Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sculpture in the Garden @ Ruth Bancroft Garden


Sculpture in the Garden is a much-anticipated annual event at the Ruth Bancroft Garden:

For one month every year, The Ruth Bancroft Garden transforms into an outdoor art gallery. The Garden's world-class collection of succulent and drought-tolerant plants provides a spectacular backdrop for artists to display their works. Follow the meandering pathways to discover art that ranges from classical to irreverent, spiritual to functional. (Source: RBG web site)

This is the 19th time that Sculpture in the Garden has been held at RBG, and I can’t think of a better way to showcase outdoor art. After all, succulents are nature’s very own sculptures!

In spite of the heat gripping much of the western U.S., I made the drive to Walnut Creek this morning, and I photographed many of the pieces on display. No matter whether you’re a fan of art in the garden or not, I’m sure some of the sculptures will win you over or at least make you smile.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Update: Succulent gardens at Costco

A few weeks ago I spotted mixed succulent planters for sale at our local Costco warehouse (Woodland, CA). At the time, the containers were small wooden crates. When I returned to Costco yesterday, the wooden crates were gone, replaced by small galvanized steel tubs. The plants themselves were very similar, just the containers were different. And the price was still the same: $17.99.



Friday, June 28, 2013

Update: My new favorite front yard in the neighborhood

Last November I blogged about a front yard near our house that really spoke to me. At the time, the highlight for me were four variegated leucadendrons (Leucadendron salignum × laureolum ‘Jester’, also sold as ‘Safari Sunshine’). This variety is hard to find, and I had a bad case of plant envy when I saw the four specimens in this yard. (In the meantime, I found one at Ruth Bancroft Garden’s spring plant sale so all is well.)

Yesterday I decided to walk over and see how much the plants have grown. It was in the middle of the day, with the sun beating down mercilessly, so the photos in this post are a quite contrasty. But if you compare these pictures with the previous post, you’ll see that the progress has been nothing short of amazing.


November 25, 2012


June 27, 2013

The Russian sage in the center and the kangaroo paws in the bottom right have positively exploded. You can’t see even the two leucadendrons anymore!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Agave flower spike sighting

This morning I finally had the chance to photograph the massive flower spike of an Agave parryi I had spotted a few weeks ago. While you occasionally see large Agave americana flowering on rural properties outside of town, agaves in bloom are a rarity in residential neighborhoods.

This is the vista that originally caught my eye:


Monday, June 24, 2013

Barrel cactus, large and small

Out of all the types of cactus, barrel cactus are my favorite. They don’t have the most impressive flowers (and many don’t flower until they are 10-20 years old) but I find their symmetrical shape and often fantastical spines very attractive.

Since many species of barrel cactus grow quite large, they are at their most impressive in their native habitat (as at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or in Joshua Tree National Park). But when planted in a pot, you can get up close and personal and possibly appreciate their beauty even more.

Take a look at the barrel cactus living on our front porch:


Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Look what the mailman brought

As a gardener and plant lover, my hear starts to beat just a bit faster when a box full of plants arrives in the mail—especially when I don’t quite know what treasures are waiting within.


Alan of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening! had picked up a couple of plants for me at a recent plant sale at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve, and he said he was going to include some other goodies as well.

The first thing I saw when I opened the box was strappy foliage—looking very promising.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Cucumber tree

In February, I had the opportunity to visit the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory greenhouses. One of the plants I bought was a Socotran cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana). This very rare pachycaul only grows on the island of of Socotra off the coast of Yemen. In fact, UC Davis is one of the few places in the country, maybe even the world, that has been successful in consistently propagating Dendrosicyos socotrana and another rare Socotran native, the Socotran fig (Dorstenia gigas). Check this article to see photos of mature specimens of both plants.


The cucumber tree I bought was a fairly large potted specimen, about 4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide. In less than week, most of its leaves turned brown—a clear sign that it resented the move from the well-tempered Botanical Conservatory greenhouse to my house with its larger temperature fluctuations. What’s interesting, though, is that these leaves are so persistent that only a couple have fallen off on their own in the four and a half months that have gone by. They cling to the plant as if their were still alive.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Sago palm flushing big

Like clockwork, the large sago palm (Cycas revoluta) next to our front porch is producing its annual set of leaves (this process is called “flushing”).


Cycas revoluta, June 3, 2013

Like last year, flushing started at the very beginning of June.


Cycas revoluta, June 3, 2013

At first it’s impossible to tell how many new leaves there will be, but after a week or so you’ll get a fairly good idea.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Succulent gardens at Costco

Costco is a membership warehouse club with locations in eight countries. I’m not much for shopping, but Costco is my favorite store. In fact, I’ve often said that if Costco doesn’t carry it, I don’t need it.

While Costco has a bit of everything, their garden section is fairly limited, especially at this time of year (spring is the peak season). Imagine my surprise when I came across this fairly large display yesterday:


Yes, several racks full of assorted succulents in small wooden crates!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blue chalk fingers getting chopped off

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that there is a mounded succulent bed next to our front door. It’s in its fifth year old now and has turned out better than we’d ever hoped. But as with any garden bed, occasional maintenance is required to keep it looking neat. If you take a close look at the first two photos, you’ll see inquisitive blue fingers crawling through the plantings.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Verbena bonariensis is a standout

Out of all the summer-blooming perennials in our garden, one is consistently towards the top of my list of favorites: Verbena bonariensis, commonly know as tall verbena, purpletop verbena or purpletop vervain.

