Tag Archives: rain

a cliché i happen to like

How can you pick out a Californian from within a brig crowd? Just wait for a rainy day and see which one heads for the door to look at the amazing stuff falling from the sky. We don’t see much of the stuff, especially over our dry summers. This past weekend was moist, one of only two periods of rain over the last four months. So there was this Californian, outdoors with camera in hand.

Pictures of raindrops on leaves are pretty common, over in cliché territory, almost as common as photos of raindrops on roses, but there’s something satisfying about making more, particularly if you live somewhere rain can be pretty rare. Here are some quick photos from the garden.

The first few are of raindrops on Agave attenuata.

This one displays the nice out of focus bare green stems of Galvezia juncea in the background–probably more interesting than the wet leaf. Photo geeks call the phenomenon of out of focusedness “bokeh,” mostly used to refer to the shapes of bright spots in the blur. Lens reviewers drool over bokeh spots that are more circular than those that are irregularly-shaped like bladed lens apertures. Bokeh is a pretty unusual word so I had to go running to Wikipedia, where it pointed to “the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality”. The Japanese term boke is also used in the sense of a mental haze or senility.”

And now a few on tree aloe, Aloe arborescens. It’s kinduv a scary-looking plant, dontcha think? But really cool, subtle, warm colors in addition to the green…

And I’m sure you’ve never seen photos of raindrops on spiderwebs (insert snarky smiley) so here’s one.

And one final drops on spiderweb photo, this one in front of California matchweed, Gutierriezia californica, with nice little yellow bokeh circles from the out of focus flowers.

talk about it

Some people think that conversation has run dry when you start talking about the weather. They’re obviously not gardeners–or even golfers or joggers or construction workers. Weather matters. And I can’t think of many things nearly as fascinating.

Here in the far southwestern corner of the country it’s been dry. Scary dry, almost. I have buckets below the eaves to catch and save runoff from the roof, and even last week’s “big rain” day didn’t fill them more than half way. At least the storm had the decency to drop some rain by the time I was leaving work so that I didn’t feel like a fool for bringing an umbrella and taking the car instead of riding my scooter.

Today we’re in Day Two of a several days of predicted light rain. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sunny days. Last month we picked a bright weekend–we had many choices–to head east, into the desert. Destination: Salvation Mountain.

I’m about as religious as Howard Stern is subtle, but you couldn’t not to feel the earnestness of this big pile of folk art.

The whole installation is built into a hillside, using not much more than haybales, mud and paint. As we walked over it you could hear things crunching underfoot. Without constant maintenance the whole thing would start to degrade into the desert around it.

This is a polaroid that someone had left showing Leonard Knight, the man who built this. He gave me a detailed personal tour the last time I visited, maybe five years ago. But the news reports last fall mentioned that Mr. Knight’s dementia was taking over, and he had been institutionalized in a facility in El Centro. For an artwork as fragile as this is, it seemed like this winter might be the last time to see the place in the state that he left it, before the desert claimed it.

The side of the Mountain that faces west is crossed by a painted yellow path up the mountain that you can see in this image, the Yellowbrick Road.

I’m not sure what the main highway from the Wizard of Oz has to do with the Christian messages being communicated, but there it is. Please stay on it.

People bring stuff here. This bible, blowing in the wind, fits right in.

Something else people bring here is paint, thousands of gallons of it. Used to be, you came to Salvation Mountain, you’d bring a bucket of paint. It was a great way to share paint leftover from projects. The word now, though, is that people should leave their paint at home, now that Mr. Knight isn’t able to do anything with it.

Built into one size are a series of grottoes that appear to have been built as little shrines. On a scorching midsummer day these spaces are a cool escape. People have brought contributions here too, but I’m not sure if the angel and bowling trophies were original to Leonard Knight’s original vision.

Parked in front are several art cars that have been customized by Mr. Knight. At this point I’m sure they’re fixed sculptures and no longer mobile.

[ Details of the art cars… ]

Another feature of the Mountain is the side maze-feature, made of telephone poles, salvaged trees and more haybales, mud and paint. It’s hard to photograph but would work great as a video shown from inside as you walk through it.

Here’s a view from inside the maze, looking up.

As long as we were way out in the desert, we stopped by the shores of the Salton Sea, just a couple miles away.

