Friday, October 31, 2014


Green leaves are the norm. Yellow, orange, red or purple leaves can be interesting or just plain weird. But blue—blue leaves make me go weak at the knees.

A bluish cast is the result of either a waxy coating or irregular microscopic projections from the epidermal cells that reflect sunlight. It’s easy to tell what it is. Simply touch a leaf, and if the bluish color goes away, it was wax.

These mechanisms protect the plant either from water loss or from sun damage. Desert-adapted plants are more likely to have bluish leaves than tropical plants growing in environments where water is abundant. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So without further ado, here are some of the plants with glaucous foliage in my garden. Coincidentally, all of them are succulents.


Yucca rigida


Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes’

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Veltheimia capensis finally blooming

While I’m not a collector of South African bulbs like Albuca, Brunsvigia, Boophane, Nerine, etc., I bought several veltheimias a few years ago—both Veltheimia capensis and Veltheimia bracteata, the only two species in the genus.

None of them had ever bloomed. Until this week. My Veltheimia capensis finally sent up a flower stalk, and it’s so puuuurty.


The inflorescence reminds me both of aloes and kniphofias.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall color in California’s Eastern Sierra

In early October I spent a long weekend in one of my favorite places on earth: California’s Eastern Sierra. If you don’t quite know where that is, don’t feel bad. Many Californians aren’t sure either.


Fall-flowering rabbitbrush (Ericameria parryi) on Monitor Pass, looking towards Highway 395

In the most basic terms, the Eastern Sierra is the area to the east of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that separates California’s Central Valley from the vast Basin and Range Province that stretches east to Colorado Plateau. While the western side of the Sierra Nevada has long reached iconic status thanks to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the eastern side is less known. Ironically, the Eastern Sierra is much easier to explore. Highway 395 follows the Sierra Nevada from Reno, Nevada all the way down to Southern California. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to stop, you’ll still see majestic sights such as Mono Lake and some of the highest peaks in the Sierra, including Mount Whitney—at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) the highest summit in the contiguous United States—without ever leaving the highway.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mexican poppy mystery solved

In August noticed this little beauty in the succulent bed along the driveway:


I conjectured this might be a Mexican poppy, but I didn’t know.

This mystery poppy was still blooming two days ago when a gust of wind finally knocked the last petals off. But I still didn’t know what it was.

Until yesterday when we went for a walk through the UC Davis Arboretum and I saw this sign:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time for some R&R (refreshing and rejuvenating)

R&R is always a good thing. At least that’s what I think. In this case R&R stands for refreshing and rejuvenating, and that’s exactly what I did to several areas in the front yard this past weekend.

Since gardens are a living thing, plants sometimes outgrow their allotted space, they die, or the gardener’s preferences change. There are so many movable parts that the overall balance frequently gets out of whack. That’s what happened in the spots featured in this post. I simply wasn’t happy with them, and instead of continuing to grumble passively, I decided to take action.

This isn’t “pretty” post, like this one, but it’s necessary if this blog is to be a record of my garden activities—my successes and failures alike.

The first section I started to redo is inside the front yard fence. This entire planting strip is dedicated to perennials. There isn’t a single succulent in sight (not counting the potted succulents on top of the fence). Two plants were getting out hand here: globemallow (Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’) and northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Actually, there’s a third one: California gray rush (Juncus patens). You can see it merging with the sea oats in the next set of photos. I’d cut it back last year, which left a huge depression in the middle, with new growth along the perimeter—ugly!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another visit to Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents

Candice Suter is one of the nicest, kindest and warmest people you’ll ever meet. She’s also one of the most succulent-obsessed, and proud of it. Known far and wide for her blog and Facebook page “Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents,” Candy has amassed an amazing collection of succulents at her home in Roseville, California. Her expertise and dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed. Next Monday morning, she’ll be featured on live TV here in the Sacramento metro area. Keep an eye on her Facebook page for more info.

It’s been three year since I first blogged about Candy’s garden—high time for an update!

This summer Candy and her husband Stan removed a lawn area in front their house. This is what it looked like before (the Google Maps image is from 2012 before the house was painted):


And this is what it looks like now:


Candy replaced the lawn with—what else!—succulents.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stinky time again

October 11: It’s the middle of October. While most people are thinking of pumpkins in anticipation of Halloween, I’ve been looking forward to something else. Here’s a clue:


Our front porch will soon be filled with a smell that is, well, quite interesting.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Exploring the Ruth Bancroft Garden, October 2014 edition

It’s no secret, I love plant sales at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. I have my routine down pat. I’m there before the doors open to members at 9am, and I take no prisoners while I have my shopping hat on. But once my wagon is filled with the things I want, I begin to relax. That’s when I park my wagon and start to walk through the garden itself to enjoy its treasures.


Plantings along Bancroft Road

The plant sale last Saturday was particularly nice in that regard. All the sale activity was in front of the nursery, while the garden itself was mostly empty. This made walking around a very tranquil affair.

Unfortunately, Saturday was another sunny day. Many parts of inland Northern California have close to 300 sunny days a year, which makes photography challenging. In fact, I have yet to visit the RBG on an overcast day!

Still, I did the best I could with what I was given. Here are the plants and sights that caught my eye.