This South American native has lantana-liked flower heads on top of tall stems equipped with sparse narrow leaves.


This produces a fluid, airy effect and makes Verbena bonariensis perfect for mixed borders where it can weave in and out of plants next to it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fireworks in a pot

At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

Yesterday I found a stunning variegated sport of the common purple fountain grass on the clearance rack at Lowe’s. Called ‘Fireworks’ (Pennisetum x advena ‘Fireworks’), it was patented in 2008 and introduced to much fanfare shortly thereafter. I’d been wanting to give it a try for a while now but since it’s a parented plant, its price has been stratospheric, especially compared to the regular non-variegated variety (whose correct botanical name is Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’ although it’s often sold as Pennisetum setaceaum ‘Rubrum’).

My new purchase, which was 50% off ($6 as opposed to $12 for a 1-gallon container), proved to be very fortuitous and timely. On the edge of the front yard patio there’s a glazed pot with a regular purple fountain grass which I’d neglected to cut back this spring and therefore looked very unsightly. I’d been considering dividing it and removing the dried parts, but my newly acquired ‘Fireworks’ is an even better solution.

Here are some “before” and “after” photos.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

I love texture

I love color in the garden, I love fragrance, but above all, I love texture. True, mass plantings of the same species can create an elegant and tranquil effect, but for me there’s nothing like juxtaposing plants with different leaves: large vs. small, wide vs. narrow, coarse vs. fine. You get the idea. I like excitement and drama—I will admit I’m a bit of a Ganna Walska at heart—and nothing gives me a jolt of adrenaline like opposing textures.


Yellow lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) in front of giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) and variegated Eureka lemon (Citrus limon ‘Eureka Variegated Pink’)

I was reminded of that a few days ago when I took advantage of a rare cloudy morning to take some photos in the front yard. Now that many of the herbaceous perennials have hit their stride, vignettes of rivaling textures are everywhere.


Karley Rose grass (Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’) and Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Vista Garden

Vista Garden was the second property I visited last Saturday as part of Marin County Open Garden Day sponsored by The Garden Conservancy.


The description in the official program sounded fantastic:

Sited on a plateau with sweeping views of Mt. Tamalpais and surrounding canyons, Vista Garden is a balance of engaging outdoor rooms and dramatic sub-tropical plantings. The entry features a heritage oak and unique use of Arbutus marina as privacy screening. A grove of Australian tree ferns and specimen agaves suggest something more eccentric is ahead. The front garden is framed by native quercus and specimen olive trees that sit within a modern framework of bold, textural sweeps of foliage including asplenium, miscanthus, liriope, equisetum, and a ‘meadow mix’ of sun-loving perennials and exotics. The hidden sitting area is tucked behind a prehistoric equisetum hedge and showcases an agave collection that leads guests to the Vista Walk.  This quiet, shady, path lined with bambusa and variegated phormiums opens up to the Vista Terrace, revealing a stunning view of Mt. Tam framed by timber bamboos on the slope below. The Vista Terrace features a collection of succulents and cacti under specimen olive and palm trees. The bamboo-lined pool walk leads to the pool deck that enjoys an overstory of oaks, maples, and palms with a unique selection of cacti and succulents that wrap around the multi-level garden terraces and custom Cor-Ten steel containers.

Tree ferns! Agaves! Bamboo! Palm trees! And more Cor-Ten!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cor-Ten Zen

Cor-Ten Zen was one of the properties I visited as part of the 2013 Marin County Open Garden Day organized by the Garden Conservancy. Here is the description from the official program:

When asked to dream up a retaining wall design for the front garden of this Kentfield residence, designers Davis Dalbok and Tim O’Shea created a bold solution that would modernize the vernacular of the entire landscape, including the architecture of the home itself. Two ‘slices’ of Cor-Ten ribbon, with twelve feet of separation and a twelve-degree cant, were installed to visually support the steep slope. Counterbalanced by a large circular steel portal -- or ‘moongate’ -- to the garden beyond, the elemental, Cor-Ten themed design soon expanded to capture the car gate, an original mailbox design, chimney cover, a column at the front entry and, thin, weight- appropriate cladding over the garage door. Eventually, it was decided to circumscribe the entire house with a bold, perforated band of Cor-Ten steel.


2013 Marin County Open Garden Day

June 1 was the Garden Conservancy’s Open Garden Day in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. Like last year, this was a unique opportunity to visit spectacular private properties most of us would not otherwise get to see.

I visited two of the three gardens (the third one was dedicated to geraniums, not a group of plants I’m interested in, so I skipped it). To say they were stunning would be an understatement. Click the links below to see what you think.

green_check Cor-Ten Zen

Cor-Ten steel retaining walls and accents unify this hilltop property. Magnificent ‘Robert Young’ bamboo and a huge stone basin from Bali create a Asian focus near the entrance. The lush shade garden behind the house offers sweeping canyon views.


green_check Vista Garden

Hilltop garden with spectacular views of Mount Tamalpais. Plantings focus on succulents, bamboo and exotics. Other outstanding features include a large equisetum hedge and sculptural olive trees.