Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cutting down the Agave desmettiana flower stalk

The flowering Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near our front door has made frequent appearances on this blog (1 2 3 and others). I was going to wait until the fall before removing the bulbil-laden flower stalk, but unfortunately it was leaning so much that getting to the front door was getting ever more challenging, especially for delivery folks with packages.


For a brief moment we considered staking it somehow, but having a wooden pole protrude into the walkway wouldn’t have made access to the front door any easier. So yesterday we decided to bite the bullet and cut the big boy down.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pictures from a long, hot summer

I posted this screenshot from Weather Underground on Succulents and More’s Facebook page the other day:


For a number of days now we’ve had temperatures above 100°F (38°F) and a few about 104°F (40°F). Yes, it’s a dry heat, but heat is heat. And it’s taking its toll on people and plants alike, especially as we try to conserve water.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Love letter to the Outlaw Garden, Tacoma, WA

Can you write a love letter to a garden?

I suppose if Robert Burns can compose an address to a haggis, I can create a visual love letter to a garden I visited on our Pacific Northwest trip last month. If anything I’m even more in love with this garden now, four weeks later. Maybe the fact that it’s 105°F (41°C) in our backyard as I write this has something to with it—just looking at the photos I took in this lush jungle makes me feel cooler.


Schefflera delavayi dwarfing Peter

The garden I’m swooning over is in Tacoma, Washington, and it belongs to Peter Herpst. He’s one of the most prolific garden bloggers out there, and many of you follow his blog The Outlaw Gardener.

What makes him the Outlaw Gardener? The answer is right there on his blog:

Why Outlaw Gardener? I like to break the rules of good taste, plant placement, and plant hardiness. Also, I have received periodic "love notes" from the city code enforcement officer telling me that my parking strip plants encroach on the city's right-of-way. When expressing my distress over the latest such notice, I exclaimed to my pal Loree (Danger Garden) "I'm an outlaw gardener!" To which she replied,"That would be a good name for a blog."

It is for all of these reasons that I fell in love with the Outlaw Garden. I’m sure after seeing my photos, you’ll understand why.

Note: The Pacific Northwest was in the throes of a heat wave of its own when we visited. It was a bright, sunshiny day when I stopped by Peter’s house on June 25, and many of the photos I took are very contrasty. I tried to tame the contrast as best as I could in Photoshop, but the Outlaw Garden deserves even better photographic treatment. I hope to go back one day and photograph it in more gentle light.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pat Moore’s exuberant garden in Portland, OR

I must admit that I’m stuck in the summer doldrums at the moment. I’m not feeling much motivation to work in the garden, either because it’s too hot or because the garden is in its brown phase—the color of summer around here. Summer is my least favorite season, and I long for cooler weather and hopefully some precipitation in the fall.

But I still have plenty of photos from our recent Pacific Northwest trip where, in spite of unusually hot weather, green was still the dominant color. Today, let’s go back to Portland, Oregon. After touring Doug and Bruce’s garden, Doug took me to see the garden of a friend, Pat Moore, a few blocks away. Even though it would end being another hot, sunny day, at 9 a.m. the sky was still overcast, providing the kind of even light that’s perfect for garden photography.

This is the first thing I saw of Pat’s garden as we were approaching on the sidewalk:


Lush, leafy, and very Portland.


Abutilon megapotamicum

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Carpets of duckweed

I know as much about water gardens as I do about growing orchids, but from reading posts on favorite blogs like It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening! and Danger Garden I have at least heard the word “duckweed.” It seems that for folks who have a pond or water garden, duckweed (Lemna and other genera) is something desirable although in some circles it’s considered invasive.

Yesterday I joined my friend Ursula for a walk through the UC Davis Arboretum, and we saw some pretty impressive carpets of duckweed in Putah Creek. According to signs posted along Putah Creek, gray water from campus is released into Putah Creek during periods of drought to raise the water level. Whatever is in that gray water sure is good fertilizer for duckweed!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Succulent container gardening on a small lot in Portland, OR

On our recent Pacific Northwest road trip I had the opportunity to visit the garden of Doug Norseth and Bruce Hegna in Portland, OR. I’d met up with Doug and Bruce at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA in early June, and they’d stopped at our house on their way back to Portland. Doug had sent me photos of their recent backyard makeover so I knew to expect frosted glass fence panels and raised beds made of weathering steel (COR-TEN). But in reality the changes they made were far more extensive than I’d thought.

Let’s start at the curb. From there the house looks no different than most others in the neighborhood. The front yard is what I would call classic Portland.

150624_Portland_Doug Bruce_0038

Seen from the phone company parking lot next door, however, the traditional vibe changes to something much more contemporary.

