Colors of early spring

This afternoon I took advantage of a break in the rain to see what it’s in bloom at the Ruth Storer Valley-Wise Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum. This garden is dedicated to flowering perennials and small shrubs that do especially well in our Mediterranean climate. The focus is on plants that need relatively little water and maintenance, and yet look good most of the year.

While the majority of plants aren’t blooming yet, there was still a surprising variety of color. It was just what my sore eyes needed after a week of sometimes torrential rain.

Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’) in full bloom. This is my favorite winter-blooming plant, bar none. The smell is intoxicating. This is also the largest one I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly sited in a perfect spot as far as soil, draining and sun is concerned.

We had a winter daphne under the bay trees in our back yard  that did really well for 7 or 8 years, then just died, as they’re wont to do. Our current one, in the ground for three years, isn’t doing much. Too much competition from the bay tree roots, is my guess.
Close-up of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
White winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Alba’) in the
UC Davis Arboretum White Garden. A truly stunning plant, and incredibly fragrant.
Close-up of Daphne odora ‘Alba’
The other prolific winter bloomer around here is the hellebore. There are many different cultivars, and I’m not an expert, especially since the ones I’ve tried to grow in our garden have died. This one is the regular Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius).
110219_violets hellebore
What a perfect combination for late winter/early spring: Hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus) and
sweet violet (Viola odorata).
110219_hellebore aloe
This combination is bit more exotic: Helleborus argutifolius and
an Aloe striata x maculata hybrid.
Bergenia crassifolia in full bloom.
Does anybody know why its common name is “pipsqueak”?
Bergenia crassifolia flower
Another favorite shrub of mine in early spring: the flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). This cultivar is called ‘Blood Red’. At this time of year, the flowering quince is the undisputed queen of color in my book. It’s too bad that the rest of the year it is so ordinary—so much so that I couldn’t even describe what it does look like!  (In the photo above, the contrast with a flowering rosemary is particularly nice.)
Close-up of flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Blood Red’).
We have a bed of regular white calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) in our backyard and I’m very fond of them. This white-and-green cultivar is called ‘Green Goddess’, and I’m frankly not sure whether I like it or not. It is an attention-getter, though.
Mexican bush sedum (Sedum praealtum) just beginning to bloom. This is a fairly uncommon sedum that grows to 3 ft., forming stalks that look very much like the stalks of a mature jade plant.
Flower of Mexican bush sedum (Sedum praealtum), just beginning to open up.
Even though they’re a long time from flowering, these striped-leaf Dalmatian iris (Iris pallida ‘Argentea Variegata’), native to Croatia, look stunning as they put out new growth.
Is there a more classic spring flower than the daffodil? As common as it is, it’s such a welcome sight every spring (or in our case, late winter).


  1. Aha! A plant that we can grow here: quince. I don't have one myself, but welcome its early spring blooms too -- except we're at least a month away from seeing them here.

    Also, I don't know why, but I don't like daffodils much. There is one abandoned property not too far from me that has a yard FULL of these in the spring -- they multiplied for many years apparently. I'll have to look for that this spring and see if they're still around.

  2. Nice one Gerhard!

    That Daphne is a nice big specimen and looking very healthy, love the scent of the flowers. I find very few Daphnes live long enough, some actually die very quickly for some unknown reason.

    I'm not a fan of Z. 'Green Goddess' either, I prefer 'Kiwi Blush', with its pink throat :)

  3. The pink hellebore is Helleborus x hybridus. I hope it wasn't labeled incorrectly. I love this blog post though and I am going to link to it off the Arboretum Facebook page. Good work!

    Mia Ingolia

  4. Mia, thank you for the correction. I really appreciate it. I'm sure it was labeled correctly but I got it mixed up.

    I love the Arboretum, and I'm happy I can go there anytime I want :-).

  5. According to one reference, the common name pigsqueak comes from the noise the leaves make when you rub them between your fingers.

  6. Don, that makes sense. But it seems like most people know this plant simply as bergenia. At least that's what I always called it :-).


Post a Comment