Monday, June 30, 2014

Wish I were there right now…

I’m sure it happens to all of us. You’re at stuck at home while friends or family members are having fun exploring places in far-flung corners of the world.

This post is a case in point. This morning I received an email from our Australian friends who are currently in the south of France. Knowing how much I love plants—especially succulents—my good mate Bill sent me some photos from the Jardin exotique d’Èze (pronounced “eh-zz”).

Be still, my beating heart!


Èze is a small town of 3,000 on the French Riviera, less than 10 miles from Nice. It is famous for its stunning views of the Mediterranean, the best of which can be had from the Jardin exotique.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yucca linearifolia benefiting from 75% pottery bargain

I happened to be at the Green Acres Nursery location in Folsom, CA yesterday, and they were closing out two lines of unglazed pottery. Even though I hadn’t meant to buy any pots, this is what I went home with:


The larger pots are 14x15” (width x height), the medium-sized ones 11x12” and the smaller ones 8x10”.


Why did I end up buying 10 pots?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where did the sun go? Time to take pictures!

Here in the Sacramento Valley, there is one constant in the summer (and that means from May until late September): The sun shines every day. You can count the number of overcast days on one hand. I’m not exaggerating!

Yesterday was one of those rare days. While the sun did come out a few times, there were long periods when we had more or less solid cloud cover. Candy Suter of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents, who lives 45 minutes east of me, even reported rain. We had no such luck, but I availed myself of this special opportunity and took a bunch of photos, both in the back and the front yard. Overcast skies equal even light, which makes for much better photography than the harsh contrast of a sunny day.

There is no theme to this post, but you get to see some areas of the yard I haven’t written about in quite a while. Sit back with a cup or glass of your favorite beverage because there are a lot of photos in this post.


Woodland garden in front of the dining room window. The big bamboo is Borinda fungosa.


Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) and Hosta ‘Climax’, one of the two hostas that remain from my Big Hosta Experiment of five years ago (ironically, this one was a freebie!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greg Starr’s agave presentation at the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society on 6/23/14

On Monday, agave expert extraordinaire Greg Starr gave a presentation entitled “Agaves as Living Sculptures” at the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). Greg had traveled all the way from Tucson, AZ especially for this talk, and I was thrilled to see so many people show up—not just club members, but new faces as well. There’s no better validation for a speaker than a large turnout, and we certainly had that.


Before the start of Greg’s presentation there was ample time to admire—and buy!—the plants he had brought.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Front yard desert bed June 2014 update

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

It’s been 3½ months since since we removed the Pittosporum tobira hedge next to the house and built a mounded “desert bed.” This is what it looked like right after we’d put in the plants on March 16, 2014:


March 16, 2014

And the same view now in the third week of June:


June 20, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Greg Starr to present Agaves: Living Sculptures in Sacramento on Monday, 6/23/14

Greg-Starr-214x300Last December I visited Greg Starr, one of the country’s leading agave experts, at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Tomorrow, Monday, June 23, 2014, Greg will give a presentation entitled “Agaves: Living Sculptures” at the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society. Here are all the relevant details:

DATE: Monday, June 23, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

LOCATION: Shepard Garden and Art Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95816

Agaves are uniquely beautiful and useful plants for a drought-tolerant landscape. They are at home in variety of landscaping schemes and combine well with other perennials that make do with little water. However, many gardeners know very little about these “woody lilies” from Central and South America. Greg Starr’s presentation, “Agaves: Living Sculptures,” will shed light on these very special plants. Greg will talk about his 20+ year passion for agaves and how they can serve as a focal point in a modern drought-tolerant landscape.

Agave-book-cover2Greg Starr is a leading proponent of xeriscaping in the American Southwest. He is well known as an expert on low-water-use plants and has spent most of his life popularizing and promoting the use of xeric plants such as agaves. Greg owns and operates Starr Nursery, which specializes in agaves, cactus, and xeric shrubs. He has traveled extensively in agave country, both in Mexico and the United States, to study and photograph agaves in their habitats. Greg’s most recent book is Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers (Timber Press, 2012).


Greg will bring plants from his nursery, including a large selection of agaves, and he will sell and sign his book.

The event is free to the public. You do NOT need to be a member of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society to attend—but if you want to join, you can do so at the meeting. The yearly dues are only $15.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Embrace spikiness!

Spines, spikes, prickles, bristles and teeth—nothing to be afraid of! What’s a few drops of blood sacrificed on the altar of succulence?

Enjoy this random selection of photos of the plants we love best!


Aloe marlothii

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Return to Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, CA

A couple of Saturdays ago, after finishing the Garden Conservancy’s Marin County Open Day, I decided to drive up to Sebastopol in western Sonoma County to pick up the ‘Night Rider’ camellia I had waiting for me at Peacock Horticultural Nursery.

