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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book review: Pretty Tough Plants

Even in an average year with regular winter rainfall, our Mediterranean climate has five or six months with no precipitation. Our summers are long, hot, and dry. Even with irrigation it can be difficult to keep your garden look attractive in the dog days of summer. What it takes are plants that thrive under these conditions.

There are plenty of resources out there that help you find these kinds of plants, but the information is scattered all over the place.  That's why I was  excited when Timber Press sent me this book to review:

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden sounds like the perfect kind of book for our climate--heck, for any climate where water is scarce and environmental conditions can be daunting.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bloom Day April 2017

In the garden blogging community, the 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, a meme created by May Dreams Gardens. I read many Bloom Day posts each month, and I vow to be better about contributing, but my resolve usually goes nowhere. But this month it's different. Maybe because our garden is so vibrant right now, fueled by months of extraordinarily plentiful rain. Even waterwise plants love the extra H2O!

Here's a selection of what's (almost) blooming at Succulents and More in mid April 2017:

Calliandra × ‘Sierra Starr’, a hybrid between Calliandra eriophylla (pink fairy duster) and Calliandra californica (Baja fairy duster)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cabot's Desert Pueblo

Writing this from my comfortable chair in my comfortable home that protects me from the vagaries of the weather outside, it's hard for me to fully understand what the intrepid folks that settled the American West truly went through. Most simply wanted a new place to live and raise a family, but a few went far beyond that. They built something extraordinary that would exist long after they were gone.

This is exactly what an adventurer by the name of Cabot Yerxa (1883-1965) did. He arrived in the Coachella Valley in 1913 at age 30 years after having lived in Alaska, Cuba and Europe (he even studied art in Paris). He began to homestead 160 acres in the middle of the desert north of Palm Springs and soon discovered two aquifers, one a natural hot spring and the other a cold aquifer that still provides fresh water to the City of Desert Hot Springs. In 1941, at age 57, he began construction of what would become known as Cabot's Old Indian Pueblo Museum:
The Hopi-inspired structure is hand-made, created from reclaimed and found materials Cabot was inspired as a young boy when he first saw a replica of a Southwest Indian pueblo at the Chicago World’s Fair. Much of the material used to build the Pueblo was from abandoned cabins that had housed the men who built the California aqueduct in the 1930’s. Cabot purchased these cabins and deconstructed them to build his Pueblo. The Pueblo is four-stories, 5,000 square feet and includes 35 rooms, 150 windows and 65 doors. Much of the Pueblo is made from adobe-style and sun-dried brick Cabot made himself in the courtyard. Cabot modified his formula and used a cup of cement rather than straw to make his bricks (source: Cabot's Pueblo Museum web site).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunnylands bedazzles with mass plantings of succulents

Sunnylands Center and Garden in Rancho Mirage, less than a half hour from downtown Palm Springs, is one of my favorite public gardens in California. While botanical gardens are typically focused on showcasing the diversity of plants from specific geographic regions, the public gardens at Sunnylands are like a giant living canvas. In fact, landscape architect James Burnett was very much inspired by Impressionist paintings. It's all about light, forever shifting and changing; and about color, vibrant and alive.

Patio of the café at the Sunnylands Center

Friday, April 7, 2017

TGIF: a few spring pictures to celebrate the end of a tedious work week

It's been a long and tedious work week, but thank God, it's Friday!

There's riotous color everywhere, but I was chained to my desk all week and wasn't able enjoy it. These photos are the best I could manage.

Even though there's plenty of work left to do in our garden, it's rewarding to see little vignettes where everything has come together in a way that makes me happy. What more could I ask?

Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' and Grevillea 'Superb' in the front yard

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Butchart Gardens on the cusp of spring

At the end of March, the Butchart Gardens, arguably North America's most popular public garden, should be a sea of flowering bulbs. Not so this year.

