Of Pate’s and Poot’s

I recently joined the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS), and yesterday I went on my first field trip with them.

Our first stop was at the house of master potter Steve Pate in Stockton, 45 minutes south of Sacramento. Steve has been making pottery for over 40 years and is getting ready to retire. In preparation for his move to Southern California he held a special sale for the SCSS and he also treated us to home-made pizza baked in his outdoor oven. The pizza was among the best I’ve had in a long time, and his style of pottery is right up my alley, so I was happy as a clam.

Steve had several racks of “seconds” (although most pieces were perfect)
selling for $1 a pound. Other pieces were 50% off. I don’t have to tell you what an incredible deal that was for hand-made pottery. I walked out with 10 pieces for a total $39.
Steve is also a succulent aficionado—hence his connection with the SCSS—and his succulent pots were probably the best deal. I was dawdling too long and missed out on some great pieces here.
I was tempted to buy this bonsai’ed elephant bush (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) Steve had already trained with bonsai wire. I think it went for $20, bowl and all.
Likewise, I missed out on this beautiful yucca planter.
It looked perfect the way it was.
I came across this interesting hypertufa face hanging on a wall in Steve’s backyard.
At first I wasn’t sure if it was for sale but it was, like almost everything else, so I snapped it up.
It’ll be perfect in our backyard.
The front of Steve’s house was planted with beautiful succulents, including some in his own pots
(for sale, it turned out, pots and all)
Outdoor oven Steve built based on these plans from Sunset Magazine. He had started a fire early in the morning and removed the hot ashes (you can see the metal bowl just below the hand in the photo above) just after we arrived. Steve said the oven would stay hot the rest of the day and into the night.
Steve cutting one of his home-made pizzas
One of the three pizzas Steve made. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

After a very satisfying two hours at Steve’s place in Stockton, we made the 30 minute drive to our second destination: Poot’s Cactus Nursery in the small town of Ripon. If you’ve ever taken Highway 120 to go to Yosemite National Park, you’ve driven right by it. According to their web site, Poot’s is one of the largest retail cactus nurseries in California, and after seeing it, I believe it.

Poot’s right off Highway 120 from Manteca to Yosemite

We were greeted by owners Bill and Roelyn Poot and spent the first 15 minutes admiring the plantings in front of the greenhouse and their home.

Cactus garden in the front of the nursery
They even have a koi Pond!
Mark and Gaz of Alternative Eden, I too this photo especially for you!
Silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) in bloom. These two specimens were over 10 ft. tall.
Unidentified cereus covered with blossoms.
I was surprised to see it bloom so late in the year.
Absolutely stunning beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) outside the Poot’s home
Perfect specimen of Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
Close-up of Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
This netting puzzled me initially because it certainly doesn’t keep out the cold or rain. It turned out that the netting was installed to prevent the leaves from the tree on the right from creating a mess around the cacti.
These pots, on the other hand, protect tender barrel cacti from the frost.

Bill Poot then took us a tour of the expansive production greenhouse which is normally off limits to the public. The sheer number of plants—and the variety—were staggering. I saw many specimen-sized plants of succulent species I’d only seen in books.  As a photographer, I could have spent hours in here taking beauty shots.

View of production greenhouse
View of production greenhouse
View of production greenhouse
Different species of star cactus (Astrophytum sp.)
Left: I loved the contrast between the blue of the aloe and the gold of the tarantula cactus (Cleistocactus winteri?)
Right: A variegated ferocactus, the first I’d ever seen
 111119_Poots_Adenium arabicum
Two sought-after pachycauls: Dorstenia gigas (left) and Adenium arabicum (right)
If for sale, it would fetch a price in the hundreds of dollars: Tylecodon wallichii from central South Africa
More beauties, prickles or not, from the greenhouse
Specimen-quality Aloe ramosissima
A flat of living stones (Lithops sp.)
Lithops in flower
My favorite flowering lithops. Lithops are considered to be challenging to grow because of their unique water requirements (some water at the right time of year; none the rest). This web site contains more information about lithops than most people would ever want to know.

