Emerging Bulbs and Weather Woes

The weather forecasters say it’s too early to cry “drought”, but it’s shaping up to be a dry, warm winter.

San Jose’s climate is semi-arid averaging a mere 15 inches (38 cm) a year. Most of our rain falls between October and March.  As we head into mid-February, there isn’t a drop in the forecast. It’s also been unseasonably warm.

Weather Report February 2018

Source: San Jose Mercury News The black dots represent record highs and lows for that date. As you can see we’re near or over those records.

It might seem uncharitable objecting to a series of warm, clear days when it would otherwise be cold and windy, but after a year of brutal wildfires, these conditions do not bode well for the months ahead. We shall see.

Garden patio potted plants

Garden patio steps: cyclamen, azalea, succulents (in pots), New Zealand flax and anemone in the background

This morning I spotted a self-seeded tomato that has already shot up in one of the planting beds.  I wouldn’t normally plant tomatoes before April. It’s all a bit surreal.

The daffodils (narcissus) are coming up. I can’t think of a more cheerful flower, breaking ground with their strong, green stems, then unfolding their yellow perfection.

daffodil budding

Daffodil just before opening

lemon yellow daffodil

Lemon yellow daffodil

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

I love A.A. Milne’s poem When We Were Young:

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”

I play a little game with myself in November. I buy a few bags of bulbs, then plant them in random pots, beds and corners of the garden and forget about them. I’ve learned over the years what grows well (daffodils, iris, Calendula, hyacinth and freesia) and what to skip (tulips). Daffodils survive because they’re toxic to squirrels. They leave them planted deep in the ground. The freesia do an amazing job spreading each year, producing bigger and more productive plants each season.

I added to my hyacinth bulbs last year and they’re coming up in succession instead of all at once. They’re intoxicating.

Orientalis hyacinth Pink Pearl

Orientalis hyacinth Pink Pearl

Orientalis hyacinth

Orientalis hyacinth in full bloom

Orientalis Hyacinth 'Aida'

Any day now, this Orientalis Hyacinth ‘Aida’ well emerge in purple splendor

A year ago I planted Ranunculus. The name comes from the Late Latin term for “little frog”. I had mixed success. They are so pretty, that I gave it another go. The first year, the squirrels kept digging them up and tossing them on the deck. They were interesting enough to unearth, apparently, but not good enough to eat. Last fall I planted them after filling one of my Earthboxes with cyclamen and (name escapes me) a white trailing plant. That did the trick and they’re all up in beautiful, leafy plants.

Emerging Ranunculus

Emerging Ranunculus

My trusty guide when trying to remember when to capitalize the plants name (daffodils, no, Ranunculus, yes). Source: When should you capitalize plant names

WordPress Needs a Scratch-and-Sniff Feature

Spring: when the birds sing, the flowers bloom and the intoxicating scent of the garden can bring you to your knees. I snapped photos today, with Mouse the Cat at my heals. We’ve been inhaling the tantalizing scent of freesias scattered throughout the garden.

mouse with flowers at his feet

Mouse tries out a new pair of shoe buckles

Freesia are native to Africa, named after a German botanist and now growing in San Jose. They get around.

yellow freesia

Yellow freesia

I bought a bag of assorted colors several years ago, and they’ve come back bigger and better every year. So far I’ve seen yellow, red and white (my favorite) but I think a few purple ones will be up soon. I took a handful to a friend today with a few sprigs of asparagus fern. The wonderful scent lingered in my car even after they were gone.

red freesia

Red freesia

white freesia

White freesia near the walkway

Freesias, sweet peas and daffodils

white freesia

Freesia toppling over the walkway

white freesia curb garden

Freesia in the curb garden

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could press your nose to your screen and drink in that scent? Perhaps one of those twenty-something technical geniuses will develop a scratch-and-sniff like feature.

The hyacinths are also up dusting corners of the garden with their potent scent.

purple hyacinth

Purple Hyacinth (William of ‘William and Kate’)

hyacinth

Pink Hyacinth (Kate of ‘William and Kate’)

It’s no surprise that even manufactured scents try to borrow from nature: rose-scented perfume, lemon-scented dish detergent and lavender-infused essential oils. Nothing tops nature.

Along the fence, our jasmine vine is in full bloom, inviting me to linger under its shade. I hope it survives the abuse it will get when work boots hit the ground. It’s time to replace the fence.

