Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rotting Agave pumila pulls through

In January, I noticed that a few leaves on my prized Agave pumila in the front yard had started to rot. The seemingly non-stop rain in January was simply too much. (In total we had over 30 inches of rain this winter--10 inches more than our historic average.)

I first applied a fungicide in hopes of stopping the infection but that didn't seem to do very much. I was thiiiiiis close to removing the entire plant but pity got the better of me and I decided to give it one last chance. I pulled off the rotten leaves--they practically came off in my hands--when to my surprise I noticed a handful of babies hiding underneath. There was no way I could get rid of the mama now!

Fast forward 3+ months to May 24. This is what my Agave pumila looks like now:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Aloe splendor at Los Angeles Country Arboretum (January 2017)

The good folks of Los Angeles County are so lucky. Not only do they have the Huntington, they also have the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The two are (literally!) just 5 miles apart.

I've been to the Huntington twice now and know how stunning the gardens are. The L.A. County Arboretum had always been on my list but since I had heard it referred to as Huntington Lite, it wasn't at the top of my list. However, on my way home from Palm Springs this March, I decided to check it out. I didn't have much time--not enough for the Huntington--but I figured an hour would be enough to get a general impression.



Well, I was wrong. An hour was woefully insufficient because the L.A. County Arboretum is anything but Huntington Lite, it's a full-fledged peer.

Encompassing 127 acres on what once was Rancho Santa Anita, a 13,000 acre Spanish land grant, the L.A. County Arboretum consists of several dozen gardens and collections (like the palm and bamboo collection), a lake, and a variety of historic structures (read more about the site's history here). It would take many hours to see everything. My one hour was barefully enough to scratch the surface of the South American and African section. For this reason, consider this post an extended teaser, not in-depth coverage. I'll be back soon to explore the L.A. Country Arboretum at a more leisurely pace.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Another palo verde (heart)break

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that the palo verde (Parkinsonia), especially the 'Desert Museum' hybrid, is one of my favorite trees. While 'Desert Museum' is common in Arizona and Southern California, it's still fairly rare here in Northern California. In this post from September 2013 I detail my quest to find one.

We eventually planted two 'Desert Museum' and one 'Sonoran Emerald' (a different palo verde hybrid). Everything went well until January of this year when a major branch--half of the tree it seemed--broke off in a windstorm. See this post for details and photos. We removed the fallen branch and cleaned up the debris. Over time, the scar healed and by late April the tree was covered with flower buds.

Then came May 7. I was in Germany at the time, but this is what my wife encountered that Sunday morning:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What you find in a garden center in Germany

My trip to Germany last week went by in a heartbeat, and there wasn't much time for exploring. However, my mother and I made it to an OBI garden center one morning. OBI is a major chain of home improvement stores, much like The Home Depot or Lowe's in the U.S. (In fact, Wikipedia says OBI is #3 in the world behind these two.)

I wasn't expecting any huge surprises, considering that the average OBI customer is more interested in low prices than unusual plants, but I was still hoping to find something a bit out of the ordinary. Let's see if I did!

Outside the store there was racks upon racks of the usual bedding plants (geraniums, petunias, marigolds, etc.) as well as vegetables. In the garden center proper, more bedding plants but also some very nice lupines and hostas. (I shouldn't be surprised; hostas grow well in Germany, as opposed to California.)


Thursday, May 11, 2017

More snapshots from Germany

My previous post showed you the sights in the historic center of Hersbruck, my hometown in northern Bavaria. This post ventures outside the town center and covers areas a little farther afield. 

The best panoramic view of Hersbruck is from the Michelsberg, the 388 m (1278 ft) hill north of downtown. I will never get tired of this sight:


Town center, with Hersbruck Castle in the back and City Hall and the Stadtkirche on the right

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snapshots from Germany

I'm in Germany for my mother's 80th birthday and have been collecting photos to show you. This post contains about 60 photos, tomorrow's another 40, of my hometown, Hersbruck. It is located in Franconia (northern Bavaria), about 18 miles from Nuremberg, and has about 12,000 residents. The first mention of Hersbruck in official documents was in 976 but the town may even be older than that.

My mother still lives in the house where she grew up, and where I grew up. I've been gone for many years now, and while a lot of things have changed, some dramatically, others have remained the same. The houses in the town center are mostly unchanged due to laws protecting historical buildings. This corner on the edge of the town center, for example, looks the way it did when I was little--and probably long before:


Monday, May 1, 2017

Ann Nichols's exotic East Bay paradise (bromeliads! succulents! more!)


The first garden I visited on the Garden Conservancy's recent East Bay Open Day was the garden of Ann Nichols in Piedmont, a small residential enclave surrounded by the city of Oakland. In the Open Day directory, it was described like this:
This is a garden of many levels consisting of a number of outdoor rooms, each with its own plant and color scheme. The front garden, designed around an existing Canary Island date palm, is home to a variety of tropical and subtropical plants and bulbs. Passing by a small orchid garden and through the front gate, one meanders past gurgling water that flows downhill from a waterfall and through a mini-canal into two ponds. A free-form fence constructed of tied tree limbs parallels the length of the walkway, and a mosaic mural at the top invites the visitor into the backyard. Inside the gate is the “entry parlor” filled with foliage of black and silver. A walkway continues through the shady white garden into the sun-filled mid-level lawn, bordered by beds of red and orange. Higher on the hill is the rose garden underplanted in blue and accessed through an arched walkway of weeping sequoias.
As if this blurb wasn't exciting enough, my tour companion Kathy Stoner of GardenBook was raving about Ann Nichols' garden. She had visited it in 2013 and couldn't wait to go back. (To read Kathy's post about our visit, click here. It's great seeing the same garden through somebody else's eyes.) 


