Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Front yard desert bed—September 2014 update

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

At this year’s Succulent Extravaganza, Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden and one of the country’s preeminent succulent experts, continued his tradition of leading folks on a walking tour of the Succulent Gardens growing grounds. Brian is one of the most unassuming yet knowledgeable plant experts you’ll ever meet, and I pay very close attention to what he says. One of his best pieces of advice this year rang very true: When designing a new garden space, it’s OK to use slower-growing plants as anchors and fill in with faster-growing plants that need to be taken out as they outgrow their allotted spot.

Instinctively, or by sheer luck, that’s what I did when I chose the plants for the desert bed we created this spring along the perimeter of our property. The backbone of this bed are the succulents—tree aloes like Aloe ‘Hercules’ and Aloe ferox, tree-sized yuccas like Yucca rostrata, an actual tree (‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde) and a score of slower-growing aloes and agaves. The infill plants were globemallow (Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’), gaura (Gaura lindheimerii ‘Snow Fountain’) and other low-water perennials as well as whatever came up from a packet of Dry Lands seed mix I sprinkled on the western section of this bed (plants like baby’s breath, bachelor’s button, blanket flower, and thread-leaf coreopsis).

In just six short months, some of the perennials had grown so quickly and so large that they were making the bed look unbalanced (another instance of the “I didn’t think it would get this big” syndrome I talked about yesterday). Time for some judicious editing, i.e. removing the plants that had outgrown their spot and adding others (primarily succulents) that will stay small for much longer.

Let’s take a look at the result:


“After” photo, looking east

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I didn’t think it would get this big

I didn’t think it would get this big.

How often do we say that?

I certainly say it frequently enough that by now people might be wondering how somebody who pretends to be reasonably smart can be so dumb.

Case in point: Last October I bought a small agave-leaf sea holly (Eryngium agavifolium) at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale. I always read the label so I must have known that the rosette can get to 2 ft. across. That didn’t seem like it would be a problem in the spot where I’d planted it. However, what failed to register in my brain was the fact that this plant forms a clump of rosettes up to 2 ft. across. The word clump is key here.


As you can see in the next photo:


Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 Succulent Extravaganza teaser

I’m at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA for the 2014 Succulent Extravaganza. This is the fourth time succulent lovers from far and wide have gathered here to tour this extraordinary nursery, listen to presentations by renowned experts, and, of course, shop Succulent Gardens’ immense selection of succulents.

Here are some photos I took this afternoon to whet your appetite. If you live in Northern California and have some time tomorrow (Saturday, September 27, 2014), make the scenic drive to Castroville and join us for the fun!


Free barbecue and tamales this afternoon


Small sampling of the thousands of pristine plants for sale

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Agave and aloe sale at Arid Lands mail order nursery

Piece of Eden, one my favorite gardening blogs, recently mentioned that Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson, AZ is having an agave and aloe sale through the end of September. All agave and aloe species listed in their online catalog are 20% off until the end of the month.

My previous mail order experience with Arid Lands had been great, so I headed right on over to their web site and picked out a few things I had to have. Some of you may not have heard of Arid Lands, but they’ve got to have the largest selection of succulents in the country, including many rare and ultra rare species you simply cannot find anywhere else. For example, their online catalog has 288 entries (species and hybrids) for agaves and 657 entries for aloes. That’s astounding!

This sale is to reduce their agave and aloe inventory to make the move into their new 3,000 sq. ft. greenhouse easier. They now have a total of 18,000 sq. ft. of heated and cooled greenhouse space. What’s even more impressive is the number of plants in those greenhouses: 90,000 plants for sale, and 10,000 stock plants for propagation. Wrap your mind around that as you count the plants in your own garden! Check out the What’s New page on their web site for more interesting tidbits.

My box from Arid Lands arrived yesterday, and as always, I was fairly giddy carrying it into the backyard. Our dog was just as excited!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 3

In part 1 of my 3-part series on the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG) I showed you the entrance plantings and the nursery. Part 2 was dedicated to the Perennial Garden. Part 3 covers the Heath and Heather Collection as well the Succulent/Mediterranean Garden.

I must admit that I’ve never paid that much attention to heaths and heathers as a group, but the variety displayed in the MCBG’s Heath and Heather Collection was astounding. The mounds formed by individual plants combine into gently undulating hills of different colors and textures. I found the overall effect to be both mesmerizing and meditative.


Paperbark maple (Acer Griseum) surrounded by heathers


Paperbark maple (Acer Griseum)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 2

In part 1 of this 3-part series on the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG) I showed you the entrance plantings and the nursery. In this post we’ll take a look at the Perennial Garden in the large meadow just down the steps from the entry plaza. (In the next photo, the entrance and gift shop are straight ahead; the nursery is on the left.)


From the MCBG web site:

Designed by Gary Ratway in 1980, the group of irregular island beds in our Perennial Garden provides a pleasing display of an unusually large number of perennials, as well as woody specimens. The beds are mounded to ensure drainage because of the high water table here. From old favorites to rare species, the Perennial Garden is bursting with blooms spring through autumn and is alive with bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Visitors find inspiration for their home gardens in the plant combinations here. Plants are displayed in dramatic sweeps, with striking color combinations and variations in form and texture, in addition to exciting landscaping features such as boulders, sculptures, and pond. Many of the unusual plants are available for purchase in Nursery on the Plaza.


I’m a sucker for tapestries—plantings so dense that they become a tableau of contrasting or complementary colors. Vignettes like that abound in the Perennial Garden, as you will see.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 1

In my last post I showed you the impressive gardens of the Surf Motel in Fort Bragg, CA. Just a few miles south on Highway 1 is another very special place I didn’t even know existed: the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG). I have been up and down Highway 1 any number of times—although not in recent years—and through some unexplainable quirk of cosmic irony I missed the MCBG each time.


