February Garden

It was supposed to rain today, but we got wind and clouds instead. While grading papers, I’ve been taking vitamin C and Echinicea pills every couple of hours, humbly hoping to hold at bay the headache, cough and scratching in my lungs. I visited my mother in law at Assisted Living for a break, and seeing her and her companions in the rec room 20 minutes early for Bingo reinforced the winter mood.

But the overcast skies provided some good light for pictures of developments in the garden last week. After Spring in December, not much changed during January. The longer days of February have brought the early bloom of the volunteer almond tree, remnant of what must have been a local orchard before the 1950’s subdivision of this neighborhood.

On Friday I got a copy of his brand new book, Plants of San Luis Obispo: Their Lives and Stories from Matt Ritter who teaches in the Biology Department and is curator of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory. In addition to running the conservatory, teaching full time, and writing scholarly articles for tenure, he wrote the text, shot all the pictures, and did the layout for the book himself with Photoshop and Indesign.

His descriptions of the species in my garden help me see them up close: “Fuschia-flowered gooseberry is a bristly, evergren shrub with leathery, dark green, irrgularly toothed leaves. The beautiful, bright red, tubular flowers, which are pollinated by hummingbirds, hang from the stems. The stamens, which are twice as long as the rest of the flower, hang down with bright yellow tips. To ward off herbivores, there are three stout spines emanating from each node.” (p. 57)
This Ribes speciosum is another early bloomer. I’d describe the leaves as waxy rather than leathery, since they’re thin and they dry up in late spring, unlike the thick leaves of the holly-leafed cherry for example. Once flowers and leaves are gone the plants have a forbidding allure, like that of a cactus, but now they are all slender and delicate. At the Brizzolara Creek Committee we’ve talked about planting them as hedge to keep people out of the watercourse.

At the side of the house, by the compost and redwoods, the wild strawberries are back. Soft, matt, and pertly serrated, the leaves make a fresh bed for occasional yellow-centered white blossoms.

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