Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cleaning up for Halloween

The flagstone walkway to the front door has been getting narrower and narrower these past few years as I’ve been adding pot after pot of succulents. With Halloween upon us, my wife suggested I clear the walkway, not only to avoid damage to my plants but also to prevent bodily harm to the trick-or-treaters.


These well-armed succulents could definitely cause a boo-boo or two

While cleaning up is not my favorite chore, I had to agree with my wife so I did a blitz shuffle this morning.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Strolling through Santa Cruz

We spent a glorious weekend in Santa Cruz, one of my favorite spots on the California coast. This article is a collection of photos I took strolling around, both along the beach and downtown. The “Related posts” section at the end of this post has links to separate articles about the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum where many proteas were in bloom.

Santa Cruz has an enviable climate. It rarely freezes and summer highs are rarely above 90°F. The mean annual precipitation is 30", which is a good 10" more than where we live. Even so, from what I saw it looked like it hadn’t rained much in a good long while.


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reflected in the San Lorenzo River


Municipal wharf as seen from East Cliff Drive; notice the carpet of ice plants (Carpobrotus edulis)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Under the boardwalk, down by the sea…

It’s been another long week filled with work, the bane of my existence. I didn’t do any gardening, and even the time spent enjoying the garden was measured in minutes, not hours. This weekend won’t see much garden activity either because we’re heading to Santa Cruz, one of my favorite places to visit on the Central California coast.

I look forward to visiting the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum again…


Rhodocoma gigantea, one of the many restios at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum


Protea neriifolia × susannae ‘Pink Ice’

First winter-blooming aloe in our garden

While there are aloes that bloom in the summer, I associate their flowers with winter. Our climate is mild enough to allow us to grow a wide variety of aloes outside. The most common winter bloomer in our area is the soap aloe (Aloe maculata) but the first one to bloom in our garden is the Cape speckled aloe (Aloe microstigma). I bought our specimen years ago at a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale and it’s been thriving in the ground ever since.


Aloe microstigma

This year’s flower stalk is getting taller every day, but it hasn’t quite opened up yet.


Aloe microstigma

At a time of year when so many plants are going dormant, it’s wonderful to see others—like aloes and aeoniums—waking up from their summer sleep to provide much needed texture and color during the drab months of the year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Our bamboos after the rain

It’s been a while since I blogged about our bamboos. Now is a good time for an update: Yesterday’s rain washed off six months of accumulated dust and the ‘boos look more vibrant than they have in a long while.

Let’s start in front of the house:


Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’


Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’

Monday, October 22, 2012

First rain in six months

For once the weather forecast was right. It started to rain in the middle of the night—for the first time in six months—and the world looked different when I got up this morning: cleaner, greener and somehow more vibrant than yesterday. I’m not sure how long this much awaited blessing of the clouds will last (it’s sunny right now and the sky is back to our default blue) but at least the plants in our garden look less dusty and a bit perkier, too.

All the photos below were taken this morning when everything was still wet.


View of the northeast corner of the backyard from my home office window

Sunday, October 21, 2012

RIP, spiral aloe

Most people fall in love with spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla) the first time they see one. Take a look at this specimen at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley and you understand why.


Aloe polyphylla at UC Botanical Garden, January 28, 2012

Unfortunately, Aloe polyphylla is one of the more difficult aloes to grow in our climate. It’s quite cold hardy for an aloe so our winters are no problem. Oddly enough, it’s our summers that are a challenge. Since Aloe polyphylla is native to a high-altitude climate with moderate summer temperatures, it has a difficult time dealing with our 95°F+ days.

Against all odds, I managed to grow a specimen for a small 6” plant to a 12” specimen that was burst with vitality.


April 7, 2012

Then I made what in hindsight proved to be a fatal mistake: I repotted it into a container that was just a size too big.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A few quick updates

Today I want to update you on a few previous posts.

>> Bye bye Mexican bush sage <<

After I planted the compact cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens), I added a Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ (Grevillea gaudichaudii × longifolia). This prostrate Australian shrub with attractive sawtooth leaves stays under a foot in height but can spread to 15 ft. across, making it ideal as a groundcover (I intend to shape it as needed). It produces red toothbrush-shaped flowers from spring to late fall. Actually the specimen I plant is just now starting to bloom; I should have updated photos soon.


Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’


Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’

Monday, October 15, 2012

A stroll through the Ruth Bancroft Garden

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I went to the fall plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden on Saturday and had a great time looking at the hundreds of succulent species that were for sale. I also took a leisurely stroll through the garden—accompanied by my trusty camera, of course. In no particular order, here are the plants that caught my eye this time around.


