Monday, March 19, 2018

Mangave mystery box

A couple of weeks ago I proclaimed 2018 to be the year of the mangave. This was based on the ever increasing number of hybrids becoming available in nurseries, and the growing popularity of these harmless half-siblings of the spiky agave. If you haven't seen the variety of leaf textures and colors offered by the latest crop of mangaves, check out my earlier post. I'm sure you'll find a few that you like even if you're not fond of agaves.

A week after my mangave post, UPS delivered two mystery boxes to our doorstep. Guess what was inside?

Box 1:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bromeliads with blooms and barbs, and other oddities in my garden

Cacti, agaves, yuccas and their kinfolk may have been around the longest in our garden, but they're not the only spiky residents. More recently, they've been joined by members of a different family: bromeliads. These aren't succulents, but they're just as alluring.

While some bromeliads have armaments as fierce as those of cacti or agaves, others are very user-friendly—especially tillandsias, the much-beloved air plants that have conquered by the world by storm in recent years. My first tillandsia experience about 10 years ago didn't have a happy ending, but I learned a valuable lesson: air plants can't live off air alone; they do need water. My current crop of tillandsias, acquired in January, lives outside in metal wall planters, and I mist them once a week (or rather, I try to). Whatever I'm doing must agree with them, because to my shock and surprise, one of them is actually flowering!

Tillandsia ionantha

This may not be a big deal to people who have more experience with tillandsias than I do, but I still think it's a minor miracle.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Peacock Horticultural Nursery: still one of my favorite places to buy plants, spiky and otherwise

On Saturday I had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite nurseries: Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, Sonoma County. If traffic is smooth, it's a 90-minute drive from Davis—unfortunately, not close enough to go as often as I'd like. But as you can see in this image-heavy post, it's such a special place that I've vowed to return soon.

Peacock Horticultural Nursery is owned by Robert Peacock (hence the name) and Marty Waldron. It's the kind of nursery that has become rare in this age of big box stores and garden centers: a place run by true plant lovers—plant nerds, you might say—where plants are front and center. And I'm not talking about the few dozen mainstream plants you find at Lowe's, Home Depot and OSH. What PHN carries is the antithesis of that. Or, as I like to say, the antidote. The 80+ photos below are ample proof of that.

PHN is not a sterile business in a commercial strip. Instead, it's literally Robert's and Marty's front and backyard (they live in the house right by the entrance). It just happens to be full of plants you can buy. The fact that many of them are unusual or rare makes the experience even sweeter. If you like exploring and finding plants you never even knew existed, this is the place for you!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A spiky surprise in the country

I live in Davis, about 15 miles west of Sacramento, the capital of California. Our town of 65,000 is surrounded by a flood plain to the east and agricultural land everywhere else. As soon you leave the city limits, you're in the country.

This fact became very clear when I visited Three Palms Nursery. Located about 7 miles west of downtown Davis, the nursery is located all by its lonesome in the middle of fields. A peaceful and bucolic spot indeed.

But the topic of this post isn't Three Palms Nursery although I'm planning a return trip later in the month. Rather, I want to you show you what I found on the way home.

Just before you enter Davis proper, there's an empty lot at the intersection of two county roads. Except it's not exactly empty. True, there's no house on it, but somebody has been using it as their desert garden. It's conceivable that some of the Agave americana and prickly pears appeared on their own—they do naturalize around here. But the other assorted cacti were definitely added by a human.

Let's take a look!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rotting agaves don't hurt so good

When John Mellencamp wrote his song "Hurts So Good," he definitely wasn't thinking of two of his favorite agaves rotting away. That, my friends, does not hurt so good. In fact, it hurts quite bad.

Both agaves are next to each other in the same bed along the driveway. And a third one in the same bed is showing signs of rot, too.

Let's take a look. Be sure to grab a Kleenex.

Agave #1 is a beautiful specimen of Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue'. It's nowhere near its adult size yet, but it has such a great presence.

Look closer.

It's impossible to miss.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018: the year of the mangave

Agaves are great the way they are. But do you know what's even cooler? The love children from a hanky-panky between an agave and a manfreda!

Manfredas are succulents with soft, floppy leaves, often with pronounced purple spots. I'm sure you've seen the cultivar with wavy-edged leaves called 'Chocolate Chip' (here). Some species in the genus Manfreda are quite hardy, especially especially Manfreda virginica and Manfreda maculosa, both native to the U.S.

Now imagine combining the best qualities of both genera, manfredas and agaves. The result is bound to be special. As you look at the photos in this post, I'm sure you will agree.

From what I was able to gather, the first recorded cross between a manfreda and agave was from seed legendary plantsman Carl Schoenfeld (the last owner of the now defunct Yucca Do Nursery in Texas) collected in Mexico. The seed came from a Manfreda variegata but the seedlings clearly showed agave traits, most likely from Agave mitis blooming nearby. Yucca Do dubbed this new intergeneric hybrid "mangave" and introduced it in 2004 under the name 'Macho Mocha'. The rest is history, as they say. ×Mangave 'Macho Mocha' has conquered the world—or at least those parts of the world where it's hardy.

×Mangave 'Macho Mocha'

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our aloes are finally flowering—and how!

All things come to those who wait, they say. It certainly took a while this year for the flowers on our aloes to open. I'm convinced the inconsistent weather—cool, unseaonably warm, cool, rainy, cold—got the plants all confused. But finally, after almost two months of impatient waiting on my part, the aloes planted in the strip along the street are at their peak.

Aloe excelsa (first two photos) is flowering for the first time, and our three Aloe 'Moonglow' (orange-yellow flowers) have never had so many inflorescences. Exciting times indeed!

Let's take a look!

Aloe excelsa blooming for the first time

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cactus and aloe sightings at UC Davis (rare euphorbia, too)

On Saturday I had friends from the East Bay visiting. After a docent-led walk through the Acacia Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum, I took them to see the aloe plantings outside the Botanical Conservatory. Through a stroke of luck we ran into Ernesto Sandoval, manager and curator of the Botanical Conservatory. Ernesto is one of the most enthusiastic and generous plant people you'll ever meet, and he not only gave us a tour of the collections but also walked around with us outside to talk about the aloe plantings and the nearby Cycad Garden.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died along the way so I didn't take as many photos as I normally would. But here are some good ones for all you succulent die-hards.

Astrophytum myriostigma in the Botanical Conservatory collection

Saturday, February 24, 2018

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum in late winter: Australian Garden

In part 1 of this post I showed you the South African Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. Many shrubs from the Proteacea family were in bloom when I visited a couple of weeks ago, including cone bushes (Leucadendron), pin cushions (Leucospermum) and Cape heaths (Erica).

The Australian Garden was even more stunning, as you will see below. I tried hard to edit myself, but this post is still image-heavy. So grab a cuppa and settle in for the duration.

We'll get to the Australian members of the Proteacea family (Grevillea, Banksia and the like) shortly, but the first plant I actually photographed in the Australian Garden was this Eucalyptus caesia, commonly know as silver princess.

Eucalyptus caesia