Saturday, June 30, 2012

Porcupine tomato

I still remember the first time I saw a porcupine tomato (Solanum pyracanthon or Solanum pyracanthum). The vivid orange spines looked so vicious but at the same time irresistible. I simply had to touch them and when I did, I was surprised. As lethal as the spines looked, they were actually fairly soft.


I didn’t buy that plant because it was expensive, but this spring I found an inexpensive 4-inch seedling at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. It’s easily tripled in size since April. Like its relative, the edible tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) it loves the heat.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Worth’s Paradise

Worth’s Paradise is the third garden I visited a few weeks ago as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. It was actually the first garden I toured but since I took more photos there than at any of the others, it took me a while to go through all my pictures.

Located in Mill Valley, this ½ acre property belonged to well-known fine-art photographer Don Worth who passed away in 2009. Here is the description from the official program:

“When I was in the fourth grade, I saw an overhead photo of tree ferns growing in Australia. Living in the bitterly cold winters of the Midwest, it was like a small opening to paradise, and became imprinted in my mind. In Mill Valley thirty-five years ago, I planted a number of Australian tree ferns, black tree ferns, and Tasmanian tree ferns. They have grown to more than thirty feet tall. More than forty different species of palms, some grown from seed, and more than 300 specimens also inhabit the garden. I planned something naturalistic, a concept located at some point between the meticulous look of a Japanese garden and the luxuriance of a tropical rain forest. The design of the garden is based on a foundation of seven different ground levels connected by meandering paths that are broken up by groups of steps.” – Don Worth.

The late Don Worth, pianist and performer, Guggenheim Fellow, professor, and assistant to Ansel Adams, with his own photographs included in countless international museums, including the Getty, MOMA and Chicago Art Institute, was the owner and creator of this paradisiacal garden. His book, Close to Infinity, is known as a “landmark volume.” Worth’s one-half acre garden is rich with giant towering palms and rubber trees, mature cycads that include the four-cone Eastern Cape giant cycad, bromeliads, agaves, philodendrons, staghorns, many unusual succulents and much more. His greenhouse holds a number of his own hybridized and patented echeveria, including ‘Morning Star’.

I had never been to this part of Mill Valley before, but when I saw the towering palms and blooming beschornerias lining the road, I knew I was in the right place.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Desert rose in bloom

Last year I became interested in caudiciforms and pachycauls, plants with swollen stems or trunks that serve as water-storage organs. Just take a quick look at these Google image search results to get an idea of the variety of plants that fall into these categories.

One of the most popular and most easily available caudiciform is Adenium obesum, commonly known as “desert rose.” Not only can this plant assume bizarre proportions, as seen here, it also has beautiful flowers. And one of my two desert roses has started to bloom.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Manfreda gets eviction notice

Every now and then I look at a specific plant in my garden and I say, you’ve got to go. I’ve reached that point with my Manfreda ‘Spot’.


What’s a manfreda, you might ask, and why is it getting kicked out?

The 20+ species of manfredas are closely related to the tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) which produces one of the most exquisite fragrances in the plant kingdom. They are also related to agaves, but unlike agaves they are deciduous and bloom every year once they’re reached a certain age (most agaves bloom once, after many years, and then die).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mediterranean Marin

Last weekend I visited three outstanding gardens in Marin County. I’ve already blogged about Under the Sea, High in the Hills. Today I’m showing you Mediterranean Marin, a garden located in Mill Valley.


In the Garden Conservancy program it was described as follows:

This multi-level Mediterranean-style garden is terraced down a hillside overlooking Richardson Bay and a wildlife preserve, with San Francisco in the distance. A large Canary Island palm frames these views from a curved terrace and sets the tone for the property. The visitor is led down stone stairs and along low stone walls past pear trees being espaliered over the vegetable garden arbor, and on through the length of a unique water cascade walkway recirculating captured run-off water, and then around other terraces with their own water features. All terraces have seating areas to take in the views and diverse garden treatments. Plantings include olive trees, swaths of mature aeonium, agaves, bromeliads, citrus, roses, wisteria and more. Large Italian pots holding displays of other succulents accent the garden. A series of mature cypress serve as punctuation to the relaxed setting.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Under the Sea, High in the Hills

This past Saturday I toured three gardens in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. Each garden was unique and warrants its own post. I took plenty of photos and though I tried to edit ruthlessly, I still have plenty of visuals left to show you.

I’m going to start in reverse order, with the garden I visited last. Dubbed “Under the Sea, High in Hills,” this garden is located outside of Kentfield in a rural area consisting of upscale country properties.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marin County Open Garden Day

Today I went on a tour of three gardens in Marin County as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. My expectations were very high since Marin County has some of the most spectacular real estate in Northern California and I knew that garden design was an integral part of the properties on the tour.

Not only was I not disappointed, I was blown away by two of the three gardens I visited. The first was the jungle paradise I’ve always dreamed of. The second was the most spectacular combination of architecture and garden design I’d ever seen. The third was over-designed for my taste but there were still individual aspects I liked.

Here is a taste of what I saw:

Worth’s Paradise panorama

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cone flower crazy

Just the other day I mentioned that cannas are the official harbingers of summer for me. Hot on their heels are echinaceas.

‘Tiki Torch’ (left), ‘Hot Papaya’ (right)

My love affair with echinaceas began about four years ago when I saw a photo of a new cultivar named ‘Tiki Torch’ in Sunset Magazine. I knew I had to have it, and I spent what at the time was an outrageous sum of $14.95 to mail-order a small plant. It didn’t make it through its first winter, but the next spring I hit the jack pot when Dave’s Garden ran an echinacea coop. I ended up buying a dozen 1½ inch plugs from Terra Nova Nurseries, including several ‘Tiki Torch’, and while they were very small initially, they flowered in their first year and many have come back every year since then.