Agave parryi

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ruth Bancroft Garden fall plant sale wrap-up

You’d think that with as many plants as I already have I’d stop going to plant sales. Far from it. While I typically only buy a few plants, I enjoy seeing what’s available. Plus, there’s always the element of surprise—the thrill of finding something unusual and unexpected.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA has a plant sale each spring and fall, and they are among my very favorites. Not only do I get to “hunt” for plants, I also get to enjoy the beautiful collections that make up this world-renowned botanical paradise.

The fall plant sale this past weekend was very well attended and offered a treasure trove of plants, succulents and non-succulents alike. For all of you who weren’t able to go, the photos in this post will give you an impression of what there was to see.


A steady stream of cars heading towards the parking area

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale on October 13, 2012

This week has slipped by without me doing much in the garden (or writing daily blog posts). I apologize for being so busy but sometimes life—or rather work—gets in the way.

Luckily, today is Friday, and the weekend is only eight hours away. Tomorrow I’ll go to the Ruth Bancroft Garden Fall Plant Sale and I wanted to give you a heads up in case you’re in the area.


Saturday, October 13, 2012
Members only: 9am—10am
Public sale: 10am—3pm

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A pot fit for a queen

Every couple of months, usually on a Saturday, an older Mexican gentleman parks his pickup truck outside a corner convenience store a few miles from our house and unloads a treasure trove of talavera pottery from Mexico. While his selection is different each time, it always includes beautiful pieces with traditional designs in addition to folksy animal shapes that seem to be very popular these days.

My wife and I picked up a couple of pots this spring and summer but we didn’t quite know how to use them to their best advantage. One of them is shaped like a cup (6 in. tall, 9 in. wide). To be honest, I would have preferred not to have the handle but I was drawn to the typical blue-and-white design. I knew I wanted to put a special plant in this pot that I would enjoy studying up close.

At Succulent Gardens’ recent Extravaganza I finally found the ideal plant: a Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae). Like talavera pottery, it also hails from Mexico—surely this fortunate coincidence must bode well!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bye bye Mexican bush sage

This past weekend has been the most productive for me in many months. I not only created a new succulent bed in the backyard, I also did some repotting and I tackled a large and sprawling Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) along the street that goes by the side of our house. My wife and I had been talking about removing this particular specimen for a number of years but every time it started to bloom—like right now!—our resolve dwindled. No doubt, it’s a stunningly beautiful plant and even though it’s quite common around here, people still stop to admire it.


However, as you can see in the next photo, this clump had gotten so large that it was completely covering the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to step into the street to walk around it


Saturday, October 6, 2012

New backyard succulent bed

Last summer I blogged about an awkward planting bed on the north side of the house. It’s only two feet deep, it’s bordered/bisected by our two air conditioners and it has no automatic irrigation. Shortly after we bought the house 15 years ago, we planted calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and they eventually they filled the bed.


May 30, 2011

I love calla lilies when they’re in bloom, but that’s only for a month or six weeks at best. Afterwards, the foliage quickly gets ratty. Plus, in the summer callas go dormant so the bed is a sad sight. While this bed isn’t in a high-traffic part of the backyard—it’s around the corner where the vegetable beds, the gardening shed and the garbage cans are—I still wanted it to look reasonably attractive. I decided earlier in the year to complete redo it but because of the long hot summer I didn’t get around to it until now.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Baby steps

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about some of the changes I was planning to make to our garden this fall. Towards the top of my list is this bed that we see from our kitchen window:


It is on the far side of our small backyard lawn which has gotten ratty over the years and needs to be replaced. Today I took the first baby steps towards making this area more attractive to look at.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Big sale at Morningsun Herb Farm, Vacaville, CA

Morningsun Herb Farm is a small family-owned nursery located just outside of Vacaville, CA, about 25 minutes from my house. While they do sell a wide variety of herbs, their main focus is on perennials, all grown right there in their own greenhouses. When I buy plants from Morningsun, I know they are used to our climate and need no acclimatizing. That’s not the case for plants from Bay Area nurseries; they’re used to a much milder climate and often go into shock upon arrival.


Look for these signs when you visit the nursery

Many perennials in our garden, especially in the front yard, came from Morningsun and have done phenomenally well. While most of the plants Morningsun sells are in 4-inch containers, they quickly take off after you put them in the ground so I don’t mind starting out with somewhat smaller plants. (They’re cheaper, too.)


Narrowleaf California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Succulent porn

In yesterday’s post I raved about Succulent Extravaganza 2012 held last Friday and Saturday at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA. Today’s post will be short on words but long on photos, all of them taken during the event.

I wonder if the title of this post, “Succulent porn,” will propel my blog to the top of the search rankings? Some people looking for—how shall I put it?—certain titillating content may be disappointed, but I hope that succulent aficionados won’t be.


Dudleya brittoniii, leaves changing color from stress


Dudleya pulverulenta