Having a blue spring day... and why

With blue skies and some blue flowers blooming around Rosehaven Cottage, yesterday and today are "blue" in the good sense of the word. I've been out weeding around the rosebushes where the bulbs are sprouting and blooming at their feet. The heady fragrance of the first hyacinths are intoxicating. And, for me, the blue color is even more intoxicating...

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I didn't do any color correction to the above image... that's the brilliant blue that my eyes see. Isn't it amazing? I have pink, "red", and white hyacinths too, but none of them take my breath away like the blue ones.

Also to my delight, the plum tree is blooming!

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The blooming of the plum tree heralds my favorite part of spring. I live and garden in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Ornamental pear and almond blossoms arrive first in late January or early February. The rest (like the plum) start coming around now. The neighbor's nectarine and peach are in bloom right now too.

Our micro-climate is much like the south of France or Tuscany--a Mediterranean climate with just about all our rainfall in the winter months, leaving us with hot and dry summers. So right now, our hills are green (they'll be golden in summer), and spring has begun.

I know I reference "micro-climates" a lot when I'm trying to describe our climate. I've decided to finally show you how complex this whole thing really is for gardeners in our neck of the woods. Sunset magazine (also the publisher of Sunset Western Garden Book) has divided the entire U.S. into zones (click here to see them online).

The state of California is long, taking up a large portion of the United States' western coastline along the Pacific Ocean. It has bands of hills and mountain ranges running north to south that start at the western coast and move eastward interrupted only by a large flat plain called the Central Valley (a former ancient inland sea with wonderful loamy soil where much of the U.S. crop production occurs).

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All of this interesting topography means that just because someone says they live in California doesn't mean that they'll be basking in mild sunny temps all winter long (that's more often the case in coastal Southern California). Case in point, California has high elevations that get large amounts of snow-pack in the winter which provide the rest of the state with water throughout the summer--and also provide a lovely winter playground for skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts.

Almost in the middle of the California coastline is an inlet that the Golden Gate bridge spans which leads to a large inland bay--San Francisco Bay. This bay stretches north to south spanning an aerial distance of over 50 miles. The towns and cities surrounding this bay make up the greater San Francisco Bay Area that covers an almost circular area over 50 miles wide.

The Bay Area is informally divided into regions called the "Peninsula", the "North Bay", the "South Bay", and the "East Bay", so when we watch the weather forecast on the news we listen for our "region's" forecast because the weather can be dramatically different from one part of the Bay Area to another.

Sunset took things a step further and divided the San Francisco Bay Area into zones. Although helpful, the zones still aren't representative of the hundreds of micro-climates that exist within each zone. But knowing one's zone is at least a good start when one begins gardening here.

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Although the zone map says that we're supposed to be zone 17, we really aren't. Our adjacent zones are 14 and 15 but those aren't quite accurate either. So we have to take the definitions of all three zones and kind of morph them together through experience. Sunset's definitions are as follows with what is true for our climate highlighted in green and what is false for our micro-climate highlighted in red:

ZONE 17. Oceanside Northern and Central California and Southernmost Oregon
Growing season: late Feb. to early Dec. Coolness and fog are hallmarks; summer highs seldom top 75 degrees F/24 degrees C, while winter lows run from 36 degrees to 23 degrees F/2 degrees to -5 degrees C. Heat-loving plants disappoint or dwindle here.

ZONE 14. Inland Northern and Central California with Some Ocean Influence
Growing season: early Mar. to mid-Nov., with rain coming in the remaining months. Periodic intrusions of marine air temper summer heat and winter cold (lows run from 26 degrees to 16 degrees F/-3 degrees to -9 degrees C). Mediterranean-climate plants are at home here.

ZONE 15. Northern and Central California's Chilly-winter Coast-influenced Areas
Growing season: Mar. to Dec. Rain comes from fall through winter. Typical winter lows range from 28 degrees to 21 degrees F/-2 degrees to -6 degrees C. Maritime air influences the zone much of the time, giving it cooler, moister summers than Zone 14.

See how hard it is to get your head around it???

That's why I gauge things more by what I see going on in nature. When I see the first almond trees in bloom, that's a sign that spring is on its way and our plum tree will be in bloom soon. When I hear the twitters and tweets of birds (particularly the high-pitched Rufous hummingbird), I know that birds are migrating through from the south to the north. And when the hyacinths peek their heads out of the soil, I know it's time to trim up the rosebushes for the coming season.

Our first crocus blooming in among the green foliage of the California poppies
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  1. Cindy... I LOVED this post. You know how much I love the diversity of that great state of California. You captured it so well. I LOVE the hyacinths... just breath-taking. It makes me wish I lived close enough to just come sit in you lovely yard and soak up the ambiance.
    Love you so much,

  2. I am in Sunset zone 23 and my sil who lives less than five miles from me is in zone 22. Go figure.

  3. That is one confusing area to live in all the microclimates. I would love to have summers that barely got above 75 degrees. Our summers are hot & muggy, by August I'm a puddle. ;)

  4. You are so well informed on these things. As for me, the other day I said, "the weather has turned and spring is here". I recently read a blog post that said winter in Italy starts shortly before Christmas & goes through St. Valentine's day. I thought, "Hey, that's what it is here too" so that totally makes sense that we are a "mediterrean climate". No complaints here! I like it better than So. Cal. where it's spring and summer all year long.

  5. I'd love it if our summers seldom got above 75 degrees too. Unfortunately, we have scorcher temps that reach the triple digits. But fortunately, we have the breezes that usually blow in off the bay that cool things off overnight.

  6. Miss Cindy, I'll admit that my eyes started to glaze over somewhere in the middle of the post, HOWEVER, that just served to make your point - that zones (especially in your area) - are not cut and dried. Though not to the extent of yours, our zone 5b is not what it's described to be either. Mostly, but certainly not verbatim, and we must remember that when choosing plants.

    That hyacinth is fabulous! I've tried finding a blue one and have yet to get a true blue, so if you'd share the name of it, I can go looking for it! :-)

  7. Cindy, What a beautiful shot!

    You have some really wonderful signposts or gauges for spring coming. I never thought of it that way, I don't think.

    I do know when I hear that first whisle of the American Robins when they arrive in our neighbourhood, then I'm in 7th heaven!

  8. I love blue in the garden! I just plant and if it makes it through our midwest winter, it stays.

  9. The flowers are so pretty. even the Crocus which appears beneathe leaves here and is sometimes missed for its delicate goodness. I enjoyed learning more about your climate. It helps me understand why our new DIL is not liking being in the coldest part of Montana:) She has been able to see our son only once since he had to leave to go back to school after Christmas... SOON they can be together. May!
    The Hyacinth is gorgeous and delicate too. All these pictures are helping me to appreciate the drab a bit longer until gorgeous Spring does arrive.

    Hugs to you, Miss Cindy!

  10. Fascinating. We have a micro-climate here too- we rarely get snow yet inland just a few miles it is very different.

    Spring is just starting here too. I'll put some flowers in my next post. I agree about the hyacinth smell. We can buy Zoflora concentrate disinfectant with a hyacinth smell.

  11. Thank you for such a great, informative post. Very interesting and educational. I did not know that much about your area. Also, lovely photographs.


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