Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My most anticipated book of the year: Debra Lee Baldwin's Designing with Succulents, Second Edition

Ten years ago, Timber Press published a book that ended up having a major influence on my own garden style and plant obsessions: Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. At the time, few homeowners outside of desert climates knew much about succulents, let alone used them for residential landscaping (myself included), and only hard-core aficionados collected them.

All that was about to change. Whether Designing with Succulents triggered this transformation or whether it was simply published at the right time, I cannot say. But it became the manifesto of a movement that, facilitated by the rise of social media like Facebook and later Pinterest and Instagram, would propel succulents into the mainstream—and Debra Lee Baldwin onto the national stage. The January 2010 publication of Debra’s next book, Succulent Container Gardens, cemented her reputation as the “Queen of Succulents,” and today she is a much sought-after speaker and a succulent maven with a massive worldwide following. I bet than in 2007 neither Debra nor Timber Press had any idea what a best-seller Designing with Succulents would become (over 180,000 copies in print) and what a lasting impact it would have.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Alan Lorence wood sculpture for the front yard

Fellow garden blogger Alan Lorence of Saint Louis, Missouri not only writes a blog I've been following longer than almost any other, It's Not Working, It's Gardening!, he's also a woodworking wizard. A couple of years ago he started selling a variety of outdoor furniture products through his company Nimble Mill. I have two of his Whorn stools/tables, which I reviewed here. To be honest, even though I got them for use on the backyard patio, they've never left the house because they look great indoors.

Now Alan is selling four different cube sculptures through his Etsy shop (as well as a few new ones that aren't on Etsy yet). They're made of cedar cubes joined by galvanized steel rods. I was particularly taken with the Solo Cubes Tower and decided to order one.

It arrived as a kit consisting of just a few easy-to-assemble pieces. Alan provided detailed instructions but I didn't really need them. Even I, mechanically challenged as I am, was able to figure out immediately how to put it together.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Europe 2017: Iceland's Golden Circle

On day 3 of our recent visit to Iceland we did the classic Golden Circle. This 200+ mile loop connects Reykjavík to three of Iceland's biggest attractions: Þingvellir National Park, the geysirs at Haukadalur, and the impressive waterfalls at Gullfoss.

Everybody says you must do the Golden Circle. Usually when I hear that, I want to do the opposite. But after looking at photos, I couldn't help but agree. The scenery really is stunning, and I didn't want to miss it.

Driving the Golden Circle

As you can see from my photos below, some spots were virtually deserted while others were a madhouse. But that seems to be the way it is in Iceland in July. Our landlord said to come back in September; the weather is still nice but there are far fewer tourists. And in the winter, when the northern lights are at their best, there's hardly anybody. Of course there's no daylight either—the opposite of what we experienced.

Our first stop was on the shores of Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland (its name is pronounced "THING-vuht-luh-vuhtn"). It is a majestic spot, wide open and beautifully desolate. It is surrounded by cracks and faults where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. For geology buffs, there's even a spot where you can scuba-dive down to see the two plates.

Panoramic view of Lake Þingvallavatn

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden July 2017 private garden tour, part 4

After drooling over the front yard of Julia's house in Walnut Creek, CA, it was time to check out the backyard. While not as succulent-centric—it's much shadier—it has the same level of sophistication.

The hardscaping around the pool may be not be for everyone, but it reflects the homeowner's easy-going elegance.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden July 2017 private garden tour, part 3

The third garden I visited as part of the  Ruth Bancroft Garden's tour of four private gardens was in Walnut Creek. I had blogged about it before, in November 2015, but this time I got to meet the homeowner, Julia, and see the backyard as well.

A Google Maps Street View image from May 2014 shows foundation plantings (boxwood?), lawn, and raised beds with flowering pink roses. I suspect this is the way the front yard had been for a long time. In contrast, this is what it looks like now:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden July 2017 private garden tour, part 2

The second place I visited on the Ruth Bancroft Garden's recent tour of four private gardens was on a corner lot in Concord. A Google Maps Street View image from August 2014 shows mounds of soil and possibly gravel on what was once lawn--the beginning of the front yard conversion. Now, three years later, the plantings looks remarkably well established.

What stood out for me about this garden was how effortlessly it incorporates cactus--chollas, prickly pears and columnar cactus--into the overall scheme. Agaves and aloes are a common sight in dry gardens in Northern California, as are golden barrel cactus, but the more lethal members of the cactus family--especially chollas--definitely aren't. Kudos to homeowner Galen for including them!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Europe 2017: South Iceland highlights (breathtaking!)

Day 2 of our four-day stopover in Iceland started out sunny. I woked up early—in late July it starts to get light at 3 a.m. after just three hours of dusk-level darkness—and I was excited because we were going to drive southeast from Reykjavík to Vík, the southernmost town in Iceland. This relatively short stretch of less than 150 miles is home to many of Iceland's most beautiful scenic attractions.

