Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Plant of the week: Aloe buhrii

I usually forget to participate in the various “plant of the week” memes (like Danger Garden’s “My favorite plant in the garden, this week”), but last Saturday I came across a particularly beautiful aloe on the UC Davis campus that I want to feature today: Aloe buhrii.

While most of the aloes I photographed on campus in February have finishing blooming, Aloe buhrii is now at its peak. What makes it a standout is the flower color: Unlike most aloes whose flowers are shades of red or pink, Aloe buhrii has yellow (or yellowish orange) flowers:


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii), 2014 edition

One of the things I look forward to the most each spring is seeing Echium wildpretii in bloom. This Canary Island native nicknamed “tower of jewels” has become very popular in Davis, and at this time of year you can spot the towering flower cones all over town.

Last year I tried a hybrid called ‘Mr Happy’ (Echium wildpretii × Echium pininana). It looked quite similar I didn’t find the blue flowers as attractive as as the magenta ones of Echium wildpretii.

This year I have two towers of jewels that are in bloom. Both were seedlings from my 2011 plant that had sprouted in a pot with a Yucca rostrata. The “extrication” described in this post was successful, as you can see below.

It’s interesting to note that while Echium wildpretii is a biennial—i..e. it flowers in its second year, sets seeds and then dies—my two plants took three years to bloom.


December 12, 2013, looking not so hot after a week-long cold snap. It quickly recovered.

140315_Echium-wildpretii_002 140315_Echium-wildpretii_003

March 15, 2014. The vertical ascent has begun.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Driveway succulent bed aglow with California poppies

This has been the year of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Last fall I liberally sprinkled poppy seeds over the driveway succulent bed that separates our property from our neighbor’s. Since our winter was abnormally dry, it took a while for the seedlings to get going, but the intermittent rains we’ve had in March and April really helped. To borrow a popular saying, right now it’s difficult to see the succulents for the poppies!



Agave ‘Sun Glow’ dwarfed by the California poppies

I like the ratio between poppies and succulents/perennials so I won’t let them all go to seed. In fact, next fall I plan to sow Mexican gold poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana). They’re shorter than the species and have more golden flowers.

By the way, the white poppies are a cultivar called ‘White Linen’, and the red ones are called ‘Red Chief’. The orange ones, of course, are the species itself, Eschscholzia californica.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New succulent bed at the Sacramento Zoo

Last fall I blogged about a visit to the Sacramento Zoo. I said nice things about the plantings in general—and the bamboos in general—but I bemoaned the fact that there were very few succulents.


In February I received a message from Michaele Bergera, the Zoo’s horticulturist, who had read my blog post. She wanted to dedicate a planting area to succulents and was wondering if I could give her some advice. I was very happy to help. I met with Michaele at the Zoo to check out the area in question:


It was quite overgrown but Michaele said she had both labor and equipment at her disposal to completely clear it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Visiting Anna Zakaria’s whimsical succulent garden


Google’s definition of the word “whimsical” applies perfectly to Anna Zakaria’s succulent creations. I had seen Anna’s work on her Facebook page and on her blog, 4 Surya Garden, and I had met her at Donna and Keith’s pottery workshop in January. Anna lives very close to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and last Saturday, after the RBG spring plant sale, Anna had Candy “Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents” Suter and me over to her house for lunch.


Candy Suter (left) and Anna Zakaria in her Anna’s backyard

The food and iced tea were fantastic, but I had a hard time sitting still at the patio table. All around me were containers large, small, and smaller; traditional, quirky, and downright fantastical. And most of them had succulents in them.

While many people surround themselves with potted succulents, Anna goes a big step further. Seriously, how many people do you know who have turned an old portable TV into a vertical succulent garden?


Friday, April 18, 2014

California poppies and claret cup cactus (update)

Last September I showed you a 22-inch terracotta bowl planted with three varieties of claret cup cactus and a small Agave toumeyana ssp. bella. Somehow a California poppy seed landed near the edge of the bowl and has since turned into a beautiful clump of flowers.

On April 3 I posted this photo:

140411_claret-cup- -poppy-bowl_001

One of the three claret cups, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, had almost a dozen flower buds. The first one opened on April 12, and more and more have been joining the party since then.

140414_claret-cup- -poppy-bowl_017

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wildflower meadow: every neighborhood should have one!

I see them every year in the big-box home improvement stores: large bags or even small buckets of seed mixes that promise an instant wildflower meadow. The idea is fantastic, and yet how many such meadows have you actually encountered? I bet very few.

