OUR APRIL INVITATION: In Coastal California, It’s Almost Always Spring

This is our contributor Susanna Gaertner’s response to Women’s Voices’ April Invitation,  in which we asked our readers and writers to limn the beauty of spring in their part of the world.


Does Susanna miss the glorious springs that burst out every year back East? Certainly not.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPink and white dogwood in bloom along the author’s front walk in mid-March. (Photo: Susanna Gaertner)

SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA   Spring sprang here on the central coast of California sometime in late February, rife with the daffodils that my fellow contributors on the East Coast are only now enjoying. Already the dogwoods lining my front walk have blossomed in white and pale pink and are now sporting their green summer attire. Even the roses have already emerged.

Alas, this is no cause for celebration: As everyone knows, we are suffering a multi-year drought, so it’s a deceptive greenscape here; the drops and drizzle are sufficient to bring forth new blooms, but we miss the drenching needed to fill reservoirs. April showers, where are you?

Luckily for us, spring is how it feels here about 295 days of the year . . . the rest are either rainy or very hot, neither condition lasting more than a few days/weeks at a time. The weather is THE reason to live here. Allergy sufferers complain of the pollen (I can’t weigh in on this), but there are no mosquitoes and no energy-zapping humidity.

While I cannot speak for all of California, I can say that lawns are uncommon in Santa Cruz. Water conservation has long held popular sway here, so landscaping favors gravel and stone interspersed with beds of drought-tolerant flora—not always, but often, succulents.

On March 7 and 8 the hummingbirds declared that it’s spring for them as they visited the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum on their annual migration. Each year in early March our arboretum gets hundreds of visitors eager to admire and photograph the mighty little birds as they feed on red (their favorite color) grevillea and perform their 70-mph dives for mating displays. These wee birds are very smart: They can remember every flower they have visited; at an average of 1,000 flowers per day, this is nothing short of astounding. A hummer’s brain comprises 4.2 percent of its body weight—the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.

SBGeucalyptIn the UCSC Arboretum, the author points to an earthquaked eucalptus that added its own lateral support growth after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  

The Arboretum’s annual Spring Plant Sale (this year it was April 18) marks another spring milestone. It is held in the Eucalyptus Grove, the oldest part of the Arboretum and boasting the largest collection of eucalyptus outside of Australia. The name means “well covered” in Greek, and refers to the petals and calyx fused together into a domed cap (operculum), that covers the flower bud like a Chinese hat.

WatsoniaWeedy, wacky, wonderful Watsonia comes in shades of coral and purple. (Photo: Susanna Gaertner)

Among my personal spring favorites, at our arboretum and elsewhere, are irises, which come in so many configurations and colors from lingerie to imperial purple. The Watsonia are also purple—and coral, depending on the light and your color perception—and weed-like in growth, so, while they are beautiful, their spread is strictly contained. Flannelbush is now flowering in mad yellow profusion; it is popular because it’s completely drought tolerant; the sticky undersides of its leaves help preserve moisture.

The UCSC Arboretum has plants from all over the globe, specifically ones that thrive in a Mediterranean climate. This year the Arboretum is celebrating its Jubilee, so some of its plants (but even more trees) are actually 50 years old—a mere shiver of a sliver compared with the second-growth redwoods that abound in nearby state parks, but old enough to make this a national center for botanical research and an archive of biodiversity.

flannelbushFremontia, aka flannelbush, an emblematic California native plant that is very drought tolerant. (Photo: Susanna Gaertnere)

I am sometimes asked by friends in other parts of the country: Don’t you miss the “outbreak” of spring? To which I can respond only in the negative. Cold and snow are simply not my thing—even more so now that middle age has thinned my skin and the subcutaneous fat deposits that kept me warm when I was younger. Rain—when we can get it—is our winter, and it’s really the only kind I want to experience any more. Like Women’s Voices writer Judith Ross,  I am a spring baby, born on March 21, and happy that the season starts well before—and lasts long after—my official birthday.


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  • Ellen sue jacobson August 1, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Just visited my daughter on the central coast of ca and it is a touch of paradise!

  • Toni Myers April 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Beautiful photos, Susanna. Lovely place to be in the Spring and just about any other time!

  • ellen sue Jacobson April 19, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    What a coincidence! I am now in L.A. on my way up to San Luis Obispo (older daughter) and Berkeley (younger daughter) and son (Reno) and expect to follow spring up the coast. SLO is paradise according to my daughter and Santa Cruz is not far behind.
    Thanx for the lovely photos. I will take some of my own for my website.