In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, last Saturday, February 8, 2014, was Lover’s Day at the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek. Under the motto “Aloes Are for Lovers – Bring Your Valentine to the Garden” RBG offered three guided tours showcasing the aloes in the garden, many of which were in bloom.
Saturday also marked the peak of the Pineapple Express storms that were sweeping across Northern California last week, bringing much needed rain. Judging from the way the rain was coming down while I was on the freeway, I feared the worst, but when I got to Walnut Creek the rain had stopped. Perfect timing for the 10 a.m. member’s only tour with RBG curator Brian Kemble! Brian is a leading aloe expert and has been creating hybrids for 30 years.
Covered bed of coral aloe (Aloe striata)
Covered bed of Aloe striata
Brian began his tour with a general introduction to aloes. Aloes are Old World plants, native exclusively to Southern Africa, tropical Africa, islands off the African coast (especially Madagascar) and the Arabian Peninsula. Some habitats are winter rainfall areas, others receive most of their precipitation in the summer. The majority of aloe species bloom in the winter, even those endemic to summer rainfall areas.
Aloes don’t have a built-in GPS so they don’t know if they’re in the southern or northern hemisphere. In other words, aloes that bloom in the winter in South Africa will bloom in the winter in California (even though it’s summer in South Africa then). This seems obvious but it’s a fairly common point of confusion.
As a genus, aloes aren’t very cold hardy. Most tolerate temperatures in the high to mid 20s, some even in the low 20s, but very few take significant amounts of frost. According to this handy chart compiled by Brian Kemble, the toughest species is Aloe striatula which can take temperatures as low as 18°F.
As we walked around the garden, the amount of damage caused by the cold snap in early December became obvious. While I didn’t see wide-spread decimation as with some aeoniums, quite a few aloes had burned leaves or leaf tips. In most cases the damage is cosmetic, but it’s still a sad sight to see.
Now let’s take a closer look at the many aloes growing at the RBG.
Aloe striata × buhrii hybrid made by Brian Kemble
Aloe ‘Caesia’ (on the left with Aloe ‘Hercules)
Aloe ‘Hercules’ (on the right with Aloe arborescens), a hybrid between Aloe barberae and Aloe dichotoma that is hardier than either of its parents
Aloe capitata var. quartziticola
Aloe capitata var. quartziticola
Aloe wickensii (on the left with Brian Kemble)
Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’, a hybrid between Aloe distans and Aloe pearsonii, created by Brian Kemble in 1991. Check out the stunning flowers here.
Sad-looking aloes after the December cold spell
Wider view of this bed
Aloe ferox × arborescens hybrid
Aloe lineata growing under Arctostaphylos 'Ruth Bancroft'
Unknown aloe—clearly a frost-sensitive species
Aloe burgersfortensis—the name is a bit of a tongue twister, but it simply means that it’s endemic to the town of Burgersfort in South Africa
Aloe succotrina with freeze-damaged purple leaf tips. Contrary to what its name suggest, this aloe doesn’t come from the island of Socotra but from South Africa. It was the first South African aloe to be introduced to Europe (it flowered in Holland in 1689). Read this article for more information.
Aloe striata × maculata and Euphorbia myrsinites
Aloe striata × maculata and Aloe maculata (front right)
Aloe striata × maculata
Another aloe shelter
White-flowering form of Aloe ferox, very rare and sought after
Assorted aloes and gasterias
Another Brian Kemble hybrid: Aloe humilis hybrid × glauca × spectabilis
Fortunately the rain held off for the duration of the tour. However, as I was talking to Brian Kemble and some other people afterwards, I got fairly wet. Luckily my camera was safe in a large Ziploc bag.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a follower of my blog who had driven down from Sacramento. I’m terrible at remembering names unless people wear tags, and I’m embarrassed to say I forgot your name. Was is Christine or Catherine? I feel awful because I wanted to give you a shout-out :-(.