Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's getting to be aloe time

As much as I dislike winter, it has one bright spot: It's flowering time for many aloes. In our zone 9b climate the peak is usually late January so we still have a few weeks to go before the fireworks go off. However, that doesn't stop me from checking my aloes every day. I enjoy seeing even the smallest amount of progress!

Here's a look at what's happening right now.

The Aloe cryptopoda next to our driveway started to flower a month ago. It sent up two flower stalks, but unfortunately one of them (on the right in the photo below) got bent over by the nasty winds we had a few weeks ago.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Book review: Private Gardens of the Bay Area

I vividly remember getting a coffee table book about the Caribbean islands when I was a young adult. Looking at the glossy photos was like being there in person, and the book ignited a passion for travel that continues to burn bright to this day.

Stirring the imagination—that's the power of a well-produced coffee table. Private Gardens of the Bay Area by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, with photographs by Marion Brenner (who also worked on The Bold Dry Garden: Lessons from the Ruth Bancroft Garden), is such a book. It takes you on a journey to destinations that are as exciting as the Caribbean but a lot more varied: Some gardens evoke England, others France or Italy; some look like a South Pacific paradise, others like the desert; many are firmly rooted in the California landscape around them.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Wave Garden in Point Richmond: one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area

The Wave Garden in Point Richmond may be one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. There seems to be some hesitation to share its exact location. Maybe it's because the Wave Garden is privately owned even though it's open to the public and meant to be enjoyed by the wider community. More on the history of this unique place a little later.

I visited the Wave Garden in February 2014 and again in May 2015 and had been wanting to go back ever since. Since it's only 15 minutes from Annie's Annuals and Perennials, I caught two birds with one stone last weekend. After spending a couple of hours shopping at Annie's, I made the short drive to Point Richmond. As on my previous visits, there was nobody else there. For an hour I enjoyed what has to be one of the most scenic and peaceful spots on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

One of several seating areas, this one overlooking the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge crossing San Pablo Bay

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Shopping Annie's Annuals' 15% off sale

It's no secret that Annie's Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, CA is one of my favorite nurseries. Now through the end of the year they're having a 15% off sale on everything in the nursery: plants, gift items, even gift certificates. Is there a better reason to visit? Granted, the best time for planting is over for the year, but what is life if you don't push the envelope a little bit?

In that spirit, I made the one-hour drive yesterday. My partner in crime was my friend Brian who volunteers at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. While it's fun shopping with somebody who is as plant-obsessed as you are, it's also dangerous because you end up pushing each other to buy even more than you had planned: "Hey, doesn't this plant look good? You should try it!" Or "This plant does really well in my garden. You need to get one, too." I apologize to Brian if I made him buy something he hadn't planned on buying!

Richmond is in zone 10a. Davis, where I live, is in zone 9b. You might think there isn't much difference, but there is. There is a big difference, actually, especially in the winter. Plants that struggle in Davis—think aeoniums, many proteas, fuchsias, etc.—sail through Richmond's virtually frost-free winters. That's why Annie's display gardens look good all year. I enjoy looking at them almost as much as I like shopping!

This is what I saw at Annie's yesterday:

Many nurseries have cats, Annie's has a friendly cow

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book gift ideas for gardeners

Gardeners love plants, but plants don't necessarily make great gifts unless you know exactly what the recipient really wants. Gift certificates are handy but impersonal. That's why I think books are the ideal gift for gardeners. Even if you give a book your gardening friend or relative would not have picked themselves, it might nudge them to explore something new.

This list is fairly random but it contains books that stood out to me in 2017. At the bottom I've added four books on my own wish list. Maybe I'll find one or two them under the Christmas tree.

All books are available from the usual sources.


Designing with Succulents, Second Edition by Debra Lee Baldwin

This long-awaited update to Debra Lee Baldwin's classic exceeds every expectation I had. Completely rewritten and reorganized with hundreds of new photos, this book is the perfect gift for any succulent lover, beginner or expert.

Click here to read my in-depth review.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ruth Bancroft passes away at age 109

On Sunday, November 26, Ruth Bancroft passed away at her home in Walnut Creek. She was 109 years old. I will miss her greatly even though I met her only once, briefly. Somehow I had thought she would live forever and that at some point there would be another opportunity to visit with her.

Ruth Bancroft and RBG curator Brian Kemble who has been working alongside Ruth since 1980.
Photo © 2016 by Stephen Lysaght. Used with Stephen's permission.

Ruth started her now iconic succulent garden in 1972 at the age of 63. I bet she had no idea that she would live another 47 years to see her labor of love mature and inspire tens of thousands of gardeners to plant dry gardens as well.

At the time, she was often asked why she would embark on such a big project at her age when it was more than likely that she would never see the plants grow to maturity. This was her reply: “Well, who cares if I’m around or not? Someone will be around. And if I don’t plant it then nobody will get to see it.”

We should all live and garden by this tenet.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A must-have guide for California gardeners and visitors: The California Garden Tour by Donald Olson

The most useful book on our recent Pacific Northwest trips has been The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The 60 Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by Donald Olson, published by Timber Press in 2014. Now Don Olson has written a companion guide for California: The California Garden Tour: The 50 Best Gardens to Visit in the Golden State.

Selfishly speaking, the timing couldn't have been better. I'm planning a late-December trip to Southern California, and I've been using The California Garden Tour for inspiration and information. In addition to big names like the Huntington, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Getty Center and Villa, Don also takes readers to gardens I'm not familiar with, including Virginia Robinson Gardens, Hortense Miller Garden and Rancho Los Alamitos. I can't wait to explore them in just five weeks.

Now let's take a closer look at the book:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Backyard overhaul: slow but steady

In a recent post, my friend Kathy who blogs at GardenBook talked about the "hateful areas" in her garden. I can relate only too well. In recent years, it seems most of our backyard has become a hateful area. With our attention firmly focused on the front garden, the backyard has fallen into benign neglect.

That is about to change. Actually, it already has started to change.

The area I'm going to show you today is outside the dining room slider; the desert bed we created in 2014 is on the other side of the fence. A year ago, we had an 'Aristocrat' pear and a clumping bamboo removed (read about it here) to create a blank slate. The first new plants to go in were an Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' and a Grevillea 'Flora Mason' (see here). In recent months I've been slowly adding more plants. This area only gets a few hours of direct sun but is fairly bright most of the day because of light reflecting off the house.

Let's take a closer look.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mystery plant in the backyard

Do you like plant mysteries? If so, I have a good one for you. In recent weeks I've noticed this volunteer in the backyard:

When it was smaller, I thought it was a weed but out of curiosity I decided to let it grow. However, as it got taller, I became even more baffled. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My new favorite front yard in town

In my previous post I showed you thickets of weedy Agave americana growing in two front yards just a block apart. On the same street I made another discovery—one that almost had me slam on the brakes with excitement. (I managed to contain myself enough to safely pull over to the curb.)

Take a look:

This is the kind of front yard I would have if I started with a blank slate: rectangular terraced planting areas in different sizes and colors filled with a variety of succulents and waterwise perennials.

I love everything about this design. Hands-down, this is my new favorite front yard in Davis. The fact that I discovered it purely by chance makes me wonder what other treasures there are close to home? Instead of visiting gardens elsewhere, I need to spend more time exploring my own town! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Agave americana eating the world

I love agaves. All of them. Well, almost. There's one species I'm not fond of, and it happens to be the most common one in gardens around here: Agave americana. The reason for that is very simple: Agave americana is a baby-making machine. It pups so prolifically that you could supply your entire neighborhood with offsets and never run out. Just take a look at the photos below, and you'll see what I mean:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Succulents in glorious B&W

I recently participated in a black & white photo challenge on Facebook: for seven days, post a B&W photo of your everyday life, no explanation, no people. What initially seemed like a chore quickly became more fun than I had expected—and the catalyst for this post.