This is the front garden. I wonder how many fender benders have happened on this street because people slowed down or stopped altogether to get a better look at this exotic paradise.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pseudonatural Freakshow

Last Saturday was the Garden Conservancy's first Open Day of 2017 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Four gardens were open for touring in the East Bay (Berkeley and Oakland). I had visited two of them last year, including ceramic artist Marcia Donahue's personal oasis, so I skipped them because my time was limited (and I already had planned a stopover at Annie's Annuals for the drive home to Davis).

Of the two gardens I did visit on Saturday was one in Berkeley listed in the Open Days Directory under the intriguing moniker Pseudonatural FreakshowHere is how it was described:
My garden began as an effort to develop my yard as habitat for birds and other winged life, shaped by the natural spaces I love to visit. Though originally stocked with many plants that provide food and nesting material for birds, it is being filled in more and more with the strange and fantastic plants that catch my eye. I’ve tried to make a garden that feels like Nature is—if not actually winning—at least making a good showing. The 5,000-square-foot back garden is the oldest part and is mostly multi-storied verge areas to appeal to birds. A creek on our northern border is part of a natural flyway for birds. Aesthetically, I pay attention to site lines and plant combinations, especially those with interesting foliage. I like to start with wide pathways and then allow the plants to encroach. My aesthetic is definitely naturalistic, but I make no effort to be geographically correct nor do I favor California natives for any reason other than their individual, inherent excellence. Our house is in an old frumpy warehouse where my wife does her artwork. So there is little relation between it and the garden and very little by way of views out to the garden from inside. Most everything in the garden was made by me from repurposed materials including an urbanite courtyard off our backdoor made from the concrete demo’d from a school basement where I taught during an earthquake retrofit. The redwood staves from an old water tower were used to make decking, fencing, and a smaller storage shed. More reclaimed materials went into building a forty-foot pergola over the front garden, more raised beds, and many sitting areas. Plants include succulents, bromeliads, begonias, roses, echiums, solanums, phormiums, fruit trees, passion vines (including an older Passiflora membranacea), a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants including many from the cloud forest like Telanthophora grandifolia, Salvia wagneriana, Abutilon tridens, Iochromas, agapetes, fuchsias, brugmansia, and Deppea splendens.
I was hooked, but I had no idea what to expect. The sliding gate at the entrance to the garden definitely had a light-industrial vibe. And the building itself did look like a generic commercial space.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Getting my Annie's Annuals fix

Usually I don't wait until late April to get my springtime fix at Annie's Annuals, located in Richmond just about an hour from my house. But 2017 has been an unusual gardening year. Because of the impressive amount of rainfall following a historic drought, and a relatively cool spring with no unseasonable hot spells, it feels like late March or early April to me.

With the planting window still wide open, I decided to stop at Annie's last Saturday to see what interesting plants I could find to fill various holes in the garden. But before I starting shopping, I spent quite a while admiring the demonstration beds. They are simply bursting with color right now. There was so much to see and photograph! And while most of the plants aren't labeled, the wonderful employees are always there to help. (People working at nurseries are almost always nice, but the folks at Annie's are in a different league altogether.)

Looking at my photos below you might be under the impression that there weren't very many people at the nursery. Actually, just the opposite is true. The parking lot was almost full, and there were lines at the checkout. It was great to see people spending money on plants.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunland Cactus Nursery

On my trip to Palm Springs in early March, Mariscal wasn't the only succulent nursery we visited. In fact, our second nursery destination was even bigger!

I'd first become aware of Sunland Cactus Nursery through a blurb in Sunset Magazine. Wouldn't you want to go after reading this?
For most of the journey to this Desert Hot Springs nursery, you’ll be cursing the people (that would be us) who told you about it. You drive down desolate Dillon Road, whose undulations make you feel you’re riding a roller coaster, and begin to worry that you’re nowhere but in the middle of meth country. Then, at last, you spot it—a field of blue-green spiky orbs growing in 24-inch wooden tree boxes—and give thanks to the heavens.
The short article went on talk about riding in a golf cart through "rows of containerized palms, agave, and euphorbia, all of them seemingly waiting to be moved from the nursery to your front yard."

Brilliant piece of writing, Sunset! It's the best advertisement for a nursery I can imagine, especially for customers with a bit of an adventurous streak.

Dillon Road didn't quite reach roller coaster level but the undulations did make me a bit queasy, probably because I was driving too fast. But then, there was hardly anybody else on the road. We stopped at the address given in Sunset Magazine, 28900 Pushawalla St in Desert Hot Springs, and began to explore.

This is the first photo I took:


Talk about instant impact in your garden!