Friday, May 4, 2012

Leaving on a jet plane

I’m flying to Germany on Thursday so updates in the next week may be spotty. I will try to write as many posts as I can, but what with family functions and a few days of sightseeing, I may not have much opportunity. Please bear with me.


Central Europe had a very hard winter and a lot of plants were damaged or killed outright. I’ll let you know what I’ll find.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Foothill College Bamboo Garden, part 2

In yesterday’s post, we covered about half of the Bamboo Garden at Foothill College in the wealthy Silicon Valley enclave of Los Altos Hills. Today we’ll complete the loop through this 2-acre bamboo paradise. Enjoy!

Bambusa beecheyana, a tropical clumper that in its native habitat in Southern China can reach truly epic heights (60 ft.)
Bambusa beecheyana culms that were strangely mottled.
It’s a nice effect, but I have no idea what causes it.
Phyllostachys viridis ‘Robert Young’, commonly planted for its vibrant culm color. One of my favorite running bamboos.
120427_FoothillBG_Bambusa-multiplex-Alphonse-Karr- --textilis_01
LEFT: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’
CENTER: Bambusa textilis
RIGHT: Phyllostachys viridis ‘Robert Young’
If I were forced to pick a favorite bamboo, this would probably be it: Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’). It’s not the most elegant bamboo—it looks a little like a shaggy dog—but there’s something wild and free about it that I love. I photographed a particularly beautiful specimen at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden in December (click here).
Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’)
Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’)
LEFT: Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’), just recently planted and smaller than the one in our front yard
CENTER: Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’)
RIGHT: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’
All of these three bamboos are subtropical clumpers that will take some frost.
Dendrocalamus asper, another truly magnificent (and gigantic) tropical clumper. Native to Thailand and Indonesia, it can grow to 100 (!) ft. in its native habitat and reach a culm diameter of up to 8 inches. Hardy only to 32°F. I’m surprised there wasn’t more frost damage since Los Altos Hills does have a few nights of temperatures below below freezing each winter.
Eric Fandel, my intrepid traveling companion for the day, taking closeups of Dendrocalamus asper
Dendrocalamus asper culms
Leopard or snakeskin bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’) as seen from the top of the hill where Dendrocalamus asper is growing
Pleioblastus fortunei, an attractive variegated species that is among the most vigorous bamboos in existence, growing at the base of an unidentified running  bamboo
Path with Pleioblastus fortunei on the right
Another view of the gathering area in the Phyllostachys vivax grove I showed you in yesterday’s post
Punting pole bamboo (Bambusa tuldoides), a somewhat ignored but quite attractive clumping bamboo (hardy to 21°F)
View from the top of the hill
The bamboo on the right is Sinobambusa tootsik ‘Albostriata’, an elegant running bamboo with variegated leaves that in my yard has been maddeningly slow to upsize
(maybe because it’s in a pot?)
Here it was transcendently beautiful
Thamnocalamus spathiflorus, a species I had never even heard of before. Nice looking, too. This is a clumping bamboo from the eastern Himalayas that is hardy to 15°F.
Phyllostachys nigra ‘Bory’ up close. Many of the culms had hard water stains on them. Since rain water is soft, it must be from the irrigation. I saw standpipes that were about a foot tall, but these hard water stains extended all the way up to eye level. They must use a spray head that shoots up that high.  It’s clear the local water has a lot of calcium in it, which would explain the chlorosis (yellowing) of the phyllostachys leaves seen in many of yesterday’s photos.
Phyllostachys vivax, one of the giant running timber bamboos of China
Phyllostachys vivax
Phyllostachys vivax
Phyllostachys vivax. These culms get quite a bit of sun, which would explain their bleaching. But I was able to scratch off the white coating, so I assume it’s also caused by the hard water.
As was the case at Hakone, the most elegant bamboo at Foothill College Bamboo Garden was moso (Phyllostachys edulis). With its grayish green culms and its luminescent white internodes it’s one of the most recognizable bamboos—as well as the most valuable in economic terms. Most bamboo flooring sold in the U.S. (and presumably elsewhere) is made of moso. Avery Island, Louisiana, home of E. A. McIlhenny, the founder of TABASCO hot sauce, has extensive stands of moso.
Phyllostachys edulis

I would like to complement the folks maintaining the Foothill College Bamboo Garden for their excellent signage. Without their labels, Eric and I wouldn’t have recognized half of the specimens!

