Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two Tucson nurseries that rock—and rain!

I’m happy to report that the two Tucson nurseries I visited today more than made up for the largely disappointing experience I had in Phoenix yesterday. That means I’m ending 2014 on a high note as far as plants go!


Picacho Peak 45 miles north of Tucson right off I-10

Stop #1 was at Bach’s Cactus Nursery (8602 North Thornydale Rd., Tucson, AZ 85742; 520-744-3333). I’d first visited it on my December 2013 trip on what had been a warm and sunny day.


Today the weather was quite different. It had been raining early in the morning when I’d left Phoenix, and while the storm hadn’t quite made it to Tucson yet (about 120 miles to the south), the sky was looking quite menacing. Everywhere I went on the nursery grounds I saw scenes like these:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Phoenix nursery (s)hopping, with mixed results

Today I had reserved time to do some nursery (s)hopping in Phoenix. I’d compiled a list of four nurseries based on information I found online and some general recommendations in gardening forums. While none of them specializes in succulents per se, it was my assumption that they would have a much better selection than what I’m able to find at home in the Sacramento area—and at better prices to boot.

Well, you know what they say about the word “assume:” It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

The first nursery on my list was Baker Nursery. My visit took exactly zero seconds because, as it turned out, Baker Nursery had gone out of business. I should have checked their website first!

Stop #2 was Moon Valley Nurseries. They have nine locations in the Phoenix area. I went to the Scottsdale one because it was closest to my hotel. If I had picked a different location, my experience probably would have been different and, most likely, vastly better.

It started off well enough. My eyes immediately went to this Agave nickelsiae just outside their main building. It was a beautiful specimen but the price sent me reeling: $249.99 for what looked like a 5-gallon can. Yikes!!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Return to the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Last year I packed three visits to the Desert Botanical Garden into my stay in Phoenix. This year my schedule only allowed time for one visit so I made it count: I stayed for almost 6 hours! I was exhausted when I got back to the car, not only because of the walking but also because of visual overload. The Desert Botanical Garden truly is one of the most special places I’ve ever visited—bucket list material for those of you who’ve never been there!

Here are just a few photos from today. There’ll be plenty more when I’ve had time to sort through the 500 pictures I took.


Dale Chihuly glass sculptures at the garden entrance


New Jan and Tom Lewis Desert Portal completed earlier this year

Two Palm Springs must-sees for succulent lovers

Palm Springs, California has been a popular resort for over 100 years, especially in the winter when the days are reliably sunny and warm (but not blistering like in the summer). The climate is ideal for growing succulents, and there is one well-known botanical garden nearby: the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in the neighboring town of Palm Desert. (I visited it in February 2011; click here for my post.)

I would have loved to go back to the Living Desert, but I only had half a day in Palm Springs so I focused on two places I hadn’t visited before: Moorten Botanical Garden and Sunnylands Center & Garden. I’ll have in-depth posts on both destinations at a later date so I’m limiting myself to just a few photos from each.

Moorten Botanical Garden is located in south Palm Springs. In fact, it turned out to be right next door to the motel I was staying at—a mere 3-minute walk!


The 1-acre garden was established in 1938 by Patricia and Chester Moorten and is now owned and run by their son Clark. It contains some 3,000 specimens from the Americas and Africa as well as a “Cactarium,” which turned out to be just a small a greenhouse with succulents and caudiciforms.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Huntington Desert Garden, finally

The Desert Garden at the Huntington in Pasadena, CA is one of the oldest and most revered succulent gardens in the world. It’s been at the very top of my must-see list for many years, and today I finally got a chance to visit it. This post is just a teaser. I took over 400 photos and will have several detailed posts in the weeks to come.

Many aloes were in full bloom, others are just starting, so there’ll be a lot of aloe action over the next couple of months. I wish I could come back in late January to see the many Aloe marlothii in full bloom since it’s my favorite aloe species. Well, one of them in any case.

Tomorrow I’m heading on to Phoenix, Arizona and then to Tucson. I’ll try to post as much as I can from the road, but rest assured I’ll have extensive coverage of what I saw in January and February.


Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’ in bloom


Aloe splendor

Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 2014 Desert Trip index

This index lists all the posts from my December 2014 Desert Trip to Southern California and Arizona.


