Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting ready for the big chill

Towards the middle of next week our stunning fall weather (low 70’s today) will come to a screeching halt as a cold front from Alaska will sweep down into Northern California. The different weather providers can’t seem to agree just how bad it will be; the most optimistic is forecasting lows around 30°F, the most pessimistic a low of 23°F (!) on Thursday, December 5. Normally I wouldn’t worry quite yet but since I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Arizona, I needed to take precautions today.

In a hectic two-hour period, my wife and I draped holiday lights over plants and then covered them with frost cloth and, after we’d run out of frost cloth, old sheets. Ideally, I would have liked some more time, but it is what is.

Here are some before and after photos:


Succulent table next to front porch


Assorted agaves and cacti on front porch

Friday, November 29, 2013

Looking forward to sun and succulents in Arizona

I feel very grateful this Thanksgiving. Not just for my family and friends—and my loyal readers—but also for the opportunity to spend the first week of December in Arizona. I’ll be exploring gardens, parks, nurseries and other things worth seeing in the Phoenix and Tucson area. I know I won’t be able to make more than a dent in the long list of sights Arizona has to offer, but I’ll be able to strike a few places off my bucket list.


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I hope to have daily posts from the road starting Sunday night. In the meantime, here are some photos from our 2012 visit to Tucson. If you’d like to see more, this trip index is a good place to start.


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fall at the UC Davis Arboretum

Last Sunday, after exploring the Australian Collection at the UC Davis Arboretum, I continued my walk around Lake Spafford, the somewhat misnamed bulge in the old northern channel of Putah Creek. This is where much of the fall color is concentrated.

However, there are quite a few trees that don’t need colorful foliage to stand out. Here are some of them:


Bigberry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) with particular dark coloration


Greek strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne)

Monday, November 25, 2013

UC Davis Arboretum Australian Collection

The weather was particularly beautiful this past Sunday. On such a glorious fall day—blue sky and warm sunshine—staying inside would have been a crime so I decided to go for a walk at the UC Davis Arboretum. This time I started at the downtown end of the Arboretum, and the first section you come to is the Australian Collection.

While not as extensive or diverse as the Australian Garden at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum (see 1 and 2), it still showcases many iconic plants from down under that thrive in our zone 9b climate. (Santa Cruz has milder winters than Davis, allowing the Arboretum there to grow tender plants that wouldn’t survive here.)


The UC Davis Arboretum has 39 different species of eucalyptus. Some are still juvenile, but others tower over the paths along Putah Creek.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Succulents drowning in sea of leaves

Friday afternoon…

The wind has been blowing like crazy for the last two days, knocking the leaves off trees that had still been hanging on to them. As is always the case, the bulk of our neighbor’s leaves ended up in our yard, specifically on the newly renovated driveway succulent bed.

It may not look that bad in this photo…


…but if you take a closer look…


…you’ll see how many leaves there really are.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Plant of the week: Koelreuteria elegans

This time my plant of of the week is quite large, and it isn’t even in my own yard. Fellow Davis gardener Sue emailed me the other day to let me know about a Taiwanese rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans ssp. formosa) that is currently in all its fall glory. Now when you think of trees in the fall, you think of colorful leaves. And typically that’s what you get. However, take a closer look at the tree in the center of this photo:


Let’s move a little closer:


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bicycles and geraniums

Davis is known for all kinds of things—some a bit weird, others more factual. Yet nothing seems to define Davis more than its obsession with the bicycle. Rumor has it that in Davis there are more bicycles per capita than in any other city in the U.S. Wherever you go, you’re bound to see people riding to and fro the university, school or work—or simply for fun and exercise. Davis has such a reputation in the cycling community that in 2010, the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame relocated to a site adjacent to Central Park in downtown Davis.

You’re probably wondering what all of that has to do with gardening. Well, all summer I’ve been driving by a house with five brightly painted bikes mounted to the fence and decorated with baskets of geraniums. Today I finally took some pictures:


Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday afternoon walk in mid-November

I must say I’m shocked by how early it gets dark these days. Winter is definitely nipping at our heels! Yesterday afternoon I took a walk through the neighborhood and even though it was only 3pm, the sun was already so low that it felt like evening.

The neighborhood felt very autumnal; more so than I had expected. Unlike New England where the fall colors are so vibrant they smack you in the face, autumn is a quieter and less raucous affair in our parts.




Sunday, November 17, 2013

Aeonium bed update

Thirteen months ago I planted aeoniums (and a few other succulents) in a neglected bed in the side yard along the north side of the house. This is what it looked like right after planting:


October 6, 2012

And this is what it looks like now:


November 17, 2013

It’s downright shocking much these plants have grown. This area only receives a bit of morning sun and is in the shade the rest of the day. However, our neighbor’s house, painted a cream color, acts as a giant reflector, bathing the side yard in bright indirect light all day long. I’m convinced this has been a major reason why these aeoniums have thrived.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Goodies from friends, part 2

In my last post I showed you the contents of a mystery box I received from my friend Laura in San Jose. A few weeks earlier, another succulent fanatic, Candy Suter of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents fame, had given me a bunch of plants for my garden. Most were cuttings, but one was a potted plant in a 1-gallon container. And what a beauty it is!


