Friday, May 30, 2014

Agave musical chairs

Like kids outgrowing their clothes, plants often outgrow the space where they were originally planted. Case in point: the mounded succulent bed next to our front door:


For kicks, take look at what this area looked like on May 1, 2009 shortly after it had been planted:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Two new agaves in my collection

Yesterday I introduced you to our new whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’). Even as a youngster it’s a large specimen already, 2 ft. across, so it went in the ground in the back yard.

Today I want to show you two other agaves I bought recently. Both are small and will stay small, so I’m keeping them in containers.

The first is Agave pumila. This one is a bit of a collector’s item in that it is fairly difficult to find. It’s a very slow-growing species, which agave expert Howard Gentry speculated might be a natural hybrid between Agave lechuguilla and Agave victoria-reginae. It has two distinct stages: the juvenile stage characterized by a 2-4 inch rosette of short, stubby leaves (the form typically encountered in potted plants), and an adult stage with an open rosette of 16-18 inch elongated leaves. It has never been known to flower. Cold hardiness is nothing to write home about, about 28°F, but that’s not really an issue with such a small potted plant—simply bring it inside on a cold night.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Meet Vanzie, our new whale’s tongue agave

On Saturday I picked up the newest family member: a whale’s tongue agave named ‘Vanzie’. Actually, ‘Vanzie’ isn’t its real name, it’s the cultivar (Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’). ‘Vanzie’ was selected by renowned plantsman Kelly Griffin for its deeply channeled leaves and subsequently put into tissue culture. After years of waiting, larger specimens are now available.

I had a 6 x 6 ft. area in the backyard to fill and I wanted to start out with a larger plant. Fortunately, Village Nurseries, the wholesaler where I bought many of the plants for our new desert bed, had 15-gallon specimens in stock.


Now the ‘Vanzie’ in the photo above may not look very large, but let me assure you, it’s a monster when you have to handle it. It’s 2 ft. across, and the pot is 18 in. tall.


What a beauty it is!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Old West Cactus Farm, Phoenix, AZ (December 2013)

I just realized that I still “owe” you a few posts from my trip to Arizona back in December. The first is about my blitz visit to the Old West Cactus Farm, a cactus nursery I’d found in the yellow pages. It’s located in the northern Phoenix suburb of Anthem, right off Interstate 17. I don’t how Old West Cactus Farm stacks up against the other nurseries in the area, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of cacti. Just a take a look at the photos in this post, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

The first thing I saw from the frontage road was this:


And this:


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pretty red cactus flowers on a dull Wednesday

Wednesday. Hump day. Middle of the week doldrums.

Nothing better to cheer myself up than photographing the rebutias in bloom on the front porch.

The cactus with the green stems is Rebutia krainziana aka Rebutia marsoneri var. krainziana. The hairy white dude is Rebutia albopilosa.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Replacing a neglected agave

It’s good there’s no such thing as Plant Protective Services, otherwise I’d be in trouble more often than not. While I take good care of the plants that thrive and look beautiful, I tend to neglect the ones that struggle and may not be that pretty to look at. I call it survival of the fittest, but it probably is simply cruelty against plants.

Case in point: this Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’. I bought it at a yard sale years ago and planted it in a large (20” x 18”) glazed ceramic pot. I was being very careful not to overwater it since the pot holds a lot of soil—to the point where I often forgot to water it for weeks on end. Scrappy thing that it is, it did it best to please me by producing lots of offsets, but they, too, looked straggly. Eventually I began to ignore it altogether. Do you now see what a terrible guy I am?


Last Sunday I decided that I had to put a stop to this. I put on my thick welding gloves, expecting a battle, but the mother plant simply lifted right off. It’s not dead—in fact, there are some new roots—but without a more extensive root system no agave can thrive.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Hasta la vista, California poppies

A month ago the California poppies in the driveway succulent bed were at their peak. Even 10 days ago many of them still looked decent. But now most of them are done blooming and beginning to look straggly as they’re actively making seeds. While I do want an encore next year, I don’t want the entire bed filled with poppies, so now is the time to remove most of plants before the seed pods ripen and explode.





I removed most of the orange poppies but left a few of the ‘White Linen’ and ‘Red Chief’ so they can reseed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rock mulch for desert garden bed

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

In yesterday’s update on the palo verde trees in our front yard you might have noticed that our new desert garden bed is no longer bare dirt. As of last Saturday it has a nice layer of rock mulch—just in time for the first heat wave of the season that pushed us close to the 100°F mark on Wednesday and Thursday.


But before I talk more about the rock, I want to show you much the plants in this bed have grown, especially the perennials.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Update on our palo verdes—and a sighting downtown

I was going to post an update on our palo verde trees when my wife told me that the specimen in front of the Davis Food Co-op (620 G Street) is in full bloom. It’s still a juvenile—more large shrub than tree at this point—but it’s covered with cheery yellow flowers that attract bees from far and wide. When I took these photos, the buzz from hundreds of bees was so loud you could hear it from ten feet away.


The flowers against the California sky dotted with puffy white clouds are a beautiful sight.


Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 Pence Gallery Garden Tour, Davis, CA (part 3 of 3)

In part 1 and 2 of my coverage of the 2014 Pence Gallery Garden Tour I highlighted the two gardens I liked the best. The other four gardens weren’t up my alley. While each property had individual features I responded to positively, they lacked the wow factor for me.

Mind you, this is a purely personal thing; I’m in no way belittling the amount of thought and planning that went into each garden. I’m a big believer in diversity, so even if I don’t love a garden, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the work that was done there.




The garden was filled with spring flowers, which seemed to put visitors in a cheerful mood. I liked the large mounded bed in the photo above.

Friday, May 9, 2014

2014 Pence Gallery Garden Tour, Davis, CA (part 2 of 3)

The second house we visited on the recent Pence Gallery Garden Tour had my favorite garden. Not only that, it was also a house I could easily see myself living in. I love Southwestern architecture, and this house’s Territorial style, typically associated with New Mexico, is right up my alley. It’s rare to see this kind of architecture in Northern California, and this house really stood out, surrounded as it was by faux-Tuscan McMansions.

The entry courtyard is a surprisingly intimate and down-to-earth setting accented with olive trees, grasses, lavenders, and a galvanized stock tank turned into a water feature. With its rustic simplicity, the stock tank is a playful allusion to the cattle-and-horse culture of the American West and injects a welcome sense of coolness in an area that bakes in the California sun.



Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 Pence Gallery Garden Tour, Davis, CA (part 1 of 3)

Every May, the Pence Gallery, a non-profit art gallery in downtown Davis, organizes a tour of local gardens. This year the tour focused on six larger rural and semi-rural gardens on the outskirts of town. I don’t think a single one of them was under 1/2 acre. I was excited to see gardens I might not otherwise have access to, but in hindsight I realize my expectations were a bit naïve. Out of the six gardens, only two clicked with me. The others simply weren’t my cup of tea; that’s not a value judgment, simply a reflection of my personal taste.

Today I want to show you the property that acted as the Hospitality Garden. This is where the tour began and where the silent auction to benefit the Pence Gallery was held. The property is located just north of town, and this is the view we saw from the road:


The house itself is contemporary, sleek, and just a bit sterile. The courtyard you see below is dominated by steel-bordered planting beds with a very minimalistic palette: Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), clearly a favorite of landscape designer Pei-Ying Wang, ‘Lemon Thread’ false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Lemon Thread'), dark purple coral bells (Heuchera sp.), and an 'Osakazuki' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki') as a focal point.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show wrap-up

This past weekend, the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society held its 54th Annual Show & Sale. I was helping out on both days, but because of a bad cold that slowed me down, I didn’t take as many photos as I otherwise would have. Still, I’m sure you’ll get a fairly good idea of what a show like ours is all about.

Much to the organizers’ relief, a line started to form at the gate well before the doors opened to the public at 9am. Countless hours of volunteer work go into a show like this, and the biggest reward is a large crowd—especially if they spend liberally.


Sale tables with plants from vendors from Northern and Central California filled the courtyard at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center. I thought the selection was particularly nice this year. No matter what your favorite group of succulents or cacti is, you were sure to find something to your liking.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ginkgo biloba ‘Sunstream’ has never looked better

Plants definitely have a secret life of their own. Sometimes, especially when you don’t pay attention, they produce something that is both surprising and utterly beautiful. This is how I felt when I saw the new leaves on my Ginkgo biloba ‘Sunstream’.


I bought it last fall at Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, CA. It was a fairly small plant in a one-gallon container, and since it went dormant soon thereafter, I forgot about it until this spring.


But look at it now! Almost every leaf has strong variegation.