When we started to make plans for our visit to Iceland, I was trying to accommodate a drive around the entire island. I quickly realized, though, that even though Iceland looks small on a world map, it's actually quite large. With a land area of more than 100,000 km² (40,000 sq mi), it's bigger than Korea, Portugal, Austria, Ireland and 150 other countries in the world. In U.S. terms, it's about the size of Virgina, Kentucky or Ohio. In light of that, we decided to focus on the southwestern corner of Iceland.

After leaving Reykjavík at 9 a.m., the sun stayed with us for less than 30 minutes until we hit this impressive fog bank:

After that, the fog was with us all day until we got back to Reykjavík at 8:30 pm.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden July 2017 private garden tour, part 1

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a tour of four private gardens in the Walnut Creek area organized by the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG). It doesn't come as a surprise that the focus was on water-wise landscaping--and that succulents featured prominently in all gardens.

The first garden I want to show you belongs to Carol Le Page and her husband. Carol is the Communication and Event Coordinator at the RBG. Their front garden is the result of the very first lawn transformation workshop offered by the RBG a few years ago. Under the direction of Australian plantsman extraordinaire Troy McGregor, at the time the nursery manager at the RBG and now a professional landscape designer with his own company, Gondwana Flora, the workshop participants converted what was a typical lawn-centered front yard into the stunning focal point it is today. The global plant palette combines succulents from the Southwest, Mexico and South Africa with Mediterrean natives and treasures from Australia and New Zealand. The result is a colorful tapestry rich in texture and contrast.

Carol's magazine-worthy front yard

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Europe 2017: Reykyavík, Iceland

After two weeks in Germany, we've arrived in Iceland for a 4-day stay. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and it's finally happening (Icelandair allows you to make a free stopover of up to 7 days on any transatlantic flight).

On our first day (Sunday), we explored Reykjavík, Iceland's capital and biggest population center (two thirds of Iceland's 332,000 people live there). Reykjavík means "Smoky Bay" in Icelandic, alluding to the mist often rising over the ocean. It was the first settlement in Iceland (874 CE) but there was no urban development here until the 19th century.

Today, Reykjavík is a modern city with a relaxed, easy-going vibe with all the conveniences you could ask for--and surprisingly little traffic. After all the crazy driving we'd encountered in Germany, that in itself was a huge boon.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík

We started out at Reykjavík's best-known landmark: Hallgrímskirkja, the Church of Hallgrímur. You can see the church from pretty much anywhere in the city center, and if you park close to it (like we did), you'll always know where your car is. The church is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674), a beloved poet and hymn writer, and was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, Iceland's state architect at the time. Samúelsson created a uniquely Icelandic style of architecture that mirrored the geology of the country. His design for Hallgrímskirkja was inspired by the basalt columns that are form when lava cools. Construction of the church started in 1945 and the signature tower was completed fairly quickly. However, it took another 41 years before the rest of the church was finished: the nave wasn't consecrated until 1986.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Europe 2017: Salzburg, Austria

The final stop on our 4-day jaunt to the Bavarian Alps was a quick side trip to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart and the original home of the Sound of Music's von Trapp family. I had never been to Salzburg but based on what others had told me, I had high expectations.

But before we do Salzburg, I want to take you to Hallein, Austria, a town about 10 miles southwest of Salzburg and an equal distance northeast of Berchtesgaden, Germany. We spent the first night of our trip at the Kolpinghaus in Hallein. It is run by the Kolpingwerk Foundation, one of the largest social organizations of the Catholic church, and provides hostel-type accommodations for students. In the summer (July and August) it operates as a reasonably priced hotel (and no, you don't have to be Catholic or religious to stay there). The Kolpinghaus in Hallein consists of seven multi-story patrician houses originally built in the 1600s. Completely renovated about 10 years ago, the accommodations were unexpectedly spacious and comfortable. Our room was on the 5th floor and offered stunning views of the square in front of the hotel and beyond.

View from our window at the Kolpinghaus Hotel in Hallein, Austria

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 3

Day 3 of our stay in the Bavarian Alps was spent in the Berchtesgaden area. As is the case with so many exceptionally beautiful places in the world, Berchtesgaden is overloved and overrun, especially in the summer, leading to heavy traffic and disgruntled drivers looking for parking. Still, I can't blame anybody coming here to enjoy this slice of paradise. After all, we were part of that crowd.

Bergfriedhof Church in the town of Schönau which borders Berchtesgaden to the south

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 2

Day 2 of our stay in the Bavarian Alps was all about the Königssee. This fjord-like lake in Berchtesgaden National Park is surrounded by mountains rising steeply to 2,700 m (8,900 ft), including the Watzmann, Germany's third highest peak. The setting is drop-dead gorgeous.

