Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | September 18, 2009

First rain of the season

About a week ago, we had our first rain of the season.  Living here in Northern California, this is a big deal.  We don’t have rain for the summer season, unlike some folks in the east.   We grow parched and brown and crunchy.   But when the first rain comes, everything changes.

The tomato plants get anxious.  They know their days are numbered.  They hurry to set out the fruit before it gets too cold.  The fig tree works in contradiction.  The fruits start to turn color in the Indian Summer heat as the leaves start to dry out and lose the turgidity.   The quince – the fruiting type, not the flowering type – has green velvety ornaments that are becoming yellow.

Fruiting quince

Fruiting quince

Soon they will be golden and the fragrant, perfuming the late afternoon breeze. The rose blossoms wither, the leaves get brittle.  The bushes will wait for January to swell again.  Our strawberries and raspberries have already gone into slow motion.  The lemon verbena shrubs are brittle…I should take the younger leaves off for drying for tea this winter.  The Japanese anenomes in the shade garden are blooming like crazy, white and magenta, rushing to show off before they die back for a winter rest.

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

The salvias tell the hummingbirds to hurry up and drink deep because time is running out.

The native plants behave differently.  They drink in that first rain and sigh.  The poppies that took up residence in the dying lawn get sneaky, letting the blue-green foliage wither as its seed pod lengthens and dries.  It plans its return next spring through the seeds it will shoot like fireworks as just the right breeze presses the trigger.  And the seeds will wait for the winter moisture to seep in for germination.  The penstemons invite the bees to visit while the weather is still good, laughing at the more fragile flowers in the front yard.  The summer ferns are preparing to rest, but the winter ferns are waking up.  The coral bells and bleeding heart and fringecups and California figwort all look forward to the spring with anticipation.  I can almost see the Yerba Buena shaking off its lethargy and calculating how long before it can stretch out and race around the flower bed border and stepping stones to acquire more territory.

Now that Autumn is upon us, I will make a list of plants to start for the fall and winter: kale, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, carrot, beet, radish.  Spinach starts have already been planted under the pear tree.

Spinach starts and seedlings sprouting

Spinach starts and seedlings sprouting

Red leaf and Romaine lettuce are waiting to be planted.  I still need to harvest the rhubarb.  The stalks will become cobbler and the leaves will be brewed into dye for wool.  Busy, busy, busy.

I practice Bay-Friendly gardening.  My East Bay garden is a mixture of traditional ornamental plants, veggies and fruits, and native plants.  We choose plants for beauty, food, water thriftiness, waste reduction, resource conservation, and wildlife habitat.

  • We use hydrozoning: putting plants that have similar water needs together.  It saves  water by giving the right amount to the plants vs.  a generic approach that wastes water.  It keeps the plants healthier.  There is less excess biomass to be hauled off to the green yard or put into the compost.
  • We try to be compassionate to the plants by putting the right plant in the right place: I put sun lovers out in the open to bake, and shade lovers under the shadows of the trees and fence.   At the nursery, I lovingly caress the plants that need good drainage…and pass them by because we have a heavy clay soil that will starve them of oxygen and drown them in the winter.
  • We rely on compost and manure to fertilize and condition the soil instead of synthetic, petroleum based fertilizers.  We use companion planting and host plants for beneficial insects and birds to control pests.
  • We plant in the fall to take advantage of the winter rains…letting plants set down their roots and get established for the coming year.  We have embraced what the Hopi people believe: rain is a blessing.

But now we are experiencing Indian Summer.  It’s grown warm and dry again.  The forecasted heatwave will reduce that first taste of rain to a memory that begins drifting away…except that the plants and soil remember…and somewhere in my depths, I’m counting the days til the rains come in earnest and the earth  is renewed.

If I’m not in the house, check in the garden.



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