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.

Thirty Days in the Garden: Sunday Snapshot 2.0

I’ve put together some favorite garden photos from the week for another Sunday Snapshot. We’ve had temperatures ranging from 45 to 88 F here in San Jose. I’m hanging my hopes on the potential for rain by Friday, but the estimates are low.

I once told a friend that the best time to pull weeds is after the last rain of the season. The wet soil is happy to relinquish the weeds, roots, and all. I didn’t wait this year, and it’s just as well. Things are still looking fresh. I’ll continue to enjoy it while it lasts.

I hope you’ve had a pleasant weekend.

Nature vs. Nurture: A Garden in Flux


Bougainvillea (Water just once a week)

I’m gradually turning our garden into a more sustainable oasis. Instead of nurturing the English garden of my dreams, I’m letting nature do the talking. I’ve learned a lot from four years of drought.

We’re no longer watering our lawn, allowing nature to takes its course. I met with a landscape designer a few weeks ago and he’s putting together a design for native perennials. I’m envisioning a small meadow that attracts native birds and insects.

Last week I submitted an application to the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Conservation Unit. It will take five to seven weeks to process a one page request, but so it goes with many government agencies. That in turn will generate a lengthy packet of materials to complete, and only then can we proceed (if we want to receive a rebate). As the drought drags on, the rebates increased. Original rebates offered seventy-five cents per square foot. They’ve now increased to $2 per square foot for:

converting high water using landscape (i.e. irrigated turf or functional swimming pool) to low water using landscape. These increases are temporary, through December 31, 2015, and certain restrictions apply

Our back lawn is 370 square feet. If approved we’ll receive a $740 rebate. The front lawn is a bit larger so all told, getting this approval will put a nice dent in the conversion costs. With or without the rebate, we’re going forward with the plans.

In addition to converting the lawn into native landscaping, I’m no longer filling pots with annuals. We have three large pots on the deck that receive irrigation from a drip line. Everything that was hand-watered is gone or replaced with succulents that get by on virtually no water at all.

red succulent

Potted Succulents

Welcome to the Garden

Late yesterday, just before sitting down to write my fairy garden post, I received an out-of-the-blue package from my friend Kristi. Along with her lovely note she sent these charming fairy garden treasures.  I wasted no time adding them to the garden. I adore that little sign!

fairy garden welcome to the garden sign

New Welcome to the Garden Sign

I tucked the new hammock among the soft greenery. It’s the perfect napping place and makes me wish I was Thumbelina. Thank you, Kristi!

fairy garden hammock

The napping place

fairy garden sign and hammock

Fairy Garden Vignette

All or Nothing: Rain in San Jose

rain on the street

Over worked storm drains send rain water down the street (that’s our curb garden on the left)

San Jose received about six inches of rain last year, marking year three of our drought. A more typical rainfall averages 12 – 18 inches annually. With that in mind, you can appreciate how welcome our recent storms have been. Unfortunately, the past 24 hours brought rain in the other extreme. Here’s what Accuweather had to say:

A Flash Flood Watch and a High Wind Warning are in effect for the San Francisco – Coastal North Bay including San José. Moderate to heavy rainfall and high winds are expected with flash flooding possible across northern California.

mid day rainfall

Mid-day rainfall

The public should closely monitor weather forecasts and take precautions. Driving conditions may be very poor at times during this severe storm.

stranded car

Stranded car. Police on the scene, help on the way

Several area schools closed for the day and we were all encouraged to stay home if we could. My husband worked from home and to my relief they cancelled a business dinner in the city due to power failures and flooded streets. I’m glad he is close to home on a night like this.

A few of the storm drains on our street backed up for a few hours, but otherwise it’s been okay. The North Bay, about two hours from here, took the brunt of the storm which continues till early Friday morning. It’s been an interesting day.

Downed trees and power lines are the biggest safety risk in storms like this. I learned something new today as well. After several years of drought, large trees shrink their roots in an effort to conserve water. When heavy rains hit all at once, trees are at greater risk of falling. I never knew.

This beautiful pine tree shades our garden year round and provides shelter and exercise for the squirrels. The tree grows in our neighbor’s yard at the corner of our shared fence. An arborist thinned the tree canopy just three weeks ago. At the same time they declared the tree healthy and in sound condition. What a relief.

pine tree pruning

Neighboring Pine Tree Gets a Trim

Californian’s enjoy moderate weather year round, so this is a big deal for us. Other parts of the country experience heavy snowfall, tornadoes, hurricanes and bitter cold. We simply suffer the occasional heat wave and of late, this confounding drought.

My hope is that the rest of the Bay Area weathers the storm as well as we have, and that we can appreciate this gift of moisture for our rain-parched state.

Wherever your are, I hope you’re safe, warm and dry. Cheers to you.

Drizzle, Fizzle

Our ‘chance of rain’ was a tiny drizzle in the middle of the night. San Jose saw 0.01″ in the past 24 hours.  No puddle splashing for me today.

On the bright side, the garden looks refreshed.  The fog, mist and drizzle freshened up the foliage so that’s something.

Here’s what I saw on my morning rounds.

I mentioned a random bulb growing out of the bottom of the vegetable bed last week.  The lovely Narcissus made her debut yesterday.



I need to prune this four-in-one fruit tree but I’ve been putting it off. It’s grown tall so I need a ladder. Two years ago I fell off the ladder trying to cover the tree with netting, and I’ve been nervous about it ever since.

fruit tree buds

Raindrops on tree buds

I see little blueberry buds. Sweet!

Blueberry buds

Blueberry buds

Succulents need very little water. I haven’t watered these plants in months.

Flowering succulent

Flowering succulent

Silver drops

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass [as if], it’s about learning to dance in the rain. Vivian Greene