St Bartholomew's Church on the Hirschau peninsula of the Königssee
The easiest way to see the lake is by boat. A fleet of electric boats provide service to St Bartholomew's Church about half way up the lake and to Salet, the terminus at the far end. The trip takes about two hours, there and back. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 1

We spent the last four days in the Bavarian Alps, mostly in the Berchtesgaden area. On our last day, we made a quick side trip to Salzburg, Austria. I took a lot of photos and will show you my favorites over the next four days.

Day 1 started out relatively cool, with often dramatic clouds and an occasional drizzle. Our first stop was the village of Ramsau, best known for its beautiful church:

Church in the village of Ramsau

Friday, July 14, 2017

Europe 2017: Picture postcards from Nuremberg, Germany

With a population of 510,000, Nuremberg (German: Nürnberg) is Germany's 14th largest city. It's about 20 miles from my hometown, a quick-and-easy 16 minutes by train. It's always been my favorite "big city" in Germany, not only because it's the one I know best, but because the historic city center is so picturesque.

View from Nuremberg Castle

As the site of the Nazi Party's Nuremberg Rallies, the city was a major target for Allied forces in WWII and sustained extensive damage. Many structures were rebuilt, including the main churches in the city center. Today, Nuremberg is an important economic powerhouse, both in industrial production and advanced technologies. In addition, Nuremberg has always been a center of the arts and sciences and is home to major museums such as the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany's largest museum of cultural history, and the Spielzeugmuseum, one of the best-known toy museums in the world.

My favorite thing to do in Nuremberg is to take a leisurely stroll through the city center, taking in the sights, sounds and smells (many stalls sell the famous Nuremberg Rostbratwurst). That's exactly what my family and I did the other day. Here is my photography booty.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Europe 2017: Sanspareil Rock Garden, Germany

We're in Germany visiting family and are trying to squeeze in as many tourist activities possible, weather permitting. The first couple of days were hot and muggy, with little relief overnight. Nobody has air conditioning, so there's no escaping the oppressive stickiness. Fortunately, a series of rainstorms on night 2 took the edge off, and day 3 was a lot more pleasant, albeit very wet at times.

Our destination for the day was the Sanspareil Rock Garden near the city of Bayreuth in Northern Bavaria. It's definitely not what you might think when you hear the word "rock garden." Instead, it's a 35-acre (14 hectare) beech grove which during 1744-1748 was transformed into a woodland fantasy at the behest of Margrave Frederick of Bayreuth and his wife, Margravine Wilhelmina, the rulers of the principality of Bayreuth. As was typical of that age, the ruling nobility had seemingly unlimited funds to build whatever their imagination (or that of their court architects) could dream up.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Tucson Botanical Gardens: Frida Kahlo & more

It's 111°F (44°C) in Tucson, AZ as I'm writing this on July 7, 2017. Quite a difference from December 28, 2016 when I visited the Tucson Botanical Gardens (TBG). That day the high was only 68°F (20°C)--right in what I consider the perfect temperature range (68 to 72°F). Balmy days like that are the reason why I love to visit Arizona in the winter!

This is was the second time I had been to the TBG. The core of the garden was pretty much the same as during my 2013 visit, but other things were different, the main change being the relocation of the garden entrance to the back of the parking lot. In addition, the TBG was hosting the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibit: Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life. More on that a little later.

Like so many public gardens, the TBG started out as a private property. Built in 1928, the main residence (now housing the offices) was the home of Rutger and Bernice Porter and their family. When Bernice died in 1964, she wanted the property to become a public garden and donated it to the City of Tucson. It took another ten years, but in 1974 the Tucson City Council finally passed a resolution that allowed the entity known as Tucson Botanical Gardens, founded in 1964 by horticulturist and plant collector Harrison Yocum in a different spot in town, to move to the location at 2150 N Alvernon Way. Click here to read more about the Porters and the early history of the garden.

During my visit last December, I parked in the parking lot but first walked out onto the sidewalk to photograph the wall separating the TBG property from busy Alvernon Way. The wall is now a stunning blood red and forms a perfect backdrop for a recently planted row of Mexican fencepost cactus (Pachycereus marginatus). You cannot get more Southwest than that!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Succulent shapshots from our garden

Instead of complaing about yet another mini heatwave knocking on the door, I decided to ignore it and focus on the many pockets of beauty that are everywhere in the garden.

There's no overarching theme to this post, just a random collection of vignettes that were calling out to be photographed. I hope you'll enjoy them!

