Tag Archives: in bloom

february bloom day

I’ve just returned from a week away and haven’t had a chance to inventory everything that’s blooming this month. Besides, you’ve seen a lot of it already. Here are a few snapshots from today of what’s new or what’s changed.

Carpenteria california was looking great for the last two months. Now, the petals are all dropping, and this is as close to anything resembling a flower left on the plant.

I keep thinking the narcissus are finished blooming, but I found this yellow one blooming beneath the jade plant. Bulbs--you gotta love how they're these little surprise that pop up where you forgot you planted them...

This verbena lilacena was blooming last month, but it's looking even better now.

Here's the pale Paseo Rancho clone of the previous verbena.

Stinging lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus. No, the photo isn't upside down. For some reason the plant is. It started growing up, and then did a U-turn and headed for the ground like an errant missile. I somehow suspect gophers had something to do with it.

Here's an upright spike of the previous lupine...

Spharulcea ambigua, desert mallow, starting to bloom.

Looking very much like the previous mallow, this is S. munroana. For some reason this species is supposed to be a better garden plant than the previous speceis. In my gardne the plants are virtually identical, and if anything the basic desert mallow does better for me.

A seedling of a Mimulus aurantiacus hybrid. Its color is definitely lighter than the scarlet ones found locally.

Ranunculus californicus

Bulbinella frutescens(?)--Edit, February 25: Actually, according to Oscar Clarke, it's Bulbine bulbosa. Thanks for the assistance with the ID!

Euphorbia lambii

Blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum

Rose-scented geranium (pelargonium)

Among the edibles in bloom, this is rhubarb. This is my first attempt at growing this plant that supposedly doesn't like anything warmer than Zone 8. I'm not sure that I really like rhubarb, but I was curious to see how it would do, particularly since my local trusty nursery was selling it.

Flowers on another plant--apricot--that likes colder climates than mine. Unlike rhubarb, I know that I love apricots, but I really can't grow them well. This year, maybe because November was so insanely cold, the tree so far has a few dozen flowers on it. Still, I won't count my apricots until they're picked.

Astragalus nuttallii starting to come into its own. Some species are called locoweed, and not much more than two pounds is supposedly enough to kill an average cow. Don't think less of me when I tell you that one of the reasons I planted this species was to see if it might help me control the gophers. I can't say it's done anything to reduce their numbers.

Not everything is peaking, of course. Here's chalk dudleya in bud. Check back in a month or two to see it in bloom.

Thanks as usual to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this fun garden blogger meme. Take a look [ here ] at what else is blooming in other gardens around the country, around the world.

My prediction: a lot of the colder-climate gardeners will be posting on the Valentine’s Day flowers they gave or received. I hope you all had a god one. Middle age has struck and I don’t look so hot in my Cupid outfit anymore. You’ll have to settle for flowers delivered this way…

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.

gbbd: the garden and beyond



It’s spring, all right. The garden continues to bloom away manically, but the outdoor places around town have been no slouch, either, when it comes to flowers.

This Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens, features a gallery of some blooms from the garden mixed in with blooms from Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego.

In the top photo from Mission Trails you can see that the yellow-flowered deerweed, Lotus scoparius, has colonized many of the sunny areas that burned four and a half years ago. As the landscape recovers, other plants will come in and stake their claims. The second image from near the top of Fortuna Peak shows that other areas are also recovering from the fires, though slower than farther downslope.

You can hover over each image below for its name, or click it to see a larger photo. While you can probably tell what’s a wild plant and what’s in the garden, there’s an answer key at the end if you’re into quizzing yourself. (A few of thee are tricky in that they’re local native plants that have been incorporated into the garden.)

Wild, garden, garden;
garden, wild, wild;
wild, garden wild;
garden, garden, garden;
garden, wild, garden;
wild, garden, wild;
wild, wild, wild.

balboa park's desert garden

January can be an amazing month for succulents and other desert plants. Many aloes and agaves explode into bloom, and plants with ephemeral foliage are green with leaves in ways you don’t often see them.

balboa-park-succulent-bloom-overviewSan Diego’s Balboa Park houses one of the prime local collection of cacti, succulents and other desert dwellers from around the world. The Desert Garden, the larger of its two succulent gardens, was established in 1976, but many of the plants are senior citizens much older than the age of the garden.



Aloes star in its January landscape, with red and orange torches of flowers that double as hummingbird magnets.


And shown here, lurking in the shadows, is one of the local hummingbirds, staking its territory.



