Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bamboo in Sacramento’s Capitol Park

40-acre Capitol Park is a true gem right in the heart of Sacramento. Home to the California State Capitol, the park features a number of memorials as well as trees and shrubs from all over the world. A standout is the Civil War Memorial Grove with trees that came from Civil War battlefields; these trees are now over 150 years old.

Capitol Park is particularly spectacular in early spring when the rhododendrons burst into flower and in May and June when the giant magnolias are covered with dinner-sized blossoms. But even in summer when most trees and shrubs are done blooming, there’s plenty to see and do—even if it’s just lazing in the shade of a tall tree with a book or latte, like many locals are wont to do.

The reason why I stopped by Capitol Park on Sunday morning was to photograph the stand of giant timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides). I have not been able to find out much about its age and origins, but it’s located right next to a large clump of cooking bananas (labeled Musa x paradisiaca although that scientific name is no longer valid). Take a look at the first two photos: the bamboo makes the bananas seem small even though they are easily 10 ft. tall.


The gap between the bamboo and the bananas has been bridged by several errant rhizomes, as evidenced by the culm in the next photo (on the left) and a couple of others that have invaded the bananas. Both the bananas and the bamboo are well maintained, and I’m wondering whether the Capitol Park gardeners will let the bamboo culms stay inside the banana grove or whether they will remove them.

Left: stray bamboo culm amidst the bananas.
Right: stunning banana flower. The colors were so vibrant.

As you can see in the next photo, both the bamboos and the bananas get ample water. If I were a bamboo, I’d be happy here, too.


Phyllostachys bambusoides is a giant timber bamboo native to Southern China and widely cultivated in Japan where it is called “madake” and much used in construction. Its listed maximum height under ideal conditions is 72 ft., but the specimens in Capitol Park were maybe half that. But in spite of their shorter height, the plants looked very healthy, so it’s possible they haven’t reached maturity yet. I will try to contact the Capitol grounds maintenance department to see what the history of these plantings is.


110731_Phyllostachys_bambusoides_09 110731_Phyllostachys_bambusoides_05


The Phyllostachys bambusoides grove is found off the main path that extends from the rear of the Capitol building to the International World Peace Rose Garden at the 15th Street end. See the following map (courtesy of Google Maps):


Sunday is the best day for a visit because street parking along the perimeter of Capitol Park is free.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bamboo sightings in midtown Sacramento

Midtown Sacramento may be full of hustle and bustle during the week, but on Sunday mornings, it’s as sleepy as a country town. I experienced that yesterday as I photographed bamboo plantings in front of two businesses (thank you, Sean at Madman Bamboo, for the tip).

Beautifully restored Victorians in midtown Sacramento

The first planting I photographed is a well maintained stand of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) in front of a small mixed-use building. This bamboo is planted in a shallow raised bed and only has about 7 feet of vertical clearance before hitting the ceiling of the overhang.

I think this is a very successful example of using a running bamboo in a relatively small space, and it illustrates that bamboo can be topped without losing the essential “bamboo look.” (Once a bamboo culm has reached its final height, it will never grow taller. Consequently, after you’ve cut it at the desired height, this culm will always remain at that height.)

The culms of this black bamboo are nicely spaced, resulting in an airy feeling. The lush underplanting heightens the exotic look. On a hot day, just seeing this bamboo makes you feel cool.


110731_Phyllostachys_nigra_midtownSacto_01 110731_Phyllostachys_nigra_midtownSacto_06

The other bamboo sighting was a Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ just a block away. It is planted in a slightly raised bed (presumably with much more soil below) and mulched with small pebbles for a classic look. The shiny black tiles on the wall behind it really set it off nicely.

While the bamboo seems to belong to the taller building on the right, I think it ties in well with the Japanese restaurant Kru to the left. Behind the one-story building where Kru is located you can see the top of a white Victorian with turquoise trim; the combination of these three buildings is typical for midtown Sacramento where the traditional and the contemporary coexist in visually exciting ways.


110731_Bambusa_multiplex_Alphonse_Karr_Kru_03 110731_Bambusa_multiplex_Alphonse_Karr_Kru_02


I’m sure there is a lot more bamboo in midtown and downtown Sacramento. If you know of any, please leave a comment below.

Also check out this post about the large stands of Phyllostachys bambusoides in Capitol Park.

And don’t miss Bamboo Spotter, an interactive Google map created by Sean at Madman Bamboo. As Sean says, “the purpose of the map is to map spots in the world where bamboo plants or groves can be seen in public spaces or from public streets.” This map is editable by anybody, so if you know of any publicly visible or accessible bamboos, please consider adding them.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

2011 California State Fair

The biggest spectacle in the Sacramento area summer calendar is the California State Fair. It’s always at the hottest time of the year, so sweating is as much part of it as the livestock and agricultural exhibits, the bad-for-you food, and the raucous and tacky midway.

Golden bear at entrance to Cal Expo

We went on Friday because the Cal Expo fairgrounds, home of the California State Fair, opens early at 10am. This allowed us to do the outside exhibits before the sun got too hot. We started with the farm animals—horses, pigs, sheep, cows, etc.—and it’s easy losing track of time as you watch sheep being shorn, llamas paraded around the ring like dogs at a dog show, pigs snoozing in the heat, and similar vignettes of livestock bliss. However, when a miniature horse started to nibble on my younger daughter’s shirt and got a piece of skin in the process, it was time to saunter on.

As usual, one of the highpoints for me proved to be the Farm, a living exhibit chock full of farm crops and vegetables. Because spring this year was longer and cooler than usual, things aren’t as far along as they normally would be at the end of July. I didn’t see any ripe tomatoes or corn, and the patches of pumpkin and squash were still mostly flowers. Still, I couldn’t help but admire—and envy—the lush and dense plantings. I have no idea idea how heavily they are fertilized, but they must get pampered an awful lot.

