Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*

Spring Colors: Cool as a Cucumber*


Can you imagine a world without color?

Not me!

There’s room in every garden for the full rainbow spectrum. In my post Some Like it Hot, I featured many of the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues of my garden.

The cooler range of a primary rainbow includes blue, green, indigo and violet. They’re also my favorites.

In addition to providing a cool and lovely contrast to the heat of the garden, the cooler colors serve an important purpose. Green of course is the very backbone of plant life.

Plants derive their green color from a pigment called chlorophyll, literally translated as “green leaf”. This allows the plant to draw light and energy to thrive.

While the bright flowers get center stage, green is working hard in the wings to keep the garden healthy and strong. Green leaves also serve as excellent camouflage for beneficial insects such as praying mantis. Earth tones of brown and grey, provide birds with cover from predators.

Purple, violet and blue-like blooms attract bees, hummingbirds, bluebirds, and jays. Perhaps I should add “and gardeners” as green and purple are my two favorite colors.

I recently learned that

Purple is common in plants, largely thanks to a group of chemicals called anthocyanins. When it comes to animals, however, purple is more difficult to produce.

Source, Natural History Museum

I read years ago that there is no real blue when it comes to flowers. According to Mother Nature Network

There is no true blue pigment in plants, so plants don’t have a direct way of making a blue color,” Lee said. “Blue is even more rare in foliage than it is in flowers.” he added. “Only a handful of understory tropical plants have truly blue foliage.

While I’m on the subject of cool colors, I forgot to let you know the answer to the quiz on my Hobbiton Movie set post. I posed the question, “which of the three trees picture below is a fake?” The answer is The Oak Tree

From the blog The Curious Kiwi

The large oak tree above Bilbo’s house was cut down and transported to Hobbiton where its branches were bolted back in place. Thousands of artificial leaves were wired to the branches, all for a few seconds of filming.

*Cool as a cucumber – Bloomsbury International. Extremely calm, relaxed and in control of your emotions. This phrase may have originated from the fact that even in hot weather, the inside of cucumbers are approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.How cool is that?

Spring Colors: Some Like it Hot

Orange nasturtium

This orange nasturtium has a banana-yellow center and a lovely pair of eyelashes

Nature always wears the color of the spirit.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unless you’re an allergy sufferer, you probably love spring. It’s a magical time in the garden when spring colors emerge from winter’s slumber while the birds sing their happy tune.

Red and Pink

 

After years of planting assorted bulbs and spring-mix seed packets, it’s fun to see the color assortment burst forth. Wrapped around the perennials, and sometimes hiding below, touches of spring color emerge. To be fair, many of the weeds are colorful too. You just have to decide what stays and what goes.

Orange

 

According to birder Melissa Mayntz of The Spruce:

Different birds are attracted to different colors. Individual bird species may see the “best” colors as indicating a food source. Other birds may be more attracted to the colors of their own plumage as those could indicate a potential mate or another bird that is surviving well.

Most bright colors, however, can be used to attract birds, with certain bird species being more attracted to particular shades.

Red and Pink: Hummingbirds
Orange: Orioles, hummingbirds
Yellow: Goldfinches, warblers, hummingbirds

Yellow

 

Interesting that red, orange and yellow are the first three colors of a primary rainbow. I think nature is on to something, don’t you?

Not to be undone green, blue and violent show up every spring as well. They’re the cooler colors, providing a lovely contrast to the heat of the spectrum. Stay tuned for their turn in the garden.

Communal Sweet Peas

My bountiful sweet peas are enjoying a bit of celebrity. They continue to grow taller, fuller, and more fragrant by the day, attracting comments from neighbors and friends.  I had a chuckle the other day when my petite neighbor passed the house on the sidewalk, momentarily disappearing behind the tall vines.  When she reemerged on the other side I smiled. Who knew that a garden overflowing with delicate and fragrant flowers could be so uplifting?

Sweet peas embrace the Chinese Pistache

If I were still ten-years-old I would build a fort in the middle of the sweet peas. There would be a secret entrance and everything.  As it is, I can no longer reach the center of the garden, where a few tall weeds are thumbing their nose at me.

A tangle of sweet peas, Nigella, and cornflowers with a few of the natives peaking through

Since returning from my travels, I’ve cut sweet peas for a friend’s birthday and as a thinking-of-you posy. Today I took small jars of flowers to my Pilates classmates. I’ve filled bottles and jars with the sweet blooms, accompanied by cornflowers and Nigella buds for a bit of greenery.

This is the first time I’ve used my “From the Garden Of” stamp. It came in a small box with a green stamp pad and a small, green pencil.

A close-up of my gardening stamp

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, so a neighbor asked if she could cut some flowers for her son’s teacher. It’s wonderful sharing the bounty.

I chased a bee with my camera, but to no avail. He had places to go, flowers to pollinate.

A blush of pink: a new color this season

The original starter seeds were a gift from my friend Kelly. She thoughtfully included purple so that my sister Sharon could also enjoy them when she came for a visit. I’d never planted sweet peas before so I made a novice move and planted them in the spring. The plants fizzled, so Kelly and I surmised that they didn’t like the conditions in San Jose. Eventually we let the front lawn die off and replaced the area with native and drought tolerant plants.

As far as I can tell, the process of turning the soil in the fall, followed by a generous helping of rain awakened the seeds. They spread all over the garden, jumping the sidewalk and making a run for the street. It’s hard to convey the joy I get from this garden.

The sweet peas won’t last through the summer. One major heat wave will be their undoing. My Canadian friends can keep them going for the summer, but in semi-arid San Jose, the flowers wilt in the heat like me. Knowing this makes them all the more sweet.

The last two days have been insufferably hot in the Bay Area. We’re within three degrees of breaking a heat record for this time of year with 87 F (31C) predicted in San Jose. Fortunately the weather is cooling off by the weekend so we can sleep comfortably once again.

I hope this week’s heat won’t send my sweet peas packing. Last year’s crop lasted through June. I’m working hard at living in the moment, remaining mindful, while enjoying that subtle fragrance wafting through the evening air.

Jars of sweet peas decorated with vintage seam binding and my new “From the Garden” stamp

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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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Easter Flowers and Kindred Spirits

This sweet little ceramic chick appears every spring. It was a gift from Nichole, a family friend and our go-to babysitter when our boys were young. She’s always been a wonderful presence in our lives.

garden posy

Garden Posy

I gathered a few flowers from our spring garden today, with just enough purple and yellow blooms to fill the tiny vase.

The garden posy includes Snapdragons, Daffodils, Bachelor Buttons, Pincushion flowers, Campanula, Statice and a mystery flower.

I photographed the same flower just last week at a home tour.

mystery flower

Mystery flower

Then one appeared in my garden, probably carried by the wind or dropped by a bird last season.  It pushed its way up between two shrubs and flowered today. Serendipity!

Can you help me identify the flower?

mystery flower

Mystery flower: white, purple and yellow

After a hectic few days, I was finally able to catch my breath. I opened an extra-special package from my kindred spirit, Boomdee. I wish you could have seen the smile spread across my face as I opened the tiny treasures. The sweetest little chair appeared, along with tiny wooden stepping ‘stones’ in a lovely moss-green.  An adorable lantern, also on display in Alyster the Gnome’s cozy home sent my heart a flutter.  Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?

easter fairy garden

Impromptu Easter fairy garden

step right up

Step right up

There were more treasures and a beautiful card and the most amazing package you’ve ever seen, decorated with bunnies, a fence and pretty spring flowers. Be still my heart. This paper posy decorated the card inside.

crafting goodness from Boomdee

Crafting goodness from Boomdeeadda

If you’re not already following her blog, you’re missing out. If you’re a regular follower of Boomdeeadda you’re already shaking your head and saying, “I know, I know, fantastic, right!?”

Happy Easter!

Fairy garden furniture available at Corinthia Flowers.  Check it out!

Garden Triangle

Around this time last year, I removed a wedge of lawn near the sidewalk to make room for some flowers.  That nifty little triangle of dirt proved to be a lot of fun.  Through spring, summer and early fall, an assortment of flowers bloomed. By late November, most of it had gone to seed.  All that remained was the Statice, relocated from the curb garden earlier in the year.

My reward for letting the plants go to seed: a host of spring ‘volunteers.’

Here is a photo from February 25th:

wedge garden

Wedge garden: February 25th

Here it is today:

wedge garden march 26th

Wedge garden: March 26th

The Statice really filled out. It’s also about to bloom. The purple and yellow pansies are blooming for the second time and the seedlings have doubled or tripled in size. Now that the growing pattern is taking shape, I transplanted a few volunteer seedlings heavily concentrated at the curb. Spade in hand, I held my breath and took the plunge. They drooped for half a day, then bounced right back. Now I’ll have a nice mix throughout the triangle.

congregating at the curb

Congregating at the curb

garden pansies

Garden pansies spring back to life

purple statice

Purple Statice

any guesses

Still a mystery. Any guesses?

I collected a lot of seeds last year, including Cosmos, Bachelor Buttons, Four O’clock’s and Zinnias.  Between the collected seeds, the volunteers and the bag of wildflowers (intended for last year but lost, then found) the garden should bloom all season.

Do you have a favorite spring flower?  Is there something you’ve always wanted to grow?  Let me know in the comments below.