Desperately seeking spring

It’s only February 4, so spring is still a good seven weeks away, at least officially. In a “normal” year, though, we’d see plenty of aloes in bloom in our garden and the first —albeit tentative—wave of California poppy flowers.

Not so this year. Because of below-average temperatures in the second half of December and pretty much all of January, we’re at least two weeks behind where we typically would be. Look at everything that was in bloom the last week of January of 2022! What a difference.

As I was walking Stella at the UC Davis Arboretum this morning, I was paying particular attention to the plants that are in flower right now. There’s one clear standout: Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’. Introduced by the Huntington Botanical Gardens in the 1970s, this Kniphofia rooperi hybrid is as reliable a bloomer as they come. The UC Davis Arboretum has many clumps, particularly around the Arboretum Teaching Nursery, in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, and in the Mediterranean collection. Glowing like orange and yellow beacons, they’re impossible to miss.

Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ in the Mediterranean Collection

Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden

Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ across from the Arboretum Teaching Nursery

Like in our garden, most aloes in the UC Davis Arboretum are still in the bud stage:

Aloe striata

Aloe castanea × marlothii

Aloe microstigma

I only found one aloe species that was in flower, Aloe mutabilis:

Aloe mutabilis across from the Arboretum Teaching Nursery

Aloe mutabilis in the Mediterranean Collection

Other plants aren’t as far behind as the aloes:

Cape snow bush (Eriocephalus africanus)

Arbutus ‘Marina’

Rosemary, not sure which cultivar

Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) and Narcissus

Narcissus of some kind (I’m no expert of these types of bulbs)

Foliage, too, can be an indicator of how far along we are:

Leucadendron sp.

Honey bush (Melianthus major)

Still, there are far too many wintery sights for my liking—not that they aren’t pretty in their own way:

One (of many) reasons why I like agaves: They look great year round. That is, if they don’t develop fungal spots following excessive cold or rain. These agaves near the Putah Creek Lodge parking lot are darn close to perfect:

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Agave titanota

Agave parrasana

Agave parrasana

Agave americana and Yucca rostrata

Stella, my trusty walking companion, couldn’t care less about which plants are in flower. She’s only interested in squirrels.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. You should sell postcards. So many beautiful compositions. The one that might be narcissus is my fave but it has competition.

    1. Thank you for that! Once I have more time, I may do something like that.

  2. I expect our temperatures are higher than yours but it's still been noticeably colder here as well. Three of my Aloes have blooms but only the aloe hybrid vanbalenii x ferox has really made a statement (and half its flowers have taken a nose dive, either due to their sheer weight or a critter intrusion). However, the last 2 days have been warmer (upper 60s) so things may be a-changin'. I noticed tiny species tulip flowers blooming on almost non-existent stems this afternoon.

    1. Your upper 60s are upper 50s here, if that. That explains why we're so far behind. My lachenalias aren't even blooming yet.

  3. It's rather ironic but those of us in northern climes are experiencing far warmer temperatures than is typical though interspersed with periods of extreme cold. A pussy willow's catkins have just emerged almost 8 weeks later than normal. Love the photos of the tree reflection and the kniphoffia. A bright spot in a still cool looking landscape.

    1. My family in Germany also says that it's been a much warmer winter than usual. Elsewhere, not so much.

  4. Looks like maybe a cussonia behind that melianthus? And that melianthus looks fabulous btw -- you should see the state of mine!

    1. Good eyes! Yes, it's a Cussonia paniculata, one of several in the Arboretum and on campus. Our Cussonia paniculata is 10 ft. tall now.

  5. We got another inch plus of rain this week-but damn it's just cold ! My PG&E bill was highest it's ever been, it was kind of a shock. Of course now that I'm retired I actually run the heat every morning which I never did when I worked. I just got up and went to the office where the company paid for my heat and my coffee, lol. I started seeds inside this week which made me feel like spring is on the horizon !


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