Feb 9, 2010

January Showers Bring February Flowers

Spring comes early for us lucky Californians (to think some people have to wait till May!) so I thought I’d take a moment to document my yard’s first outward signs of it. Blooms, that is! Below are the first of what I consider spring blooms. While I have a potted Arctostaphylos uva-ursi with lovely blooms, and a Ribes malvaceum that’s been decked out for over a month, I consider those winter bloomers, so don’t count them as harbingers of spring. However, I have heard numerous reports of some of the species below blooming in other people’s gardens weeks ago. I’m finding that part of the thrill (and I mean thrill) of redoing a yard in natives is learning what its own particular seasonal schedules will be.

So, my eager greeters of spring:

Salvia spathacea. Only one flower stalk so far, and I’m glad to see it, because this plant is among the first natives I ever bought and planted, some over two years ago, but they haven’t bloomed for me yet. (Experienced gardeners out there, please tell me, is this one of those plants that has to live for a few years before blooming?) I would love to see multitudes of flower stalks rising out of the Salvia patch one day. Right now I guess even saying "patch" is pushing it--more of a smattering--but some people have "warned" me of this sage's "invasiveness." At this point, I wish. This is one of those plants that other people were reporting in bloom weeks ago, so I hope mine are just a little tardy.

Second: Salvia mellifera, or Mel, as I call mine. Weighing in with three blooming stalks, and way more than three times the overall volume it was a year ago, Mel is so far one of the most successful citizens in the New Yard Order. Bought this lovely critter as a gallon at a botanic garden, labeled as just S. mellifera, but it’s looking to be actually a prostrate form. And that’s okay, the low sprawling version fits the spot just fine, with blades of Nassella and Aristida poking out of it. I hope it develops a lot more than three blooms in the weeks to come. Didn't bloom too much in its first spring, last year.

Next up, Ceanothus ‘Concha.' Just one itty bitty blossom, somewhat lost in the branches, but I’m counting it. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I worship unabashedly at the altar of Ceanothus and welcome the arrival of the purple-drenched season. Concha (or Conch Concherello, as I call it—sorry, gotta remember 70s TV for that one) is located next to a ‘Skylark’ Ceanothus, which blooms late, like into June, so in theory there will be a long stretch of Ceanothusyness each year. I worry a little about Conch ‘n’ Jon, er, Skylark, though, because their site is a bit shadier than my wishful-thinking memory had bet on.

That’s it for me bloom-wise so far. Oop, also some Lewisia cotyledon, which I forgot to photograph, but they seem to bloom on a whim whenever they feel like it, so not sure they count as signs of spring. Also some blooms on the wild strawberries, didn’t even think to photograph them—overlooked my lowly little friends, even though I really value them for their low groundcover usefulness.

Budding up next looks to be Ribes viburnifolium. It was blooming nicely by late February last year. I think it is a somewhat underrated plant, being really tough in dry conditions, yet able to grow and bloom in near full shade, and though others may describe the flowers as somewhat nondescript, I find them delightful. Here’s a pic from last year.

Finally, though my potted Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is covered in its sweet little pink bells, my ‘St. Helena’ and ‘Louis Edmunds’ Arctos are barely threatening to bloom. Some Arctostaphylos in the area are already dropping petals, so it causes me to worry a little that mine aren’t happy, but as I said, every site puts its own subtle spin on the seasons, so I’ll keep watching.


  1. I've only grown one Salvia spathacea plant, but my experience was that I planted it in March (from a 4-inch pot), it bloomed in May, and it died in June. So . . . well, take good care of it now that it's blooming. Mine died before the flowers even had a chance to produce seeds.

  2. Very pretty and delicate. Southern Utah has a fairly early spring, not February by any means but unfortunately it doesn't last too long before it gets too hot for the flowers. :( Enjoy your petals!

  3. Great show! Yes, Salvia S. is temperamental. Seems like it gets fungus in too much shade, and wilts away in too much sun. But if you get conditions just right, yes, then it might be a tad invasive but easy too pull.

    Happy bloom day!

  4. My S. spathacea are doing funny things also. One day looking like the statue of liberty thrusting their flower heads towards the sky, welcoming all and the next day all droopy and depressed. The white/cream form is flowering outside the UC Botanical Gardens at the moment.

    Did you find that your Aristida re-seeded?

  5. Thanks for the comments! It seems S. spathacea is a bit touchy for everyone, so that makes me feel a little less incompetent! Troy, I think you may have just hit on the perfect metaphor for the country! Gulp. I wonder what is depressing your Salvias--I'll keep an eye on mine and try to keep their spirits up...The Aristida is probably reseeding, but I haven't gone to Grass Seedling ID School, so I just pull up any grass that pops up in case it is a weed. I collected an envelope full of the seed in the summer, thinking I'd grow plugs of it, but never got around to planting. Dang.

  6. Thanks! The Ribes is quite nice. Since writing this post, it has burst into bloom, and it's quite lovely this year, because there's a combination of new blooms and old berries. I've just potted up a cutting of this plant--had limited success getting cuttings to root, but I'm going to try some more so I can use this plant in other dry shady areas.

  7. I've recently fallen under the spell of Ceanothus. I've seriously thought about sending postcards to the homes of people with particularly nice specimens, asking what kind they are.

  8. Lisa and Robb,
    That's a cool idea I never thought of. Some homeowners probably know and some probably don't. I was recently in someone's back yard and practically fainted over three Ceanothus that were so, so beautiful and wonderful-smelling. I suspect they were Joyce Coulter, but all the homeowner could say was that they were "Ceanosis." Web searching should bring up a decent amount of info with pics, so that might help you identify different ones. There is also an entire book called "Ceanothus" by David Fross that looks great but which I haven't purchased yet. "California Native Plants for the Garden" by Bornstein et. al has a good run-down of different types, as does "Native Treasures" by Nevin Smith.