Sunday, August 7, 2011

Our front yard in early August

The other morning I woke up to a high fog. This is common on the California coast, but virtually unheard of in Davis in the summer months. I grabbed the camera and took a bunch of photos of our front yard since the lighting was very soft and even, producing photos with more detail and less harsh shadows.

This is my monthly stock-taking of how things look at a specific point in time. This will help me down the line to determine which plants work and which don’t. Luckily, almost everything in our front yard is to my satisfaction at the moment.

As I’ve said before, if you don’t already take photos of your garden at regular intervals, you should! You’ll appreciate being able to track the progress of your plantings over the course of time.

Plantings outside the fence
The green “mass” in the center is Bambusa oldhamii
Here you can see Bambusa oldhamii towering over the other plants. I will have a separate post about this clumping timber bamboo soon. The plants visible just above the fence on the left are butterfly gingers (Hedychium coronarium).
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Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa) in front of Bambusa oldhamii. We have three or four specimens of bog sage, and this year they’ve finally taken off (it took about three years). As its name already suggests, it prefers regular irrigation although it’s able to survive with relatively little water. Our bog sage is 5 ft. tall this year. The sky-blue flowers are striking.
Grasses looking great all summer. The variegated grass in the back is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’, the one in the front is Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose.’
The black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) have been blooming non-stop, adding a great pop of color amidst the grasses.
Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ with Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips') in the upper right (taking a break from blooming right now)
Even though this Grosso lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) is done blooming for the moment, it still provides a lot of visual interest—and smells fantastic. The Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) on the right is just starting to bloom.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland.’ Unlike ‘Rigoletto’ seen in the photos above, ‘Dixieland’ has much wider blades.
Desert Sunrise agastache (Agastache rupestris x cana ‘Desert Sunrise’) on the left, bloomed-out Grosso lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’) in the back, and black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) in the front. The large clump next to the black-eyed susans is a firepoker (Kniphofia uvaria).
Partial view of the succulent bed next to the front door, plus assorted potted plants on the edge of the covered porch. The large green urn in the middle holds a Rhodocoma capensis, a restio from South Africa (click here to read an earlier post about restios).
The corner to the right of the covered porch: lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus), sago palm (Cycas revoluta), Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’) in the ground.

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Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’). Two recent culms are now 8 ft. tall, two new ones just popping out of the ground. The culm color is fantastic. This specimen has been in the ground less than a year and it’s too early to say how it will perform over the longer term, but it made it through the winter just fine. It’s still very difficult to find in Northern California but it has become popular in Florida.
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) on the left, lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus) on the right
Succulent bed. The plant in the foreground (left) is a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). I can’t wait for its caudex to get big like this one (actually, our specimen are three plants, i.e. three caudices, clumped together).

Front (left to right): Canna indica, golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa)
Back (left to right): Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’


Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’, aka Baby Blue bamboo


Front: golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa), dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln')
Top center: variegated Eureka lemon (Citrus limon 'Eureka Variegated Pink’)

Wider view of the same corner. The cannas (Canna indica sp.) are amazing. They freeze to the ground every year and come back stronger in the spring. I thinned them earlier in the year and will need to do that again this year. Lots of rhizomes to give away!

Left: Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe'
Center back: Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Center: white-flowered Liatris spicata and Rudbeckia fulgida.
Front: Echinacea x ‘Fragrant Angel’, California gray rush (Juncus patens)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Coffee & bamboo

Bodega Bay is one of our favorite places on the Northern California coast for a quick getaway. There are several different routes to Bodega Bay, and my favorite is via State Road 116, the Gravenstein Highway, through the town of Sebastopol. We drive this route three or four times a year, and every time we go by by a funky-looking coffee shop surrounded by potted bamboos. This time I decided to finally stop—to take a look at the bamboo as much as to have a latte.

Hardcore Espresso, as it turns out, is quite a destination, regularly placing in regional “best of” rankings. My latte was outstanding, as were the donuts the girls had, but the real attraction for me were the plantings, especially the bamboos.

Hardcore Espresso on the outskirts of Sebastopol, CA

As you can see in the photos below, the bamboos are planted in old bathtubs. I’ve seen bamboos in many different containers, but never in bathtubs. I think it’s a very clever solution to keep running bamboos in check, and it perfectly fits the ambience, which, according to reviews on Yelp, is variously described as “charmingly bizarre,” “funky”, “divey,” and hippy-ish.”

The bamboo tubs create shade and privacy

Most of the bamboos were running bamboos of the genus Phyllostachys. I saw black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) in two bathtubs, and I believe another bathtub contained Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’. There was one other Phyllostachys species I wasn’t able to identify; it had greenish yellow culms and could have been regular golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) although I didn’t spot any compressed internodes so typical for this species.

