Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labor Day visit to Annie’s Annuals

Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, CA, one the most iconic nurseries in Northern California, is having a big Labor Day sale. Until Labor Day (Monday, September 2) all plants are 20% off.


I took advantage of this opportunity for a quick visit yesterday. Annie’s is only 57 miles from my house, and even with a bit of traffic I made it in an hour. The nursery was busy, but not packed, which was just fine by me. The aisles between the tables are fairly narrow, and it hard to maneuver your way around other shoppers.


Annie’s is huge, and even though I’m familiar with the general layout, I like to wander and explore. I think that’s the best way to experience a nursery like Annie’s—you never know what you might find. This time I came with no shopping list so my entire visit was a treasure hunt. The photos below reflect my dashing back and forth between Rarities, California Natives, Succulents, and a few other areas in between (I did skip Edibles, Shade Plants, Grasses and much of the Annuals).

Many of you buy from Annie’s via mail order because you live far away. But if you can, you should try to make it to the nursery. Prices are lower than on their web site, and many plants that are listed as unavailable online are actually in stock at the nursery. Please note that plants sold at Annie’s generally are in 4-inch pots; the only exceptions are some edibles as well as fruit trees.

Friday, August 29, 2014

What’s in bloom, August 2014 edition

For some reason, I always seem to miss the monthly Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from around the world post photos of what’s in flower in their garden at that particular point in time. Call me two weeks early or two weeks late, but here’s what’s blooming in my garden on August 29, 2014.

Late August/early September marks a subtle transition. Summer-flowering plants are slowly declining, while fall-flowering ones are gearing up for their time in the limelight. In a month’s time, things will look very different around here. Hopefully I will remember to post another update then.

I never know how to organize this kind of post. First I thought I’d present these photos in random order, but then I decided to sort them by color. For once, organization wins over chaos—not that I don’t like a healthy dose of the latter.


Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) still going strong. It’s been blooming non-stop for months now, contributing an element of cheer to the perennial border inside the front yard fence.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mexican poppy mystery

This spring we had a profusion of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in the succulent bed along the driveway (1 2). I removed most of the regular orange poppies after they were done blooming but let the yellow- and red-flowering selections (‘White Linen’ and ‘Red Chief’) go to seed because I want more of them next year. After ‘White Linen’ and ‘Red Chief’ had dried up completely and their seed pods had popped open, they went in the yard waste pile as well.

Imagine my surprise when this little beauty started to flower last week:


Monday, August 25, 2014

Zazzle dazzle and more new goodies

Inspired by a recent post on A Growing Obsession entitled Checking out the nurseries in August, I dropped by Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento to do some exploring. As Denise so eloquently said in her post, this “is the perfect time to discover the true survivors” of our long, hot summer.

So did I find anything garden worthy? More than I had expected! There were two standouts: a variegated elephant’s ear (I’ll talk about it some more later on) and a hairy plant with sturdy pink flowers that stopped me dead in my tracks.


While I don’t hate pink flowers, I’m not typically drawn to them either the way I am to red, yellow or blue flowers. Still, there was something very intriguing here:


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ about to flower

One of the major surprises of this summer is this Mangave ‘Bloodspot’:


It’s about to flower!

I’m not quite sure whether to be excited or sad. Most agaves die after flowering while manfredas flower every year without dying. ‘Bloodspot’ is a hybrid between Agave macroacantha and Manfreda maculosa so the jury is still out on what will happen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#GBFling14: Joy Creek Nursery, Scappoose, OR

Joy Creek Nursery, located outside the small town of Scappoose about 20 miles to the north of Portland, Oregon, is the kind of the nursery you dream about. Every plant looks pristine—better than it ever would in your own garden.


In fact, Joy Creek’s demonstration garden, which surrounds an equally picturesque farmhouse where I believe one of the nursery owners lives, is a glossy plant catalog come to life. I had never been to a nursery like that. I’m not sure we have anything comparable in all of Northern California.


Monday, August 18, 2014

#GBFling14: Portland Japanese Garden

One of the gardens we visited during the recent Garden Bloggers Fling was the Portland Japanese Garden, surely one of the most spectacular public gardens in the country. I’d visited it twice before (see “Related Posts” at the bottom of the page) and knew what to expect. However, this is such a special place that it takes my breath away each time.