"There has never been a year where we have so eagerly anticipated the arrival of spring in our garden," Rick Los, Director of Horticulture at the Butchart Gardens, writes in the Spring 2017 Garden Notebook:
With all the talk of global warming we were expecting and planning for another early spring, but in a humbling change of events, Mother Nature decided to cool our region off significantly during the past few months. That being what it was, the garden itself did not suffer any unexpected physical damage. However, in comparison to last year, our floral calendar is almost a full month behind.
Reading this was no surprise. That's pretty much the case across the Greater Victoria area and across the entire Pacific Northwest. I debated whether I even bother to go to the Butchart Gardens but then curiosity won out. I wanted to see what it looks like without the explosion of color that is its hallmark.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book review: The Garden Photography Workshop

I've been into photography since I was a teenager. My preferred subject matter may have changed over the years, but I never stopped taking pictures. In recent years most of my photography has been focused on gardens and plants--both my own and those of others. This blog has allowed me to share my discoveries, and I've been thrilled by the many positive comments readers have left.

I'm often asked for advice on how to take photographs, which I'm glad to give.  Every now and then somebody says I should write a how-to book. My response typically is that I don't have time (true enough), but in reality I would have no clue how to approach such a book. The "what" is the easy part compared to the "how!"

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about that anymore. Why? Timber Press has just published the kind of book that gardeners and garden lovers have been clamoring for. The Garden Photography Workshop: Expert Tips and Techniques for Capturing the Essence of Your Garden is a reference everybody who has a garden and wants to document it better should have.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vignettes from Victoria III

Our last few days in Victoria, British Columbia were dominated by visits to three local gardens: the Butchart Gardens (everybody seems to have visited it at some point in their lives); the much smaller and more intimate Abkhazi Garden ("The Garden that Love Built"); and Finnerty Gardens on the campus of the University of Victoria. I took enough photos for dedicated posts, but for now here's the teaser version.

Locals I've talked to say that this winter was the harshest in recent memory. There was snow (!), something Victoria residents aren't used to. The University of Victoria closed down for half a day in January--only the third time that's ever happened. And the cold weather lingered much longer than it usually does. As a result, plants are weeks behind where they usually are. Butchart Gardens (located 20 km north of Victoria) says they're four weeks behind; a lady I talked to earlier today said that Victoria proper, where it's warmer than at Butchart Gardens, is two, maybe three behind.

As a result, many plants are still in late winter mode, rather than early spring. This is a crucial transition time, and the lack of blooms is quite noticeable. Especially at the Butchart Gardens where thousands of bulbs, especially daffodils and tulips, are still in the bud stage. But the Butchart Gardens has an ingenious solution: an indoor display garden ("Spring Prelude").

Spring Prelude at the Butchart Gardens
Everything the Butchart Gardens does is perfectly executed, and the Spring Prelude is no exception. Look for more photos in my dedicated post later this spring.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vignettes from Victoria II

In Vignettes from Victoria 1 I mentioned that spring is very late this year. The Butchart Gardens blog says that the "floral calendar is almost a full month behind." But there is good news, too: "[B]ecause of this we are anticipating one of the most dynamic spring seasons ever." Maybe this will be true for the entire Pacific Northwest. A bit of payback for my long-suffering friends in Portland and points north.

Meanwhile, I keep discovering pockets of color all over Victoria. Originally a hospital, the venerable St Joseph Apartment Building on Humboldt St has several cherry trees that are in full bloom now. What a spectacular sight!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Vignettes from Victoria I

It's spring break this week and we're in Victoria, British Columbia to visit daughter #1, who is a student at the University of Victoria. I'm taking plenty of photos, like I always do, and I will share them throughout the week.

Even though Victoria has one of the mildest climates in the Pacific Northwest, it, too, had a much harsher winter than usual. There are signs of spring, but people are saying that everything is three weeks behind. The difference between now now and our visit last year in the second week of April is quite dramatic. You'll see what I mean when you look at the photos below. And yet, Victoria is beautiful even when it's gray and rainy.

Plum tree leafing out every so slowly on the campus of the University of Victoria

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sparaxis explosion in Marta's succulent garden

My friend Marta, whose beautiful succulent and rare fruit tree garden I photographed in December, emailed me late last week to let me know her aloes were flowering. Needing a break from the torture of doing our taxes, I headed over in the early afternoon on Sunday to see what's going on.

