These potted ranunculus in a nursery are already blooming. Those planted while dormant last autumn may not have started yet.

If their dormant bulbs were planted back in October or November, ranunculus will soon be blooming. Those of us who missed the bulbs last autumn can already find blooming plants in nurseries. The bright yellow, orange, red, pink or white flowers are about three inches wide and seem to be outfitted with too many petals. They stand about a foot to a foot and a half tall, a few inches above the basal foliage that can get half a foot to a foot deep. The light green leaves resemble parsley, but are not as finely textured. Although perennial, ranunculus are most popularly grown as annuals because they tend to rot soon after bloom. They perform best with no more than a bit of shade, and rich but very well drained soil. They are more likely to survive as perennials if allowed to get rather dry as their foliage deteriorates after bloom.

Flowering Peach

Flowering peach flowers produce no fruit.

Since it does not produce an abundance of cumbersome fruit, flowering peach, Prunus persica, does not need the aggressive pruning while dormant through winter that fruiting peach requires, and can get significantly larger. However, tip pruning after bloom instead promotes shrubbier growth that blooms more prolifically the following spring. The fluffy double flowers are clear white, bright pink or rich pinkish red. ‘Peppermint’ flowering peach has red and white flowers, with a few flowers that are only white, and sometimes a few that are only red.

Flowering Crabapple

Flowering crabapple blooms like flowering cherry.

All crabapple trees flower. Almost all subsequently produce fruit. Those designated as ‘flowering’ crabapples exhibit the most spectacular bloom, but generally produce inferior fruit. A few cultivars are nearly fruitless. Crabapples not designated as ‘flowering’ are not as bold in bloom, but generally produce larger fruit of better quality. Their fruit is useful for jelly and other culinary applications.

Almost all crabapple trees here are flowering crabapples. Fruiting crabapples are rare locally. Their fruit is not as popular as it is in other regions. However, flowering crabapples that produce big fruit are increasingly trendy. Their fruits can get as wide as an inch and a half, almost as big as fruits of fruiting crabapples. If not picked or eaten by birds, even typical berry sized fruits are messy.

White, pink or reddish pink bloom is impressively profuse, just prior to spring foliation. In fact, bloom is comparable to that of flowering cherries, and only a bit later. Most flowering crabapples get no taller than fifteen feet. Aggressive annual dormant pruning is not necessary as it is for trees that produce heavy apples. Instead, mature trees appreciate summer structure pruning and thinning.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Where does this delightful columbine think it is?!

Columbine does not do well here. I do no know why. It does well enough in Colorado to be the Official State Flower there. Yet, the mildest of climates is Colorado are harsher than the climate here. It does not get too terribly warm in summer here. Humidity is minimal, but not as minimal as in much of Colorado. Nor does it exceed that of other regions where columbine does well.

We have certainly tried to grow columbine. It just does not work. Some of it succumbs to powdery mildew. Some succumbs to rust. The last batch just succumbed. Because it was expected, I did not bother to investigate. I got the impression that it was taken out by both powdery mildew and rust. Flowers that bloomed so delightfully when planted went to seed on their way out.

That should have been the end of it. I would not mind if someone tries again to grow columbine for next spring, even if it last for only a short while. I just do not expect to see it ever perform well here. None was planted this year. Even if someone had considered it, there was no need to add any prior to furlough, while cool season annuals for winter continued to bloom so happily.

What I certainly did not consider was the few seed that the last batch of columbine tossed almost a year ago. Apparently, at least one of those seed fell from the ledge where its parent plants lived briefly in now absent planter boxes, and into the edge of a small landscape below. It grew into an exemplary specimen of columbine, which is happily blooming as if it were in Colorado!

It is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall, a perpendicular granite wall and a big granite boulder!



90529Colorado is another state that was able to designate one of the most excellent wildflowers of North America as the Official State Flower because it happens to be native there. Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, however, did not contribute as much to the breeding of the many modern hybrid varieties of columbine as did common European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris.

Most are short term perennials that are more often grown as biennials or, if they do not continue to perform through the dry warmth of summer, as spring annuals. Seed can be sown directly earlier in spring, but new plants may not bloom until the following spring. Plants that are grown in a greenhouse through winter, as well as self sown plants that grow though winter, should bloom in spring.

The famously spurred flowers can be just about any color; white, blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink and even pale green (fading to white). Most are combinations of two colors. Some varieties proudly bloom with frilly double flowers. The thin flower stems stand about a foot tall, with flowers facing slightly downward. The trifoliate and delightfully lobed leaves are like big lacy clover leaves.

The Other Rhodies

P90504KThere are countless species and cultivars of rhododendrons. Some have been in cultivation for centuries. Their big bold blooms are spectacular against a backdrop of their dark evergreen foliage. They prefer shelters spots, and some are happy to bloom in places that are too cool and too shaded for other flowers to bloom so well. They are so impressive that no one notices that they lack fragrance.

There is certainly a lot of variety among rhododendrons. Some are low mounding shrubs, while other can grow as small trees with open branch structure. Flowers can be white, pink, red, purple, blue or maybe even yellow or orange. Most flowers have some sort of pattern within the main color, but some are solid colors. Nonetheless, regardless of all the variety, we think that we can recognize a rhododendron when we see one.

Then there is Rhododendron occidentale, the Western azalea. The flowers are sort of recognizable as either big azalea flowers or lean rhododendron flowers, but are quite distinct from what we think of as familiar rhododendron flowers. The color range is very different too, with more white, marked with yellow, pink or orange. Even more surprising is that the bloom is quite sweetly fragrant!

Foliage is also very different from what is expected from a rhododendron. Not only is it deciduous, but if well exposed, it can actually develop soft yellow, orange or brownish red color in autumn. Individual leaves are rather narrow and papery.