Part of the south shore is set aside as the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. (Yes, that Sonny Bono, Cher’s late ex.) You don’t see any in this picture, but birds were everywhere. You hear about the Pacific Flyway but it’s always a stunning experience to visit one of the main avian truckstops along the route.

And with this image we return to the theme of rain and water. This viewpoint is a fairly famous one. I’ve seen a few photos shot from here, with trees covered in birds and still water below, reflect birds and trees. (I have a few old shots myself.) But that was probably ten years ago.

Southern California has been drawing increasing amounts of water that was formerly used by farmers around the Sea. With less agricultural runoff to feed it, the water level has been dropping, so that the Sea itself is now a quarter mile away.

My little buckets of water, plaintively waiting for the rain, probably will do next to nothing to restore the Salton Sea. But a drop in the bucket is more than nothing at all.

2010 highlight: la niña loca

If there’s a story of the year for the garden, one of the competitors would definitely be the December rains. The prognosticators were promising us a La Niña winter, cool and very dry. Instead we got one of the rainiest Decembers on record.

I’ve been playing with video lately, and here are some snapshots of the garden as it looked on December 22, partway through some of the torrents.

I was a wimp. All the shots are through windows, so you can only see part of the garden. But I think you get the idea.

The video quality is definitely lo-def, as the capture was done with an old point-and-shoot that had some lo-res video capabilities. But like I said, I think you get the idea…

And for you concerned capitalists out there who might have been worried about the status of one of our local shopping palaces after I posted some photos of part of it underwater, here are some befores and afters of the Fashion Valley Shopping Center. The befores are from the same day as the garden photos above. The afters are from December 29.





Not everything was back to normal. Parts of the garage are still under a few inches of water and cordoned off.

And there’s a limited amount of damage where the water undermined the road under the elevated trolley tracks.

But overall things looked pretty good, and shoppers were back to returning their ugly sweaters for something more desirable.

The forecast is for more rain the night of New Year’s Day. Will La Niña Loca continue on into the next year?

après le déluge

Six days of wet weather were coming to an end this morning when John and I left the garden with its pockets of standing water and did a little grocery shopping. We weren’t far from the San Diego River, and we’d heard it was running high. With the storms clearing and being more curious than cautious today we headed over for a look.

The estuary where the channelized river flows into the Pacific flowed with more water than I’ve seen in it. The ducks took to it like…ducks to water.

Heading east, Friar’s Road was down to one passable lane.

We stopped at a couple spots. The first was the YMCA, where the parking lot was being claimed by the river. Stairs led into water where ordinarily they deposit you onto dry land.

Most dramatic was this schoolbus. I’m sure it was empty at the time the water rose, but it’s a pretty awesome indicator of what nature was doing.

Stop #2 was Fashion Valley Shopping Center. People look at its siting–on the banks of the San Diego River–and sometimes wonder whether placing it there was such a good idea. Today, right about the time these pictures were taking, the river was cresting at the highest level it’s reached since 1980–the highest water level in a generation. The parking garages were partially submerged. Underground parking became underwater parking.

Access into the mall shuts down from one direction whenever the river runs high. Today there was only one way in and out of the mall.

All the sights until now were pretty amazing, but being good consumers we were almost more shocked at this sight: two open parking spaces. On December 22. In the middle of the day, during prime shopping hours.

And just as shocking was this: Inside the mall. Where’d all the shoppers go? Let me remind you it’s still December 22…

Well, that was pretty much the end of our expedition. Our holiday shopping was pretty much complete except for the kinds of things that don’t grow in shopping centers. So it was back home, where the standing water in the garden was starting to drain. Will we remember this freakish week once the sun comes out and all the relatives descend?

unusual october

October usually throws some ridiculously warm and dry weather at us. This was the month that in 2003 and 2007 saw monster wildfires racing through the county, including the largest fire to hit California in recorded history (in 2003).

We’ve a few of those warmer days, but what’s been surprising has the the cool, wet foretaste of winter. Here’s a little example: This is my parking pass for work, where I usually go in to the office Mondays through Thursdays. Each big dark X corresponds to a day when it was too wet to ride my scooter in to work. Add to that another morning when I got a bad weather report and arrived pretty drenched.

Over the last two weeks it seems like half the mornings looked a little like this, with mist–or outright rain–turning the pavement wet.

