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.