Sunday, December 9, 2012

Autumn embers redux (April in December?)

Autumn embers still? And what's this "April in December?"--hold your horses, it'll all come out in the wash! The "April in December" is the easy part: April is the perfect month at the beginning of the growing season. March is a tad too early (and ragged around the edges, so to speak) but by April the bulbs are all out in force, the first lilacs and flowering trees are blooming and the alpines are going great guns: everything is crisp and full of promise and the hailstorms and summer droughts and insects have yet to take their toll. December represents a similar sort of perfection: We've finally managed most of the fall cleanup, and the beds are pretty trim, the last bulbs planted, and the last fall color is glowing and lots of bulbs are actually poking up their cute little noses (you should make some squeaky sounds here)...winter has yet to wreak its worst--and one can admire with optimism the many new succulents (and other plants of untested hardiness) you have put out before they are blasted to oblivion...hopefully not the Cotyledon orbiculata pictured above. This is the chubby, very silvery form that Agua Fria nursery says they obtained from me nearly 20 years ago which they have grown for years and propagated...finally coming home to roost, as it were, in the very best, steep crevicy spot I could find... 
This is a hunkering giant form that Dan Johnson planted in front of Marnie's Pavilion. It made it through last winter...and grew enormously this summer...I walk by here several times a day at work, and needless to see I shall be observing its progress through the next few months with intense curiosity! 
I've grown several Nananthus in the past--one (N. transvaalensis) bloomed through much of the winter one year. I believe this is N. vittatus--and it has been blooming from late November to this past week. Any plant witty enough to bloom this time of year has got to be a keeper--now let's just hope it keeps alive through this winter! Most Nananthus I have grown in the past bloom in April, funnily enough...(Here you should prop your right elbow on your left palm, and scratch your chin thoughtfully with your right index finger, saying "Veeeeeeeeeery interesting".)
I have grown quite a few Narcissus bulbocodium in my day, and they have always bloomed for me in, yes, April. Last autumn I obtained six bulbs of Narcissus cantabricus from Brent and Beckys and was disappointed when they did not bloom this last April. Lo! and Behold, a month or so ago I noticed buds near the base of the stem...precocious buds for next spring? A few weeks ago the first bud opened, and since then three of the plants have come into full bloom. I shall be intrigued to see how they make it through the next few nights in the lower teens!

Above is a closer look at N. cantabricus--which does bear a strong resemblance to its cousin below....

This is Narcissus albidus var. foliosus, planted this year from Mark Akimoff and Jane McGary's outstanding bulb list. It has not been through the winter, but I realized I have another clump from them that did make it through last winter unscathed, but without blooming opened its first flower in mid November and is still blooming on December the way, we've had almost summery weather in that interval (days often in the 70's: what better definition of a steppe climate: a place where spring flowers bloom in late autumn with summerlike days when it should be winter!)
Here is the late autumn/early winter view of my rock garden slope I featured in a blog several years ago. That year I took the picture of this same slope in October (this October the slope had not turned color) is instructive to compare the two pictures--they both are surprisingly similar. Hence my revisiting "Autumn embers".

Hardly April, I know--but there is a wonderful blend of Rembrandtian colors in the early winter (as opposed to the Giotto tints of April). The bright white clump in the front left is Sideritis cypria--a wonderful new plant that is untested for hardiness--what will it look like in April? And the Green rosettes at 4:00PM (birders will know what I mean) is Erigeron glaucus--a coastal California-Oregon endemic that burns pretty badly most winters, but comes back. And so it goes around my garden--lots of promise and many questions...and much the same excitement that April brings in a different way. And we're only four months away!


  1. I miss my once-potted Cotyledon orbiculata - one time too many in a small pot, low was 10-ish, and that was it! A couple I gave a friend in El Paso also bit it...freeze, plus 2 boys. That's nice Agua Fria has it, so I may have to get some plants to sneak in.

    April 4 months least our December-January are like your Nov and March, so just some ragged. Though design can cure most of that!

  2. I've had nananthus, N. wilmaniae, transvaalensis, etc., bloom at this time of year, and any time it warmed up during the winter. Until they were devoured by rodents, that is.
    A nameless stomatium from Mesa Garden bloomed at night in February, little pineapple-scented shaving brushes.
    I might try these again in a large dish, next door, full southern exposure, no shade. (All the rodents are at my house anyway.)I bet they would bloom their little heads off all winter.
    Cotyledon orbiculata has always turned to mush for me any time the temperature drops below freezing, no matter where it's planted, or how big the plant is. I wonder what the deal is here.

  3. I am going over to your house and set some mouse traps when you are not looking...Or maybe not (I don't want you to stop talking to me, Bob)...I have some rabbits eating my Calochortus in the spring, which I will not tolerate this coming spring. May I bring the have a hearts out to your green space?

    I love the smell of Stomatium: mine are more like Juicy Fruit gum. I wonder which one you had?

    You grow many things that are marginal for me: I suspect you just have to have the hardy strains of Cotyledon. they all look fine still...knock on wood!

  4. The rabbits feel this is a safe haven, considering what waits for them in the open space beyond the fence ....Why, just the other day, a rabbit put his front feet inside the kitchen, thinking the house might be warmer than the outdoors, as the useful dog looked on in disbelief.
    Plantskydd is pretty effective in keeping rabbits at bay, though you have to use a lot of it.

  5. Thanks for the tip: they really wrought havoc last spring: although it may have been the deer that delivered the coup to de grass (Calochortus=pretty grass in Greek)...pretty gross I say! Serves us right for dishing up such a diverse and tasty exotic smorgasbord!

    1. I always thought calochortus was a misprint for cakokhortus, Koine Greek for "not in your garden for long". Most of mine are now sensibly in the back yard, where, to be sure, there are rabbits, but if I put in a gate in the back fence, their control can sneak in at night.
      Garden Talk sells Plantskydd by the 25 lb bag or something big like that. Maybe Harlequin's does too.


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