Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Southwest trip day 8: Santa Fe, NM

Today we spent the entire day in Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. My wife and I had visited Santa Fe 19 years ago and had very fond memories. The historic center is still the same; Santa Fe clearly has very stringent planning requirements because new buildings harmoniously fit in with the old. It is one of the best loved destinations in the Southwest, attracting millions of tourists (most of them seemed to be there today). The best way to explore the history downtown is on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.

But before we went downtown we stopped at Stone Forest, one of the premier manufacturers of natural stone garden décor (they also make stone kitchen and bathroom sinks and bathtubs). We have one of their granite lanterns and I’ve long been wanting to see more of their products. Fortunately, their showroom was right on our way so we didn’t have to go out of our way to find them.

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8 ft. pagoda lantern ($2250 on their web site) and water basins

Looking at Stone Forest’s catalogs can give you sticker shock, but nothing hand-made of natural stone is cheap. But browsing (and drooling) is free, so I took my time walking through their demonstration garden. I didn’t meet a single soul, just a friendly black cat.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Southwest trip day 7: White Sands—Roswell, NM

This morning I got up early to do some exploring in White Sands National Monument before the masses arrived. I got to the Visitor Center at 6:40am but it turned out the road through the dunes doesn’t open until 7am. I whiled away 20 minutes reading the various interpretive signs—not a bad way to learn about things.

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White Sands Visitor Center—I love this style of architecture

When the gate finally opened, I was the 2nd person to enter the park. I passed the other guy, also a photographer, and ended up being the only human in the heart of the dunes. It was a surreal experience, being surrounded by nothing but square miles of white gypsum fields. It was so quiet, I heard the sound of my own heart.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Southwest trip day 6: Saguaro NP, Tombstone, White Sands

Before we left Tucson for good, we swung by the eastern section of Saguaro National Park. This section is larger than the western section located near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Due to time constraints we could only visit one section, and in hindsight we should have gone to the western section because the saguaros are much more plentiful there. But the loop drive through the eastern section was still beautiful.

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Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) with multiple arms

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Saguaro forest

My eagle-eyed wife spotted one tall saguaro in flower. Typically they bloom in May and June, but as is the case with humans, some specimens clearly march to the beat of their own drum. I took the next photo with a long telephoto lens and I was apparently so engrossed in this special sight that I stepped in a nest of fire ants. Before I knew it my ankles were burning (I’d chosen today of all days to wear super short athletic socks). The pain was quite sharp and I ended up hightailing it back to the car in somewhat comical fashion because my entire family was in stitches. The burning sensation lasted a good half day, by the way!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Southwest trip day 5: Tucson, AZ

This morning we got up early and were at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum shortly after they opened at 7:30am. We wanted to get most of our outdoor exploring done before the heat of the day, reserving indoor activity for late morning. As it turned out, we spent six hours there in the morning and then another two in the evening (in the summer they stay open until 10pm on Saturday).

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Sonora desert trio: ocotillo, saguaro and prickly pear

This was my fourth visit to the Desert Museum, and I loved it just as much as before. If you’re ever in Tucson, this is a must-see destination. The Desert Museum masterfully combines a zoo, museum and botanical garden.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Southwest trip day 4: Sedona & Tucson, AZ

On our way south from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff we climbed to 8000 ft., saw many stands of aspen, and experienced our first real rain. We had a nice breakfast at Brandy’s Restaurant in Flagstaff (their bagels were delicious as were the pastries we bought for the road) and then headed for Sedona, only an hour but a galaxy away.

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Red rock formation outside of Sedona, AZ

Southwest trip day 3: South Rim, Grand Canyon

This morning we spent a few hours on the Bright Angel Trail, the most beloved—and used—trail in the Grand Canyon. We didn’t make it all that far because we stopped many times to gawk in awe at the ever changing views. I imagine most people only do a short walk and then go back although we did see a fair share of sweaty and tired-looking hikers, no doubt returning from the canyon floor.