Agave lophantha

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October update: Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ and Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

As you may remember from an earlier post, one of my Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (Agave macroacantha × Manfreda maculosa) had gone into flower and the 5x5 ft. Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ by the front door was looking like it would, too.

Time for an update to see how the two of them are doing!

The flower spike on the Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ reached its final height in early September. Since then the flowers have been opening from the bottom to the top. They aren’t the most attractive, but they provide nourishment for the bees. I’ve even seen hummingbirds trying to feed on them.


Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ on October 10, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2014 fall plant sale recap

The plant sales at the Ruth Bancroft Garden are personal highlights for me. I go every spring and fall, and I always walk about with interesting plants as well as lots of new photos.

Here’s my recap of the 2014 fall sale, held last Saturday.

After the somewhat chaotic 2014 spring sale, the organizers completely revamped the layout. All the tables were set up right outside the nursery instead of interspersed throughout the garden. This had several advantages: People weren’t bumping into each other as much as they did during previous sales where they had to navigate often narrow garden paths; there was room for more plants, especially larger specimens; the volunteers didn’t have to haul plants quite as far when setting up (according to a volunteer I chatted with); and the garden itself was virtually deserted, which made for a very tranquil experience. In addition, there was an express checkout line for people buying 8 plants or less, which sped up what often is the most frustrating part of a plant sale.

I loved this new setup, and I hope RBG will keep it for future sales. A big thank you to everybody involved in this sale. I think it was a rousing success.


As I always do, I brought my camera along to show you what the sale was like. Let’s check out the goodies!



I love the shade sails over the sales area in front of the nursery

Friday, October 10, 2014

#GBFling14: Danger Garden

It took almost four years, but here it is: post # 1000! I’m dedicating it to a very special garden I had the privilege of visiting in July during the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling: the appropriately named Danger Garden.

I’ve been following Loree Bohl’s fantastic blog for a number of years, and when we arrived at her garden, I felt a familiar sense of déjà vu. I suppose that’s par for the course when you’ve looked at—literally—hundreds of photos of a garden before seeing it in person for the first time.


Approaching the Danger Garden

So even though I knew the general layout and design of the Danger Garden, I was still surprised by some of the details. For instance, when I walked around the left side of the house into the backyard, I was stunned to find the famous orange shade pavilion off to the left side when I could have sworn it was located straight ahead. Other Flingers had the same reaction. Amazing what an alternate reality you can create in your own head!


Beautiful Textrapanax papyrifer. I spotted suckers in the neighbor’s yard on the right; the roots had tunneled right under the driveway!

When all was said and done, the Danger Garden not only lived up to my lofty expectations, it exceeded them. With support from her husband Andrew—the very definition of a “nice guy”—Loree has created something that transcends its function as their private outdoor space. The Danger Garden is both a botanical testing ground that pushes the boundary of what can be grown in Portland’s zone 8 climate and a case study in designing an intensely personal, yet universally engaging garden on a small lot.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2014 Succulent Extravaganza wrap-up, part 2

Part 1 of my recap of the 2014 Succulent Extravaganza held at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA at the end of September had 80 photos, and part 2 isn’t going to be much shorter. But I promise you, you’ll be amazed.

For this year’s Extravaganza, Succulent Gardens invited a select group of landscape designers to create demonstration gardens that focus primarily on succulents while still reflecting their own aesthetic. With few exceptions, all the plants came from Succulent Gardens’ inventory.

The gardens were installed in various spots on the nursery grounds. Robin Stockwell, the former owner of Succulent Gardens (the new owners took over in early October), led tours of the installations that gave the designers the opportunity to talk about about their work.

The gardens will be maintained by the Monterey Bay Master Gardeners, and volunteers will document and chronicle the gardens’ progress over the course of the year. The 2015 Succulent Extravaganza will built on these installations although no further details have been revealed yet.


Stacked flagstone bench by Andrea Hurd

Overall, I found something to admire in every garden. Some are more to my liking than others, but that’s how it always is. The most important takeaway is that succulents can be successfully incorporated in virtually any garden, no matter what your style or design preference is. We live in a state where water is precious, and it’s everybody’s responsibility to use it wisely. And that includes the way we landscape our properties.

Let’s take a closer look at the various gardens.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014 Succulent Extravaganza wrap-up, part 1

This might be my biggest post ever as far as the number of photos is concerned. I took well over 300 pictures at the recent 2014 Succulent Extravaganza held at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA, and it took much longer than expected to go through them all.

This post contains photos of the nursery grounds and the retail greenhouse. Part 2 is about the succulent-themed demonstration gardens installed by top landscape designers.

If you haven’t been to a Succulent Extravaganza, or haven’t seen my posts about previous years’ events, you’re in for quite a treat. Succulent Gardens is the premier succulent nursery in Northern California, growing more than 400 different varieties on three acres just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. The selection is huge, and no matter what kinds of succulents you’re partial to, you’re likely to find something to tickle your fancy. (I will say, though, that for some reason their selection of agaves was smaller this year than before.)

Let’s start our tour in the parking lot. Usually I don’t pay much attention to other cars, but these two jumped out at me:


I believe this was on Michael Romero’s truck


I wonder if anybody in California has the license plate I ♥ AGAVES?