From Snow to Frost
Source for Yellow Cosmos bipinnatus

San Francisco Winter Garden in Bloom

Midnov_07_054_front_garden_1copy So here is the garden I missed after a few days in the snow. This image was taken near the end of November, 2007, but some of my garden flowers are in bloom still, at the end of December. This didn't used to happen. This garden was often bloomless by Thanksgiving. I could keep flowers going till then from sometime in February, but by Thanksgiving, the garden would inspire my mother-in-law, who had arrived for the holiday to say "You should plant some flowers in this garden." So is it climate change? Hard to say. We still have frosty nights in December or January, but maybe the fall cools more slowly, allowing more plants to adjust and stay in bloom later.

In this photo are several plants from my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California. There is the annual paludosum daisy (Mauranthemum paludosum) (white flowers in lower left). These are still in bloom now. To the right of it is golden feverfew (Tanaceturm parthenium), which I keep for its chartreuse foliage, picking off any blooms that form. Around and in these plants is nasturtium, with orange blooms. You can also see the lacy foliage of California poppy, which still have a couple of orange blooms and will have more of them very early in the year and all spring.

The taller red flowers are Schizostylus coccinia, a nice South African bulb that blooms in the fall. It has about finished blooming now. It will spread in gardens kept very moist, but mine is on the dry side in summer, so it stays mostly in place. I think there is also a flash of red from the last of the California fuchsia (Epilobium californicum), which was huge and bright in late summer. The low red flowers are some dwarf snapdragons, which I pinched three times to keep them reblooming from mid summer until late November. They are quiet now, but who knows, maybe they will rebloom later.

The blue flower, spreading out to the right, is annual echium, a little brother of the big, showy Pride of Madeira. It's Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder.' I hear that this one is a pest in Washington state, Canada, and Australia, so avoid it in those areas please, but here, in dry summer California, I have found only light reseeding, and reports from other gardeners are that it isn't very hard to get rid of if you tire of it. It blooms a long time and provides pollen for bees.


Here are the other flowers I wanted to see on my return. These are cosmos, of an unusual pale yellow hue, that I grew from seed, though I'm afraid I have forgotten the seed company that sold the seed (I have that packet somewhere!). I asked our housesitter deadhead them, to keep them blooming, and they are still going! I like them because I know that pale-colored or white cosmos are the best ones for attracting beneficial insects. (This is the species of cosmos that is usually white, pink or magenta, not the one that is bright yellow or rusty orange.)

What blooms will the rest of the winter spare? We shall see.


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Hi Lee,

Look forward to meeting you in class. No, don't dig tree dahlia, just cut it back in March. (In fact, you don't have to dig regular dahlia either in SF unless you want to divide it.) I am going to answer your question more fully in the SF Chronicle on January 9th. Check it out, or you can read it on


is the tree dahlia supposed to be dug up and stored like the dahlia flowers? I registered for the course at CCSF; looking forward to attending!

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