Thursday, August 30, 2012

More reasons to like IKEA

I’ve been a fan of IKEA for as long as I can remember. When my wife and I lived in Germany, a lot of our furniture and dishes were from IKEA. When an IKEA store opened in the Bay Area in 2000, we didn’t hesitate to drive the 1½ hours to browse. And when IKEA finally came to Sacramento in 2006, we were ecstatic because that store is only 20 minutes away.

I’ve blogged about buying small succulents at IKEA and about our new backyard dining table. But IKEA also has great terracotta pots. The line I prefer is called MANDEL. I love the clean contemporary shape (no protruding rim like standard clay pots) and the contemporary brownish gray color. They come in six different sizes and cost anywhere from $1.99 to $5.99. Technically, they’re overpots so they don’t have a drain hole. No big deal. Using a masonry bit, I can drill a hole in a MANDEL pot in no time flat.

I’d run out of MANDEL pots so I swung by IKEA on the weekend to restock. This is what I got:


MANDEL pots in four sizes ranging from 5 to 7 inches in diameter.
They also have a larger size and an extra deep 4 inch pot
(great for plants that form a tap root).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making pots

This month’s meeting of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society was as hands-on as it gets: We made our own clay pots!

SCSS president Keith Taylor is an accomplished potter and brought not only the clay but also the inspiration. Here is one of his small pots:


Here are some other pots, fired and unfired, that gave us ideas on what to do:


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Visit to B&B Cactus Farm, Tucson, AZ (part 2)

Part 1 of my post on my recent visit to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, Arizona contained photos of the outside sales areas and the greenhouses. In this part I’ll show you the demonstration gardens and some of the plant containers and yard art that caught my eye.


B&B Cactus Farms has two demonstration gardens. The first one is tucked away behind the greenhouses. I almost missed it but, being the nosy dude that I am, I found it simply by poking around.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Visit to B&B Cactus Farm, Tucson, AZ (part 1)

B&B Cactus Farm on the east side of Tucson, AZ is the most impressive succulent nursery I’ve ever visited. I don’t know if it’s the largest of its kind in the Tucson area but I can’t imagine any nursery offering more variety for a succulent lover than B&B.

I took so many photos at B&B during our recent Southwest trip that I’ve decided to split this post into two parts. This part covers the outside sales areas and the greenhouses. Part 2 covers the demonstration garden and the fantastic pottery and garden décor they also sell.


When I arrived at 2:30pm, the sky was already quite dark. It was only a matter of time until before it would rain—like it appears to do on a daily basis during the summer monsoon season. I decided to cover the outdoor areas first, starting with the stunning potted specimens outside of the greenhouses.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae) revisited

My May 2011 post on silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae) has been getting a lot of hits lately. I don’t know why this sudden spike of interest in this South African groundcover, but I thought this would be a good time for an update.

This is what the planting strip between our front lawn and the flagstone walkway looked like in May 2011:


May 28, 2011 before planting silver carpet


May 28, 2011 just after planting silver carpet

Fast forward 15 months to August 24, 2012. The difference is astounding.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Great-looking succulents at Davis Ace Hardware

Fellow Davis resident Sue whose garden I visited last month called me yesterday to let me know about a fresh delivery of succulents at our local Ace Hardware store. Needless to say I had to check it out myself and I agree—these are nice looking plants, and there is a lot of variety, too.


Unlike the big box stores like The Home Depot or Lowe’s, our local Ace Hardware store gets their succulents from Lone Pine Gardens, a small specialty grower in Sebastopol over in Sonoma County. Their offerings go far beyond the usual and often include rare plants that are hard to find.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Echeveria explosion

Echeverias are among the most popular succulents, not only because they’re beautiful and easy to care for but also because they grow very quickly given enough heat and water. This post shows a few examples from my own collection.

These four echeverias have gotten large enough to fill this 10 inch bowl.


Top left: Echeveria pulidonis
Top right: Echeveria agavoides ‘Red Blush’
Bottom left: Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’
Bottom right: Echeveria colorata

Just five months ago (!) they were this small:


Same plants, March 31, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sit back and enjoy

It’s been hard getting back into my routine after our recent Southwest road trip, not just at work but also in the garden. There are plenty of things to do—mostly trimming, weeding and general clean-up—but these are not my favorite chores so I’ve been trying hard to avoid them, especially since the thermometer has been in the upper 90s every day.

My favorite activity this past week has been to simply look at the garden without actually getting involved. I felt guilty at first but then I realized that being a gardener sometimes means doing nothing but sit back and enjoy. Quite literally: most photos in this post were taken right from the front porch.


