Springtime on Nordic Mountain


Rhododendron Vireya

Here on our San Francisco mountainside we’ve had several weeks of cold but mostly dry and sunny weather. The dry part is what I care most about, both because I’ve been anxious to get out into the garden, and because any kind of precipitation or dampness turns into an horrific nightmare on a daily basis when you have three very lively Tibetan terriers to look after. I dream of arid climates where the ground is never bedewed and dogs’ feet and coats are never wet. Or at least a large covered patio area where dogs can spend time outside whenever they need to without creating a huge mess for themselves or for me to deal with. With adjoining fenced play yard, of course: paved to avoid dirty feet, totally devoid of rocks (our little Misha loves to gobble down rocks like so many bonbons), and safe from predators (we have coyotes, raccoons and skunks) and from canine escapes. Well, that’s my ideal fantasy world. I’m still figuring out how to make it happen. Meanwhile, I’m ecstatic when the weather is dry.

It rained yesterday afternoon and during the night, but before that I got in four good gardening mornings. Spring, which comes to us early, seems definitely in the air. I can hear different kinds of birdsong, or the birds sound happier than usual, at any rate, and the air seems different. The crocus bulbs I planted a couple of times over the years stopped producing flowers after awhile, and I haven’t planted any more, otherwise we’d have crocuses by now. What we do have are hellebores–loads of them, since they’re great winter bloomers–and some vireya rhododendrons. That’s a vireya pictured at the top of this post. They hail from Southeast Asia originally, anywhere from Thailand down to Australia, though Malaysia seems to be their chief stomping ground. We were told they are hard to grow, but we’ve adopted about half a dozen over the years, and only lost one, and they are lovely and reliable plants. We keep them in Vietnamese porcelain pots on an open brick patio area near the house, so we can see them and because in the early years I wanted them close by so they could be brought under shelter in case of a rare frost. I’m too lazy to be carrying vireyas around now, and they seem to do fine where they are. They were first discovered by Europeans in 1843 and brought to England where many new hybrids were developed. The two world wars put a damper on tropical plant cultivation, and it wasn’t until after 1960, when the first vireyas were brought to America, that they really began to thrive again. About 400 types exist now and new hybrids are being developed all the time. 

Before the rains came, I managed to clear a flight of about a dozen wooden steps leading down the center of our hillside to a gate which opens to our much larger lower garden. And I spent about three mornings trimming our very large phormium tenax and weeding the areas immediately surrounding it. Some mole-like creature has been living beneath the phormium for years, eating the roots and the tender bases of the stalks. I’ve seen him or her a couple of times, and the dogs have always been curious. But it’s a wild creature, probably with very sharp teeth, so I try to keep my distance. Meanwhile, the rains should be gone by this afternoon, so I’m hoping the next couple of weeks will bring many fine gardening days. There are literally hundreds of neglected plants out there, in desperate need of my attention. I can hardly wait myself. 


                                        Phormium Tenax, or New Zealand Flax





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