The Gift of Rain

San Jose gardens get by with about 15 inches of rain a year. During the drought years, we had half of that or less. So this year’s rain has been a gift to South Bay gardens, not only delaying the time when we would typically begin a watering routine but adorning our gardens with more blooms, taller plants, and, yes, lots of weeds.

Nasturtium along the walkway, with salvia and geraniums filling the space in between

My nepeta (cat mint) self-seeded throughout the garden to the sensory delight of our felines. The original plant is twice as tall this year, hiding those sneaky weeds below. They have met their match!

Love-in-a-mist, California Poppy, Geranium, Morning Glory border our neighbor’s lawn

California poppies spread throughout the garden, showing up in pots, along the curb garden, and elsewhere to my delight. The profusion of color is uplifting. I’ve been relocating the self-seeded sweet peas to the other side of the sidewalk so that they don’t overtake the perennials I’m trying to grow. First, I pulled out small volunteers or transplanted them, and then I bought another packet of seeds to hedge my bets during the transition. It worked partly due to the rain, and now the perennials are getting a foothold with the space and an extra helping of rain.

I cut back the stems of the Freesia last week, leaving the leaves to dry out before cutting them back to the ground. Rapidly taking their place are gladiola and love-in-a-mist. Last October, Mike dug out several gladiola bulbs, and I replanted them together in the curb garden to maximize the effect. They’re just starting to come up as the poppies go to seed.

Love-in-a-mist about to bloom

Over the years, people have asked if my garden is a lot of work. While it can be hard on my aging hips and lower back, I don’t think of it as work so much as a pursuit. I’ve had the luxury this season to spend two or three hours a day outdoors, deadheading, weeding, and pruning as I observe all the gifts of nature.

The garden attracts lizards, birds, squirrels, butterflies, and praying mantis. The scents of spring are intoxicating, and the refreshing cool greens soothe me.

A California lizard. They devour lots of bugs

Rain-filled water tanks permitted us to plant guilt-free strawberries and tomatoes, and for the first time in many years, I planted five coleuses in a repurposed pot once used in the back garden.

Annuals are heavy water users, so I’ve limited myself to one box and a shade-loving spot at that. I’ll share photos after I clean up the pot. Otherwise, I will continue to plant and tend to native and drought-tolerant plants, knowing that this year’s rain is a gift without any promises for the future.

A Garden Under the Influence of Rain

wisteria vine

Wisteria refreshed

It’s been an extraordinary spring!

Everywhere I turn I see a happy garden under the wonderful influence of rain. I’m taking none of it for granted.

From the self-seeded pumpkins,

2016 garden pumpkin near patio

Self-seeded pumpkin, impervious to the cool night temperatures

to the spontaneous cottage garden

2016 sweet peas love in a mist poppies

My all-volunteer (self-seeded) garden

everything seems larger than life.  It’s rare for San Jose to get rain this far into the year, but we continue to get small storms every week or so keeping things fresh and alive.

I prepped an Earth Box for some pumpkin seeds, and following the package instructions, waited for warmer nighttime temps. I needn’t have bothered. There are two self-seeded pumpkins growing across the back garden doing just fine. They don’t mind the cooler nights and show no signs of slowing down. Emboldened by last year’s pumpkin success (no water, no squash bugs) I’m happy to see these two doing well.

2016 pumpkin vine self seeded

Another self-seeded pumpkin, already setting flowers

The tomatoes doubled in size within a few weeks. I’m glad I staked them from the start. They always looks so small when they’re just getting started, but I’ve learned the hard way how difficult it is to stake them once they are under way.

2016 garden tomatoes

Tomatoes Doubling Down

The raspberry canes survived the move and several of the canes are setting flowers. There is nothing quite so good as a fresh, warm berry from your garden. Grow, berries, grow!

I missed the memo about Nasturtiums taking over the garden, but I don’t mind. They’re beautiful, colorful and edible and they’re supposed to keep the bad bugs away. So far so good so I say “go Nasturtiums.” There are strawberries hiding under the flowers which is probably just as well. If the birds don’t see them, they can’t eat them.

nasturtiam close up

Variegated Nasturtium

Thanks to the heat and rain, the basil is already flowering. The flowers are pretty but they take away all the energy from the leaves so I’m pinching them back every other day. I made this same mistake last year. The tomatoes take longer to fruit so while I’m waiting for tomatoes, I’m having to discourage the basil from flowering. Hopefully I can stay on top of it. Caprese salad is in my future!

I’m really happy with my raised (Trug) planting bed. I wrapped the legs with copper tape before adding a single plant, and it worked. No snails! I used strips of burlap as mulch this year, with plenty left on the roll for years to come. It was also supposed to discourage the cats from using the boxes for other purposes, but they think it’s a delightful place for a nap.

2016 slinky in the planter box

Slinky found her way to the planting box

slinky in the planter box


mouse in the garden bed

Nasturtiums and Mouse the Cat

What an incredible spring.

March 10th vegetable garden

March 10th, 2016

vegetable garden may 5th

May 5th, 2016


Hanging our Hat on El Niño

tree reflecting in rain on deck
We had a string of storms last week, a welcome relief for our drought-parched state. The heavier-than-normal rain is due to the temporary change in water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, simply known as El Niño.

While most of California welcomes the much-anticipated rain, other parts of the world are experiencing drought, above-average temperatures, and heavy flooding. I’m amazed that the increase in ocean temperatures by just a few degrees affects the entire globe. So while I celebrate this wonderful rain, I wish it didn’t come at such a cost.

I drove over the hill this week to the nearby mountain town of Felton. It’s a 45 minute drive on a winding road. The drive is pretty but sometimes treacherous as you make your way through the winding Santa Cruz mountains. I’m a nervous driver to begin with, so I drove slowly in the rain and fog, hugging the right lane all the way there. When I returned about an hour later, a large tree had fallen across three of the four lanes of highway. Traffic on my return journey moved at a crawl, while the opposing traffic was at a dead stop for miles/kilometers. Amazingly no one was hurt but I had a hard time shaking off the fact that I had driven past that same tree about an hour before.

By the time I exited the freeway,  I’d passed the aftermath of two auto accidents, multiple emergency vehicles and the fallen tree. I was so happy to get home.

El Niño conditions will persist through at least March of this year.  While I celebrate the arrival of the much-needed rain, I’m also tempering my enthusiasm with a healthy dose of caution.

What’s your weather up to?


How will we know when the drought is over? It’s complicated.

Severe El Nino puts the world in “uncharted territory.”

San Jose Weather Forecast

Fallen tree blocks traffic for five hours.