Foothill College Bamboo Garden, part 1

Foothill College is a community college in Los Altos Hills, California. This upscale Silicon Valley town is one of the most expensive places to live, not only in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, but in the entire country. According to the Multiple Listing Service, the median home price in 2009 was $2,435,000. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a long-time resident of Los Altos Hills.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that the campus of Foothill College looks more impressive than that of most state universities. I had certainly never seen a college parking lot that offers valet parking!

I went to Foothill College last Thursday together with Eric Fandel, a fellow bamboo enthusiast from Germany, to visit their renowned Bamboo Garden. It started in 1989 with just six black bamboos (Phyllostachys nigra) and has grown over the years into a collection of more than 70 species. Unlike Hakone, which we also visited on Thursday, the Foothill College Bamboo Garden contains nothing but bamboo. There are no companion plants other than a few stately oak trees. I wasn’t sure if such a focused planting scheme would work, but it succeeds splendidly thanks to the diversity of size, shape, texture and color inherent in bamboos.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society sale 5/5/12

Time to post another reminder. May 5th is not only Cinco de Mayo and the official start of margarita season—at least at our house—it’s also the first day of the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s two-day juried show and plant sale.

If you live in Northern California or plan on being in the Sacramento area that weekend, please be sure to drop by. It’s going to a fantastic event.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Hammock heaven

In my mind, hammocks conjure up the ultimate in tropical relaxation. Lying on your back on what feels like a cushion of air, watching the clouds go by overhead, enjoying the gentle swaying motion from the wind—what could be better!


For years I’ve been trying to come up with a way to string a hammock between the bay trees in our back yard, but the spacing is just not right. Finally I have what I’ve always wanted: a freestanding hammock stand that is not only eminently practical, it’s also darn good looking. Yes, it takes up quite a bit of space (13 x 9 ft.) but it’s space that wasn’t much used anyway except to walk on.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Visit to Hakone Estate and Gardens

This week I finally had the opportunity to visit Hakone, the oldest Asian estate and gardens in the Western hemisphere. Located in Saratoga, CA, about 20 minutes from San Jose and the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley, Hakone occupies 18 acres in the hills just outside of town.

Hakone was established in 1915 by Isabel and Oliver Stine, a wealthy couple from San Francisco. It went through several changes of ownership over the years, fell into disrepair, was lovingly restored, and then sold to the City of Saratoga in 1966.

Entrance gate to Japanese garden

I’m by no means an expert on Japanese gardens. However, having visited the Portland Japanese Garden (PJG) several time in recent years (see 1 2 3 4 5 6), I knew I would start comparing the two. Both are magnificent places of tranquility and beauty. The PJG seems to be built on a grander scale and feels more like a public garden; Hakone has the feeling of an intimate retreat and it is indeed much used for corporate events, weddings, receptions, etc.

Panorama of Hill and Pond Garden

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UC Botanical Garden plant sale this Saturday, 4/28/12

The biggest plant sale in Northern California is just days away: The UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley will have its spring sale this coming weekend. This is the mother of all plants sales. Sale tables will be spread throughout the UC Botanical Garden, and experts will be on hand to answer questions. To quote their website:

We specialize in regionally-appropriate Mediterranean climate plants. We also sell rare cycads and palms, carnivorous plants, cacti and succulents, rare bulbs, Asian plants, glorious vines, tropical and houseplants, dry-growing Mexican and Central American plants, and much more.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sizzling ice plants

The other day I posted a photo of Cooper’s hardy ice plants (Delosperma cooperi) nestled against a clump of Cape balsam (Bulbine frutescens) and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fructicosa). The color of these ice plant flowers is so intense, it looks almost fake.

Delosperma cooperi, flowers open

But like so many plants commonly given the moniker “ice plants,” Delosperma cooperi produces flower colors that border on the fluorescent. If they didn’t close up at night, they might light up your entire yard!