I’ve covered the history of the Portland Japanese Garden in a previous post, but here is a quick recap: Opened in 1967, the Portland Japanese Garden has been called “one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan” and “the most beautiful Japanese garden, not only in the United States, but in the world outside of Japan”. It encompasses five distinct areas, each of which corresponds to a specific garden style: Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Flat Garden, and Tea Garden. Each style has a unique purpose, but they all are living reflections of Japanese history and culture.


Friday, August 15, 2014

The mysterious case of the prickly palo verde

My infatuation with the three palo verde trees in front of our house continues unabated. I love running my hands through the soft, delicate foliage.


I did just a few days ago with the ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’) in the succulent bed between our house and our neighbor’s when I felt a prick on my skin. Not just one, actually, several. Hmmm, I thought, the ‘Desert Museum’ hybrid doesn’t have thorns. What could it be?

I took a closer look at the leaves.


Normal enough.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The garden after our summer vacation

Whenever I get back from vacation, I usually have a hard time getting back into the swing of things. It was no different this year. In fact it was worse, probably because I’d had such a great time on Hawaii (aka the Big Island).

The one thing I do look forward to after a trip is seeing what has changed in the garden. We were gone for two weeks, which isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things but still long enough to make a difference. For example, when we left, the cosmos you see in the next two photos (a volunteer that came up from seed) was a foot tall and had no flower buds at all. I was astonished to find this:



It’s much too large for this space, but since it’s an annual, I’ll keep it around while it’s still blooming.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hawaii: Mauna Kea silversword, the rarest plant I’ve ever seen

On one of the last days of our Hawaii vacation I got to see one of the rarest plants I’ll every lay my eyes on: the Mauna Kea silversword (Argyroxiphium sandwicense ssp. sandwicense). Like its close relative, the Haleakalā silversword we saw last year on Maui (Argyroxiphium sandwicense ssp. macrocephalum), the Mauna Kea silversword is critically endangered. Once abundant on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii, there is now only one naturally occurring population with about 40 plants. Heroic efforts have been made in the last decades to save the Mauna Kea silversword from extinction by reintroducing seed-grown plants into the wild; today, about 8,000 plants are growing on Mauna Kea.

The Mauna Kea silversword lives in a forbidding environment: a wind-swept alpine desert above 8000 ft. with thin volcanic soil, strong UV radiation, virtually zero humidity, extreme drought in the summer and a total annual precipitation of 8-10 in. (mostly in the form of snow in the winter). Temperatures can drop below freezing any time of the year. At the upper range of its native habitat, nothing else grows.


All the Mauna Kea silverswords you see in this post were photographed in a special enclosure at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (9,175 ft). This is as far as most passenger cars can go; a mostly unpaved 4WD road leads to the summit of Mauna Kea (13,803 ft.) where the world’s largest astronomical observatory is located. Our rental car was neither authorized nor able to maneuver the rough road. (Click here to watch a video about visiting Mauna Kea; it’s 8 minutes well spent.)


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hawaii: The perfect sunset to bid us goodbye

I know some people are quite happy to return to their normal lives at the end of their vacation. I’m not one of them. I could be on vacation forever. Or at least give it a valiant try.

On our final evening on Hawaii I went to ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay in Waikoloa. Also known as “A Bay,” this is the place to watch sunset in South Kohala. Lots of people walk over from the nearby Hilton and Marriott. (I’m sure real celebrities are carried on litters like Cleopatra, but I didn’t spot any of them.)


There were relatively few clouds on Monday evening so the sunset wasn’t as epic as it could have been, but it was still astonishingly beautiful. Before the sun was setting, people were playing around and yakking away like they’re wont to do on vacation. However, the closer the sun got to the horizon, the quieter it became, and as it touched the ocean, a reverent hush blanketed the beach. It was the perfect ending to our vacation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hawaii: Foxtail agave (Agave attenuata) loves hot and humid island climate

The Big Island of Hawaii isn’t a place you go to see succulents. The wet eastern side—some places receive in excess of 150 inches a rain a year—would kill most succulents. Although much drier, the western side isn’t a hotbed of succulent activity either. I did spot a few very large Agave americana, including the even more monstrous variegated variant, as well as the occasional Furcraea foetida, a frost-sensitive Caribbean agave relative, but that was about it. With one exception: the foxtail agave (Agave attenuata). It seems to grow everywhere here on Hawaii, be it in hot and humid Hilo on the eastern side and in much drier Hawi on the northwestern tip of the island.

