Vernal Equinox: The Garden Always Knows

I refer to my calendar each year to confirm the first day of spring. My garden needs no such reminder. While I’m busy planning in my head or on paper, my garden knows it’s time to spring forth. Every year it takes my breath away. I’m more steward, than gardener most days. I keep the weeds at bay, train the vines away from the sidewalk and trim away spent flowers or browning leaves.

In truth, none of these things are necessary. I like a tidy garden, so grooming the plants brings me pleasure. It’s also an opportunity to kneel on the earth, a way to feel connected to something magnificent. Mother Earth never ceases to amaze me.

According to The Farmer’s Almanac:

“On the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the Sun’s rays about equally because the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun.”

Meteorologically speaking, March 1st is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Astronomically, the equinox is generally considered the start of spring. Today is the day that both hemispheres have exactly the same amount of daylight. That in itself is something fun to celebrate.

Come have a look at my garden on this cool, overcast, early spring day.

California poppy

California poppy, waiting to open. It’s our state flower

Cornflower bud

The first of the cornflower buds

Nigella bud

Nigella ready to bud. The bees love them.

Fuchsia freesia

Fuchsia freesia (say that three times)

curb garden spring

The narcissus stems make great supports for the budding sweet peas in the curb garden

three flowers in the curb garden

The beauty of threes

assorted freesia

Assorted freesia

mystery flower red

I planted this in a pot last summer and I forget what it is

yellow freesia and violets

Yellow freesia with violets at their feet

I have a bounce in my step and a racing heart. Spring, glorious spring. You never let me down. Are you ready for the changing season? Are you entering Spring or Autumn?

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Once the Heat Descends

sweet peas in vase

I continuously cut bunches of sweet peas to keep the plants blooming.

When you live in sunny San Jose, the heat waves are inevitable. What’s new, however, is the duration. In the past, the temps would rise for three days, then drop back to a seasonal norm. Now they seem to last five to seven days at a stretch. With my fair, cool-weather complexion I wilt. Sadly, so do the sweet peas.

Love in a mist collage

The Jungle, a self-seeded garden of Love in a Mist, Sweet Peas, California Poppies and Cornflowers in their prime.

Sweet peas going to seed

Snap, crackle pop. There’s beauty at every stage of the cycle.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the jungle in all its wonder. Sweet peas self-seeded early this year, followed by love-in-a-mist and then cornflowers. All of the flowers are various shades of purple. I love the way they offered each other support.

One by one though, they’re calling it quits for the season.

Encouraged by Pauline, Lisa and Kelly, I cut blooms several days a week.

sweet peas in vases-002

Close up view. The tiny hummingbird is a wine glass charm, a gift from a friend.

sweet peas in vases

This sweet little tea-pot is also a gift from a friend

I found miniature milk bottles at a craft store for $2, wrapped the neck with purple baker’s twine, then filled them with fragrant blooms. Sweet pea is the birth flower for April, and, coincidentally two of my Pilates classmates have April birthdays.  I brought each of them a small bouquet. I enjoyed sharing them with friends and neighbors, and even brought a few to a client.

Alas, the heat descended and the plants quickly dried and went to seed. Sweet peas prefer a cool 65 F (18C). We’ve had sustained temps ranging from 89 – 94 F (31-34C). I left them for a week till they were completely brown, then started pulling them out of the ground. I shook each plant liberally to drop any of the loosened seeds, then made a big pile to sort through on a cooler day. Ha!

Days later, on an overcast afternoon, I sat in a chair in the middle of the pile and harvested seed pods. I learned a few things. If the seed pod is still green, the seeds need to dry before storing. The brown seed pods, fully encased, give up wonderful, dry, ready to plant seeds for the following season.

sweet pea seed collage

Harvesting seeds, upper left, a twisted seed pod squeezed out the seeds for next year. Different stages of drying seeds. The garden natives start to fill in.

The most interesting for me though is what happens when the pods are ready to give up those seeds on their own. The pod cracks and then twists so that seeds are wrung out of the pod, dropping back into the soil for next year. That cracked, twisted pod has a beauty of its own.

The birds didn’t seem interested in the dried seeds. According to this Wiki article, unlike edible peas, the seeds are toxic.

bird cornflower

Feathered friends stop by for cornflower seeds

But here’s what happened the minute I cleared away the dried plants. I propped up the bedraggled cornflowers and the birds flocked to the plant by the dozens. I could see three to five at a time eating seeds, but when something startled them over a dozen birds emerged from the plant. They may have been there all along, but with the love in a mist and sweet peas dominating the jungle, the cornflowers were largely out of view.

birds eating cornflower seeds collage

It looks like they whole neighborhood stopped by. Aren’t they cute?

That too has now gone to seed and I’ve gradually cleared away the last of the plants for the season.

The garden looks a little bare without them. I’m also missing the bees that kept me company for weeks. Even the birds are scarcer than they were.

Yup, it’s a hot, dry summer in San Jose.

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Sweet Peas: Art, Friendship and Second Chances

When my boys were young, Sweet Pea was a favorite term of endearment. They’re teenagers now, so pet names are the kiss of death. I still think it in my head though, especially this time of year.

Sweet Friends

sweet pea seeds and gift bag

Sweet Pea seeds and the beautiful gift bag

Last year my kindred spirit sent me several packets of sweet pea seeds from up north. I planted them in a few places, to see what worked best. A few came up in the pots out back, but they died back quickly, challenging my garden mojo, They’re supposed to grow like wild flowers. We mused that perhaps they weren’t properly adapted for our hotter climate and chalked it up to experience.

Guess what? They’re back. They’re also bigger and brighter and happily growing in the garden. Don’t you love second chances?

sweet pea buds

These soft yellow buds opened to lavender flowers

sweet pea tendrils

Delicate but strong

sweet peas with dew drops

Flowers refreshed

This isn’t the first time I’ve planted seeds, that do so-so in the first year, then come on strong a year later. Look at them grow!

Artful Friends

Artist Nicole Meredith created The Flower Map as a way of fundraising for her own healing treatments. I met Nicole through a mutual friend and have followed her journey for several years. As her health improved, she launched The Flower Map. I purchased a handful of cards from her Etsy shop, to send and to give as gifts.

To my delight, Nicole sent me one of her original water colors as a gift. My cup overflows! I framed the sweet pea watercolor, both for its beauty and for the reminder that Nicole, too, is improving and getting her second chance at a healthy life. Her Etsy shop is currently ‘taking a break.’ Nicole, sending healing thoughts your way and thank you once again for this lovely gift.

nicole meredith the art map sweet peas

I’m not the only one who’s in love with sweet peas. Show some blogging love and have a look:

  • Silk and Threades writes beautifully about her own experiences. Check out The Tendrils of the Sweet Pea.
  • Take a look at Cathy’s beautiful vase and field of wild sweet peas (be still my heart) at Words and Herbs.
  • Bloom or Bust has a great idea for trailing sweet peas. She also used them in her wedding, which I think is the sweetest of all.

If you’re viewing this in ‘real time’, have a look at my Descending on D.C. widget to the right. Can you believe it? It’s counting down the hours, not days. I’m so excited.