Star Jasmine

Star Jasmine vine

curb garden

Curb garden with daffodil and freesia

daffodils in the curb garden

Narcissus: 1) Daffodils; 2) Mouse the Cat

The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life. Jean Giraudoux

So what do you think? Could “scratch and sniff” be the wave of the future? Mmmmmmm

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Robins and Daffodils and The Case of the Missing Rain

If the Daffodils are up, it must be February. Who needs a calendar when you can look out your front window and see this:

daffodil closeup

Daffodils: Just the Beginning

I’m amazed year after year that those tiny, brown orbs buried beneath the soil know exactly what to do and when.

For years I drooled over the Holland Bulb catalogs, but so many of the flowers need a really cold winter to do well. I tried tulips, refrigerating them first for six weeks in the crisper. Time in the cold environment simulates winter. The first year nothing came up. I wondered if I planted them too deeply or perhaps upside down. Maybe they rotted in the ground? There was no evidence that they’d been devoured by a critter.  I tried again about a decade later, once again lulled by the promise of beautiful tulips in my garden. About half of the bulbs produced beautiful blooms, but by the following year I was down to one.

After a bit of research I learned that Daffodil bulbs (narcissus) are toxic to squirrels so they leave them alone. They don’t require a cold winter and they can stay in the ground year round. Now that’s my kind of bulb.

Using the broadcast method where you toss the bulbs to the ground, then plant them where they land, I filled the curb garden box with 50 bulbs.  Every last one of them bloomed!

daffodil collage feb 5 and 10

Daffodils: February 5th and 10th

daffodil trio

Daffodil Trio

Emboldened, I bought 25 more bulbs the following year, this time the two-toned variety. They’re coming into bloom about a week after the original planting.

pair of two toned daffodil

What’s Up, Buttercup: A Two-toned Daffodil

Also outside my kitchen window this past week: A thirsty flock of Robins.

three red robins

Trio of Robins

Though the American Robin is common throughout the States, we don’t usually see them flock in our neighborhood. Over the past two weeks, no doubt prompted by our strangely warm, spring-like weather, they’ve been gathering in nearby trees and drinking at our watering hole. Robins are handsome birds with an equally delightful song.

They prefer a meal of worms, but once the ground is frozen, they’ll migrate and then feast on berries. All that flying back and forth between trees means they’ve left quite a mess in their wake. You take the good with the bad, right?

I made myself late to Pilates last Thursday as I went into the kitchen for some water and fled for my camera instead. There were at least a dozen robins, one sitting in the water fountain, and the rest taking turns for a drink. By the time I put the microchip in the camera, then found a place to take pictures hiding around the corner of the garage several had moved on. I still got a few shots in and around my MacGyvered watering hole and garden.

robins drinking from the fountain

Robins taking turns at the watering hole

The garden is coming alive with color.  We’ve had ten days of unseasonably high temperatures but only a trace of rain. Today, San Jose may tie a record high set in 1943. February is traditionally our rainiest month. In a state that counts its rainfall in fractions, February is the star with an average of 3.31 inches (8.41 cm) of rain. Our annual rain fall is only about 15 inches. It’s February 15th and we’ve only recorded 0.05 inches! So while it sounds uncharitable to complain about blue skies and warm weather…well, I’m complaining.  We desperately need more rain.

If your swimming in surplus precipitation, please send it our way.

A Little of This and That

I’ve been puttering in the garden here and there over the past week, but I still haven’t put together a plan for the summer. I pruned a hedge and pulled a few weeds but my busy schedule hasn’t allowed for much more.

William and Kate hyacinth

The purple hyacinths have now taken the place of the pink ones. The dark pink freesia is still in bloom

As we enter year four of our drought, water restrictions are increasing. According to the state water agency, 44% of residential water use is outdoors. We’re now restricted to watering once every three days, using the odd/even method based on home address, and we can only water before 6 am or after 6 pm.