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View from the Bright Angel Trail

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Rock gate along the Bright Angel Trail

When I was much younger, a friend and I did the 4.5 mile hike to Indian Gardens and spent the night. A rain storm surprised us in the middle of the night (we only had sleeping bags, no tent), but it was a wonderful adventure all the same. The all-encompassing sense of tranquility and isolation at the bottom of the canyon left a lasting impression on me. I’m too out of shape now to undertake the 8-hour hike involving a 4,000+ ft. elevation gain but at least I have those memories.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Southwest trip day 2: Needles, CA to Grand Canyon, AZ

We left Needles, California at 8:30am and soon crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. We were greeted by beautiful clouds and spiky mountains that reminded us of Mount Doom in Lord of Rings.

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Mount Doom-like mountains just across the Arizona border

The biggest attraction in this part of northwestern Arizona is Lake Havasu City. Founded in 1964, this master-planned desert community surrounding a lake created by damming the Colorado River is known for one thing: London Bridge.

In the late 1960s, the master mind behind this snowbird haven bought the old bridge which had spanned the Thames since 1831 and transported it to the Arizona desert where it was rebuilt brick by brick. He also hired a guy who had worked on the design of Disneyland to create the English Valley surrounding the bridge, and a tourist attraction was born. According to a flyer my wife picked up the Visitor Center, London Bridge is the 2nd most visited attraction in all of Arizona—a depressing thought considering how many natural wonders there are in this state.

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Lake Havasu City Visitor Center in the middle of the English Village

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Southwest trip day 1: Davis to Needles, CA

We left Davis at 7:30am, and the first photo I took is of this sign on Interstate 80 in Sacramento. I love freeway signs that give the mileage to some far-flung place on the other side of the country. It always makes me want to step on the gas and just drive.

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As always, the drive south through the Central Valley on Highway 99 is a slog. Listening to an audiobook helped pass the time, and at 11:30 am we had made it to Bakersfield. From there we headed east on Highway 58 and in less than an hour we were in the Mojave desert.

Southwest, here I come!

I’ve been waiting for a long time but now it’s finally here: summer vacation. In the morning we’re leaving for a road trip to the Southwest (northern Arizona, New Mexico, a corner of Colorado and parts of Utah).

Monument Valley, AZ by Gerd A.T. Mueller
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My goal is to blog from the road as much as I can. It goes without saying that my camera will be very busy recording all the wonderful things we hope to see. With any luck, there will be time for the occasional nursery visit as well.

Claret cup bloom on Mogollon Rim, AZ by Brady Smith
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 23, 2012

Look what I got

Last December my mother-in-law got me several cuttings from a toad cactus (Orbea variegata) which at the time was in full bloom at a neighbor’s house.

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Orbea variegata is not a cactus at all but rather a member of the stapeliad family, the carrion flowers whose inflorescences produce a smell reminiscent of rotting meat in order to attract pollinators.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mount Shasta Lavender Farm revisited

The most spectacular place I visited last summer was Mount Shasta Lavender Farm. Its extensive fields of lavender nestled against a hillside in the high desert north of Weed are possibly the most stunning sight in the North State. Click here to read last year’s post if you missed it.

All year I had been looking forward to the perfume of lavender permeating the air and a cool glass of lavender lemonade, and this weekend we finally went back for another visit.

As you can see from the GPS, Mount Shasta Lavender Farm is located in the middle of nowhere. As soon as we pulled off Harry Cash Road onto the steep dirt road that goes to the lavender fields, our navigation system displayed nothing but terra incognita.

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But very soon you’re rewarded with the view you came for:

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

UC Davis Arboretum in mid-summer

My last two posts were downers, dealing with tree suckers and pests. Today’s post is on the lighter side. I took advantage of yet another cloudy morning (two of them this week!) and snuck away to the UC Davis Arboretum to take a quick look at what’s going on during the summer doldrums.

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Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)

Spring is the big season for flowers at the Ruth Risdon Storer Valley-Wise Garden. In the summer, the palette is more muted, but there is plenty of foliage texture and a few things are in bloom.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Of mealy bugs and powdery mildew

Once upon a time, I had a comely cactus…

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Mammillaria bocensis right after I got it from IKEA of all places

…and a lovely leafy plant.

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Bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus)

Both were the picture of health.

Then came the evil forces in white.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Still battling Bradford pear tree suckers

2½ years ago, we had a Bradford pear tree removed in our front yard because of severe mistletoe infestation that was causing limbs to break off. We replaced the tree with the giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) that has become the focal point of the front yard. Read this post for more information about this transformation.

The stump of the Bradford pear was ground out to a depth of approx. 2 feet—enough you would think to get rid of the tree for good. While that might be true for most trees, it clearly wasn’t enough to kill this one. Suckers started to pop up almost immediately, not only near the stump but many feet away.

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My default method of control is to cut out the suckers with a hori-hori knife. In April 2011 I tried a product called Sucker Stopper RTU and while it may have slowed down sucker production for a while, it ultimately didn’t work. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A collector’s garden

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the garden of Sue Fitz, a fellow plant collector here in Davis. The day started out mostly overcast, a rare thing for us in the summer, so I was able to take photos that hopefully do her garden justice.

I jokingly told Sue that her garden looked like an Annie’s Annuals catalog come to life. That’s actually not far from the truth: Many of her plants originally came from Annie’s, and her garden is eclectic and refuses to be put into a single category. Parts of it look like an English cottage garden, others resemble the kind of tropical plantings you might find in Florida or Hawaii. And in the back of her ¼ acre lot is a small Japanese garden complete with a torii gate and bamboo fence.

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Panorama of Sue Fitz’s garden

The first thing I noticed as I walked into Sue’s garden is a tree so bizarre that I found myself circling back to it on several occasions:

                                                                                                                              
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Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dyckias—dangerous beauties

Agaves, aloes, echeverias, sempervivums, sedums, crassulas, kalanchoes: These are names most gardeners are familiar with, succulent lovers or not. Terrestrial bromeliads are a different thing. The ground-dwelling members of the pineapple family—dyckias, hechtias and puyas, to name a few—are mostly ignored by the gardening public. Maybe it’s because they’re not widely available in the nursery trade, or maybe it’s because many of them have vicious barbs. But I love spines and such and jump at the opportunity to expand my collection of plants that can maim you.

Dyckias are probably the best known terrestrial bromeliads (aside from the edible pineapple, Ananas comosus, which is strictly tropical). I’ve had a dyckia in the ground for about three years and it’s begun to form a small clump about 8 inches across. Yes, the barbs are wicked and you don’t want to get entangled in them.

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Unidentified dyckia (I either lost the tag or never had one)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Post apocalyptic agaves

For the last few weeks I’ve been meaning to stop at the street corner shown in the photos below to take a closer look at a very peculiar landscaping project.

I’m baffled by what it is, or what it is supposed to be. Xeric landscaping à la Mad Max? A botanical tableau vivant in a post apocalyptic world? Or just a weird patriotic statement (after all, the plants are Agave americana)?

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bambusa bonanza

The recent summer heat—late this year by historical standards—has kicked the subtropical clumping bamboos in our front yard into high gear. The existing culms (or “canes” as many people call them) are heavy with lush foliage, and new shoots are beginning to poke out of the ground.

This is a stitched panorama of the bamboos as seen from the front door (to the right is our large succulent bed).

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Clumping bamboo at Home Depot, but…

I had business near California State University Sacramento this morning—a part of town I rarely get to visit—and I stopped at the Home Depot on Folsom Blvd to pick up some drip irrigation supplies. I don’t think I’ve ever been to that particular Home Depot before but they had a fenced-off plant area in the parking lot—always a good sign.

Another pleasant surprise was this special display rack featuring bamboos from Booshoot, a company in Washington State that has pioneered tissue culture techniques for large-scale bamboo propagation:

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I’ve seen bamboo at Home Depot before, but it’s usually golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea), a runner only recommended for larger properties and/or for home owners willing to install rhizome barrier or do regular rhizome pruning. Therefore, seeing an entire rack of non-invasive clumping bamboo is fantastic. At $14.98 for a 1-gallon plant, it’s not the steal of the century, but it’s not usury either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rotting cactus update

About six months ago I wrote about a columnar cactus (Cleistocactus straussii) that developed rot and fell over. It had been kept dry in the winter, and I still don’t know what caused the rot.

