Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Need help with a friend’s yard

Last week a friend asked me if I could give her some ideas on what to plant in her backyard. She had recently taken out some existing landscaping and now had a mostly blank slate. She had already bought some plants which needed to be incorporated into the overall design (like the fig tree, Green Spire eonymus, and Alphonse Karr bamboo in the first photo below).

Her yard is very small so it was important not to overwhelm it with too many “heavy” plants that make the space smaller or darker.

For plant ideas we made a trip to Lemuria Nursery, a wholesale nursery in nearby Dixon which is open to the public. I had never been there, but our friend loves it and I can see why: extremely friendly folks, low prices, and a decent selection, especially for shrubs and trees.

Here is the layout for the planting strip along the backyard fence after our nursery run:


To give you a better idea of what our friend likes, the next photo shows the side yard that leads into the backyard. Here she has four specimens of her favorite foliage plant: variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’).

Variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’) in the side yard

While we were able to come up with a satisfying design for most the yard, two trouble spots remain: one in the back and one in the front next to the front door. I’d love to have your input on what might work well in these areas, taking into account the types of plants we’ve already chosen.

In the next photo you’ll see the problem area in the backyard. It’s a little over 2 ft. wide at its widest and about 12 ft. long. The window is about 2.5 ft. above the ground and whatever is planted here should not obstruct the view in any way. This bed receives 4-5 hours of morning sun in the summer and is in the shade in the afternoon.

Any ideas that spring to mind? Ideally, something with all-season interest as opposed to herbaceous or deciduous. Tropical/exotic-looking would be good, but not required. The plant(s) for this bed have to be small and well-behaved.

Problem area in backyard

I think something like this small Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ might look nice. Here’s a quick mockup I created. The yellow variegation contrasts well with the light blue of the house.

Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ mockup

The other trouble area is a similar 2 ft. wide strip next to the front door. The window you see is about 3 ft. above ground. This area receives no direct sun but thanks to light reflected by the house next door, the light levels are fairly bright.

I had thought of dwarf oak leaf hydrangea, but even the dwarf forms are too large. Ideally, nothing should overhang the walkway, at least not by much. Again, all-season interest would be preferred, especially since it’s so close to the front door. Even a row of small, well-behaved shrubs might work here.

Trouble area next to the front door. The narrow width makes it difficult to come up with good choices.

I can’t wait to see what ideas you might come up with. I will post photos of the finished project later on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping my succulents dry

In our climate, most succulents do fine outside as long as they stay relatively dry in the winter. Rain was forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday so I finally got my act together and built a rain shelter for my succulent table.

This is what this table looked like in July.

Succulent stand on 7/7/2011

The plants sitting on top of the fence and on the top tier of the table had to be moved. I also rearranged the other pots to maximize use of the available space. I figure having the pots close together can only help retain some extra warmth on a cold night.

After rearranging on 11/13/2011

Here’s another view of the rearranged pots. Since rain was imminent when I actually did the work, I didn’t have time to rake the leaves, but that’s a cosmetic thing so ultimately it’s not important.


The shelter consists of 4-mil plastic sheeting, 10 ft. wide. I added a row of grommets along the top so the sheeting can be attached to the overhang of our front porch by means of small bungee cords.

4-mil plastic sheeting to serve as a rain shelter

Here’s the installed sheeting. Not the most architecturally stunning sight but inexpensive, fast, and fully functional—the perfect solution for me since I’m not very handy.

Installed sheeting

Another advantage I noticed: The area seems brighter because the plastic diffuses the light, and it’s noticeable warmer since it keeps out the most of the wind.

Another view of the installed sheeting

Here’s the view from the street. I don’t know what our neighbors will think, but I’m sure that before long we will find out through the neighborhood grapevine.

Rain shelter as seen from the street

The covered front porch is already home to many potted succulents, and for the winter, I’ve added plants that usually live elsewhere, like in the backyard or on top of the fence. The main goal is to protect them from the rain. Freezing temperatures are a separate issue; on nights below below 28°F or so, I will throw a frost blanket on the more tender succulents. That should be enough to keep them from getting damaged.

Front porch, now home to even more plants than usual. The rain shelter described above is on the right.

Here are some photos of what are becoming increasingly crammed quarters. But I actually find the massed arrangement of pots quite attractive.

