Springtime On Time

According to these maples, spring is right on time.

Seasons in the Santa Clara Valley are not very distinct. They are not much more distinct in the Santa Cruz Mountains above. Hot weather in summer does not last for more than a few days, and usually cools off somewhat at night. Winter is never very cold, with light snow rarely falling only on the tops of the highest peaks.

Some believe that summer is our only season, with a few days of ‘not summer’. I would say that it is more like springtime all the time, with a few warm days, a few cool days, and a few rainy days. In many ways, it is great for gardening. However, it can be limiting for species that prefer more warmth in summer, or a good chill in winter. It can also be rather boring.

The vast orchards that formerly occupied the Santa Clara Valley were fortunately satisfied with the mild climate here, and actually enjoyed it. They got just enough chill and just enough warmth, but just as importantly, they appreciated the aridity. Late rain and humidity can ruin the same sorts of fruits in other climates.

Even without much distinction between seasons, springtime in the Santa Clara Valley was spectacular before the orchards were exterminated. A long time ago, tourists came to see it like the fall color of New England. Many or most tourists witnessed it while the weather where they came from was more like late winter. Natives considered the timing to be right on schedule.

However, the schedule did not coincide with what we learned about seasons in kindergarten. We cut out colored leaves from construction paper in autumn, even though there was not much fall color. We cut out snowflakes from white paper in winter, even though most of us had never seen snow. By the time we started cutting out flowers, most spring bloom was already done.

Norway maples always seemed to know what time of year it was. Schwedler maple, which is a darkly bronzed cultivar of Norway maple, was a common street tree in the Santa Clara Valley back then, particularly in tract neighborhoods that were build in the middle of the 1950s. Some disliked how it stayed bare and seemed to be dead after other trees bloomed and foliated.

To some of us, the reddish new growth of the Schwedler maples was what let us know that it really was springtime. Of course, we were done with all our spring planting by then, as allowed by the local climates. Also, the bloomed out orchards were already foliating. The maples just let us know that winter was completely finished and would not be back for several months.

Five young feral Norway maples at work are doing that splendidly right now. They lack the bolder color of the Schwedler maples, but they make the same statement. The bloom of the flowering cherries is exquisite, but not as convincing as the foliation of the maples.

California Is A Big Place

There are all kinds of natives.

California is a big place, with more environmental diversity than any other state and most other countries. It includes rainy and cool forests of Del Norte County, and dry and hot deserts of Imperial County. The snowy mountains of Placer County and the mild coastal plains of Los Angeles County are here too. There are hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and big fertile valleys.

Consequently, plants that are native to California are just as diverse. Many that are very well adapted to the environments that they naturally live in are not so well adapted to other environments that may be only a few miles away. They really do not want to go to some of the more divergent climates in other regions.

Coastal redwood that is so happy within its natural range on the foggy western slopes of the coast ranges to the north are not so happy on the drier eastern slopes of the same ranges. It probably would not survive for long in the Mojave Desert. California fan palm from the hot and arid region of Palm Springs languishes on the damp and cool western edge of San Francisco.

Most of the popular California native plants are popular because they do not need much water, if they need any at all. However, some are as unhappy with local climate conditions as exotic plants from other continents are. For example, few plants tolerate drought as well as Joshua tree does. Yet, Joshua tree is likely to grow fast and then rot because winters are too damp for them locally.

Of all the excellent plants that are native to California, the most excellent for local gardens are either the few plants that are native to the local region, or the many others that are native to similar regions. They do not need cold Sierra Nevada Winters, hot Death Valley summers, Mojave Desert aridity or San Francisco fog. They are right at home here.

Even natives need some help adapting to a new garden. Confining their roots to cans while they grow in nurseries is very unnatural for them. Once planted, they will need to be watered while their roots disperse enough to survive on rainfall, or with minimal watering.

Mild Seasons

These daisies are rarely without some degree of bloom.