Among the big, mature specimens are several dragon trees, Dracaena draco. In this first photo, on the near trunk, you can see a reddish patch where the plant’s red sap has dried. When cut, these plants ooze a fluid that in some European legends was purported to be dragon’s blood, hence the plant’s name (draco = dragon).



This is a public garden, and so it’s subject to funding glitches and battles over civic priorities. I’d consider the garden to be in great condition considering those limitations.

One thing I would have loved to have seen, though, would be more plant labels. I encountered so many interesting species, but very few of them had name tags. I have this thing about needing to know the name of a plant–Call me compulsive. But the lack of labels drove me crazy. I realize, however, that tags don’t come cheap. And in a wide-open public garden, labels can walk away with pieces of succulents in the hands of evil plant addicts.


One of the plants that was labeled was this Natal Bottlebrush, Greyia sutherlandii. A bit scrappy-looking as a plant, but what great flowers!

Also labeled was the Madagascar ocotillo, Alluaudia procera. I loved the spiral patterning of its spines.

Another problem with this being a public garden is that there are quite a few specimens where people’s temptations to carve their initials in the plant life got the better of them. This euphorbia was scarred many times over. But that wasn’t going to stop it from blooming.



After visiting the garden I was surprised by how many shots I’d racked up in the camera. And for some reason, the majority of them were verticals. Is there something about succulents–particularly the upright-growing kinds that mimic the way a human stands–that scream out for photographing them in an upright orientation?


Some yuccas, I think, with spent bloom stems.


Boojum trees, Fouquieria columnaris, native to Baja California. This plant is in the same genus as the California desert’s spectacular ocotillo, which interestingly isn’t related to the Madascar ocotillo, above.


Aloes and kalanchoes in bloom.

balboa-park-succulent-looking-towards-florida-canyonThe main garden is a flat, easy stroll over wide decomposed granite pathways. As part of a recent expansion, the garden now also includes this switchback down into Florida Canyon, also part of Balboa Park. The plants along the descent are still young, but should look spectacular in a decade or so.

Not everyone in the world loves cactus and succulents. They might point to the defensive spines many of the plants have, and they might say the sculptural shapes of the plants don’t look soft and cozy like leafy shrubs or fragrant roses. balboa-park-succulent-spiny-rosesNext to the Desert Garden is Balboa Park’s rose garden. During springtime, thirty seconds of walking would take you from the world of cactus and succulents to a garden manic with flowers and heavy with the aroma of roses. But on this bright January day, the adjacent roses were pruned down to naked stems and piercing thorns. It was the cactus and succulents that looked warm and welcoming.

The Desert Garden is located across Park Boulevard from the Natural History Museum on Balboa Park’s museum row. The garden has no walls, no entry fee, and is open 24/7, 365 days of the year.

If the 2.5 acres of the Desert Garden isn’t enough of a cactus and succulent fix, cross Park Boulevard and take a stroll over to the Balboa Park Club, maybe ten minutes on foot, and take in the parks original 1935 cactus garden, which, according to the park’s website, was established “under the direction of [San Diego gardening legend] Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.” There you’ll find “some of the largest cactus and succulent specimens in the Park,” along with a nice collection of proteas.

my new year's plant

If there’s a plant that says New Year’s Day to me, it’s the common jade plant, Crassula ovata. The reason why is a little embarrassing, and I’m trusting you not to tell anyone else.

Growing up, my family would spend the morning of New Year’s Day gathered around the television setting, watching the Rose Parade. Overtaken by misguided jags of inspiration, I’d make my own little parade floats out of little cardboard boxes and whatever flowers were available.


My family lived in the same valley as Pasadena, though inland a few miles. The two locations essentially shared the same climate profile, something around Zone 9B. Don’t believe the propaganda about the Pasadena area having gargantuan fields of roses blooming everywhere in January. Yes, you’ll find roses, but not in the same number as other flowers.

Instead, at my parents’, the plant that was dependably covered with flowers on New Year’s was the jade plant. They had a couple plants in the back yard that were about as tall as I was, and they supplied more than enough little starry white flowers to completely cover my artistic creations.


Now, all grown up, I have a jade in the front yard. This year, with the bizarrely warm fall we had, the plant was confused and started blooming in November. Here’s how it looked yesterday. Not totally covered in flowers, but with plenty of flowers to go around–unless someone needs to build a major float.

So, with that photo, let me wish you a happy New Year’s! May 2009 bring you piles of flowers and interesting plants and good times with people who care deeply for you!

naked ladies and tarts

Plum tart
Plum tart

Early last week, while I was working, John had a chance to go up to Northridge and visit his aunt for a few days. As part of the long weekend he was able to go to the aunt’s sister’s house and raid her plum tree. “You couldn’t tell I touched it,” John said, referring to the number of fruits the tree still had on it. He came home with maybe five or six pounds of them.

