Friday, April 6, 2012

Tulip envy

Our climate is great for tomatoes, lavender, subtropical bamboos and of most cacti and succulents, but it sucks for those beloved harbingers of spring that once almost brought the Dutch economy to its knees: tulips. To get tulips to bloom at all, we need to chill them in the fridge or buy pre-chilled bulbs. Forget about them coming back the next year—our summer heat does them in.

So it is with great envy that I look at photos of tulip fields in Holland or Washington State.

Tulip field in the Netherlands
Photo source: Wikipedia
Tulip field in the Skagit Valley, Washington State
Photo source: Wikipedia

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Yucca rostrata in its new home

Last November I bought a beautiful Yucca rostrata from Poot’s Cactus Nursery in Ripon, CA. No, it isn’t anywhere near as big as the one planted at the nursery:

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Yucca rostrata at Poot’s Cactus Nursery in Ripon, CA

But it is the largest trunked specimen I was able to afford. Yucca rostrata with a 4-ft. trunk go for upwards of $500 in Northern California nurseries!

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My Yucca rostrata, 2 ft. tall in a 5-gallon container

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rotting mammillaria

This little cactus with spines the texture of steel wool (Mammillaria camptotricha cv. marnier-lapostollei) was one of my favorite purchases last summer. It bloomed almost right away and in general appeared to do well throughout the winter. It had been kept completely dry just like all the other cacti in my budding collection until I removed the covers in late February.

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Mammillaria camptotricha cv. marnier-lapostollei

The other day I was moving pots around and bumped into this little guy. I noticed right away something was wrong when its body practically toppled over. Not a good sign!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

New plants and pots

This weekend I finally got around to putting some of my recent plant purchases into pots I’ve been collecting. As pricey as some plants can be, nice pots are invariably even more expensive, so I always keep an eye out for interesting containers in garage sales or thrift stores.

                                                                                                                                            
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For plants that like sharp drainage (virtually all succulents and cacti) I usually use regular terra cotta pots because they allow water to evaporate and have a rustic look I find pleasing. Recently I’ve been buying chocolate-colored terra cotta pots (left) instead of the regular orange-pink ones. They’re a little more expensive but they don’t stand out quite as much.

The pot on the right is a rustic ribbed pot (thick and surprisingly heavy). I found it at Tuesday Morning, a company that sells closeout items from major retailers are a steep discount. I like it for strappy plants, like the Agave chrysoglossa you’ll see further down.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yellow and purple

I always look forward to Saturday when I have all day to putter around. I had all kinds of plans for today, including much-needed sweeping and weeding as well as some planting and repotting. But the weather decided not to cooperate so I’m stuck inside watching the rain fall. I keep telling myself that we do need the water but I still feel a bit stir-crazy.

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Lesser Mexican stonecrop (Sedum confusum) and soap aloe (Aloe maculata)

I was able to sneak outside during a break in the rain to take some photos of plants in flower along the front yard perimeter. Most of them are yellow, a color I love in plants, offset by a purple Spanish lavender in full bloom. The other lavenders are still a bit behind.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Heads up: Sacramento succulent show on May 5+6

The Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s 52nd Annual Cactus & Succulent Show will take place this year on Saturday, May 5 and Sunday, May 6.

If you live in Northern California or plan on being in the Sacramento area that weekend, please be sure to mark your calendar.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Help save Capital Nursery in Sacramento

Capital Nursery has been a mainstay of the Sacramento gardening community since it opened its doors on Freeport Boulevard in 1936. Two other locations—in Citrus Heights and Elk Grove—were added since then. Capital Nursery has always been the go-to place to find a special plant, a mature shrub or tree, or even just your regular annuals, perennials and vegetables. They have been known for providing expert advice and and excellent customer service. I’ve always loved going to Capital Nursery—together with Green Acres it’s my favorite plant-buying place in the Sacramento area.

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I was saddened to read in the Sunday Sacramento Bee that Capital Nursery is struggling to stay open. The effects of the housing crash are lingering in many Sacramento suburbs, and several prominent area nurseries closed in the last few years. Not only are homeowners spending less at nurseries, the all-important professional landscaping market has shrunk dramatically because far fewer new houses are being built now than 6 or 7 years ago.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring vignettes

In spite of the unseasonably cool weather—at least 10 degrees below normal—there is much to see in our garden. Some signs are subtle, like the tiny leaves forming on the ginkgo in the first photo, others are visible from a distance, like the bright orange flowers of nasturtium. I love poking around in the front and backyard to see what might be leafing out or flowering next.