LEFT: Silver torch (Cleistocactus strausii)
RIGHT: Roadkill cactus (Consolea rubescens)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The rise and fall of my dinner plate aeonium

One of the plants I bought at the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza last fall was this dinner plate aeonium (Aeonium tabuliforme). It was almost totally flat, rising less than an inch above the soil. My plant was about 6” in diameter but from what I read Aeonium tabuliforme has the potential to grow to a whopping 18” across while still not exceeding a height of 2”.


October 3, 2011

Here is a close-up of the tightly overlapping leaves fringed with delicate eye lash-like hairs. Notice the almost metallic sheen.


February 20, 2012

But this exquisite beauty was not going to last.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Agaves at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you probably know that agaves are among my favorite plants. During our recent trip through the Southwest, we spent a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Not only did they have tons of cacti (separate post to follow) but there were agaves wherever I looked.

It started right at the entrance with some spotted specimen:


Agave parryi var. truncata.
The cactus next to it is an organ pipe (Stenocereus thurberi).

The biggest concentrations of agaves was in the appropriately named Agave Garden.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will the real quartziticola please stand up?

When I saw Aloe capitata var. quartziticola for the first time, I thought it was the most beautiful aloe I’d ever seen.


Aloe capitata var. quartziticola in the ground at Ruth Bancroft Garden

Both Ruth Bancroft Garden and the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley have mature specimens in their collections, yet finding a plant to buy was challenging. Finally I lucked out: When talking to a docent at the Ruth Bancroft Garden’s spring sale, I bemoaned the fact that this aloe variety was impossible to find. He smiled and said that they had one plant for sale in the nursery. It originated from the UC Botanical Garden but he thought it was very similar to their plants. Needless to say I bought it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The garden after our vacation

As hard as it is to come back from vacation, one thing I always look forward to is seeing what has changed in the garden. Davis has been in the throes of a heat wave that started during our last week of vacation so many plants are stressed. Others love the heat, especially the bamboos. These two, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’ and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’, are happy as a clam, producing lots of new growth.


Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’. The steely blue culms are new.



Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’. Too many new culms to count.
I will definitely have to do some thinning and pruning soon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Public plantings seen during our Southwest trip

Many of my posts from our recent Southwest trip showed plants growing in their natural environments. Soon I will have more detailed posts about my visit to B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson, AZ and Santa Fe Greenhouses in Santa Fe, NM. Today I want to show you some of the most interesting plantings I encountered in public spaces, at motels and in front of restaurants. Predictably, most of them feature drought-tolerant succulents and perennials, but I also saw a surprising number of annuals in containers.

The photos that follow were taken in many different places. I’ve arranged them by plant group, not geographical location.

One plant followed us from the California desert south to Tucson, Arizona and then resurfaced in Moab, Utah: Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly called “pride of Barbados” or “Mexican bird of paradise.” This beautiful shrub with feathery leaves and complex flowers is extremely heat tolerant and was in full bloom everywhere we encountered it. I’ve seen specimens at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, but in our area it’s virtually unknown. I was wondering why, until I read that it doesn’t do well in clay soils. This shrub is so stunning that we are considering replacing our Mexican bush sage with it after thoroughly amending our native clay soil.


Caesalpinia pulcherrima at a golf course in Needles, CA (don’t get me started on water-hungry golf courses in the desert)


Caesalpinia pulcherrima at a motel in Needles, CA


Closeup of Caesalpinia pulcherrima flower


This is Caesalpinia gilliesii, a close relative of Caesalpinia pulcherrima. It’s less frost-sensitive and grows larger.


Caesalpinia pulcherrima at the Riverpark Inn in Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights

Speaking of the Riverpark Inn, it had the nicest landscaping of any motel we stayed at. The next four photos (as well as other photos further down) were taken there as well.

120727_Tucson_RiverParkInn_014 120727_Tucson_RiverParkInn_011 

Potted agave (left) and euphorbia and cacti (right)


More agaves in large shallow pots around the pool


Agave americana ‘Marginata’ looking great in a large clay pot. I’ve stayed away from this agave because it gets immense when planted in the ground, but it does look stunning when containerized.

While succulents displayed in the window of a florist shop isn’t anything out of the ordinary, I’ve never seen such a large agave growing indoors.


Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) in a florist window on 4th Avenue in Tucson, AZ

The easiest way to spot agaves growing in the wild is by their flower stalk, which rises into the sky like a telephone pole. The same is true for this agave growing in front of a saloon in Tombstone, Arizona.


