May 24, 2011

The Garden Has Its Own Schedule

I haven't been in the native gardening game--or even the plain old gardening game--for too many years yet, so I'm still getting accustomed to what blooms when. And the plants seem to mix it up and keep me guessing, too. This year I've noticed some substantial deviations from the blooming schedule of previous years.

Usually the Clarkias are just revving their flower engines at the beginning of May, even late April, but this year I didn't see any Clarkia blooms till the latter half of May. Usually by Bay to Breakers weekend, which is always the third Sunday in May, they are past their prime and I could start to collect seed from them, if I weren't too busy with guests and Breakers-related activities. But this year, with only a week left in May, there are many buds still to open.

Also, curiously, the Clarkia unguiculata, which in past years has towered in great, dense pink forests, up to 6 feet tall (!) is much shorter this year. And, sadly, the Clarkia amoena, a stunningly showy flower that nobody ever believes is native, seems to be absent in the yard this season.

I don't seem to have any Phacelia tanacetifolia, either. Usually that lovely wildflower would be gone to seed by now, in a big cluster where it used to pop up, but this year I had only two Phacelia volunteers, and they got eaten by deer.  (Probably not a smart move on the deer's part, as that species of Phacelia has irritating little hairs all over it.)

I kind of miss my no-shows in the wildflower department, and may get a couple new packs of seed next year to start a new population. I don't know why the annuals were suppressed this year; I think it may be because we had very early October rain, and then long dry spells in November and December, and some may have germinated then croaked.

There is still a lot of Clarkia unguiculata coming into bloom, though, and soon I'll be cutting it and bringing it inside. It looks lovely alongside my woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum), but usually it towers over the Trichostema--this year is opposite.

Normally by this year my sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) is turning dry and rust-colored by this time, as it's one of the earliest spring bloomers, but this year it was late as well, and therefore, delightfully, still going strong.  Here it is next to its relative Eriogonum crocatum, a later bloomer (the front plant with the blue-gray leaves).  Looks like this year I'll get simultaneous bloom on these two buckwheats, which is kind of a treat.

A super late bloomer this year is the lovely blue bulb, Triteleia laxa (Ithuriel's Spear). It normally makes an aquamarine-colored splash throughout the yard in April and early May, but as of this writing, there is barely enough blooming to eke out a photograph.

Another of the normally earliest precursors of spring is my cheery Grindelia hirsutula. Normally its sunny yellow flowers lighten up the dreary weeks of late February, early March, but this year they've just now gotten into full swing. What would cause such a drastic variation in schedule, I don't really know. I did fear that those plants were dead last summer, though, they went so utterly dormant and crusty. I was amazed and pleased when I saw green leaves returning at their bases, but it took quite some time. I don't know if they'd have made it if it hadn't been such a lovely, long, way-above-normal rain year.

 I quite like that the garden takes on a life of its own and calls its own shots. Sometimes the shots are a little sad, as when previous volunteers decline to return, but in general, sitting back and watching what happens is the greatest joy in gardening.