Right about now, tiny goldfields and purple mat should be erupting in carpets of color on the desert floor at Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. The gentle hills of the Antelope Valley poppy reserve should be turning bright orange with thousands of California poppy blossoms.
But so far this spring, wildflowers in local deserts and mountains are in short supply. Even the rainstorm that swept through Southern California last weekend won’t be able to rescue what flower watchers say is turning out to be a disappointing year.
“I have a feeling that if anything does happen, it’s going to be a late season and a short one,” says Helen Tarbet, a field ranger who leads wildflower walks at Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Lucia District of Los Padres National Forest.
Indeed, it has been a very dry year in California. In the Southland, the drenching winter rains critical for wildflowers to start germinating never materialized. The mid-March storm brought less than an inch to 4 inches of rain to Southern California, Santa Barbara area and the vicinity, but rainfall totals are still below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.
Statewide, the snowpack measured continues to be well-below last year’s record-setter.
“The pretty abysmal snowpack levels we have this year are going to impact a lot of recreational experiences,” says Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the state’s Department of Water Resources. Late rains in the Sierra could help, but the roaring waterfalls at Yosemite and the white-water courses of the Kern River probably will be less robust than usual.
Desert wildflowers might be one of the earliest harbingers of the low-water year.
PAGE DICKEY, 70, and her husband, Bosco Schell, 76, were soaking up the sun on their terrace here one afternoon a few weeks ago — floppy hats in place against the rays — explaining how they were simplifying their garden. Sort of.
“The first step is to replace perennials with shrubs and ground covers,” Ms. Dickey said, sipping her coffee after a hearty lunch of her homemade minestrone, whose onions, leeks, garlic and chard came straight from the garden. “We need an overall plan: more green architecture and less plants.”
Mr. Schell, a retired book editor, grew up in Hungary, where his family had a walled kitchen garden. He had peeled the Empires and Mutsus gathered from the orchard here for the fresh applesauce we had eaten, dribbled with cream.
“We talk about simplifying, but the whole joy of gardening is being creative,” he said. “And creativity usually means adding. You go to a nursery and you say, ‘Oh! That’s the perfect plant for us!’ ” (Like the little potted strawberry bush, named Venus, that they fell in love with at a plant sale, and then wandered around with for days, seeking a place for it.)
“Instead of simplifying, we’re complicating,” he added with a chuckle. Mr. Schell, who fled Budapest at 11, when the Germans invaded, can’t bear to throw away any plant; he makes more from seeds and cuttings, to give away or donate to plant sales at the local library.
As Ms. Dickey writes in “Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden,” to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February, “A husband is all very well, but a husband in the garden is a mixed blessing.”