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Ginkgo biloba ‘Majestic Butterflies’
This is a variegated ginkgo but I can’t see any sign of variegation in these leaves.
They’re probably still too small.

I hope you’ll enjoy this visual journey. All the photos were taken in our garden in the last couple of days.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show: Plant & Flower Market

For many visitors to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show the display gardens I covered in yesterday’s post are the primary attraction. However, I was looking forward just as much to the Plant & Flower Market housed in Fiesta Hall, a somewhat smaller space right next to the main pavilion. While Northern California has no shortage of nurseries, this was a great opportunity to check out the offerings of small vendors both from in and out of state.

Air Plants from Owens Gardens, the first booth we stopped at, was a good example. This seller traveled all the way from Washington state. They had the most beautiful air plants I’d ever seen. I’m not an expert—having killed four tillandsias a couple of years ago—but my traveling companion Candy is an aficionado and pored over their offerings.

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Air Plants from Owens Gardens

Thursday, March 22, 2012

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show: display gardens

In yesterday’s teaser post about the San Francisco Flower & Garden show I mentioned some of the general trends I noticed. Today I want to take you to the display gardens where you’ll see these trends interpreted in different ways. Since taste is extremely personal (and in my case barely predictable), I may make some unflattering comments about displays you yourself may like. If that’s the case, please apologize my frankness. I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or belittle the hard work that went into each and every display. However, some display gardens I simply couldn’t stomach. But a strong reaction like that is still better than indifference and boredom. There was really nothing that bored me!

Walking into Expo Hall where all the display gardens are located, this was the first thing I saw and I loved it. Minimalistic, serene and involving water and stone: right up my alley.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show teaser

Back from the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Almost 4 hours in the car, but it was worth it. There’s so much to see. A wide variety of plants and garden designs, some right up my alley, others just weird. Quirky seems to be in, teetering right on the edge of tacky.

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Some trends I spotted:

Vertical gardening. Everything is going up, up, up. Succulents, herbs, ferns. This seems to be a logical consequence of homeowners having ever smaller yard.

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Water. Almost every garden design I saw had a water feature in it.

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Crushed glass. A few years ago crushed glass mulch was cutting-edge (no pun intended), now it is everywhere.

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Succulents. While there were no straight succulent gardens, virtually every show garden incorporated succulents somehow. Sometimes it made sense, sometimes it didn’t. Why stick a lonely dudleya (not a common succulent by any stretch of the imagination) into a show garden that features rusty wheelbarrows and car doors?

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A much more detailed post will be up by the end up the week. I have to go through my 200+ photos first.

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The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show runs through Sunday, March 25th at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo, CA. All the info you need is on their web site: http://sfgardenshow.com.

P.S. Went to Debra Lee Baldwin’s presentation on Fresh Ideas with Succulents. That alone was worth the trip. She truly is the queen of succulents, and I got a hug from her. Yeah!

P.P.S. Met Laura and Noreen from the Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook. It was wonderful meeting you. Sorry we didn’t get to hang out longer.

P.P.P.S. Had a great time car-pooling with Candy of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents. She’s a riot.

Other 2012 SF Flower & Garden show posts:

Off to San Francisco Flower & Garden Show

No post today because I’m off to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show with Candy from Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents. Check back for a “first impressions” post on Wednesday night. More detailed coverage starting on Thursday.

Coverage on Facebook:

Monday, March 19, 2012

A visit to Sacramento Capitol Park: other treasures

In yesterday’s post I talked about Sacramento’s long history—or should I say obsession?—with camellias and the 800+ camellias blooming in Capitol Park right now.

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This post will cover some of the other botanical treasures found in this 40-acre jewel in the heart of the California capital, just a 20-minute drive from where I live.

This article gives a good introduction to Capitol Park. Here’s brief excerpt:

Plants were imported from every climate and continent in the world. Fruit trees arrived from Europe and Asia, pittosporums came from Australia, fir trees from Norway, cedars from the Himalayas and Lebanon, date palms from Africa, and hundreds of other plants were sent to Sacramento to become part of Capitol Park. Many species thrived in the temperate climate of Sacramento including the cedars from the Himalayas and California coast redwoods which continue to live in the park.

It is true, the variety of plant materials, especially trees, is astounding, especially since this is not a botanical garden but rather a green oasis in the center of town to be enjoyed by everybody.

For me, the plants I will forever associate with Capitol Park are camellias and Seville oranges. I still remember visiting Sacramento for the first time in 1989 and I was amazed by the multitude of orange trees laden with fruit. I simply couldn’t understand why nobody would eat them. Then I was told these are Seville—or bitter—oranges (Citrus × aurantium). Their fruit is tart to be point of being inedible but their thick, dimpled skin is prized for making orange marmalade and liqueurs.

