Spring at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

The last time I had visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco, was back in early February. Nothing was in bloom at that time, and many succulents – especially cacti – were enclosed in rain shelters. How different everything was today!

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Beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) surrounded by a feathery cassia (Cassia artemisioides) in full bloom. This Arizona native produces pea-like flowers from late winter to May.
Same shrub, but a different yucca: Yucca schottii, native to southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua.
Coming from the southern hemisphere, this is a fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis) native to the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s one of my favorite aloes because it looks so unusual. Ours will flower for the first time this spring (post to follow).
Tree euphorbia (Euphorbia lambii), native to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It looks very similar to the common wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides), but with a trunk! This tree was easily 8 ft. tall. I’d never seen this species before, and I was blown away by its streamlined elegance.
Another plant I’d never seen before. This is a giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea), native to California and Baja California. The trunk can be up to 6 ft. tall; this one was about 4 ft. It would look stunning underplanted with California poppies!
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Speaking of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), here is one in front of a century plant (Agave americana)
The Ruth Bancroft Garden has many different aeonium species. This is an Aeonium canariense, and it’s getting ready to bloom. The central part of the rosette is turning into a flower stalk that will soon be 3-4 ft. tall. After blooming, this rosette will die (much like an agave) but there are many pups all around it that will continue on.
Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) producing flowers. I don’t know what species this is, but it looks like the flowers will be yellow.
Stenocactus crispatus, native to Mexico. It blooms at a young age as long as it gets plenty of sun
Ferocactus echidne, commonly called Sonora barrel or Coville’s barrel. To me one of the most beautiful barrel cacti.
As much as I loved all the succulents, my favorite plant on today’s visit was this shrubby eucalyptus from Western Australia. Its common name is “bell-fruited mallee” (Eucalyptus preissiana). Unlike most eucalyptus that grow to an impressive size, this species is a shrub that generally doesn’t get taller than 7-8 ft. The leaves are a bluish gray with a pink margin and yellowish-pink veins. The flowers are pale yellow and absolutely stunning. My mission now is to fine one of these for our front yard.
Closeup of two flowers. The buds have reddish “hats” that pop off as the flower develops.
Closeup of two flowers.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden is located in a residential neighborhood in Walnut Creek, albeit on a busy street, and the contrast between the xeric wonderland that hides behind the cinder block walls along Bancroft Street and the staid and—yes—boring landscaping of the adjacent properties is quite stark. How much water people could save in California if only they gave up a quarter or half of their lawn and replaced it with low-water landscaping!


  1. What a great place! Love the flower bud "hats", and also: coreopsis gigantea?! I didn't realize such a species existed! Fascinating.

  2. Alan, I loved seeing all these things I'd never seen before. I'll look for a giant coreopsis. It's a California native so you'd think nurseries would carry it.

    What's particularly fascinating about the Ruth Bancroft Garden is that it was a private garden for decades, created and nurtured by Ruth Bancroft's love of succulents and xeric gardening.

  3. Hi Gerhard, I do remember your previous post on Ruth Bancroft garden, especially with their extensive use of rain shelters, I have even mentioned it to a couple friends.

    It's great to see some photos without the covers and the specimen and planting looks superb! It's convinced me to buy a bigger Yucca rostrata now...

    I've been doing some catching up as for some reason I couldn't open up your blog on any of our computers, even on the iphone for a few days, really strange!!

  4. Mark and Gaz, the rain shelters used at the Ruth Bancroft Garden must certainly be effective since many of these plants are decades old. They have an army of volunteers so that makes it easier to set everything up and take it back down in the spring (I'm thinking of volunteering myself).

    Like you, I get a major bout of envy when I see a mature Yucca rostrata. I won't even post photos of mine since they're so puny. Mature specimens were much less expensive in Southern California than up here but still in the hundreds of dollars.

    Weird that you had problems accessing my blog. I wonder if others had the same issue?

  5. That's possible Gerhard, the problems seems to have been rectified now so hopefully no mre problems for anyone else.

    Fascinating that Yucca rostrata is very expensive there. It's not unheard of to acquire a metre trunked specimen here for about $120 equivalent. Mostly unrooted specimens though and you'll have to re-root them yourself.

  6. Mark, how long does it take for an unrooted rostrata to re-root, and how easy is it? I've seen unrooted rostratas for sale on the Internet but wasn't sure what the deal was.


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