Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lodge on the Desert, Tucson, AZ

When I was researching places to stay for my December 2016 Arizona trip, I was trying to find a sensible balance between comfort and price. I didn't want to stay in a fleabag motel just to save a buck (been there, done that, even had fun doing it back in the day), but I didn't want to overspend either. Fortunately, Arizona is still a bargain compared to California, and finding a reasonably priced but nice hotel is not difficult in Phoenix and Tucson.

For my December 2015 trip I'd found a great Groupon deal for the Lodge on the Desert in Tucson. I loved my room—far more spacious and luxurious than what I'm used to—but what I loved even more were the beautifully landscaped grounds. Last year many of the cactus at the Lodge on the Desert were adorned with Styrofoam cups to protect their growing tips from the cold. While this looked comical, it did impair the overall appearance.

Eager to find out what the landscaping looks like without Styrofoam cups, I decided to stay there again this year. There was no Groupon deal this time, but I was able to use my (gasp!) AARP discount. (Full disclosure: I'm nowhere near retirement, but I'm a smidge over 50 and hence eligible for AARP membership.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 3 of 3)

Part 1     ↔     Part 2     ↔     Part 3 

On December 27, 2016 I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ—my fourth visit in as many years. This is the final installment of my trip report; click the links above to go to part 1 and part 2.

What you see in the first photo below is the south side of Webster Center

The large tree in the upper left is a Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)

The wall low wall encloses Eliot Patio. That's where the next 10+ photos were taken. 

My favorite tree: palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana), an acacia from the Mexican state of Sonora

Monday, January 16, 2017


As weather patterns have changed over the years, the dense tule fog we used to get in the winter has become a rare thing. I remember days, even weeks, of unbroken fog that drove people mad; now fog is something people comment on in an excited voice, almost as if they're talking about a double rainbow.

The last couple of nights have been foggy and eerily quiet. Yesterday the fog lasted all morning and I took the opportunity to drive out to the Yolo Bypass off Interstate 80 that separates Davis from West Sacramento (and Sacramento) on the other side of the Sacramento River. With the opening of the Sacramento Weir last Tuesday for the first time in 11 years, the Bypass has become an inland sea. While the fog made it impossible to see very far, the partially submerged trees made for hauntingly beautiful photographs.

Tree silhouette along Interstate 80

The beginning of the Yolo Causeway on Interstate 80

Friday, January 13, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 2 of 3)

Part 1     ↔     Part 3

In part 1 of my post about the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix, Arizona I showed you the Entry Garden, the Desert Terrace Garden and the Desert Portal (click here for a map). This post will cover the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, the Agave Yucca Forest and the connecting sections in between. Part 3 will cover the Webster Center and Ullman Terrace, the Heritage Garden, and the Center for Desert Living Trail.

I visited on Tuesday, December 27, 2016, and by 11 a.m. I was wishing I had left my hoodie in the car. By mid-afternoon, temperatures had climbed into the low 70s. That's why I love winter in the Arizona desert!

One of my favorite places to sit in the DBG. Behind it is a  toothpick cactus (Stetsonia coryne)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rain: we asked for it, we got it

After five years of epic drought, California has swung to the other extreme. A series of wet tropical storms has been dumping heavy amounts of rain (and snow in the higher elevations) on California, raising the specter of serious flooding in many areas. This video was shot by Sacramento Bee reporter Sue Morrow flying into Sacramento International Airport on Monday, January 9.

It's too early to tell what effect all this precipitation will have on the drought, but the longer the rains continue (another one is buffeting us as I write this) the brighter the outlook is.

But I do know that the soil in our garden is way beyond the saturation point. Puddles are forming everywhere. It's a good thing that I've started to plant succulents and other plants that require sharp drainage on mounds. So far they're sitting hit and relatively dry. All I want right now is a break in the rain--how about a week of warm and sunny days so things can dry out?

Backyard; the area on the left is the new bed I'm working on

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book review: Gardening with Foliage First

There are two major reasons why I buy gardening books: I want to expand my knowledge, and I want to be inspired. The best books combine both aspects. In light of the wealth of information (and beautiful photography) available for free online, it’s getting ever harder for publishers to get the attention of the book-buying public. But Timber Press found a way to cut through the noise with a new book to be published later in January: Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

This hefty paperback (8 x 10½ in., 340 pages, and weighing in at a surprising 2½ lbs.) introduces 127 “dazzling combinations that pair the beauty of leaves with flowers, bark, berries, and more.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 1 of 3)

◀ Part 1     ↔     Part 2

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix is one of my favorite plant places in the world. It comes as no surprise that it was one of the highlights of my Arizona trip last week – a trip that was not lacking in astonishing sights. Since the DBG was the first destination I visited, I want to feature it first in my in-depth coverage of all the marvelous things I saw in Phoenix and Tucson.

Desert Towers by Dale Chihuly at the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden. Notice how the glass sculptures mirror the shape of the yuccas growing next to them.
This post focuses on the Entry Garden, the Desert Terrace Garden and the Desert Portal (click here for a map). The other two posts will cover the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, the Agave Yucca Forest, the Webster Center and Ullman Terrace, the Heritage Garden, and the Center for Desert Living Trail. Because of time constraints, I skipped the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail and the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail this year.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Palo verde ripped in half

Well, not quite, but almost...

Tuesday night was rainy and so windy that I was uneasy going to bed. I'm sure you're familiar with the feeling: The wind was howling, and you just know that no good will come of it. Still, the worst I expected was leaf litter and general debris everywhere, which indeed was the case the next morning.

In fact, I almost missed this as I was walking the perimeter of our property looking for damage:

This is standing in the driveway looking towards our neighbor's property. The first thing I noticed was the broken Aloe cryptopoda inflorescence. And then I realized that it was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Agaves I brought home from my Arizona trip

I got back from my Arizona trip on New Year’s Eve, barely an hour before midnight. I was too tired to unpack my suitcase that night, but the next morning I was only too eager to find out how my agaves from Greg Starr had fared.

Agaves from Greg Starr in my hotel room in Tucson

Quick answer: not too badly.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Arizona 2016: Day 5: Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden, Cavalliere Park, Pinnacle Peak, and Taliesin West

Last night it rained on and off, and this morning I woke up to leaden skies. Quite a change from the past few days! Fortunately, by the time I was done with breakfast and had checked out, the sun made an effort to break through. It only succeeded for minutes at a time, but I didn't let the weather deter me. The fact that it wasn't exactly cold (high fifties initially, later warming to the high sixties) made things easier.

My first stop was the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden. I first became aware of it in this blog post by Austin garden writer Pam Penick. She visited this demonstration garden in April when the palo verde trees and many shrubs and perennials were in bloom. Not so at the end of December, but the backbone of the garden--the hardscape, the desert trees (palo verde and mesquite) and the cactus and succulents--provide visual interest year round. Designed by Christine Ten Eyck, the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden is cleverly built around the City of Scottsdale's water treatment plant. Unless you read the signs, you'd never know what the massive gabion-adorned structure is. Speaking of gabions, this is the motherlode: gabion walls, gabion pillars, even triangular gabion retaining fins. Add to that a liberal dose of Corten steel and gigantic shade sails, and you have a contemporary garden that is a wonder to behold. Here's just a teaser of what I will show in a dedicated post in a few weeks:

Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden