Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden Black Friday sale extended until 12/4/14

Black Friday sales are great for people buying electronics, appliances and maybe clothes, but usually there's nothing special about them for gardeners. This year was different. For the first time, the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek ran a Black Friday sale. And what a sale it was: 50% off on available plants in the retail nursery! It started on Friday—the day after Thanksgiving—and was supposed to end today, Sunday.

Except it didn’t.

If you kicked yourself because you thought you missed it, I have good news: The sale has been extended until 4pm on Thursday, December 4, 2014. That means you have  three more days to shop: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the Garden and nursery are closed on Mondays).

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gardening books at closeout prices

I love books. Fiction or non-fiction, I devour them all. I have over 50 books on and under my bedside table, all waiting to be read. That’s in addition to the thousands of books scattered all over the house. I’ve joked about the second story of our house collapsing under the weight of the books stored up there.

Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I head straight for the clearance bin to see what treasures I might find at a deeply discounted price. I love to be able to save 50, 60 or 70% off the cover price. 80% is dreamy. 90% is nirvana (and exceedingly rare). But in brick-and-mortar bookstores most clearance books are popular fiction, with just a smattering of non-fiction titles and even fewer gardening books.

Now imagine a place where you can find hundreds of gardening books at up to 90% off the cover price! And you don’t have to leave the comfort of home to shop there. This place is called HamiltonBook.com. 15, 20 years ago, I used to pour over their mail-order catalog—densely printed on flimsy stock and folded like a newspaper. That was before online shopping was commonplace. But then Amazon and Abebooks came along and I forgot about Hamilton Book.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Aloe anticipation at UC Davis

The University of California Davis campus has several aloe hot spots (see this post from February). Curious to find out whether any of their aloes are flowering yet, I decided to go on a little outing yesterday. (Weekends are best for a campus visit since parking is free.)

As always, I parked next to the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses and began my walk there. This is what I found.

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The flower spikes on the tall Aloe littoralis in front of the greenhouse are further along than I’d thought…

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…while this Aloe littoralis

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Damn those leaves!

Don’t get me wrong, I love trees and I know that falling leaves come with the territory. But while I like autumn, I don’t enjoy dealing with this:

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The photos above and below were taken standing in our neighbor’s driveway, looking towards our house. So while technically these leaves are on her property, they’re just waiting for the wind to carry them onto ours.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arizona redux

Like yesterday, today has been a gloomy, gray day with on-and-off-again rain. Not much, but enough to get everything wet. Yeah for the rain—we desperately need it—but it prevented me from taking photos for another post I had in mind.

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Gates Pass west of Tucson

So I’m going to dig into my ever expanding image archive and pull out some photos from my recent trips to Arizona (2012 | 2013). This doesn’t come out of nowhere: I’m actually planning another trip to Phoenix and Tucson at the end of December.

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Tohono Chul Park: horse sculpture by Kioko Mwitiki in the Cactus Circle Garden surrounded by Mexican fencepost cacti (Pachycereus marginatus)

While I’m going to revisit some favorite places, like the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, I’m also going to check out new gardens and nurseries. In fact, since I’ll be driving this time, I’ll have plenty of room to buy plants.

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Bach’s Cactus Nursery, Tucson

If you have any recommendations for must-see places, please leave a comment below.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What’s in bloom, mid-November 2014

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, a meme originally introduced by May Dreams Gardens, is the 15th of each month. I usually miss it, being as unorganized as I am. This month, however, I’m only two days off, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at what’s blooming in my mid-November garden.

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Aloe cryptopoda against ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’). This aloe was already blooming in mid-September when Loree ‘Danger Garden’ Bohl photographed it (click here to read her write-up about my garden) and it’s still not quite done. Great going!

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Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’. I’m including it because it’s currently residing in our front yard although it technically belongs to friends. I picked it up for them while they’re out of town. (It’s in a 5-gallon nursery can.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

I’ve been to most botanical gardens in Northern California but one had eluded me until this week: Quarryhill Botanical Garden. It is located outside the small town of Glen Ellen, best known as the home of writer Jack London (he lived there on a 1,000 acre ranch until his death in 1916). While less than an hour and a half from my house, Quarryhill is tucked away in rural Sonoma County where I rarely go. Not sure why, it’s beautiful there.