Nobody sees the world in black & white—not even dogs—so B&W photos are, by their very nature, an abstraction. In the absence of color, shapes, textures, and the relationship between light and dark take on outsize significance.

The natural world has been a favorite subject of B&W photographers since the invention of the medium. There is no shortage of beautiful images of plants and flowers—just take a look at the floral work of Tom Baril and Ron van Dongen—but succulents have traditionally taken a backseat to less prickly favorites such as tulips and calla lilies.

There are exceptions. Imogen Cunningham photographed agaves and aloes in the 1920s, and Brett Weston, son of Edward, made images of cactus, agaves and other succulents from the 1930s on.

Aeoniums, Succulent Gardens, Castroville, CA

Sunday, November 5, 2017

More new plants, as if I needed them!

Prepare yourselves for a shocking confession: I've never met a plant (sale) I don't like.

OK, you're probably not all that surprised to hear that. After all, I regularly write about my plant sale escapades.

The saga continued this past weekend.

On Saturday, the UC Davis Arboretum held its final plant sale of the season. Traditionally, this is a clearance sale where all remaining plants are 10% off. This year they went all out and upped the discount to 25%—with Arboretum members getting an additional 10% off, for a total of 35%.

To sweeten the deal even more, many plants were marked down to $6. Take 35% off $6, and the final price for those plants was $3.90! Practically free!

What could I do? I simply had to go.

I met up with fellow blogger Kathy Stoner (click here to visit her blog GardenBook) and we spent a intensely focused hour and half on the very serious business of plant shopping. Both of us had gone through the inventory list ahead of time and marked plants of interest. That helped us shop efficiently and productively.

Here is my haul:

My plant haul from the UC Davis Arboretum clearance sale on November 4, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From agave to yucca: more from the Danger Garden

Remember this song from the 1986 Tom Cruise movie Top Gun?

Highway to the danger zone
Right into the danger zone
Highway to the danger zone 
Gonna take you right into the danger zone

Substitute "danger zone" with "Danger Garden" and you have the theme song of Loree Bohl's popular blog. After all, its motto is "Careful, you can poke an eye out."

As I said in this post, I didn't lose an eye or any other vital body part while exploring Loree's front garden on my mid-September trip to Portland, Oregon. But more danger lurks around the back, behind this impressive agave gate designed by Loree's artist husband Andrew (read more about the gate here).

Monday, October 30, 2017

Turning 1 into 19: pot-bound Aloe suprafoliata

With its icy blue leaves, Aloe suprafoliata is a striking landscape plant, as seen here at UC Davis:

Four Aloe suprafoliata at the UC Davis (the flowering aloe with bluish leaves)

What attracts most people to this aloe species, however, is its juvenile form:

Juvenile Aloe suprafoliata at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

Its botanical name, suprafoliata, actually means “leaves stacked on top of each other.” The common name in Afrikaans is boekaalwyn, literally “book aloe.” It’s easy to see why: the stacked leaves of a juvenile plant resemble the pages of an open book. As the plant matures, the leaves swivel into the rosette you see in the first photo.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sunset Magazine agave blurb makes me laugh

Sunset Magazine has been a staple in my life for what seems like decades (probably because it has been decades). Granted, I haven't been happy with the inexorable shift away from gardening towards lifestyle topics but I understand the pressures Sunset must be under to adapt and meet the needs of a changing demographic. Call it loyalty or habit, but I still read Sunset every month. Their garden- and plant-related articles are typically well written and equally well illustrated.

Perusing the November 2017 issue, I was excited to see a photo of agaves nestled in a bed of rosemary. Any blurb about agaves is a good thing in my book—agaves need all the help they can get to raise their profile in the gardening world.

