G-d Withholds Rain to Make Us Pray

black flower mint (Salvia discolor)

black flower mint (Salvia discolor)

Two enormous blessings were bestowed upon Los Angeles this winter and spring. First, the value of real estate appreciated significantly. Second, the rains of El Nino gave incredible life to our plants and gardens. The Bible instructs that all abundance comes from God and that it is given to those who, on account of their faith, deserve it. So we must be doing something right.
It was our patience during those many lean years that demonstrated our faith. We persevered through droughts, fires, floods and earthquakes. The moment the first storm arrived this past winter marked the end of the longest stretch of rainless days in the history of Los Angeles. God withholds rain, the sages instruct, because he likes to hear us pray for it.
In recent days, our family has been privileged to see what happens when nature is allowed to run its sure, if leisurely course. It took star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) several years to climb up the post of our front porch. A week ago, a finch started to build its nest among the twining stems of this vine – upon the crossbeam beneath the eaves of the porch roof. All day and all night, that bird sits upon its eggs, nearly camouflaged by the vine, teaching us patience, patience, patience.
We have also learned patience from those fat Valley carpenter bees that flit among the flowers. Interesting how the male bees, which are yellow in color, cannot quite seem to pause long enough to savor their beloved Waverly sage blossoms. They move so quickly that they could hardly be taking more than a single sip from any of the Waverly flowers to which they are singularly attracted. Yet, they show up reliably each day in the late afternoon and buzz around their favorite plant for an hour or more.
The Waverly cultivar is one of the newer salvias (sages), and no species name has yet been attached to it. It has foot-long flower wands that are studded with pinkish white bi-labiate blossoms and violet calyces. The leaves are dark green, textured, and with pronounced veins, producing a seersucker effect. The plant has an old-fashioned look with its arching flowers and open growth habit.
Female Valley carpenter bees are metallic black and bronze. They move slowly among the flowers in our garden, preferring the colorful pinkish lavender bloom of Polygala dalmaisiana (sweet pea shrub). They stop and suck nectar from a particular flower for a prolonged minute or two, unlike their harried male counterparts.
A year ago, we planted a dozen strawberry plants purchased at a local nursery, and not a fruit was seen until about a month ago. Now, we are getting strawberries nonstop, just when we were about to switch these heretofore uneventful plants for more interesting garden fare. A couple of problems worth mentioning: the fruit mildews quickly, so it must be picked the moment it is ripe; the fruit harvested so far has been insipid. Perhaps the drier weather ahead will solve the fungus problem. We can only hope that fruit harvested later in the season will be sweeter. Straw is being used as a mulch to protect the berries from making contact with the soil; such contact would make fungus problems insuperable. When you raise strawberries in the back yard, it is easy to understand why commercial growers of this delightful crop must spray it with pesticides in order to protect their investment. I would be interested in hearing of any local success stories with strawberries that could be passed along to readers of this column.
Another plant that has just started to show its true colors in our garden is black flower mint (Salvia discolor). This unusual sage has persistent silvery white bracts, which eventually open up to reveal dark navy blue (almost black) flower petals within. Close by are several ‘Livin’ Easy’ floribunda rose bushes. Their roses are orange with a light, spicy fragrance. Based on last year’s performance, we could not understand why this rose was so highly touted at the nursery and even considered removing it. This spring, we discovered why ‘Livin’ Easy’ was recommended; the plants have three times as many blossoms as a year ago. It was a good thing we were patient.
Tip of the week: The insect book that every gardener in this city should have is “Insects of the Los Angeles Basin,” by Charles Hogue. It was published in paperback by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 1993. It describes the habits and history of the insects, spiders, centipedes and snails you will encounter while gardening and make your encounters with creepy crawly things that much more memorable.

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