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.

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.