As I was reading the short article that goes with the photo, I began to laugh.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Getting some of my plant sale purchases in the ground

Plant sales are like catnip to me. Winter and summer are safe because there are no sales. But spring and fall are full of temptations, and I generally can't resist. This usually results in a mess of nursery pots in the front yard. I leave my new purchases in a highly visible location so I'm reminded several times a day that they need to be put in the ground (or in larger pots).

In the last month I've accumulated more plants than usual because of two plants sales at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and a trip to Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento. I did manage to plant the mangaves I bought at the first sale but the other stuff I got—and my new purchases from the second sale—were still there on the walkway near the front door.

Sunday was a perfect fall day, sunny with afternoon temperatures in the low 70s, so I got stuck in, as they say in the UK. I didn't get everything planted—mostly because I don't know yet where some plants will go—but I made good progress. Read on to see what I did.

Waiting to be planted

Friday, October 20, 2017

Another favorite tree: Acacia baileyana aka Cootamundra wattle

Succulents are fine by themselves, but they're even better when surrounded by companion plants that complement their shapes and textures and have similar cultivation needs. Based on what I get asked, it appears that many gardeners are interested in trees that go well with their succulents.

It's no secret that I love palo verdes, especially the thornless hybrids 'Desert Museum' and 'Sonoran Emerald'. We have three, and I'm happy to see that they're becoming more available in our local nurseries.

This post is about another tree that's near and dear to me: Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea'.

In my recent post about our front garden I briefly mentioned that we had planted an Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' to replace an unsightly, diseased 'Aristocrat' pear. Today I want to show you what this Australian native, which goes by the funny name of Cootamundra wattle in its homeland, looks like as a mature tree:

The grouping of Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' in these photos is in front of a doctor's office in Walnut Creek, not far from the Ruth Bancroft Garden. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

In-depth tour of the Succulents and More front garden

Last Saturday I hosted an open garden for members of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society. In preparation I did a fairly thorough clean-up of the front yard. I even hauled out the pressure washer and blasted away years of grime from the flagstone. The wind undid my raking and leaf-blowing efforts three times (grrrr), and in the end I simply had to accept the fact there were more stray leaves than I wanted. Such is the life of a gardener.

This coming Saturday I'm hosting the California Horticultural Society for coffee in the garden, so I'm able to kill two birds with one stone. In addition, the front garden is finally looking good enough to give you an in-depth tour. It's been a while since I did that.

There are 70+ photos in this post so grab your favorite drink and settle in for the duration. All photos are available in a higher-resolution version. Simply click any photo to access the lightbox view. From there you can scroll through all the images.

View from the street

Friday, October 13, 2017

Plant porn from the 2017 Succulent Extravaganza

As I always do, I took lots of photos at the 2017 Succulent Extravaganza held on September 29 and 30 at Succulent Gardens in Castroville on California's beautiful Central Coast.

My earlier post talked about this fantasticand free!event in more detail.

This post is nothing but plant porn from Succulent Gardens, Northern California's largest succulent grower. Most photos are of the demonstration gardens but a few are from inside the retail greenhouse where thousands upon thousands of plants are for sale.

Be warned: This is a long post, containing 70+ photos. Take your time. I promise you it's worth it.

Aeonium 'Sunburst' and Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light'. This is in the demonstration garden Andrea Hurd created for the 2015 Succulent Extravaganza.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mangaves and other goodies at UC Davis Arboretum fall plant sale

October 7 was the first plant sale of the season at the UC Davis Arboretum Teachning Nursery. I had printed out the plant list from their web site so I knew what to expect. (Their plant list is very handy because it contains not only brief information about each plant but also the aisle in the nursery where to find it, the price, and how many are in stock.)