There is not as much difference between the seasons here like there is in other climates. It might seem like we get only summer, with a briefly cooler and slightly rainy time of ‘not summer’. I can recognize the changing of the seasons because I am familiar with them. Those acquainted with more normal climate mind find our subdued seasons to be rather boring, and restrictive.

People from climates with more extreme weather and more pronounced seasons might not expect mild weather and mild climate to be restrictive or limiting. They tend to notice what grows here that would not survive out in gardens through colder winters, such as bougainvilleas, tropical hibiscus and so many of the popular succulents. Even more tropicals survive farther south.

What they do not notice are what does not do so well here. Although stone fruit does remarkably well here, and many apples and pears are more than adequately productive, there are many cultivars of apple and pear that prefer more chill than they could get here. Lilac gets sufficient chill to bloom well here, but not enough to bloom as splendidly as it does in the Upper Midwest.

For example, some might be impressed by the perennial daisies that bloom sporadically whenever they want to throughout the year here. These daisies take no time off for winter, and are rarely damaged by frost every few years or so. They are so rarely without bloom that it is not often possible to shear off deteriorating bloom without removing some of the unbloomed buds.

What goes unnoticed is the potentially subdued bloom of the forsythias, which are so reliably prolific where winters are cooler. Some are real duds this year, and all are blooming notably late. This is one of the consequences of a mild climate.

Forsythia, with twigs that are still bare in the background, is not much to brag about.


Bloom worthy of a Scooby Snack

Jeepers!! As Daphne Blake’s colleague, Fred Jones, might say, “Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.” What got into this Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’?! It rarely performs so well here, particularly so soon after being planted into a new landscape. This particular specimen, and about three others nearby, were planted as they finished bloom less than a year ago.

Since their season began, I have been commenting to those who share pictures of theirs, that such healthy and prolifically blooming daphne is enviable to those of us who do not live within a climate that is favorable to such performance. I know that this diminutive floral truss is not exactly exemplary compared to those of other regions, but for this region, it is almost spectacular.

The aroma is exquisite! It is everything that the rest of us grow daphne for, and is enhanced by the delightful but unseasonably clear and warm weather. Surroundings forests dampened by rain almost a month ago maintain just enough humidity for the fragrance to disperse. If it were not such a distinct fragrance, I would be wondering where it is originating. It is so unexpected.

Those in other regions believe that we can grow a more extensive variety of species here where winters are relatively mild. For some, that might be true. However, there are many climactic factors that limit what can be grown in every region. Species that require sustained chill in winter are not very happy here. For daphne, minimal humidity might be what they dislike locally.

Perhaps daphne happens to be happy in the particular location, next to a stream that enhances humidity much of the time when there is not much breeze. Perhaps the weather happened to be be conducive to such a performance. Perhaps it will remain a mystery.

Six on Saturday: When It Rains, It Pours


The frequency and duration of rainy weather here is not very much more than in the rain shadow where the inland base of the Santa Cruz Mountains merges into the Santa Clara Valley. However, the volume is about triple! My former neighborhood in town just about fifteen miles away gets about one foot of rain annually. The average annual rainfall here is about three feet.

That extra two feet sometimes seems to fall all at once.

1. Rain got heavy enough for me to bother recording this first of six brief videos. I do not know why the lights upstairs were pulsating and blinking. The downspout seems to be jet propelled.

2. This was certainly more than I expected. Off to the left, there were only two sandbags to put in front of a doorway that is three sandbags wide. This was a major problem. I did not panic.

3. Now I panicked. I called for help, but my radio was too wet to operate. There was nothing anyone could do anyway; or so I thought. I stopped the camera and went upstairs to investigate.

4. Removal of debris from the grate over this drain fixed everything fast. This was more than I expected too. We all know that this drain is partially clogged. The water and hail was freezing!

5. Within a minute or so, the water drained away surprisingly efficiently, leaving this icy mess on the small patio between the two stairways. It was like a Slurpee mixed with redwood debris.