Finally, the line of repurposed cat litter buckets that had looked so forlorn all summer at the drip edges of the roof were beginning to fill with water. In fact my two rain big barrels are now full, ready to have their contents shared back into the garden.

In response to the cooling trend plants are leafing out; seedlings are germinating. Readers not in mediterranean climates might think they’re reading a garden blog from the southern hemisphere. But no, this is California, which shares this wet-winter/dry-summer climate with less than 5% of the earth’s surface. To make up for being so special we’re treated with almost 20% of all the world’s plant species. More than a fair trade for long summer months with close to no water.

I was out in the front yard over the weekend, tidying up growth that had hit its expiration date. Mixed in with branches that had truly died were plenty belonging to drought-deciduous plants that were coming back to life. On the left is our local chaparral currant, Ribes indecorum, turning from brown twigs to leafy twigs. On the right is Verbena lilacina, a plant that can stay looking fairly green over the summer if you give it more water than I do.

Everywhere I stepped I had to avoid mashing tiny little buckwheat seedlings, or these guys, itty bitty little chia plants (Salvia columbariae). Early this summer when I took out the dead plants of this annual I made a point of shaking the seed heads over the dirt. Still I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough germination to repeat the amazing show of last spring. Looks like I didn’t need to be so concerned.

In the back yard seedlings of baby blue eyes were pushing their way through the mulch. The mulch really does help keep down the weeds, but this species fortunately doesn’t seem overly daunted by my attempt to save myself a few dozen hours of weeding. Various creatures do find these seedlings extra-tasty–including the cat, which seems to think these are almost as good as catnip. Once they’re larger the cat doesn’t seem to pay them any attention. I’m hoping for a nice half dozen or so survivors.

And there were even more seedlings. These are a few days away from showing their first true leaves, but I’m hoping that they’re the beginnings of clarkias that surrounded this patch of bare dirt. If not clarkias, they’re likely seedlings of this really noxious weed that shared the space with the clarkias. We’ll soon find out…

Yes, it’s been an unusual October. But I’ll take plants leafing out and seedlings pushing their way out of the ground any day over another round of brushfires!

no storms this weekend

Finally. A weekend with good weather and no major outside commitments. The local paper recently noted that of eight weekends, six had been wet and stormy. Outdoor leisure businesses were hurting, the paper noted. I’d guess plantsellers would be in the same situation, though I really think gardening is much too important a thing to even begin to call “leisure.”

One of the commitments that ate into the free time was a family birthday that we celebrated at a rental condo down on Mission Beach (San Diego Beach House). That was the day of the mega-earthquake in Chile and the international tsunami alerts. A pretty bizarre day for a party.

Lifeguards a few miles up the coast noted some abnormal tidal action that they thought had something to do with the tsunami, but we were enough in celebration mode that we didn’t notice it.

Somewhere during the afternoon someone was alert enough to spot a boat in distress. Here it is through binoculars.

That was another stormy, dramatic weekend, however, and the boat’s problems had more to do with the brutal on-shore winds and big waves.

Leaving the beach I photographed this sign. I’d noticed it before and almost thought that it was a joke. That day I wasn’t so sure anymore.

The time at the beach with the was dramatic as all get out, and we sure need the rain. But where there’s rain, there’s weeds.

So this weekend I’ll be spending a lot of the weekend outside, in the sun, pulling weeds. Absolutely, there are worse things to have to do, but with so many wet weekends the weeds have gotten so far ahead of me I hardly know where to start.

Much of the weeding will be like this: one tiny little keeper plant mixed in with dozens of interlopers. There’s a desert marigold seedling (Baileya multiradiata) mixed in this mess. Somewhere.

I’ll enjoy my time in the sun, but leisure? I think not.

rain delay

It’s almost never too rainy to garden, and of course it’s never too wet to blog. But some outdoor projects have had to be put on hold temporarily.

Yesterday, when it was still dry, we started to construct a shade panel to begin to replace a patio cover we tore down last fall. Many of the plants on the patio are shade plants, and we still have some shade plants hanging in the shade of the greenhouse. As the weather warms and the sun begins to burn hotter in the sky many of the plants are starting to need some cover.

We got this far on the panel project yesterday. It’s a ten-by-four foot frame of aluminum, with an inset of perforated aluminum mesh. The diagonal cross pieces are for both structural support and what I hope will be a level of coolness.

