Sunday, September 25, 2016

Succulents and more in the front yard, late September 2016

This post picks up where I left off here. Let’s take a look at the succulents and other goodies growing outside the fenced-in front yard proper.

This the entrance to the fenced-in front yard:

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Facing the view you see in the photo above, you would have the driveway in your back. Turn around, and this is what you see:

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There are still a few flowers on the palo verde! This tree has been an impressive performer at all levels.

The strip between our house and our neighbor’s house is a another small succulent area. Two trees anchor it: the Bearss lime tree at the sidewalk end, and the ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde at the garage end.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wet stuff from the sky, and quick front yard update

Wet stuff from the sky? What could that possibly be?

While we’re not quite Arrakis, it’s been a long time since we’ve had this in Davis:

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I had almost forgotten what it looks like, feels like, smells like (the smell is always my favorite element).

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Alas, within five minutes the spectacle was gone. Ten minutes later, there was no trace it had ever happened.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden

I’ve read countless book on plants and gardens, and I’ve reviewed a few for this blog. Many of them struck a chord with me for one reason or another. But no book has even been as personal as the one I’m reviewing today, The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Why? Because the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, just about an hour from my house in Davis, is my happy place. I love the plants, but more than that, I love the spirit of the garden. I knew the story of the garden in rough strokes, but after having read The Bold Dry Garden, I have much better insight into how it came to be and what Ruth Bancroft set out to do.

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Kudos to the Timber Press design team on the very attractive layout of the book, including the choice of font for the cover.

The Bold Dry Garden was written by Johanna Silver, the garden editor of Sunset Magazine. Sunset is headquartered in Oakland, a 20-minute drive but apparently a world away. “Before I started on this book, I had never been to the Ruth Bancroft Garden,” Johanna admits in the very first sentence of the preface. And on her first visit, she became worried that the garden might be too small (3 acres) to yield enough material for a book. But when she began to dive into the story of Ruth Bancroft and the garden she started when she was 63 (!) years old, Johanna realized that “[Ruth’s] ‘small’ garden was too big and too full for me to ever fully grasp.” Johanna and master garden photographer Marion Brenner would visit the garden every Saturday for a year. That commitment and dedication is evident in every sentence and every picture.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sansevieria flower surprise

I love houseplants.

In other people’s houses.

Myself, I’m terrible with them because I always seem to forget to water them. Plus, I hate dealing with the inevitable pests that houseplants attract.

Having said that, I’ve had a few plants sneak indoors in the last few years. Most of them are sansevierias, a genus I’m quite fascinated with. (Will somebody please write a good book about sansevierias?) What they lack in cold tolerance, they make up for in spades with the ability to survive in low light and go for weeks (some say months) without water. In addition, there’s evidence that sansevierias are great at removing toxins from the air.

Not everybody thinks their strappy leaves are attractive (I do), but consider this: Some of them produce the most amazing flowers. Case in point: Sansevieria kirkii var. pulchra. This is what we came home to from our recent trip to Victoria, British Columbia:

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Victoria, BC tulip house in the summer

On our whirlwind trip to Victoria, British Columbia in April we happened to drive by a Dutch-style house surrounded by an ocean of tulips (see here and here). I don't think I had ever seen so many tulips in one place. I wouldn't be surprised if accidents happen on that street as people slam on their brakes to get a good look.

But tulips are short-lived. This led to the obvious question: What do they grow when tulip season is over?

Finding out was one of my missions on our visit to Victoria two weeks ago. I now have the answer:

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Impatiens and begonias!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Meeting Ruth Bancroft just days before her 108th birthday

A couple of weeks ago I attended a media preview party held by Timber Press, the Portland-based publishing company, at the Ruth Bancroft Garden to celebrate the upcoming release of The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Written by Johanna Silver, the garden editor of Sunset Magazine, and featuring photographs by Marion Brenner, this is the first book dedicated to the RBG.

