Sunday we honored the shortest day of our year. It’s winter solstice in San Jose.
Do you know what that means?
It means that spring is only three months away!
Seriously though, you have to look a bit harder for signs of winter in California. We’ve had a few weeks of back to back rain storms, a welcome break from the drought but temperatures remain mild. Most of the deciduous trees are bare of their leaves but others remain evergreen.
Here’s a peek into the winter garden. It asks for little and gives a lot. Nature is like that.
Cosmo buds, no sign of slowing down
Cosmo in bloom
Hummingbird in the Chinese Pistache tree
Stripped bare of its leaves, but covered in buds waiting for spring
I’m on the ‘every other season’ plan. All the seeds that forgot to come up last year are sending out little beacons of green delight. That’s a California Poppy on the right and to be determined seedlings on the left.
Statice in bloom
Zinnia. The plant looks shabby, but the flowers continue to bloom
Unidentified planted objects
The Mexican Sage reminds me of a purple caterpillar
Lemon scented holidays
Here is a shot of the little tomato that could, a self-sown seedling growing from a crack in the steps. Yep…tomato plants in December.
Self-sown tomato making a go of it out of the side of the concrete steps
During this hectic time of year, I hope you can find a few moments to enjoy what nature has to offer.
Winter solstice is just two weeks away. We’ve had a slow descent into fall this year with unseasonably high temps. That said, the colors are finally here.
We’re expecting a storm worthy of a NOAAWatch this Thursday, with high winds and heavy rains. Anything left on the trees now will be long gone by Friday. I’m enjoying the color while it lasts.
We planted this tree 18 years ago specifically for its gorgeous fall colors.
This beautiful Acer grows outside our living room window. It’s a landing-place for hummingbirds, lesser goldfinch and a favorite of squirrels.
Acer aka Japanese Maple
Several Abutilon grow along the fence. Their showy orange flowers are a hummingbird favorite.
Abutilon : Coral Bells
Our oranges don’t taste very good (it’s an ancient tree) but the rats don’t seem to mind. When my boys were young, they enjoyed turning it into orange juice and selling it to passersby. It was the California version of a lemonade stand.
Are you as busy as I am this time of year?
Roma tomatoes and Chinese Pistache leaves
I’m seeing red.
I like it! The cherry and heirloom tomatoes died back a month ago, but our Roma tomatoes continue to grow unabated.
This is Silicon Valley after all, originally known for its rich, agricultural roots. But I’m still amazed at the prolific production of this plant. I did a bit of reading and learned that the plant will continue to produce, as long as daytime temps remain about 60F (15C). That explains it. We’ve had a mild autumn so far.
While the Roma happily churns out fruit in the back garden, the Chinese Pistache flashes red outside my kitchen window.
Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache)
The Pistache’s slow, beautiful descent into dormancy is under way. The colors are magnificent. I’m grateful to live in this beautiful valley with such optimal growing conditions.
Kitchen Window: Before and after
The best part of my kitchen is the view. Sure the counter tops are nice and who doesn’t like a dishwasher, but the view out my front window makes the room.
When we remodeled nine years ago, the contractor suggested lowering the window to the height of the counters. Who knew that dropping it just a few inches could make such a difference? The lowered window invites the outdoors in. I have a direct view of the Chinese Pistache, a lovely tree that sheds leaves each fall. It’s one of those trees that’s gorgeous year round, though particularly stunning in the early autumn months.
Pistache in the Fall
Improving on my view, I added a small, triangular flower garden in the corner of the lawn. I knew the flowers would lift my spirits, but didn’t realize the number of birds it would attract. What a treat to hear them singing in nearby trees, then watching them swoop down for seeds.
Flowers near the lawn
Rounding out my extraordinary view are the hummingbirds that visit throughout the day. I found a feeder that suction-cups to the window, and placed it high enough to keep them safe from predators, but low enough for maximum viewing. We worried they would stop coming when we hung the awning in the spring, but they were back within minutes, swooping under the awning for a quick meal. I’ve been known to swoop in for a sugary treat myself, so I should have had more faith.