Ferocactus emoryi

Monday, July 3, 2017

50,000 acres of sunflowers

Yolo County, the agricultural area surrounding the cities of West Sacramento, Davis, Winters, Woodland and a few smaller communities, is a world hub for sunflower research and development. This year, sunflower cultivation in Yolo Country is said to be 50,000 acres, double what it was in 2015. Most of the sunflowers are hybrids, bred to exacting standards. They're grown for seeds, which are shipped all over the world and planted primarily for sunflower oil production.

Sunflower fields have been a common sight in our 20 years of living in Davis. However, their location changes from year to year so the uninformed public (i.e. folks like me) never knows where the best spots will be. This year, the Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau has published an official Sunflower Map; that must mean that sunflower peeping is on the rise, and efforts are being made to attract visitors.

I did some sunflower hunting myself on Saturday, and here are some of the images I brought home.

This spot was my favorite. Sunflowers are awesome on their own, but when they're combined with palm trees, a stately old farm house and agaves, the excitement meter hits the red zone.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blooming chaste tree: perfect foil for agaves and aloes

In our backyard, there is a beautiful tree that is visible from the dining room window and from the sidewalk on the south side of the house. People invariably ask what it is, and when we tell them it’s a chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), they get a blank look on their face—either because they have never heard of it before, or they can’t quite figure out what chastity has to do with it. I had no idea either so I did some research. I love what I found on Wikipedia:
In ancient times it was believed to be an anaphrodisiac, hence the name chaste tree. Pliny, in his Historia Naturalis, reports the use of stems and leaves of this plant by women as bedding "to cool the heat of lust" during the time of the Thesmophoria, when Athenian women left their husband's beds to remain ritually chaste. […] Chaucer, in "The Flower and the Leaf," refers to it as an attribute of the chaste Diana, and in the 16th century the English herbalist William Turner reports the same anaphrodisiac properties of the seed, both fried and not fried. More recently, this plant has been called monk's pepper in the thought that it was used as anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain chaste. There are disputed accounts regarding its actual action on libido, with some claims that it is anaphrodisiac and others that it is aphrodisiac. Because of the complex mechanism of action it can be probably both, depending on concentration of the extract and physiologic variables (see below).
A few years ago somebody posted a note on our local Freecycle site looking for chaste-tree berries, and she did come by and collect some from our tree. I wonder what she was using them for?

We bought our chaste tree as a tiny plant in a four-inch pot, and in the 15 years it’s been in the ground it has grown into compact 15 ft. tree that provides beautiful filtered shade.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer vignettes from the UC Davis Arboretum

Sunday morning was perfection: deep blue sky, sunny, with temperatures in the low 70s. In other words, it was the kind of day that would make summer my favorite season if it were like that all the time.

Given a choice between working in the garden and--well--not, I opted for the second option and took our houseguest from Australia to the UC Davis Arboretum. While the Arboretum is more like a public park than a classic botanic garden (it's open 24/7 and there's no admission fee), I find something photo-worthy on virtually every visit.

The photos below are completely random, but they will you give a good idea of why I love this place.

"See No Evil Hear No Evil" Egghead by Robert Arneson in the Mrak Hall Roundabout

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cactus flowers brighten summer doldrums

I complained about the heat in my last post. It bothers us humans, but the cacti in our garden seemed to be unfazed by it. In fact, the abundant sunshines makes them happy, and when they're happy, they reward us with flowers. Which, in turn, makes us happy. So everybody is happy right now.

Cleistocactus strausii

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The heat is on

I had something else planned for this post, but I simply have to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room: THE HEAT. We're used to hot summers here in Davis, but this recent heat waves is both early for the season and brutal. Yesterday (Monday, June 19), Sacramento hit 107°F (42°C), a record for that day. Some forecasts call for 110°F (43°C) on Thursday, not far from the hottest temperature ever recorded in Sacramento: 114°F (46°C) on July 17, 1925. We're a few degrees cooler in Davis, but not enough to really matter.

What makes things worse is that the nights are sweltering as well. Typically, we cool off in the evening thanks to the Delta Breeze, a wind coming from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and bringing cooler air from the Pacific Ocean. Lately, though, the Delta Breeze has been a no show.

I gave my potted plants a good watering on Saturday and am keeping my fingers crossed they'll make it through this heat wave without damage. It's too early to tell.

One thing is particularly ironic: Just 10 days ago, on Sunday, June 11, the day I visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, we had a rare summer rainstorm that brought us temperatures 20°F below normal and a ½ inch of rain. I took a bunch of photos and want to share them with you today in hopes they'll make you feel cooler, too.

Agave cupreata

Monday, June 19, 2017

Linda's Sacramento backyard succulent garden

The Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS) has started a garden tour program this year that encourages members to open their gardens so others can see what kinds of plants they collect and how they display them or incorporate them into their landscaping.

