develop into another of the monster conflagrations we’ve experienced twice in the last seven years.

The rest of the West Coast seems to be sharing this same heatwave. The worst seems over, but there are probably more warm days ahead. So stay cool as possible–and remember to hydrate.

our big food swap

Some folks in my office organized an event where we’d bring in our excess fruits and veggies and do a big exchange for some of the other things people brought to share.

My main time of having excess food in my garden is around March, when the grapefruit tree goes crazy. Now in the late throes of summer, the garden basically had herbs to share–I didn’t think the figs would make it intact in a tight backpack as I scootered to work. So here’s my little pile of offerings: rosemary, parsley, lemongrass and rose geranium. People weren’t convinced that rose geranium was edible, so I also brought a couple recipes. [ Here’s one of them. ]

I didn’t feel so bad that my figs didn’t make it in. Someone had three trees of green figs, all of them ripening at the same time.

We have another gardening artist in the building. He had some potted tomatoes and sweet peppers to share. I helped myself to one of the peppers, Doux Long d’Antibes, a long sweet pepper from up the coast from Cannes.

And here’s this glorious collection of hot peppers. I love my hot peppers, but being fairly coastal I have a hard time growing them. This gardener lives inland a few miles, so the little bit of extra warmth helped her get this great crop. So of course my haul included a few of these as well.

This was the first time that this food swap was tried at the office, and I’d definitely call it a success. You reach a point where even neighbors and family don’t want to see you headed their direction with a bag of fruit.

I’m hoping we can do this again, maybe in the late winter, when I’ll have kale and chard to spare, along with a tree full of amazing grapefruit…

summer at last

Summer finally arrived last week. A humid mass of high pressure from Mexico hopped the border fence and gave us some hot days and tropical-looking morning clouds that lit up brilliantly as the sun rose.

After almost four months with a total natural rainfall of .05 inches much of the garden has been heading into its defensive dormancy. But a few plants seem to be reveling in the arrival of some real summer heat. Top of the list is this California fuchsia, the ‘Route 66’ cultivar, which opened its flowers to coincide with the hot weather. Some Epilobium species and clones have fairly small, gray-colored leaves, but this is one of those where the leaves a smidge larger and greener, a bright contrast to the screaming orange flowers.

Desert marigold, Baileya multiradiata, has been blooming away with the help of a little additional water, but not much.

In the bed that gets some irrigation the gingers are the current stars of the show. Coinciding with the California fuchsia was this kahili ginger, Hedychium gardnerianum, a plant that I’ve been growing since my early teens, a hand-me-down plant from one of my mother’s gardening friends. Sitting in the back yard after sunset is a treat with this insanely fragrant ginger nearby.

Of course summer isn’t all about the flowers. The fig tree is hitting its peak fruit production this week. It’s the variety ‘Brown Turkey,’ which is supposed to do well with less heat than what most other varieties require. This has been one its best years ever for me. I’m trying to figure out what went right this year, and I’m thinking the success has something to do with water. This past winter and spring actually delivered a slightly-over normal rainfall that was spaced evenly throughout several months. Also, last year I applied some water-conserving woodchip mulch over the bed that contains the fig. And John’ has made a point of watering the zone around the fig every other week or so. I hope to be able to repeat the success next year, which according to the prognosticators could be a drier than average La Niña year.

The garden herbs are doing well. A sixpack of parsley several months back is turning out to be way more than two people who use parsley once or twice a week. At least it’s a pleasantly textured plant for the front of a border.

A sixpack of basil, however, hasn’t seemed to produce nearly enough. Maybe the basil will pick up with the warmer weather.

Surprisingly the tropical lemongrass plants (both the East- and West-Indian versions) haven’t been sulking and are overproducing just like the parsley.

Adding to the pile of edibles, our neighbor Olinda stopped by with her grandson. It was all she could do to carry this giant watermelon. John was impressed with its size and suggested I weigh it: 30.8 pounds.

It’s one of the with-seed varieties that stores these days don’t seem to stock much anymore. Stunning rind, don’t you think? One of the many things we’re losing in part because of big agra.

I was hoping to save the watermelon for a day or two, until we had room in the fridge, but I was a little clumsy photographing its cool rind in detail. Now I know what a melon dropped 3 feet off a table onto a brick patio does. It stays in one piece, but you have to deal with it right away.

