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.