Phenology of Columbine & Early Summer Bloomers

rocky mountain columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

rocky mountain columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

When certain plants bloom, you know summer is here. The study of cyclical biological phenomena as predictors of seasonal change is an actual science known as phenology. Summer may come earlier in some years and later in others, and those plants will bloom accordingly.
Jacarandas, romantically given the name of blue haze trees, are Los Angeles’ arboreal harbingers of summer. Native to Brazil, jacarandas’ sticky trumpet flowers adhere to the roof of your car and to your carpet after you bring them inside on the soles of your shoes.
Los Angeles’ jacarandas began blooming the first week in May and, about a week later, temperatures reached 100 degrees, proclaiming the arrival of summer more than a month prior to June 21, our hot season’s official opening day.
Rapturous blooming by ivy geraniums is another indicator of summer’s arrival. This is especially evident in the case of ‘Blizzard’ geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum ‘Blizzard’). To truly appreciate their full potential, allow ‘Blizzards’ to drape themselves over a retaining wall or to spill out of a window box located on a sunny balcony. Although you might think a blizzard must be white, you can also find pink, rose, dark red and lavender ‘Blizzard’ geraniums, too.
A handful of flowering plants, easily germinated from seed, are beloved by all and, whenever you happen to be reminded of them, you wonder why you don’t plant them more often in your garden.
Columbine is a highly regarded member of this category of plants. Its flowers have a unique presence. Each flower appears to be a flower within a flower, since each typically consists of contrasting floral stars, lying flat upon one another. The name columbine is derived from columbinus, meaning dovelike in Latin, and refers to the flowers’ 2-inch long spurs, reminiscent of a dove’s tail feathers.
In our climate, columbine (Aquilegia spp.) grows best in half-sun to semi-shade locations. While columbine can survive in a drought, in hot weather it benefits from one weekly soaking.
It is painfully ironic that the word columbine will forever be associated with a Colorado school where a horrific shooting took place. Columbine is not only Colorado’s state flower, but its name, as stated above, comes from dove, which is a universal symbol for peace.
Lush and water-wise
Neil Jacobs, who lives in Woodland Hills, has converted some hot and dry lawn areas around his house into breathtaking drought-tolerant gardens. His use of colorful succulents is noteworthy and he could have gone with them alone, but he skillfully blended in some leafy specimens as well. A garden that consists of nothing but cacti and other succulents, no matter how colorful, may still look dry and desertlike. But by adding leafy specimens with green, blue and gold foliage, a dimension of opulent lushness is added, too.
Judicious selection of colorful rocks and boulders enormously enhances the appeal of Jacobs’ gardens. He picked through a Los Angeles rock yard to discover flat, pink ‘Las Vegas Red’ slabs, as well as a so-called moss rock — a gigantic boulder liberally painted with white lichen — from Colorado, and a stunning outcropping of green quartz. Boulders add color, form, perspective and gravitas to any garden, and smaller rocks and colorful gravels serve as an eye-catching yet indestructible mulch, imparting an extra measure of water thriftiness by slowing evaporation from the soil surface.
A lichen (LIE-kin), incidentally, is a symbiotic organism that consists of a fungus living harmoniously with either a green alga or a photosynthesizing bacteria. If you hike through the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in Agua Dulce, you will see many examples of lichens. Lichens on rocks may be white, yellow, orange, green, blue-gray or red. You can also observe lichens growing on tree bark, especially that of oaks.
At the entrance to the new Ralphs store on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, I spotted a plant I had never seen before. It was growing in a container and reminded me of Sansevieria cylindrica, a sculptural species with long, tubular leaves. It turns out that the Ralphs plant is known as Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantell’s Sensation.’ Sansevierias are universally known for their toughness and ability to persist in very low light and with very little moisture.

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