Saturday, August 27, 2016

Australian and Succulent Garden at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum (summer 2016 edition)

Two weeks ago I made a quick trip to the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. I’ve already posted about the beauties in the South African Garden. Now it’s time to take a look at what caught my eye in the Australian Garden. I’ll also show you a few photos from the small Succulent Garden, and we’ll end our visit at Norrie’s, the gift and plant shop near the parking lot. Yes, I did buy a few goodies to bring home.


In contrast to the South African Garden, which had a ton going on even in the middle of summer, the Australian Garden was a bit more subdued. Fall seems to be a better time, based on my limited experience.

Now that doesn’t mean the Australian Garden was boring. Far from it. Many grevilleas were blooming (when aren’t they?), and the gum trees are spectacular year round.

Let’s take a look.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book review: The Drought-Defying California Garden

The longer you garden, the more you learn. That goes without saying. But with that experience sometimes comes a certain arrogance. Usually you’re not even aware of it. It may express itself in rolling your eyes when you hear or read something that you think is obvious. Occasionally, you may also have an overinflated sense of how much you actually know. In truth, you most likely know less than you think. A reality check is not a bad thing.

I had my own reality check recently when I read The Drought-Defying Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-Water Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren (Timber Press Inc., 2016). I live in California and have been gardening in drought conditions for years. Plus I have a good knowledge of California natives.


At least that’s what I thought.

When I received the book, I thought I’d get a nice refresher of what I already know without learning much else. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Front yard succulents aglow at sunset

I haven’t done much actual gardening this summer. Instead, I’ve been enjoying the fruit of our previous labor. The fact that it’s been in the high 90s every day for more weeks than I care to count also has something to do with it.

With work keeping me extra busy this year, all I often get are a few glimpses of the front yard in the golden light just minutes before sunset. Here are some of those moments captured with my camera.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

South African splendor at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum (summer 2016 edition)

Noël Coward once suggested than only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Something similar could be said for plant geeks who visit botanical gardens at the height of summer. I'm definitely one of them. And I'm not even slightly bothered by the fact that some people might consider us crazy.

Case in point: Last Saturday I left Davis before 7:00 a.m. to make the 2 hr. 15 min. drive to Santa Cruz, one of my favorite places on the California coast. My destination wasn't the beach though, it was the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arboretum. I hadn't been there since November 2012—almost four years ago—and I felt the urge to find out what might be in bloom in the middle of the summer.


Protea repens ‘Rubens’

In their own words, the UCSC Arboretum “has the largest collection of Australian and South African plants outside of their native countries” as well as “the most diverse collection of eucalyptus and their relatives to be found in one easy-to-access area, an unmatched collection of conifers and other trees, and extensive representatives of New Zealand and native California flora.” In particular, I was looking forward to seeing what their many Proteacea (proteas, leucadendrons, leucospermums, grevilleas, banksias, etc.) would be like at a time of year when many gardens struggle under the heat and lack of water.


Protea repens ‘Rubens’

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pacific Horticulture Summit 2016, Sonoma County, CA, Oct 15-16, 2016

I don’t often promote third-party events but this one is so interesting (and a good value as well) that I want to bring it to the attention of all my readers. Sonoma County is one of the crown jewels of Northern California, so bring your significant other and make a mini vacation out of it! I plan on being there.

WHAT: Pacific Horticulture’s weekend-long Summit 2016, part of its Changing Times, Changing Gardens series, will explore how gardens are evolving in the face of climate change, with inspiration coming from our natural surroundings as well as from innovations in water conservation and land management. Of interest to avid home gardeners, landscape industry professionals, and anyone excited about the power of gardens to enrich life and inspire environmental stewardship. Inspiring illustrated talks by nationally renowned speakers from across the horticultural horizon followed by tours of historic gardens and visits to Sonoma County private gardens, nurseries, wineries, and public conservation projects.


© Saxon Holt, Used with permission.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

First wave of summer casualties

Crispy may be a good thing when it comes to fried chicken. Not so much for plants. It’s the one thing you don’t ever want your plants to be. Unfortunately, it’s something that happens every summer around here. Usually it’s in spite of my best efforts; sometimes it’s because I didn’t try hard enough.  But survival isn’t for the weak in a climate where daytime temperatures in the summer routine climb above the 100° mark, there is no rain at all for a good four or five months, and any water plants receive is doled out by me. What’s more, I like to push the limits of what plants should even be tried here, which in itself ups the odds of failure. But taking these calculated risks is half the fun, even if I lose a few here and there.

So without further ado let’s look the poor suckers who have earned their RIP this summer. We’ll start in the backyard with the casualty that hurts the most: my bird’s nest banksia (Banksia baxteri). I bought it at the Ruth Bancroft Garden’s 2014 Black Friday Sale and it had been in the ground since December 2014. I’m not 100% sure what ultimately did it in, but I suspect it didn’t get enough water. As you can see, I made the rookie mistake of not mulching it properly.


Banksia baxteri

Friday, August 12, 2016

Mediterranean Delight…with lots of succulents

At the Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Day on July 30, I visited two gardens. The first one, Casa de Sueños, was a tropicalesque fantasy on a 1-acre lot in the Oakland Hills. The second one, only 15 minutes away in Piedmont, was very different both in size and style.


Dubbed Mediterranean Delight in the Open Days Directory, this garden:

displays the owners' sense of whimsical design with a beautiful variety of plant color and texture in a layout that invites exploration. […] The front and rear laws were removed many years ago. Now, with rustic stone work, gravel paths, large pots and an interesting water feature, the beautiful Mediterranean style house looks at home. Plantings range from a large collection of succulents, kangaroo paws, salvias and woodland plants. With its open spaces and private nooks the garden is truly a creative endeavor. The owners collaborated with Sherry Merciari, a local landscape designer to develop the garden. (1)

Sherry Merciari, coincidentally, is the owner of and creative mind behind Casa de Sueños.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: funny fungus at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

I recently took two friends from San Francisco to the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, my favorite public garden in Northern California. I only snapped a handful of photos since I was too busy talking, but the most interesting pictures were … of fungi. Not just any fungi, the most fantastical fungi I had every seen:


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer evening

We spent last weekend with my mother-in-law in the town of Mount Shasta in far northern California (about 45 minutes south of the Oregon border). Saturday morning was magical, as chronicled in this post. By late afternoon, billowy clouds had begun to build up in the sky, and we decided to head to the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden for sunset.


Spectacular evening clouds


Looking northwest from Highway 97

The Living Memorial Sculpture Garden is located 13 miles northeast of Weed, California. Yes, there is a town named Weed (its motto is “Weed like to welcome you”), and in spite of the wealth of marijuana-related souvenirs being sold in local shops, it has nothing to do with pot. Instead, it gets its name from an early developer named Abner Weed. in 1897, he established the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill, which by 1940 became the world’s largest sawmill.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Summer morning

We’re at the height of summer: two months down, two to go. I’ve been so busy with work this year that the first half of summer has zoomed by in a blur. The four days we spent in the mountains of the Eastern Sierra with our Australian friends? It feels like that was a year ago. Before I know it, fall will be here with shorter days, cooler temperatures, and ideal conditions for planting.

But this morning, something completely unexpected and fairly magical happened. We’re spending the weekend with my mother-in-law in Mount Shasta, 3½ hours north of Davis, and since I had forgotten to bring coffee, I drove downtown to get a cup of joe. As is usually the case, my eyes were on the mountain. At 14,179 feet (4,322 m), Mount Shasta is always an arresting sight.


But what made me stop the car was a profusion of small yellow flowers growing right next to the sidewalk on the edge of a grassy lot:


Their small yellow-and-brown discs encapsulated the essence of summer.