I was prepared for blooming aloes but I didn't know I'd be finding this:

An honest-to-goodness explosion of sparaxis all over Marta's front yard!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My friend Luisa's Inland Empire succulent container garden

My friend Luisa, who blogs at Crow and Raven, is one of those people you click with right away. Talk to her for an hour, and it feels like you've known her all your life. She's as easy-going and generous a soul as you're ever going to meet. And if you're lucky, you get to visit her garden at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains

But Luisa's garden doesn't consist of stuff growing in the ground. No, virtually every plant she owns is in a pot. And all her pots are in her small backyard, arranged on a retaining wall, on tables, or on the ground. I don't know how many individual containers Luisa has, but there are many. MANY

Lest you think this results in clutter, rest in peace. It's actually quite the opposite. It's like walking into a store selling rare books. You don't know what you're going to find, but you know that it'll be an exciting journey of discovery.

The photos I took during my recent visit are proof of what I'm talking about it. Take a look at this wide shot and tell me that you're not curious to see what all there is? 

It's your lucky day, because I have many more images to show you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Field trip to Poot's Cactus Nursery (part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I showed you the demonstration garden (including koi pond) and the propagation greenhouse of Poot's Cactus Nursery in Ripon, California.

This post focuses on the sale area. While smaller than the propagation areas, the sale area is jam-packed with goodies. There's an outside area with tables for smaller plants as well as a selection of larger specimens that just sit on the ground. And there's a retail greenhouse with more cold-sensitive and rare specimens, all waiting to be discovered and explored.

I was happy to see that Poot's provides shopping carts and wagons for those of us who take plant shopping seriously. This is Mariel, SCSS vice president and program chair, who organized this field trip and took advantage of this opportunity to buy the raffle plants for the next meeting (Monday, March 27, 7:00 pm; for more info, click here).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Field trip to Poot's Cactus Nursery (part 1)

I joined the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society almost seven years ago, and the first field trip I went on was to Poot's Cactus Nursery in Ripon, a small town in the Central Valley about an hour south of Sacramento. Now, six and a half years later, we did the same field trip.

Even though I do get around, I hadn't been back to Poot's since November 2011, and I couldn't wait to see what had changed. The short answer: Nothing and everything. The demonstration garden in the front is still there, but the plants have grown tremendously. The propagation greenhouse is still full of wonders, but it seemed like there were even more plants. And the sale area is still well-stocked but the selection is even better and the prices seemed particularly attractive.

I took so many photos that I decided to split this post into two parts. This part covers the demonstration garden and the propagation greenhouse. Part 2 covers the sale area.

Entrance to the nursery right off Highway 120

Friday, March 17, 2017

Surprise flowers of the year: butterfly amaryllis

Last week, one my favorite blogs, Piece of Eden, talked about Amaryllis vs. Hippeastrum and showed a beautiful photo of Hippeastrum papilio, the butterfly amaryllis. I left a comment saying that I planted a few bulbs years ago, and while the clump had gotten bigger, there had never been flowers.

The next morning I happened to look at the mass of strappy leaves from my Hippeastrum papilio, and this is what I found:

You can imagine how surprised I was! This raised bed is tucked away off to the side of the front porch. It's been neglected for a while and I don't routinely look there for exciting plant discoveries.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hail to Erik the Red (the aloe, that is)

Erik the Red was a Norwegian Viking who established the first Norse settlement in Greenland in 982 and fathered Leif Erikson, reputed to be the first European to have discovered North America. Erik was nicknamed "the Red" because of his hair and beard. But as impressive they might have been, I'm sure they paled in comparison to this Erik the Red:

This is Aloe 'Erik the Red' in full flower. It has shown impressive growth ever since I planted it in March 2014 from a #5 can. In the winter of 2014/15 it had one flower stalk, last year two, and this year three.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Aloe wonderland at Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Southern California

I would never have known about the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center (JMDC) on edge of Riverside if it hadn't been for my friend Luisa. She lives 45 minutes from there and loves the place. It turns out the many locals don't know about the JMDC either although they're familiar with the giant mammoth figure on the hillside off the 60 freeway. 