When you have a small crop of anything you savor every single fruit. But with this many I could splurge, and breakfast Sunday included a plum tart. Photographing something purple-black against a white background turned out to be a little too much contrast to make the picture look that appetizing. But hot out of the oven it wasn’t bad. (I must admit, though, that John might be getting tired of this blogging thing, with me going, “Wait a minute. We need a picture before we eat it…” I can just see the next tell-all book to hit it big: I married a blogger…)

Lycoris squamingera on bare stem
Lycoris squamingera on bare stem

Outside, things were blooming. The first of the month brought this big burst of Lycoris squamigera Amaryllis belladonna, which along with a passel of other common names is called naked ladies. The plant grows actively in the fall through spring, putting out long strap-shaped leaves, but no flowers. The flowers come now, in midsummer, after the plant has gone dormant and dropped all its leaves. The lone flower stem comes up from the bare earth, completely unadorned by leaves–hence the common name. Another of its common names is “surprise lily,” which also makes a lot of sense–Imagine seeing this after writing the plant off as a goner. Edit: “Surprise lily” refers more to lycoris, which I’ve decided this plant isn’t after all, after a couple discussions.

Because it grows in the winter, when it’s wet, and is basically dormant in the long rainless summer, it gets by with minimal supplemental watering, making it a perfect bulb for Mediterranean climates like Southern California.

Other species in the genus Lycoris are sometimes called naked ladies as well, but the plant around here that is most commonly referred to by that name is the rounder, taller, more buxom Amaryllis belladonna.

The rental house next door which often gets zero yard care has a patch by their front door. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong with mine. Why were mine shorter? And why did mine bloom for a somewhat shorter (but more intense) period? Then I put the pieces together…totally different species. I suppose there’s something of that grass always being greener thing going on here.

Now that I’ve figured it out I like mine just fine. In fact I think these, my kids, are much more wonderful than anyone else’s… See the species correction above. I’ve decided this is Amaryllis belladonna after all!

Lycoris squamingera closeup
Lycoris squamingera closeup

in the garden

I’ve been working on printing some of my Yellowstone photographs. While I wait for the scanner to scan and the printer to do its thing it’s a perfect opportunity to step outside and snap some random pictures of what’s going on in the garden.

The first Cherokee Purple tomato
The first Cherokee Purple tomato

The first Cherokee Purple tomato, grown from seed saved from farmer’s market tomatoes last year: I’ve been watching it turn color for a week now, and I thought it was finally time to pick it. It’s smaller than most of the other fruits on the plant, but I’m guessing it’ll be pretty tasty…


Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis festalis): John’s sister sent down a little package of presents the last time she visited over ten years ago. A bulb of this plant was in that package. That one bulb has multiplied all over the place, some in places where we put it, others in places where soil with the some bulb offsets was moved to. And some are even coming in places–like the lawn–where it probably have only arrived via seed.

This plant clearly has a life wish. No problem. We like it. It’s happy with little or heavy watering, dappled shade to full sun. And it smells great.

Moth-eating drosera
Moth-eating drosera

A moth that died in the arms of Drosera dichotoma ‘Giant,’ a carnivorous sundew in the bog garden: When I first put out some carnivores I was thinking, “Ooh cool! Bug-eating plants!” Now that I’m starting to see all the carnage–this moth, plenty of gnats, and a beautiful orange dragonfly–I’m starting to worry about my ethics. I’m a vegetarian, so why can’t the plants be too? Still, I guess it’s some sort of karmic payback: I eat veggies, so some of my veggies eat meat.

Drosera Marston Dragon flower
Drosera Marston Dragon flower

The flowering stem of another carnivore, Drosera x ‘Marston Dragon.’ Droseras have a reputation for reseeding like weeds. No weeds spotted so far, but it’s early yet in the season…

Wedding lupine
Wedding lupine

This sad little lupine is the descendant of a package of seeds that were given out at a wedding we went to on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. There was a bare spot in the yard, so the package got emptied into it. But there was a reason the spot was bare: The area got almost no water and even weeds had a hard time getting a hold. The lupines never have attained much size–this one is less than four inches tall–but enough keep coming back to remind us of that misty summer day.

And oh yeah, here are a couple of the images I’m printing up. The first one: Undine Falls, Yellowstone National Park. The second: Tower Falls Viewpoint, Yellowstone National park.