I’ve left both vegetable beds empty for now. My original plan was to leave one box empty and plant some tomatoes and basil in the other. I love fresh tomatoes and basil and know that we’ll eat them all summer long. The tomatoes, however, have sprouted all over the garden, self-planting like they did last year.  Instead of moving the plants, we’re going to add drip irrigation to the viable plants and see how it goes.

tomato in gravel

Self-planting tomatoes

Last fall I sheet-mulched one half of the lawn, but the process is still ongoing. The grass died off as planned and much of the material is decomposing, but with so little rain, it’s taking longer than planned for it all to decompose. It’s not very pretty, is it?

sheet mulch march 20

Sheet mulch in process

Comically, I have a pair of potato plants growing in the midst of the sheet mulch. It will be interesting to see if the plant flowers since it’s in the shade most of the day.

potatoes growing in mulch

Potatoes volunteered in the mulch

As the bright yellow daffodils begin to fade, a second group of plantings are taking their place. They’re two-toned and a bit shorter, but just as lovely. I’ve had great success with bulbs once I figured out what the squirrels don’t like, namely narcissus (daffodils), and hyacinth.

daffodils in the curb garden

Daffodils transition in the curb garden

pale yellow daffodils

Narcissus in the curb garden

We had a bit of rain overnight, and woke to a refreshed garden. That was a wonderful surprise. I only wish I hadn’t slept through it.

I hope your week is off to a good start.

The Winter That Never Was

daffodils

Daffodils growing in the curb garden

Spring is technically less than a month away, but the view outside my window is shouting, spring, spring, spring!

pink hyacinth and fuchsia freesia

‘William and Kate’ Hyacinth and fuchsia Freesia

San Jose, California is more that two-thirds of the way through the winter that never was.

Initially, I gave Winter the benefit of the doubt. Though the calendar announced the arrival of winter solstice in late December, Winter decided to take his time. As a woman in her mid-fifties, I respect that. I no longer move like a twenty year old and my memory isn’t that great either. Winter, however, forgot about January entirely. No rain and above-average temps ruled the month. Winter left us high and dry, leading us into year four of our historic drought.

Okay, so December and January came and went, but surely February would live up to its winter reputation: cold, windy and wet. We’re ready.

san jose temperatures february

Source: Accuweather

As you can see by the Accuweather chart above, virtually every day this month has been warmer than average, sometimes by as much as 12 degrees. Winter says no can do.

While the rest of the country is battered by rain, wind, sleet and snow, it seems ungrateful to complain. I enjoy beautiful weather as much as the next gardener, but it feels like cheating. It’s supposed to rain in January. February is known for cold, windy days and a good splashing isn’t unheard of either. Our forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife depend on it.  Winter left town and I miss him terribly.

Winter, won’t you please come home?

Daffodil Dance

Shortly after planting my daffodil bulbs, I saw signs of digging everywhere. Little pockmarks appeared in the same random pattern as the naturalized bulbs. Foiled again!

I fluffed up the soil and hoped for the best. Surely the anonymous foragers left a few behind.

All that worry was for not. (Which is almost always true, but that is for another day). Apparently daffodils (narcissus) aren’t that tasty. I’ve since learned that it’s one of the few bulbs that even bunnies will leave alone.

All fifty bulbs came up! Ten are in bloom, with several more about to bud. I’m so cheered by these flowers.

It’s easy to see the inspiration for William Wordsworth’s poem Daffodil:

“Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

curb garden daffodils

Curb garden daffodils

the long view

The long view

spreading cheer

Spreading cheer

A lovely rendition of William Wordsworth’s Daffodil:

Daffodils, Pomegranates and Wordsworth

DSC_0039I was feeling a little blue yesterday, so what better way to bring cheer than flowers. Yellow flowers really brighten a room, especially in the middle of January.  Further, nothing says “spring is coming!” like daffodils.

The small potted bulbs were an impulse purchase, but I bought them without remorse. (Okay I’m a bit remorseful that I left a Weight Watchers meeting and bought dark chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds, but it was the daffodils I went in for.)  I lost weight so why wouldn’t I celebrate with a bit of heart-healthy dark chocolate?

I digress.

Daffodils (narcissus) originated in Spain and Portugal, though it was Holland that perfected the bulb trade.  According to American Meadows  “over nine billion flower bulbs are produced each year in Holland, and about 7 billion of them are exported, for an export value of three-quarters of a billion dollars. According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, the USA is the biggest importer of Dutch bulbs.”

I guess I’m not the only flower-lover making impulse purchases! William Wordsworth says it best:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

daffodilsDaffodils, by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.