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the garden of SCSS Vice-President Mariel Dennis. Yesterday, member Linda Roye opened her garden in Sacramento. I was afraid the heat wave we're currently in would keep people away, but there was a steady stream of visitors while I was there.

Linda's front yard is mostly California natives, but her backyard is all about succulents.As you can see below, it's not a large space but Linda has filled it with a wide variety of succulents: agaves, aloes, cacti, crassulas, echeverias, sedums, and many more. Racks and tables on the covered patio hold collections of potted haworthias, gasterias and other shade-loving plants.

Two Western red bud (Cercis occidentalis) provide some shade

Let's take a closer look!

Friday, June 16, 2017

2017 Sculpture in the Garden at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Every summer, the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA transforms itself into an outdoor art gallery showcasing pieces from regional artists. The tradition began 23 years ago, and it's still going strong. This year's Sculpture in the Garden kicks off on Saturday, June 17, with an Opening Night Sunset Social. Unfortunately, tickets are sold out. But you'll have until Sunday, August 13, 2017 to check out the art yourself--and maybe pick out a favorite for your own garden. 

When I visited the RBG last Sunday, June 11, quite a few pieces had already been placed; more have been added since then. Nothing was labeled yet when I was there and there was no price list. I tried to ID the artists whose pieces I photographed but I was only partially successful. I will amend the captions below as more information (including prices) becomes available.

As with any art show, I liked some pieces more than others, but I have the utmost respect for the creative minds who brought their visions to life. To me, creating art is the most mysterious and magical thing humans are capable of.

Artist: Wes Horn

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden June 2017 plant porn

Please excuse me for using the words "plant porn" yet again. But posts with the "p" word in the title are human catnip, and like all bloggers I want to get as much traffic as possible. I hope you can find in your heart to forgive me for being so shameless.

As I said yesterday, this week is Ruth Bancroft Garden week here on Succulents and More. In my previous post I showed you the major changes happening right now as preparations are underway for a new Visitor and Education Center. Today's post is "just" a visual scrapbook of images I took walking around the garden. My next post will show you some of the many (over 100!) sculptures on display right now for the RBG's annual Sculpture in the Garden event.

Golden Coulter bush (Hymenolepis parviflora) and aloes

My partner in crime Brian and I walked through the garden in a rather haphazard fashion. By the time we were done, we probably covered each trail twice so the photos below are not in any logical order. But based on my own experience, that's how most of us tend to experience gardens anyway.

Grab a favorite beverage and sit back because this is a long post. The images take center stage; my observations are limited to captions.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Big changes at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Ruth Bancroft, the humble Walnut Creek succulent lover whose vision would find recognition all over the world, will turn 109 this September. Big changes are in store for her eponymous garden, since 1994 a nonprofit affiliated with the Garden Conservancy. After decades of staff being cooped up in a trailer and visitors having to use portable toilets, ground will soon be broken for a multi-million dollar Visitor and Education Center that will offer office space as well as classroom and reception facilities--and real toilets.

Preparations have already begun at the garden. One of the Ruth Bancroft Garden's signature beds, planted with car-sized Agave franzosinii, is no more.

Or rather, it has been radically reconfigured to make room for the new building and the adjacent patio.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Revisiting Sue’s succulent garden (June 2017)

Among the most viewed posts on Succulents and More are the two on my friend Sue's front yard makeover. In the spring of 2015, Sue and her husband replaced their front lawn with a thoughtful design consisting of two distinct areas: a public space anchored by a golden rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans) and featuring star jasmine, fortnight lily and variegated euonymus, and a private courtyard with a large L-shaped succulent bed and a pergola.

This is what the finished project looked like in May 2015. And this is what the succulent beds looked like a year later, in April 2016.

Curious to find out what it looks like now, in early June 2017? Scroll down to see!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Update on Jacaranda 'Bonsai Blue'

Two years ago, in June 2015, I bought a dwarf jacaranda sold by Monrovia under the name 'Bonsai Blue' and I planted it in large concrete container on our back patio. Click here to read my original post. A lot of people have asked me how that jacaranda has fared. Time for an update!

'Bonsai Blue' is very much alive. In fact, it's blooming for the first time ever! I'm very excited because I wasn't sure it was ever going to flower, seeing how it receives only a few hours of direct sun. In full sun, I imagine it would be covered with flowers, just like a regular full-size Jacaranda mimosifolia.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mariel's garden: succulents, gargoyles, pottery, and a bottle tree!

This year the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS) has started a garden tour program where members are encouraged to open their garden for other members. Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the garden of SCSS vice president Mariel Dennis. 

As you will see below, Mariel's garden is totally unique. Yes, there are succulents, but there are roses, gladiolas, butterfly bushes, geraniums, hydrangeas, fig trees, herbs, and a plethora of other plants as well. Then there's the garden art: glass ornaments, talavera pieces, head planters, and a whole lot more. And keeping watch over the front entryway are gargoyles that are unapologetically creepy.

