Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sherman Gardens: home of the world's most famous succulent mosaic

Before my recent trip to Southern California, the only thing I associated with Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar is the succulent mosaic created by Matt Maggio. I'm sure you've seen photos of it; there are quite a few on Pinterest and other social media sites. Here's a section of it:

As it turns out, the succulent mosaic is just one part of the Succulent Garden, which was completely renovated in 2005-2006 with Matt Maggio's help. And the Succulent Garden is only one of a dozen different gardens; see this interactive map for an overview.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Kay's garden: hillside haven for succulents and bromeliads

When I visited Piece of Eden on my Southern California trip at the end of December, Hoover Boo took me to see her friend Kay's garden a few streets away. Kay and her husband bought their ¾ acre hillside hideaway in the 1970s. There were very few houses in those days. Now virtually all buildable land has been built on although the area is still peaceful and quiet, probably due to the fact that most properties are large (½ acres or more, it seems). I'm sure the residents are happy that their corner of the world continues to feel like a sanctuary far removed from the hustle and bustle of Orange County, which is home to over 3 million people and major attractions like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Left to right: Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass', Aloe cameroniiAgave 'Mr Ripple'

Kay's garden has many different faces. Looking up from the bottom of the east slope, you see agaves and aloes. Yet approaching the front of the house...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roger's Gardens: what a nursery should be

Day 2 of my late-December trip to Southern California began with a visit to Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar (basically Newport Beach). Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden and her husband go to Roger's regularly, and they had been very enthusiastic about the demonstration garden along the road. While annuals and perennials in the display beds are swapped out periodically throughout the year, the aloes and agaves seem to be a permanent fixture.

My timing couldn't have been better because the aloes were in full bloom. The local police should put up signs instructing drivers to keep their eyes on the road instead of looking at the aloes!

Roger's Gardens was started by Roger McKinnon in 1965 in Costa Mesa. Gavin Herbert bought the business in 1970 and moved it to its current location in 1975 where it's become a destination for Orange County gardeners. The company now has over 100 employees and offers landscape design and event services in addition to the nursery and the attached shops (home and garden decor, gourmet food, jewelry) and the Farmhouse restaurant.

Roger's Gardens is the kind of nursery where every plant looks well cared for, where nothing appears out of place, and where employees actually know something about plants. Given today's cheaper-is-better big-box mindset, that's the exception rather than the rule. Yes, you pay more, but you get an experience, including a beautiful display garden.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Piece of Eden truly is a slice of paradise (part 2)

Piece of Eden is one of my favorite gardening blogs. It chronicles the evolution of Hoover Boo's garden in Orange County where you can grow just about anything without having to worry about frost.

The limiting factor in the Southland is water, or rather the lack of it. Remember the 1970s Albert Hammond song "It Never Rains in Southern California?" It's certainly no less true today. That's why mixing Mediterranean climate plants—not only from the Mediterranean Basin but also from South Africa and Australia—with succulents makes eminent sense. Hoover Boo has been on the leading edge of that movement for years, and her garden is a shining example of how utterly beautiful this fusion can be.

As I mentioned in part 1, I had the good fortune of visiting Piece of Eden at the end of December, and I snapped hundreds of photos. In this post I'll show you the plantings along the street—what Hoover Boo calls the "front slope" in her blog. When I saw this botanical wonderland, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I now want my own slope so I can replicate this. Plant tapestries only look this good on an incline; otherwise the plants in the back tend to recede into the background.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Piece of Eden truly is a slice of paradise (part 1)

The first destination on my recent trip to Southern California was a slice of succulent paradise: a Piece of Eden, one might say. Many of you will recognize the name: Piece of Eden is Hoover Boo's popular blog about her garden in Orange County. If you've followed Piece of Eden over the years, you know how much work has gone into transforming what could have been a typical (i.e. boring) suburban garden into a showcase for water-wise plants. Yes, there are many succulents, but Hoover Boo also gravitates towards plants from other Mediterranean climate zones around the world, including shrubs from South Africa and Australia. Her plant palette is so much in line with my own taste that I'd like to think, somewhat grandiosely maybe, that my garden would look much like hers if I lived in the same climate (zone 10a, no frost to speak of).

What curb appeal! My shoebox of a car notwithstanding.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 1,000 mile Southern California succulent adventure

I just got back from a 5-day whirlwind road trip to Southern California. I had the pleasure of meeting up with three of my favorite garden bloggers (Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden, Denise of A Growing Obsession, and Kris of Late to the Garden Party) and was reminded again of how wonderful it is to hang out with like-minded plant nerds. I also visited some new-to-me public gardens (Sherman Library and Gardens, South Coast Botanic Garden, Getty Center, Deutsch Cactus Garden) and returned to some favorite haunts (Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Huntington). Finally, I stopped at a bunch of nurseries and loaded up the car with a treasure trove of plants. Now I need to find room for everything I bought!

I'll be going through my 1,300 photos in the weeks to come and will have detailed posts on all my destinations. Today I want to give you a sneak peek of what I saw.

My first stop was at Hoover Boo's Piece of Eden in Orange County. Having followed her blog for many years, I felt like I knew her garden very well, but I was still surprised by how large it is and how many separate areas there are. It truly is a paradise full of succulents, southern hemisphere shrubs, roses, citrus trees, bromeliads, and more!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Of course I'm buying plants on my trip!

I don't want you to think I'm "just" visiting gardens on my Southern California trip. Yes, that's the main reason why I'm in the Southland, but I've been doing of plenty of plant shopping.

Here are a couple of quick snapshots of my haul so far, with a full day left:

Yucca 'Bright Star', Leucadendron 'Jester', Phylica pubescens, assorted groundcover succulents

I've gone to the dogs...


Samoyeds Boris and Natasha welcoming me to their garden paradise. Photo by Hoover Boo.

If you follow Hoover Boo's fabulous blog Piece of Eden, you know who these cuties are.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book review: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Growing Cacti & Succulents

When I first became interested in succulents, these were the kinds of books available:

I'm sure you're familiar with them. A fair amount of information, although some of it turned out to be inaccurate, especially with regards to cold hardiness. Or advice like adding peat moss to your soil. But there was one area where these books really sucked: images. Photos were either dull and grainy or weirdly oversaturated. The print quality was mediocre, resulting in an altogether unsatisfying product. Of course that's seen through today's lens. At the time, it was what is was.

We've come a long way since then. Not just in terms of photo and print quality, but also in the way books are written and designed. The book I'm reviewing in this post is a perfect case in point.

I'm always on the lookout for a good succulent reference for beginners that I can recommend. It needs to be full of relevant information, starting with basic botany and then going into a decent amount of detail about care and cultivation, maintenance, pest control and other practical aspects. A representative sampling of commonly grown cacti and succulents should round out the book. 

I've finally found the title I was looking for. I came across it on Amazon purely by chance and couldn't believe I had missed it before. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Growing Cacti & Succulents (Southwater, 2012) was written by Miles Anderson with contributions from Terry Hewitt. Some of you may recognize the name Miles Anderson. He's a renowned succulent expert from Tucson, AZ and runs Miles' To Go, an iconic mail-order nursery. At the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society we routinely order from Miles for our monthly drawing, and his plants are always top quality.