Spring is a date on the calendar. The feeling of spring is what happens in the garden. Whenever it arrives at your door, it is a season of hope, renewal, buds swelling into blossoms, and new leaves unfurling color on the landscape. Spring summons joy in the soul. Even in this moment of COVID-19 when everything seems upside down, the garden grows, ignoring the noise and responding only to the changing light and awakening life.
The first day of spring, March 19, in my Arizona garden is a celebration of flowers. We’ve had an unusually wet beginning to the year, and wildflowers and volunteer self-sowing seeds are creating a carpet of colors in my happy place. I’ve gardened here for over 40 years, and little by little I’ve gotten some things right. My mantra for planting anything in my garden is, “it can grow here if it flowers here.”
Over time I’ve learned everything blooms in time. So today, I’ve taken a spring wander around my garden to notice my flowers. It is a color walk.
I began seeking out yellow blooms, and it is indeed the color of spring. My climate doesn’t easily support daffodils, but there are many yellow signs of spring. I look only for the yellow flowers. I find the tiny and plentiful golden fleece with its daisy style blossom, the Angelita daisies in a slightly larger size, and the Desert Marigold, its happy yellow face with double petals.
I find a Gerbera daisy, a tall and elegant snapdragon, and yellow bells with multiple bell shape blossoms on each stem. For my color walk, I select one stem for every plant and then put them in a vase.
Another walk around, I’m in both the front and the back gardens this time, looking for the white flowers. I have a Texas Olive shrub/tree depending on how you prune, and it has big white flowers. It begins flowering strongly in the spring and then blooms for months, even during the intense summer heat. My citrus trees: orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and kumquat, are flowering and these all have white blossoms.
The flowers differ in size with the lemon blossom the largest, the kumquat the smallest. All are blooming and scenting the morning and evening air with the most sensational fragrance. I’ve grown alyssum for years, it makes such an excellent ground cover, and it too has a sweet scent I love.
Over the years it has self-sewn its seeds wherever it wants. I let it grow, later I will tidy things up, but in the spring, it has free rein to create these puddles of white beauty.
Around my fountain I have Yerba Mansa; its roots can overrun a flower bed. But if I pay attention, I can keep it corralled well enough and it takes the fountain overspray in stride. In return, I get glossy green leaves and tall, erect white blooms. White lantana is climbing up my obelisk, Gerbera daisies, and creamy white freesias are popping up around the garden.
On the golden west wall, my Lady Banks rose is bursting into flower held up by the old wood of my creeping fig vine. There are white Dutch iris in bud, I can see the color, but today on the first day of spring, they are still tightly closed. Soon, soon they will unfurl their petals into a fleur de lis pose and grace the stage for a brief three days before bowing away till next year. The leaves of the calla lily rising, but their blossoms are still days away. Gathered and watered my white flowers are placed in a vase.
Orange is not my favorite color, but you can’t have desert plants and reject orange flowers. The aloes, in particular, come in shades of coral to bright pumpkin orange. There are blue elf aloes, aloe vera, tree aloe, and walking aloes. Nasturtiums self-seed and after many years wind their happy blooms here and there. Orange Mallows have grown so tall they fall over so you can see their cups of color from the side. Spring flowering of my tangerine crossvine is a brief burst of breathtaking blooms.
California poppies with their silver-green lacy foliage open each day with a five-petal cup of color. I have a succulent Gasteria with a coral and pale green blossom beautiful enough to inspire an interior redecorating scheme. My silver-gray wooly butterfly bush is just beginning to bloom its little orange balls. I especially like to contrast the orange flowers with the purple.
The purple and blue flowers are an essential contrast to the garden. I keep trying to add more of these, and for now, the best performer is the blue salvia with its spires of deep blue blooms that last for weeks in the summer garden. The very first blooms are just now appearing.
