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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 3

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 2

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Europe 2017: German Alps, day 1

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

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


Church in the village of Ramsau

Friday, July 14, 2017

Europe 2017: Picture postcards from Nuremberg, Germany

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

View from Nuremberg Castle


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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Europe 2017: Sanspareil Rock Garden, Germany

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



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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Tucson Botanical Gardens: Frida Kahlo & more

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

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

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



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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Succulent shapshots from our garden

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

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

Ferocactus emoryi

Monday, July 3, 2017

50,000 acres of sunflowers

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

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

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


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

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blooming chaste tree: perfect foil for agaves and aloes

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


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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer vignettes from the UC Davis Arboretum

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cactus flowers brighten summer doldrums

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

Cleistocactus strausii

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The heat is on

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

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

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

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

Agave cupreata

Monday, June 19, 2017

Linda's Sacramento backyard succulent garden

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

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

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

Two Western red bud (Cercis occidentalis) provide some shade

Let's take a closer look!

Friday, June 16, 2017

2017 Sculpture in the Garden at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

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

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

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

Artist: Wes Horn

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ruth Bancroft Garden June 2017 plant porn

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

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

Golden Coulter bush (Hymenolepis parviflora) and aloes

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Big changes at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

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

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


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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Revisiting Sue’s succulent garden (June 2017)

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

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

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