Many of the perennial plants are just emerging from the dark earth and so the garden is mostly subdued in appearance compared to its summer glory. The low mounds of catmint, penstemons, salvias, Monardella, Pycanthemum, and monarda show great ambition from all the heavy rains we have had recently and are supremely dense with new growth. The Kniphofias form robust grass-like clumps. The Crambe cordifolia leaves are unfurling enmass in a clump as disorderly as a dawdling, drunken octapus,. Peony stems are steeply verticle, each grandly red or purplish in tone and proper against the more soft and dowdy occupants of the bed like the dicentra, campanulas, Alchemilla, Epilobium, geraniums and Phacelia bolanderi. Asters form strong clumps, giving no indication of their final form or delicate flowers. The Aster laterifolius “Lady in Black’ are the deepest green, edged in deep purple- very handsome.
Some of the plant thugs are flexing their muscles and their newly emerged leaves delineate the distance they have enlarged their territory since last year. I have been assiduously digging out a number of them. Sphaeralcea incana, the desert mallow, was planted from a 4-inch pot last spring. It bloomed profusely with strong stems to 4’ covered in orange, small hollyhock-like blooms from June until frost and looked great with the white flowering Aster ‘Monte Casino’ and purple Verbena bonariensis next to it. The mallow was heavily visited by native bees and honey bees. It sounds like a perfect plant, but new shoots have emerged fully 4’ in every direction from the parent plant. If this is the only thug, it would be one thing, but former favorites- Salvia darcyi and Salvia guaranitica both are now at least 4’ from the original plant. The scarlet flowered Salvia darcyi got big early in the season- to about 4.5 feet and then fell over on all its neighbors. I had to cut it back in June- no mean feat, its sticky stems unpleasant on the skin and hair in warm weather. It is relatively easy to remove compared to the potato-like tubers of Salvia guaranitica.
To make my life easier, I am removing most thugs and large perennials from the big oval bed in the center of the garden. The manzanitas are really showing good form now after 6 years, and I want to emphasize them. A meadow-like carpet is the look I am after this year. I also like to experiment with different plants each year, and different combinations of them- and so this is an opportunity rather than a chore. I initially focused on the big and robust- an appropriate fixation as the bed is so big and deep and these plants really sing in our hot summers. 2016 will be the year of the meadow.
Blooms in March: The plums are finishing and Acacia cultriformis, manzanitas, primroses, narcissus, grape hyacinth, hellebores, euphorbia, rosemary, Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet’ and pears are in full bloom and have been for a couple weeks. The rains dashed the plum petals from the trees and blew them over the garden and the road, so that it looked like the aftermath of a giant wedding party. This year, with steady moisture, the narcissus and grape hyacinth flowers have lasted for a couple of months- while the last few years in the drought we were only able to enjoy them for a few weeks. The Acacia forms the only burst of saturated color in the garden. The A. cultriformis has a clearer yellow than the big A. baileyana trees at the back of the garden. It also has a lovely weeping form. I have put primroses in red and orange shades in a few pots this year and they form small pools of cheerfulness.
The lilacs, wisteria, redbud, and flowering crab apples are just coming into bloom and each is a haze of purple or deepest magenta, all fulfilling to the soul after months of just green.
But the real star of the garden right now is the Akebia quinata– white. Even with almost incessant rain, its musky exotic fragrance fills the garden, and the multitudes of new light green leaves are the perfect foil for the froth of delicate blooms.