Kalanchoe ‘Fang’

‘Fang’ is thought to be a hybrid between Kalanchoe beharensis and Kalanchoe tomentosa. It’s the kind of plant people either love or hate. The leaves are every bit as fuzzy as they look but they’re sturdy at the same time. In spite of its name, ‘Fang’ is a lamb. It doesn’t have any sharp edges, and the bumps on the underside of the leaves, while rigid, aren’t spiky.


Kalanchoe ‘Fang’

There’s no plant quite like it, and if you like oddities, ‘Fang’ is right up your alley.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Goodies from friends, part 1

In the last few weeks I received plants from two generous gardening friends. Is there anything better than a living gift that brightens your garden and constantly reminds you of how wonderful friends are?

Today I want to show you the contents of a mystery box that arrived in the mail yesterday. It come from Laura Balaoro, the founder of the Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook. Inside were a variety of cuttings…


Miscellaneous succulent cuttings

…and an entire plant. This one is very special. It’s a Dudleya virens ssp. hassei, also known as Catalina Island live-forever. It’s native to Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast where it forms mats several feet wide but only 6 inches tall. The flowers are white with yellow centers.


Catalina Island live-forever (Dudleya virens ssp. hassei)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bamboo and more at the Sacramento Zoo

When the kids were small, we would go on regular outings to the Sacramento Zoo; we even had a family membership at one time. Now that the kids are older, years go by between visits. However, this past Veterans Day weekend was so glorious that we decided to go.

The Sacramento Zoo doesn’t rank among the country’s top zoos but it’s a beautiful oasis on the edge of William Land Park, itself a peaceful island in the city (TripAdvisor ranks it as the #10 attraction in Sacramento.)

The fall color in Land Park is near its peak, and the short walk from our car to the zoo entrance was as close to autumn perfection as it gets around here.



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Plant of the week: Sansevieria suffruticosa

NOTE: In my original post from November 2013 I had been under the impression that my plant was Sansevieria cylindrica because it was so labeled. It wasn’t until March 2015 that I realized that it’s actually Sansevieria suffruticosa. I’ve changed all references in the post below.

When I first became interested in succulents, one of the biggest surprises was finding out that sansevierias were considered succulents. To me they had been houseplants and hence of little interest. (As much as I love plants, I’m not a house plant guy.)


Sansevieria suffruticosa

Even though this newfound knowledge raised the profile of sansevierias in my mind, I still didn’t pay all that much attention to them. I should have because even Sansevieria trifasciata, the ubiquitous mother-in-law’s tongue, is an amazing plant. According to a NASA study, it’s one of the best air-filtering plants because it absorbs toxins like nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde from the air.

Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifascata)
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Front yard in early November 2013

It’s been a while since I documented the front yard as a whole. I think the last time was in July after we’d returned from our trip to Maui. Many of the perennials are still blooming; no surprise, I suppose, considering how nice our weather has been all along. If only we got some rain, things would be well nigh perfect in the weather department.

Let’s start in the driveway looking towards the house. The first thing you see is the ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’). I spent hours trimming it last weekend, and it’s looking good again. Bamboos don’t need much maintenance, but a little bit of attention now and then is an investment that pays off big esthetically.


Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’

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Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’

It’s been a while since I posted photos of this corner of our property, so here are some more:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stringing up passionflower vine

Last December Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville, one of my favorite nurseries, had a 50% off sale, and one of the plants I bought was a passionflower hybrid called ‘Blue Eyed Susan’ (Passiflora × ‘Blue Eyed Susan’). I was super excited because the flowers look incredible.

When I bought it, it was just a small thing in a 4-inch pot, and I planted it at the base of one of the front porch posts, behind a clump of ‘Knee High’ echinacea. It took a long time to get started, probably because it was overshadowed by the echinacea during much of the growing season. (I choose this location specifically because I wanted the roots of the passionflower to be shaded by the echinacea so the ground stays relatively cool and moist, conditions Passiflora prefers.)

However, after I trimmed back the echinacea last month, my passionflower went into overdrive, its inquisitive vines extending in all directions. It was time to do something.



Friday, November 1, 2013

Drain hole escape artist

Last year I wrote a post about two very similar agaves in my collection: ‘Little Shark’ and ‘Royal Spine’. Both are hybrids between Agave macroacantha and Agave victorae-reginae and some people say there are one and the same. Looking at my specimens, I’m inclined to disagree; the leaf color is slightly different, and on ‘Royal Spine’ the terminal spines are black while on ‘Little Shark’ they’re a very dark brown.


Agave ‘Little Shark’

But the differences and similarities between these two isn’t the point of this post. Yesterday, in an effort to make the path to the front door safe for trick-or-treaters, I moved all of my spiny plants that are lined up on either side of the flagstone walkway. When I tried to lift the pot with ‘Little Shark’ in it, I couldn’t. It was stuck. I was baffled for a second, then I realized what had happened. The pot had been pushed off the walkway and onto the succulent bed just enough for an inquisitive root to make an escape and lodge itself in the ground. The rocks on top of the soil didn’t present much of an barrier.