Monday, October 5, 2015

Easing into fall gardening projects

The transition from summer to fall is very fluid here in the western Sacramento Valley. It’s not like you wake up one morning and it’s autumn all of a sudden. Instead, it’s a drawn-out process, full of false starts. In recent weeks, we’ve been swinging between 95°F and 70°F degree days, often with no transition, just to veer towards the 90s again.

On Saturday evening, though, we had an epic thunderstorm that might have marked the beginning of fall. We rarely get thunderstorms so lightning is always something special. And Saturday night was epic. Virtually nonstop thunder and lightning for over an hour. In the 18 years I’ve lived in Davis, I can’t remember anything quite like it. And for about 45 minutes we got rain. Not the weepy drizzle we had earlier in the week. A real honest-to-goodness gully washer. It cleaned the cars in the street, the solar panels on the roof and the plants in exposed areas.

On Sunday morning, for the first time in a long time, I felt the urge to putter around outside. I didn’t do much, but I did remove a few plants that had died in the infernal furnace of the 2015 summer: a Canary island sow thistle (Sonchus congestus) I bought at Annie’s Annuals last fall, and the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ I brought home from the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery in February. The latter one really hurt, but I hadn’t been certain it would make it this spot anyway.


Dead Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ (left) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), now removed


Friday, October 2, 2015

Condominium complex water garden, Victoria, BC

Time’s a-flying. It’s hard to believe it’s been three months since our Pacific Northwest trip. I’ve already covered all the gardens I visited; you’ll find my posts listed in this handy overview. But there was one unexpected find I haven’t written about yet: the serendipitous discovery of a charming water garden at a condominium complex in Victoria, British Columbia.


The condo complex is called Harbourside and it’s located at 636 Montreal Street, near Fisherman’s Wharf. Some of the ground-floor units adjoin the “lake” that connects the two buildings. Rather than a blank expanse of water, it’s studded with a variety of aquatic plants. The design is so attractive, I spent a half hour taking pictures.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza plant porn (2 of 2)

Day 2 of the 2015 Succulent Extravaganza (see posts 1 and 2) started bright and early at 8 a.m. I left the motel in Marina at 7:15 a.m. so I’d have extra time in case I saw anything worth photographing along the way. And I did.


Sunrise over the Elkhorn Slough, an estuary on Monterey Bay, just a few miles down the road from the nursery

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza plant porn (1 of 2)

Yesterday I recapped the 2015 Succulent Extravaganza held September 25-26, 2015 at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA. It was a great opportunity to photograph the many thousands of succulents growing at the nursery.

As always, I took hundreds of photos. I finally winnowed them down to 64. 32 are in this installment, the other 32 in tomorrow’s. The photos aren’t in any particular order. You never know what you’re going to see next. That’s the same experience you’d have during a visit to Succulent Gardens.


Arrangement by Baylor Chapman as part of her demonstration “Living Centerpieces”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza recap

It’s a tradition now: The last Friday and Saturday of September are reserved in my calendar for the Succulent Extravaganza. Organized by Succulent Gardens, Northern California’s premier succulent grower, and held at their nursery in Castroville, the Succulent Extravaganza is a two-day affair jam packed with presentations, socializing and shopping. Over time, it’s also become a much anticipated reunion with friends and fellow succulent fanatics I only see once a year.

For last year’s Succulent Extravaganza, a select group of designers created a series of demonstration gardens to showcase how succulents can be used in residential landscaping. The same gardens were the focus of the 2015 Extravaganza as well. It was interesting to see how they have evolved. Read on to see photos.


Succulent Gardens at the intersection of Elkhorn and Amaral Road in Castroville, CA

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 5

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My last day on Adak. Our flight leaves tonight at 6 p.m. I eat my last bagel (brought from Anchorage) and then pack my suitcase. Usually I’m ready to go home at the end of a trip. This time, though, I would gladly stay a few more days. Until Sunday, for example, when the next plane leaves. But that’s not in the cards.

Since Shannon has the car, I decide to walk through the two housing subdivisions that are completely abandoned. The Navy spent a lot of money here; money ultimately wasted.

The first subdivision I want to show you was built in the early 1970s. We dubbed it “the Flintstones houses.” On this site maintained by a former soldier stationed on Adak in 1970-1971, I found a photo of these houses arriving by ship.

The houses in this subdivision look to be in good shape. I saw none of the damage evident elsewhere. Rumor has it that they could be made ready for occupancy with relatively little effort. If that’s true, the city of Adak definitely has options should a large employer come to town.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 4

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cousin Shannon convinces me to get up early so I can photograph the sunrise. We head over to the fuel farm and walk out on the pier. Just in time. The clouds light up with the drama I was hoping for.


It doesn’t last long, but I do get a photo of god rays:


The wind is picking up and, combined with a slight drizzle, I’m feeling uncomfortable for the first time since I got here. Ever so briefly, I get a sense of how nasty the wind must be when it really blows.