Picture me on the other side of the glass smiling at this little hummingbird.
Do you have a favorite room with a view?
I love color, and find myself mentally attributing various hues to the time of year. Nothing quite says “fall” like the color orange. Vibrant orange Cucurbitas line walkways and grocery aisles. Shades of auburn tumble through the graceful branches of deciduous trees. Cool green lawns seem to disappear beneath a carpet of rich autumn hues.
Chinese Pistache Fall Colors
Pistache up close
Standing at my kitchen window this time of year, I get a grand view of our Chinese Pistache Pistacia chinensis.The leaves drop slowly, as the tree let’s go of summer. I often collect a few of them to decorate our Thanksgiving table. Once the tree is bare for the winter, I get a second view. Our friends directly across the street have a row of Nandina. They’re covered in red, orange and gold leaves, with berries in multiple hues. They’re one of my favorite plants this time of year.
As an aside, when I first met my dear friend Nandini I had to work hard not to call her Nandina. I assured her it was a compliment to be mistaken for something so vibrant and alive.
According to Sensational Color:
Orange, is a close relative of red. It sparks more controversy than any other hue. There is usually strong positive or negative association to orange and true orange generally elicits a stronger “love it” or “hate it” response than other colors. Fun and flamboyant orange radiates warmth and energy.
Interestingly, some tones of orange, such as terra-cotta, peach, and rust have very broad appeal. Orange stimulates activity and appetite and encourages socialization.
If you’re lucky enough to live in California, you’ll still see oranges on the tree. Not to be undone, the seed pods on the Magnolia take on a similar hue.
Magnolia Seed Pod
How do you feel about the color orange?
“Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” Wassily Kandinsky
Every year I say I’m going to start a compost pile but then lazy wins out. Whenever I toss a banana peel or an egg-shell I think, “if only I had a place to compost.” Part of my ambivalence is where I would put it. Compost needs sun and room for turning and both are at a premium in my back yard.
Two years ago my son collected fallen leaves from our Chinese Pistache in early October to use in his spooky Halloween display. He filled a large Rubbermaid bin with dead leaves but forgot about them in the excitement of the day. When I rediscovered the bin, decomposition was under way so I decided to snap on the lid and let nature takes its course. I pried back the lid every few months and checked on the decomposing leaves. I gave them a quick toss with my gloved hands, closed the bin, then went about my business.
By the end of last summer I had compost! Sometimes lazy gardeners can catch a break. I love the texture and the smell of that wonderful decay. I know the plants were happy too. It was a joyful experience mixing it into the planter beds. I may come over to the dark and loamy side yet.
I jotted the following notes into a notebook two years ago so I would be ready to move from “accidental composter” to the real deal.
In half-inch thick layers:
Combine 3 parts “brown” organic material to one part “green”
3 parts brown includes dried leaves, small twigs, etc.
1 part green includes grass, cut flowers, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags and fruit or vegetable peels
Mix into a bin approximately 3′ x 3′ x 3′
Add a small amount of moisture as needed and turn once a week.
Serves several plants.
I’m originally from Canada, so it took me awhile to appreciate the subtleties of a California autumn. Our boys wore shorts on Halloween night and I walked home from a party earlier that week in a sleeveless costume. In Ontario our Mom insisted on coats, even though we grumbled at the injustice of our “spoiled” ensembles.
We planted a carefully placed Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) as a reminder of this lovely season. It gradually produces ocher, amber and other golden shades, before the wind sweeps the leaves to the grass below. Our lone tree sits on our suburban lot, but it reminds me of my early roots. In my imagination our tree resides in a New England forest, surrounded by others dropping leaves on the earthen floor. Our Pistache is easily viewed from my kitchen sink and my home office, a wistful reminder of another time.
I do love spring, with the warming sun and wonderful rebirth, but in my heart of hearts, its autumn that firmly takes hold.