I don’t know how the meadow you see in this post came about, but I noticed it last spring. Eventually it was mowed down and then looked like so many other empty lots you drive by in your everyday life. But now it’s back and it’s better than ever.


Clearly whoever owns this lot—I’m sure not if it belongs to the city or is part of the house on the corner—let the flowers go to seed last summer. They then lay dormant throughout our abnormally dry fall and winter and made a riotous return after the rains in March.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Cactus flower extravaganza at Ruth Bancroft Garden

Anybody driving by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA right now will be greeted by a spectacle of cactus flowers. I just about lost control of the car yesterday when I saw this:


It’s not just the riotous color, it’s the sheer number of flowers on some of the cacti!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2014 spring plant sale recap

Yesterday was the spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, CA. This is one event I wouldn’t miss for the world. Usually I go by myself, but this time I brought along fellow succulent fanatic Candy Suter, Ms Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents herself.


Due to an accident on the freeway we got to RBG about 30 minutes after the sale had started, and we had to park on a side street because the RBG lot was full. This had never happened to me before. In general, there seemed to be many more people there for the 2 hour members’ only time slot (9 to 11 am). For the first couple of hours the checkout line was insanely long (photo at the bottom of this post). I’m thrilled the sale was such a success; it shows how popular the Ruth Bancroft Garden is and that more and more owners are switching to drought-tolerant plants. The sale featured not just succulents, but also shrubs and even trees, with an emphasis on plants from California, South Africa and Australia. During his brief stint at RBG, now former garden director Troy McGregor really expanded the repertoire of plants from his native Australia—an initiative I really appreciated.

Friday, April 11, 2014

TGIF, white poppies, and Ruth Bancroft Garden plant sale

It’s been a long week, but Friday is finally here. Thank you, Katy Perry, for getting me in the mood!

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 12) is the spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. One of the many kinds of plants they’ll be selling is Agave montana. I have two in my front yard. This one looks particularly nice right now, framed by ‘White Linen’ California poppies.

140411_Agave-montana- -White-Linen-poppy

Check back on Sunday for all the latest from the Ruth Bancroft Garden!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quick update on our new desert garden bed

This post continues the coverage of our front yard desert garden project.

Time for a quick update on our new front-yard desert garden. We planted it on March 15 and 16 when temperatures were in the mid-80s. This must have been quite a shock to many of the plants which had been used to milder temperatures, both at the nursery and in the staging area at our house (aka our driveway). This was followed by several weeks of rain—mostly intermittent, but for a few days fairly steady—and then two more weeks of sunny spring weather with daytime highs in the mid to high 70s.


In general, the plants have fared well. They seem to be actively growing, and some have started to flower.


Let’s take a more detailed look.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Green hills and California poppy meadow

A friend was visiting this weekend and we decided to take a drive to Lake Berryessa, about 45 minutes west of here. The route is very scenic, especially in the spring. Thanks to the series of rain storms we had in recent weeks, the hills were as green as I had expected. Combined with a blue sky and puffy white clouds, this made for picture-postcard perfect scenery. (People used to the lushness of, say, Ireland will laugh, but we can take what we get in our Mediterranean climate.)


140405_Winters Berryessa_008

Thursday, April 3, 2014

California poppies and claret cup cactus

One of the cheeriest sight in the front yard right now is this 22-inch terracotta bowl. The California poppy you see in these photos is a volunteer that arrived on the wind and decided to stay. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.


I blogged about this bowl in September in this post. The claret cup cactus have grown quite a bit since then. They looked pretty sad in January after months of below-average precipitation (i.e. none). Check out this droopy fellow! But the sporadic rains we’ve had since February have been enough to make them perk up.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Plants are loving the rain

I’ve talked several times about the extremely dry winter of 2013/2014 (1 2 3). While the specter of a drought hasn’t disappeared, the rains we’ve had in the last week have helped a little. If nothing else, they’ve given our gardens a thorough soaking and have jumpstarted the growth of plants that had been lagging behind.

In our garden, the plants that benefitted the most from the rain were the bamboos. They had also suffered the most during our dry winter, especially the specimens in containers. Just take a look at this poor Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’. I’m not sure it will come back from the brink of death even with the several inches of rain we’ve had:


Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’

Other bamboos hadn’t deteriorated as much during the winter and will now go into a growth spurt, especially since I fertilized them recently.


Indocalamus tessellatus (left) and Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ (Alan, this is the small division you sent me a couple of years ago)