Saturday, February 28, 2015

Planting out my Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’

If you read my recent posts (1 2), you know that my current plant crush is Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’. I bought a 5-gallon plant two weeks ago at the grand opening of the newly enlarged Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery and I know right away where I wanted it to go: outside the front yard fence, replacing a Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’. (Nothing wrong with the ‘Hot Lips’ but I was ready for a change.)


Here’s what this spot looks like now. The photo was taken from a slightly different angle to include the Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ which is now at its winter best:


Friday, February 27, 2015

End-of-February color

This post was supposed to be about something else entirely: rain. Last night the weather forecast predicted a 40% chance of rain this morning, and again this afternoon. Guess what? None of it materialized. As if that’s anything new. So, instead of pictures of H2O falling from the sky you get pictures of flowers in the front yard. Not a bad tradeoff, I guess, but we really—REALLY!—need the rain.


Leucospermum ‘Scarlot Ribbon’, purchased at the Ruth Bancroft Garden last week and waiting to go in the ground

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ruth Bancroft Garden in February 2015

Sorry it took me the better part of a week to post more pictures from my visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden last Saturday but I had 200+ photos to go through. You’d think that after having been there so many times I’d run out of things to photograph, but the garden—like any garden—is ever changing and the dedicated staff is always redoing beds and adding more plants.

Let’s start outside the entrance. This is the first thing visitors see, yet once they’ve parked their car they’re so overwhelmed by the garden proper that most of them don’t step back outside to take a closer look at these plantings.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Expanded retail nursery at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

I never need an excuse to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, but it’s even better when I have a real reason for going. Yesterday (February 21, 2015) was the grand opening of the new section of the RBG’s retail nursery. Needless to say I had to check it out for myself.

Over the past number of weeks, nursery manager Troy McGregor, garden staff and a bunch of handy volunteers had been busy enlarging the nursery to twice its size. Now there’s room for many more plants and for larger specimens that are ready to go in the landscape. The new selection rivals what’s available during the twice-yearly plant sales—but every day of the year.

Aside from Succulent Gardens in Castroville, there’s no other succulent nursery in Northern California that can hold a candle to the RBG. But there’s more than just succulents. Troy, a native of Australia, has brought in a large variety of southern hemisphere shrubs, including grevilleas, banksias, hakea, proteas, leucadendrons and leucospermums. The RBG is now the go-to nursery for Proteaceae in the Bay Area and beyond.

Let’s take a look at the expanded nursery.


As you can see, we had absolutely perfect spring weather. There was a steady stream of visitors while I was there so clearly I wasn’t the only one who felt the urge to buy plants and play in the garden.


I love being greeted by rows of plants just begging to be explored

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This Crème Brûlée isn’t so tasty

While we had above-average rain in early and mid-December, there has been very little precipitation since then. In addition, the coldest temperature we’ve had this winter was 28°F on January 2 and 3, and that only lasted for a couple of hours each time.

With this in mind, it’s even more baffling why my Agave guiengola ‘Crème Brûlée’ ended up like this:


Yes, this is a fairly frost-sensitive species (San Marcos Growers rates it hardy to 25°F), but I just don’t see how this could be frost damage.


I’ve never twirled an agave leaf before!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Random San Francisco aeonium & tillandsia sighting

We had an appointment in San Francisco yesterday, and even though plants or photography weren’t on the agenda, I managed to snap a few photos on my daughter’s iPhone. While the image quality isn’t as good as my Canon DSLR, it’s still pretty decent considering this is a phone, not a camera.


View of San Francisco Bay from Pacific Heights. If you look closely, you can see Alcatraz on the right.

Walking to our appointment, I spotted these flowering aeoniums from half a block away.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Partial front yard makeover: from banana and lemon to cactus and agaves

Rule 1 of documenting a makeover project: take decent photos of the “before.” That’s exactly what I didn’t do on our most recent project. Instead of taking pictures when the light was good, I waited until the last minute when it was too contrasty. But at least the “after” photos look pretty good.

But let’s start at the beginning. Inside the front yard, in front of the towering Baby Blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’), I’d planted a variegated pink ‘Eureka’ lemon and a golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). They did well while I was giving them plenty of water. But with California in the throes of a multi-year drought, I’d cut back dramatically on the frequency and amount of watering. As a result, both the lemon and the banana looked stressed and unhappy. A few months ago I decided it was time for a change. And that meant saying goodbye to them.