While the book won’t be available in stores until early October, everybody who attended the event received an advance copy signed not only by Johanna Silver and Marion Brenner but also by Ruth Bancroft herself! I will have a separate book review soon.

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Ruth Bancroft and curator Brian Kemble who has been working alongside Ruth since 1990. With his encyclopedic knowledge, Brian has been instrumental in making the RBG what it is now. (Photo © 2016 by Stephen Lysaght. Used with permission.)

During the event, Ruth was sitting in the front row with her two daughters and friends. After visiting her garden for all these years, I was finally able to thank her in person for what she created and how much it meant to me. To celebrate Ruth’s 108th (!) birthday a few days later. RBG’s executive director Gretchen Bartzen had a small birthday cake for Ruth—chocolate, her favorite flavor, with yellow frosting, her favorite color. It was very touching to witness in person how much Ruth meant to so many people.

Friday, September 9, 2016

More Butchart Gardens flower power—and a dose of Japanese tranquility

My last post left off at the Sunken Garden. From there I continued counterclockwise, first to the Rose Carousel, then to the Japanese Garden via the Rose Garden and finally on to the Italian Garden. Here is a handy map if you want to follow along or if you’ve been to Butchart Gardens and want to refresh your memory. Close to a million people visit the 55 acre (22 hectare)  garden every year, so many of you have probably been there at one point in your lives.

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Rose Carousel. Check out the variety of plants growing on the rooftop.

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Another inspired foliage combination: coleus and Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculata’

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Succulents at Butchart Gardens—and bananas and more

When we visited Butchart Gardens in July 2015 I was bemoaning the dearth of succulents. After revisiting the garden a couple of days ago, I’m happy to report that I found several beds right next to the parking lot (marked as the Mediterranean Garden on the map) that have a small but well curated selection of spiky plants. Proof that succulents do indeed exist at Butchart Gardens!

The larger bed has five or six outstanding specimens of Yucca rostrata underplanted with agaves, echeverias and other yuccas.

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The bed is slightly raised, no doubt to improve drainage. Cold hardiness is not as big an issue since the Victoria area has mild winters and even nights below freezing are not all that severe. The BG website lists 14”F (–10”C) as an extreme. I read somewhere that Victoria has had winters that were entirely frost-free.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Evening in downtown Victoria, BC

It still hasn’t sunk in that daughter #1 is now a student at the University of Victoria (UVic) and will live here for at least four years. Out of all the places she could have picked to go to college, Victoria certainly is one of the most scenic. Yes, people say Victoria is for the “newly wed and nearly dead,” but, if anything, that underscores what a beautiful spot on earth this is.

Since we flew to Victoria (3½ hours from Sacramento, provided you get a good connection in Seattle), Laura was only able to bring a limited amount of stuff. We’ve been busy getting her necessities ranging from bedding, toiletries and school supplies to a printer and a dorm fridge (yes, that’s a must-have these days). In light of a very attractive Canadian dollar, some things seem like a bargain while others are surprisingly expensive. Overall, though, going to school in Canada is such a good deal financially that I’m surprised there aren’t even more students from the U.S.

Aside from a two-day trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast, we’ve been sticking close to Victoria—not that that is a bad thing. Here are some photos I took in downtown Victoria on Saturday evening. We found parking near St. Ann’s Academy, an all-girls school and convent until 1974 and now used by the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education. The light filtering through the trees was magical.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Labour Day escapade to Tofino, Vancouver Island

In April, we visited Victoria, British Columbia because daughter #1 was interested in studying at the University of Victoria. Fast-forward five months. We’re back in Victoria, helping daughter #1 getting settled in her new life and taking a much-needed vacation in the process.

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On Friday we headed northwest to Tofino. This small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island is quite remote. Located at the very end of Highway 4, it’s a 4½ hour drive from Victoria. This map gives you a better idea of how isolated it is:

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Map data © 2016 Google