We have only a few Rhododendron occidentale at work. They are not as tolerant of the partial shade from the redwoods as the more familiar rhododendrons are. However, they do happen to be blooming exceptionally well this year, while the bloom of the more familiar rhododendrons is less impressive than it has been in many years.

Bleeding Heart

90501There is something about the delicately intricate bloom and foliage of bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) that suits informal woodland gardens splendidly. Not only to they look like natural companions to small coniferous evergreens, but they are also quite tolerant of the acidic foliar debris, and to some extent, the shade that most conifers generate.

The small and distinctively heart shaped flowers hang vertically from arching limber stems in May or June. They can get as high as three feet if crowded, although they prefer to stay about two feet tall. The most popular varieties bloom with red or pink ‘hearts’ with white tails. ‘Alba’ blooms with white hearts. The palmately compound and lobed leaves are like soft light green anemone leaves.

Bleeding heart not only tolerates significant shade, but it prefers at least partial shade as the weather warms in spring. As the weather gets too warm and arid through late spring and summer, it is likely to defoliate and go dormant until the end of the following winter. Bleeding heart wants rich soil and regular watering too. The tender foliage is intolerant of traffic, so is best in the background.


80509Wow, this is quite old school. Is it making a comeback? That would be nice. Avens, which is also known as Chilean avens, Geum quellyon, is an old fashioned perennial relative of the strawberry. Instead of producing fruit, it provides handsome yellow, red or coppery orange flowers that look something like small single, semi-double or double anemones, but can bloom through most of May.

Although perennial, avens do not last forever without some degree of help. After the first season, most of the slightly ruffled and hairy foliage dies down during the colder part of winter. New foliage and bloom develop in spring. After the second or third year, and every few years afterward, mature plants should be divided before or after bloom. Pups are more vigorous than the parent plants.

Happy avens gets as high and wide as a foot and a half. Much of the height is in the branched floral stems, which might need to be staked if they get too heavy with bloom, or are in a breezy spot. Most of the mounding foliage is basal. A bit of shade is tolerable and actually preferred to hot situations. Soil should be rich and well drained. Avens plays well with others in mixed perennial beds.


70426The popular wisterias that bloom so profusely before their new foliage appears in spring are Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis. Others specie are rare. The impressively longer floral trusses of Japanese wisteria are not as abundant, and bloom late amongst developing foliage. American and Kentucky wisteria are more docile small vines, but their floral trusses are both short and late.

Chinese wisteria is also the most fragrant and the most colorful of the wisterias. Lavender is still the most popular and traditional color. White, pink, sky blue and darker almost purplish lavender are also available. The floral trusses, known as racemes, get from half a foot to two feet long. Double flowered cultivars never became too popular because the fluffier blooms are not as elegant. The aggressive vines can reach the tops of tall trees. They rarely strangle limbs or young tree trunks, but have the potential to do so. They are more likely to crush fences and lattice. Wisteria really needs sturdy trellises and specialized pruning for confinement. Vines that grow from seed may take many years to bloom. The pinnately compound leaves turn pale yellow before falling in autumn.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day April 15 – My First


There is so much blooming or finishing blooming here in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos that it is difficult to select only a few pictures. These flowers are not from my home garden, but are from nearby Mount Hermon, which is located on the coastal side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, a few miles north of Santa Cruz. I enjoy the horticulture of the Santa Clara Valley, where San Jose is located, more than anywhere else in the world. However, there are many flowers that perform better in the cooler and moister climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains that separate the Santa Clara Valley from the Pacific Ocean. Mount Hermon is located in USDA Zone 9.

Daffodil are probably all done by now. The last to bloom earlier this week were in somewhat shaded spots. This one was looking a bit tired. Daffodils are one of only a few bulbs that will naturalize in our mild climate.4bd1

Forsythia also finished a while ago. This picture was taken at about the same time earlier in the week as the daffodil above. This tired specimen was not actually in the landscape, but was in a small nursery where gardeners stock recycled plants and recently acquired plants that have not yet been installed into the landscape. Forsythia is rare here. There is only one other in the landscaped area that we are aware of.4bd2

Dutch iris is a surprise every year. As I mentioned with the daffodil, there are not many bulbs that naturalize here. Dutch iris is one of those bulbs that needs more of a chill than it can get here. However, this colony blooms reliably every spring!4bd3

Flowering cherry is spectacular against the dark green backdrop of redwoods. A pair of mature ‘Yoshino’ or ‘Akebono’ flowering cherries in downtown Mount Hermon are the most famous in town. They are very old and sadly, must be removed. A few others have been planted nearby. There are at least three ‘Kwanzan’ flowering cherries in other areas. I do not know what cultivar this one is. It might be my favorite because it is so striking white; my favorite color. This picture was taken at about the same time earlier in the week as the daffodil and forsythia. Only the ‘Kwanzan’ flowering cherries continue to bloom now.4bd4

Camellia bloom for quite a while. A few blooms sneak out in midwinter before the main bloom phase, and a few flowers are still blooming now. There are at least a dozen cultivars here. This elegant white camellia might be my favorite.4bd5

Azalea is even more variable than the camellias. Many are of course finished blooming; but a few still have unopened buds that will bloom this week! This is my favorite, obviously because it is white. I used to grow azaleas in the mid 1990s, as our second major crop. Rhododendrons were our primary major crop. We also grew camellias as our fourth major crop.4bd6

Garden Bloggers all over America and in other countries can share what is blooming in their gardens on the fifteenth of each month on “Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day”, hosted by Carol Michael’s May Dreams Garden at http://www.maydreamsgardens.com