Thursday, March 17, 2011


Hyacinths and ranunculi are coming into bloom in our largest flower bed. The hyacinths are a blue-purple that blends well with four varieties of lavender and predominantly purple freesias, but each ranunculus sprout produces a surprise. A fat red bud was the first to open, revealing a variegated orange and yellow blossom. Its neighbor is pink and white, while orange buds are waiting their turn.

This is only the second year I've grown ranunculi. They are newcomers among plants that go back thirty years and more: a big white azalea, now covered with large single blossoms; a pink camellia just ending its long season of bloom; calla lilies that have come and gone; the shrimp plant and meyer asparagus fern that were here in 1975 when we moved in.

Our front garden doesn't get enough sun to grow really great ranunculi. The flower fields of San Diego County's north coast, most notably Carlsbad, face the Pacific and so get strong sun almost all day every day. There's no way to compete with this 50 acre paradise, or even with blogger Wayne's desert garden grown from WalMart tubers. But I will persist in buying a few ranunculus tubers every year at the 99 Cents Only Store, and planting them in the sunniest spots I can find.

This summer I plan to dig and divide all my freesia and hyacinth bulbs, and will plant new and naturalized ranunculus tubers in between. They stand taller than the freesias and hyacinths, and thus provide contrast in height as well as color. Ideally convolvulus mauritanicus (ground morning glory) will fill in around the base, bearing blue-purple blossoms and staying green while the bulbs' foliage dries up.

"Ave, ave, convolvulus mauritanicus," I wrote several years ago in a poem about "the true and graeco-latin names of all the plants," yet I've never tended these unassuming perennials as well as I should. Steve's mother, Alice, bought them for me during an Easter visit years ago. She liked to go to one of the big local nurseries after our festive meal, and always encouraged me to choose a hostess gift.

Mexican sage has also received short shrift from me. It bears beautiful dark purple blossoms, but I don't care for its strong odor or sprawling shape, so have pulled it out many times. At last I think it's fighting its way back in an appropriate place, in line with the lavenders.

I love the constant planning, evaluation, and compromise involved in gardening. These activities provide focal points for memoir and, at the same time, open up paths to new learning. All this, and an excuse to wallow in dirt!

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License