The 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, whose web site address is the aptly named www.gardenbythesea.org, was founded in 1961 as a private enterprise. It went through some trial and tribulations over the decades, like many private gardens do, but has been under stable management since 1990. In 2013, the MCBG was ranked as the #2 public garden in the western U.S. by Sunset Magazine. (I missed that list of top public gardens, too, although I read Sunset somewhat regularly.)


Gunnera tinctoria growing on the edge of a lily pond in front of the garden entrance

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marvelous Mendocino motel garden

Sorry for the alliteration, I couldn’t help myself. Blame it on the ongoing heat here in the Sacramento Valley. Speaking of which: We escaped the heat this past weekend by slipping off to Mendocino on the northern California coast where we attended a wedding in blissfully cool 65°F weather. Overcast skies, too! I couldn’t ask for more.

Since I’m always on the lookout for things to blog about, my curiosity was piqued when I saw this sign in Fort Bragg, the town where we were staying:


See what it says? “…and Gardens!”

What kind of gardens could a motel have? A motel, mind you, not a fancy resort with a hefty landscaping budget. I set out to find out, and I was blown away. Come take a look.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#GBFling2014: Rhone Street Gardens

As we’re pushing the 100°F mark down here in the Sacramento Valley, let’s return to Portland, OR—specifically a cool rainy morning in July when the Garden Bloggers Fling contingent visited Rhone Street Gardens. This is the domain of Fling co-organizer Scott Weber, lover of grasses and photographer extraordinaire, and his partner Norm.


Out of all the gardens we visited, Scott’s was the smallest—just 50 x 50 ft., i.e. 2,500 sq.ft. You might think that having so little space available means that, by necessity, your garden is defined by limitations and compromise. That might be true for an ordinary place, but it certainly wasn’t at Rhone Street Gardens. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was blown away by how much Scott has managed to squeeze into his lot. Every square inch is filled to the brim with plants; no nook and cranny is left unused.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Heads up: Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens, September 26+27, 2014

120928_SucculentGardens_entrance-plantingThe 4th annual Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA will take place on Friday, September 26 and Saturday, September 27. That’s in two weeks, folks! If you love succulents and live in Northern California, you won’t want to miss this spectacular—and FREE!—event. Take my word for it; I’ve been to every Extravaganza. Look at my posts below to get an idea of what will be waiting for you.

The 4th Succulent Extravaganza promises to be even bigger and better. In line with this year’s theme, “Succulents: The Landscape Is Changing,” top California landscape designers such as John Greenlee, Julia Bell, Sean Stout and James Pettigrew, and Michael Romero either have or will be installing garden vignettes that showcase the use of succulents in a drought-tolerant landscape.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Update: Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ and Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that one of my Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (Agave macroacantha × Manfreda maculosa) was starting to flower. Since then the flower stalk has grown exponentially. As of this afternoon, it’s exactly 72 inches (183 cm) tall. It looks like the first flowers might open in a few days. I’ll keep you posted.


Across the flagstone path from Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ is a large Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’. I measured it today, and it’s 5½ ft. tall and 5 ft. wide (168 x 153 cm).


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hawaii: Spectacular variegated banana

This summer we spent two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. On our last day we had extra time on our hands since our flight home didn’t leave until 9 p.m. We decided to drive up to the cloud forest above Kona, located in an area called Kaloko Mauka. The best way to see it is to visit the privately owned 70-acre Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. From the description on their web site, it sounds like very special place:

Much of the sanctuary is still covered with native plants. In some designated areas of the property, a fascinating plethora of non-indigenous plants that are carefully managed have been added, enhancing the variety of fragrance and color.

The sanctuary abounds with ancient Koa, Ohia, over 100 varieties of bamboo, and gigantic tree ferns, some of which are 30 feet or more in height. The native forest contains many rare and endangered species which Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary is committed to protecting.

Unfortunately, touring the Sanctuary requires advance reservations. I hadn’t planned ahead, so we weren’t able to get in. The Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary is now at the top of my list of must-see places the next time we’re on Hawaii. If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island, be sure to visit and let me know how it was!

140805_Hawaii_BananaAeAe_004 140805_Hawaii_BananaAeAe_003

We spent an hour driving around Kaloko Mauka, which is home to large country estates that are barely visible behind the dense vegetation. I caught glimpses of beautifully landscaped homes I would have loved to visit. How wonderful it would be to go on a garden tour in this area!

The most spectacular sight, however, was a small clump of variegated bananas growing right by the road. I spent 20 minutes photographing them from all angles. In my book, this is one of the most spectacular foliage plants in existence.

140805_Hawaii_BananaAeAe_025 140805_Hawaii_BananaAeAe_026

Friday, September 5, 2014

#GBFling14: Cistus Nursery, Sauvie Island

Time to rewind a couple of months to the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, OR. One of my personal highlights was a visit to Cistus Nursery located on picturesque Sauvie Island, a 26,000 acre island in the Columbia River north of Portland. 


Run by plant guru, explorer and evangelist Sean Hogan, this self-described “retail micro-nursery” is known all over the country for its unique collection of exotics, rarities and oddities. Many of them are available via mail order (I’d drooled over their catalog more times than I can count). But perusing a PDF online paled in comparison to experiencing Cistus first hand.


We had less than two hours at the nursery during the official Fling visit on Friday, July 11, but since I knew was going back on Monday, I wasn’t in as much of a hurry as some of the others.