Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wildflower meadow: every neighborhood should have one!

I see them every year in the big-box home improvement stores: large bags or even small buckets of seed mixes that promise an instant wildflower meadow. The idea is fantastic, and yet how many such meadows have you actually encountered? I bet very few.

I don’t know how the meadow you see in this post came about, but I noticed it last spring. Eventually it was mowed down and then looked like so many other empty lots you drive by in your everyday life. But now it’s back and it’s better than ever.

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Clearly whoever owns this lot—I’m sure not if it belongs to the city or is part of the house on the corner—let the flowers go to seed last summer. They then lay dormant throughout our abnormally dry fall and winter and made a riotous return after the rains in March.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Cactus flower extravaganza at Ruth Bancroft Garden

Anybody driving by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA right now will be greeted by a spectacle of cactus flowers. I just about lost control of the car yesterday when I saw this:

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It’s not just the riotous color, it’s the sheer number of flowers on some of the cacti!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2014 spring plant sale recap

Yesterday was the spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, CA. This is one event I wouldn’t miss for the world. Usually I go by myself, but this time I brought along fellow succulent fanatic Candy Suter, Ms Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents herself.

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Due to an accident on the freeway we got to RBG about 30 minutes after the sale had started, and we had to park on a side street because the RBG lot was full. This had never happened to me before. In general, there seemed to be many more people there for the 2 hour members’ only time slot (9 to 11 am). For the first couple of hours the checkout line was insanely long (photo at the bottom of this post). I’m thrilled the sale was such a success; it shows how popular the Ruth Bancroft Garden is and that more and more owners are switching to drought-tolerant plants. The sale featured not just succulents, but also shrubs and even trees, with an emphasis on plants from California, South Africa and Australia. During his brief stint at RBG, now former garden director Troy McGregor really expanded the repertoire of plants from his native Australia—an initiative I really appreciated.

Friday, April 11, 2014

TGIF, white poppies, and Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale

It’s been a long week, but Friday is finally here. Thank you, Katy Perry, for getting me in the mood!

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 12) is the spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. One of the many kinds of plants they’ll be selling is Agave montana. I have two in my front yard. This one looks particularly nice right now, framed by ‘White Linen’ California poppies.

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Check back on Sunday for all the latest from the Ruth Bancroft Garden!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quick update on our new desert garden bed

Time for a quick update on our new front-yard desert garden. We planted it on March 15 and 16 when temperatures were in the mid-80s. This must have been quite a shock to many of the plants which had been used to milder temperatures, both at the nursery and in the staging area at our house (aka our driveway). This was followed by several weeks of rain—mostly intermittent, but for a few days fairly steady—and then two more weeks of sunny spring weather with daytime highs in the mid to high 70s.

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In general, the plants have fared well. They seem to be actively growing, and some have started to flower.

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Let’s take a more detailed look.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Green hills and California poppy meadow

A friend was visiting this weekend and we decided to take a drive to Lake Berryessa, about 45 minutes west of here. The route is very scenic, especially in the spring. Thanks to the series of rain storms we had in recent weeks, the hills were as green as I had expected. Combined with a blue sky and puffy white clouds, this made for picture-postcard perfect scenery. (People used to the lushness of, say, Ireland will laugh, but we can take what we get in our Mediterranean climate.)

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

California poppies and claret cup cactus

One of the cheeriest sight in the front yard right now is this 22-inch terracotta bowl. The California poppy you see in these photos is a volunteer that arrived on the wind and decided to stay. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

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I blogged about this bowl in September in this post. The claret cup cactus have grown quite a bit since then. They looked pretty sad in January after months of below-average precipitation (i.e. none). Check out this droopy fellow! But the sporadic rains we’ve had since February have been enough to make them perk up.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Plants are loving the rain

I’ve talked several times about the extremely dry winter of 2013/2014 (1 2 3). While the specter of a drought hasn’t disappeared, the rains we’ve had in the last week have helped a little. If nothing else, they’ve given our gardens a thorough soaking and have jumpstarted the growth of plants that had been lagging behind.

In our garden, the plants that benefitted the most from the rain were the bamboos. They had also suffered the most during our dry winter, especially the specimens in containers. Just take a look at this poor Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’. I’m not sure it will come back from the brink of death even with the several inches of rain we’ve had:

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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’

Other bamboos hadn’t deteriorated as much during the winter and will now go into a growth spurt, especially since I fertilized them recently.

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Indocalamus tessellatus (left) and Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ (Alan, this is the small division you sent me a couple of years ago)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Things I saw in Carmel

A couple of days I showed you some of the plant-rich sights of Monterey. But that pales in comparison to what I saw in the nearby village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

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Founded in 1902 as an artists’ colony, Carmel-by-the-Sea has long been synonymous with scenic beauty and understated wealth. Today, Carmel, population 3,700, is full of art galleries, upscale boutiques, and gourmet restaurants. You’re almost as likely to see a Jaguar drive by as a Toyota Prius. And yet, in spite of the trappings of monetary excess, there is a charm that cannot be denied. Life seems slower paced here, and many residents take the time to talk to the visitors that flock to this idyllic paradise on the edge of the Monterey Peninsula. Maybe it was all in my head, but I felt genuine friendliness from the people I had interactions with.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Today’s post is going to be a little different. It won’t be about plants per se, although you’ll see some. Instead, it will be about the seductive beauty of creatures who live beneath the sea. Sounds mysterious? Read on!

Located on fabled Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) is one of the world’s leading institutions of its kind. Unlike most other aquariums, it focuses on one specific habitat: Monterey Bay and its shoreline. Such an approach might be too restrictive elsewhere, but Monterey Bay is home to an abundance of sea life that includes everything from marine mammals like sea otters, sea lions, dolphins and elephant seals to fish, sharks, mollusks and sea turtles.

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One of my favorite exhibits at the MBA is the Kelp Forest. 28-foot windows allow you to experience the sun-drenched kelp forest almost as intimately as if you were a diver—and you don’t have to get wet! The leopard sharks (2nd photo down) are particularly popular with visitors.

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