Just in case you missed it, the plant world is awake — daffodils in the morning and white flowers in the glow of soft light at night.
Last weekend our crew of visiting Fulbright participants* traveled to San Francisco to make three days of memories. Crammed elbow-to-elbow in a Chico State transport, I rambled enthusiastically about herons in irrigation ditches and even swooped my arms like a sandhill crane. Llano Seco refuge, Sutter Buttes, white on the yonder mountains – anyone who thinks you need movie stars and beaches to fulfill the California dream should scan through our Google album of 1,100 Northern California selfies. Some photos included a rubber chicken.
(Freesia, another fragrant flower)
The bus rumbled southward, and we saw endless almond orchards showing a shy awakening of petals.
“You really love where you live,” several scholars said, perhaps simply to hear a voice other than their guide.
Three days later we returned north, the rosy fingers of dusk running across the horizon. Our tired travelers gasped that now the orchards were dusted with “snow.”
I couldn’t think of a better gift than our valley in full bloom so close to Valentine’s Day.
Except, there was a better gift, a daphne odora.
The February bloomer is among the most fragrant, blooming just at that time when you’re tired of bare tree limbs and the joys of wearing colorful scarves.
They’re fussy, needing just this much water, and just the right amount of sun. Sometimes they die when you aren’t looking.
I’ve had a few daphne odoras in the past, and nothing lasts forever. One day all is glorious with your (new variegated) Daphne, and next minute you’re wondering if you have the strength to grow it again.
Perhaps a decade ago, I called David Walther of Spring Fever Nursery and Garden because a Daphne had died. David assured me he had lost Daphnes of his own.
More recently, David lost a great many plants in the 2018 fires. Yet, you can spot him on many a Saturday, smiling broadly as he lounges at the back of his plant booth.
As I recall from that long-ago chat, a virus wakes up when the soil is moist and the thermometer reaches 89 degrees. I might have facts and figures wrong, but I distinctly recall you shouldn’t water the beauty when it’s warm.
The Master Gardeners of Sonoma County advise growing Daphne in semi-shade, well-amended, fast-draining soil. The watering thing is the big gamble. You’ll think the plant looks ill, and add water to kill it. Yet, you could kill it by keeping it too dry.
Sometimes in life, you receive a gift. I’m determined to enjoy this one while I can.
Trekking through the valley and traveling with smart people from foreign countries has reminded me that there are many paths from which to choose.
A year ago I was teaching third graders about plants and the need for sun, soil, air and water. Last week the lovely Jennifer Adams invited me to the school play in her fourth grade class. Many of these students were my third graders, before the two classrooms were combined. I miss them.
As I walked toward the threshold of Room 7 for the play, teacher Ginger Chew saw me and dragged me into a cozy corner filled with first-grade hands.
Before I could gulp, life had pushed me to the middle of a group hug. These were the children I sang with each morning from August through September, when I finished at the school as a reading teacher. My presence had distracted the class (in a lovely way) and I sang “make a circle … big and round.” I think it’s OK that the children saw me cry; These were joyful tears.
But wait! I couldn’t linger long, as much as I was tempted. There was a play, down the hall, in Room 7, and more amazing children to hug.
* The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
Flowers in San Francisco.