Friday, September 27, 2013

2013 Succulent Extravaganza teaser

I’m writing this post from my hotel room in Marina, California, 10 miles from Succulent Gardens in Castroville where the 2013 Succulent Extravaganza is in full swing. I arrived at 1pm today and spent a fantastic afternoon chatting with fellow succulent enthusiasts, listening to a very interesting talk on coring agaves for propagation (post to follow), taking photos, and even doing some shopping. I also ate some of the best tamales I’ve ever had, part of the free BBQ held after the nursery closed.

I’ll have more in-depth posts early next week, but here are some photos to whet your appetite. And if you live in Central or Northern California and have time tomorrow (Saturday, September 28), why don’t you swing by? Here is the schedule and general information about the event.

I’ll be wearing a Succulent Fanatics name tag so if you see me, please say hi! And be sure to stop by our table inside greenhouse 1 (the retail greenhouse).


Agave ‘Blue Glow Mediopicta’ (propagated through coring) and Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall 2013 Northern California plant sales

I’ve already told you about the Succulent Extravaganza happening this Friday and Saturday, September 27 and 28, 2013, at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA. Here are some other plant sales you shouldn’t miss if you live in Northern California.

If you know of any plant sales I didn’t include, please let me know and I will add them.


UC Davis Arboretum

Monday, September 23, 2013

Front yard bamboo maintenance

While clumping bamboos generally don’t require a great deal of maintenance, they do begin to look disheveled after a while. Many people like the overgrown look, but I prefer something a bit more manicured.

Take a look at the giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in front of our house. Planted in February 2010, it has gone from a spindly 5-gallon plant to a 35 ft. behemoth. Bambusa oldhamii forms a tight clump with dense foliage as you can see in this photo taken in May 2013:


Its branches reach almost to the ground, often obscuring the beautiful culms. Creating a more open look isn’t difficult. All you need to do is remove the branches to a height of 5-6 ft. Called “legging up,” this is exactly what we did this past weekend.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Palo verde quest ends in success

A few weeks ago we cut down a purple-leaf cherry plum tree (Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’) in the front yard because it had gotten to be too messy. Initially I had considered replacing it with a blue jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) but after further research I decided against it: As beautiful as the blue jacaranda is, it, too, has a reputation for being messy, always dropping something.


I briefly considered a purple fernleaf acacia (Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’) because of its sexy first-purple-then-silver leaves and its bright yellow flowers but some people say its branches become weak over time and break.

Finally it occurred to me that this spot would actually be ideal for one of my favorite trees of all: a palo verde (Parkisonsia sp.). To me, the palo verde (Spanish for “green stick”) is the quintessential desert tree. Its green bark capable of photosynthesis and its tiny leaves optimized to prevent evaporation show how perfectly adapted it is to arid climates.


Palo verde species in front of a motel in Needles, CA
(the “shrub” in the foreground is an ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens)

In the Sonora desert, the palo verde not only provides habitat for birds, it’s a nurse tree for saguaros, sheltering the young cacti from the intense sun in the summer and the cold in the winter. Obviously these facts don’t matter much in our case—the Sacramento Valley is famously devoid of saguaros—but they’re still cool to know.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My favorite rock top dressing for potted cacti

I love rocks in the garden. They add a sculptural element that is often missing, especially in smaller suburban yards. Their effect can range from the subtle (a few basketball-sized rocks placed close to a beautiful agave) to the dramatic (boulders so heavy they need to be placed with a backhoe or crane). I must admit that while I’m very conscious of the visual impact rocks can deliver, I need to do better in my own garden. Adding more—and larger—rocks in strategic places is near the top of my to-do list for the fall.

I have also begun to use smaller rocks as top dressing for potted cacti. For a long time I used finely crushed lava rock because it was much easier to obtain (you can buy it by the bag in any full-service nursery). But the look is too uniform for my taste and I don’t really associate lava rock with succulents.

The kind of rock I prefer is a warmer color (although an occasional bluish or grayish piece is OK, too) and has sharp edges, i.e. it isn’t smooth like river rock. Rock yards sell it as “rip rap” although around here it always seems to be gray in color and quite unattractive, not the rich desert yellows and reds I saw in Arizona and New Mexico last year


Imagine my surprise when I found just what I was looking for near my in-laws’ house. My dream rock in the right color and size crumbling off a small outcropping on a hillside. I’m not sure who owns the land so I didn’t feel entirely comfortable when we took a few bucketfuls but I hope I’m forgiven.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hop on the dyckia band wagon

I spent the weekend planning some major garden projects that will happen this fall—involving the removal of two large clumps of bamboo, among other things—but I wasn’t inspired to do much actual work. However, I did do some de-cobwebbing and repotting. 