And then it began to rain: Light mist now and then yesterday, and occasional rainsqualls this morning. Not safe weather for operating electric devices outside, but nothing to stop me from pulling some weeds and then stopping by my favorite local nursery, Walter Andersen Nursery. There was a bald spot out front and I needed a plant to fill it. One plant.

But the nursery was oozing green life force that proved irresistible and I came home with three instead: white flowering currant (Ribes indecorum), Route 66 California fuchsia (Zauschneria california ‘Route 66’) a second plant of Ceanothus ‘Tuxedo’ to go with one I purchased last year. I’ve resolved to plant at least fifty per-cent California native plants, and I think I succeeded. The first two qualify, and the last gets partial credit. (I have a post in the works describing why.)

Of course for me rainy days turn into opportunities to collect more rainwater for the prima donna bog plants that detest the water that comes from the tap. At this point I probably have several months’ supply in buckets and barrels. And the ground will hold its moisture and require minimal watering for several weeks. I wouldn’t want to force our county’s golf courses go without water, would I? (Well, yes, actually, I would. Yet another blog post…)

no rain, no rainbows

I looked west this morning while I was having breakfast and saw the first rainbow I’ve seen in months, maybe years. Although it was cool outside I had to go up to the deck to check it out. The rainbow was just a short piece of an arc rising from the ocean, but in this land of little rain you take what you get.

The rainbow was just about the last official act of a set of four consecutive storms that delivered over six days almost as much moisture as we received all of last year. And by “storms” I do mean real storms with rain, hail, thunder, lightning and tree-toppling winds. But for most of us in town things went as well as could be expected.

At work eucalyptus trees cracked and fell, buildings leaked, flows of water and mud threatened to invade several buildings. Walking outside entailed wading through puddles or jumping from one high spot to another.

At home power flickered on and off a few times. The back yard laked up briefly, but nothing that looked like it was going to come in the house.

Hail came down a couple times, but nothing was hurt. These pellets were about the size of peas.

Rain was heavy. These little buckets to catch roof runoff were full within the first 24 hours.

A potted Kalanchoe prolifera on the roof deck–seen here on the right–blew over. While the base must weigh 75 pounds when soaking wet, the plant is tall and proved no match for the blasts of wind that came through. This photo was shot after the plant was righted, so you can see it wasn’t bothered by spending some time sideways.

A survey this morning showed the trays of bog plants full of water, flooding the pots. These swamp dwellers are adapted to a little flooding, and in some areas people overwinter the rhizomes underwater so they don’t rot.

In fact, the parrot pitcher plant from the Florida-Georgia area, Sarracenia psittacina, can be found completely submerged over the winter. Its traps are unique in that they’re adapted to catching swimming as well as crawling creatures, so it’ll find something to eat, whether underwater or above.

The culvert in city easement behind the house filled with water. It makes me want to establish a little vernal pool in the muck at the bottom. I wonder if it would work in this location. Some of the most endangered plants in my area can be found around vernal pools and nowhere else.

The cooling weather and moister weather greens up the plants that have been dormant through the dry season. In the back Coreopsis gigantea leaves begin to sprout on what had been little brown trunks. But in the foreground you see all the weeds that accompany the season. These are mostly seedlings of a few mizuna plants, a Japanese mustard green, that I let go to seed a decade ago.

…and when life gives you young, weedy, tender mizuna sprouts, why not pick mizuna greens? These will be in tonight’s salad.

So you can see we came through pretty well. The main casualty was Scooter, the cat, who’s used to occasional times outside to sun herself. I think the “Can I go outside, please?” expression is pretty clear on her face here.

She did get to go out this morning, at last, and so did I. While I appreciate the rain, a little respite between storms doesn’t hurt, both for cats and humans alike. It also gives the waterlogged ground to dry out a bit or to let the water seep down farther.

If the weather forecasts are right, we’ll be getting another storm on Tuesday, but it won’t be anything like the almost continuous rain we just had. After 3 years of bad drought, we’ll take whatever rain falls, even if we don’t get any more rainbows with it.

my carnivores in december

December carnivore trimmings

As winter approaches many of the plants in the bog garden are starting to retreat into dormancy. Sunday I filled part of a bucket with the trimmings from the bog and two trays of potted carnivorous plants.

