Monday, December 31, 2012

UC Botanical Garden—Southern African Collection

In spite of good intentions I never seem to make it to the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG) in Berkeley more than once or twice a year. But thanks to the lull in work between Christmas and New Year I was able to get away last Friday. It was a cold and gray day, a bit too gray to make for perfect photography conditions, but it was still better than the bright sunny weather I had encountered on previous visits.

This post is about UCBG’s Southern African Collection. In separate posts I’ll take you to the New World Desert and Asian Collections. Most of the other garden sections aren’t that interesting in the winter so I skipped them.

The garden entrance isn’t splashy, but the large Yucca rostrata with its spiky blue hairdo is a good indication that this is no ordinary place.


Entrance at 200 Centennial Way


Yucca rostrata

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Favorite photos of 2012

In 2012, I wrote 244 posts containing more than 3,500 photos. A few days ago I revealed my favorite posts of 2012. In this companion piece I show you my favorite photos of the year.


White-lined sphynx (Hyles lineata), White Rock, AZ


Porcupine tomato (Solanum pyracanthum), Davis, CA

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite posts of 2012

‘Tis the time of the year to look back at the previous twelve months. In addition to puttering around in our own garden, I did quite a bit of traveling and saw beautiful sights I won’t soon forget—not only farther afield but also closer to home.

Here are my favorite posts of the year, sorted in geographical order. Rereading them just now made me realize how much I actually did do in 2012!


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Magical visions of water and ice

A couple of days ago I posted photos of the winter wonderland that is Mount Shasta where we are celebrating Christmas with my in-laws. Last night was clear and cold—in the low 20s—and this morning we had window condensation inside and shimmering icicles outside. Both are magical when viewed up close.

Enjoy these visions of water and ice. Be sure to click the smaller photos to see higher-resolution images in a separate window.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers! Thank you for following my blog and for commenting on my posts. I hope you’re enjoying the holidays surrounded by family, friends…and plants.


Western redcedar (Thuja plicata)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Snow snow snow

We arrived in Mount Shasta last night to spend Christmas at my in-laws. We took advantage of a break between potent snow storms and made it just in time before the next storm arrived in the evening.

The previous set of storms had already dumped a couple of feet of snow, turning the town into a winter wonderland. This is what my in-laws’ backyard looked like just before the next storm arrived.



Thursday, December 20, 2012

First frost of the season

Just yesterday I said that we hadn’t had any frost yet this winter (technically it’s still fall but let’s not quibble). The forecast for last night called for 33°F so I wasn’t too concerned about covering sensitive plants. When I got up this morning, however, the roofs in the neighborhood and many of our plants were covered with a thin blanket of white: The first frost of the season had arrived.

The weather station in our backyard revealed that between 1:00 and 7:30 a.m. the temperature had been below 33°F. The lowest reading was 32.2°F at 2:30, 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. However, the thermometer is mounted on a 6-ft. pole, so at ground level the temperature was clearly below 32°F in many spots, judging from the hard crust of soil.


View of our neighbors’ rooftops (lower right: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’)


View of our own frosted roof (top right: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’;
top left: Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Amazing aeonium acceleration

In early October I created a new succulent bed in our backyard. While I also planted a few smaller agaves, echeverias and kalanchoes, this strip is dominated by aeoniums. Being winter growers, these Canary Island natives have added an amazing amount of girth in the last nine weeks. Compare the photos below to see the difference!


Right side of the new succulent bed now


Same view in early October

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prickly pear fence

Yesterday I had a meeting in the East Bay. Driving home on I-680 I spotted a newly planted row of prickly pear cacti along the edge of a rural property. Fortunately it was right near a freeway exit so I was able to stop and take a few photos.

Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) is the most popular prickly pear species in our parts. It is virtually spineless, grows relatively quickly, and produces both edible pads (nopales) and fruit (tunas).


Monday, December 17, 2012

Starting to bring plants inside for the winter

If the weather reports are accurate, temperatures will drop to 30°F on Tuesday night. That would be the first freeze of the season. Even though most of our plants should be able to handle a light freeze, I’ve started to bring some potted specimens indoors. These aren’t necessarily the wimpiest plants I have, but they are the ones I definitely do not want to lose.

The first batch of plants went on this rack in the dining room. It is lit by an OttLite floor lamp. While not real a growing light, it did the trick last year.