Flowering agave in front of a Tombstone saloon

Next to agaves, red yuccas (Hesperaloe parviflora) were the most commonly planted landscape succulents. The next photo was taken in the parking lot of the Riverpark Inn mentioned earlier.


Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) were common in southern California and southern Arizona—not surprising since they’re native to the Sonoran and Chihuahan desert—but don’t seem to be used as much in landscaping in New Mexico.


Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) in Needles, CA

I was surprised to spot a couple of ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) in front of a motel in Needles, CA. The first one looked great…


…the second one not so much.


My favorite prickly pear, the purple Santa Rita (Opuntia santa-rita), is widely used in Arizona in public and residential landscaping. I have two specimens, but neither of them are this purple even though our summers are as hot as the ones in Sedona where these photos were taken.


Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) in downtown Sedona, AZ


Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village
in Sedona, AZ


Metal prickly pear sculpture in downtown Sedona, AZ

Prickly pears weren’t the only cacti used for landscaping. I was happy to see quite a few barrel cacti.


LEFT: Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) in Tucson, AZ
RIGHT: Blooming barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) in Sedona, AZ

The most popular one, not surprisingly, was the golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii). The Riverpark Inn in Tucson had at least a dozen in individual terracotta pots.


Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Speaking of Tucson, it is the saguaro hotspot (Carnegiea gigantea). Every time I saw a giant saguaro in front of a gas station or bank, I did a double-take. These were clearly moved to their current location, not a trivial undertaking.


Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) in front of a bank in Tucson

The most surprising landscape plant of all was corn (Zea mays). I saw it in several places in Santa Fe, including this gallery…


Corn (Zea mays) in front of Worell Gallery in Santa Fe, NM

…and also in front of the Sky City Cultural Center at Acoma Pueblo. There it wasn’t used as much for landscaping as for demonstration purposes (corn, together with beans and squash, was a staple of the Ancestral Puebloan diet).


Corn (Zea mays) at  the Sky City Cultural Center, Acoma, NM

Santa Fe public landscaping was surprisingly conservative although the planters shown in the next couple of photos were very nice.


Annuals in planters along the Santa Fe Plaza

Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village in Sedona, AZ featured many potted annuals, a bit surprising since perennials would do the same job for more than just a season. But I suspect swapping out plants every now and then is desirable to create variety.


Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) at Tlaquepaque, Sedona, AZ

Moving on to perennials, zonal geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum) were common but never looked as good as in this pot, placed against the low adobe wall that surrounds the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Ranchos de Taos.


Zonal geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum) in Taos, NM

The next photo shows an unexpected combination of red verbena (Verbena x hybrida) and purple hardy ice plant (Delosperma cooperi), spotted in front of a gallery in Moab, UT.


Verbena (Verbena x hybrida) and hardy ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) in Moab, UT

Eklecticafé in Moab, UT fully lived up to its name, not only in terms of the food they serve, but also in their landscaping.


Giant cup (4 ft. across)


Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)

Jailhouse Café is another great breakfast spot in Moab, UT with beautiful landscaping. I liked the black-eyed susans against the dark pink stucco wall…


Landscaping at Jailhouse Café in Moab, UT

…as well as these large fern-leafed plants around the corner. I didn’t know what it was, but Danger Garden ID’ed as a sumac.


Sumac species, probably staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

I’d seen jimson weed (Datura stramonium) growing along the road in many places but they were all done blooming. To my great delight I spotted this large specimen of the related Datura metel in front of a gallery in Moab, UT and it was just starting to bloom.


Devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) in Moab, UT

The most common landscaping perennial in the Southwest must be Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). I saw it in so many places that I actually double-checked to see whether it might be native to the Southwest, contrary to its common name (it isn’t). I like Russian sage, so I’m not complaining!


While not as common as in Southern California, palm trees are still frequently used landscaping plants in the Tucson area. The further east and north we went, the fewer palm trees we saw. I don’t recall seeing any in Santa Fe, NM.


Palm trees at the Riverpark Inn in Tucson, AZ

Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are a dime a dozen in California, but I didn’t expect to find them in the hottest parts of Arizona. They clearly seem to relish the hot climate of Lake Havasu City and Tucson.


Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) in Lake Havasu City, AZ


Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) in Tucson, AZ. Note the new leaves.

As much as landscapers and gardeners love live plants, they do require regular care. Here is an alternative that is completely maintenance-free—and it features a patriotic red-white-and-blue color scheme. As the ancient Romans said, there’s no accounting for taste.


Patriotic plastic planting in Tusayan, AZ