Posts from the road:


Detailed posts:


Blooming business school agaves

We took advantage of the beautiful weather on Christmas Day to take a walk in the UC Davis Arboretum. On our way to where we parked the car we drove by the Graduate School of Management (GSM). I hadn’t been in the part of the campus in quite a while and almost slammed on the brakes when I saw this:


Fortunately campus was deserted and I was able to pull into a parking space nearby, hop out, and take some photos.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Toppled aloe and other sightings at UC Davis

A month ago I photographed this Aloe littoralis in front of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory:

141123_UCDA_Aloe-littoralis_001 141123_UCDA_Aloe-littoralis_004

Aloe littoralis photographed on November 23, 2014

Aloe littoralis is a non-branching aloe that can get to 10 ft. in height, with a rosette up to 4 ft. across. This specimen at UC Davis was a good 6 ft. tall, the emerging flower stalk adding another 3 ft.

I happened to be on campus a few days ago and was shocked to find this:


The Aloe littoralis had fallen over.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy holidays!



Happy holidays, everybody!

Spend time with the people you love.

Or your favorite plants if people drive you crazy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Foggy morning just before Christmas

While I wouldn’t want to live in a climate where it’s foggy all the time, I do love the occasional fog in the winter—thick like pea soup, only vague shapes visible, sounds muffled so much you can hear dewdrops hit the ground. That’s what I woke up to today. An early Christmas present from Mother Nature!


Hardy tapioca (Manihot grahamii), going to sleep for the winter


Aeonium doing the opposite: it’s getting ready to bloom

Monday, December 22, 2014

#GBFling14: JJ De Sousa Garden

We saw a lot of different gardens during the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling (#GBFling14) in Portland, Oregon. Some were serious, some were playful, but none quite matched the over-the-top exuberance of JJ De Sousa’s Garden.

You want plants? Check!

You want art? Check!

You want style? Check!

JJ De Sousa’s garden is an unbridled feast for the senses, and it had me from the moment I saw that bright orange metal gate with its three carrots.


Orange is JJ’s signature color. You see it repeated in countless places in her 9,500 sq. ft. urban garden in southeast Portland. I’m not usually attracted to bright colors and if I tried to introduce one as blazing hot as orange in my own garden, I’m sure I would fail miserably. But JJ knows that you cannot be timid when working with a color like orange. You have to embrace it whole-heartedly—go for broke. And she certainly does. Her garden positively sizzles.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

#GBFling14: John Kuzma Garden

Five months have gone by since the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling (#GBFling14) in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t even covered half of the gardens we visited yet, so it’s high time for another installment.

Today I’ll show you the garden of John Kuzma. His half-acre slice of heaven is full of the kinds of the things I love: yuccas, agaves, southern hemisphere plants, and shrubs with intriguing textures.

This vignette in the front yard was the first thing that caught my eye:


The Yucca rostrata immediately reminded me of Cistus Nursery. This is no coincidence: It turns out that Sean Hogan, the owner of Cistus, was instrumental in designing this garden.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Four books on agaves

It’s no secret that I love agaves. I’ve written more posts about agaves than any other group of succulents. It’s no surprise that I sometimes get asked if there are any books on agaves that I would recommend.

Yes, there are. In fact, I know of four agave-centric books currently in print (sorted by year of publication):

Pilbeam, J. (2013). A Gallery of Agaves (including variegates). Hornchurch, Essex, UK: The British Cactus & Succulent Society.

Starr, G. (2012). Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Irish, M., & Irish, G. (2000). Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants: A Gardener's Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Gentry, H. (1982). Agaves of Continental North America. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.


Let’s take a look at each one. I’ll tell you what I think its merits are so you can decide for yourself if it’s the right book for you.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mushrooms in my succulent bed

Here’s a topic I haven’t talked about much on this blog: mushrooms. But then, the past few winters have been very dry so mushrooms haven’t been a common sight. This year, I have a feeling, will be very different. With another 1 inch of rain in the last 24 hours, we’re now up to a full 8 inches for the month of December alone— that’s more in a month than we received in all of 2013 (less than 6 inches).