I was thrilled to see that the plant sale inventory contained a number of new mangaves from Walters Gardens. Mangaves are crosses between the genus Agave (or, in many of these cases, another ×Mangave) and the genus Manfreda. I had several already, thanks to Loree aka Danger Garden who shared her mangave bounty with me earlier in the year, but there were some others I didn't have. I'm making a bold prediction right here and now: 2018 will the the year of the mangave! Many of these new hybrids will find their way into nurseries and, hopefully, into customers' gardens. Look for a dedicated mangave post soon.

Mangave bouty at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery fall plant sale

Friday, October 6, 2017

Aloes, aloes, aloes at UC Davis Botanical Conservatory pre-sale

Plant sale season is kicking into high gear. If you live on the Central Coast, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum is having their fall plant sale on Saturday, October 14. For more info, visit their web site.

Much closer to home, the UC Davis Arboretum will kick off their fall sales tomorrow, Saturday, October 7 (9:00-11:00 for members, 11:00-1:00 for the public). There will also be a sale on Saturday, October 21 and a public clearance sale on Saturday, November 4. For more information and to download the inventory for each sale, visit their web site.

This morning, the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, an "interactive and multi-sensory museum containing a large diversity of live specimens relied on for teaching or research purposes," had their pre-sale. The tables were well stocked with succulents, carnivorous plants, houseplants, and the usual quirky assortment of oddities. The prices were great, too: $10 for 3 $4 plants, $20 for 7.

The Botanical Conservatory will have tables at all the UC Davis Arboretum plant sales, so if you missed today's pre-sale, visit them at any of the Arboretum plant sales. Their tables are usually in the back, at the far end of the nursery. Ernesto Sandoval and Marlene Simon will be on hand to answer all your questions.

Above is my haul from this morning's Botanical Conservatory pre-sale.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 Succulent Extravaganza was a blast

The 2017 Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA took place this past Friday and Saturday, September 29 and 30. Both days were jam-packed with presentations, socalizing, looking at plants, and of course shopping. I didn't arrive until late afternoon on Friday so I missed out on Friday's activities. But I enjoyed a full day on Saturday visiting with old succulent friends and meeting new ones, taking photos of the wonderful plants at Succulents Gardens (the demonstration gardens looked better than ever), and listening to four presentations. I bought a few things, too, but oddly enough none of them were succulents.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I visited the Danger Garden (again) and didn't get poked

Loree Bohl is one special woman. Her blog, Danger Garden, was one of the first gardening blogs I started to follow, and it has had a lasting impact on my own garden and my personal plant preferences. But Loree is not just a talented writer and photographer, she's also a truly gifted gardener. If there was a Gardening Hall of Fame, I'd start a campaign to get her inducted.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of hanging out in Portland with Loree, Mark and Gaz of Alternative Eden, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, and a bunch of other plant nerds. Needless to say it was a blast, and I came home with a nice assortment of plants.

Since I was staying with Loree, her husband Andrew, and their adorable chug Lila, I had ample opportunity to poke around in the Danger Garden. In this post I'll show you the front garden. In a future post, I'll take you around into the back garden. The two areas are quite different, but they're united by Loree's sharp eye for design. She appears to know instinctively which plants look good next to each other and how to combine seemingly disparate plants in ways that continue to surprise and delight me. Fortunately for all of us, she's a prolific blogger and shares tales from the Danger Garden five times a week.

Loree grows a huge variety of plants from all over the world. Many have sculptural leaves, others produce gorgeous flowers, and yet others have unusual bark or some other characteristic that makes them special. Growing among them all are the spiky rebels that gave the Danger Garden its name. It's no coincidence that the blog's byline is "Careful, you could poke an eye out." While I'm fairly certain that that has never happened, I do know that more than one unsuspecting visitor has lost some blood.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Baby steps in the garden

Our garden will never be "finished." It took me a while to realize this. I used to think, "as soon as we're done with this project, the garden will finally be done." But nothing is ever static in a garden. Plants continue to grow and need to be managed.