The sales area is in a different greenhouse—the one closest to the road—and it is also packed with succulents of all sizes and descriptions. An outdoor area is for hardier cacti, agaves, yuccas, etc. The selection is impressive, the plant quality is flawless, and the prices overall are very reasonable.

Sales greenhouse
Stapelia gigantea in bloom. Another one was actually opening up as I was talking to Roelyn Poot and another SCSS member. Commonly known as carrion plant, Stapelia gigantea is supposed to smell like rotting meat, but this flower was surprisingly scentless. Roelyn said they smell much worse in the summer.
Dozens of Echinopsis cacti in the outside sales area
Three large Agave parryi waiting for the right buyer
Close-up of Agave parryi

Here are the plants I brought home from Poot’s. Most of ´them fall in the caudiciform and pachycaul category, i.e. succulents forming swollen root bases or trunks. I’ve just gotten interested in this subgroup and I was glad to find such a large selection.

The production greenhouse had beautiful specimens of many species (see above for photos of Dorstenia gigas, Adenium arabicum, and Tylecodon wallichii). These were not for sale, and even if they had been, they would have been in the hundreds of dollars. Mature caudiciforms and pachycauls are very expensive because they are old and rare.

From left to right:
Pachypodium succulentum, Pachypodium namaquanum, Euphorbia francoisii, Fockea edulis
Pachypodium namaquanum

I also bought this beautiful beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata). It is much larger than the small plants I’ve had for 3 years. This is a very slow-growing tree yucca; I recall reading somewhere that initially it only grows by a few inches a year.  I’m glad to have found a very attractively priced plant of decent size.

Yucca rostrata

After saying goodbye to Poot’s, we made one final stop in Ripon at the backyard nursery of Elton Roberts, a long-time cactus grower and collector. His collection is mind-boggling; he said he’s growing 500+ different species of cacti. I was too tired to take photos but I’m sure I’ll be back.

What an exciting day it turned out to be!


  1. amazing! the pots, the pizza and the "Queen"...loved it all. Great post, Gerhard

  2. Wow let me know when you go back. Maybe Stan and I will want to go. What fun it looks like you had and the succulents......eye Candy! I love the yucca you got! It would look great in the corner of my yard where those others have been chopped off. I would have gone crazy. You held yourself in check pretty well but I love what you got. LOL

  3. What a trip! I don't know if there's anything I love more than bargain-priced pots.

    A lot of great photos, but I really like the Lithops flat photo.

  4. Candy, I've already started a wish list for Poot's. Maybe we can do our own road trip!

    Alan, the pots were fantastic. If I had been in my own van, with unlimited room, I would have bought much more.

    The lithops were so cool, I will give them a try. After all, I've managed to keep my split rock (Pleiospilos bolusii) alive for three years and it has similarly strict watering requirements.

  5. I really like following you and your pics.and I love the Yucca Rostrata. I have to have one.

  6. Paulette, what a nice comment. Thank you!!

    As far as I'm concerned, everybody should have a Yucca rostrata. Very cold-hardy, too, down to zone 5 (-15°F).

  7. Wow, some screaming deals on those pots! I would have stripped the place and left penniless. Poots looks great, too. Thanks for sharing what must have been a wonderful day.

  8. What a great Yucca rostrata! Good find.

  9. What a fantastic collection of plants Gerhard, dazzling even! Great to hear that you finally acquired a trunk Yucca rostrata, healthy looking lovely specimen that will only get better in time!

    It's lunchtime here as I read your blog and that pizza has made my mouth water. And thanks for the pond photo, love it!!! :)

  10. Just to add, looking at your photos made me add an Agave parryi on my wishlist for next year, but has to be a decent sized one. Makes me regret not getting one when I spotted a decent sized specimen earlier in the year. And the water on his pond is so clear and sparkling, kudos to him as such clarity is not always easy to achieve :)

  11. While Agave parryi is fairly common, finding large specimens is not easy. The ones at Poot's were perfect, and I was tempted. But I already have three or four smaller ones, and they do seem to grow fairly quickly (if one can use the word "quickly" in conjunction with agaves).

    The entire property was spotless, and it's clear a lot of work goes into keeping it that way.


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