Sunday, December 17, 2017

Aloes on the UC Davis campus—mid-December progress report

In my last post, I reported on the flowering progress of my own aloes. This morning I checked on the aloes on the University of California Davis campus. Unfortunately, when I tried to take my first photo, I realized the battery in my DSLR was dead. Not wanting to rush back home, I resorted to my phone camera. The photos aren't great, but they give you an idea of where the UCD aloes are at in terms of flowering.

Yellow-flowering Aloe arborescens outside the Botanical Conservancy greenhouses on Kleiber Hall Drive

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's getting to be aloe time

As much as I dislike winter, it has one bright spot: It's flowering time for many aloes. In our zone 9b climate the peak is usually late January so we still have a few weeks to go before the fireworks go off. However, that doesn't stop me from checking my aloes every day. I enjoy seeing even the smallest amount of progress!

Here's a look at what's happening right now.

The Aloe cryptopoda next to our driveway started to flower a month ago. It sent up two flower stalks, but unfortunately one of them (on the right in the photo below) got bent over by the nasty winds we had a few weeks ago.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book review: Private Gardens of the Bay Area

I vividly remember getting a coffee table book about the Caribbean islands when I was a young adult. Looking at the glossy photos was like being there in person, and the book ignited a passion for travel that continues to burn bright to this day.

Stirring the imagination—that's the power of a well-produced coffee table. Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, with photographs by Marion Brenner (who also worked on The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden), is such a book. It takes you on a journey to destinations that are as exciting as the Caribbean but a lot more varied: Some gardens evoke England, others France or Italy; some look like a South Pacific paradise, others like the desert; many are firmly rooted in the California landscape around them.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Wave Garden in Point Richmond: one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area

The Wave Garden in Point Richmond may be one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. There seems to be some hesitation to share its exact location. Maybe it's because the Wave Garden is privately owned even though it's open to the public and meant to be enjoyed by the wider community. More on the history of this unique place a little later.

I visited the Wave Garden in February 2014 and again in May 2015 and had been wanting to go back ever since. Since it's only 15 minutes from Annie's Annuals and Perennials, I caught two birds with one stone last weekend. After spending a couple of hours shopping at Annie's, I made the short drive to Point Richmond. As on my previous visits, there was nobody else there. For an hour I enjoyed what has to be one of the most scenic and peaceful spots on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

One of several seating areas, this one overlooking the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge crossing San Pablo Bay

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Shopping Annie's Annuals' 15% off sale

It's no secret that Annie's Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, CA is one of my favorite nurseries. Now through the end of the year they're having a 15% off sale on everything in the nursery: plants, gift items, even gift certificates. Is there a better reason to visit? Granted, the best time for planting is over for the year, but what is life if you don't push the envelope a little bit?

In that spirit, I made the one-hour drive yesterday. My partner in crime was my friend Brian who volunteers at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. While it's fun shopping with somebody who is as plant-obsessed as you are, it's also dangerous because you end up pushing each other to buy even more than you had planned: "Hey, doesn't this plant look good? You should try it!" Or "This plant does really well in my garden. You need to get one, too." I apologize to Brian if I made him buy something he hadn't planned on buying!

Richmond is in zone 10a. Davis, where I live, is in zone 9b. You might think there isn't much difference, but there is. There is a big difference, actually, especially in the winter. Plants that struggle in Davis—think aeoniums, many proteas, fuchsias, etc.—sail through Richmond's virtually frost-free winters. That's why Annie's display gardens look good all year. I enjoy looking at them almost as much as I like shopping!

This is what I saw at Annie's yesterday:

Many nurseries have cats, Annie's has a friendly cow

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book gift ideas for gardeners

Gardeners love plants, but plants don't necessarily make great gifts unless you know exactly what the recipient really wants. Gift certificates are handy but impersonal. That's why I think books are the ideal gift for gardeners. Even if you give a book your gardening friend or relative would not have picked themselves, it might nudge them to explore something new.

This list is fairly random but it contains books that stood out to me in 2017. At the bottom I've added four books on my own wish list. Maybe I'll find one or two them under the Christmas tree.

All books are available from the usual sources.


Designing with Succulents, Second Edition by Debra Lee Baldwin

This long-awaited update to Debra Lee Baldwin's classic exceeds every expectation I had. Completely rewritten and reorganized with hundreds of new photos, this book is the perfect gift for any succulent lover, beginner or expert.

Click here to read my in-depth review.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ruth Bancroft passes away at age 109

On Sunday, November 26, Ruth Bancroft passed away at her home in Walnut Creek. She was 109 years old. I will miss her greatly even though I met her only once, briefly. Somehow I had thought she would live forever and that at some point there would be another opportunity to visit with her.

Ruth Bancroft and RBG curator Brian Kemble who has been working alongside Ruth since 1980.
Photo © 2016 by Stephen Lysaght. Used with Stephen's permission.

Ruth started her now iconic succulent garden in 1972 at the age of 63. I bet she had no idea that she would live another 47 years to see her labor of love mature and inspire tens of thousands of gardeners to plant dry gardens as well.

At the time, she was often asked why she would embark on such a big project at her age when it was more than likely that she would never see the plants grow to maturity. This was her reply: “Well, who cares if I’m around or not? Someone will be around. And if I don’t plant it then nobody will get to see it.”

We should all live and garden by this tenet.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A must-have guide for California gardeners and visitors: The California Garden Tour by Donald Olson

The most useful book on our recent Pacific Northwest trips has been The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The 60 Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by Donald Olson, published by Timber Press in 2014. Now Don Olson has written a companion guide for California: The California Garden Tour: The 50 Best Gardens to Visit in the Golden State.

Selfishly speaking, the timing couldn't have been better. I'm planning a late-December trip to Southern California, and I've been using The California Garden Tour for inspiration and information. In addition to big names like the Huntington, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Getty Center and Villa, Don also takes readers to gardens I'm not familiar with, including Virginia Robinson Gardens, Hortense Miller Garden and Rancho Los Alamitos. I can't wait to explore them in just five weeks.

Now let's take a closer look at the book:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Backyard overhaul: slow but steady

In a recent post, my friend Kathy who blogs at GardenBook talked about the "hateful areas" in her garden. I can relate only too well. In recent years, it seems most of our backyard has become a hateful area. With our attention firmly focused on the front garden, the backyard has fallen into benign neglect.

That is about to change. Actually, it already has started to change.

The area I'm going to show you today is outside the dining room slider; the desert bed we created in 2014 is on the other side of the fence. A year ago, we had an 'Aristocrat' pear and a clumping bamboo removed (read about it here) to create a blank slate. The first new plants to go in were an Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' and a Grevillea 'Flora Mason' (see here). In recent months I've been slowly adding more plants. This area only gets a few hours of direct sun but is fairly bright most of the day because of light reflecting off the house.

Let's take a closer look.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust