California Sunshine

I’ve been on a road trip the past week, driving from our snow-covered yard in Colorado west to a land of broad-leafed evergreens and warm sunshine. Wyoming was cold and windy, as expected. The I-80 corridor is desolate at any season. The slopes around Alta were crowded with skiers, Salt Lake City was smogged in, and Lake Bonneville had an inch of water in it, much to my surprise. Next morning, as I crossed Nevada, I encountered fog in the intermountain lowlands that had left hoar frost on every surface of the ubiquitous sagebrush. It was a desert fairyland. I wanted to grab some photos but there are few places to stop on the interstate, and besides, the car thermometer hovered at 3 degrees!


Climbing over Donner Pass on I-80 and descending the western face of the Sierras is like entering a different planet. I turned off on a side highway, heading for a friend’s house. Live oaks leaves reflected the light. The early bloomers—almonds and cherries, most likely, were clothed in clouds of pale pink blossoms. Clumps of happy daffodils decorated the roadway while the grass below glowed with life, the leaves tender and succulent and bright chlorophyll-green. Perhaps best of all, the breeze was a gentle 75 degrees. Spring comes early in California!

It is still too early for wildflowers, at least at this northern end of the state. After years of drought, the moisture that has already fallen this season has turned the ground soft and encouraged hesitant seeds to finally germinate. I wish I could come back in a month or two for the lupine and California poppies that will surely carpet the hillsides.

LAH_0707-001I wandered my friend’s yard, renewing old acquaintance with plants I grew 25 years ago when I lived in this state. My perspective has changed. I was shocked to see so many tender plants outside on her back deck. Won’t they freeze?! Oh, wait, no, freezes are rare here, and winter is already over. Rosemary hedges lined the walkway, smothered in blue flowers. My rosemary is in a pot, huddled by the window in our dining room waiting for May.

We discussed when to trim back her geraniums—the succulent kind, not the hardy perennials I grow. I could guess the answer to that one, but was humbled to realize that I was clueless about many of her questions. My master gardener training was in Colorado, not California. To be more precise, my classes were specifically designed for El Paso County. Even Denver, and hour away, has different growing conditions; some of my favorite plants at the Denver Botanic Garden aren’t hardy enough for the higher parts of Colorado Springs. Then consider the Western Slope (Grand Junction and vicinity), or lower-and-warmer Lamar, in the southeast corner of the state—they can grow peaches and cantaloupes, for heaven’s sake!

This is why I gave up subscribing to any gardening magazines, even before much of the information was readily available online for free. It seems most of them target gardeners on the eastern seaboard between South Carolina and perhaps Maine. I have no use for articles on growing dogwoods, rhododendrons, or thirsty plants such as primroses. Reading about what I can’t have just leads to frustration. (Yes, I could possibly grow such species with a lot of special pampering. Maybe.) And where are the articles on agastache, penstemons, or xeric trees that can withstand a dry, cold, windy winter?

When it comes to gardening in inhospitable places such as Colorado, finding information specific to one’s own growing area is half the battle. That’s one reason I rely so heavily on Colorado State University’s fact sheets. The advice is based on research, not just hearsay, one person’s experience, or personal opinion. Of course experience can be helpful, but I prefer to know the basis for the advice I receive.

Well, enough typing for now. I want to go outside and soak up the sun while it’s shining. From here I head north to visit family near Seattle. Then it’s back over the mountains and a return to winter. I think I can make it to May now.




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