High summer also means the best cantaloupes of the season. This is Scooter helping us out by finishing a couple of half-melons we had for breakfast. The melon came from the local hybrid grocery-farmer’s market.

And so our summer begins: a little too much melon and a garden peaking with fruit and herbs. Life is good.

colder than alaska

It’s been a cool summer so far, following on the heels of a sunny but cool spring. I’ve been watching the temperatures in the paper for Fairbanks, Alaska, and most days the official San Diego report has been cooler. In fact it’s been cooler than almost anywhere in the US except for maybe Anchorage in Alaska. Brr.

At my July 4th party I was talking to someone there with ties to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and his thoughts were that this is typical for an El Niño year. The phenomenon that the locals call “May gray” would be slow to get started (as was the case this year), and the dreaded subsequent phenomenon the we call “June gloom” would drag on longer than usual. All that seems to be happening.

The garden natives don’t seem to be worrying about the temperature as much as I’ve been. In fact the late-spring bloomers seem to be having a field day, extending their bloom, looking nice at a time of year when they don’t always. Black sage is often done by this time, but there are a few lingering flowering stems.

For stunning flowers, though, the black sage has passed the baton to Cleveland sage. Here’s the common and gorgeous cultivar ‘Winnifred Gilman.’

…and here’s Winnifred in closeup…

One of local live-forevers, Dudleya edulis, has had one of the more amazing years that I can remember. Here’s an 18-20 year old plant from above, all covered with flowers. In this photo it’s sprawling six feet across from one edge to the other.

The same dudleya, viewed from ground level as it cascades over a short little retaining wall.

The San Miguel Island buckwheat that I grew from seed two years ago, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, is finally hitting its stride, finally looking the photos I’ve seen in books. Maybe the cooler weather will keep it looking nice longer.

Among the many non-natives that call my garden their home, this is Clerodendrum ugandense, finally perking up after looking like a twig until late in May. I think it’s been a somewhat slow start for this plant this year, but it always waits until the weather warms to look like a plant you want to keep in the garden.

The common ornamental sage, Salvia ‘Hot Lips,’ is grown for its red and white bicolored blooms. I’ve heard that it blooms mostly with white flowers when weather turns cold. In the left photo these are the only two red and white flowers I could find on three plants. The rest of the flowers are white. In the depths of winter, however, this plant is often completely bicolored, so I’m not sure if there’s any truth to this color change rumor.

Some of the plants that I worry about the most are my American pitcher plants, these Sarracenia from the South, where the daily low temperatures these days are often running ten degrees above the San Diego daytime highs. Fortunately these plants seem to respond more to daylength than to temperature, and the plants look pretty good. Still, they might be taller by now where they originate.

Cool as the days may be, one thing told me for sure that I do not live remotely near Alaska. Monday night was the grand opening of the first giant bloom of this climbing cactus, probably Hylocereus undatus. Even if it’s probably been slow getting started this year, it’s probably the best proof that I’m overreacting. Hardy to not much below freezing, one hit of arctic cold and you’ll freeze this plant’s tuchas off.

At eight to ten inches across, the only shy thing about this plant is that it only opens as darkness approaches. People in cold climes covet being able to grow plants like this–or in fact many of our more tender California natives.

That’s definite proof, Dorothy. We don’t live in Alaska. It just might feel that way these cool summer days.

from spring into summer

The spring orgy of flowers is winding down. Some spring bulbs flashed for just a few days and were gone. But it didn’t really matter because they were replaced by something else interesting.

Summer’s flowers seem to come at a more measured pace. But for me it’s a different sort of pleasure, letting me focus on more subtle things like plant forms, leaf colors and textures.

Here’s some of what’s still blooming from spring, along with the beginnings of plants that will accompany me through the summer months.

