Friday, January 31, 2014

Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, AZ)—Part 1

I can’t believe it’s been seven weeks since my trip to Arizona. Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, and after weeks of arid weather—truly fitting for the desert—we’ve finally had some rain. Mind you, it was significantly less than an inch, but at this point I’ll take anything.

I’ve blogged about all the public gardens I visited in Arizona except for one: the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix. The DBG is the heavyweight among them, certainly in terms of reputation. My expectations had been sky high, and the DBG meet them all—and then some.

I took 800 photos at the DBG during my three visits. It took a while to go through them but here, finally, is my first post. Together with part 2, it will give you a general overview of the garden. I’ll also have a post about Las noches de las luminarias, as well as a dedicated post or two about agaves.


“Desert Towers” by Dale Chihuly


Vertical garden at entrance with poster announcing Dale Chihuly’s In the Garden exhibit

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Front yard cleanup—and looking ahead

Let’s be honest: Does anybody actually enjoy yard cleanup? I don’t hate it, the way I hate going to the dentist, but I don’t find much thrill in it either. But it has to be done now and then to keep things reasonably orderly.

Writing about yard cleanup is similar. It’s not the most enjoyable topic in the world, but when one keeps a visual diary of one’s gardening activities—like I do—it’s a necessary thing to keep track of progress in the yard.

Since the weather has been nothing short of stunning lately and I have decided for myself that winter is over—possibly never to return, much like our rain—I decided to get cracking on cleaning up the front yard this past Sunday. My wife and two daughters helped, and we got quite a bit done in a short amount of time.

My main focus was on cutting back the grasses and perennials inside and outside the front yard fence. Here are a few “before” photos:


Miscanthus sinensis Gracillimus Nana’ next to Bambusa oldhamii

Monday, January 27, 2014

New home for Joe Hoak

Almost a year ago, in March of 2013, I bought an Agave ‘Joe Hoak’ from Green Acres Nursery in Folsom, CA. I was very excited because I’d been looking for one for a long time. Click here to read my original post.


Agave ‘Joe Hoak’ on March 16, 2013

‘Joe Hoak’, a sport/hybrid/variety of Agave desmettiana, lived in a pot in the backyard for the rest of year. The rosette, which had originally been fairly flat, has already begun to assume its typical urn shape. This is what ‘Joe Hoak’ looked like yesterday morning (January 26, 2014):


Agave ‘Joe Hoak’ on January 26, 2014

I knew its days in that pot were numbered, and yesterday was the day for it to be released from its ceramic prison.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Making pots at Donna & Keith Taylor workshop

Last Saturday I took a pottery workshop at the house of Donna and Keith Taylor in Fairfield, about 30 minutes from here.

Keith Taylor is the president of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS) and has taught pottery workshops to SCSS members for the last couple of years. He is an accomplished potter and his creations are sought after by bonsai and caudiciform collectors worldwide.

Donna has been a potter most of her life and in recent years started to make a variety of objects out of recycled glass bottles. Visit her web site to see her wine bottle bowls, trays, and succulent containers.


Candy and Gerhard (photo by Keith Taylor)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

So small, yet so full of promise

I love adding new plants to the family. While buying larger specimens provides instant gratification, there’s something even more special about young plants,barely out of seedlinghood. I think of them as the botanical equivalent of babies and toddlers—so full of life and promise, virtually all their life still ahead of them.

Yesterday I received five young succulents I’d bought from a fellow collector on a Facebook group called Succulent Marketplace. He shipped them bare root, as is the custom with succulents. Regular gardeners are shocked when they see plants with their roots exposed like this, but it’s OK. Most of these roots are dead anyway.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Plant of the week: Crassula ovata

My plant of the week is Crassula ovata, the good old jade plant. In mild-winter areas of California it is such a common garden or patio plant that many people snub it. I used to be in that camp, too, but over the last few years I’ve developed quite a fondness for the unassuming Crassula ovata. And this winter, my fondness has blossomed into true love. Just take a look and you’ll now why:


None of my jade plants has ever bloomed like this before. Maybe it’s our crazy winter with no precipitation and preternaturally warm days. Yesterday our afternoon high was 75°F—on January 21!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Lack of snow, lack of water

We spent the weekend at my in-laws in Mount Shasta in far northern California. The town is nestled against the base of the eponymous mountain which, at 14,179 ft. (4,322 m) is the fifth highest peak in California—just 326 ft. lower than California’s tallest, Mount Whitney (14,505 ft.).

In the winter, Mount Shasta is normally covered with snow, a blinding white beacon that can be seen for hundreds of miles. However, this year things are very different. This is what Mount Shasta looked like on Saturday:

140118_MtShasta house

Mount Shasta from town

Aside from a light dusting near the top, there is no snow. Here are two close-ups to show you how little there is:


Mount Shasta (right) and Shastina (left)


Mount Shasta summit close-up

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter visit to University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

At the end of December, my older daughter and I made our annual winter trek to the University of California (UC) Botanical Garden in Berkeley. This has become somewhat of a tradition, seeing how we did the same thing in 2011 (here and here) and 2012 (here, here and here).

While it’s getting harder to discover something new—especially since I tend to visit the same sections every time—it’s still great visiting old friends.


I love the Yucca rostrata in front of the entrance…


…and the Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ‘Aztecorum’) right inside

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mealybugs, you vex me!

Yesterday I blogged about the plants I’m keeping inside for the winter. One of them is a small Duvalia corderoyi, which I won at a raffle at the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society. Duvalia corderoyi is a stapeliad, related to both Stapelia gigantea and Huernia zebrina, both of which bloomedfor me this past summer (see here and here). Duvalia corderoyi has equally beautiful flowers, and I can’t wait for it to bloom.


Duvalia corderoyi flower. Image source: Wikimedia

Imagine how annoyed I was this morning when I discovered that my Duvalia corderoyi shows signs of mealybug infestation:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Plants spending the winter inside

While I don’t have any houseplants per se, I do bring plants inside for the winter. A few are too sensitive to be outside year round (like the plumeria you see on the extreme right in the photo below), others simply do better protected from the cold temperature. I’m not above admitting that I play favorites, so the plants that are invited to be houseguests for the winter are typically the ones I’m particularly fond of at the moment.


Houseguests for the winter. The light you see all the way on the left is an OttLite floor lamp my wife picked up for free on

Others are recent purchases that I want to give a head start. The bulk of the agaves you see in the next photo are recent purchases from Arid Lands Greenhouses. They were shipped bare root and need special TLC to get reestablished quickly. After repotting them in a very loose soil mixture, I put them on a seedling heat mat like this one. The mat warms the bottom of the pots, thereby stimulating root growth. I lightly water these agaves once a week to simulate the kind of environment they might encounter outside in early summer, their peak growing season.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rain—just kidding!

As I mentioned recently, 2013 was the driest year on record in California, and we’re on the verge of a severe drought. Rain—or the lack thereof—is on everybody’s mind. Watching the weather forecast for any sign of precipitation has become a pastime for many.

Palpable excitement was in the air on Saturday because there was a 40% probability of rain. The day started out cloudy—fairly promising!—and as the morning progressed the clouds became ever more brooding. And finally, it started.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (Superior, AZ)—Part 3

Today I’m wrapping up my visit to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, AZ. If you missed the previous posts, please be sure to read them: Part 1 | Part 2.

In Part 2 we left off at the Cactus and Succulent Garden. The easternmost section is dedicated to plants from Baja California. If you’re not quite sure where you are, look for the tall boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris). You can’t miss it! There are several juvenile boojums as well. Once you’ve seen one, you’ll recognize it anywhere.


Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)


Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (Superior, AZ)—Part 2

In Part 1 of my post about Boyce Thompson Arboretum I showed you the Curandero Trail, the Demonstration Garden, and the Australian Desert. Now it’s time to explore the Cactus and Succulent Garden. As you will see in the photos below, this is a spectacular wonderland of desert flora from the Southwest, Mexico, Central and South America. I visited on a Thursday morning and virtually had the entire Arboretum to myself. Truly one of the most memorable experiences of my Arizona trip!


Cactus Garden panorama

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (Superior, AZ)—Part 1

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum was the biggest surprise of my Arizona trip last month. It was casually mentioned in some posts I found on various succulent forums online, but nobody I knew had ever been there. When planning my trip, I couldn’t decide for the longest time whether I should go out of my way to visit or skip it. But somehow it ended up on my itinerary, and I’m so happy it did. Maybe it was because my expectations were so vague, but the Boyce Thompson Arboretum blew me away, as you will be able to see in my three-part post. If you’re into succulents, this is a must-see destination. I look forward to visiting again and again since there are entire sections I had to skip altogether for lack of time.



The first thing you as you approach the entrance from the parking lot are plants for sale.


Plants for sale

Thursday, January 2, 2014

December freeze damage

I’ve dreaded writing this post because it meant taking stock of the damage caused by the Arctic system that swept through the west in early December. Fortunately, the situation is nowhere near as dire as I had initially feared.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Before I left for my Arizona trip on December 1, my wife and I covered many plants in anticipation of a cold snap expected to arrive towards the end of that week. Meteorologists forecast record lows for many areas; hellish temperatures like 19°F were bandied about for the Sacramento area. In the end, the official low in Davis for the cold spell that lasted from Thursday, December 5 until Monday, December 16 (12 consecutive nights below 32°F) was 23°F on the morning of Friday, December 6. According to our backyard weather station, the low in our backyard, which is quite sheltered, was 27.7°F that morning. While I don’t have a thermometer in the front yard, I would imagine the low was in the 24-25°F range.

So how did my plants fare? The short answer: as expected, with some surprises.

Right now it looks like I only have two total losses. The first one hurts. It’s my beloved Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’. All Agave attenuata cultivars are wimpy; their leaves start to sustain damage in the low 30s. In the rush to get things ready before my Arizona trip I completely forgot to cover my ‘Ray of Light’. So it sat there that fateful Friday morning and simply froze to death. I got back from Arizona late that Friday, and when I saw it on Saturday, December 7, I knew there’s no coming back from something like this:


Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’