Pumpkin blossom
Baby pumpkin
Gold Rush zucchini
Cloud Nine eggplant
Hydroponic lettuce
Hydroponic lettuce

Considering that rice is an important commercial crop in California, I was happy to see a miniature rice field complete with a levy. The larger section was still green, while the smaller section (on the left in the photo below) had already started to set seeds.

Miniature rice paddy
Rice seeds

Another larger demonstration field was dedicated to milo, or grain sorghum. In the U.S., milo is mostly grown as livestock feed and to make syrup, while in Asia and Africa it’s a dietary staple for humans. In fact, milo is the third most important food crop worldwide, according to an interpretive sign.


Floral displays were found everywhere, and I noticed that some of them included vegetables and cereal grasses, like corn in the following photo. I thought that was a nice touch for a fair that has such a long agricultural tradition (the first California State Fair was held in 1854 to share knowledge among farmers and ranchers).

Corn among annuals and perennials

As in previous years, the grass-covered truck and tractor were back. Unfortunately, they didn’t look as nice as they might have when the Fair opened a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how often they get watered, but it looks like it isn’t quite often enough. Still, it’s fun seeing an entire vehicle covered in grass like giant Chia Pet.

Grass-covered tractor

Water conservation and water-wise gardening were major topics this year. This is an issue that is dear to my heart, and I was happy to see displays of drought-tolerant perennials such as black-eyed susan, Russian sage, lamb’s ear, lantana, and the like. Even more exciting was seeing monarch butterflies visiting the flowers. People may walk by a bed of beautiful flowers without a second glance, but butterflies never fail to get them to stop and take a second look.

Irish Eyes rudbeckia (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’) against California fan palm
rubeckia russian_sage
Regular black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta)  and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Monarch butterfly on black-eyed susan
Monarch butterfly on black-eyed susan

In addition to American natives, drought-tolerant plants from Australia and South Africa—countries with climates similar to ours—were on display in the Save Our Water demonstration garden. Kangaroo paws were everywhere. Landscape designers have clearly discovered their structural elegance.

Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos sp.)

As we were walking around the fairgrounds, my bamboo radar was in full gear, but there wasn’t much as bamboo in evidence as I had hoped. My first sighting was in the ghastly Big Bugs exhibit—giant robotic insects inside a dimly light tent that only young kids could get excited about. At the exit there were two pots of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) that I’m sure were waiting for the Fair to end so they could see daylight again.

The most prominent bamboo I saw was a fairly mature clump of Bambusa oldhamii at the edge of the Farm. It was underplanted with various kinds of tropicals, such as elephant ears and coleus. The result was a rather lush oasis. I can’t wait for our own Bambusa oldhamii to get to this size!


110729_cal_expo_bambusa_oldhamii_05  110729_cal_expo_bambusa_oldhamii_04

110729_cal_expo_bambusa_oldhamii_06  110729_cal_expo_bambusa_oldhamii_16

The other bamboos I spotted were in the Kangaroo Joey’s Big Adventure exhibit. While my family was looking at the animals (young kangaroos, hedgehogs, porcupines, pythons, etc.), I was checking out the plantings.

Juvenile Bambusa oldhamii
Unknown bamboo next to faux buddha
Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata var. aztecorum) growing like a lacy grass among tropical foliage plants

After being outside in the heat for a few hours, we finally took refuge inside the air-conditioned halls. While they often verge on the tacky, I enjoy looking at the county exhibits where each county gets to design their own space. Our county, Yolo, had this year’s winning booth. Out of patriotic pride, here’s a photo of it (although my personal favorite was Placer County, but don’t tell anyone).

Yolo County exhibit

As the kids were looking at bunnies, chickens and the like, I dashed into the fine arts pavilion next door. I love seeing the creativity displayed by mostly unknown artists, and this year had some strong pieces as well, including a giant metal shade structure (Whale of a Good Time by Terrence Martin from West Sacramento).

After the equivalent of six Red Bull’s worth of fine arts, I felt creatively inspired and snapped this photo as we were heading towards the exit. Maybe I will enter it in next year’s Fair!

Lantern reflection

This year the California State Fair runs from July 14-31. If you want to go, you’d better hurry since Saturday and Sunday are the last couple of days.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I wish I were in Cornwall

As we’re hurtling once again towards 100°F (38°C) and my desire to work in the garden is wilting with the climb of the thermometer, I’m beset with a strange longing to go back to Cornwall where surely the likes of 100°F have never been seen. As if I needed another reminded that I’m inextricably mired in middle age, I was taken aback a bit when I realized that our visit to Cornwall was seven years ago. My memories of that trip are very vivid; I remember walking down the country lane shown in the first photo bundled up in a sweater at the end of June. Surely the sun must have been out a time or two, but what has stuck in my mind all this time are the glorious gray skies of the south of England. Here in California, we have blue skies for months on end, and I tell you, they’re not that exciting. Give me clouds and a drizzle any day! (Come December, I will regret saying these words, but that’s how I feel right now.)

This post isn’t about specific plants and it doesn’t contain any gardening tips. Instead, it is about a place where everything seems to grow of its own accord—willingly and vigorously, without the constant nudging and nurturing plants often seem to require in our parched Mediterranean climate. There is green everywhere, and every plant seems to be desirable rather than a weed. I know this isn’t really true, but in my somewhat overheated mind, it’s what I’m clinging to.

So, come along on this trip to the southwest of England. Most photos were taken in Cornwall, and some in Devon and Wiltshire.