Ruth Bancroft Garden fall plant sale

Fall plant sale season is continuing here in Northern California. This morning, October 8th, I made the 1-hour drive to Walnut Creek in the East Bay for Ruth Bancroft Garden’s fall sale. Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) is one of the most fantastic gardens in Northern California, especially if you’re interested in succulents and drought-tolerant plants. While succulents make up a large part of their collection, trees and shrubs form the backbone against which the succulents can shine. In a future post I will focus on those trees and shrubs, including palms, acacias, eucalyptus, and many others.

I arrived a few minutes before 9am, just in time to enjoy an excellent cup of complimentary coffee before the sale started. As you can see in the next few photos, there were many sale tables, grouped by plant category such as cacti, aloes, agaves, groundcovers, California natives, shrubs and trees, and so forth. In addition, heirloom iris rhizomes from Ruth Bancroft’s private garden were for sale. (Ruth, by the way, is 103 years old now and is still involved in making garden decisions.)

The green gazebo that serves as the entrance to the garden is called “Ruth’s Folly”
Looking towards Ruth’s Folly
The tables covered with green tablecloths contained silent auction items, including choice plants from Ruth Bancroft's private nursery

My first stop was at the cactus table. There were several beautiful specimens that caught my eye, and I toyed with the idea of buying the fantastic clump of Mammillaria bombycina shown in the 2nd photo below. I decided to mull it over for a little while, and by the time I came back it was gone. I’m sure somebody is very happy with their purchase!

Cactus table with some very tempting specimen
Mammillaria bombycina—a good price at $25 for what is essentially a mature clump
Astrophytum ornatum, also known as star cactus. This is the largest potted specimen of this Central Mexican native I’ve ever seen. I have a very small one I bought this spring at the Living Desert in Palm Desert, CA.
4-foot specimen of Opuntia robusta. This prickly pear has enormous pads that are virtually free of spines and glochids. A beautiful plant, but too tender for Davis.
Not a cactus, but a medusoid euphorbia from Africa. No species given, but probably Euphorbia flanaganii. I almost bought this one, but my funds were limited after last weekend’s Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens.

I completely bypassed the aloe table this time since I’d bought a couple of aloes during the RBG spring sale and a stunning Kelly Griffin hybrid at the UC Davis Arboretum sale just a few weeks ago. But the agave table was irresistible. While I already have many of the smaller species that were offered for sale (like Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ seen on the left in the next photo), there was one agave I’d never encountered before: dwarf butterfly agave (Agave isthmensis).

Agave table
Agave isthmensis, also called “dwarf butterfly agave.” Forms clumps with each rosette to 1 ft. From the southern coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, and hence used to a fairly tropical climate. Hardy to 26°F. The bud imprints on the leaves are phenomenal. Needless to say I bought one.

The groundcover table had a great selection of succulents ranging from iceplants to sedums. The range of foliage textures and colors is impressive, and I made a mental note to find exposed spots in our succulent beds that I can fill with low-growing species. I’ll definitely have a shopping list ready for RBG’s spring sale!

Groundcover succulents, left side of the table…
…and right side

While I didn’t photograph the tables with shrubs and California natives, I chuckled when I saw the seedlings of the Queensland bottle tree. Not because the seedlings were that small in absolute terms, but because a mature tree is so big. Even though the specimen at RBG is impressive, it’s definitely smaller than the ones I saw in Australia, like this one at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. But I was thrilled to see a plant this exotic offered for sale, together with quite a few other Australian natives, like various grevillea hybrids.

Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris). The ones I saw in Australia were among the most impressive trees I’d ever seen. The mature specimen at Ruth Bancroft Garden (shown on the plant tag on the right) is pretty spectacular, too. This is a very slow growing tree so I imagine these seedlings must be several years old already.

Ruth’s Folly, the green gazebo at the garden entrance, was full of echeverias, aeoniums, haworthias, and other smaller succulents as well as different succulent bowls that I thought were not only beautiful but also reasonably priced. Take a look at the next three photos—an instant succulent landscape in a pot! I think these would make great gifts.


The last photo I want to show you today might surprise you. A pond in the middle of a succulent garden? While it may seem like a contradiction, it actually emphasizes the xeric nature of the surrounding environment, much like an oasis does in the desert. I think it’s a beautiful, serene spot to sit and relax—and an appropriate backdrop for the tropical plants that were for sale, like the cannas on the left.

Pond in the middle of the Ruth Bancroft Garden

After I had picked out the plants I wanted to buy, I walked around the garden with my camera and took quite a few photos. Check back in a day or two for a separate post.

For earlier posts about Ruth Bancroft Garden click here: 1 2 3 4.


  1. Dude I'm on my phone in the airport. What a great day u had. Guess where I went today. You will be jealous too. Hunting gardens. Hee hee! What a brat. Took tons of photos. Hey never mull over a succulent. Just like that it is gone.

    So u leave your slow outside?! It does not freeze or get too wet. I'm scared........

  2. Candy, Huntington Gardens? I'm green with envy. I've never been, but it's supposed to be nirvana for succulent lovers. One of these years! In the meantime, I can't wait to see your photos.

    When asked me if I leave my "slow" outside, I assume you mean "aloe?" (Your phone must have auto-corrected "aloe" to "slow.) Yes, I leave my spiral aloe outside. It can handle our winters just fine.

  3. I don't know about you, but I leave my "slow" outside before I enter a plant sale. No dawdling or you'll miss the best deals! ;-)

    I never think I'm that interested in more succulents until I see your posts. Good thing a lot of those plants aren't cold-hardy or I might see myself making a loooong road trip some year.

  4. Alan, my advice: Stay away from succulents, otherwise you'll be addicted! But seeing how you just got that Opuntia ellisiana in the mail, I'm afraid it's too late already, LOL.

  5. The Euphorbia you have in your post is one of my favorites! I got a kick out of it's nickname, 'Medusa Head', and have enjoyed sharing pieces of it with friends. Winter, sminter...that's what greenhouses and garages are for!

  6. Happy First Anniversary! It's true about missing some great stuff if you're slow. I'm jealous over your shots, because I had agreed to volunteer for the plant sales in the afternoon, and didn't get there much before my shift. Good for RBG, but bad on my end...they had sold way down, especially on the Mammillaris, etc. Cheers!

  7. Kristin, thanks!!! To be honest, I was hoping they'd bring out more plants as the tables were starting to look a bit bare, but I guess there weren't any more plants to be brought out.

    I'm considering becoming a volunteer at RBG. It's a bit of a drive, but once a month or so would be doable. It would be fun being around these beautiful plants and other succulents enthusiasts.

  8. I could do with attending a plant fair like that here, especially at this time as I need some new plant fix! Gorgeous succulents!

  9. Mark, you and Gaz should plan a trip to California. So many gardens to see!


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