Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2015 spring plant sale: bigger, better, and longer

Yesterday (April 11, 2015) was the 2015 spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Or, to be more correct, it was the start of the spring plant sale. For the first time, the plant sale will run for six days. If you weren’t able to make it yesterday, you still have time until Thursday, April 16, 2015. The plant sale is in the expanded retail nursery right by the garden entrance and office. Business hours are 10 am to 4 pm every day this week, including Monday when the garden is normally closed. For more info and directions to the garden, visit the RBG web site.

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Nursery manager Troy McGregor and his crew brought in more plants than ever this year so the selection was larger and popular plants didn’t sell out as quickly as before. They even had seven or eight ‘Hercules’ tree aloes (Aloidendron ‘Hercules’), which are normally difficult to find.

Take a look at all the goodies waiting for new homes!

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Agaves you don’t see every day, at least not in Northern California: Agave gypsophila ‘Ivory Curls’ (bottom left), Agave sebastiana ‘Silver Lining’ (bottom right), and Agave impressa (top right)

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Agave impressa, not quite hardy inland but perfectly fine in Oakland, San Francisco or Marin County

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Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ (bottom and top center)

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Aloidendron ‘Hercules’

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Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’, a cross between Aloe pearsonii (a rare species considered to be difficult to grow in cultivation) and Aloe distans (much more common and easier to grow). Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, created this hybrid in 1991 and it was later distributed by Huntington Botanical Gardens under its International Succulents Introductions (ISI) program. Ironically, I haven’t seen ‘Hellkloof Bells’ for sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden very often, but this year they had large and healthy plants in #2 cans. I have a small one in the ground but I snapped up a larger one for the front yard.

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Aloe conifera

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Agave stricta ‘Nana’, a fairly rare selection that stays very compact (6-10 inches tall)

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Pedilanthus bracteactus, not exactly rare but still uncommon in Northern California. The leaves are ephemeral and for most of the year the stems are bare.

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How’s this for variegation? Agave ‘Hammer Time’

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Yucca rostrata. The $150 price tag proved that there are simply no cheap sources for this much sought-after succulent.

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The golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) is one of the most popular cacti in cultivation (and nurseries). This white-spined form, however, is much less common.

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Echinocactus grusonii, white-spined form

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I was waiting for somebody to stick their head through but everybody was too busy looking at plants

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Plants galore

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Very nice 5-gallon specimens of the South African silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum), bargain-priced at $40 (I’ve seen nurseries charge almost that much for 1-gallon plants). If only it were hardier…

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Lots of South African and Australian shrubs

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The sale also included a large selection of companion plants, including California natives

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Potted arrangements

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Sometimes I think the repurposing of containers has spun out of control, but I loved these fire extinguishers planted with dyckias.

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I also liked these old metal cans by Laura Hogan of Arid Accents. Affordable, too.

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Echeveria ‘Coral Glow’

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More echeverias…

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…and friends

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I heard the siren song of these Aeonium tabuliforme and I resisted. The last Aeonium tabuliforme I had lasted for less than a year before it flowered and died—with no offsets or seeds

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This strange plant stopped me in my tracks. It’s a small shrub from Australia called Leucophyta brownii, or cushion bush. Small and compact, it forms rounded mounds dotted with yellow flowers in spring and summer. I had to have one for the front yard.

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‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’) in 24” boxes. According to nursery manager Troy McGregor, it’s very difficult at the moment to find ‘Desert Museum’ in 15-gallon cans because of high demand. More and more homeowners and garden designers are looking to desert-adapted plants in light of our mandated water reductions!

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One of the checkout tables

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My red wagon next to a massive Agave franzosinii

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Not a big haul but I don’t have much space left.
Bottom row: Echinocactus grusonii, white-spined form; Leucophyta brownii.
Top row: Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’; Aloe dorotheae

As you know, I’m a huge fan and supporter of the Ruth Bancroft Garden. At the same time, I haven’t been shy about suggesting improvements when I noticed things that I thought didn’t work as well as they could.

This time, though, the layout of the sale was perfect. I can’t think of a single thing that could be improved—except maybe an on-site coffee cart selling hot and cold beverages :-).

A big thanks to all the good folks at the Ruth Bancroft Garden—staff and volunteers alike—for giving us such a fantastic sale. I was very happy to see such a great turnout.

I also ran into several readers of Succulents and More and had a wonderful time chatting with them. I’m glad you recognized me and said hi.

21 comments:

  1. Several things. First a big thank you for posting these images. Secondly, I bought a Leucophyta browni from the cut flower department at my local supermarket a few years back. It is a lovely plant and gets more cushiony and compact as it grows. I placed it amongst my gray leaved succulents, although it was the same color, the texture contrasted greatly. Unfortunately it didn't last long. I'd buy another if I saw one. Lastly, I know where all the palo verde went. The City of Alhambra has planted it in the median strips. It is blooming now and looking gorgeous, but totally out of place. This is one way how the city has reduced its water usage ... by putting plants that don't need a lot water in the median strips. Most of them are stunning and distracting to a gardener's eye like mine. Gotta watch the traffic and not the good selection of plants!

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    1. Jane, San Marcos Growers says that Leucophyta brownii is usually short-lived so your experience seems to be typical.

      As for palo verde trees being planted in median strips in Alhambra, that should be a stunning sight when they're in bloom. I'd probably cause an accident by looking at the trees instead of traffic.