The photos in this post were all taken in the small town of Hawi in the North Kohala district. A thriving hub during the heyday of sugarcane cultivation (pre-1980), Hawi’s claim to fame today is that it’s the northernmost point of the bicycle leg of the Ironman World Championship Triathlon. Hawi sports a couple of dozen restaurants, galleries and boutiques—and the most impressive clumps of Agave attenuata I’ve seen anywhere on Hawaii.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Hawaii: Hawaiian golden bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris)

Bambusa vulgaris comes in several incarnations: all green straight culms; all green culms with swollen internodes (cultivar ‘Wamin’); all yellow culms with very thin green lines (cultivar ‘Kimmei’ or ‘Aureovariegata’); and all yellow culms with barcode-like green strips (cultivar ‘Vittata’, aka painted bamboo).

A lot of the “generic” green bamboo I saw from the car driving around the Big Island of Hawaii was the green variety of Bambusa vulgaris. It’s still beautiful but not as distinctive as its yellow sibling. Hawaiian golden bamboo, the yellow variety of Bambusa vulgaris, has got to be the most commonly planted landscaping bamboo in all of Hawaii. Since its culms are so visible, especially when new, it’s easy to spot it from quite a distance. A clump can grow to 50 ft. in height, with culms attaining a diameter of 4 inches when mature.

And what a beauty Hawaiian golden bamboo is. I tried to photograph it whenever I came across it.


Kalani Retreat Center


Kalani Retreat Center

Hawaii: Kona is for chillin’

Kona (or Kailua-Kona as the post office calls it) is the main town on the western side of Hawaii. It was established in 1812 by King Kamehameha I as the capital of the new Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. After the capital moved on to Lāhainā and then to Honolulu, Kona was primarily a vacation retreat of the royal family and a sleeping fishing village. It wasn’t until the 20th century that tourism transformed the town (and the entire area). Today Kona is a major hub of commerce and tourism, and the island’s biggest airport is located just to the north.

We had been skirting Kona all week on our way to other places, like Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau and the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. Yesterday we decided to visit downtown proper to see what it was like. I didn’t think Kona was as fancy as Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, and I was right. In fact, Kona was refreshingly unpretentious; very laid back, a tiny bit rough around the edges, but with a good vibe. I enjoyed walking around in spite of the heat and (yes, Alan!) the humidity.

Here are some photos I took on Ali’i Drive, Kona’s main street that hugs Kailua Bay.


I’m not into tattoos, but I loved this sign


Mokuʻaikaua Church and tattoo parlor

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hawaii: Lava and fountain grass

Lava flows look forbidding. You’d think nothing could grow on lava. But on the eastern side of Hawaii, which is blessed with abundant rainfall, we saw ferns, especially the Asian sword fern (Nephrolepis brownii), and even ʻōhiʻa lehua trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) growing right out the lava.

Things are different here in the northwestern corner of the island, which is significantly more arid. The only things you see growing in the lava fields are grasses, especially fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum). Most of you are familiar with it and may even grow it in your own garden. It’s native to East Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia and was introduced to the island of Hawaii in the early 20th century. It’s an attractive grass, especially when in bloom, but here on Hawaii it’s a big problem. It grows quickly, both in dry and wet areas, and crowds out other plants. In addition, it’s very flammable and poses a major fire threat in dry areas, and at the same time it can survive brush fires while native plants can’t.

In the Kona area, fountain grass has “infested” more than 200,000 acres. It is “perceived as one of the most disruptive alien species in Hawaii” (1) and “is a major threat to some critically imperiled plant species and natural communities” (2).

Still, its beauty is undeniable, especially contrasted against the rough lava. It’s a tragic irony of nature that plants that are so attractive can have such a detrimental effect on native ecosystems…



Friday, August 1, 2014

Hawaii: Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation

When people think of the Big Island of Hawaii, two things come to mind above all else: volcanoes and Kona coffee. The volcanic legacy is everywhere, not just in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Kona coffee is just as ubiquitous; virtually every store sells it, and virtually every sweet treat offered for sale is available in a Kona coffee flavor. 

What makes the Kona district so ideal for growing coffee? The slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa offer rich volcanic soil, sunny mornings, cloudy afternoons and ample rainfall. This results in coffee that is full-bodied and complex without the acidity and bitterness typical of “common” coffee. In fact, together with Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, Kona coffee is considered the best in the world.


Today we visited Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation to see what the fuss was all about. Located at the northern end of the Kona coffee belt at an elevation of 3,000 ft., Mountain Thunder is a family-operated producer and processor of 100% pure Kona coffee. Many of their products are certified organic (their website states that they are “the largest organic coffee farm in the state of Hawaii).