At night, the backyard is lit up by a variety of light sources--from solar lanterns with glass blocks placed in front of them for added effect to rope lights laid on top of a gravel walkway. Mariel said that people have told her the backyard looks like an alien landing strip at night. But she loves it, and that's all that matters. I couldn't agree more. It may seem like a simple and obvious statement, but all too many gardeners are focused on what others might think of their garden. That should be completely secondary. We should create the kind of garden that makes us happy. If others like it, too--that's great. If not--well, too bad for them.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Front yard in late May 2017

It's been a while since I've done a more comprehensive post on the front yard. I'm very happy with how things are looking overall. In spite of a recent mini heat wave, temperatures have been on the mild side, prolonging the late-spring floral splendor. High time to give you a tour before summer catches up with us!

The succulent mounds that have replaced the front lawn look quite different depending on the time of day:



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gardening splendor on two acres in the country

I often wish I had more room for gardening. I routinely dream of having acreage to play with—5 acres has a nice ring to it. But I’m not picky. I’ll take anything that’s larger than our lot, which is just 8,100 square feet, i.e. 1/5 of an acre. At the same time I know that we’ll never be able to afford a larger property here in Davis. I’d have to move far out into the boonies to make my dream come true—or to another part of the state.

My dream of owning acreage had new life breathed into it last Sunday when I saw first hand what an avid gardener can do on two acres in the country just outside of the Davis city limits. I joined the California Horticultural Society (Cal Hort) for a tour of three Davis gardens, led by Ernesto Sandoval, collections manager of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory. The first garden was the kind of country property I had always imagined owning: a main house, a guest house, and lots of space for all kinds of things—above all gardens.

Even though my country property would look quite different, I found a lot to like here as you will see below. The annuals (mainly California poppies) were at the end of their peak, but they were going out in a blaze of glory. The perennials were getting ready to take over as the center of attention, and fruit trees were heavy with ripening fruit.

As wonderful as it all was, what I liked even more was the fact this garden was not 100% pristine. There were weeds, plentiful in some areas, and unfinished projects. Like mine, this is a garden in progress—a working garden, not a perfectly manicured showpiece. That’s why I felt so comfortable there.

Arbor on the west side of the garden

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rotting Agave pumila pulls through

In January, I noticed that a few leaves on my prized Agave pumila in the front yard had started to rot. The seemingly non-stop rain in January was simply too much. (In total we had over 30 inches of rain this winter--10 inches more than our historic average.)

I first applied a fungicide in hopes of stopping the infection but that didn't seem to do very much. I was thiiiiiis close to removing the entire plant but pity got the better of me and I decided to give it one last chance. I pulled off the rotten leaves--they practically came off in my hands--when to my surprise I noticed a handful of babies hiding underneath. There was no way I could get rid of the mama now!

Fast forward 3+ months to May 24. This is what my Agave pumila looks like now:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Aloe splendor at Los Angeles Country Arboretum (January 2017)

The good folks of Los Angeles County are so lucky. Not only do they have the Huntington, they also have the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The two are (literally!) just 5 miles apart.

I've been to the Huntington twice now and know how stunning the gardens are. The L.A. County Arboretum had always been on my list but since I had heard it referred to as Huntington Lite, it wasn't at the top of my list. However, on my way home from Palm Springs this March, I decided to check it out. I didn't have much time--not enough for the Huntington--but I figured an hour would be enough to get a general impression.

Well, I was wrong. An hour was woefully insufficient because the L.A. County Arboretum is anything but Huntington Lite, it's a full-fledged peer.

Encompassing 127 acres on what once was Rancho Santa Anita, a 13,000 acre Spanish land grant, the L.A. County Arboretum consists of several dozen gardens and collections (like the palm and bamboo collection), a lake, and a variety of historic structures (read more about the site's history here). It would take many hours to see everything. My one hour was barefully enough to scratch the surface of the South American and African section. For this reason, consider this post an extended teaser, not in-depth coverage. I'll be back soon to explore the L.A. Country Arboretum at a more leisurely pace.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Another palo verde (heart)break

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that the palo verde (Parkinsonia), especially the 'Desert Museum' hybrid, is one of my favorite trees. While 'Desert Museum' is common in Arizona and Southern California, it's still fairly rare here in Northern California. In this post from September 2013 I detail my quest to find one.

We eventually planted two 'Desert Museum' and one 'Sonoran Emerald' (a different palo verde hybrid). Everything went well until January of this year when a major branch--half of the tree it seemed--broke off in a windstorm. See this post for details and photos. We removed the fallen branch and cleaned up the debris. Over time, the scar healed and by late April the tree was covered with flower buds.

