Thursday, August 30, 2012

More reasons to like IKEA

I’ve been a fan of IKEA for as long as I can remember. When my wife and I lived in Germany, a lot of our furniture and dishes were from IKEA. When an IKEA store opened in the Bay Area in 2000, we didn’t hesitate to drive the 1½ hours to browse. And when IKEA finally came to Sacramento in 2006, we were ecstatic because that store is only 20 minutes away.

I’ve blogged about buying small succulents at IKEA and about our new backyard dining table. But IKEA also has great terracotta pots. The line I prefer is called MANDEL. I love the clean contemporary shape (no protruding rim like standard clay pots) and the contemporary brownish gray color. They come in six different sizes and cost anywhere from $1.99 to $5.99. Technically, they’re overpots so they don’t have a drain hole. No big deal. Using a masonry bit, I can drill a hole in a MANDEL pot in no time flat.

I’d run out of MANDEL pots so I swung by IKEA on the weekend to restock. This is what I got:


MANDEL pots in four sizes ranging from 5 to 7 inches in diameter.
They also have a larger size and an extra deep 4 inch pot
(great for plants that form a tap root).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making pots

This month’s meeting of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society was as hands-on as it gets: We made our own clay pots!

SCSS president Keith Taylor is an accomplished potter and brought not only the clay but also the inspiration. Here is one of his small pots:


Here are some other pots, fired and unfired, that gave us ideas on what to do:


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Visit to B&B Cactus Farm, Tucson, AZ (part 2)

Part 1 of my post on my recent visit to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, Arizona contained photos of the outside sales areas and the greenhouses. In this part I’ll show you the demonstration gardens and some of the plant containers and yard art that caught my eye.


B&B Cactus Farms has two demonstration gardens. The first one is tucked away behind the greenhouses. I almost missed it but, being the nosy dude that I am, I found it simply by poking around.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Visit to B&B Cactus Farm, Tucson, AZ (part 1)

B&B Cactus Farm on the east side of Tucson, AZ is the most impressive succulent nursery I’ve ever visited. I don’t know if it’s the largest of its kind in the Tucson area but I can’t imagine any nursery offering more variety for a succulent lover than B&B.

I took so many photos at B&B during our recent Southwest trip that I’ve decided to split this post into two parts. This part covers the outside sales areas and the greenhouses. Part 2 covers the demonstration garden and the fantastic pottery and garden décor they also sell.


When I arrived at 2:30pm, the sky was already quite dark. It was only a matter of time until before it would rain—like it appears to do on a daily basis during the summer monsoon season. I decided to cover the outdoor areas first, starting with the stunning potted specimens outside of the greenhouses.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae) revisited

My May 2011 post on silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae) has been getting a lot of hits lately. I don’t know why this sudden spike of interest in this South African groundcover, but I thought this would be a good time for an update.

This is what the planting strip between our front lawn and the flagstone walkway looked like in May 2011:


May 28, 2011 before planting silver carpet


May 28, 2011 just after planting silver carpet

Fast forward 15 months to August 24, 2012. The difference is astounding.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Great-looking succulents at Davis Ace Hardware

Fellow Davis resident Sue whose garden I visited last month called me yesterday to let me know about a fresh delivery of succulents at our local Ace Hardware store. Needless to say I had to check it out myself and I agree—these are nice looking plants, and there is a lot of variety, too.


Unlike the big box stores like The Home Depot or Lowe’s, our local Ace Hardware store gets their succulents from Lone Pine Gardens, a small specialty grower in Sebastopol over in Sonoma County. Their offerings go far beyond the usual and often include rare plants that are hard to find.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Echeveria explosion

Echeverias are among the most popular succulents, not only because they’re beautiful and easy to care for but also because they grow very quickly given enough heat and water. This post shows a few examples from my own collection.

These four echeverias have gotten large enough to fill this 10 inch bowl.


Top left: Echeveria pulidonis
Top right: Echeveria agavoides ‘Red Blush’
Bottom left: Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’
Bottom right: Echeveria colorata

Just five months ago (!) they were this small:


Same plants, March 31, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sit back and enjoy

It’s been hard getting back into my routine after our recent Southwest road trip, not just at work but also in the garden. There are plenty of things to do—mostly trimming, weeding and general clean-up—but these are not my favorite chores so I’ve been trying hard to avoid them, especially since the thermometer has been in the upper 90s every day.

My favorite activity this past week has been to simply look at the garden without actually getting involved. I felt guilty at first but then I realized that being a gardener sometimes means doing nothing but sit back and enjoy. Quite literally: most photos in this post were taken right from the front porch.


LEFT: Silver torch (Cleistocactus strausii)
RIGHT: Roadkill cactus (Consolea rubescens)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The rise and fall of my dinner plate aeonium

One of the plants I bought at the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza last fall was this dinner plate aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme). It was almost totally flat, rising less than an inch above the soil. My plant was about 6” in diameter but from what I read Aeonium tabuliforme has the potential to grow to a whopping 18” across while still not exceeding a height of 2”.


October 3, 2011

Here is a close-up of the tightly overlapping leaves fringed with delicate eye lash-like hairs. Notice the almost metallic sheen.


February 20, 2012

But this exquisite beauty was not going to last.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Agaves at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you probably know that agaves are among my favorite plants. During our recent trip through the Southwest, we spent a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Not only did they have tons of cacti (separate post to follow) but there were agaves wherever I looked.

It started right at the entrance with some spotted specimen:


Agave parryi var. truncata.
The cactus next to it is an organ pipe (Stenocereus thurberi).

The biggest concentrations of agaves was in the appropriately named Agave Garden.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will the real quartziticola please stand up?

When I saw Aloe capitata var. quartziticola for the first time, I thought it was the most beautiful aloe I’d ever seen.


Aloe capitata var. quartziticola in the ground at Ruth Bancroft Garden

Both Ruth Bancroft Garden and the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley have mature specimens in their collections, yet finding a plant to buy was challenging. Finally I lucked out: When talking to a docent at the Ruth Bancroft Garden’s spring sale, I bemoaned the fact that this aloe variety was impossible to find. He smiled and said that they had one plant for sale in the nursery. It originated from the UC Botanical Garden but he thought it was very similar to their plants. Needless to say I bought it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The garden after our vacation

As hard as it is to come back from vacation, one thing I always look forward to is seeing what has changed in the garden. Davis has been in the throes of a heat wave that started during our last week of vacation so many plants are stressed. Others love the heat, especially the bamboos. These two, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’, are happy as a clam, producing lots of new growth.


Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’. The steely blue culms are new.



Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’. Too many new culms to count.
I will definitely have to do some thinning and pruning soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Public plantings seen during our Southwest trip

Many of my posts from our recent Southwest trip showed plants growing in their natural environments. Soon I will have more detailed posts about my visit to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, AZ and Santa Fe Greenhouses in Santa Fe, NM. Today I want to show you some of the most interesting plantings I encountered in public spaces, at motels and in front of restaurants. Predictably, most of them feature drought-tolerant succulents and perennials, but I also saw a surprising number of annuals in containers.

The photos that follow were taken in many different places. I’ve arranged them by plant group, not geographical location.

One plant followed us from the California desert south to Tucson, Arizona and then resurfaced in Moab, Utah: Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly called “pride of Barbados” or “Mexican bird of paradise.” This beautiful shrub with feathery leaves and complex flowers is extremely heat tolerant and was in full bloom everywhere we encountered it. I’ve seen specimens at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, but in our area it’s virtually unknown. I was wondering why, until I read that it doesn’t do well in clay soils. This shrub is so stunning that we are considering replacing our Mexican bush sage with it after thoroughly amending our native clay soil.


Caesalpinia pulcherrima at a golf course in Needles, CA
(don’t get me started on water-hungry golf courses in the desert)


Caesalpinia pulcherrima at a motel in Needles, CA

Thursday, August 9, 2012

9/15/12 Sacramento Garden Faire & Plant Sale

Garden Faire Flier Autumn 2

I just received the following information from my buddy Sean at Mad Man Bamboo and Bamboo Geek and would like to pass it on to all my readers in Northern California:

My name is Sean and I am the blogger behind the bamboo-obsessed blog Bamboo Geek which I have written since 2007. I also own Mad Man Bamboo Nursery in Rocklin. As a garden geek that loves his plant sales, I find that the Sacramento area has a few good ones, but they are far and few. So, taking matters in my own hands, I am partnering with Jennifer Kahl, who owns The Secret Garden in Elk Grove to organize a Autumn Garden Faire and Plant Sale. Our focus is to feature small niche and unique plant growers and local crafters and create a nice event that plant geeks like me and many others in the Sacramento area crave.

The event is free to the public and will be held on Saturday, September 15, 2012 from 9 am to 3 pm at The Secret Garden located at 8450 West Stockton Boulevard, Elk Grove, CA 95758.

Jennifer and I would both greatly appreciate your effort to spread the word about this event.

Be sure to mark your calendars for what promises to be a fun event!

2012 Southwest vacation index

Here is an index to all of my posts from our Southwest trip this summer. This will make it easier to access a specific post.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Southwest trip day 15-16: Going home

This is the last post from our two-week trip through the Southwest. It’s short because we tried to get home as quickly as possible—and frankly, there isn’t much to see in eastern and central Nevada, at least not along the I-80 corridor.

We left Moab, UT after a great breakfast at Eklecticafé. Highly recommended for tasty and more wholesome fare than what many restaurants offer. We stopped briefly at the Arches National Park visitor center so my kids could get their National Park Passports stamped and I snapped one last photo of red rock country:


Last photo taken in Arches National Park. Yes, the sky really was that blue.

Usually I look forward to returning home from vacation, but this time I didn’t want to leave. Writing this, I really do feel a bit depressed.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Southwest trip day 14: Arches National Park, UT

After our rafting adventure on the Colorado River we didn’t have much time left to visit the national parks near Moab—Arches and Canyonlands—as well as Dead Horse Point State Park which offers fantastic views of the Colorado River (and was the location of the unforgettable final scene in Thelma & Louise, one of my all-time favorite movies).

