Garden Spotlight: Taking Advantage of the Davis Climate in the Garden

Having lived in Davis since 1967 (Barbara) and 1977 (Kent), we have come to appreciate the key features of its climate: cool wet winters and hot dry summers. It is also apparent that water will continue to be a scarce resource, but as we love plants and particularly their flowers, we do not want to have only gravel and cacti. We therefore have planned our garden to take maximum advantage of the winter rain and get through the summer with as little irrigation as possible. In 1993, we moved into a house on a corner in central Davis with great south and west exposure, but with several mature Modesto ash trees planted in the 1950s, Bermuda grass and bare soil. Only two of those trees remain, one now functioning primarily as a mistletoe plantation (we hope the city removes it soon). We have replaced the larger trees with Chinese pistache, as our neighborhood has some large ones that give a fantastic fall color show. We also have planted navel and Valencia oranges, tangelos, Meyer lemons and limes, as well as four pluot varieties (plum/apricot crosses) and a pomegranate. 

Our major gardening focus, however, is on the flower beds on the front, side and back of the house. In the back yard, we had a big pile of dirt excavated from the foundation of a new kitchen we added to the house soon after moving in. Rich Whittington, a landscaper and husband of my first PhD student (Gini Ursin), built a low stone wall around it and made the whole dirt pile into a raised bed. He also put slate tile on the back patio and installed the sprinkler systems. Crepe myrtles, ornamental pomegranate, viburnum, germander, malva, roses and photinia gave definition to the various beds. In the remaining spaces, we plant bulbs. The early narcissus begin to flower in December, followed by daffodils, tulips and Dutch irises as well as camelias, calla lilies, cymbidium orchids and bearded iris. The south-facing front porch is covered by hardenbergia and wisteria flowers in spring and shaded by their leaves in summer, when the bougainvillea is in flower. Alstroemerias, hydrangeas, fuchsias, penstemon, African irises and canna lilies keep us in flowers during summer, along with hardy shrubs such as bottle brush, oak leaf hydrangea and salvia, followed by amaryllis and anemones in August and September. Then it is time for fall cleanup, spreading compost and planting more bulbs in November and December. 

This sequence enables our bulbs and early flowering shrubs to flourish on winter rain without any irrigation, making them guilt-free in the Davis climate. In the heat of the summer, the large trees get an occasional deep watering, the shrubs can get by on limited water, and the remaining grass is just kept barely green. It helps to have a sprinkler system that has its own weather stations and schedules irrigation based on actual weather conditions rather than on a calendar. Each area of the yard has its own specifications depending upon its exposure to the sun, type of vegetation, etc., and we dial it back to the minimum needed for each area. This works well for the bulbs also, as they do best when allowed to dry some in the summer. While Barbara thinks that Kent lets things get a bit overcrowded, Kent wants every spot in the garden to flower at least twice during the year, allowing the winter/spring and summer/fall species to each have their time in the sun, so to speak. 

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