Apparently the Capitol never contracted with a company making marmalade or liqueur because in 2012 the Seville orange trees are as covered with fruit as they were in 1989. Eventually the fruit falls to the ground where inquisitive squirrels will pull it apart, but even they seem to dislike what’s inside.

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You can enjoy Capitol Park without ever knowing what any of the plants are. Maybe that is the best way to appreciate its diversity and beauty. But I have an inquiring mind and I always look for plant tags.

None were found in here, at the Spanish-American War Veterans Memorial, but I immediately recognized the plant at the foot of the soldier statue as leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’).

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Around the corner from the leopard plant, I came across a huge Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) getting ready to bloom—it’ll be beautiful sight in just a week or two.

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In the Civil War Memorial Grove my eye was drawn right away to this variegated pieris (Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’).

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Most azaleas were not in bloom yet, but this one was, probably because it’s planted out in the open in front of a small brick building that appears to serve as the office for the park staff.

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Amidst a cluster of camellia bushes around the corner I spotted a yellow flowering maple (Abutilon × hybridum ‘Luteus’). It provided a nice contrast to the reds, pinks and whites of the camellia blossoms (see yesterday’s post).

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In May, the Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) will be covered with their humongous white blossoms. But even now I find them very attractive, not only for their glossy dark green foliage but also for their surface roots. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be happy to have all these roots in my garden, but in a larger space they are very decorative.

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While olive trees aren’t exactly rare in our area, this one had a sign saying that it was propagated from trees planted in the 1700s. And it was laden with olives!

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Capitol Park has just a few succulents. This elegant yucca (Yucca gloriosa) stands out because of its multiple trunks.

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Even more impressive is this large clump of sago palm (Cycas revoluta). I blogged about this plant in the summer and showed photos of the cones (gone now, most likely removed by the gardeners). I love the ├╝ber tropical and primal look.

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Across an expanse of grass from this sago palm is a small cluster of trees with beautifully twisted trunks. I had no idea what they were until I got closer: They are strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), but much larger and older than the ones I see as street trees in our subdivision. I had no idea that they are this stunning as mature specimens.

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Behind the strawberry trees is a small stand of bananas (Musa acuminata). Their leaves were gone and the pseudostems were mostly brown. What a contrast to what I saw in the summer when one of these bananas was flowering!

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Next to the bananas is a grove of timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides). It looks like there are four individual plants, each one forming a large clump. Even though this is a running bamboo, the growth habit reminds me of a clumper. I wonder if that is typical for Phyllostachys bambusoides? I assume the park staff performs regular maintenance to keep the bamboo contained.

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These smooth-trunked trees contrast nicely against the lush green of timber bamboo. Since they are still bare, I didn’t immediately recognize them as crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).

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I wasn’t at all familiar with the next tree I stopped to photograph: Cryptomeria japonica. Apparently it’s English name is Japanese cedar although it’s not related to true cedars. (But then, Western redcedar isn’t a cedar either.) I was fascinated by the new growth tips and the seed cones.

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Speaking of unusual conifers, the next one is definitely the most unique tree in Capitol Park. When I spotted its extremely tall and narrow column from a distance, I thought at first it was one of those fake cell phone towers disguised as trees. Walking up to it, I knew that I was a relative of the monkey puzzle tree and the plant tag confirmed it: It’s an Araucaria bidwillii from southeast Queensland, Australia. It’s common name is bunya pine, or bunya-bunya.

Capitol Park used to have a magnificent monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) native to southern Chile and western Argentina, but I couldn’t for the life of me find it. I assume it must have died.

                                                                                                                                         
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The bunya-bunya’s closest park neighbor is this sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which, while nowhere near as massive as what you find in Yosemite National Park, is still impressive. Just as intriguing was the weird growth at the base. I have no idea what causes that.

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Growing at the edge of a lawn is this Taiwanese photinia (Photinia serratifolia). It’s not a tree I’m familiar with, but it was covered with umbels of white flowers that reminded me a little of elder flowers.

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Next to the photinia is this flowering magnolia (Magnolia ‘Galaxy’). I bet it put on quite a show  a few weeks ago. Now most of the petals have fallen, but they still look beautiful against the green grass.

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The final two photos were taken at the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I found a beautiful flowering cherry right next to it, and it provided a cheery note to what is otherwise a somber spot.

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In fact, this couple seemed to think that this site was the perfect backdrop for their wedding photos!

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