Fortunately, the wind and rain don’t last long. That’s pretty much my experience with any kind of weather on Adak: Wait a few minutes and it’ll change. That’s what they say about Hawaii, too.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 3

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Day 3 on the island and I’m falling into a routine. Get up at 8 a.m. just before the sun rises, have coffee, do some work, then head out for a little walk before meeting up with Elaine at noon.

This morning I don’t have much time because of work. I can never really get away from it unless I go to a place that has no Internet at all. But even Adak, population 100+, has Internet although it’s expensive. Another surprise: There’s decent cell phone coverage, even away from town. But only on AT&T. As a T-Mobile customer, I get no signal whatsoever. I must admit it feels strange being disconnected from the world like that. Strange, but healthy.

This morning I check out the abandoned McDonald’s in town. This was once the westernmost McDonald’s in the world. As you can see below, the building itself is in almost perfect condition. As is the inside, from what I can see through the window. Apparently the building is still used for civic functions so the city keeps it heated in the winter to prevent damage.


The coolest thing is the drive-through menu. I can’t believe it’s so well preserved after 20 years of Aleutian weather! The prices seem shockingly high to me—except for coffee, which at $0.25 for a small and $0.49 for a large was cheap even then.

Later, I use an inflation calculator to see what these 1995 prices translate to in today’s dollars. A BigMac Extra Value Meal was $4.59 then; at a cumulative rate of inflation of 56.4%, that’s $7.18 now. The Adak McDonald’s had to have been one of the most expensive fast food places in the world back in the day. Considering what little servicemen made, eating there was probably not a daily occurrence.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 2

Monday, September 7, 2015 (Labor Day)

Since the sun doesn’t rise until 8:15 a.m. and I’d had an eventful first day on Adak, I sleep in and then go for a walk in the neighborhood. The houses in this subdivision are basically all the same: either off-white with a blue roof, or tan with a red roof.

All of them have a solarium attached to the dining room. It feels a bit like an afterthought because it’s not really integrated into house; instead you access it through a door as if you were stepping outside. The solarium isn’t heated so you wouldn’t be very comfortable sitting out there in the winter unless you bring a portable heater. But it could be used to grow plants because temperatures don’t drop much below freezing here. I don’t know how many people have used their solarium for that purpose, but I cannot imagine that among the thousands of people who’ve lived in these housing units over the years there haven’t been a least a few with a green thumb.


However, I see no sign of gardening anywhere on the island. Cousin Shannon says she’s heard of people growing vegetables. Somebody even got tomatoes to ripen--quite a feat in a place that on average only has 76 sunny days a year. As I mentioned yesterday, Adak is in USDA hardiness zone 8 so the weather is mild enough to grow a great many things. And there’s plenty of water: It rains or snows on 264 days a year vs. the U.S. average of 100. The average annual rainfall is between 54 and 64 inches (the Internet sources I found can’t seem to agree).

The limiting factor on Adak is the wind. And it can be quite a doozy. During my 5-day stay the wind is benign, especially on the flatlands near town. In some exposed spots higher up, I get an inkling of what the wind might be capable of here. After all, Adak is nicknamed “the birthplace of the winds.” Sustained wind speeds of 20 mph are not uncommon. Gusts that seem to come out of nowhere, called “williwaws,” are said to be strong enough to knock people over. One particularly violent williwaw ripped the anemometer off the tower at the airport so nobody knows what its speed was, but gusts can exceed 110 miles per hour.

Knowing this, it’s easier to understand why there are virtually no trees on Adak and the other Aleutian islands. Because of the frequent precipitation, the soil is almost constantly wet. Even if a tree managed to grow to any size, a strong gust would quickly uproot it. All the trees that exist on the island—and there aren’t many—were planted. Without exception, they’re conifers and they look stunted. Later in the day, Elaine takes me to the Adak National Forest. What a hoot, as you will see.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 1

From this teaser you may know that I recently spent time on Adak in the Aleutians, a chain of 69 islands, many of them volcanic, extending 1,200 miles from the mainland of Alaska towards the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. Here’s a map to give you a better idea:


I love numbers, so let me throw some out for you. Adak is:

  • 2,700 miles from the north pole
  • 2,700 miles from Davis, California where I live
  • 1,300 miles from Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska
  • 870 miles from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia
  • 450 miles from Dutch Harbor, the nearest inhabited place in the Aleutian Islands (if you’ve ever watched the reality TV series Deadliest Catch, you might have heard of it)
    • At the same latitude as Vancouver, British Columbia
    • Horticulturally speaking, in USDA hardiness zone 8, the same as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington; Anchorage, in comparison, is in zone 4; Fairbanks, in south-central Alaska, in zone 2
    • Between the Bering Sea to the north and the North Pacific Ocean to the south

    If you head due south from Adak, you won’t encounter land for 4,700 miles—not until you reach the islands of Fiji in the South Pacific.


    First glimpse from the air