The mammoth may be the JMDC's calling card but it's not the only giant sculpture. There are dinosaurs aplenty. I don't know the exact story of how they came to be, but not surprisingly, they're very popular with kids. And the JMDC has a range of programs and activies that appeal to this core group, including school programs (in 2014, 9000 school children visited the JMDC on field trips). A small but excellent Earth Science Museum features fossils, Native American artifacts, minerals and dinosaur eggs, many collected in the Inland Empire.

As whimsical as the dinosaurs are, the main attraction for me were the gardens. And as you can see right at the entrance, where the first set of photos was taken, it's all about succulents.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Whirlwind trip to the Southern California desert--Palm Springs and beyond

Last week I made a whirlwind trip to Southern California to visit with friends from Portland who were renting a condo in Palm Springs. It truly was a crazy trip: drive down Thursday, drive back Sunday. But I love road trips, and I love the desert, so how could I say no? Especially when I had the opportunity to combine it with a brief visit with another friend, Luisa of Crow and Raven.

I saw wonderful gardens and plants, I took lots of photos, and I will have quite a few dedicated posts. For now, I want to tease you with a few collages.

My first stop was at Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Riverside. I met up with Luisa in the afternoon, and we enjoyed photographing the succulents (the aloes were in full bloom!) and shopping in the nursery.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Index: Trip to Palm Springs, March 2017

Here is a listing of all posts about my trip to Palm Springs (March 2 to March 5, 2017):

Still to come:

3/4/17: Mariscal Cactus & Succulents, Desert Hot Springs
3/4/17: Sunlands Cactus Nursery, Indio Hills
3/4/17: Thousand Palms Oasis, Thousand Palms
3/4/17: Private streetside garden, Palm Springs
3/5/17: Los Angeles Country Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Agave order from Plant Delights Nursery

Like many of you, I've been a big fan of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina for a number of years. Even if you've never ordered from them, you're probably familiar with their catalog—easily the most unique and entertaining plant catalog in the country.

Owner Tony Avent is one of the world's leading plantmen, a true renaissance guy. To get an idea of what he's done and where he's been, check these plant expedition logs. Among many other plant categories, he's considered an expert in agaves. Plant Delights has introduced many agave cultivars over the years, including 'Silver Surfer', 'Arizona Star' and 'Frostbite'.

The 2017 catalog is particularly rich in new Agave and ×Mangave cultivars. Take a look here. The entire range of agaves and mangaves currently available is here. I placed an order when the 2017 catalog came out a few months ago, and today my plants arrived. For a plant lover, few things are as exciting as receiving a package like this in the mail:

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

UC Davis aloes—2/26/17 update

The UC Davis campus has quite a few aloe plantings that I like to keep an eye on. These are not in the Arboretum but rather on the main campus so students walk by them every day.

Last year, the peak of the bloom was in early February. Overall, it was a very good year for flowers.

This year we're several weeks behind schedule because of the long periods of rain and the attendant lack of sunshine. In addition, some species, most notably Aloe hereroensis, were set back both by frost and an excess of rain. I don't think any of the Aloe hereroensis on campus will bloom normally this year; just like mine, their flowers sustained heavy frost damage.

Let's start at the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses on Kleiber Hall Drive:

Aloe ferox hyb rid (left), Aloe arborescens and many more

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lake Berryessa Glory Hole

Located less than 30 miles from our house, Lake Berryessa is the 7th largest reservoir in California. Like all lakes, its water level has risen significantly in recent months as a result of the wettest winter California has had in decades. However, unlike Lake Oroville whose dam spillway threatened to collapse, which would have flooded downstream communities as far away as Sacramento, Lake Berryessa has been in the news this past week for something much more positive: On February 16, the lake level reached 440 ft--enough for water to flow into its spillway.

Unlike traditional spillways--essentially chutes or channels allowing the controlled release of water from a dam--the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa has what is known as a glory hole spillway (also called morning glory or bell mouth after its shape). At the height of the drought, this spillway looked like a concrete donut on a tongue of land sticking into the lake (see photo here). Now it brings to mind a massive bathtub drain--and it acts essentially the same way. Water rushes down a 275 ft. concrete pipe and exits on the far side of Monticello Dam into Putah Creek.

The statistics are truly impressive: The glory hole is 275 ft. deep and 72 ft. wide and can release more than 300,000 gallons of water per second. In fact, the suction is so strung that it creates wind that you can feel as you stand by the side of the road.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Aloes in the front yard finally blooming (Feb. 2017)

My last post about leaf rot on agaves promoted by the seemingly never-ending rain here in the Sacramento Valley was a bit of a downer. This post is much more upbeat because many of our aloes are finally blooming. It took them noticeably longer to get there this year as a result of the wet and cool weather. But maybe this means that the flowers will last longer?

The "desert bed" along the side of the house is a sight that never fails to lift my spirits. Especially right now:

Flowering aloes from left to right: Aloe ferox, Aloe petricola, Aloe 'Moonglow', Aloe cryptopoda (wickensis form), Aloe capitata var. quartziticola, Aloe glauca, Aloe 'Erik the Red', Aloe 'Moonglow'

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Succulents rotting in drought-busting rain

After 5 years of drought--one for the record books, no less--the pendulum has swung far to the other side. After more or less normal rainfall in November and December 2016 (5.10 inches as per the UC Davis Weather Station), the floodgates opened wide in January, with no end in sight. In January we had 13.30 inches of rain, and in February 6.90 so far (February 1-18). That's a total of 20.20 inches for the first seven weeks of 2017; essentially the same amount we had during the entire 2016 calendar year (20.07 inches).

Virtually all of our succulents are planted in well-draining soil (garden soil heavily amended with inorganic materials such as pumice, lava rock or small gravel). This has allowed them to withstand months of wet soil. So far we haven't had any plants rotting from the bottom up. But the 25.30 inches of rain that has fallen since November has had a damaging effect in other ways. A few agaves and aloes have started to rot from the top down.

The first major victim is a beautiful Agave pumila in the front yard. I blogged about it on January 31 in this post. I had every intention of doing what reader Daniel had suggested--dig it up, treat the infection, dry it out, pot it in soil with little to no organic content--but never got around to. But I did spray it with a fungicide called Daconil and have been protecting it against the rain since then.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Art in the desert: DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, Tucson, AZ

On December 28, 2016 I went back to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. I had been there the year before and loved it. There were fewer visitors this time, which made for a quieter, more contemplative experience.

Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia (1909-1982) was an artist at home in many disciplines but he’s best known as an impressionist painter. While his work covered a wide range of subject matter, his paintings of Native American children—reproduced on everything from greeting cards to bric-a-brac—earned him fame and scorn in equal measure.

While I like quite a bit of his work, I didn't go back primarily because of his art. The main draw for me continues to be the location, the architecture of the buildings, and the plants.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: snail on cactus

I had to laugh when I saw this snail on our Mexican fencepost cactus (Pachycereus marginatus). Is it just spending the night there or does it actually think it can eat the cactus?

The skin of this particular cactus is much too thick, although I've seen snails do damage to new pads on prickly pears (opuntias).

By the way, the snail is no more.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A citrusy Sunday morning

Friends of ours here in Davis were out of town for the weekend, and our younger daughter was taking care of their animals. While she was feeding the critters, I took some photos of their many citrus trees. All of them are heavy with fruit right now--plump and perfect.

As much as I dislike winter, being able to harvest citrus right off the tree is the biggest reward of the season for me.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wind knocks over sago palm

This is was I found the other morning in the front yard:

Our large sago palm (Cycas revoluta) knocked over by the wind, which had been howling the night before.

Mind you, this is a not a small container. It's a full 24 inches tall and 24 inches across on top. And it's anything but light. But the fronds of the cycad must have given the wind enough to grab onto, and gravity did the rest.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Breakage, prunage, bloomage at UC Davis Arboretum

Two months of seemingly endless rain, often coupled with high winds, have taken their toll. If tree debris is the worst you have in your garden, count yourself lucky (and I would include ourselves in that category since the worst damage we've had was that broken palo verde branch I blogged about here).