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I almost missed the entrance, tucked away as it is between cabernet sauvignon vineyards

I knew that Quarryhill is world-renowned for its collection of Asian plants, many of them endangered in their native habitats. What I didn’t know is that the garden is only 27 years old. It’s the brainchild of restaurant heiress Jane Davenport Jansen who donated the site (25 acres) and financed 15 plant collection expeditions to Asia until her untimely death in 2000 at the age of 60. Read this very interesting article from Pacific Horticulture Magazine for more on the garden history.

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Parking area and gift shop

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ancient prickly pear at the Sonoma Mission

Yesterday was Veterans Day, one of the few public holidays we have in the U.S. I played hooky and went on a road trip with a friend to Sonoma, just a little over an hour from Davis. After exploring Quarryhill Botanical Garden outside the small town of Glen Ellen (separate post to come) we stopped in downtown Sonoma for coffee. I found a parking space right across from Mission San Francisco Solano and took some photos as the late-afternoon sun was casting a golden glow on the mission’s white façade.

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I noticed several things I’d never paid attention to before. The tree all the way on the left is a pomegranate, a tree that has a long association with California missions. While pomegranates are native to Persia (now Iran), they were brought to California by Spanish missionaries and settlers.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More front yard makeover baby steps

The front yard—at least the planting strip outside the 4-foot fence—is continuing the transformation that started when we removed the Pittosporum tobira hedge and created a mounded “desert garden” instead (I’ve consolidated all the posts relating to this project here).

Some of the grasses and perennials that have been in place for years had outgrown their allotted spots, and keeping them away from the sidewalk was getting to be a chore. Plus, the constant whacking required didn’t exactly produce visually attractive results, as you can see in the “before” picture below.

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Before (the floppy monster is Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ after our recent rain)

Usually I wait before I have at least a semi-solid plan in my head before I take action, but in this case, impatience won out. In the space of one day (this past Saturday), I removed the ‘Karley Rose’ grass, two Gaura lindheimeri and a variegated Calamagrostis  × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', and I trimmed back a bunch of perennials towards the back of the border. This freed up an almost shocking amount of space.

Never one to let free space go to waste, I immediately proceeded to fill it with plants that had been looking for a home and added some rocks I’d brought home from my recent trip to California’s Eastern Sierra. I’m quite satisfied with the result.

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After 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Plant of the week: Aeonium hierrense and Aeonium escobarii

Loree Bohl over at Danger Garden started the “favorite plant of the week” meme a few years ago. Many other garden bloggers have followed suit. I’ve done a few “plant of the week” posts but never with any kind of regularity. Today’s post is one of those once-in-a-blue-moon plant portraits.

My favorite plant this week is Aeonium hierrense. I bought it in a 4-inch pot at Annie’s Annuals in July 2011 based on this description:

Super rare & possibly the most majestic of all Aeoniums, this giant boasts impressive red-edged, long-leaved rosettes to 30” across atop thick, tropicalesque stalks to 3’ tall. Handsomely patterned in olive green & white, they look like designer palm trunks! After 3 or more years, it bursts into a pyramidal head of pink & white starry blooms. It’s monocarpic, so after blooming it will pass away (hopefully leaving behind lots of seed!).To our knowledge we are the first nursery in the U.S. to offer this elephant-sized & imposing species - possibly the largest in the genus. EASY & low maintenance, it makes a stunning subject for a container or dryish well-drained garden.

My specimen spent the first two years in a pot where it didn’t do very much. But after I put it the ground, it exploded, living up to its promise.

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Now it’s awakened from its summer sleep and is growing at a good clip. As of today (Nov 10, 2014), it’s 13 inches across and 22 inches tall.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this post ended at the edge of Onomea Stream. Let’s continue from there.

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Onomea Stream just below Onomea Falls. As you can see, the setting is magnificent. I was imagining laying in a hammock between two of the palm trees, frozen in time so I would never have to leave.

