In the San Francisco Bay Area, our winter usually ends around Valentine’s Day, or Februrary 14th. This is one of my favorite times of the year since the days are getting longer, yet the air is still cool and moist. Best of all, many trees are putting up extravagant flower shows while the chores and frenzies of spring are still weeks away.
First is one of our best tried-and-true stars: Acacia baileyana with bright yellow mini-balls exuding a subtle violet fragrance. It is said that Acacias are blamed unfairly for allergies since their bloom time overlaps with those of the less conspicuous pollen mongers of grasses. I say we should plant more of these small drought-tolerant trees. (but not the weedy blackwood acacia, A. melanoxylon)
This is probably a flowering peach. The plums and pears are also blooming, while the cherries and crabapples still need more time.
A daffodil bulb (Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis) I bought from our local Chinese supermarket is blooming just in time for the Chinese New Year. Its fragrance is much much nicer than typical paperwhites, which I would not even call fragrant. Historians believe that this species trekked from Italy to China over 1000 years ago via the Silk Road, and since then it has naturalized in South China. This locally selected cultivar has become a traditional plant in China with many farms producing them for indoor forcing. Its Chinese common name is “Water Fairy” (水仙) and “Gold Cup on a Jade plate” (金盏玉盘)
Another traditonal Chinese plant is Primrose Jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi, 云南黄素馨). It is a semi-evergreen weeping shrub that can get to 8′ high. The yellow flowers are very showy and they are very common in traditional Chinese gardens in Suzhou, China. Their mophead form is especially useful near water for hiding ugly edges.
Every morning when I drive my son to school, I see this fine row of Magnolia doltsopa along the Oregon Expressway in Palo Alto. The unusual warm spell this winter (six weeks without rain and daytime high temperature to low 70s) has given these trees the best chance in years to show off their floral display. While I was taking photos, occasionally there was a break in car traffic in both directions, the silence and the pervasive fragrance made me feel like I am at their native Himalayan foothills.