Cacti and agaves on the edge of the front porch
Different view of same plants
View towards the driveway (on right)
Even our bistro table got taken over
Larger pots lining the edge of the porch, still covered by the deep overhang of the roof
Small table on the front porch. The plant on the left with thin strappy leaves is an Agave geminiflora. It’s been in this spot (bright light but no sun) for 2+ years and loves it.
Looking towards the front door (on right)
Repurposed shoe rack to the right of the front door
Area to the left of the front door; I plan to shove more plants under the bow window

A couple of dozen plants are now inside the house for the winter, including my angel wing and palm leaf begonias and the caudiciforms I bought at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale recent. I’ll write a separate post about them soon.

P.S. The rain we had after my wife and I put up the rain shelter amounted to very little. It did rain hard west of here, but we were spared. But at least now I’m prepared for what is sure to come.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Portland vignettes

Last week I spent three days in Portland, Oregon to visit good friends and to photograph the Portland Japanese Garden in its fall glory. I didn’t leave the house without my camera and ended up talking an assortment of photos that aren’t about a specific subject but rather capture the time of year in one of America’s most beautiful cities.

I’m purposely not including photos of Portland landmarks in this post because I want to focus on scenes of anonymous beauty.

The trees are just starting to turn in Forest Park
…but even with green foliage the forests are beautiful
Path at Hoyt Arboretum
Fall filigree
Roger's California grape (Vitis californica x vinifera 'Roger's Red')
Washington Park
Fall color everywhere!
Arborvitaes against purple wall
Maple in the Pearl District
The brick façade of many buildings in downtown Portland is a perfect backdrop for fall foliage
Red on red
Planter and pumpkin in front of a townhouse
Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) emphasizing the architectural details of this building
Small conifer garden outside a townhouse complex
Beautiful landscaping in front of this townhouse
I’ve been looking for rocks like these for our own backyard!
Landscaping in front of an adjacent townhouse—completely different from the first townhouse above, but very complementary…
…especially the use of stone.
I was very impressed with the landscaping of this row of townhouses and would have loved to see the private courtyards in the back. One of the townhouses was for sale, and I was stunned by the price: $850,000 for 2200 sq.ft. The Pearl, once an industrial and warehouse district, certainly has come a long way.
Maple leaf on the kitchen window in our friends’ house
Hydrangeas and arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica)
To me, Portland is the city of hydrangeas. They seem to be everywhere!
Some people would consider these leaves a bothersome mess that needs to be cleaned up, to me they were simply beautiful
What a contrast: prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) and maple leaves. I would have thought that all the rain would cause the cactus to rot, but apparently not!

I really enjoyed my visit because Portland is so different from Davis. Here we don’t have much fall color from native vegetation; mostly, leaves just turn a nondescript brown.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Visiting Sweetstuff’s succulent garden

111107_candy2The other day I finally had the opportunity to visit Candy “Sweetstuff,” a fellow succulent aficionado in the Sacramento area. I had come across her blog, Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents, earlier in the year and had been following it religiously. We tried to meet up at Succulent Gardens’ Extravaganza in early October but somehow missed each other. On Monday I finally made the 45-minute drive to her house in Roseville, east of Sacramento.

As I was driving down her street, I had a hard time spotting street numbers on some of the houses but there was no missing Candy’s house: succulents on either side of the house and along the walkway up to the front door!

While at our house we have succulents interspersed with lots of other types of plants, Candy’s front and backyard are all succulents. I jokingly told her that she could open her own backyard succulent nursery! I have no idea how many different genera and species Candy has, and I’m not sure even she knows. But there are many.

Candy and I were so busy talking “shop” that I had to remind myself occasionally to take photos. But I did take some, so come along on a visual tour of “Sweetstuff’s” succulent wonderland.

