At 11:40 a.m. this morning, I was dismayed to see that the digital thermometer read 100 F (38 C). I love the sun but not when it beats down at temps this high. According to weather reporters, today could potentially reach 115 F (46 C). Our climate is considered a Mediterranean climate, but even at that, these temps are off the charts.
Fortunately, living in very close proximity to the waters of the San Francisco Bay has its advantages during our summer heatwaves. The water usually has a cooling effect once the sun slips over the horizon, causing our temps to dip down overnight often as much as a full 30-40 degrees. So although our heatwaves rival those of a desert clime, they are far more tolerable.
The water and the hilly geography of the San Francisco Bay Area creates many micro-climates within a relatively small radius less than a hundred miles. Even though San Francisco is only about 45 miles (72 km) away, it is a world away as far as its growing zone. And Oakland is only 30 miles (48 km) away but still there is a vast difference between there and here.
This overriding consideration for micro-climates leads to some tricky calculating when one is at a nursery picking out plants. If I'm at a nursery anywhere too far outside my micro-climate, the selection will not be appropriate for my home garden even though I may only be a half hour drive away from home. The Sunset Western Garden Book eventually becomes any serious Bay Area gardener's best friend for this very reason. There's usually a copy at every nursery I go to in case I need to make a quick check before buying something I'm not familiar with.
One of the plants that can either thrive or fade depending on which Bay Area micro-climate it's planted in is bougainvillea. Bougainvillea LOVES heat! In San Francisco proper, some strains of bougainvillea may not do so well because of the city's famous foggy skies and cooler temps (hence the infamous quote "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" [often inaccurately attributed to Mark Twain]).
Well, here in our little micro-climate the bougainvillea only struggles through a few freezes and frosts every winter and then comes back like gangbusters once spring has sprung. By summer, it is trying to take over the driveway that borders the white picket fence the bougainvillea climbs for support. I whack it back regularly so Hubby and his car aren't injured by the deadly inch-long thorns, and it just keeps growing. The reflected heat from the concrete driveway and the full sun location make it thrive.
One particularly bad freeze a couple of winters ago zapped all of bougainvillea so bad that I'd thought for sure I'd lost them. Even the big 3-4 inch trunks died. But the bougainvillea came back sending shoots out from its roots--which is why I have no idea which varieties I still have except for the obviously identifiable Raspberry Ice with its variegated leaves (see top photo). The rest are now a mystery.
So on this day of record-breaking high temps, there will be at least one living thing thriving and basking in the heat out in the garden. And that will be the bougainvillea.
As for me, I'm hibernating inside in my studio with a paintbrush in hand. The bougainvillea can have my share of the outside for today.
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