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Blue & Gold: Alive and Well and 25

Bay CrossingsGardens

By Mary Swift Swan, Bayside Gardens of Tiburon and Botany Bob

The beginning of spring is a beautiful time of the year. It is fun to get out just to see the show from late February to May. Some flowers bloom for a few days others up to six weeks but then another bursts into a blaze of color. Stunning flowers are seen in the hills, along the walking paths, roadways ,and waterways all around the San Francisco Bay Area. To provide information on what is blooming this month, Bayside Gardens owner Matt, manager Dennis, and their plant expert Botany Bob have lent their expertise to “Bay Crossings Gardens.”

Botany Bob said, “Blue is a rare color in tropical flowers. It is a spectacular color to see in a flower. In the San Francisco Bay area with many micro climates, some are within the range of Mediterranean weather patterns with the most notable “Rivera Zone” being Tiburon and Belvedere. Blue flowers in March include Ceanothus, Lupine, and Pride of Madeira. We also have gold in them thar hills with fields of Mustard, Poppies, and hedges of Cape Honeysuckle, just to name a few.” Since this is the celebration issue of Blue & Gold’s 25th Anniversary and a special feature about Tiburon Waterfront Living, we begin the Garden series with a few of the Blue and Gold flowers that will cloak our surroundings in glorious color.

PRIDE OF MADEIRA– Echium fastuosum, also known as E. candicans. Echium: from Greek echis, “a viper,” the blooms appearing to represent a viper’s head (ref. genus Echium) fastuosum: proud (ref. Echium fastuosum, Venidium fastuosum) Think of a proud cobra rising to the song of the flute player. So the sun calls at the end of winter for this plant that is the Pride of the island of Madeira, in the Mediterranean sea, to rise in full color and sway to the gentle sea breezes along Tiburon’s recreation trail that starts near downtown stretching along the shores of Richardson Bay to Blackies Pasture.
Pride of Madeira is an evergreen perennial that can stop traffic with its showy display in spring of blue, purple, and sometimes pink bloom clusters. Some clusters show all three colors at the same time. Pride of Madeira blooms profusely for about six weeks but can continue thru summer.

Pride of Madeira feels at home in the Tiburon Mediterranean climate where, after the fog dissipates, there is very little humidity. “It grows like a weed here! It doesn’t need to be watered in summer,” said Matt. “It grows rapidly to form a 6’ tall multi-branched bush with gray-green leaves then begins to spread at its base. I need to have half a truckload of Pride of Madeira with root balls wrapped in burlap on hand by early March when they burst into full bloom or I have a line of very unhappy customers.” Many from around the Bay Area think of them as a native plants, but they are a well-adapted exotic that grow with little care by the Bay. They also grow in inland areas with sun and good drainage.

The plants will need protection from all but light frost if taken to other areas, but are thankfully deer resistant once established. The large, intense blue flowers stand high above the foliage to make a brilliant garden backdrop display. Use for a sunny pathway, on a hill, or in a garden. It is an effective 6’ screen plant. Remove spent flowers and prune lightly after flowering to maintain bushiness. Bayside Gardens provides excellent planting instructions for this beautiful plant in many locations. “People are stunned by this plant,” said Matt. “We have helped people from all over the country take this beauty home, even to Iowa.”

Mustard flowers pop up profusely where previously tilled fields have yet to be sown for the new season. Mustard blooms between thevines in wineries and fields of those who supply our farmers’ markets. The fields thick with Mustard are short-lived because at planting time they are plowed under the soil to compost with fertilizer to nourish the crops. It is considered a weed. It is not native to California. Mustard is part of the cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Chinese mustard family. Fully mature leaves can be cooked, but tender new leaves can be used in salads. It grows well in coastal regions. Since mustard-family members usually, but not always, blossom in the spring, they tend to have white or yellow blossoms — bright colors highly visible to pollinators in spring’s dim sunlight.

RAY HARTMAN CEANOTHUS– Ceanothus cuneatus, Wild California Lilac.
Botany Bob says this plant is one of the most spectacular plants in the world. It is endemic to California which means it can be grown in other areas but it originated from California. It is often used in highway and city landscaping all around the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Botany Bob’s favorite plant is sometimes called California Lilac. Ceanothus range in height from short, matted forms to tall tree-like shrubs. It usually flowers in March and April. The flowers vary from white to lavender to dark blue, depending on the species. What looks from a distance like a single long flower is really a cluster of many tiny flowers. The flower groups are usually up to two inches long. Most Ceanothus in California are evergreen. One of the more common native species of Ceanothus is Ray Hartman Ceanothus. Its blossoms are white or sometimes light lavender, and the shrub usually grows up to 8’ tall. This and other Ceanothus add beautiful color to our spring landscape. It is best to protect until established as a bush, then it becomes deer resistant.

Wild flowering plants begin to turn the hills, waterfront, and greater Bay Area of San Francisco into a kaleidoscope of color beginning in March. The hills and fields seem to come alive. Wild flowers are beautiful, delicate, and a beauty to behold. The joy in picking them is short-lived because wild flowers do not last like cultivated flowers. If left alone, they seed for the next season after flowering, so picking them is discouraged. Take pictures while they bloom to enjoy them for years to come.

White Silene–Uniflora (maritaman) Perenn
ial Zones 1-9, 14-24 from coastal regions of western and northern Europe. The gray leaves with 6-8” stalks have abundant 4-petal flowers that bloom for 4-6 weeks primarily March to April. It is very common to see a wild version blooming with poppies or lupine.

California Poppy–Eschscholzia Californica Begins blooming in March and peaks in April. Native to Oregon and California but can be grown from Northern Canada to San Diego, Zones 1-26. It is bothered by humidity, preferring dry climates like the Mediterranean. Poppies are common all over the world. Considered a perennial but often grown as an annual. In mild climates like the Bay Area, it appears as clumps, and spreads seeds to create other centers of brilliant color.

Lupine – Lupinus bicolor Blue and white native flower that blooms in March. Lupine has many varieties. It is an annual in California and can be found all the way to British Columbia, Zonee 3-24. Blooms from mid-March thru early April.

Botany Bob said, “California is the Number One state in the U.S. with the longest list of endangered native and endemic plant species. It is also Number One among states that has the most to offer in native ornamental plants that can be moved successfully to other areas. This makes the situation especially sad; losing so many native plants to development and aggressive exotics that do not adapt well, Next to California, Texas is second and Hawaii is third with the longest lists. Hawaii is now third because many of their plants are already gone.” Bob adds, “With wild flowers and native plants, it is a race between gone and going away.”

We want our readers to enjoy the beauty and wonder of these beautiful flowers and plants, so we encourage you to take a walk on the wild side or maybe plant a few specimens to keep them around.
If you have any questions about plants or what and how to plant your garden, call Bayside Gardens at (415) 435-0041