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  2. Oh my, it looks like they are on the right track ! I look forward to fall sale since I could not make this one. I will console myself with 4 days off and a trip to Annies next weekend...most importantly , where did you park ?

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    1. Actually this will be the last of the mega sales (fall and spring) as we have reached our capacity to hold them. The continued interest in drought tolerant plants over the past few seasons has been phenomenal. We've worked hard over the past half year to not only expand our offerings, but to double the retail space of the nursery with the new (all-weather) structure behind the living wall. The nursery is now open from 10am to 4pm from Tuesday to Sunday, year round. The change in format now allows us to get to know our customers better. We can also take the time to ensure that they have the very best information to help them succeed with our plants. Since the expansion we have seen a big jump in our nursery visitors on both week days and weekends. Our grower connections in CA and wider afield allow us to custom order plants - if we don't already carry them in stock. We'll continue to have sales (sign up for emails here - http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/rbgarden/pages/NurseryPlants.html), but on a more regular and targeted basis. We love what we do and enjoy sharing our passion. Be sure to say hi when you next visit - Troy

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    2. I got there at 8:40am and there still was plenty of parking in the lot they use for event parking (north entrance). But by 9am it was full. Lots of members arriving between 8:45 and 9am.

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  3. Always fun to see you at the garden Gerhard and thanks for the positive feedback. All the credit for the new layout goes to our office staff. Eileen, Carol and Sophie put their actual jobs on hold at plant sale time (and long before) to spearhead the planning, marketing, volunteer tasking, set-up, checkouts, parking, tear down and most importantly, the tallying. All that’s left for the blokes to do is talk plants for 6 hours straight and not mess up our Furcraea, Fouquieria and Faucarias. Without their efforts the whole event just wouldn’t happen. The other side of the equation are our volunteers who serve in so many capacities. They generously give up their time and many talents on a regular basis to help ensure Ruth’s wonderful garden continues to thrive. It’s been fun to share the evolution of our little nursery with you and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow from here. Visit often.

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    1. People are so loyal to the RBG because a) the garden itself is amazing and b) the staff is just as amazing. You guys lead by example and the volunteers and members respond to that.

      The progress you've made in the nursery is nothing short of astounding. I can't think of another nursery in Northern California where you can find as large a selection of succulents and southern hemisphere perennials and shrubs as yours (esp. in larger sizes, not just 4-inch or #1 pots)!

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  4. Oh, man, I am swooning here. Great report and great photos, Gerhard, and a fine haul o' plants! I am so happy to learn the latest about the RBG retail nursery -- will certainly visit the next time I am up north.

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    1. It's our little slice of succulent heaven here in Northern California!

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  5. Wow, so many photos, plants, and so much information. Thanks for the great Aloe conifera shot, hopefully mine will look like that someday (although I love it just fine as it is). You're still planning on coming through Portland this summer yes? I hope you've got room for a Yucca rostrata because you should be able to get a good sized one for not much more than the one you showed here.

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    1. Aye on Portland. No exact dates yet but mid to end of June. We'll stop coming and going. I'm hoping there'll be room.

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  6. Stunning selection as usual from RBG as always! I can only dream of having a plant sale similar to that here. Mind you even if just a quarter of their offerings there here would be nice already :)

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    1. Now that the RBG nursery has expanded, many of these plants will be available all the time. Bring an extra large suitcase when you're finally able to visit.

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  7. My visit to RBG is gonna be delayed at least a month but my appetite is whetted!

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  8. Big miss on the fire extinguisher containers--they should have been planted with Sticks-On-Fire!

    Looks like it was a wonderful sale, and you got some great plants, Leucophyta brownii is one of my very favorite plants--yes it is short lived, but I love it anyway.

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    1. YES! 'Sticks on Fire' would have been perfect. I didn't even think of that. The downside is that they're not hardy in zone 9b. But folks in Berkeley, Oakland, SF and Marin should have no problem.

      Regarding Leucophyta brownii, now I wish I'd picked up a few more. I hope they'll have some left when I go back. It's so unique looking, it adds a lot of visual interest.

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  9. What a great sale and it's still going on! Let's see, if I call in sick for the rest of the week, get in my car and start driving now... You got some lovely things, especially eucophyta brownii! Glad that the sale set up was perfect and the plants plentiful this time! Isn't it enjoyable to chat with people who read your blog?

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    1. Do it! You're more than welcome to stay at our place. The RBG is only 50-55 minutes from our house!

      Yes, it's wonderful talking to folks who read my blog. Except they know way more about me and my garden than I do about them :-).

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  10. Leucophyta brownii nee Calocephalus brownii? If so, I bought the latter a couple years ago at least and it's still kicking in the front dry, dry gravel garden. My A. impressa is just now starting to look like the one in your photo -- what a slow to mature agave! I was certain mine from HBG was mislabeled since there were no markiigs like the white lines shows on your photo, but they just started showing up in the last year. So glad RBG is expanding their sales, even if not the mega sales ;)

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    1. Yes, according to San Marcos Growers, Calocephalus brownii is the same as Leucophyta brownii. Glad to know yours is doing well. I don't need every plant I buy to live forever. If it does well for 4-5 years, I'm happy. That's sufficient time to know whether I like it enough to replace it with another one like it when it dies.

      I'd given up on Agave impressa because it's so tender and most specimens I've seen for sale don't looked that impressive (sorry for the pun). I didn't know the markings may not come until later. There's still hope then that yours might look like this one day!

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