Sunday, November 20, 2011

Of Pate’s and Poot’s

I recently joined the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS), and yesterday I went on my first field trip with them.

Our first stop was at the house of master potter Steve Pate in Stockton, 45 minutes south of Sacramento. Steve has been making pottery for over 40 years and is getting ready to retire. In preparation for his move to Southern California he held a special sale for the SCSS and he also treated us to home-made pizza baked in his outdoor oven. The pizza was among the best I’ve had in a long time, and his style of pottery is right up my alley, so I was happy as a clam.

Steve had several racks of “seconds” (although most pieces were perfect)
selling for $1 a pound. Other pieces were 50% off. I don’t have to tell you what an incredible deal that was for hand-made pottery. I walked out with 10 pieces for a total $39.
Steve is also a succulent aficionado—hence his connection with the SCSS—and his succulent pots were probably the best deal. I was dawdling too long and missed out on some great pieces here.
I was tempted to buy this bonsai’ed elephant bush (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) Steve had already trained with bonsai wire. I think it went for $20, bowl and all.
Likewise, I missed out on this beautiful yucca planter.
It looked perfect the way it was.
I came across this interesting hypertufa face hanging on a wall in Steve’s backyard.
At first I wasn’t sure if it was for sale but it was, like almost everything else, so I snapped it up.
It’ll be perfect in our backyard.
The front of Steve’s house was planted with beautiful succulents, including some in his own pots
(for sale, it turned out, pots and all)
Outdoor oven Steve built based on these plans from Sunset Magazine. He had started a fire early in the morning and removed the hot ashes (you can see the metal bowl just below the hand in the photo above) just after we arrived. Steve said the oven would stay hot the rest of the day and into the night.
Steve cutting one of his home-made pizzas
One of the three pizzas Steve made. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

After a very satisfying two hours at Steve’s place in Stockton, we made the 30 minute drive to our second destination: Poot’s Cactus Nursery in the small town of Ripon. If you’ve ever taken Highway 120 to go to Yosemite National Park, you’ve driven right by it. According to their web site, Poot’s is one of the largest retail cactus nurseries in California, and after seeing it, I believe it.

Poot’s right off Highway 120 from Manteca to Yosemite

We were greeted by owners Bill and Roelyn Poot and spent the first 15 minutes admiring the plantings in front of the greenhouse and their home.

Cactus garden in the front of the nursery
They even have a koi Pond!
Mark and Gaz of Alternative Eden, I too this photo especially for you!
Silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) in bloom. These two specimens were over 10 ft. tall.
Unidentified cereus covered with blossoms.
I was surprised to see it bloom so late in the year.
Absolutely stunning beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) outside the Poot’s home
Perfect specimen of Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
Close-up of Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
This netting puzzled me initially because it certainly doesn’t keep out the cold or rain. It turned out that the netting was installed to prevent the leaves from the tree on the right from creating a mess around the cacti.
These pots, on the other hand, protect tender barrel cacti from the frost.

Bill Poot then took us a tour of the expansive production greenhouse which is normally off limits to the public. The sheer number of plants—and the variety—were staggering. I saw many specimen-sized plants of succulent species I’d only seen in books.  As a photographer, I could have spent hours in here taking beauty shots.

View of production greenhouse
View of production greenhouse
View of production greenhouse
Different species of star cactus (Astrophytum sp.)
Left: I loved the contrast between the blue of the aloe and the gold of the tarantula cactus (Cleistocactus winteri?)
Right: A variegated ferocactus, the first I’d ever seen
 111119_Poots_Adenium arabicum
Two sought-after pachycauls: Dorstenia gigas (left) and Adenium arabicum (right)
If for sale, it would fetch a price in the hundreds of dollars: Tylecodon wallichii from central South Africa
More beauties, prickles or not, from the greenhouse
Specimen-quality Aloe ramosissima
A flat of living stones (Lithops sp.)
Lithops in flower
My favorite flowering lithops. Lithops are considered to be challenging to grow because of their unique water requirements (some water at the right time of year; none the rest). This web site contains more information about lithops than most people would ever want to know.

The sales area is in a different greenhouse—the one closest to the road—and it is also packed with succulents of all sizes and descriptions. An outdoor area is for hardier cacti, agaves, yuccas, etc. The selection is impressive, the plant quality is flawless, and the prices overall are very reasonable.

Sales greenhouse
Stapelia gigantea in bloom. Another one was actually opening up as I was talking to Roelyn Poot and another SCSS member. Commonly known as carrion plant, Stapelia gigantea is supposed to smell like rotting meat, but this flower was surprisingly scentless. Roelyn said they smell much worse in the summer.
Dozens of Echinopsis cacti in the outside sales area
Three large Agave parryi waiting for the right buyer
Close-up of Agave parryi

Here are the plants I brought home from Poot’s. Most of ´them fall in the caudiciform and pachycaul category, i.e. succulents forming swollen root bases or trunks. I’ve just gotten interested in this subgroup and I was glad to find such a large selection.

The production greenhouse had beautiful specimens of many species (see above for photos of Dorstenia gigas, Adenium arabicum, and Tylecodon wallichii). These were not for sale, and even if they had been, they would have been in the hundreds of dollars. Mature caudiciforms and pachycauls are very expensive because they are old and rare.

From left to right:
Pachypodium succulentum, Pachypodium namaquanum, Euphorbia francoisii, Fockea edulis
Pachypodium namaquanum

I also bought this beautiful beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata). It is much larger than the small plants I’ve had for 3 years. This is a very slow-growing tree yucca; I recall reading somewhere that initially it only grows by a few inches a year.  I’m glad to have found a very attractively priced plant of decent size.

Yucca rostrata

After saying goodbye to Poot’s, we made one final stop in Ripon at the backyard nursery of Elton Roberts, a long-time cactus grower and collector. His collection is mind-boggling; he said he’s growing 500+ different species of cacti. I was too tired to take photos but I’m sure I’ll be back.

What an exciting day it turned out to be!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lone cactus

I had a business lunch in Berkeley the other day and on the way home I stopped at Lemuria Nursery in Dixon. The sky was filled with towering clouds—the kind that usually heralds a sudden change in the weather.


The soil of the fields, now bare, contrasted almost epically with the huge Western sky.

The icing on the cake was one lone cactus, some form of Cereus, growing on the edge of a fallow field. The picture postcard motif was complete.


As I was leaving the country road and turned back onto the freeway, I felt like I had just visited a remote corner of the Desert Southwest. Amazing how a place so close to home can seem so far away.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Spectacular ginkgo

I always say that there is no fall color in Davis. While it is true that our native trees (like oaks) aren’t much to write home about as far as colorful fall foliage is concerned, imported trees do provide bursts of color here and there.

I take my younger daughter to school every morning, and this past week I’ve been captivated by this one Ginkgo biloba. This morning I finally took my camera and snapped a few shots. The color is breathtaking. The leaves are so yellow, they almost hurt your eyes!


If only we had more room at our place, I’d plant a row of ginkgos. I think their leaves are among the most beautiful of any tree, especially this variegated variety.

A friend just told me about four more ginkgos in our part of town, and I will try to find them on the weekend to take photos.