Sometimes "managing" involves the most drastic of measures: complete removal. That's what I did in the front yard, in the bed inside the fence. It used to be home to things like salvias, globe mallows and similar perennials (2010 2011 2013 2016). They look great in late spring. But by the end of summer they're rangy and ratty. And in the winter many of them go dormant. I finally had enough and took virtually all of them out in the spring. I only left the Meyer lemon, the 'Golden Tulip' leucadendron to the right of it, and the 'Jester' leucadendron and white sage to the left.

This is what the area looked like on Saturday,September 23, 2017:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Revisiting John Kuzma's fusion garden in Portland, OR: agaves, bananas, and much more

I spent a fantastic weekend in Portland, OR hanging out with friends and doing all kinds of plant-related things. Fellow blogger Loree "Danger Garden" Bohl had arranged a visit to the garden of John Kuzma. His garden, created in collaboration with Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, was one of my favorite destinations on the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling, and I was excited to see it again three years later.

The Yucca rostrata in the front garden have definitely grown!

Check out my post from 2014 to see the difference.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Succulents and more at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Last Saturday, after I had safely stowed my haul from the Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale in my car, my camera and I took a leisurely stroll through the garden.

I didn't have to go far for my first photo stop. These beauties caught my eye right at the garden entrance:

Backlit cactus always make for great photos

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Big plant sale at Ruth Bancroft Garden before the nursery moves

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA is about to undergo what might be the biggest change since Ruth Brancroft first started it in 1972. In just a few days, construction will begin on the $4.6 million Visitor and Education Center. This will give the Garden much-needed indoor space for events, classes, and offices. And there will finally be indoor restrooms--no more porta potties!

To make room for the construction, the existing nursery will move to the north side of the garden. It will occupy one half of Ruth's Folly and one of the greenhouses next to it. Before the move, the nursery is holding its biggest sale ever. On Friday, plants were 20% off, yesterday 35%, and today (Sunday, September 10) 50%. If you're in Northern California, you still have time to head on over; the sale runs until 4pm today. Click here for more details.

Agave montana at the entrance to the garden. It's pushing a massive flower stalk and will die after flowering.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ASU Mesa, AZ: university campus that embraces the desert

After reading my recent posts about the Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden and Cavalliere Park, both in Scottsdale, Arizona, you might be reaching Corten and gabion overload. But the place I will show you in this post is so well-designed that I hope you'll stick with me. It's Arizona State University's Polytechnic Campus in Mesa.

The main campus of Arizona State University (ASU) is in Tempe. It's a sprawling site the size of a small town (642 acres). According to Wikipedia, "76,844 students [were] enrolled in at least one class on campus in fall 2016." That's a staggering number!

In addition to the main campus, there are four other campuses in the Phoenix metro area. One of them is the Polytechnic Campus in Mesa. It opened in the fall of 1996 on the grounds of the former William Air Force Base. In 2009, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects helped turn 21 acres in the heart of the campus from a concrete wasteland into what it is today: a lush desert oasis.

Mass plantings of palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.). To see them in flower, read this post by Pam Penick

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Blazing scorching sweltering torrid HOT

It's hot. Somewhere near 103°F here in Davis. Temperature records tumbled all over Northern California in the last few days. San Francisco smashed the all-time record on Friday with 106°F (41°C). That's the city about which Mark Twain once said: "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."

Hot summer weather is par for the course for us, but this summer has been particularly brutal. And it's not over yet.  Cool fall weather won't start in earnest until sometime in the second half of October. If then.

Blazing [Death Star]

I continue to hide in the house most of the time. I did a bit of yard work this morning but it was simply too hot in the sun. So back inside I went.

