Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Plant of the week: Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chips’

One of the blogs I follow, Loree Bohl’s Danger Garden, has a regular feature dedicated to Loree’s favorite plant in the garden in any given week. I’ve long wanted to do something similar, so this is my first entry in the Plant of the Week category.

My favorite this week is a plant I picked up at Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, CA a couple of Sunday ago. I was immediately attracted to its rather odd look: deeply guttered leaves with wavy margins and bold brown spots. Another plant that would be right at home in a Dr Seuss garden.

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This interesting looking fella is a Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chips’. Manfredas—there about 20 different species and an increasing number of cultivars and hybrids—are closely related to agaves. Like agaves, they form rosettes and and their flowers appear at the end of a long stalk. Unlike agaves, however, manfredas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the winter) and polycarpic (they don’t die after flowering).

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Their flowers are quite strange as well. Plant Delights describes them as “alien antennae-like.” This post on Pam Penick’s blog Digging has a couple of photos.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Potted cacti on front yard fence

Yesterday I talked about the Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ which is contributing a nice pop of color along the front yard fence. You’ll see it again in some of the photos below. But the focus today is on the potted plants on top of that fence. Most of them are cacti, with a couple of beaked yuccas (Yucca rostrata) and a desert rose (Adenium obesum) thrown in for good measure.

The first container I put there is this large but shallow bowl. I contains three different varies of claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) as well as a miniature agave (Agave toumeyana var. bella).

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Claret cup cacti (Echinocereus triglochidiatus ‘White Sands’, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. mojavensis f. inermis) and Agave toumeyana var. bella

The original reason I chose this location is that in the summer it gets full sun for 6+ hours—just what these desert dwellers want for healthy growth. It may sound ironic, considering we have 267 sunny days a year, but our property doesn’t have enough sunny spots. As a consequence, many of my potted succulents don’t get as much sun as they would ideally like. That’s usually not a problem for agaves and other leaf succulents, but many cacti just don’t thrive in the shade.

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Claret cup cacti (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and Agave toumeyana var. bella

Sunday, October 27, 2013

‘Limelight’ sage looking great

Salvias are among my favorite perennials. I have many species all over the yard, and most of them are hardy in our zone 9b climate. However, as is so often the case, my favorites are the ones that push the envelope in terms of hardiness. These include the salvias from Southern Mexico, which I usually grow as annuals because they simply don’t survive our winters (it might be more because of our heavy soils, which stay wet for extended periods, than because of absolute temperatures).

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ is one of these tender salvias. It has been putting on a great show for about a month, and I finally got around to taking some photos before it is done blooming.

As you can see, this is a tall salvia. If the stems weren’t flopping over as much, they’d be five or six feet tall. The violet-blue flowers are beautiful in their own right, but the most outstanding feature for me are the chartreuse calyces. This truly is a stunning combination.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Blue jacarandas in full bloom—in Sydney, Australia

In the spring I waxed poetic about a blue jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) I spotted around town. Jacarandas are not very hardy, and I’m still surprised the tree I photographed has managed to grow as tall as it has without being cut down by a hard frost. I even considered planting a blue jacaranda in our own front yard as a replacement for our nasty cherry plum tree but ultimately chose a palo verde instead.

It’s no secret, then, that I’m very fond of blue jacarandas. There are few trees that can beat them for visual impact in the spring when they’re covered with masses of bluish purple flowers. Unlike many spring-blooming trees, jacaranda flowers last for many weeks. And the fallen petals look beautiful, too, as they form a carpet beneath the tree.

Here in the northern hemisphere we’ll have to wait another six months before we see jacarandas in bloom again, but down under they’re at their peak right now. Last night our friend from Sydney, Australia sent us a few photos of blue jacarandas in their neighborhood, and with his permission I’d like to share them with you. They sure are a wonderful sight to see!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A visit to Peacock Horticultural Nursery, part 2

green_check Click here to read part 1 of this post

While many of the plants at Peacock Horticultural Nursery were in autumn mode, one tree was blooming like it was the height of spring:

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Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’

The tree, Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’ aka Florist Silver Dollar, was alive with bees, their buzzing audible from quite a few feet away.

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Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’

I was very surprised to see a tree positively covered with flowers at this time of year but apparently this gum tree blooms from fall to spring. Here are a few more photos:

Monday, October 21, 2013

A visit to Peacock Horticultural Nursery, part 1

Located in the small town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County, about an hour north of San Francisco, Peacock Horticultural Nursery is a treasure that deserves to be more widely known. Although it’s been a while since my last visit, I try to stop there whenever I can on my way to the coast (Bodega Bay is only 20 minutes from Sebastopol).

On Sunday I found myself in Sebastopol for ARTrails, an open studio tour organized by the Arts Council of Sonoma County. But before we even went to the first open studio, we dropped by Peacock Horticultural Nursery to do some exploring.