But it isn’t really important what varieties these bamboos are. What matters is that the most useful quality of bamboo is being harnessed to maximum effect: creating instant landscaping that provides privacy (in this case for patrons) and adds lushness to an otherwise bleak environment (a sun-drenched shack verging on the ramshackle). The informal look resulting from just letting the bamboo grow however it wants was perfect here.

Left in half barrel: Fernleaf bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Fernleaf’), the only clumping bamboo I saw at Hardcore Espresso
Right in bathtub: Phyllostachys species with yellow culms and green sulcus, possibly Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ although I didn’t see the typical compressed internodes
Same Phyllostachys species as above
Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra).
Relatively few culms had turned black; many were still green.
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More Phyllostachys (nigra on the left, unidentified on the right)

Bamboos weren’t the only plants on display. Other planters, mostly half barrels, contained palms, tropical plants, and taller succulents. The overall effect is one of an inviting roadside oasis that you can’t help but notice as you drive by.

I wish more businesses realized how important landscaping can be in attracting customers. Hardcore Espresso demonstrates that all you need is a variety of old containers and a healthy dose of imagination!

Left: canna ‘Tropicanna’
Right: Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
Left: butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.)
Right: Spanish dagger (Yucca gloriosa)

Hardcore Espresso is located at 1798 Gravenstein Hwy South, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Click here to see a map.

Sebastopol is also home to Bamboo Sourcery, recently reopened. I would have loved to stop by, but there were too many passengers in the car who would have rioted (plus I didn’t have an appointment anyway). Click here for a post on my trip to Bamboo Sourcery in November.

I wonder if the bamboos at Hardcore Espresso came from Bamboo Sourcery?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A palm that’s not a palm

Quickly, which common “palm” isn’t a palm?

If you said “sago palm”, you’d be correct. While there are other plants referred to as “palms” even though they’re not related to the true palms—cabbage palm (Cordyline australis) or ZZ palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) come to mind—the most common non-palm must be the sago palm (Cycas revoluta).

The sago palm, or king sago palm, is actually a cycad, a member of an ancient group of seed plants whose origin goes back more than 200 million years. They were especially abundant during the Jurassic period (from 208 to 144 million years ago), the Age of Reptiles that saw the rise of the dinosaurs. Some experts say that cycads are the oldest living plants on earth.

Cycads grow very slowly (as you will know from personal experience if you’ve ever had a sago palm) and can live very long—some up to 2,500 years. That’s why a great deal of patience is required if you buy a small plant. Usually, there is a flush of new leaves once a year, in ideal conditions (lots of heat, water and fertilizer) twice a year. Eventually, a trunk will begin to form from the bases of old leaves that have dried up and fallen off.

Our potted sago palm is now 12+ years old and it’s still only 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. across.

Our own potted sago palm

That’s tiny compared to the specimen I came across on Sunday when photographing the bamboo grove at Sacramento’s Capitol Park. This one has multiple trunks and is tall enough to allow adults to play hide-and-seek.

Mature sago palm at Capitol Park in Sacramento.
Notice the banana and bamboo groves on the left and in the back.
Mature sago palm at Capitol Park in Sacramento

I was excited to see that this particular sago palm was had cones. Like all cycads, sago palms are dioecious, meaning that there are female plants and male plants. The specimen at Capitol Park was clearly a male.

Male sago palm
Male cone

Male plants produce a cone covered with scales under which the pollen is developing. When the pollen is “ripe,” the scales open, emitting a sweet odor to attract insects that will carry the pollen to a receptive female plant nearby. After the female cone has been pollinated, it will produce seeds, which are the size of a walnut when mature.

Male cone

At Capitol Park, there was no female plant. However, I did photograph one at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia on our last visit. The female cone is a slightly flattened sphere which opens up when ready to be pollinated and closes again after pollination. From the looks of the cone in the photo below, this one was either still immature, or it had already been pollinated.

Female cone

If you’re now wondering whether your sago palm is a male or a female and how to tell them apart, I have to disappoint you. There is no way of knowing until the plant produces a cone. That doesn’t happen until it’s 15-20 years old. According to cycad expert Lynn McKamey of Rhapis Gardens, the plant must also be well established in the ground. She has never seen a potted specimen cone.

Around town I see a lot of sago palms planted in the ground, and I imagine many of them will produce seed cones in due time. I’ll be ready with my camera when that happens.

As for our specimen, I prefer to keep it in a large pot since it looks more impressive that way, at least while it’s still a juvenile.

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.


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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.