Thursday, December 18, 2014

Four books on agaves

It’s no secret that I love agaves. I’ve written more posts about agaves than any other group of succulents. It’s no surprise that I sometimes get asked if there are any books on agaves that I would recommend.

Yes, there are. In fact, I know of four agave-centric books currently in print (sorted by year of publication):

Pilbeam, J. (2013). A Gallery of Agaves (including variegates). Hornchurch, Essex, UK: The British Cactus & Succulent Society.

Starr, G. (2012). Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Irish, M., & Irish, G. (2000). Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Gentry, H. (1982). Agaves of Continental North America. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

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Let’s take a look at each one. I’ll tell you what I think its merits are so you can decide for yourself if it’s the right book for you.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mushrooms in my succulent bed

Here’s a topic I haven’t talked about much on this blog: mushrooms. But then, the past few winters have been very dry so mushrooms haven’t been a common sight. This year, I have a feeling, will be very different. With another 1 inch of rain in the last 24 hours, we’re now up to a full 8 inches for the month of December alone— that’s more in a month than we received in all of 2013 (less than 6 inches).

Here’s what I just spotted in the succulent bed between our driveway and our neighbor’s:

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I haven’t got the faintest idea what kind of fungus it is, but it’s quite pretty up close:

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

From Aloe to Aloiampelos, Aloidendron, Aristaloe, Gonialoe, Kumara

Taxonomists—scientists describing, naming and classifying organisms—love change. They are constantly assigning and reassigning plants (and animals) based on the latest research findings. The decisions they make often annoy gardeners: After all, why is it necessary to move a plant that has always been one thing into another bucket, causing its botanical name to change? Sometimes these things seem haphazard, but I’m sure they’re always scientifically motivated. Or at least I hope so.

Most of the time the work taxonomists do attracts little attention among the gardening crowd, myself included. However, when an entire group of plants I’m fond of is affected, my ears do perk up.

Case in point: the recent reclassification of the genus Aloe. Molecular studies suggest that not all aloe species have the same evolutionary origin and hence are less closely related than previously thought. Based on those findings, some species have been separated from the genus Aloe and moved into their genus. While only a relatively small number of species is affected, they do include some very popular garden plants, as you will see below.

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Aloe dichotoma, now Aloidendron dichotomum
(photographed at The Living Desert, Palm Desert, CA)

Friday, December 12, 2014

20 hours of nonstop rain

The much touted storm forecast for Thursday, December 11, 2014 did arrive and it did bring quite bit of rain to Northern California, but it wasn’t as cataclysmic as the media had made it out to be. At least not here in Davis. We didn’t have the high winds other areas experienced, and we didn’t have any flooding.

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But it did rain for 20 hours straight, from about 9 am on Thursday until 5 am this morning, which translated into 3.73 inches. Not the 7 inches Lake Shasta recorded, mind you, but nothing to sneeze at either, especially considering that in December 2013 we had 0.39 inches for the entire month! This year, the December total is already a bit over 7 inches.

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Bradford pear and Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’)  as seen from upstairs

Monday, December 8, 2014

Of leaves and lights

Just recently I wrote about the pesky leaves that keep bothering my poor succulents. Since then we’ve had three inches of rain, which has brought us above normal for the season. That’s exactly what drought-ridden California needed. And we’re not done. More rain is in the forecast for Wednesday through Sunday.

The last rain storm came with fairly strong winds, which knocked most of the remaining leaves off the trees. The bad news: leaves everywhere. The good news: very few leaves left on the trees, so not much more to fall.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden in December

After selecting my plants at the recent Black Friday sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, I took a stroll through the garden itself. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then, and at times the sun was making a valiant effort to break through the clouds. The weather was definitely a deterrent that day: I only saw two other people while I was walking around. I practically had the place to myself!

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Shade structure housing tender succulents covered for the winter

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Agave salmiana

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall color at my house—and real rain, finally!

While some areas of Davis have quite a bit of fall color—especially the older neighborhoods downtown with their majestic trees—there isn’t much at our house. But I did find a few pops of color over the weekend. It’s a good thing I took these photos then, because the series of storms that began on Sunday has blown a lot of these leaves away.

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Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) across the street

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden Black Friday sale extended until 12/4/14

Black Friday sales are great for people buying electronics, appliances and maybe clothes, but usually there's nothing special about them for gardeners. This year was different. For the first time, the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek ran a Black Friday sale. And what a sale it was: 50% off on available plants in the retail nursery! It started on Friday—the day after Thanksgiving—and was supposed to end today, Sunday.

Except it didn’t.

If you kicked yourself because you thought you missed it, I have good news: The sale has been extended until 4pm on Thursday, December 4, 2014. That means you have  three more days to shop: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the Garden and nursery are closed on Mondays).

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gardening books at closeout prices

I love books. Fiction or non-fiction, I devour them all. I have over 50 books on and under my bedside table, all waiting to be read. That’s in addition to the thousands of books scattered all over the house. I’ve joked about the second story of our house collapsing under the weight of the books stored up there.

Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I head straight for the clearance bin to see what treasures I might find at a deeply discounted price. I love to be able to save 50, 60 or 70% off the cover price. 80% is dreamy. 90% is nirvana (and exceedingly rare). But in brick-and-mortar bookstores most clearance books are popular fiction, with just a smattering of non-fiction titles and even fewer gardening books.

Now imagine a place where you can find hundreds of gardening books at up to 90% off the cover price! And you don’t have to leave the comfort of home to shop there. This place is called HamiltonBook.com. 15, 20 years ago, I used to pour over their mail-order catalog—densely printed on flimsy stock and folded like a newspaper. That was before online shopping was commonplace. But then Amazon and Abebooks came along and I forgot about Hamilton Book.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Aloe anticipation at UC Davis

The University of California Davis campus has several aloe hot spots (see this post from February). Curious to find out whether any of their aloes are flowering yet, I decided to go on a little outing yesterday. (Weekends are best for a campus visit since parking is free.)

As always, I parked next to the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses and began my walk there. This is what I found.

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The flower spikes on the tall Aloe littoralis in front of the greenhouse are further along than I’d thought…

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…while this Aloe littoralis