The nursery is owned and run by Robert Peacock. It won’t take you long to realize that this is anything but a conventional nursery. Robert is a plant nut, and while he is in the business of selling plants, it’s quite obvious he also collects them. The property is a couple of acres, if I had to make a guess, and not only encompasses the nursery but also the house where Robert lives. In fact, walking the meandering paths, most of them shaded by tall trees, is more like visiting somebody’s garden than a commercial business—with one major difference: most of the plants are in nursery pots instead of in the ground, and they are available for purchase.

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Peacock Horticultural Nursery, 4296 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol, CA

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Agave americana ‘Marginata’, wheelbarrow and Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blue cactus in a yellow pot

My favorite group of cacti are the barrel cacti. Everybody loves the golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) and so do I, but my favorite is the blue barrel (Ferocactus glaucescens), also known by its Spanish name biznaga.

Here is a particularly nice trio at UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley

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…and here is a clump at Ganna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara:

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stapelia gigantea: large, hairy and stinky flowers

Large, hairy and stinky flowers. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

I think so!

I'm super excited because my Stapelia gigantea is finally blooming. I’ve had it for three years and have overwintered it outside without ill effects. I don’t know why it didn’t bloom before but I assume it has to be a certain size. Take a look at this beauty!

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But let’s rewind a bit. I first noticed three weeks ago that flowers were forming:

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October 4, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

SunSparkler sedums: pretty and hardy

I  met a bunch of wonderful folks at the recent 2013 Succulent Extravaganza. One of the most interesting people I talked to was fellow Succulent Fanatics member Chris Hansen. Having flown in from Michigan, he was the clear winner in the Who Traveled The Farthest contest.

Chris is the co-owner of Great Garden Plants, a mail-order plant nursery, and the breeder of a line of stunning and super-hardy sedums he calls SunSparkler. Three hybrids have been released so far: ‘Dazzleberry’, ‘Lime Zinger’ and ‘Cherry Tart’. They’re only 6-8” in height, which makes them perfect groundcovers.

Chris didn’t have any samples with him at the Extravaganza but he gave me a brochure with lots of beautiful photos. I loved what I saw, and Chris kindly offered to send me a few plugs next spring.

Last week I swung by one of my favorite nurseries in our area, Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville, CA to pick up a bunch of perennials for the planting strip outside the front yard fence and for our newly renovated driveway succulent bed. Imagine my surprise when I saw two of Chris’ SunSparkler sedums for sale: ‘Lime Zinger’ and ‘Dazzleberry’:

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Sedum ‘Lime Zinger’ (the plants are actually less yellow, see photos below)

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Sedum ‘Dazzleberry’

Friday, October 11, 2013

Coring agaves for propagation

One of the presentation at the 2013 Succulent Extravaganza was entitled “Coring agaves.” What does that mean, you might ask? I must admit I didn’t really know either when I arrived at Succulent Gardens. Since the talk was about agaves, my favorite group of plants, my curiosity was piqued, and yet for a brief second I toyed with the idea of skipping it in favor of hanging out with other Succulent Fanatics folks. In hindsight, I’m very glad I didn’t because it ended up being my favorite presentation of the entire event.

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RIGHT: Regular Agave ‘Blue Glow’
LEFT: Highly variegated Agave ‘Blue Glow’

The presentation was given by Tony Krock, succulent buyer for and co-manager of Terra Sol Garden Center in Santa Barbara, CA. (Click here to read about my visit to Terra Sol this spring. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Tony at the time.) Tony is a passionate collector of variegated agaves and has been very successful in creating specimens that show a high degree of variegation. His secret? Coring!

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Tony Krock holding up a growth tip he had snapped off

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bamboo, Succulents and More is 3 today

Three years ago I wrote my first post. It was very short:

Full of good intentions, I set up this blog many months ago. However, due to the usual inertia, I never actually did anything with it. Until now. I'm not a master gardener or anything, just a middle-aged guy with new-found enthusiasm for gardening, and especially bamboo and succulents. My goal is to write at least semi-regularly about my experiences gardening on a small suburban lot and hopefully inspire others the way that I've been inspired to create not only a more attractive yard, but also a sanctuary where I can go to relieve the stresses of work and life.

Looking back, this was a pretty good way to get started. Everything I said then still holds true. Sometimes inertia has gotten in the way, as have other demands on my time, but I’m proud of having written 806 posts since October 10, 2010. I don’t know exactly how many photos I’ve posted, but it must have been well in excess of 10,000.

Over the last three years, my gardening interests have evolved—I’m more into succulents and southern-hemisphere plants now and less into bamboo—and my garden definitely looks different, but one thing has remained the same: my gratitude to all of you for following my blog and letting me be part of your day.