The plants on this rack include Manihot esculenta, Kalanchoe orgyalis, Agave guiengola ‘Crème Brulee’, Encephalartos ferox, Euphorbia ambovombensis, Euphorbia bupleurifolia, Euphorbia cylindrifolia subsp. tuberifera, Pilosocereus pachycladus

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New plants from Morningsun Herb Farm

Last weekend we stopped by Morningsun Herb Farm in nearby Vacaville to meet their new burros. I didn’t have a camera along so I couldn’t take photos of the beasts but if you want to see what they look like, head over to Morningsun’s Facebook page. (Other nurseries take note: Animals are a great draw, especially for families with kids.)

As luck would have it, all plants were 50% off. Before I knew it, we had a wagon full of 4-inch perennials. I have no idea where to put them, but they will go in the ground this Saturday.


New plant purchases (we also bought four 6-packs of winter vegetables)


LEFT: Variegated Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha ‘Variegata’)
RIGHT: Limelight Mexican sage (Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


This morning I woke up to dense fog. It wasn’t a wimpy high overcast or a light mist but veritable pea soup. Since our climate is so dry, we only have fog in the dead of winter, and this was the thickest fog in recent memory.

The following photos of our house were taken from the middle of the street. That gives you a good idea of how dense the fog really was!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Red, orange, and yellow

The garden may be turning increasingly drab, but our fruit bowl is filled with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. All of these are fruits are in season now. And except for the mandarins, which are from Placerville about an hour east of here, everything is local.


The limes (yes, the yellow fruit is lime) are from our our own tree, and the pomegranates and fuyu persimmons were gifts from friends and neighbors.


I love them all. Limes are extremely versatile both in cooking and in baking. Mandarins are a great snack or desert. Fuyu persimmons have subtle exotic flavor when eaten firm; no waiting for them to turn to jelly, as is the case with hachiya persimmons. And pomegranates, well, they are royalty among fruit. I “shell” them in a bowl filled with water to avoid getting juice all over.

What is your favorite winter-ripening fruit?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Succulents overwintering on our front porch

Many succulents don’t handle freezing temperatures very well. Fortunately, our nighttime temperatures are still in the 40s so I haven’t had to worry about frost protection. However, rain at this time of year can be just as detrimental, especially if it continues over an extended period. Succulents sitting in cold, soggy soil are particularly susceptible to root and crown root, which often proves fatal. To avoid this, I try to keep most of my potted succulents as dry as possible.

Last month I built a new rain shelter attached to the front porch but it isn’t big enough to protect all my potted specimens. Many succulents permanently live on our front porch where they are naturally sheltered from the rain. This winter they are sharing their quarters with dozens of other potted plants which I moved there from other spots around the yard. And things are getting a bit crammed, as you can see from the photos below. “The more, the merrier” definitely applies!


Front porch as seen from the lawn


Front porch as seen from the dining room

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Succulent garden discovery

On Saturday I was driving around town photographing ginkgos for this post. Kitty-corner from three blazing ginkgos I spotted a strip of succulents planted outside a low picket fence.


Of course I had to check it out.


Monday, December 3, 2012

After the rain

The last of three wet tropical storms is behind us. We had over four inches of rain in the space of four days, about a fifth of our total annual precipitation. There was no serious flooding here in Davis, but the ground is definitely saturated. It’s a good thing the sun came out on Sunday. We need a string of warm days to dry out!

Here are some photos I took on Sunday afternoon. I love how quickly things change: water in places that were dry just a few days ago—and will be dry again very soon—, more colorful leaves blown off the trees, grass and moss growing seemingly overnight…


Minor flooding along the greenbelt


Beautiful reflections

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ginkgos in the rain

It is not a secret that I’m fond of ginkgos. They make great street trees and look beautiful year round, even when bare. But in the fall, for a period of a week or two, they explode in a riot of yellow that is impossible to describe.

Last November I posted photos of this tree:


I used to pass it when taking my daughter to school. This year she rides her bike, so I missed the fall peak of this particular specimen.

Fortunately, there are ginkgos in other parts of town. The trees in the next three photos are on the campus of UC Davis.


Friday, November 30, 2012

High Country Gardens going out of business

High Country Gardens, a mail-order company specializing in drought-tolerant perennials and cold-hardy cacti and succulents, is going out of business. That’s the sad news Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery posted on Facebook this morning. Receiving High Country Gardens’ printed catalog in the mail was like having coffee with a friend. I will miss them, and I wish owners David and Alma Salman the best for the future. I hope they will continue to share their expertise with the gardening world through some other channel.