This is what the same clump looks like in the morning and evening:

Delosperma cooperi, flowers closed

Monday, April 23, 2012

Our front yard in late April

I haven’t done a “our yard in the month of xyz” post in a while, mostly because things were slow in taking off this year due to unseasonably cool weather. Now, however, spring is here with a vengeance. Plants that were just poking out of the ground last week are in full leaf this week. The planting strip outside the front yard fence is beginning to resemble the tapestry of color we so love. Finally the time of year is here when you can see changes from one day to the next.

The bed inside the front yard fence may not look like much from a distance, but the ornamental grasses are going great guns, and herbaceous perennials like penstemons, echinaceas and salvias are trying to catch up.

Planting strip inside our front yard fence

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Orange smell-o-vision

I’m sure somebody somewhere is working on a technology to transmit smells over the Internet. I wish I had that technology at my fingertips today to share with you the heady scent permeating the backyard and wafting into the house through the open windows: Our Washington navel orange tree is in full bloom. Not only that, it has more blossoms this year than ever before, adding to the intensity of the fragrance.

Blossoms of Washington navel orange

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Senecio relocation

In early 2011 I planted a Senecio vitalis on the edge of the succulent bed next to our front door. Closely related to the ever popular blue chalk fingers (Senecio mandraliscae), Senecio vitalis is more upright and has a greenish-gray coloration as opposed to Senecio mandraliscae’s steely blue. Both plants are reasonably common in local nurseries, and I would recommend them both for a drought-tolerant landscaping scheme.

Senecio vitalis  on 9/17/2011

Friday, April 20, 2012

Moving a bee swarm

Yesterday there was a lot of excitement on our street. Our neighbor across the street noticed in the morning that quite a few bees were buzzing around the butterfly bush (buddleia) in their front yard. In the next few hours, it became clear that this was a swarm in the midst of moving to a new place to live.


While beekeeping in suburban backyards is gaining in popularity, our neighbors weren’t ready for a bee colony so they contacted the Sacramento Area Beekeeper Association and were referred to a local beekeeper who lives just a few streets away.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Annie’s Annuals 2012 Spring Party

Last Saturday, after attending the Ruth Bancroft Garden’s spring plant sale, I made the 35-minute drive from Walnut Creek to Richmond to check out the Spring Party at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. I’d been to Annie’s a couple of times since last summer (1 2), but their inventory is both vast and ever-changing so I knew that I would find something new to drool over and/or take home.

Annie’s is located in a light-industrial area and the approach isn’t exactly welcoming (neither are the coils of barbed wire on top of the outside fence). But land is premium-priced in the Bay Area, and a production nursery that wants to remain competitive doesn’t have much choice when it comes to location, especially a multi-acre operation like Annie’s.

Market Street railroad crossing. Annie’s is a few hundred yards down the road on the left.

However, as soon as you step through the gate, you instantly forget that you’re not in the nicest part of town.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ruth Bancroft Garden in the spring

Last Saturday I went to the spring plant sale at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Click here to read my write up about the sale.

After I had picked out what I wanted, I wandered through this 3-acre succulent wonderland to check up on my favorite plants and to take photos for this blog. I visit three or four times a year and every time I find something new and different—not surprising considering there are thousands upon thousands of plants. One of these days I’ll try to find out how many species of succulents there are in the Garden’s collections.

Ruth Bancroft (104 years old now!)
still lives in the house next to the garden

Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale recap

For Northern California succulent lovers, one of the biggest events in the spring is the April plant sale at Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, CA. I’ve been to quite a few of them over the years and they’re always high-octane events but this sale seemed to draw even more people than usual. It’s a clear sign that a wider segment of the gardening public is taking an interest in succulents. Water is becoming ever more scarce and expensive in our part of the country and replacing at least some thirsty annuals and perennials with drought-tolerant succulents is a great way to conserve water.

I arrived a few minutes early and took the opportunity to photograph the plantings along the entrance road. As you can see, they are stunning in their own right.

North entrance. The road leads to the garden entrance on the right and to a parking area.
View in the other direction toward Bancroft Road, a busy four-lane street