Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Aloes in the front yard finally blooming (Feb. 2017)

My last post about leaf rot on agaves promoted by the seemingly never-ending rain here in the Sacramento Valley was a bit of a downer. This post is much more upbeat because many of our aloes are finally blooming. It took them noticeably longer to get there this year as a result of the wet and cool weather. But maybe this means that the flowers will last longer?

The "desert bed" along the side of the house is a sight that never fails to lift my spirits. Especially right now:

Flowering aloes from left to right: Aloe ferox, Aloe petricola, Aloe 'Moonglow', Aloe cryptopoda (wickensis form), Aloe capitata var. quartziticola, Aloe glauca, Aloe 'Erik the Red', Aloe 'Moonglow'

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Succulents rotting in drought-busting rain

After 5 years of drought--one for the record books, no less--the pendulum has swung far to the other side. After more or less normal rainfall in November and December 2016 (5.10 inches as per the UC Davis Weather Station), the floodgates opened wide in January, with no end in sight. In January we had 13.30 inches of rain, and in February 6.90 so far (February 1-18). That's a total of 20.20 inches for the first seven weeks of 2017; essentially the same amount we had during the entire 2016 calendar year (20.07 inches).

Virtually all of our succulents are planted in well-draining soil (garden soil heavily amended with inorganic materials such as pumice, lava rock or small gravel). This has allowed them to withstand months of wet soil. So far we haven't had any plants rotting from the bottom up. But the 25.30 inches of rain that has fallen since November has had a damaging effect in other ways. A few agaves and aloes have started to rot from the top down.

The first major victim is a beautiful Agave pumila in the front yard. I blogged about it on January 31 in this post. I had every intention of doing what reader Daniel had suggested--dig it up, treat the infection, dry it out, pot it in soil with little to no organic content--but never got around to. But I did spray it with a fungicide called Daconil and have been protecting it against the rain since then.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Art in the desert: DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, Tucson, AZ

On December 28, 2016 I went back to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I had been there the year before and loved it. There were fewer visitors this time, which made for a quieter, more contemplative experience.


Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia (1909-1982) was an artist at home in many disciplines but he’s best known as an impressionist painter. While his work covered a wide range of subject matter, his paintings of Native American children—reproduced on everything from greeting cards to bric-a-brac—earned him fame and scorn in equal measure.

While I like quite a bit of his work, I didn't go back primarily because of his art. The main draw for me continues to be the location, the architecture of the buildings, and the plants.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: snail on cactus

I had to laugh when I saw this snail on our Mexican fencepost cactus (Pachycereus marginatus). Is it just spending the night there or does it actually think it can eat the cactus?


The skin of this particular cactus is much too thick, although I've seen snails do damage to new pads on prickly pears (opuntias).

By the way, the snail is no more.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A citrusy Sunday morning

Friends of ours here in Davis were out of town for the weekend, and our younger daughter was taking care of their animals. While she was feeding the critters, I took some photos of their many citrus trees. All of them are heavy with fruit right now--plump and perfect.


As much as I dislike winter, being able to harvest citrus right off the tree is the biggest reward of the season for me.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wind knocks over sago palm

This is was I found the other morning in the front yard:


Our large sago palm (Cycas revoluta) knocked over by the wind, which had been howling the night before.

Mind you, this is a not a small container. It's a full 24 inches tall and 24 inches across on top. And it's anything but light. But the fronds of the cycad must have given the wind enough to grab onto, and gravity did the rest.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Breakage, prunage, bloomage at UC Davis Arboretum

Two months of seemingly endless rain, often coupled with high winds, have taken their toll. If tree debris is the worst you have in your garden, count yourself lucky (and I would include ourselves in that category since the worst damage we've had was that broken palo verde branch I blogged about here).

All over town, trees have been uprooted. Some fell simply because the soil was so soft that it could no longer contain their weight. Others were "helped" by gusts that locally exceeded 60 miles an hour. And there's no end in sight. Rain is in the forecast every day this week.

When we were begging for rain last summer, little did we know what we would get. It was naive to think we would simply have a "normal" winter with "normal" rainfall. Much like politics, Mother Nature seems to have veered off into extremism.

On the weekend, my wife and I checked out the damage at the UC Davis Arboretum. Quite a bit of cleanup has already been done--often you can only tell that a tree went down by the large gap it left behind. Still, there was plenty of recent damage as you will see below. But there were also signs of spring, like several acacia trees starting to flower. I can't wait to see what floral splendor all this rain might produce in a month or two.

The first downed tree we saw was near the Acacia Grove. It was a big one--a conifer I wasn't able to identify.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: mailboxes with cactus

Do the prickly pears get mail too?

Outside of Tucson, AZ


The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Agaves and opuntias in UC Davis ceramics graveyard

On our Sunday walk through the UC Davis Arboretum, we left the established path for a few hundred feet to take a shortcut through the redwood grove. There I spotted a curious sight through a chain-link fence:


A massive Agave americana, 6 ft. tall and at least 8 ft. wide, hiding behind a mysterious ceramic sculpture and reflecting in a basin filled with murky water.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tucson's Civano community: where I'd love to live

I reused portions of the text below from previous posts since the facts about Civano haven't changed. However, the photos are all new, taken on December 30, 2016.

Civano is a master-planned community on the east side of Tucson, AZ focused on innovative design, sustainable construction, conscious use of resources, and the creation of a sense of place that connects people with each other and their surroundings—all basic tenets of New Urbanism. Neighborhood businesses and community facilities are within easy walking distance, minimizing the constant use of cars. Most residential lots are small, and houses are bordered by shared green areas that encourage socializing with neighbors. In many ways, Civano is what neighborhoods used to be before people fled to the suburbs and retreated into anonymity.

I first became aware of Civano through landscape designer Scott Calhoun’s appropriately titled book Yard Full of Sun: The Story of a Gardener's Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand. Published in 2005, it “chronicles the struggles and triumphs of one family as they design and construct a home and garden in the desert.” That home, as you might guess, is located in the community of Civano, which was then under construction. Beautifully written and illustrated, Yard Full of Sun captured me the first time I read it, and I’ve wanted to see Civano for myself ever since. (Here is an excerpt of the book, which is still available from the usual sources.)

A large Agave weberi (left) makes a beautiful house in Civano even more beautiful