Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book review: The Colorful Dry Garden by Maureen Gilmer

For those of us gardening in the western U.S., water—or rather the lack of it—is always on our minds. The 2011-2017 drought in California was a wake-up call for many. Even though Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought to be over in April 2017, the minimal rainfall this winter is a painful reminder that drought may be the new normal. Cape Town, South Africa running out of water raises the specter of something similar happening here. While that's not likely (yet), we should still do our best to be as water-conscious as possible.

Homeowners wanting to making their landscaping more drought-tolerant often feel like they're trading in a vibrant garden for a sparse and monotonous expanse of brown. Worse yet, some simply give up altogether and cover what used to be their yard with bark or gravel. I see depressing examples of that right here in our town.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In her latest book, Palms Springs-based landscape designer Maureen Gilmer shows that there are far better alternatives. The Colorful Dry Garden: Over 100 Flowers and Vibrant Plants for Drought, Desert & Dry Times (Sasquatch Books 2018) aims to make "your garden alive with flowers and color, with birds and butterflies, so that it changes with the seasons and yet asks for few resources."

Friday, February 16, 2018

Succulents and steel: a perfect match

A few weeks ago I posted the photo on the left below as a teaser of things to come. Now it's time for the reveal. There's nothing quite like finishing a project and actually liking the result!

While I was pleased with the way the Dymondia margaretae had filled this 16-inch wide strip, I felt like I was letting an opportunity go to waste. Being the plant hoarder collector that I am, I'm always looking to free up more space for even more plants. This strip was a perfect takeover target.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Three Palms Nursery: a horticultural treasure in my own backyard

Whenever I visit a city where independent nurseries still thrive, I can't help but wish for a more active gardening and nursery community where I live. While it's unlikely that the greater Sacramento area will ever rival Portland or Seattle in that respect, we do have a few small nurseries that quietly do their thing on the edge of the mainstream.

One of them, Three Palms Nursery, is right here in Davis. Well, not in Davis per se, but just a few miles outside of town in the middle of the fields. To get there, drive west on Russell Blvd until you reach the intersection with County Road 95. You can't miss the nursery.

Yucca rostrata outside the nursery

Friday, February 9, 2018

Aloes and friends blooming in our garden

After two weeks of warm spring weather—highs in 60s and low 70s, today 75°F—we have quite a few blooms in the front yard. Aloes that have been in a holding pattern since December, as well as some of our South African bulbs, are finally in flower. I can't get enough of this boost of color and energy. I try not to get too exuberant for fear nature might punish my hubris with an unexpected cold snap, but I think we're out of the woods as far as winter goes.

I know I should hold these photos until the 15th, the official Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I'm so excited, I just can't wait!

Narcissus among the agaves

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I discovered a great nursery—and it's a Home Depot!

I don't do a lot of plant shopping at big-box garden centers although occasionally they're good for a surprise. More often than not, though, their selection is less than exciting, and sometimes their plants are not exactly healthy (see this recent post).

Last weekend I discovered that it doesn't have to be that way. For years I've been hearing rumors of the Home Depot in San Rafael, CA having a fantastic nursery. More than that, some Bay Area gardeners talk about it in almost reverent terms. In an old post from 2010, landscape designer Michelle Derviss raved:
I thank my lucky stars every time I shop at my local San Rafael Marin County CA Home Depot nursery. The nursery is on par with some of the best nurseries in United States. The guy who runs it, Charlie Rossi, is a seasoned horticultural veteran of the nursery industry. Your eyes would be blown out of their sockets if you walked into ‘his nursery’. Simply amazing. 
More praised can be found in the comments to this blog post on Garden Rant.

Plants outside the store

Why is this Home Depot garden center so good when so many others plain suck? Easy: It has a dedicated nursery manager who prides himself on sourcing the best plants.

Last weekend I finally had the opportunity (or, rather, created the opportunity) to visit this fabled place. Did it live up to the hype?

Read on to find out.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ruth Bancroft Garden: aloe there!

While the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, CA is a great place to visit at any time of year, it's particularly beautiful right now. The photo below shows you why: Many of the aloes are in bloom.

The RBG has an extensive collections of aloes, both species and hybrids. Brian Kemble, the garden's long-time curator, is a world-renowned aloe expert and has been creating hybrids for decades, many of which are planted out at the RBG.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to get into the RBG at 7:30 am as part of an open photography session. My earlier post highlights the breadth of succulents on display at the RBG. This post is all about aloes. It's not meant to be comprehensive; it simply showcases the aloes that caught my eye. If you live in Northern California, why not make plans for a visit and experience the aloe bloom for yourself?

Flowering aloe panorama

Friday, February 2, 2018

Oh Home Depot...

I don't want to get into the habit of ragging on the big-box garden centers all the time because I do buy plants there every now and then (especially from the clearance rack at Lowe's). But I get so mad when I see this:

These are otherwise fine cow-horn agaves (Agave bovicornuta) spotted at the Woodland, CA Home Depot this morning. 

I'm not quite sure what caused this damage although my money is on agave mites. But that's neither here nor there. These plants should simply not be offered for sale. 

What makes me even more angry is that the fix is so easy: Just pull the infected plants! 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ruth Bancroft Garden: everything but the kitchen sink

Last Saturday the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek opened early for a 7:30 am sunrise photography session. This was not a traditional workshop; instead, participants were able to do their own thing and turn to instructor John Ricca for assistance as needed.

I loved being able to roam free for 2½ hours before the garden opened to the public. Even though there were a dozen photographers in attendance, there was very little talking. Instead, everybody was focused on taking pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet.

As I was walking through the garden, Ruth Bancroft was very much on my mind. She passed away in November at the age of 109, but she left behind a marvelous gift for us and future generations. The fact that she didn't start her succulent garden until she was in her 60s should be an inspiration for us all: You're never too old to create something new!

Yucca rostrata (right) at sunrise

This post includes photos of just about everything in the garden exception for aloes. Many aloes were in flower and putting on a fantastic show so I'm going to dedicate an entire post to them (coming soon).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Heavy-duty plant-shopping → trunk full of plants

On Saturday, I made the 50-minute drive to Walnut Creek to attend two morning events at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. The first was a 7:30 am sunrise photography session followed by a 10:00 am class on proteaceae (shrubs like grevilleas, banksias, leucospermums, leucadendrons, etc.) where, among other things, I got to demonstrate how to plant a groundcover banskia and I learned that I wasn't adding enough sulphur to our alkaline soil to make it more acidic. (And that coffee grounds as a mulch are good because they attract earthworms.)

I'll have a separate post with my best images from the sunrise photography session. Today I want to show you my plant haul. I still can't believe I came home with as many new plants as I did. Serendipity or insanity? Something it's a fine line!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

South Coast Botanic Garden: new life on top of a landfill

You've never heard of the South Coast Botanic Garden? I don't think it would have been on my radar either if it hadn't been for the occasional post by Kris Peterson on her blog Late to the Garden Party. In an area full of A-listers like the Huntington and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the South Coast Botanic Garden (SCBG) is probably only on the B- or C-list. But that's OK. Not everybody strives to be a superstar. Life is more relaxed, and there are far fewer paparazzi to deal with.

The SCBG is just 5 miles from Kris's house, and I gladly accepted her offer to show me around. The sun was already low in the sky when we arrived, and we were rushing through the various areas to see as much as we could before we ran out of light. I definitely want to go back in the late spring or early summer when more flowering plants are in bloom.

One area that looks good year-round is the Desert Garden. Spiky plants don't need flowers to impress. More photos from the Desert Garden in a little bit.

Desert Garden

The history of the South Coast Botanic Garden is quite remarkable.