6. More of the grungy Slurpee remained on the lower patio outside the doorway that lacked adequate sandbags. Water barely crossed the threshold to dampen a few square inches of carpet.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:



P00101-1January 1, 2020! The first day of the Twenties!

The flora in our gardens north of the Tropics must think we are crazy for making such a fuss about it while they are trying to sleep. Even flora south of the tropics does not understand. All flora everywhere is more concerned with how the seasons change according to the position of the Earth around the Sun. Precise dates, times and numbers are meaningless.

It sort of seems odd to me that within each time zone, it is the same time and date both north and south of the Equator, but the seasons of each side are opposite. Today started in sparsely populated regions of the Pacific Ocean, worked its way through Australia earlier, and is somehow still the same ‘today’ that is here now. Yet it is winter here, and summer to the south.

Now, if January can be in the cool time of year here, and the warm time of year in Australia, it seems to me that winter could be both the cool season here, and the warm season in Australia. If the dates are the same, it seems like the seasons should be too. Alternatively, if the seasons are half a year early or late in opposite Hemispheres, it seems like dates should be too.

According to such logic, it could be either winter or July 1 in Australia and elsewhere south of the Equator right now! . . . But would that be July 1 of 2019 or 2021? Too many technicalities!

Well, it is more than the flora in the garden is concerned about anyway. It is winter here now, and summer south of the Equator. It is the beginning of January everywhere that the Gregorian calendar is used, north and south.


Note: ‘Horridculture’ will resume next Wednesday. It did not seem appropriate for the first day of 2020.P00101-2

Rain Shadow

P91222Hollywood is famous as the Cinema Capital of the World. Niles was its predecessor. Both are within regions of remarkably diverse scenery that is so important to cinema. Mountains, deserts, chaparrals, forests, lakes and big cities are conveniently nearby. There are not many places in the World with such a thorough mix of geography and climate. California really does have it all.

It is a challenge for gardening though. The stone fruits that grow so naturally in the Santa Clara Valley are not quite as productive just a few miles to the South in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The pears and apples that do so well in the Santa Cruz Mountains are not quite as happy in the Santa Clara Valley. Species that want a good chill in winter do not want to be in Los Angeles.

On the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just outside of Felton, a few days of rain filled the bin in the picture above. The rain continued just as long throughout the area, including the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the adjacent Santa Clara Valley. Although the duration of the rain was approximately the same, the volume of precipitation was very different.

The water in the bin is more than a foot deep. That is about the average annual rainfall for my former neighborhood at about this same elevation, but on the opposite and inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Storms must drop much of their moisture to get up and over, but are then able to retain much of the remaining moisture as they drop in elevation on the other side.

The drier inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and adjacent portion of the Santa Clara Valley are in what is known as a ‘rain shadow’.

Rainy Season



As I mentioned this morning, the first storm since spring delivered a bit more than an inch and a half of rain before dawn on Wednesday, ending the fire season. The second storm is here right now. It is expected to be followed by a continuous series of storms that will provide rain through Monday, showers through Thursday, more rain on Friday, and showers . . . forever!

It is now the rainy season.

The video above shows what rain does. It gets things wet. It is, after all, composed of water. It falls mysteriously from the sky, which, as you can plainly see, is occupied only by a mostly monochromatic gray cloud cover. Seriously! There is nothing else up there. There is no one on the roof with a hose or anything of the sort. All that water just falls from the cloud cover above.

I could not get video of individual raindrops falling. They are too small and too fast. Only a few can be seen indirectly in the video, falling in front of the water cascading from the rusted out gutter. The spots on the video are raindrops that landed on the lens, so were no longer so animate. The cascading water is, of course, an accumulation of many raindrops that fell on the roof.

Besides ending the long fire season, rain also disrupts the slim fall color season, when foliage of certain deciduous trees turns color as the weather cools in autumn. There is not much to brag about anyway. Only a few native trees are moderately colorful. More colorful exotic trees are not very popular because they do not color as well as they do where autumn weather is cooler.P91130K

Before the rain, these birches were a nice clear yellow, but were already defoliating. Their fallen leaves were as pretty on the ground as they were in the trees, but unfortunately needed to be blown. By now, there is likely more on the ground than there is in the trees, but it will need to be blown too. At least it gets to stay on the open ground in the rest of the casual landscape.P91130K+

The only tulip tree here got cool enough to defoliate before the birches this year, but not quite cool enough to color well first. It is a grand tree nonetheless. We do not expect exemplary color in autumn in our splendidly mild climate anyway. The sweetgums will compensate. They are only beginning to color, and should hold some of their foliage rather well through the weather.P91130K++

Almost RAIN!

P91123KThere have been only three hints at precipitation since last spring.

The (sideways) picture above shows the same dampened hood of a Chevrolet that provided the illustration for a post on another blog on September 30.

The picture below shows a similarly dampened but different windshield from that which provided the illustration for a post on November 16, regarding a bit of precipitation two days prior, on November 14.P91123K+

All four pictures here were actually taken just after a very brief rain shower that happened just after midnight on November 19. I tried to be artistic with them, but I am not a photographer.

The picture below demonstrates how difficult it is to hold the camera steady while getting a close up picture of rain dripping from a lumber rack at night. Do digital cameras automatically extend exposure to accommodate for the darkness? Is it blurred or merely ‘abstract’?P91123K++

The rain shower was very brief, lasting only a few minutes, but dropped dozens of individual raindrops, maybe more than a hundred! In fact, there were enough of them to collectively flow from one of the roofs, accumulate in a gutter, and flow down this downspout and onto the pavement below! (I really do not know why a diverter is needed on pavement, but there it is.)P91123K+++

I bet that if all the precipitation than fell from the sky during these last three incidents could have been collected, there would have been more than a pint! As excellent as it was, it was not even the best of it. For the first time since last spring, a storm is predicted to move in and start RAINING about noon on Tuesday, November 26! Showers should continue afterward.

The rainy season will likely begin with this first storm. That is how the weather typically operates here.

Autumn Weather Prompts Foliar Color

91127thumb(alternate)Mild climates allow more flowers to bloom through autumn and winter here than in most other parts of America. That is why cool season annuals like pansies and violas are so popular. Cyclamen can be planted now too. None will be obscured by snow. By the time cool season annuals start to fade, warm season annuals will be replacing them. There is something to bloom in every season.

There are a few disadvantages to mild climates, though. Many plants rely on significant winter chill to stay on schedule. Inadequate chill limits the cultivars of apples and pears that are productive here. Not many spring bulbs will naturalize. Prior to winter, some deciduous plants are hesitant to resign to dormancy until they experience a chill that is cool enough to convince them it is autumn.

Some deciduous plants recognize a specific temperature as credible evidence of a change of seasons. Others want a specific temperature to be sustained for a specific duration or repeated for a few nights. Shorter days and longer nights are taken into consideration by species who want to confirm what they deduce from the weather. Different plants use different methods of observation.

That is why deciduous plants who develop foliar color before defoliating in autumn do so on their own terms. Weather conditions that promote excellent color among birches may not be the same that cause flowering cherries to color well. Warmth and minimal humidity that sometimes prompt premature and blandly colored defoliation of sycamores might enhance later color of sweetgums.

Sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo are the most reliable trees for foliar color in autumn. Ginkgo turns only brilliant yellow. The others exhibit an excellent mix of yellow, orange and red. Crape myrtle can be about as colorful, but is not always as reliable.

Of course, there is more to these and other deciduous trees than their colorful foliage in autumn. After all, they are trees. Their particular characteristics and appropriateness must be considered before adding any of them to a landscape.91127thumb