But I did brave the heat again a little while ago to take these pictures. Many plants continue to thrive, while others have decided to go dormant permanently. So it goes.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Pinnacle Peak Park, Scottsdale, AZ

Work has kept me busy in recent weeks and now it's too hot outside to do much gardening. The forecast for the weekend is even more dismal: 110° on Friday, 111° on Saturday, and 105° on Sunday. Even on Monday (Labor Day) it's still supposed to be 103°. I doubt I'll get much yard work done!

So instead of going outside to take photos of the garden, let me show you another awesome place I visited on my Arizona trip last December.

On my way to Cavalliere Park in north Scottsdale, I drove right by 3,169 ft Pinnacle Peak. Rising almost 600 ft. from the desert floor, it's impossible to miss!

Pinnacle Peak shrouded in mist

After I was done at Cavalliere Park I decided to stop at Pinnacle Peak Park (managed by the City of Scottsdale) even though the sky was getting ever gloomier. I was expecting to have the park to myself, considering the weather and the fact that it was New Year's Eve. Not so. The parking lot was more than half full, and the trail up the mountain was quite busy. I quickly found out why: This is a fantastic place to be out in the desert, and the views are incredible!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Cavalliere Park, Scottsdale, AZ: Corten, gabions, and towering saguaros

The Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden wasn't the only remarkable public space I visited in Scottsdale, AZ last December. Located in north Scottsdale, George "Doc" Cavalliere Park is a 34-acre gem seamlessly integrated into the rugged desert terrain. Corten steel and gabions are liberally used to create architectural features that are both sustainable and attractive. While a public project like this encompasses a much larger scale and has a significantly higher budget than a residential landscape, it can be a valuable source of inspiration.

Completed in February 2012 with a budget of $4.3 million, Cavalliere Park was a national pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) program and the first SITES-certified project in Arizona.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Twisted barrel cactus has more flowers than ever

The barrel cactus in this post is particularly special to me. Not because it's rare (it isn't), but because it's been with us for quite a while and because it has good memories attached to it. This summer it's giving us more flowers than ever before. What more could I ask!

Ferocactus herrerae, with Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' behind it

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden: gabions, shade sails, and desert plants

Scottsdale, AZ is Phoenix's wealthy neighbor to the east. The city is known for its upscale resorts and golf courses; the New York Times called it "a desert version of Miami's South Beach." As a result, the City of Scottsdale has more resources at its disposal than other cities of comparable size.

Case in point: the Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. This may be the most surprising public garden I've ever visited. I say surprising because instead of cookie-cutter hardscaping and the run-of-the-mill greenery you typically find in a public park, the City of Scottsdale created an outdoor lab showcasing water-saving landscaping techniques for Arizona homeowners as well as plants that are adapted to the harsh desert climate (the garden has over 7,000 plants from 200 species).

The 5.5 acre Scottsdale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is part of Chaparral Park and seamlessly incorporates the adjacent Chaparral Water Treatment Plant in its layout. In fact, the garden partially sits on top of a buried 5.5 million reservoir of treated water.

Three architectural features are very prominent: gabion walls, massive shade sails attached to rusted steel pillars, and steel panels with intricate geometric forms.

Entrance to the water treatment plant to the east of the garden

Close-up of the entrance. The parking lot here is for employees only, but it was New Year's Eve and nobody was around so I quickly parked here to take these photos.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Interview with Debra Lee Baldwin, Queen of Succulents

On August 23, 2017, Timber Press will release the completely revised second edition of Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. The first edition sold over 180,000 copies and has become a classic. The second edition is even bigger and better. In addition to delighting fans of the first edition, it will appeal to a whole new audience interested in incorporating succulents into their own landscaping. Click here to read my review of the new edition.

Debra Lee Balwin holding her "new baby" (photo © Debra Lee Baldwin; used with permission)

As I was reading Designing with Succulents I started to compile a list of random questions that popped into my head. Being the good sport that she is, Debra Lee Baldwin graciously agreed to answer them. Read on to find out more about the second edition of Designing with Succulents, new succulent trends, and what Debra's favorite succulents are.

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