150624_Portland_Doug Bruce_0039

In front of and below where the glass-panel fence is was a row of arborvitae just like the ones you can see at the very left edge of the photo. Doug and Bruce haven’t made a final decision yet as to what will be planted there. Maybe a row of low-growing evergreen shrubs that won’t hide the beautiful glass panels?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why are there dogs and eyeballs in my succulents?

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with this image fresh in your head:


At best you feel uneasy. At worst you're afraid of going back to sleep.


Why is it that we find this image so disturbing? Probably because disembodied eyeballs and creepy dog faces are not part of our reality.

Computers don't see it that way. Eyeballs, dog faces, cacti or agaves, it's all about shapes and patterns to them--one no more or less strange than the other.

NOTE: Please click on each image to see a larger version that shows much more detail.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Return to the Danger Garden, Portland, OR

Like many of you, I’ve been a long-time reader of Loree Bohl’s blog Danger Garden. During and after the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling, I had the opportunity to visit Loree’s garden in Portland, OR not only once, but twice. I was in heaven! In my October 10, 2014 post, I raved about the slice of paradise Loree has created with help from her husband Andrew and under the ever watchful eyes of Lila, the Danger Dog:

The Danger Garden is both a botanical testing ground that pushes the boundary of what can be grown in Portland’s zone 8 climate and a case study in designing an intensely personal, yet universally engaging garden on a small lot.

It masterfully juxtaposes the down-to-business spikiness of succulents with the ethereal softness of large-leafed exotics. The result appeals to both people who love desert plants and those who prefer a more tropical look. It’s what you might get if Arizona and Hawaii had a love child.

Fast forward almost a year to June, 2015. The first stop on our Pacific Northwest road trip was—you guessed it!—at the Danger Garden. Loree was kind enough to invite all four of us over for drinks before we had dinner at a fabulous Iraqi restaurant nearby. Because time was short, I only took pictures in Loree’s backyard. My goal was to photograph the front yard on on our way back from British Columbia and Washington. However, because of the relentless heat inland (Oregon experienced the hottest June on record) we decided to head home via the Oregon coast, skipping our second Portland stop. But I’m already planning a solo trip to Portland, and I’ll be sure to photograph the Danger Garden’s “public face” then.

Ready for the Danger Garden’s private backyard then? It all starts with this:


I love the juxtaposition of the neighbor’s impossibly blue hydrangeas (to me a Portland hallmark) and Loree’s lemon chiffon-colored New Beetle

Walk around the corner and you see this (minus my wife and kids):


Iconic view of Loree’s backyard, with Sammy, the Yucca rostrata on the right

Monday, July 13, 2015

Agave bulbils—hundreds, maybe thousands of them!

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the next installment in my ongoing saga centering on the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near our front door. It began to flower about nine months ago. The last time I wrote about it, on May 13, the first bulbils began to emerge. Now there are so many, I can’t even begin to count them—there are possibly thousands!

150713_Agave_desmettiana_variegata_001 150713_Agave_desmettiana_variegata_002

Agaves take a long time to produce flowers. How long depends on the species. But even my Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’, which has a reputation for flowering young, took about seven years. Other agaves grow to be twenty or thirty years old before they send up a flower stalk.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

With almost a million visitors a year, Butchart Gardens is the most popular botanical garden in all of North America. Talk to friends and relatives, and you’ll be surprised by how many of them have been there, even if it was a long time ago. Some of the infrastructure may have been upgraded (like the gift store and the coffee shop) and a few attractions may have been added (like the Rose Carousel) but the gardens themselves have most likely changed very little. With good reason. Why mess with success?


When Butchart Gardens was started in 1904, it merely reflected the tastes of the time, ranging from the timidly playful to the rigidly formal. Today it seems like a living time capsule from a bygone era overlaid by a more-is-more aesthetic that seems to know no bounds.

Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Butchart Gardens churns out one treat after another after another. Once you’ve started, you can’t stop. You go from one horticultural confection to the next, and even when you’ve reached the saturation point and your stomach starts to roil, your feet carry you forward as if they’re detached from your brain.

And if you feel strangely unsatisfied in the end, you don’t dare say a word because it would seem rude not to love Butchart Gardens. Not when all you hear around you are swooning voices exclaiming how pretty everything is, how precious, how darling.

Look beyond the frilly flowers in preternaturally vibrant colors, though, and you’ll find a backbone of trees, shrubs and perennials that is surprisingly exciting all on its own. I saw foliage and texture combinations that were downright spectactular. The hardscape—paths, walls, rocks, etc.—is masterfully crafted and precisely implemented. And underlying it all is a corporate commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. I wonder how many of the 1,000,000 visitors that come here every year see and know that?