Then came May 7. I was in Germany at the time, but this is what my wife encountered that Sunday morning:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What you find in a garden center in Germany

My trip to Germany last week went by in a heartbeat, and there wasn't much time for exploring. However, my mother and I made it to an OBI garden center one morning. OBI is a major chain of home improvement stores, much like The Home Depot or Lowe's in the U.S. (In fact, Wikipedia says OBI is #3 in the world behind these two.)

I wasn't expecting any huge surprises, considering that the average OBI customer is more interested in low prices than unusual plants, but I was still hoping to find something a bit out of the ordinary. Let's see if I did!

Outside the store there was racks upon racks of the usual bedding plants (geraniums, petunias, marigolds, etc.) as well as vegetables. In the garden center proper, more bedding plants but also some very nice lupines and hostas. (I shouldn't be surprised; hostas grow well in Germany, as opposed to California.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

More snapshots from Germany

My previous post showed you the sights in the historic center of Hersbruck, my hometown in northern Bavaria. This post ventures outside the town center and covers areas a little farther afield. 

The best panoramic view of Hersbruck is from the Michelsberg, the 388 m (1278 ft) hill north of downtown. I will never get tired of this sight:

Town center, with Hersbruck Castle in the back and City Hall and the Stadtkirche on the right

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snapshots from Germany

I'm in Germany for my mother's 80th birthday and have been collecting photos to show you. This post contains about 60 photos, tomorrow's another 40, of my hometown, Hersbruck. It is located in Franconia (northern Bavaria), about 18 miles from Nuremberg, and has about 12,000 residents. The first mention of Hersbruck in official documents was in 976 but the town may even be older than that.

My mother still lives in the house where she grew up, and where I grew up. I've been gone for many years now, and while a lot of things have changed, some dramatically, others have remained the same. The houses in the town center are mostly unchanged due to laws protecting historical buildings. This corner on the edge of the town center, for example, looks the way it did when I was little--and probably long before:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ann Nichols's exotic East Bay paradise (bromeliads! succulents! more!)

The first garden I visited on the Garden Conservancy's recent East Bay Open Day was the garden of Ann Nichols in Piedmont, a small residential enclave surrounded by the city of Oakland. In the Open Day directory, it was described like this:
This is a garden of many levels consisting of a number of outdoor rooms, each with its own plant and color scheme. The front garden, designed around an existing Canary Island date palm, is home to a variety of tropical and subtropical plants and bulbs. Passing by a small orchid garden and through the front gate, one meanders past gurgling water that flows downhill from a waterfall and through a mini-canal into two ponds. A free-form fence constructed of tied tree limbs parallels the length of the walkway, and a mosaic mural at the top invites the visitor into the backyard. Inside the gate is the “entry parlor” filled with foliage of black and silver. A walkway continues through the shady white garden into the sun-filled mid-level lawn, bordered by beds of red and orange. Higher on the hill is the rose garden underplanted in blue and accessed through an arched walkway of weeping sequoias.
As if this blurb wasn't exciting enough, my tour companion Kathy Stoner of GardenBook was raving about Ann Nichols' garden. She had visited it in 2013 and couldn't wait to go back. (To read Kathy's post about our visit, click here. It's great seeing the same garden through somebody else's eyes.) 

This is the front garden. I wonder how many fender benders have happened on this street because people slowed down or stopped altogether to get a better look at this exotic paradise.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pseudonatural Freakshow

Last Saturday was the Garden Conservancy's first Open Day of 2017 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Four gardens were open for touring in the East Bay (Berkeley and Oakland). I had visited two of them last year, including ceramic artist Marcia Donahue's personal oasis, so I skipped them because my time was limited (and I already had planned a stopover at Annie's Annuals for the drive home to Davis).

Of the two gardens I did visit on Saturday was one in Berkeley listed in the Open Days Directory under the intriguing moniker Pseudonatural FreakshowHere is how it was described:
My garden began as an effort to develop my yard as habitat for birds and other winged life, shaped by the natural spaces I love to visit. Though originally stocked with many plants that provide food and nesting material for birds, it is being filled in more and more with the strange and fantastic plants that catch my eye. I’ve tried to make a garden that feels like Nature is—if not actually winning—at least making a good showing. The 5,000-square-foot back garden is the oldest part and is mostly multi-storied verge areas to appeal to birds. A creek on our northern border is part of a natural flyway for birds. Aesthetically, I pay attention to site lines and plant combinations, especially those with interesting foliage. I like to start with wide pathways and then allow the plants to encroach. My aesthetic is definitely naturalistic, but I make no effort to be geographically correct nor do I favor California natives for any reason other than their individual, inherent excellence. Our house is in an old frumpy warehouse where my wife does her artwork. So there is little relation between it and the garden and very little by way of views out to the garden from inside. Most everything in the garden was made by me from repurposed materials including an urbanite courtyard off our backdoor made from the concrete demo’d from a school basement where I taught during an earthquake retrofit. The redwood staves from an old water tower were used to make decking, fencing, and a smaller storage shed. More reclaimed materials went into building a forty-foot pergola over the front garden, more raised beds, and many sitting areas. Plants include succulents, bromeliads, begonias, roses, echiums, solanums, phormiums, fruit trees, passion vines (including an older Passiflora membranacea), a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants including many from the cloud forest like Telanthophora grandifolia, Salvia wagneriana, Abutilon tridens, Iochromas, agapetes, fuchsias, brugmansia, and Deppea splendens.
I was hooked, but I had no idea what to expect. The sliding gate at the entrance to the garden definitely had a light-industrial vibe. And the building itself did look like a generic commercial space.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Getting my Annie's Annuals fix