Thank you for keeping me company!

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Renovated driveway succulent bed

Along the far side of our driveway is a planting bed that separates our property from our neighbor’s. Over the course of the 16 years we’ve lived here, it’s been home to shrubs, then perennials and, since 2009, succulents.

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The succulents were fairly successful. However, shade cast by the cherry plum tree—and copious leaf litter that seemed to accumulate there year round—had a negative impact on the health of these succulents.

Take a look at the next photo, taken in January of 2011. Most of the groundcovers I had planted along the edge—sedums and crassulas, mostly—were starting to drown in leaves. I was never as religious about cleaning them out as I should have been so by 2013 most of these low-growing plants had choked.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happy ending to palo verde saga

A few weeks ago I described my quest to find a palo verde tree for our front yard. That post ended with me ordering two ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes from the Sacramento branch of Village Nurseries which were supposed to be ready for pickup on Monday, September 23. So what happened after that?

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While Village Nurseries primarily caters to landscape professionals, they do sell to the public and even have small garden center with a selection of popular plants

It took a few extra days but eventually my trees arrived. I picked them up on Sunday, September 30, the day after I got back from the 2013 Succulent Extravaganza in Castroville. They were in 15-gallon cans and a good 7 ft tall. It took a bit of jostling but they fit comfortably in our van. An old rug and towel and a few Amazon boxes helped secure them.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2013 fall plant sale

This past weekend was Ruth Bancroft Gardens big fall plant sale. The member sale was on Friday afternoon, and the public sale was all day Saturday. Not wanting to miss out on the best plants, I was there at 4:30pm sharp on Friday. The selection was a little smaller than at the spring sale but everything was 30% off. This made for some great bargains, especially considering that a lot of the plants they carry fall in the “unusual” category and are impossible to get elsewhere in Northern California.

Instead of organizing my photos by plant group, I’ll present them in the order in which I took them. This lets you share in the sense of discovery I felt. (The plant tables are in various places throughout the garden so to see them all, you end up doing a garden tour without initially knowing it.)

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Purple tradescantia (Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea') and aeonium sp.

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LEFT: Leucadendron argenteum. I still want one but these 5-gal plants were $40, a bit too steep for what would be an experimental plant in my garden.
RIGHT: Leucadendron ‘Ebony’; $35 last year, now just $15. I got one
this summer when I met up with the Garden Flingers.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Agave sunburn

One of the plants I bought at last week’s Succulent Extravaganza was a stunning Agave guadalajarana. It was the blue form, seen on the left in this photo taken at Succulent Gardens:

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I looked through quite a few plants at the nursery before I picked what I thought was the most perfect one. I stowed it very carefully in the car so its leaves wouldn’t get bent or bruised. I unloaded it carefully when I got home so as not to damage it. And then I put in on the front porch in a spot where I thought it would be fine.

Except I forgot that this “protected” spot gets hit by the afternoon sun. Not for long, but long enough to do this:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2013 Succulent Extravaganza, part 2

Before I continue with part 2 of my 2013 Succulent Extravaganza coverage, I’d like to express my gratitude to the people who made this event possible: Robin Stockwell, Tiffany Polli and everybody else at Succulent Gardens; the many helpers who volunteered their time; and the speakers whose presentations inspired us. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Without you, this event would not have happened, or it wouldn’t have been what it was.

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In part 1 I took you through the grounds and retail greenhouse at Succulent Gardens. Part 2 is unadulterated succulent porn—nothing but pretty pictures captured during the 2013 Succulent Extravaganza. I have labeled the photos as best I could but if you spot any errors, please let me know in the comment section.

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Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripe’

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Agave ‘Blue Flame’

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2013 Succulent Extravaganza, part 1

This past Friday and Saturday, Succulent Gardens, Northern California’s premier grower of succulents, held their third annual Succulent Extravaganza at their growing grounds in Castroville. I had attended the first and second Succulent Extravaganza and wasn’t going to miss out on what has become one of the most anticipated events among succulent enthusiasts from all over California.

Last year’s event was attended by several thousand people. I don’t know what this year’s numbers were, but it seemed to me there were slightly fewer visitors. The greenhouses weren’t as crowded and the line at the cash registers wasn’t as long. But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those attending. This is one event where you don’t have to hold back because you are among people who are most likely just as crazy as you are.

Aside from the social aspect (more on that later), the one thing I was most looking forward to seeing was the famous Succulent Globe. Designed by Robin Stockwell, owner of Succulent Gardens, it had been the centerpiece of the 2013 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Be sure to read this article for all the details on this amazing creation made up of 30,000 (!) succulent cuttings.

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Yes, the Globe was amazing. I wish I could have a (much) smaller version myself. Maybe table-top sized!

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