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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving bloom day

I always seem to miss the monthly Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. To make up for it, here is my own pre-Thanksgiving bloom day celebration.

In late November, the garden isn’t the riot of flowers and colors it is in the summer, but I did find more flowers than I expected. Some winter-blooming succulents, like jade plant and many aloes, are just getting started. With any luck, I’ll be able to post more flower pictures in December.


Farfugium japonicum ‘Argenteum’


Dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleia ‘Flutterby’)

Monday, November 19, 2012

New rain shelter for succulents

Last November I blogged about building a rain shelter for the potted succulents next to our front porch. Unfortunately, the 4-mil plastic sheeting I use proved to be too fragile. By the time I took it down, some of the grommets had been torn out and the sheeting was tattered in places because of the wind tugging on it. Clearly a more sturdy material was needed.

Our plan of attack for 2012 is centered on a 14-mil clear polyethylene tarp reinforced with fibers for extra strength. I ended up buying the tarp from an eBay store called Tarps To Go because all the other sources I looked at were significantly more expensive. I paid $26.49 for a 10x12 ft. tarp, with free shipping.


Friday, November 16, 2012

California (poppy) dreamin’

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is not only the official flower of our great state, it’s also one of the most easily recognized flowers anywhere in the world. Travel through Europe in the spring, and you’re likely to see California poppies blooming alongside European natives. Closer to home, California poppies line country roads and blanket freeway embankments.


California poppies, Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve
Image source:

But in our garden, the California poppy has been a rarely seen guest. Sure, we occasionally get a volunteer that arrives on the wind from somewhere else but we’ve never made a real effort ourselves. Until now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

That “long drippy plant”

Commenting on yesterday’s post, fellow blogger Loree of Danger Garden wanted to know what that “long drippy plant” in my arrangement was. Her choice of words made me laugh, but it is a perfect description of the plant.

But before I tell you what it is, let me show you some photos of another specimen I have growing in a pot on top of the short section of fence next to the entrance to our front yard.

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I love how it drapes down in a cascade of silver, softening what would otherwise be a pretty boring sight.


Of course the string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and the burro’s tail sedum (Sedum morganianum) are pretty nice, too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

All I did last weekend

I have a family, I sometimes work in excess of 50 hours a week, and I’m passionate about gardening and plants. On the weekend, I often spend many hours in the garden, sometimes doing productive work, sometimes just puttering around. And I take lots of photos and write three, four or even more blog posts a week. So it would be fair to say I’m busy. I’m not complaining because I usually love what I do.

But sometimes gardening and photography and blog-writing need to take a backseat to other activities, such as spending time with the family or even doing nothing much at all. This was definitely case this past Veterans Day weekend. The weather was quite glorious but even the thought of picking up a shovel, broom or rake was too much. I didn’t even feel like getting a nursery fix.

I did do one thing: consolidate four 4-inch plants into an impromptu arrangement. This makes it easier to keep these plants watered and it gives them a chance to grow to a more usable size by next summer.


It took ten minutes to do and it isn’t much, but it’s the only plant- or garden-related thing I felt like doing on the weekend. And I’m glad I listened to my inner voice. Sometimes being lazy is the right thing to do.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’

Every now and then you see a plant that is so unique that you are stopped dead in your tracks. That’s what happened to me at this year’s Succulent Gardens Extravaganza with a newly introduced variegated form of the flapjack plant (Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’).

This is what it looked like when I bought it:


With crisp fall temperatures finally here, the coloring of Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ has changed to a breathtaking palette of pastel hues:


Thursday, November 8, 2012

More trimming…and planting

Last week we hired a yard service professional to dig up two large clumps of miscanthus in front of our house. Over the weekend, I did a lot of additional trimming and pruning. By Sunday evening, we had several yard waste piles waiting for Monday morning pickup.



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Weekend outing to Apple Hill

Every fall, thousands of Sacramento Area residents make an annual pilgrimage to Apple Hill, a rural area in the Sierra Foothills just outside of Placerville. People come for the fresh mountain air, the fall color, the farm animals and of course the fresh fruits and pies. Long an apple-growing region, Apple Hill is now also home to an increasing number of wineries, including one my favorites, Boeger.


I hadn’t been to Apple Hill in a long time so I particularly enjoyed our outing last Saturday. One change was immediately noticeable: There are many more vineyards now than there used to be. Even Kids Inc., our first stop, has extensive vineyards.

Monday, November 5, 2012

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum fall 2012: Australia

A few days ago I showed you photos from the South African Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. This post takes you to the Australian Garden and to Norrie’s, the Arboretum gift shop.

While there were plenty of blooming shrubs in the South African Garden, the Australian Garden wasn’t as colorful. Compared to this time last year, the banksias were still weeks from flowering and even the grevilleas were behind schedule, with the exceptions shown below.


Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’. This is a low-growing groundcover grevillea that can spread to 15 ft. I planted one at our house along the sidewalk.


Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’

Friday, November 2, 2012

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum fall 2012: South Africa

My personal highlight of our recent trip to Santa Cruz was a visit to the University of Santa Cruz Arboretum. I had been to the Arboretum in October 2011 and again in February 2012 so I knew what to expect. But unlike during my last two trips the sun was shining and the colors seemed more vibrant.

So without any further ado let’s take a stroll through the South African Garden. Click here to read my post on the Australian Garden.


Protea repens ‘Rubens’

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting help with ornamental grasses

Today we did something we had never done before: We hired somebody to help us with yard work.

Removing the two large clumps of maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) in front of the house had been at the top of our to-do list for the fall. However, since both my wife and I have had back problems recently we hadn’t been able to tackle this project in a timely fashion.

Instead of waiting any longer, we decided to call on a yard service guy who came highly recommended. Within a couple of hours, he had not only dug out the two large miscanthus in the front yard, he had also excavated the remainder of a nectarine tree in the backyard which I had begun to remove a while ago.

All I have left to do now is cut back the remaining vegetation along the side walk and I’ll be ready for some major planting, including a dozen plants I bought at Morningsun Herb Farm last month and a couple of leucadendrons and grevilleas. Yeah!


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’ (left) and ‘Dixieland’ (right)—before…


…and after