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I cut off the healthy stem above the rot, disinfected it with isopropyl alcohol and left it to callus over for more than a month.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What’s flowering in July

I know there’s an official Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day each month, but I keep forgetting when it is and have never been able to get my act together in time to post. So here is my Bloom Day post for July. All these plants are (or were) blooming in the first ten days of July.

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Gymnocalycium friedrichii

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gerhard goes flying

Every summer a close friend from Australia spends a couple of weeks with us so he can go flying at a local airport. Last year I flew with him to Willows, a small Sacramento Valley town about an hour north of here. Check out this post for photos.

This year we flew from Davis to Auburn in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento.

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It’s amazing how much you can see from a small Cessna. Like last year, we started out with a great view of Interstate 80.

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Soon we saw the Sacramento River and the lush farmland on either side.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Plant trade excitement

I love trading plants with other gardeners. Usually a trade involves one or more specific plants, but sometimes other plants get thrown in for good measure. Once I’ve even done a mystery box trade, which in many ways was the most exciting of them all.

Last weekend I sent an Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ to a Facebook friend and yesterday our mail lady delivered this gigantic box (20 x 20 x 20 inches):

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This was definitely the largest box of plants I’ve ever received!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yucca Do summer sale

Yucca Do in Giddings, Texas is one of the premier succulent nurseries in the country. Owner Carl Schoenfeld and Wade Roitsch have made many collecting trips to Mexico and other countries and have introduced selections (especially agaves) that nobody else has.

On Tuesday I received an email announcing their big summer sale. Until August 25th, almost 200 different plants are discounted from 10-50%. Since I can’t resist a good sale, I clicked through to their web site right away to see what goodies I might find. Before I knew it, I had a shopping cart full of plants, including some cool agaves like Agave parrasana ‘Fireball’ and Agave ‘Royal Spine’.

But succulents aren’t all Yucca Do carries. They also sell drought-tolerant perennials and even palms, shrubs, trees and vines. For example, I also ordered a compact cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Compacta’), a silver-leafed shrub I’ve admired many times at the UC Davis Arboretum.

I’ve bought from Yucca Do several times before and I’ve always been happy with what I received, so I have no hesitations recommending them. Check out their sale—you might find something you can’t live without.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rock mulch for another succulent bed

Last month I blogged about mulching the succulent bed by our front door with 1½ inch rocks (click here if you missed that post).  I had originally bought several bags of ⅜ inch gravel but I ultimately didn’t like how small and round the pieces were.

A few weeks later I realized that the gravel would be perfectly acceptable as mulch for a narrow (2 feet wide) succulent bed in the backyard. The soil in this bed is only about two feet deep and it dries out very quickly. I’d been wanting to mulch this bed for years but as with so many things that aren’t at the very top of my to-do list, this project had never gotten done.

This is what the bed looked like before:

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And after the jump you can see what it looks like now.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Agaves revisited

It’s been a year and a half since I blogged about my favorite agaves. All of the varieties I described then are still among my favorites (some are included in this post as well) and many others have joined the collection.

While I didn’t set out to write about potted agaves in particularly, I realized after I’d assembled the photos for this post that they’re all of potted specimens. Since planting space in our garden is very limited, I’ve limited myself lately to buying varieties suitable for pot culture. By necessity, these are smaller species. While they don’t have the wow factor that a mature 4-foot rosette of Agave ovatifolia might have, these smaller plants invite up-close examination—something I find very enjoyable.

The Agave geminiflora in the first two photos lives in a large pot on our front porch. It gets virtually no direct sunlight, which doesn’t appear to be detrimental to its health or looks. With its hundreds of long, narrow leaves decorated with curly white hairs, it’s a very architectural plant. I bought it at Walmart in a 3-gallon container but it’s easily quadrupled in size since 2008.

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Agave geminiflora
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Agave geminiflora