Undine falls
Undine falls
Tower Falls viewpoint
Tower Falls viewpoint


In the local canyons, this time of year brings about the spectacular flowers of the sacred datura, Datura wrightii. The low, mounding bushes grow two to three feet tall and easily twice as wide, and are covered from dusk to mid-morning with immense white trumpets, easily eight inches across, often flushed with pale lavender.

Photo by Dlarsen, via Wikimedia Commons [ source ]

This is one of several species of the genus that has been called toloache in Mexico. It’s in the nightshade family, and like other members of the genus Datura, the plant is as toxic as it is spectacular.

Even though it’s highly poisonous, some Native Americans used the plant as part of a ceremony marking the passage of a child to an adult. From the Wikipedia: “Among the Chumash, when a boy was 8 years old, his mother gave him a preparation of momoy to drink. This was supposed to be a spiritual challenge to the boy to help him develop the spiritual wellbeing that is required to become a man. Not all of the boys survived [my emphasis].”

Datura budOn my recent pre-dusk hike through our local Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve all the buds on the numerous toloache plants were tightly furled when I arrived.

Datura unfurlingBut by the time I left, less a half hour before sunset, the flowers buds were loosening. Had I stayed an hour longer I would have been able to view the fresh flowers in the last glow of daylight like an intoxicating evil welcoming the night.

Datura with hand for scaleHere you can get a sense for how large these flowers will be.

Despite its bad press this is one of our local plants that I’ve been eying to add to the garden. The only thing the cat shows any interest in are plants that look like grasses or catnip, and there are parts of the yard no small child could get to. Besides, I’ve already got a number of toxic plants in the garden–oleanders, tomatoes and other nightshade cousins.

In addition to having amazing flowers, this datura requires no added water during the long dry summer. Nothing this spectacular can make that claim.

Speaking of poisonous plants, last week’s New York Times had an article on the Duchess of Northumberland. She’s in the process of building a modern annex to grounds that were designed by Capability Brown, the landmark British landscape designer from the eighteenth century. Traditionalists are not happy. “They said I am to gardens what Imelda Marcos is to shoes,” the Duchess is quoted. In her project one of the features is the Poison Garden, which the article describes as “a spooky fenced-off area with about 100 varieties of toxic plants, as well as cannabis and opium poppies.”

I bet this duchess’s garden parties will be pretty interesting affairs…

mariposa lily

Here’s a plant I hadn’t grown before, the Mariposa Lily, Calochortus superbus.

Mariposa Lily

The first plant to bloom was creamy yellow, almost white, with very few markings. It had a remarkably lacy petal thing going on–but that was due to insects munching on the plant.

And then this clone bloomed, pale blush with some of the most outrageous petal markings I’ve ever seen on a bulb, almost like a peacock feather. Gee, I thought I’d gotten the wrong bulbs since they were so different. But doing my research I was assured they were actually the kinds of variation you can expect from this plant. In fact, there’s a web page that shows lots of variations of this species.

Interior of Mariposa lily

I haven’t seen what this plant does during the summer in a bed that gets moderate-to-light watering. This is a California native and comes from areas where it dries out in the summer, so chances are excellent that the bulbs would rot in the ground. I’ll try to dig up most of them and store them dry, but I’ll leave a few in the ground for a test, particularly those in areas that are farther away from the sprinkler. They’re so cool–I hope they’ll come back next year!


Sunday I went down to San Diego’s annual Artwalk streetfair down by the cool waterfront in the Little Italy neighborhood.

This has been a seriously bipolar spring, alternating chilly periods with intensely hot ones. This weekend was one of the hot ones, and people were milling about slowly, checking out the stalls of art. But almost everyone seemed to be more interested in the stands offering cold drinks.

I talked to one of my photographer friends down there who had a double booth and has been pretty successful there in years past. “People are mostly looking this time,” she said.

I guess I was one of the lookers too, for the most part. After getting my fill of the art, the one sight that really caught my eye was this jacaranda tree in bloom over an orange backhoe near where I’d parked my scooter:

jacaranda in bloom over backhoe

I don’t see eye-to-eye with Jerry Sanders, the mayor of San Diego, but this is one thing we agree on. It’s his favorite tree, and one of mine. It’s Jacaranda mimosifolia, a South American native that’s well adapted to areas without much in the way of frost. The leaves are ferny and delicate and the plant’s pretty well behaved in the U.S. (It’s considered an invasive pest, however, in South Africa and Queensland, Australia.) In the spring it turns into this, an explosion of purple flowers that rain down on cars and sidewalks below. Messy as all get out but a pretty exultant mess! Yet another plant that’s too big for my yard…