Neighborhood magic: spring in California

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus

The first fall Tom and I came to California’s central coast from upstate New York, my neighbor Dana – raised in Connecticut – taught me about the seasons in California.

IMG_4176I was sitting on the ground in the front yard just after the first rain of the season, wrenching weeds from the unforgiving clay soil, missing the rich dark Eastern loam, already sated with eternal sunshine and cloudless skies. In those days, California had two obvious seasons, wet and dry—we’re hoping that’s still true.

What Dana said was much more subtle – and exciting to me – than wet and dry. She said the best way to recognize the seasons here is by noticing what’s blooming. Oh my goodness, who can resist that?

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.  – Cicero

Now, regardless of the drought—which is feeling like it really will be over tomorrow—it’s spring! My favorite season. So, I ‘ve been taking pictures of the flowers. The first two are hibiscus, a mallow native to tropical and sub-tropical regions far south of here. The flowers are maybe six inches across. Exotic, bordering on garish.

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Right now, it’s flowers are covered in bees (thank you, forces of good, thank you).

This bee is in jasmine, which burst into exuberant bloom this week, releasing penetrating waves of sweet musky fragrance. Pink buds open into luminous white flowers, half an inch across, scattered everywhere on a too-easy-to-grow vine—drought-tolerant once it’s established—that gets its curly little tendrils into everything near it, capturing whole trees if it isn’t tamed. It pulled our rain spout right off the wall (with some help from the cats, who liked to use that downspout to climb up to our balcony.) Like mock orange that graced us with its fragrance last week, the scent is worth the trouble.

 Read a wonderful LA Times article on jasmine.

 

There are people who live their whole lives on the default setting, never realizing you can customize – Robert Brault

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The delicate and graceful flowers of the Butterfly or African iris are about three inches across and grow on long elegant stems rising out of clumps of grassy leaves. They bloom almost year-around, though at times, the flowers are more abundant. One spike will produce flower after flower for weeks on end. Native to South Africa, the plant is very well-suited to our Mediterranean climate: it’s happy with lots of water or hardly any at all and grows well in sun or shade. In fact, it’s so adaptable and spreads so many of its seeds around that it’s another charming and worthwhile nuisance to add to the list.

Awe is what moves us forward. – Joseph Campbell

IMG_4180Morning glory, ipomoea purpurea, falls into the same category. The graceful flowers unfurl in the morning and follow the sun through the day, collapsing in on themselves in the afternoon. I had a gorgeous crazy-wild crop of them spilling over the fence some years ago. Purple ones and pink, too. When the fence fell and my neighbor replaced it, he pulled out the morning glory as a favor. I haven’t replanted it because there’s a reason it’s also called bindweed. It strangles its neighbors relentlessly even as the breathtakingly stunning flowers bring hummingbirds, bees, and countless smiles.

Life’s picture is constantly undergoing change. The spirit beholds a new world every moment. – Rumi

IMG_4170Pincushion Protea is another South African native that does well here provided it’s planted in a place where the soil under it can drain well. It has a strangely stiff flower and tough leaves, very exotic indeed. Each plant needs a good bit of space around it, so unlike most of the plants I’ve chosen to share here, it only shows up in well-manicured, carefully tended gardens. The weirdest thing about it is that each one of those petal-like parts is actually the pistil of a tiny separate flower.

See amazing close-up views of Pincushion protea.

Amazingly, this is just a small sample of all the flowers in bloom on the sunny central coast of California this spring.  It’s less than a third of the varieties I’ve photographed over the last week. Not one of these beauties is native to the area. As the climate continues to change, some of them will be impractical or impossible to grow here. But what joy they bring now!

From joy springs all creation, by joy it is sustained, towards joy it proceeds, and unto joy it returns. – the Upanishads

6 thoughts on “Neighborhood magic: spring in California

  1. Oh Eve, here I am in the frozen north, but your delightful blog had me taking deep breaths of spring and remembrance and fondness. Thank you for that joy! Hugs, Rachel Anne

  2. I love the idea of watching the blooms to tell the seasons. I’m in the still cold midwest, but last week when the foot of snow finally melted, I was outside hunting for a sign of spring. I finally found some surprise lily leaves poking through the mud! Usually the hyacinths and daffodils are first, so this was truly strange. Lovely photos too.

    • Thank you, Louise.I loved seeing the snowdrop, crocus and grape hyacinth leaves coming up through when we lives in upstate New York. And the daffodils, of course. Bulbs like that aren’t as happy out here. I miss them so much!

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