Here’s what I just spotted in the succulent bed between our driveway and our neighbor’s:


I haven’t got the faintest idea what kind of fungus it is, but it’s quite pretty up close:


Saturday, December 13, 2014

From Aloe to Aloiampelos, Aloidendron, Aristaloe, Gonialoe, Kumara

Taxonomists—scientists describing, naming and classifying organisms—love change. They are constantly assigning and reassigning plants (and animals) based on the latest research findings. The decisions they make often annoy gardeners: After all, why is it necessary to move a plant that has always been one thing into another bucket, causing its botanical name to change? Sometimes these things seem haphazard, but I’m sure they’re always scientifically motivated. Or at least I hope so.

Most of the time the work taxonomists do attracts little attention among the gardening crowd, myself included. However, when an entire group of plants I’m fond of is affected, my ears do perk up.

Case in point: the recent reclassification of the genus Aloe. Molecular studies suggest that not all aloe species have the same evolutionary origin and hence are less closely related than previously thought. Based on those findings, some species have been separated from the genus Aloe and moved into their genus. While only a relatively small number of species is affected, they do include some very popular garden plants, as you will see below.

110223_Aloe_dichotoma2_thumb1 110223_Aloe_dichotoma1_thumb1

Aloe dichotoma, now Aloidendron dichotomum
(photographed at The Living Desert, Palm Desert, CA)

Friday, December 12, 2014

20 hours of nonstop rain

The much touted storm forecast for Thursday, December 11, 2014 did arrive and it did bring quite bit of rain to Northern California, but it wasn’t as cataclysmic as the media had made it out to be. At least not here in Davis. We didn’t have the high winds other areas experienced, and we didn’t have any flooding.


But it did rain for 20 hours straight, from about 9 am on Thursday until 5 am this morning, which translated into 3.73 inches. Not the 7 inches Lake Shasta recorded, mind you, but nothing to sneeze at either, especially considering that in December 2013 we had 0.39 inches for the entire month! This year, the December total is already a bit over 7 inches.


Bradford pear and Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’)  as seen from upstairs

Monday, December 8, 2014

Of leaves and lights

Just recently I wrote about the pesky leaves that keep bothering my poor succulents. Since then we’ve had three inches of rain, which has brought us above normal for the season. That’s exactly what drought-ridden California needed. And we’re not done. More rain is in the forecast for Wednesday through Sunday.

The last rain storm came with fairly strong winds, which knocked most of the remaining leaves off the trees. The bad news: leaves everywhere. The good news: very few leaves left on the trees, so not much more to fall.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden in December

After selecting my plants at the recent Black Friday sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, I took a stroll through the garden itself. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then, and at times the sun was making a valiant effort to break through the clouds. The weather was definitely a deterrent that day: I only saw two other people while I was walking around. I practically had the place to myself!


Shade structure housing tender succulents covered for the winter


Agave salmiana

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall color at my house—and real rain, finally!

While some areas of Davis have quite a bit of fall color—especially the older neighborhoods downtown with their majestic trees—there isn’t much at our house. But I did find a few pops of color over the weekend. It’s a good thing I took these photos then, because the series of storms that began on Sunday has blown a lot of these leaves away.


Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) across the street

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden Black Friday sale extended until 12/4/14

Black Friday sales are great for people buying electronics, appliances and maybe clothes, but usually there's nothing special about them for gardeners. This year was different. For the first time, the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek ran a Black Friday sale. And what a sale it was: 50% off on available plants in the retail nursery! It started on Friday—the day after Thanksgiving—and was supposed to end today, Sunday.

Except it didn’t.

If you kicked yourself because you thought you missed it, I have good news: The sale has been extended until 4pm on Thursday, December 4, 2014. That means you have  three more days to shop: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the Garden and nursery are closed on Mondays).


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gardening books at closeout prices

I love books. Fiction or non-fiction, I devour them all. I have over 50 books on and under my bedside table, all waiting to be read. That’s in addition to the thousands of books scattered all over the house. I’ve joked about the second story of our house collapsing under the weight of the books stored up there.

Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I head straight for the clearance bin to see what treasures I might find at a deeply discounted price. I love to be able to save 50, 60 or 70% off the cover price. 80% is dreamy. 90% is nirvana (and exceedingly rare). But in brick-and-mortar bookstores most clearance books are popular fiction, with just a smattering of non-fiction titles and even fewer gardening books.