Here’s the “before” on Saturday morning:



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Update on aloes in our garden

After my lengthy two-part post about agaves at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix it’s time to take a look at what’s going on at home.

A handful of aloes have been teasing me with flowers for what seems like months. After a series of sunny days—and a couple of Pineapple Express storms that brought two inches of rain to Davis last weekend—we’re finally seeing some progress.


Aloe ‘Moonglow’ is finally blooming. My friend Sue brought me this South African hybrid last year. We divvied up the content of a 5-gallon nursery pot; I ended up with three plants, and I think she had two. Not bad for a $20 purchase from the Home Depot. Here is one of my three plants, this one with four flower stalks.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Agaves at the Desert Botanical Garden (A—L)

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix, Arizona has one of the most diverse public collections of cacti and agaves anywhere in the world. In May 2010, its Cactacaea and Agavacea collections received formal recognition from the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) as National Collections. The Cactacaea collection at the DBG has close to 8,000 living specimens from 1,319 species, which represents almost 75% of all cactus species in existence. The Agavacea collection includes more than 2,500 specimens from over 340 species and varieties in the nine genera that make up the Agavacea family: Agave, Beschorneria, Furcraea, Hesperaloe, Hesperoyucca, Manfreda, Polianthes, Prochnyanthes, and Yucca.

During my 2013 and 2014 Arizona trips I visited the DBG five separate times. I photographed anything and everything in the garden, but my main focus ended up being on agaves. Out of the several thousand photos I took of the agave specimens at the DBG, here are 200 representing some 80 species, varieties and hybrids. There are many more I either missed or couldn’t photograph because the lighting was too harsh, but there’s always next time.


Agave ovatifolia and Yucca rostrata

Since a single post with 200 photos would be much too long, I decided to split it into two parts, and even that is pushing it. Part 1 contains agave species A (× ajoensis) — L (lurida), part 2 species M (macroacantha) – Z (zebra). For each species I indicate where it’s native to and how cold-hardy it is. Maybe I will add more extensive information over time, but editing so many photos and compiling this post has already taken far longer than I had initially thought.

As you will see, not every agave species is equally attractive or garden-worthy but there is something for every taste and landscaping situation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Leucadendron baby steps in my garden

It’s no secret that I love plants from the southern hemisphere—from Australia and New Zealand to Chile and Argentina to South Africa. In fact, one of my favorite plant groups are the Proteaceae. This family includes everything from proteas, banksias and grevilleas to leucospermums and leucadendrons.

Speaking of leucadendrons: While the Sacramento Valley isn’t the best place in the world to grow them, I’ve been making a valiant effort for the past three or four years to incorporate these wonderful South African shrubs into my garden. Like all Proteaceae, they have a few specific growing requirements, including slight acidic soil and only fertilizer low in phosphorus (or better yet, no fertilizer). Other than that, they’re quite carefree in our wild-minter climate.

Winter, coincidentally, is when leucadendrons really shine because it’s their flowering season. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous (see the close-ups below). The outer “petals” are actually bracts—in essence, modified leaves.

Let’s take a look at the leucadendrons that are currently in flower in my garden. The first one is Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, a cross between Leucadendron laureolum and Leucadendron salignum. Most of the year the bracts are deep red but in the winter they turn a creamy yellow.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My flowering agave is leaking

Leakage is rarely—if ever—a good thing. But that’s exactly what the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ next to the front door is doing. It sent up an impressive flower spike in the fall and is putting all its energy into flowering.


In the process, the life force is draining from the leaves.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Weekend outing to the Dry Creek Valley wine country

California has many different wine-growing regions. Napa Valley may be the most famous, but depending on your personal preferences, there are regions that make better wine than Napa. I happen to love zinfandel, and Dry Creek Valley in western Sonoma County makes some of the best.

On Saturday I found myself in the town of Healdsburg where three of Northern California most important wine-producing regions meet (Russian Creek, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek). I had some time on my hands so I drove a ways up Dry Creek Road.

It’s early spring in the vineyards, the wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis) almost in full bloom in many spots. To me there are few sights in spring that rival the cheery yellow of wild mustard.