Succulent sale at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

The Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden has a plant sale every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Right now they’re running a special: Buy $150 in plants, get 30% off.

They offer a large selection of succulents, especially agaves (more than 50 species/varieties) and aloes (close to 20), but they also have yuccas, dasylirions, hesperaloes as well as numerous cacti. All plants are grown outside in full exposure and are hardy in our zone 9 climate.

Their prices are a bargain, even more so now with the 30% off special. A full list of available plants and prices can be found at

To see photos of the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery, check out this Picasa web album.

Many of the agaves and aloes in the succulents beds in our front yard came from the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery. I hadn’t been there in quite a while since we’d run out room for landscape succulents and my main focus had shifted to bamboos. However, one of my projects for 2011 is to fashion some sort of succulent display stand that would go next to our front porch. The goal is to get many of the potted succulents off the front porch and elevate them so they are displayed more attractively and can be viewed up close.

Succulent collection on our front porch. The display stand would go to the left, between the porch and the fence.

The bulk of our potted succulents are agaves, with a couple of aloes thrown in for good measure. While agaves are my favorite succulent group, I want a little more variety for our display stand. Paging through Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis for inspiration, I realized that cacti would make great companions for our agaves. While agaves are more horizontal in growth, cacti are decidedly vertical. While agaves mostly come in shades of green (even variegated ones are at least half green), cacti come in a variety of colors and hues, ranging from steely gray to deep purple. Spines and hairs contribute additional color.

Last weekend I happened to be at a large local nursery and I checked out their selection of cacti. While they had about 30 different species, they were the 2-3 inch containers you see in all the big box stores. I’m simply not patient enough to wait 10 years for these puny cacti to grow to a decent size. In addition, after reading the plant labels I realized that most of these cacti weren’t frost-tolerant and would have to be brought inside for the winter—a chore I simply don’t want to face.

That’s when I thought of the Landscape Cacti & Succulents Nursery at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. While Berkeley is an hour away and going to their Thursday morning sale means taking time out of my work day, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

Their cactus selection is very different from what the box stores carry; much more focused on the types of cacti you’re likely to find in a serious collection, including California and Southwest natives. I could have bought a 5-foot Silver Torch (Cleistocactus strausii) for $80—no doubt more than 10 years old—but I opted for smaller plants that I would be able to handle easily. Even though it was raining, I spent a good hour looking at all the plants and was expertly advised by a volunteer who, since I was the only customer, was able to focus all her attention on me. I walked away with quite a haul: 11 cacti, a  beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata), two thread-leaf agaves (Agave filifera) for a friend, and a South African thatch reed (Thamnochortus insignis)—not a succulent but a beautiful plant I had to have. After my 30% discount I paid a little over $110. I’d say that’s quite a bargain, considering what I got.

Now the pressure is on to come up with a plant stand so my new babies can be appropriately displayed!

Most of the cacti in this box fall under the “old man cactus” label because of the white hairs that protect the plants from the harsh sun. They are native to the high mountain regions of South America.
Three prickly pears (Opuntia) native to the West and Southwest (California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Utah). All of them are hardy to 0°F and will produce stunning flowers in the spring as well as edible fruit. The ones I picked are smaller species (2-4 ft.) as opposed to the tall and sprawling Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) so common in California.
Silver Torch (Cleistocactus straussii), native to Bolivia and Argentina. Hardy to 14°F. The volunteer at UCBG thought I should buy several so I could have a colony (she sweetened the deal to convince me). Here’s a good photo of mature silver torches in a cactus garden. We won’t have room for adult specimens but I
figure we get to enjoy them for at least 10 years before we need to rehome them.
My favorite, Old Man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus). So cute in spite of its scary-looking spines.
Two nice-sized thread-leaf agaves (Agave filifera) I got for a friend