If you read my 2-part post about Peacock Horticultural Nursery last fall, you know that this is one my favorite nurseries. It’s about as far removed from a big-box garden center as you can imagine, both in terms of the plants they carry and the setting itself. Think of it as visiting a fellow plant lover who lives on a couple of acres in the country and where all the plants you see are for sale. Instead of going up and down long straight aisles like you would at a large commercial nursery, you get to explore what are essentially Robert’s and his partner Marty’s front and backyard. Does it get better than that?

This is what’s waiting for you after you pull into the small parking area off Gravenstein Highway:



Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Marin County Open Garden Day: Modern Layers

The third and final garden I visited a couple of weeks ago as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Marin County Open Day was located in San Rafael, the county seat of Marin County. San Rafael is larger and somewhat less affluent than the smaller enclaves to the south but real estate prices are still stratospherically high.

In the Garden Conservancy Directory; “Modern Layers” was described like this:

As part of a major house renovation, the garden was revisioned, creating a bold, fresh design supporting the house's horizontal lines. Terraced levels comprised of concrete pads, board-form concrete walls, olive trees, and large masses of plants in geometric forms create distinct layers of contrasting colors stepping up the slope and providing privacy from the street. The backyard is a departure in form and materials, with a stone gabion wall, concrete pads mixed with gravel, a Corten steel fire pit, and soft, organic layers of grasses and flowering perennials.

From the street, the property looked surprisingly modest:



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Camellia and daphne and … agave?

Once upon a time, water seemed plentiful in our corner of California, I planted bamboos wherever I could, and this blog was known as Bamboo and More. In those halcyon days, the Borinda papyrifera in our backyard was lush and green because it was getting enough water (mostly thanks to thrice-weekly irrigation).


October 23, 2012

Fast forward to 2014. California is in the iron grip of a multi-year (permanent?) drought. I’ve cut back our irrigation schedule to once a week. Most Mediterranean-type perennials and succulents aren’t fazed, but many of the bamboos are suffering, especially the ones in pots but also Borinda papyrifera.


February 25, 2014

Earlier this year it became clear that this bamboo wasn’t going to look good enough on less water. The new shoots were smaller in diameter than last year’s, which would lead to even more flopping and an even more disheveled look. After much back and forth, I finally made the difficult decision to take it out. The actual removal took place in May, and it was far less strenuous than I had thought. A shovel and pry bar was all I needed. I think the plant was so weakened by the lack of water that it wanted to be put out of its misery.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our chaste tree is flaunting it

“Flaunt it if you’ve got it,” that was the motto of disco queen Donna Summer. Our chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) seems to have taken a page out of her book. It’s certainly flaunting it!

Planted by yours truly from a 4-inch pot in 1999, it has turned into a 15-foot tree. Until this spring it had been crammed by the Pittosporum tobira hedge we took out to create our new desert garden bed. Instead of only growing up, towards the sun, its branches now have the opportunity to grow out.


Vitex agnus-castus is native to southwestern Europe and western Asia, but it has long become established through the U.S. Southwest and California. In fact, it is a staple of drought-tolerant landscaping in much of the West, owing to its fast-growing nature and its beautiful leaves and flowers. Hardy to -10°F, it can be grown in zones as low as 6a.


In some parts of the country, the chaste tree is considered invasive, presumably because of the copious amounts of seeds it produces. In our own garden, however, I have yet to find a single seedling. Maybe our tree is sterile? Or maybe our climate is too dry so the seedlings die after they sprout?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Marin County Open Garden Day: Bay View Terrace

The second house I visited last Saturday as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Marin County Open Day was all about the view. It is located in the phenomenally affluent community of Belvedere,  which, according to Wikipedia, had a per-capita income of $250,000 of in 2000. In other words, if you had a family of four, your household income would have been a cool million. And that was 13 year ago! I know that things like that shouldn’t be foremost on your mind when you do a garden tour, but in Marin County, it’s hard to shake the $ signs dancing in your head.

This property, dubbed “Bay View Terraces,” was described like this in the Garden Conservancy Directory:

Nestled on a hillside above Belvedere Cove, this garden includes many sweet spots to admire the sweeping views of Angel Island and the San Francisco Bay. The house and garden were recently renovated. Many of the old stone garden walls still exist, while new walls were constructed with special attention to blend the new and old. The garden includes as series of stone-paved terraces linked together by curvilinear stone walls and stairways with custom-designed metal railings. The garden spaces are planted with lush, flowering plants that thrive in part shade. Other features include a cozy fire pit and a secret pollinator garden.

And that’s pretty much all I can say. I tried to focus on the hardscape, which was beautifully done, and on the plantings, which were climate-appropriate, but I kept getting distracted by those darn views!



Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Marin County Open Garden Day: Jardín Mar Centro

It seems that for the last week I’ve been doing nothing but writing posts about my recent garden visits. I hope you’ll enjoy them. If not, I’ll be back to writing about my own garden soon enough. (Plus you’ll be a spared a rant about the 104°F we had today here in Davis, CA aka the City of All Things Right and Relevant.)

Last Saturday, just as this miniature heat wave was getting going, I toured three gardens in Marin County. Marin County, as you may remember from previous years (2013 | 2012) is a very wealthy county separated from San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge. As a whole, Marin County has a climate that is just about perfect, with relatively cool summers (compared to the heat we often have inland) and nearly frost-free winters. Even though the water situation is no better than elsewhere in California, the gardens there seem to be lusher and more tropical than what you’re likely to see here in the Sacramento Valley.


My first stop on Saturday was in Tiburon, one of the most beautiful (almost impossibly scenic!) places in Marin County. Listed as “Jardín Mar Centro” in the Garden Conservancy Open Days Directory, this garden was described thusly:

Most of the time, thousands of blossoms unfold through this garden. Roses are the foundation of the garden, and the entry area plantings are changed with each season. Some garden areas are devoted to camellias that grow as part of a small maze. Dozens of orange and lemon trees dot the garden. Other interest comes from olive trees, a chef’s garden and a redwood “rain forest” (the rain is turned off for the duration of the drought.) A Zen fountain - designed and built by the owner - “floats” stones in three water jets causing the spray pattern to vary infinitely (hence the name of the fountain.) There is also a large succulent garden and beautiful Bay views.

Friday, June 6, 2014

2014 East Bay Open Garden Day: Potomac Waterworks

The third and final garden we visited during the Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Day was Potomac Waterworks in Oakland. Located on a small 6,700 sq.ft. lot in a quiet residential area, it was completely differently from the other two gardens we’d seen earlier in the day. While the other two fell in the “estates” category, Potomac Waterworks was decidedly more modest (the origins of the house go back to a 1920s cottage). However, the small square footage doesn’t take anything away from the impact of this garden. It is living proof that “size isn’t everything.”


Since the property slopes away from the street level, we had a great view of the front garden from up above. It became immediately apparent that the homeowners had opted for a subdued color and plant palette. With the exception of a few flowering plants in the backyard, the colors green and purple reigned supreme, resulting in a lush and tranquil landscape that seemed to invite meditation and hushed conversation. This is a very much a garden for adults, not for children.

140531_EastBayOpenDay_house3_007  140531_EastBayOpenDay_house3_008

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 East Bay Open Garden Day: Rancho Diablo, part 2

From the comments that were posted in part 1 of my post on Rancho Diablo it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who thinks that the landscaping of this property is spectacular. Beyond the plants themselves, what impressed me the most was how precisely and deliberately every element was placed without appearing in any way forced or artificial. That is not an easy thing to pull off!

I wish I could tell you more about the history of this garden beyond what is contained in this blog post, for example when it was established, where the plants were sourced, etc. What I can do, however, is post more photos. I’m hoping they will give you an even better idea of how special this garden is.


What a view!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 East Bay Open Garden Day: Rancho Diablo, part 1

The next garden we visited on the Garden Conservancy’s East Bay Open Day tour was a 5-acre hilltop property in Lafayette dubbed “Rancho Diablo.” The approach was dramatic: After driving up several narrow streets, we ended up at an open area near the top where we were instructed to park our car. We then walked the remaining 1/4 mile while enjoying breathtaking views of the hills to the south.


After rounding the last bend in the road, this is the vista we encountered:


My jaw dropped.

Monday, June 2, 2014

2014 East Bay Open Garden Day: Garden of Art

On Saturday I toured three gardens in the East Bay as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. I find garden tours to be a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of private spaces that would otherwise remain closed to me. While we have many fantastic public gardens here in the West, I believe that the most creative garden design happens in residential gardens.

In previous years (1 2) I’d done the Open Days tours myself, but this time I went with three fellow gardeners: Anna Zakaria of 4 Surya Garden, Laura Balaoro of Design with Diversity, and Laura’s friend Carol Duren. It was great fun sharing opinions and comparing notes on what we liked and didn’t like. I find it very valuable hearing what others have to say and understanding my own response to specific aspects of a garden.

The East Bay tour included three gardens of widely different sizes: one was 1 acre (43,000 sq.ft.), one was 5 acres (202,000 sq.ft.) and one just 6,700 sq.ft. We started at the Garden of Art, located in the wealthy community of Lafayette just a few miles from Walnut Creek, home of the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

When this is the first thing you see as you approach the property, you know it’s not a small suburban garden:


Garden of Art is a 1 acre sanctuary that can be described in one word: green. Almost the entire property is shaded by trees, and the walls and fences closer to the house are overgrown with vines.