Bloom alert…

A few days ago (February 16) I shared with you a bearded iris on the cusp of blooming–very early even in my mild winter weather garden. Throughout the daylight hours of Saturday, February 24th, this bloom slowly unfurled to its full 6″ beauty.

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Tall bearded iris ‘Blueberry Bliss’, although beautiful, would probably not be a standout in a garden planted with many other bearded varieties blooming in shades of blue, lavender, purple and white but in my garden which currently has lots of healthy iris foliage coming on but no other flowers it draws your eye like a beacon in the night!

This one is new to my garden, part of a large Schreiners Iris Gardens order I planted last fall. The color is more purple than the advertised navy blue but the fans are robust and the stems are tall with 3+ branches each bearing many buds. Two other new varieties are planted on either side, one a midseason bloomer and the other a late bloomer, none of those fans are showing even a peek of what is to come. People who garden are the world’s most persistent optimists–there is always something to look forward to!

 

The winter that wasn’t…

This morning I enjoyed a fellow garden blogger’s new post entitled Snow Day from gardeninacity (a Chicago area writer) and my eyes were once again opened to the vast differences in gardening cycles across our country. Check it out and be sure to like, comment and or follow to let him know you’ve found his site.

On opposite side of the weather spectrum, most of us here in California are not buried under snow and would probably pay to have Chicago’s fluffy, white stuff trucked in to dump in our yards.

I always refer to my garden as being in a mild winter or temperate winter zone–not a dramatic winter with ice storms or snowfall but a winter where historical lows have been in the 40-50 degrees daytime, colder night and some early morning frost or fog. This “winter” is really our only hope of annual rainfall with almost all of the year’s precipitation occurring in December through February.

This year our winter has been more like a Southern California winter and So Cal’s winter  has often approached conditions that many other areas never see in their warmest winters. In January, my Orange County gardening bff posted pics on Facebook more than once showing her thermometer in the mid nineties. Late to the Garden Party is a great Southern California garden blog to check out if you want to see what’s going on down that way. Here in the Central Valley I have been shirt sleeved gardening since Christmas with temperatures pretty consistently in the mid 60s and 70s. Our mountain cabin at 5000 feet elevation has had no appreciable snow and has also seen much warmer than average temperatures.

All these extra degrees have not been accompanied by much measurable rain with the exception of the massive overnight storm which caused the devastating mudslides down the fire ravaged hillsides of Montecito near Santa Barbara. Our rainfall season in Fresno County runs from October 1-September 30 each year. Rainfall to date is 1.64″. Our normal or historical average is 6.74″ at this point and 11.5″ for the full season. Last year was a banner year for us in which we reached our normal full season number by mid-February.

There are both positive and negative consequences of all this lovely spring like but dry weather in months when we should be inside eating soup and binge watching Netflix. On the plus side, I have gotten an enormous amount of maintenance work done and will approach actual spring with a much shorter punch list. We also have been able to actively work on yet another lawn removal effort–with a wet winter we would have been looking at bare dirt until fall 2018.

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Since these photos were taken we have started tilling and amending–more on this project soon.

Not so exciting is the prospect of a summer with even tighter outdoor watering restrictions (we are at a single day per week NOW with watering only before 9 am and after 6 pm) and a garden full of trees, shrubs and perennials which will enter the most heat stressed part of their year all ready somewhat starved for deep ground moisture. Many plants which normally gain the new season’s strength from their winter rest have never gone dormant and many others have all ready flushed out new growth which may be in danger of damage from an unexpected late frost.

Here’s a smattering of what’s blooming now in my garden:

Clockwise–Fernleafed lavender (Lavandula multifidia); Cherry Sunblaze rose; calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

Clockwise–Pulmonaria ‘Tivoli Fountain’; Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’; Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’; unknown cultivar of pansy; Anisodontea x hypomandarum ‘Slightly Strawberry’

Clockwise–Geranium sanguineum striatum; Penstemon ‘Midnight’; Salvia chiapensis

I noticed this bloom stalk on one of my bearded iris just peeking out of the foliage on February 1st and photographed it on February 8th. I often have several remondant bearded iris bloom off and on all winter but this is by far the earliest I have seen a single bloom cycle iris with a bloom almost open.

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So while I am sure gardeners in snow covered areas are longing for spring, I am a little envious of those of you still tucked in for your garden’s long winter’s nap–at least it is a season you can count on!

 

Australian Astroturf…

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I have been accumulating a few miniature conifers to use in a shallow dish garden and recently made a quick pit stop at my local specialty garden center to pick up a small container of scotch moss to add to the plant mix. While ringing up my purchase the owner lamented about the fact that I had gotten the last one and how he had kept meaning to put a container aside to experiment with. I’ll admit I was not really focused on the exchange and when I got into my car I wondered what all the fuss was about–scotch moss is a dime a dozen in most nurseries!

It was not until I got home that I realized I had NOT purchased the needed scotch moss but a look-alike called Scleranthus biflorus. The plant tag announced its common name as Australian Astroturf and I was immediately captivated, although still without the scotch moss!

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The almost instantaneous miracle of the internet supplied lots of information on this Australian ground cover, native to the country’s natural alpine and coastal areas. Who knew that Australia–home to every living critter that can kill you instantly–even HAD natural alpine areas? This perky mat forming, almost spongey perennial is part of the dianthus (think carnation) family and is known as lava lime to the down under gardening community. Most sources also mention that it will bear tiny white flowers.

Cultural requirements include a location with full sun to bright shade, USDA zones 9-11. The United States websites indicated the plant to be very drought tolerant while the Australian gardening web cited the need for some moisture. I guess the driest of our climate zones doesn’t even come close to what the Aussies deal with! The key seems to be excellent drainage.

 

Pulling the specimen out of its quart container I found its roots to be a very fine but dense mass, perfect for division by slicing in half–giving me the opportunity to try it out in more than one location.

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I put one half in a little full sun spot which gets some irrigation runoff from under the weeping juniper but is basically out of the direct line of fire of any one sprinkler. This little plug is only about 2″ by 4″ but its chartreuse color makes a great contrast to the blue green conifer. At a mature size of about 3″ tall with a 3 foot spread it should fill the open area without getting buried under the overhanging limbs.

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I sliced the remaining half in two and put the pie shaped pieces back in the original pot, alternating them with fresh potting soil. My bright but shaded holding area will allow me to keep an eye on the pot’s progress–it will be interesting to see how quickly the mass fills in!

A ‘new-to-me’ plant to play with gives me as much pleasure as a new pair of shoes, a great new dress or a special piece of jewelry might give someone else–the goes without saying exceptions being made only for for woodworking tools and diamonds! And now…back into the car to get that scotch moss.