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The much-touted three-tiered Onomea Falls ended up being a bit disappointing. It’s pretty, but it’s certainly not “the most beautiful in Hawaii” (1). But who cares when everything around it is breathtaking.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, part 1 of 2

One of the most beautiful places we visited on the island of Hawaii this summer was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (HTBG).

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Located on a 17-acre site above Onomea Bay about 10 miles north of Hilo, the HTBG was created by Dan Lutkenhouse and his wife Pauline. They purchased the parcel in 1977 after having having spotted it during a vacation. Soon after, the Lutkenhouses sold their trucking business in San Francisco and moved to Hawaiii to fulfilll their vision: a botanical garden that would preserve the beauty of Onomea Valley forever.

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For eight years, Dan Lutkenhouse, his assistant and two helpers worked on clearing what originally was impenetrable jungle, building trails, and laying the foundation for the garden you see today. The HTBG opened to the public in 1984 and was donated by the Lutkenhouses to a non-profit trust they established in 1995. Dan Lutkenhouse died in 2007 at age 85; Pauline continues to be active as the president of the Garden’s foundation. (To read more about the history of the garden, click here.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Welcome, × Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’

For some reason, when I hear the word “mangave,” I think of mangrove. The two have nothing to do with each other. Mangroves are swamp trees while mangaves are hybrids between two succulent genera: Agave and Manfreda.

While I’m sure a number of such hybrids exist, many of them are unnamed, like the Agave sobria × Manfreda variegata cross I showed you in Sunday’s rain-related post. The best-known of the named hybrids, × Mangave ‘Bloodspot’, is currently blooming in my front yard.

Which brings me to the other named Mangave that has eluded me for years: × Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’. I’ve come across larger specimens for sale but have never wanted to shell out the $$$. All the small plants I’ve encountered, typically in 4-inch pots, have been anemic-looking and anything but attractive. That’s why I was thrilled to find out that one of my local succulent friends was parting with some of her ‘Macho Mocha’ pups.

This is one of the adult ‘Macho Mocha’ specimens in her front yard:

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Weekend stroll through the UC Davis Arboretum

The UC Davis Arboretum is literally 10 minutes from my house, and even though I’ve blogged about it many times before, I don’t go often enough. It seems it requires an out-of-town visitor to jostle me into action. Exactly that happened last Saturday. On a glorious day, we took a leisurely stroll through the Ruth Risdon-Storer Valley-Wise Garden—a mouthful but a worthwhile destination for folks wanting to see which plants thrive in our drought-ridden Mediterranean-verging-on-Atacama-Desert climate.

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If I had a complaint, I’d say that succulents aren’t represented enough. However, in all fairness I will concede that they have more succulents in the Valley-Wise Garden that than you’re likely to find at the regular UC Davis Arboretum plant sales. The Arboretum teaching nursery could (and should) do a much better job introducing the Davis gardening community to succulents suitable for in-ground landscaping. And if they want to go a step further, they could add desert-adapted trees and shrubs to their selections. I wish the powers that be would check out one of the plant sales at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. If it grows in Walnut Creek, it grows here in Davis.

Even their colleagues at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley are doing a better job in the succulent department.

Just sayin’!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

After the rain

As I’m writing this on Sunday morning, the weather is as perfect as can be in the fall: blue sky, a slight breeze, and a crisp 57°F with an expected high of 69°F. On Friday, things were very different: a dark brooding sky, menacing clouds, and—rain! Yes, we finally had real rain. Never mind the fact that it didn’t last long and ultimately only amounted to 0.44” here in Davis. It was still very welcome.

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Since Friday was Halloween, I felt a bit conflicted weather-wise: I wanted the rain to continue, but I also wanted the trick-or-treaters to be able to enjoy themselves without getting soaked. Fortunately for them the rain stopped in time for things to dry off a little, and the little ghouls and goblins were able to haunt our streets in relative comfort.

One of the things I love most after a rain storm is to take a walk through the garden. The plants look so clean, and the rain drops add a layer of beauty that usually doesn’t exist. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.

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Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’