During our Southwest trip this summer, we stopped at Santa Fe Greenhouses, High Country Garden’s retail store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Everything was 40-60% off then—the writing was on the wall. Below is what I originally wrote about our visit.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

The storm door is open

For TV weather personalities in Sacramento, life is boring most of the year because our weather is so tame and predictable, especially compared to other parts of the country. However, in the winter things can get interesting, especially when a big storm arrives—or even better, a series of them. Turn on the TV, and you’re likely to hear one phrase repeated over and over: “The storm door is open.” I think weather men and women secretly practice this phrase so they can deliver it with maximum impact.

Well, the storm door is open, and the Pineapple Express has come to town. The first of three storms came through yesterday, and even though it was the mildest of the three in terms of wind and rainfall, it knocked a lot of leaves out of the trees, covering lawns, driveways and sidewalks with blankets of yellow and red.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fall afternoon walk

On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took a leisurely walk through our extended neighborhood. The weather was as nice as a day in late fall can be, and I made a conscious effort to enjoy all the wonderful things I love about this time of year. Very soon—tonight, in fact—the weather will change dramatically, and the wind and rain that are about to descend on us will blow the remaining leaves out of the trees.


Greenbelt near our house; the paved “road” is actually a path for bikes and pedestrians

Monday, November 26, 2012

My new favorite front yard in the neighborhood

My wife and I took a long walk through our part of town yesterday and I discovered what I think is the most attractive front yard landscaping in our extended neighborhood. I don’t know exactly when the landscaping was installed, but it’s fairly recent. And unlike the typical assortment of shrubs and perennials you usually see—think euonymus, daylilies, society garlic—this strip contains an intriguing array of plants.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Planting sequoias to celebrate two memorable occasions

This summer my father-in-law turned 80, and today—the Saturday after Thanksgiving—he and my mother-in-law are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. During the course of conversation, he expressed his desire to plant a sequoia on their property—a tree that would be here for a long time after he is gone. Considering that sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) can live 2,000 to 3,000 years, I think it’s a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

While not common, there are several sequoias in Mount Shasta, the town where my in-laws live. Three are planted on the grounds of the U.S. Forest Service downtown:


Their conical shape makes them easy to spot from blocks away.

Up close, their massive trunks are just as impressive. And these trees were planted less than 100 years ago!

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While many people lump sequoias (Sequoidadendron giganteum) together with redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), they’re actually very different trees. Sequoias are native to the western slopes of Sierra Nevada in  Central California—think Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks—while redwoods hail from the Northern California coast.

Redwood leaves resemble fir needles while sequoia leaves are scaly like a cedar:


Wanting to grant my father-in-law’s wish, we called the two local nurseries in Mount Shasta but they were closed for the season (yes, nurseries in the mountains close in late fall and don’t reopen until the spring). Fortunately, another nursery, Menzies’ Native Nursery in the town of Weed just north of Mount Shasta, is open year round, and they had several seed-grown sequoias in stock.

Menzies’ Native Nursery is a very interesting place and we spent well over an hour talking to the owner, Robert Menzies. We ended up buying two sequoias, and when Bob Menzies found out that my in-laws were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, he gave them a ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and a Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) as a gift. What a generous man!


The sequoias were grown from seed and while small showed about a foot of new growth from this year (see outline in the next photo). Yes, it will be many years before they will be impressive trees, but my father-in-law will still be able to observe their growth from year to year.



After we got back from our trip to Menzies’, we immediately proceeded to plant the trees.


One went in the backyard, the other on the hill in front of the house. That is where we also planted the Ginkgo biloba, about 10 feet from the much larger Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’ we put in the ground in the spring. Over time, the view from the house will be even more special than it already is.


We hope that my wife’s parents will be able to enjoy their property for many more years to come. But even after they are gone, the property will stay in the family, like it has since the 1930s. Decades down the line our children will be able to look at these photos and marvel at how small these trees were back in 2012!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bamboos-in-law, November 2012

It’s been a year since I last blogged about the bamboos on my in-laws’ property in the mountains of Northern California. We planted the first one, a stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta), in the summer of 2010. Since then, a dozen more have been added. Most of them were 5-gallon plants, but some were as small as 1-gallon.

Let’s take a look at what I lovingly call my bamboos-in-law. Here is the bamboo garden in the backyard:


The old adage often used in reference to bamboos—the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap—definitely seems to apply. While there has been visible progress, it has been measured (with the exception of Fargesia ‘Rufa’, which has positively exploded). However, I expect some major upsizing to happen next year.