We decided to do a short tour of Arches National Park since it’s the closest to Moab and it was already past 6pm when we set out. It was actually drizzling when we left Moab and the cloud cover looked to be fairly dense. However, by 7pm the clouds began to break up and pretty soon the sky looked quite dramatic.





Monday, August 6, 2012

Southwest trip day 14: Moab, UT

My original idea for the day had been to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Park right outside of Moab. But I realized that my family wasn’t as enthused as I was about visiting yet another couple of parks dedicated to rocks so I suggested we go rafting on the Colorado River instead. It took zero arm-twisting to convince them. Fortunately, we found an outfitter that still had four openings on such short notice.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Southwest trip day 13: Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Today we visited Mesa Verde National Park located in far southwestern Colorado. There are more than 4,400 archeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings in the park—more than anywhere else in the country. To recognize the uniqueness of Mesa Verde, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made Mesa Verde a World Heritage Site in 1978.

After you enter the park, the road starts to climb until you reach Park Point Overlook at 8,572 ft. Even after walking a relatively short distance to the fire lookout at the top, I noticed how thin the air was.


Park Point Overlook (8,572 ft.)

We had tickets for the 11:00 am tour of Cliff Palace, the largest and best known cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde. We had been warned that due to road construction the drive from Cortez where we spent the night could take an hour and a half, but it being Sunday there was no road work and light traffic so we arrived way early. This gave us a extra time to admire Cliff Palace from the overlook.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Southwest trip day 12: Window Rock, AZ to Four Corners to Cortez, CO

The first stop of the day before leaving Window Rock was to see the rock formation for which the capital of the Navajo Nation is named. I was astounded by how perfectly round the opening in the rock was; I expected more of an arch. In the Navajo language it is called “Tségháhoodzání,” which means “rock with hole through it.”


Window Rock in the capital of the Navajo Nation

Speaking of the Navajo language (called “Diné bizaad” in Navajo), it is still spoken by 120,000 people. In fact, during our stay in the Navajo Nation I overheard quite a few people speaking to each other in Navajo. There is also an all-Navajo AM radio station, KTNN, which we listened to yesterday our our way to Canyon de Chelly. They even played country music in Navajo.

The Navajo language played a central role during World War II. Navajos were recruited by the U.S. Marine Corps to create a Navajo code to be used in the Pacific theater. Thanks to their efforts, the U.S. was able to take Iwo Jima and other islands in the Pacific. The Navajo code was never broken by the Japanese.


Navajo code talker monument

The Navajo code talkers are commemorated in a memorial at the base of Window Rock. A plaque talks about their contributions to WWII. The official web site of the Navajo code talkers has extensive information about the actual code, and you can read about some of the surviving code talkers. You can also learn a little bit about the Navajo code talkers in the 2002 movie Windtalkers, in spite of Nicolas Cage’s silly performance as the sergeant who is tasked with protecting two code talkers and the distracting action scenes.


Navajo code talker plaque

Friday, August 3, 2012

Southwest trip day 11: Canyon de Chelly, AZ

On my first grand tour of the Southwest, 19 years ago, I visited a place so magical that it has occupied an almost mythical place in my memories ever since. Today we went back, and I’m happy to report that the reality more than matched my recollections.


Tunnel Overlook, our first glimpse of Canyon de Chelly

This place is Canyon de Chelly National Monument in the far northeastern corner of Arizona. It is located in the Navajo Nation, a semi-autonomous territory which encompasses 27,000 square miles (larger than the state of West Virginia and approximately the size of Ireland). Most of the Navajo Nation is in northern Arizona but it spills across state lines into New Mexico and Utah.

26-mile Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’SHAY”) consists of the main canyon as well as several side canyons, including Canyon de Muerto and Monument Canyon. It has been inhabited for almost 5,000 years. The canyon floor is still dotted with small farms where Navajos grow alfalfa, corn and other crops. Lush cottonwood trees grow near the seasonal creeks, which were swollen with rain water today.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Southwest trip day 10: Acoma Pueblo, NM

Today destination was Acoma Pueblo, about an hour west of Albuquerque. The Acoma people (pronounced “ACK-uh-mah”) have lived in this area since the early 9th century. Also known as “Sky City,” Acoma Pueblo is located on top of an isolated 365 ft. mesa that provided perfection protection for its inhabitants. Until the 20th century, the only access was via a steep footpath; now a paved road allows automobile access to residents and the small vans used for tours.


View of Acoma Pueblo from the Sky City Cultural Center

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Southwest trip day 9: Chimayó—Taos—Abiquiú

Today was all about visiting historic churches and buildings in northern New Mexico. In the morning we took the High Road to Taos which crosses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and winds through a number of small Spanish villages.

Our first stop was in Chimayó whose main attraction is the Santuario, a Catholic church often called the “Lourdes of America” because it attracts scores of faithful who believe in its healing properties. Check out this Wikipedia article for the whole (hi)story.


Santuario de Chimayó