All over town, trees have been uprooted. Some fell simply because the soil was so soft that it could no longer contain their weight. Others were "helped" by gusts that locally exceeded 60 miles an hour. And there's no end in sight. Rain is in the forecast every day this week.

When we were begging for rain last summer, little did we know what we would get. It was naive to think we would simply have a "normal" winter with "normal" rainfall. Much like politics, Mother Nature seems to have veered off into extremism.

On the weekend, my wife and I checked out the damage at the UC Davis Arboretum. Quite a bit of cleanup has already been done--often you can only tell that a tree went down by the large gap it left behind. Still, there was plenty of recent damage as you will see below. But there were also signs of spring, like several acacia trees starting to flower. I can't wait to see what floral splendor all this rain might produce in a month or two.

The first downed tree we saw was near the Acacia Grove. It was a big one--a conifer I wasn't able to identify.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: mailboxes with cactus

Do the prickly pears get mail too?

Outside of Tucson, AZ

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Agaves and opuntias in UC Davis ceramics graveyard

On our Sunday walk through the UC Davis Arboretum, we left the established path for a few hundred feet to take a shortcut through the redwood grove. There I spotted a curious sight through a chain-link fence:

A massive Agave americana, 6 ft. tall and at least 8 ft. wide, hiding behind a mysterious ceramic sculpture and reflecting in a basin filled with murky water.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tucson's Civano community: where I'd love to live

I reused portions of the text below from previous posts since the facts about Civano haven't changed. However, the photos are all new, taken on December 30, 2016.

Civano is a master-planned community on the east side of Tucson, AZ focused on innovative design, sustainable construction, conscious use of resources, and the creation of a sense of place that connects people with each other and their surroundings—all basic tenets of New Urbanism. Neighborhood businesses and community facilities are within easy walking distance, minimizing the constant use of cars. Most residential lots are small, and houses are bordered by shared green areas that encourage socializing with neighbors. In many ways, Civano is what neighborhoods used to be before people fled to the suburbs and retreated into anonymity.

I first became aware of Civano through landscape designer Scott Calhoun’s appropriately titled book Yard Full of Sun: The Story of a Gardener's Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand. Published in 2005, it “chronicles the struggles and triumphs of one family as they design and construct a home and garden in the desert.” That home, as you might guess, is located in the community of Civano, which was then under construction. Beautifully written and illustrated, Yard Full of Sun captured me the first time I read it, and I’ve wanted to see Civano for myself ever since. (Here is an excerpt of the book, which is still available from the usual sources.)

A large Agave weberi (left) makes a beautiful house in Civano even more beautiful

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: saguaro road

Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) as far as the eye can see. My kind of landscape!

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Agave pumila rot—can it be stopped?

Once upon a time, I had a perfect agave I loved very much. While it wasn't exactly rare, it was definitely uncommon, especially at this size. Its name was Agave pumila:

I bought it in March 2016 at Grow Nursery in Cambria on the Central Coast of California and planted it in the ground in the smaller of the two succulent mounds that replaced our front lawn.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Desert splendor at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

On Wednesday, December 28, 2016 I visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) outside of Tucson for the seventh time. Over the years I've become quite familiar with the park, but there is so much that changes from year to year that I always find something new to get excited about. Plus, who could ever get tired of such a view:

View from the Vista Ramada near the entrance
Founded in 1952, the ASDM encompasses 97 acres of Sonoran Desert west of Tucson, 47 of which are developed. According to their website, there are “two miles of walking paths, 16 individual gardens, 1,200 native plant species and 56,000 individual plants.” Judging from the demographics I typically see, I’d say most visitors, especially families, come for the animals (a new aquarium opened in 2013). But I'm sure there are others like me who are there for the plants.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Back to Victoria, British Columbia: Beacon Hill Park in late summer

Winter is my least favorite season, and I constantly look for opportunities to get away--either physically or at least mentally. While I still have quite a few posts left to write about my recent Arizona trip, I decided today to head north instead of south: back to Victoria, British Columbia. In late August, my wife and I helped our oldest daughter get settled into her new life as a student at the University of Victoria