Panorama of the backyard.
Be sure to click the photo to view a much larger version.
(It will take a few moments to load and you will need to scroll horizontally to see everything.)
Check out the girth of this yucca! Candy and I weren’t sure what species this is, but Mark of Alternative Eden suggested Yucca elephantipes (also listed as Yucca guatemalensis). The trunks got so heavy, they fell over and had to be cut off.
Opuntia engelmanii
One of Candy’s many wonderful potted arrangements (left) and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) on the right
111107_candy_echinocactus_grusonii agave_leopoldii
Agave x leopoldii and golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
Cereus-type cactus I wasn’t able to identify with 100% confidence; possibly Cereus hildmannianus subsp. uruguayanus. It’s quite similar to my Cereus hildmannianus subsp. hildmannianus.
Fruit from the cereus above. Each black spot is a seed.
Caribbean agave (Agave angustifolia ‘Marginata’) forming an ever increasing colony. This is an elegant-looking agave, but unfortunately it’s a prolific suckerer and can quickly take over.
An unused birth bath finds new life as a succulent planter
This arrangement is so inspired, it could be in Debra Lee Baldwin’s “bible,” Succulent Container Gardens. The impressive echeveria on the right is Echeveria subrigida.
Another fantastic combination featuring Echeveria ‘Afterglow,’ believed to be a hybrid of Echeveria subrigida
And even more echeverias. I think Candy has more echeverias than any other genus of succulents.
Fire barrel (possibly Ferocactus stainesii?)
One of the most unusual succulents in Candy’s collection, Euphorbia leucadendron. No leaves at all, photosynthesis is handled by the green stems.
Echeveria flower and Kalanchoe marnieriana. I’m very fond of this kalanchoe (it reminds me of silver-dollar eucalyptus leaves), and I was able to take home some cuttings.
Probably the most inspired repurposing of a container in Candy’s garden: an old barbecue, now enjoying a second lease on life
Euphorbia enopla and flower from Echeveria ‘Dark Knight’
Young Eve’s needle cactus (Austrocylindropuntia subulata). An adult looks like this.
My jaw dropped when I saw this stunning specimen of a Madagascar palm (Pachypodium lamerei). It is approx. 5 ft. tall. Not hardy in our climate zone, it has to be hauled inside for the winter. I see these at the big box stores each summer, but they typically don’t look that healthy so I’ve never bought one. Candy’s specimen is perfect in every respect.
111107_candy_echeveria_glauca echinocactus_grusonii_001
Beautiful contrast between golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and blue echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
Blue echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
This is the largest clump of echeveria I’ve ever seen. The container it is in  (almost invisible) is a wooden half barrel! Even though this isn’t the most stunning of echeverias (Candy didn’t know which species or hybrid it is), the overall effect is very eye catching.
Close-up of the hundreds, if not thousands, of densely packed echeveria rosettes in the half barrel
Out of the many echeveria species, this one is among my favorites: Echeveria nodulosa
Chalk dudleya (Dudleya brittonii), native to Southern and Baja California
This is the most perfect specimen of Dudleya brittonii I’ve ever seen
Crested form of Aeonium ‘Kiwi’
Euphorbia flanaganii, one of the medusa-head euphorbias, ingeniously paired with Madagascar ocotillo (Alluaudia procera)
Euphorbia flanaganii
Another repurposed bird birth next to a large desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
Planted recently, this bird bath contains all cacti
Gazebo filled with succulents. Since there are no trees in Candy’s yard, this is the only source of shade on a hot summer day. Not all succulents like to bake in full sun all day long.
Candy’s potting area covered by shade cloth to keep out the hot valley sun

Leaving behind the backyard, let’s now move around the house to the front.

A stunning clump of Aenonium arborescens underplanted with Kalanchoe marnieriana
Aenonium arborescens looking like a giant bouquet of green flowers
Fairly old jade plant (Crassula ovata) next to front door. Note the yellow variegated variety of jade plant on the left (Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’). Candy said she bought it during Succulent Gardens’ Extravaganza in October.
Planting bed to the right of the front door featuring a variety of echeverias
Candy’s newest succulent bed, described in this post on her blog

In the winter, Candy moves many of the potted plants you see in the photos above into the garage to protect them from rain and freezing temperatures. Containers that are too large to move get covered with frost blankets if needed.

Time flew by very quickly and before I knew it, it was time to go. But before I headed out, Candy loaded me up with a bunch of cuttings—succulents are the ultimate pass-along plants because they offset so freely and root very easily from cuttings. As I was pulling away from the curb, I had a big smile on my face and felt like Christmas had come early this year. Thank you, Candy, for your kindness and generosity!

Here are my cuttings:


Click here to visit Candy’s blog, Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents.