GratiTuesday: Rainy Days

Southern California hadn’t had significant rainfall since May of 2017, when we received just under an inch. Then yesterday, a strong sub-tropical storm sent both wind and rain our way – bringing much-needed moisture to our parched region.

My husband and I removed our grass and other thirsty plants from our landscaping and installed drought-tolerant succulents years ago. But, even though these elegantly architectural plants can survive on little water, they also welcome the rain; catching and displaying the droplets on their broad, fleshy leaves.

Agave attenuata
Agave ‘Blue Glow’
Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’

I am grateful for the end of a long dry spell, and I hope for more rainy days before too long.

GratiTuesday: Here Comes the Rain Again

California’s drought has lasted over five years. Many of us have learned to take shorter showers, capture running tap water while it is being heated so it isn’t wasted down the drain, and not be so fussy about… um… flushing. Some of us have changed out our landscaping to reflect the desert climate we live in and others have installed water barrels to better manage the rain they get. What at first may have seemed a hassle is now just second nature to most of us. It’s the right thing to do.

In the summer of 2015, we started to read about the warming waters of the Pacific Ocean and how the resulting El Niño weather phenomenon would give Southern California the best chance for above-average rains. I even wrote a post about being grateful that we had a roof over our heads because of the anticipated storms. At the same time, Northern California was predicted to get much less precipitation.

In fact, just the opposite happened.

Last season, Northern California did much better both in the rain they received and the snow levels they experienced. On the other hand, except for a few days of torrential downpours, Southern California’s El Niño was mostly El Disappoint-o.

When El Niño finally vacated the area, and its drier flipside, La Niña started to show herself, we were told to expect little rain this winter. An article in the Los Angeles Times stated, “If the weather phenomenon behaves as expected, the Pacific Northwest and far Northern California will enjoy a wetter than normal winter, while the southern swath of the state will remain dry.”

Well, that didn’t happen either.

rain

Although the prediction was correct regarding the above average rain in Northern California, Southern California has been experiencing a wetter than normal rainy season this year too. In fact, we are now well above average in our seasonal rainfall totals. Even though we hear a few grumbles (including that we don’t know how to drive in the rain – which is true), most of us are willing to put up with any inconvenience for the sake of the overall health of our water supplies.

There has been some discussion about whether or not California’s drought is over. Some say “Yes,” and advocate for the removal of water conservation restrictions. Others argue “No,” and caution against prematurely declaring that all is well. I certainly don’t know the answer, but given our desert climate and how weather patterns have become less-and-less predictable worldwide, I’m willing to take the pragmatic approach and do what I can to help preserve this precious resource into the future.

In the meantime, I am so grateful for the rain we have received so far this season and, hopefully, will continue to enjoy over the next few months.

GratiTuesday: The beauty of succulents

Several years ago, my husband and I decided to ditch our traditional lawn and the water-thirsty plants that surrounded our house. Southern California has a dry, Mediterranean climate, and it didn’t make sense to maintain landscaping that really didn’t belong. At the time, we were just at the beginning of our multiple-year drought but we could read the writing on the wall: watering restrictions were coming.

So, out went the turf, agapanthus, and day lilies, and in went the succulents and other plants more suited for our climate. No more regular mowing and fertilizing; no more brown spots dotting our green lawn as a result of neighborhood dogs doing what dogs do.

Agave 'Blue Glow' have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ have watercolor-like striations and red-orange margins
IMG_3715
It’s easy to see how ‘Sticks on Fire” got its name

What we now have in our yard is a rich tapestry of colors, shapes, and textures. The bright reds, pinks, and oranges of the appropriately named ‘Sticks on Fire’ (Euphorbia tirucalli) contrast with the deep burgundy of the ‘Zwartkop’ (Aeonium  arboreum) and the silver-blue Senecio mandraliscae. The fat, jelly bean shape of the sediums play nicely with spiked-leaved Agaves and Aloes.

And, just when I think my succulents are quietly behaving themselves, one will suddenly produce a flower so garish and spectacular it can take my breath away.

Dark burgundy 'Zwartkop' produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower
Dark burgundy ‘Zwartkop’ produces a bright yellow and chartreuse flower

Because succulents don’t require regular watering and they are amazingly easy to care for, they are the perfect plants for our lifestyle in retirement. I can putter in the garden… or not, and we can travel for weeks at a time and not have to worry about arranging for their care.

As I walk around our neighborhood and see front yards landscaped with the standard plantings and boring grass (often which has turned brown due to our drought), I am so grateful when I return to the lush growth and dazzling pallet of my succulents.

Photo101: Glass

Succulents are sculptural, low-water plants that come in an almost unending variety of shapes, sizes and colors. These dry-climate jewels are perfectly suited to our area’s Mediterranean climate because they store water in their leaves, stems, or roots.

The mirror hung on the fence bounces the sunlight and reflects another view of the aeonium in bloom.

Mirrior1

Too Much of a Good Thing

Yesterday, my husband and I had a lovely day running a handful of errands, enjoying a relaxing lunch at an outdoor café, and spending the afternoon exploring a neighborhood we had never been to before. The weather was so sunny and warm we were able to drive around with our convertible’s top down.

This morning, I got out into our yard early before the bees showed up, to pick tomatoes from a “volunteer” vine that probably arose from the seeds of a discarded fruit from our summer crop.

photo

We don’t live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently their warm season. We live in Southern California, where we are in the midst of the worst drought in a century. Warnings of possible wildfires, dangers that we are used to hearing about in September and October, are filling the local newspapers and the airwaves. The governor has just declared a drought emergency and we fully expect that water-use restrictions will soon follow.

Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we replaced our thirsty front lawn with drought-tolerant plants. Most of our backyard is either covered in hardscape or planted with bushes and succulents, chosen for their ability to withstand long periods with little water. We realize that, although our home is near the coast, we live in a Mediterranean climate and our landscaping should reflect that. We don’t know what the next few months hold for us rain-wise, but if it continues to be dry, our plants will probably survive, and maybe even thrive.

Sticks of Fire

I love these August-in-January temperatures, but I also know that every season brings with it possibilities and challenges, both abundance and retreat, and each must build on the other for life to flourish and grow. The same dry weather day after day isn’t good for plants, animals, or people. It is dull, it is boring, and it can be dangerous.

As I was picking tomatoes this morning, my thoughts turned (as they do more-and-more these days) to my upcoming retirement. I wondered, as much as I enjoy working in the garden, would I be happy doing it every day? Would I be happy doing anything all the time? Although I am looking forward to having unstructured hours and limitless ways to fill them, I know that too much free time can turn out to be too much of a good thing.

Working five days a week and having only two days on the weekends to get things done, I often find that, come Sunday night, I’ve checked off only a few things on my to-do list, and I didn’t devote much time, if any, to pure enjoyment. After I retire, “enjoyment” will be tops on my to-do list, but that doesn’t mean that I want my days to be exclusively warm and sunny. I look forward to challenging myself by taking classes and learning new skills, obligating some of my time with volunteer work, and creating a certain amount of structure so that I can maintain my physical, mental, and emotional well-being for as many years as possible.

Just as we landscaped our yard in preparation for expected periods of drought and to better reflect the climate we live in, I am laying the groundwork for my retirement. I am setting up my financial life for when paychecks no longer regularly re-fill the coffers, and my personal life to be more self-directed and open to exploration.

Like our current endless summer, a retirement devoted exclusively to relaxation and leisure will soon grow dull, boring, and quite possibly dangerous to health and well-being. It will be important that I search out variety, welcome change, and strive embrace each season for its diversity and its possibilities.

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy” – William Blake