While daughter #1 was doing student things, my wife and I took the opportunity to explore more places in Victoria that we hadn't seen on our previous trips (1 | 2). This included Beacon Hill Park, a 200-acre urban park stretching from the Strait of Juan de Fuca almost all the way to downtown (here's a map). I didn't know what to expect, other than a large public park, but in hindsight I shouldn't have been surprised at the stunning displays of flowers for which Victoria is world-famous. I don't know how much the city spends on public landscaping, but it must be significantly higher than other cities its size since even the medians in streets far away from where tourists stray are full of beautifully maintained flower beds. I had fallen in love with Victoria on my first trip, and this love affair deepened even more on this, my third, visit.

While the climate of Victoria is fairly mild, it is isn't frost-free (this winter they had snow on several occasions), but there's an undeniable lushness. Daughter #1 definitely could have picked a far worse place to go to college!

We saw rock outcroppings like these in many places, especially in the eastern suburbs where we were staying

Sunday, January 22, 2017

First 2017 look at the aloes at UC Davis

Rain, rain², rain³. I don't remember the last time we had so much rain. And fog. That had been absent, too, in recent winters. The difference between this January and the past half dozen Januaries couldn't be greater. At the same time, it feels like plants are a bit slower getting going, maybe because they're busy trying not to drown.

I took advantage of a break in the rain to check on the aloes on the UC Davis campus. As you'll see, a few are blooming already but others are still weeks away. This matches what's going on in my garden.

Aloes in the mist outside the Botanical Conservatory--a common sight this year

Yellow-flowering form of Aloe arborescens

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lodge on the Desert, Tucson, AZ

When I was researching places to stay for my December 2016 Arizona trip, I was trying to find a sensible balance between comfort and price. I didn't want to stay in a fleabag motel just to save a buck (been there, done that, even had fun doing it back in the day), but I didn't want to overspend either. Fortunately, Arizona is still a bargain compared to California, and finding a reasonably priced but nice hotel is not difficult in Phoenix and Tucson.

For my December 2015 trip I'd found a great Groupon deal for the Lodge on the Desert in Tucson. I loved my room—far more spacious and luxurious than what I'm used to—but what I loved even more were the beautifully landscaped grounds. Last year many of the cactus at the Lodge on the Desert were adorned with Styrofoam cups to protect their growing tips from the cold. While this looked comical, it did impair the overall appearance.

Eager to find out what the landscaping looks like without Styrofoam cups, I decided to stay there again this year. There was no Groupon deal this time, but I was able to use my (gasp!) AARP discount. (Full disclosure: I'm nowhere near retirement, but I'm a smidge over 50 and hence eligible for AARP membership.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 3 of 3)

Part 1     ↔     Part 2     ↔     Part 3 

On December 27, 2016 I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ—my fourth visit in as many years. This is the final installment of my trip report; click the links above to go to part 1 and part 2.

What you see in the first photo below is the south side of Webster Center

The large tree in the upper left is a Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)

The wall low wall encloses Eliot Patio. That's where the next 10+ photos were taken. 

My favorite tree: palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana), an acacia from the Mexican state of Sonora

Monday, January 16, 2017


As weather patterns have changed over the years, the dense tule fog we used to get in the winter has become a rare thing. I remember days, even weeks, of unbroken fog that drove people mad; now fog is something people comment on in an excited voice, almost as if they're talking about a double rainbow.

The last couple of nights have been foggy and eerily quiet. Yesterday the fog lasted all morning and I took the opportunity to drive out to the Yolo Bypass off Interstate 80 that separates Davis from West Sacramento (and Sacramento) on the other side of the Sacramento River. With the opening of the Sacramento Weir last Tuesday for the first time in 11 years, the Bypass has become an inland sea. While the fog made it impossible to see very far, the partially submerged trees made for hauntingly beautiful photographs.

Tree silhouette along Interstate 80

The beginning of the Yolo Causeway on Interstate 80