The flowers above, left to right, top to bottom:

1: Blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella).
2: Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus–I have to look up the spelling of this species every time).
3: Deerweed (Lotus scoparius) You might confuse this California native for one of the invasive brooms. It’ll drop most of its leaves to survive the summer drought, but the delicate wands of branches stay attractive–at least to my eyes.
4. St. Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum)–a buckwheat from the California Channel Islands and coastal regions. This is a young plant, but its umbels are already huge–the largest in this photo is two feet across.
5. Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens)–another California buckwheat.
6. This is a Crinum that came with the house. It might be C. powellii.
7. Verbena bonariensis–a flower that’s exactly the same color as the verbena in the final picture in this post, though their plant and flower forms are totally different.
8. Clarkia williamsonii.
9. Same as 6.
10. Brodiaea species, one that I lost my records for–maybe B. elegans (anybody know this one?).
11. Butterfly bush (Clerodendrum myricoides ‘Ugandense’)–In the same family as mints and sages, this has square stems and a delicate scent to the leaves and stems. It enjoys water but doesn’t get much of it and still looks presentable.
12. Verbena lilacina, a tough species from the Isla de Cedros, off the coast of Baja. At first glance it looks like the lavender lantana many people around here grow, but the leaves are totally different. Here it’s planted alongside some succulents with red and blue-gray leaves.

Thanks again to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

the long brown season

When you spend your time in San Diego’s well-watered burbs it’s easy to forget that you’re living in the middle of a desert. The last significant rainfall in town occurred in February, and the unirrigated natural lands around town have long ago begun their transformation into the long brown season.

My recent little excursion to Los Peñasquitos Canyon, a local open-space preserve between San Diego and Del Mar, gave me a chance to see what the natural world is doing in these parts.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve trail

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve

Dried thistle

Not everything is brown, of course. Some plants are tapped into locations with residual moisture. Others have adapted to the climate and have the stamina to stay green year-round.

Here are a few of the plants still showing colors other than brown:

BuckwheatFlat-topped buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) a native plant.

Rosa californiaWild rose (Rosa californica) a native.

Invasive fennelFennel (Foeniculum vulgare) an exotic, invasive species. This is the culinary plant from the Mediterranean that has escaped into the wilds.

Poison oakPoison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) a native–one of the few plants that turns blazing red in the fall. Even now, it’s showing some of that red color.

Flowering thistleThistle in bloom. I’m not sure if this is native or not, but it’s not the hyper-nasty Russian thistle (the dried flowers of which are shown in the large photo above). [Correction/edit August 1: This is actually a teasel, not a thistle. Like the escaped fennel above, this too is a renegade exotic species. Pretty, though…]

It’s a condition of our consumer culture and times to want what we don’t have. Living in San Diego, most of the plant materials that people expect to find in their home gardens fall outside of the category of what occurs naturally or is well-suited to the area.

It’s always instructive to visit the natural preserves to see plants–even the nasty invasives–that are supremely well-designed to live in this climate. Some of the plants in these parks would do extremely well in gardens. But it’s hard letting go of plants that many of us associate with places we’ve lived in and even people we’ve known.

My own yard has several areas that I consider my guilty pleasure zones. I have pieces of a bromeliad and a kahili ginger that I was given in the 1970s, as well as the green rose from that I dug up from the house where I grew up in the Los Angeles area. And I’m a natural born collector who has a hard time saying no to interesting plants. These plants all require some water and tending beyond what nature brings.

But they’re counterbalanced by garden areas planted with drought-tolerant species, local and introduced, that receive almost no water and attention over the summer. As time goes on, I’ll be expanding those areas. Don’t expect me any time soon, however, to plant poison oak, as pretty and hardy as the plant is. I have my limits as to how much true nature I want in my garden…

celebrating summer–medieval-style

Ah summer, the season when the meadow blooms and the stag farts! Here are some sprightly words celebrating the season we’ve just begun. They’re the lyrics to a bouncy little ditty circa the year 1260 that most students going through music history courses will have have run across. If your Middle English is about as bad as mine, I’ve provided a translation.

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don’t you ever stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

You can sing it all by yourself, but it’s designed to be four-part round that you sing over a two-part ground. If you’re tired of “Row, row, row your boat” as the only round to sing at summer camp this might be just the ticket. Below is the music (click it to enlarge). And if you want to sing along, click here for an mp3 file [ source ].

notation to sumer is icumen in

Sumer is icumen in, transcribed from the ca. 1260 manuscript by Blahedo, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 license [ source ].

Warning: Once you listen to it a few times–and maybe even sing along–it gets to be one of those “It’s a Small World” earworm tunes that you’ll have a hard time getting rid of.

Find out more.
And if anyone’s reading this in the Southern hemisphere, here’s Ezra Pound’s winter parody. (I guess he wasn’t particularly fond of winter.)