Now imagine a place where you can find hundreds of gardening books at up to 90% off the cover price! And you don’t have to leave the comfort of home to shop there. This place is called 15, 20 years ago, I used to pour over their mail-order catalog—densely printed on flimsy stock and folded like a newspaper. That was before online shopping was commonplace. But then Amazon and Abebooks came along and I forgot about Hamilton Book.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Aloe anticipation at UC Davis

The University of California Davis campus has several aloe hot spots (see this post from February). Curious to find out whether any of their aloes are flowering yet, I decided to go on a little outing yesterday. (Weekends are best for a campus visit since parking is free.)

As always, I parked next to the Botanical Conservatory greenhouses and began my walk there. This is what I found.

141123_UCDA_Aloe-littoralis_004 141123_UCDA_Aloe-littoralis_001

The flower spikes on the tall Aloe littoralis in front of the greenhouse are further along than I’d thought…


…while this Aloe littoralis

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Damn those leaves!

Don’t get me wrong, I love trees and I know that falling leaves come with the territory. But while I like autumn, I don’t enjoy dealing with this:


The photos above and below were taken standing in our neighbor’s driveway, looking towards our house. So while technically these leaves are on her property, they’re just waiting for the wind to carry them onto ours.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arizona redux

Like yesterday, today has been a gloomy, gray day with on-and-off-again rain. Not much, but enough to get everything wet. Yeah for the rain—we desperately need it—but it prevented me from taking photos for another post I had in mind.


Gates Pass west of Tucson

So I’m going to dig into my ever expanding image archive and pull out some photos from my recent trips to Arizona (2012 | 2013). This doesn’t come out of nowhere: I’m actually planning another trip to Phoenix and Tucson at the end of December.


Tohono Chul Park: horse sculpture by Kioko Mwitiki in the Cactus Circle Garden surrounded by Mexican fencepost cacti (Pachycereus marginatus)

While I’m going to revisit some favorite places, like the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, I’m also going to check out new gardens and nurseries. In fact, since I’ll be driving this time, I’ll have plenty of room to buy plants.


Bach’s Cactus Nursery, Tucson

If you have any recommendations for must-see places, please leave a comment below.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What’s in bloom, mid-November 2014

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, a meme originally introduced by May Dreams Gardens, is the 15th of each month. I usually miss it, being as unorganized as I am. This month, however, I’m only two days off, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at what’s blooming in my mid-November garden.


Aloe cryptopoda against ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’). This aloe was already blooming in mid-September when Loree ‘Danger Garden’ Bohl photographed it (click here to read her write-up about my garden) and it’s still not quite done. Great going!


Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’. I’m including it because it’s currently residing in our front yard although it technically belongs to friends. I picked it up for them while they’re out of town. (It’s in a 5-gallon nursery can.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

I’ve been to most botanical gardens in Northern California but one had eluded me until this week: Quarryhill Botanical Garden. It is located outside the small town of Glen Ellen, best known as the home of writer Jack London (he lived there on a 1,000 acre ranch until his death in 1916). While less than an hour and a half from my house, Quarryhill is tucked away in rural Sonoma County where I rarely go. Not sure why, it’s beautiful there.


I almost missed the entrance, tucked away as it is between cabernet sauvignon vineyards

I knew that Quarryhill is world-renowned for its collection of Asian plants, many of them endangered in their native habitats. What I didn’t know is that the garden is only 27 years old. It’s the brainchild of restaurant heiress Jane Davenport Jansen who donated the site (25 acres) and financed 15 plant collection expeditions to Asia until her untimely death in 2000 at the age of 60. Read this very interesting article from Pacific Horticulture Magazine for more on the garden history.


Parking area and gift shop

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ancient prickly pear at the Sonoma Mission

Yesterday was Veterans Day, one of the few public holidays we have in the U.S. I played hooky and went on a road trip with a friend to Sonoma, just a little over an hour from Davis. After exploring Quarryhill Botanical Garden outside the small town of Glen Ellen (separate post to come) we stopped in downtown Sonoma for coffee. I found a parking space right across from Mission San Francisco Solano and took some photos as the late-afternoon sun was casting a golden glow on the mission’s white façade.


I noticed several things I’d never paid attention to before. The tree all the way on the left is a pomegranate, a tree that has a long association with California missions. While pomegranates are native to Persia (now Iran), they were brought to California by Spanish missionaries and settlers.