Usually I don't wait until late April to get my springtime fix at Annie's Annuals, located in Richmond just about an hour from my house. But 2017 has been an unusual gardening year. Because of the impressive amount of rainfall following a historic drought, and a relatively cool spring with no unseasonable hot spells, it feels like late March or early April to me.

With the planting window still wide open, I decided to stop at Annie's last Saturday to see what interesting plants I could find to fill various holes in the garden. But before I starting shopping, I spent quite a while admiring the demonstration beds. They are simply bursting with color right now. There was so much to see and photograph! And while most of the plants aren't labeled, the wonderful employees are always there to help. (People working at nurseries are almost always nice, but the folks at Annie's are in a different league altogether.)

Looking at my photos below you might be under the impression that there weren't very many people at the nursery. Actually, just the opposite is true. The parking lot was almost full, and there were lines at the checkout. It was great to see people spending money on plants.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunland Cactus Nursery

On my trip to Palm Springs in early March, Mariscal wasn't the only succulent nursery we visited. In fact, our second nursery destination was even bigger!

I'd first become aware of Sunland Cactus Nursery through a blurb in Sunset Magazine. Wouldn't you want to go after reading this?
For most of the journey to this Desert Hot Springs nursery, you’ll be cursing the people (that would be us) who told you about it. You drive down desolate Dillon Road, whose undulations make you feel you’re riding a roller coaster, and begin to worry that you’re nowhere but in the middle of meth country. Then, at last, you spot it—a field of blue-green spiky orbs growing in 24-inch wooden tree boxes—and give thanks to the heavens.
The short article went on talk about riding in a golf cart through "rows of containerized palms, agave, and euphorbia, all of them seemingly waiting to be moved from the nursery to your front yard."

Brilliant piece of writing, Sunset! It's the best advertisement for a nursery I can imagine, especially for customers with a bit of an adventurous streak.

Dillon Road didn't quite reach roller coaster level but the undulations did make me a bit queasy, probably because I was driving too fast. But then, there was hardly anybody else on the road. We stopped at the address given in Sunset Magazine, 28900 Pushawalla St in Desert Hot Springs, and began to explore.

This is the first photo I took:

Talk about instant impact in your garden!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book review: Glorious Shade

I live and garden in Davis, about 15 miles west of Sacramento and 75 miles east of San Francisco. We have a Mediterranean climate typical of California's Central Valley (Csa in the Köppen climate classification system), characterized by dry hot summers and mild rainy winters.

I have figured out what to plant in the areas the get sun all or most of the day--California and Southwestern natives thrive here, as do many Mediterranean, South African and Australian plants and, of course, cactus and succulents. Gardening in the sun is the easy part.

What's not easy is gardening in the shade. Specifically, dry shade.

Our backyard is dominated by four 30+ ft. bay trees that cast deep shade. Even areas away from the bay trees receive varying degrees of shade, be it from other trees and shrubs or simply from the 6-foot fence that encloses the backyard on three sides. Add to that the fact that from May to November we go 5 or 6 months without any significant rainfall (and we try to irrigate as little as possible). All these factors result in a situation that is quite challenging.

These were the constraints I had in mind when I asked Timber Press if I could review their upcoming title Glorious Shade by Jenny Rose Carey.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Back to Mariscal Cactus & Succulents

Stopping by Mariscal Cactus & Succulents in Desert Hot Springs seems to have become a bit of a tradition whenever I'm in the Palm Springs area. This was my third visit; I had previously stopped in February 2011 and in January 2015. My Portland friends, with whom I was staying in Palm Springs, are fans, too, so our Saturday (March 4) began with an outing to Mariscal.

The nursery is located outside the town of Desert Hot Springs on a road that seems to go on forever. Not far away, there's a field of wind turbines that seems to be bigger every time I visit (wind power is big business here). In early March, there was still snow on the mountains, which added a picture-postcard beauty.