‘Tiki Torch’

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blooming canna = summer is here

Like so many tropical plants, cannas love the heat. They take their sweet time during the cooler weather of spring, but as the thermometer starts to climb in May and June, they kick into high gear.


I’ve been keeping a close eye on this clump of cannas in the front yard and I swear their leaves have doubled in size in just a matter of weeks. On Sunday I spotted the first emerging flower stalks, and now one is blooming and the other will be in a few days.


Who cares what the calendar says, to me there is no clearer sign that summer is here!

P.S. I grew this canna from seed. The official name is Canna × generalis ‘Spritzii’.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cycad flush

I’m fond of many plants. Yes, there are the eponymous bamboos and succulents. But there are so many others. One plant group I’ve taken a particular liking to lately are the cycads. These exotic plants that hark back to the age of the dinosaurs lend a tropical look to any garden. Its most popular member, the sago palm (Cycas revoluta), is a staple of contemporary California landscaping. Like all cycads, it’s slow-growing, but it still grows faster and is hardier than many others.

Here is our sago palm. It’s over 10 years old now and it’s beginning to fill the large terracotta pot that has been its home almost since the beginning.

Cycas revoluta next to our front porch.
(The succulent table is partially empty because we just got new gutters
and I had to make room for the installers.)
Cycas revoluta

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rock mulch for succulent bed

When we built the large mounded succulent bed by the front door, we fully intended to top-dress it with rocks. It certainly would have been easy to do in the spring of 2009:

Front yard succulent bed in April 2009

However, thanks to inertia and indecision, we never got around it. In the meantime, the succulents we planted matured and the need for mulch decreased somewhat.

Still, there were uncovered patches here where the soil dried out very quickly.

Same bed in May 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Next wave of cactus blooms

I know I’m becoming a bit repetitive, but this is the season for cactus blooms. It’s short enough, so please bear with me as I obsessively photograph these ephemeral flowers. Many other plants have beautiful inflorescences, but seeing such delicate blooms on rugged, anti-social plants often armed with vicious-looking spines leaves a particularly indelible impression.

Opuntia macrocentra var. macrocentra
Opuntia macrocentra var. macrocentra

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My weekend haul from Lowe’s

While I buy most of my plants at smaller independent nurseries—and I wish I lived closer to a place like Cactus Jungle to fill my succulent cravings—I’m not immune to the lures of the big box stores. Last Saturday I went to a local Lowe’s to buy some tools, and as is my wont, I walked through the garden center. I didn’t see anything I had to have on the shelves with the 2- and 3-inch succulents, but tucked away in a perennials aisle I found a surprisingly nice selection of larger succulents. Clearly, water-wise plants are hot this year, or at least they’re being marketed that way.

Pint-sized succulents

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Step-on-the brake surprise at community garden

I’ve lived in Davis since 1997 and have driven by the Davis Community Garden hundreds of times. I’ve been wanting to stop for as long as I can remember because I’ve spotted lots of interesting plants from the car. A few years ago there was a 10 ft. angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sp.) covered with giant yellow flowers; last year I saw several towers of jewels (Echium wildpretii); and last fall I spotted a prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) laden with fruit. In spite of seeing these tantalizing glimpses from the car, I never stopped. Until today.

This morning I went to our local Ace Hardware store, and as I was approaching the community garden, I saw a small group of people standing around what looked to be a blooming cactus. It was hard to get a good look, but I decided to quickly finish my errand, dash home to get my camera, and then drive back.

I had been right. It was a blooming cactus. Even from 10 feet away I could tell that the flower was huge.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Free e-book “At Home with Succulents”

If you’ve ever bought a succulent at a big box store like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Orchard or even Walmart, you’ve bought a plant by Altman Plants. Headquartered in Vista, CA (northern San Diego County), Altman has three growing facilities totaling more than 880 acres and is North America’s largest succulent grower. According to their web site, they grow more than 1,000 different species.

I’ve bought many Altman plants before, including three just today. Their plants are top notch and very reasonably priced. I know many people complain about the neglected succulents at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc. but that is the stores’ fault, not Altman’s. I’ve seen brand-new Altman deliveries arriving, and the plants are flawless.

After buying an Altman-grown Agave ghiesbreghtii at Lowe’s today, I went to, Altman’s info site, to see what other agaves they have. There I saw that Ken Altman has written a new publication called At Home with Succulents that can be downloaded for free:


First I thought this might just be a flimsy promotional piece, but it actually is a beautifully designed 13-page brochure with dozens of outstanding photographs. Debra Lee Baldwin, the country’s most influential garden writer specializing in succulents, is mentioned in the credits and her two books, Designing with Succulents and Succulent Container Gardens, are listed in the “Books” section.

Even if succulents are not necessarily your cup of tea, you might enjoy looking at the photos in At Home with Succulents. Many of them are truly inspiring.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A day in the life of a cactus flower

Since this is the season for many cacti to flower, I’ve been spending a lot of time observing and photographing these marvels of the plant kingdom. As is the case with many other flowering plants, most cacti flowers are open during the day and closed at night. I’m going to illustrate this cycle with a cactus I bought a couple of weekends ago at the Carmichael Cactus & Succulent Society Show and Sale.

The cactus came labeled as Rebutia haugeana although a Google search produces no results. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s beautiful, and that’s all I care about.


From about 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. the flowers of this rebutia look like this:

From 6 p.m. until 8 a.m.