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.

I didn’t take as many photos while plant shopping as I have in the past because the garden was very crowded and handling both a wagon and a camera was challenging at times. But here are some photos of the sale action.




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Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’


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I couldn’t believe it: two perfect 15-gallon specimens of ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’), the hybrid I chose for our front yard. I had to hunt high and low to find some, and now RBG carries them! These were beautiful specimens, in full bloom.


Dish gardens created by Ruth Bancroft herself. Hard to believe she’s 105 (!) years old. In two weeks, she’s going to teach a class on how to make seashell shadowboxes!


One of the silent auction plants: Opuntia sulphurea

After Candy and I had made our plant choices, we stowed them in the holding area and walked around to enjoy the springtime glory. The weather was perfect—mid 70s, warm sunshine.


Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’


Candy photographing a flowering cactus




Agave parryi var. neomexicana


Hesperoyucca whipplei



Opuntia robusta


Drosanthemum bicolor


Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ and Drosanthemum bicolor


Thelocactus tulensis


Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’ and Aloe plicatilis


Encephalartos horridus and Aloe striata. I noticed several new encephalartos in the garden. I’m glad RBG is adding more cycads; they’re fantastic companion plants to succulents.


Pond in the middle of the garden


Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)


Agave pup in a clump of Mammillaria geminispina


Dasylirion wheeleri near the port-a-potties


Yucca carnerosana


Agave parryi var. truncata


Agave bovicornuta

Eventually it was time to retrieve our plants and queue up in the checkout line.


My heart beat faster when I saw this wagon full of wonderful agaves! I wish they were mine!

The wait was much shorter now compared to earlier (see next photo).


As much I loved the sale itself, I was very unhappy with the way the checkout was set up. Look at the next photo. After paying for your purchases at the tables with the blue awnings you had to back up against the line of people to make a turn towards the exit (lower right in the photo). This made no sense to me. Some people were unwilling to step aside so we could exit, which put me in a less than celebratory mood (and the people standing in line as well).  Why not set up the checkout tables in such a way that after paying, customers can simply continue straight towards the exit without having to deal with the people standing in line behind them?


Candy stayed with our plants at the exit while I retrieved the car from a couple of blocks away. On my way to the car, I passed the plantings along Bancroft Road. Several Echinopsis cactus were in full bloom. What a spectacle! I’m surprised cars don’t slam on their brakes driving by! I’ll have more photos of these flowering cactus in my next post, but here is a teaser.


Echinopsis flowers and Agave montana

Candy’s haul from the sale was quite impressive, with a rare white-flowering Aloe ferox from the clearance table, an Aloe hercules, half a dozen variegated string-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and other succulents.

My haul was more modest: a Leucospermum cuneiforme ‘Goldie’, a variegated string-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), Aloe petricola, Aloe striata ssp. karasbergensis, and an Agave utahensis var. eborispina.


  1. Ah what a wonderful sale, lame checkout experience excluded. I remember the year something went wrong at our HPSO sale and we stood in line for over an hour just to pay. Life shouldn't be so difficult...

    1. I've been to many RBG sales, and they never had this problem. I'm sure they'll solve it.

  2. I was just thinking earlier how did the plant sale go as you always go home with loads of goodies from RBG. Wish we had something like that here! Your wagon of haul looks exciting, can't wait to know they are! Shame about the queue problem, kind of dampens things a bit but the sale still sounded great.

    1. You've got to plan a visit to California and time it to coincide with an RBG plant sale!

  3. As G&M said, such a shame we don't have anything even near that in the UK. A great haul.

    1. But you have so many other sales, and great nurseries in general, that more than make up for it :-).

  4. The flowering cactus are gorgeous and your plant wagon looks full of awesome plants. Perhaps they will see your complaint about the line and make changes next year. Still looks like a great sale.

    1. Lots of cool plants and a beautiful dry garden = fantastic sale. It's a sure-fire recipe for success in spite of the hiccup at checkout.

  5. You photos are super and I had such a great time with you! I am still working on mine. And wasn't lunch at Anna's great. I loved it. Hope all is well with your family.

    1. Candy, it was a great outing! We have to do it again in the fall :-).

  6. the Hesperoyucca whipplei with the agave as backdrop is stunning! how did i miss that?!! thankfully, i live close enough to get over there and look for it.

    i was one of the volunteers at the RBG sale (worked clean-up afterwards) and believe me, the staff IS paying attention to the challenge of how to make checkout smoother. i don't think the check out at the UCB botanical garden plant sale is any better, except that you can continue in a straight line to the exit.

    1. Terri, first of all THANK YOU for volunteering your time at the RBG. Bloggers, myself included, often don't give the volunteers enough credit. Without you, public gardens like the RBG simply wouldn't exist.

      This was the first RBG sale where I noticed any hiccups. I think as long as people can exit in a straight line after paying you've solved the issue. Everything else comes with the territory, like standing in line. Sure, it isn't exactly fun, but often you end up chatting with other like-minded people, so it's not that bad either.

  7. Hi -- I was looking for info about the 2014 RBG Spring plant sale, found your blog, and then found a picture of me -- sort of -- pulling that wagon load of agaves you coveted.

    Thanks, Bill

    1. Bill, that's too funny! How are your agaves doing, almost a year later?

  8. Hi -- I was looking for info on 2014's RBG Spring plant sale, found your blog, and also found a picture of me -- sort of -- pulling the wagon load of succulents you coveted (minus one that someone lifted while it was unattended). I'll be there again this year, but it's getting harder to find agaves new to my collection.

    1. I swear, it wasn't me who lifted your agave :-).

      I know exactly you mean about it getting harder to find things you don't have yet. But Troy at RBG is working hard to bring in new varieties. I love the suspense of not knowing what I might find on my next visit.

  9. Excellent! All the hardy agaves I bought last year went into a large xeriscape project, and the collection, including tender varieties in pots, is around 80 species now, including some coming from Yucca Do this week.

    1. Your project sounds fantastic! Would love to see photos if you have Facebook, Instagram, etc.

      I've ordered quite a few things from Yucca Do and have always been happy. The same goes for Arid Lands in Tucson; they have some pretty rare stuff.

    2. (Never sure what gets sent here.) I'd be happy to share some photos -- we're really happy with the xeriscape results -- just not a fan of social media. Email is what I do. Don't mind sharing my address, just not with the world :D

    3. Bill, I *totally* understand. Here's my email address: Replace AT with you know what. (I have to be sly to throw the 'bots off track, ha ha.) Thanks!!


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