It has taken over two years, but my combination planting of white and lavender trailing lantana is finally thriving. Mild winters have allowed the plants to thrive, and my pruning has been minimal, so this spring the two colors are climbing up my copper obelisk in great form. Stock usually provides deep purple color and great scent, but this year every planting of it has been a disappointment; my neighbor reported the same result. It is an annual favorite, yet this was not its year to shine.
The Australian flowering emu shrubs are hardy and well adapted to my climate, so I have the Valentine and bluebell varieties. The Valentine with its lipstick-red flowers is finished blooming since they get their name for the season of love. The blue is just beginning to flower again with its silver foliage. I have it planted against a short wall painted in dusty amethyst. A deep purple flower is my potato vine, an upright shrub with dark green foliage and nary a potato involved.
Red, true glorious blue-red has a bed of its own. I keep the hot, vibrant colors on the west side of the garden, and my red blanket flower, another perennial, is revving up for the summer. I have a variety of deep red nasturtiums, red dynamite yucca (the petite variety), and red snapdragons, which are slow to open. I like to combine curly deep green parsley with red flowers.
Chard is not my favorite vegetable for eating, but I do like it growing among the flowers, and rainbow chard adds excellent color.
The entry to our home is lined with pots and for several years I have filled them in October with red dragon wing begonias. The location protects them from wind, provides partial shade, and regular water on my drip system. They bloom nonstop bright red flowers with glossy green leaves through May when the heat begins to take its toll. What other plants perform so gloriously?
Then I look for the pinks: fuchsia, blush, pastels, and variegated blossoms. I like pink flowers the best. I take one walk around to collect the blooms of the geraniums. There are no solid red geraniums in my garden. I have peppermint twist, raspberry twizzle, white and pink splash varieties. I love the combinations. For years my geraniums have summered at a friend’s northern cabin, so when I collect them in October, they come home healthy and lush to return for a second, third or more season in my garden.
Spring resprouts my pink Parry’s Penstemons, and they are in full flower right now, tall spikes of bell-shaped blooms dance in the March breezes. Kalanchoe, a new variety I just put in the garden a couple of months ago, is blooming in double deep pink blooms. Pink and white cyclamen are flowering in pink pots.
I have a deep pink scented carnation and a lighter color in dianthus. Freesias are in shades of pink and in a combination of pink and yellow.
The property line in the front garden is a hedge of dwarf pink oleander. This ancient plant exists in gardens today because it grows easily, vigorously, and consistently blooms. Mine are pale pink, and while I rarely use them inside as cut flowers, I do appreciate their long season of blooms.
My garden is in a standard subdivision, it is a property with less than a 1/4 acre, and I work hard to keep it flowering. When I do my color walk, I improve my focus on the flowers in their many colors, shapes, and postures. Some gracefully spill over the pot, trailing along the path.
Others like a Gerbera daisy stand up straight and proud, dominating the scene with a smiling face. What we focus on matters, when I search for a specific color, I see more clearly. I think I know what I have and hold it precious every spring. Yet, just as I do this, my neighbor walks past a flax plant and comments on its little blue flower, which I had completely overlooked. It is a tiny bloom, a bud the size of a grain of rice, and I missed it!
This spring, the spring of COVID-19, is still spring. Noticing is in overdrive throughout the world. We are noticing our priorities, our neighbors, our helpers, what is open, canceled, and closed. We are all in a heightened state of awareness. My color walk in my garden is a luxury. I realize this, and yet I know this is the true gift of gardening. I don’t get these bouquets of color overnight.
This wander of beauty is the result of years of learning, planning, planting, growing, arranging, and noticing the difference between the weeds, and the wanted sprouts of spring.
Some flowers are annuals; some self-sow, growing without extra effort from me. Perennials require patience to allow them to thrive, and many times after the best show, they decline, fade away, and I must start again.
This spring, I have a wave of contagious color. My desert marigolds are invading the front sidewalk, and there will be cleanup duty after this flush of flowers. But now, oh my, it is glorious. It is spring in my garden, and it is great to be a gardener. I am grateful to be alive in this spring.
Plant something now.