Last year I bought two red containers, and after gathering dust all this time, I finally used them for their intended purpose: to give my two Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’ a new home. I bought both dyckias at the same time and at the same nursery and they had the same label. However, one (on the left in the first photo) has far fewer barbs than the one on the right.In addition, it has remained solitary while the one on the right has produced several pups. I have no idea if one was mislabeled or not, but aside from the coloration, they don’t look all that similar.


Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’ in their new pots

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Don’t miss Succulent Gardens’ Extravaganza 2013—9/27 and 9/28

Castroville-based Succulent Gardens, Northern California’s premier succulent grower, will host Extravaganza 2013 on Friday, September 27 and Saturday, September 28. The theme of this year’s event is “Passion:”

While passion is the theme, creativity is the focus. All of the speakers and volunteers are creative, driven individuals with new ideas for incorporating succulents into, not just gardens, but daily life. From accessorizing with succulents to making more succulents to photographing succulents for lasting memories, everyone on the schedule has amazing ideas for ways that all of the attendees can go home and continue to cover the world with succulents. [source]


Agave ‘Blue Flame’ (top row) and Agave ‘Blue Glow’ (bottom row)

This year’s speakers range from Robin Stockwell, owner of Succulent Gardens, and Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, to Debra Lee Baldwin whose three books on succulents have set the gold standard. There will also be a presentation on accessorizing with succulents by Laura Balaoro, master gardener and founder of the Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook, and daily photography walks with the one-and-only Candy Suter of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents. To see the complete schedule, click here.


Rows of aeoniums and Aloe plicatilis

Monday, September 9, 2013

Listening to the blues at StingRayz Marina

A good friend of ours plays in a rock and blues band called Lucy’s Bones. Last Saturday they had a gig at StingRayz Marina on the Sacramento River outside the tiny town of Knights Landing and we joined them for a few hours.


I often say the Sacramento River is a miniature version of the Mississippi (minus the humidity), and StingRayz could just as easily be somewhere in Mississippi or Louisiana although it also has a bit of a Baja California beach vibe. It’s an unpretentious place for unpretentious people, and I enjoy myself tremendously every time we go.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sea squill bulbs sold at Home Depot!

On Labor Day I spent a couple of hours exploring the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum and I spotted several clumps of sea squill (I identified them as Urginea maritima in my post but since then I’ve found out they’ve been moved to a different genus and are now Drimia maritima).



Sea squill, also known as giant squill or sea onion, is a Mediterranean bulb of impressive size—up 12” wide at maturity. Eventually it splits in two, and over the years you end up with a large clump just like the ones at the UC Davis Arboretum.

The flower stalks in the photos above were past their prime but you get the idea of what a clump looks like. In late fall, blue-green strappy leaves emerges from the bulbs to produce energy. The foliage then dies in late spring and new flower stalks burst forth. Naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) have the same growth habit.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sayonara, cherry plum tree

14 years ago our former neighbor, with our permission, planted a purple cherry plum tree (Prunus cerasifera ‘Krauter Vesuvius’) on the boundary between our two houses. We were assured that this was a non-fruiting variety, and with pink flowers in early spring and deep red leaves from March until November it is a nice ornamental tree.




Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Storm light

On Monday, Labor Day here in the U.S., we had the strangest weather. It was overcast most of the day—a rare enough event in the summer—and just after sunset the sky lit up in the most amazing hues of salmon, orange and raspberry. “It looks just like before a tornado,” said a friend from Colorado who has been visiting.


Tornados in our area are exceedingly rare—and we didn’t get one that evening—but there was something so unusual about this light that it brought out most of the neighborhood, causing an impromptu gathering in the middle of the street.

We even had a full rainbow although I wasn’t able to capture it all.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Late summer at UC Davis Arboretum Storer Garden

Yesterday we had a rare overcast day. Knowing that it would make for good photography, I went over to the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum to see what’s looking good at this time of year. You should be your own judge, but I think there’s quite a bit to appreciate even after a long hot summer.

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Naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna) and sea kale (Cramba maritima)

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Naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna) and sea kale (Cramba maritima)