I have mostly American pitcher plants, sarracenia, and I’ve been starting to learn the rhythms of the different species and hybrids. Many put out their main flush of growth in the spring and look progressively scrappier and scrappier as spring turns into summer, and summer into fall. Many of these are now tidied up in the bottom of this bucket.

Sarracenia leucophylla Titan in December

Sarracenia leucophylla Tarnok in December

Others sync up with hurricane season, presenting their most spectacular pitchers in late summer and fall when heavy rains can be expected in the American Southeast. The white-topped pitcher, Sarracenia leucophylla, is the most charismatic of these. At least two clones have been tissue-cultured and are commonly available, ‘Tarnok’ (to the left) and ‘Titan’ (to the right). In spring, a mature Tarnok will produce big red double pompoms of sterile flowers that will persist long into the year. The flowers being sterile, this could be considered a cultigen, a plant incapable of reproducing itself except by seducing members of the human species to keep it alive via division or cloning. ‘Titan’ is supposed to have the unusual ability to produce pitchers over three feet tall, though in my too-dry, less than ideal conditions, it’s not as good a grower and clumper as Tarnok.

Sarracenia Judith Hindle in December2

‘Judith Hindle’ is another tissue-cultured, commonly available plant. I called this Sarracenia Trader Joe’s for a year because that’s where I bought this no-label plant. But I’ve decided it’s Judith Hindle because there was a whole big display of plants that looked just like this one, and I’m fairly certain that it’s the only hybrid that’s been tissue-cultured that looks and behaves like this. Like its leucophylla grandparent, it gives up its best pitchers in the fall.

Sarracenia alata Red Lid in December

Another plant that’s still got a few nice pitchers this late in the year is this red-lidded versions of the species S. alata.

Sarracenia Super Green Giant in December

And this hybrid, ‘Super Green Giant,’ seems to be doing well late in the season, though I’ve only had it since August and can’t vouch for what it’ll look like the rest of the year. Also, it’s lived a coddled life in a pot standing in water, not one loosed in the outdoor bog with these other plants.

Drosera capensis Red Form in December

Not everything is pitcher plants. This is the very easy-to-grow (some would say “weedy”) Drosera capensis, red form, a sundew from wet spots in South Africa. If you let it flower it will set seed. And if it sets seed, it can spread throughout your collection. I’m trying to figure out which of the bog plants can get by with less than boggy conditions. So far this is one of them.

Potted carnivores in December

In addition to the bog garden, I have two tubs of water with other plants. A very few are still looking presentable this late in the year. Three hybrids in this tub combine to make a lively red-and-green display: ‘Mardi Gras,’ ‘W.C.’ and a primary hybrid, x mitchelliana, made by Jerry Addington of Courting Frogs Nursery and retailed by Karen Oudean of Oudean’s Willow Creek Nursery. All of these hybrids are one half or at least one quarter leucophylla, so they retain some of its abilities to look nice in the fall. They also involve other species that tend to have a stronger year-round presence instead of retreating to a rhizome for the winter.

Tub of bog plants after the rain

These trays of plants have moved from the unheated greenhouse, hopefully to trigger the dormancy that most of these plants needs to thrive. Another hope is that they’ll get a taste of rain and not yet another drenching of reverse-osmosis water. After many weeks with nothing, they finally got treated to our first big storm of the season. When I came home last night the trays had almost three inches of water in them. Real water. Free water from the sky. At last!

still no rain

Weather map

I find weather and climate to be amazingly fascinating things. The media must not believe that the rest of the public thinks the same way, judging by how they always seem to need to sex up the topic.

“Flooding! Mudslides!” was how Weatherbug packaged the recent early winter storm heading for California.

Water buckets

Thinking that dry little San Diego stood a chance of getting some real rain out of the storm, I put out a couple trays of potted carnivorous plants in hopes of giving them a taste of real water from the sky. And along the eaves of the house I placed some buckets to catch rainwater that I could use later.

Empty bucket

Unfortunately I was duped by all the buildup. Imagine my disappointment when I came home last night and found the buckets as empty as a bin of free hundred-dollar bills and as dry as the Baptist potlucks of my early teen years. We are talking dry.

Often by the end of September we have the first of the autumn rains. But not this year.

Still, the days are cooling. The skies are home to more and more clouds that look like they could deliver some precipitation. The rains didn’t come this week, but they’ll come.