Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, CA

Since our recent trip to Southern California was a family vacation, I only visited two nurseries and only bought one plant (a kangaroo paw hybrid called ‘Red Cross’). I know, it’s a shocker, but there simply wasn’t time (or room in the car) for more.

The first nursery I checked out was Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, a small beach town just south of Santa Barbara where we spent the first night of our trip. It had been recommended to me by several folks whose opinion I value highly so my expectations were fairly high. I was not disappointed.

What makes Seaside Gardens so special is its 3-acre demonstration garden. It’s subdivided into eleven “vignettes” created by local landscape designers. Each one showcases a different type of garden ranging from Asian, Australian and South African to Californian, Mediterranean, Grassland and Cottage. Needless to say the Succulent Garden, designed by Mary Pat Moloney and Donna and Bill Baker, was my favorite.


Succulent Garden

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Snaps from snazzy La Jolla

One of the wealthiest beachside communities in California, La Jolla is so precious, it has the perfect name: La Jolla (pronounced “hoya”) means “jewel” in Spanish. It is home to several world-renowned organizations such as the Salk Institute, the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Scripps Research Institute and probably has more Nobel Prize Winners per capita than any other town its size (42,000). I can’t think of another place where world-class research, wealth, and scenic beauty come together the way they do here.

I found downtown La Jolla a bit sterile—one expensive boutique or restaurant next to the other—but the shoreline is drop-dead gorgeous. We spent an hour watching the seals and pelicans at La Jolla Children’s Pool. There are so many harbor seals—they don’t seem to be bothered by the presence of humans—that there are concerns about the water quality for swimmers!


Beach at Point Mencinger, on the other side of the rock from Children’s Pool

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Everything’s more exotic in San Diego

This is my first visit to San Diego. While the general layout of the city—and of course specific places and buildings—are unfamiliar to me, I don’t feel like a complete stranger. After a couple of days I think I know why. San Diego feels like an amalgam of cities I do know: a little bit of Monterey and Santa Barbara, a dash of Los Angeles, and a generous portion of Tucson.

In many ways, San Diego is the idealized essence of California: its rich history (Spanish, Mexican and U.S.), its architecture, and its climate. San Diego has 300 days of sunshine a year, much like the Sacramento Valley where I live, and the average temperature is 70°F. On our city tour yesterday, the trolley driver was joking that San Diego has two seasons: daytime and nighttime. No wonder people move here in droves. I hope the city will be able to cope with this steady influx and won’t be loved to death.

Here’s a fairly random selection of photos from yesterday, taken all over the city. There are no lengthy explanations of the locations because I want you to focus on the visuals. They reflect my initial impressions of San Diego. I’ll have plant-centric posts in the weeks to come.


Seaport Village


Manchester Grand Hyatt

Monday, March 23, 2015

Agave attenuata on every street corner

Agave attenuata drives me crazy. In Davis, it requires constant pampering. In the winter it needs to be protected when temperatures get close to freezing, otherwise it will turn into a brown mush. In the summer it needs to be kept out of the hot sun, otherwise it will scorch.

And yet in Southern California, Agave attenuata is everywhere. It seems to pop up on its own, much like a weed. Do gardeners here appreciate it at all, considering how effortlessly it grows? Or do they not even notice it anymore?

And would I be as obsessed with it if it were this ridiculously easy to cultivate in Davis?

And is the meaning of life still 42?


Santa Barbara


Agave attenuata packed tight…

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Motels: What a difference plants make

I’ve stayed in a lot of motels and hotels over the years. If somebody else picks up the tab, I don’t say no to $$$ places, but in general I opt for a reasonable balance between comfort and price. Typically I know what to do expect and am rarely surprised. But today I was.

We’re en route to San Diego and are spending our first night in the Santa Barbara area. Last time we were in Santa Barbara, in April 2013, we stayed at the Ramada Limited, which had a beautiful garden. This year rates at the Ramada Limited were more than I was willing to pay, so I picked the Best Western Carpinteria Inn in the town of Carpinteria, about 15 minutes south of Santa Barbara. Typically, Best Westerns are mid-priced, mid-level motels: clean, comfortable, but rarely exciting. That’s what we were expecting from the Capinteria Inn. Imagine our surprise when we found a lush oasis! Even the architecture is far beyond what you find at most Best Westerns.


Plants make all the difference, don’t they? I think an investment in landscaping pays big dividends, not only in guest comfort but also in word-of-mouth referrals.

I was pleased to that the lawn you see in some of the photos is artificial turf. A good choice considering the historic drought California is in. (Even in good years, Santa Barbara isn’t blessed with a lot of rain.)

2015 Spring break trip to San Diego

Index of all posts from my March 2015 trip to Southern California:


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Belated Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – March 2015

“A day late, a dollar short,” is that how the saying goes? I guess I’m three dollars short then since the official Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is the 15th of each month.

Personally, I prefer the saying “Better later than never.” In that spirit, here’s what blooming in my garden right now.


Flowering here (from left to right): Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’, Geum coccineum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and fern leaf lavender (Lavandula pinnata). The agave on the left is Agave ‘Blue Flame’, in the background on the left Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’.


Geum coccineum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring anticipation

Spring is synonymous with flowers. But before they burst open in all their glory, there’s that time of waiting that I enjoy almost as much. Here’s what’s getting me excited in anticipation right now.


Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’ getting ready to flower for the first time


Will the flowers be yellow or orange?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

March 2015 snapshot of the front yard

Tuesday was uncharacteristically overcast. We haven’t had have days like that very often lately—it’s been nothing but sun, sun, sun. I was happy and took the opportunity to photograph the front yard. These pictures will serve as reference points for later comparison, especially since in essence I’ve redone the area you see in the first set of photos. I didn’t set out to do a makeover but one thing led to another, and this is what I ended up with. It seems I’m destined to have a garden that’s forever stuck in the “immature” phase because I constantly keep tinkering…


I’m enjoying this Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ in all its glory. Soon I’ll be pruning it to encourage bushier growth.


Contrasting foliage: Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt Taborintha’ (left), Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ (middle), Lavandula × intermedia (right)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Yellow and pink: spring at the UC Davis Arboretum

Last weekend was as busy as the entire week had been, but on Sunday afternoon I was able to carve out an hour for a quick visit to the UC Davis Arboretum. (It’s only 10 minutes from my house so it’s not a big trip.) Specifically, I wanted to see how the acacias in the Eric E. Conn Acacia Grove were doing. I’d photographed them in full bloom last March (see this post) and was reasonably sure they’d still be going strong.

Wrong. All the large trees that had been so gorgeous last year where already done flowering. Maybe because of the drought or the warm weather we’ve been having? Most of them looked like this:


But there were pockets of yellow, especially in more shaded corners:


Unlabeled acacia

Friday, March 6, 2015

My favorite houseplants: Sansevieria suffruticosa, Sansevieria cylindrica and friends

On November 7, 2013 I featured Sansevieria suffruticosa as my “plant of the week” (initially thinking it was Sansevieria cylindrica because it was labeled as such when I bought it). For whatever reason, that post has been one of the most frequently viewed posts on my blog. Maybe because more and more plants lovers—succulents fanatics or not—are discovering sansevierias?

It’s time to take another look at my Sansevieria suffruticosa and some others that have joined the collection since then!

This is the original plant:


It looks pretty much the same but has definitely grown.

A real Sansevieria cylindrica joined the club last fall. It’s a fan-shaped plant with significantly longer leaves, one of which curves down quite rakishly:


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Flowering aloes on the UC Davis campus (end of February 2015)

I finally found time to check on the aloes on the UC Davis campus. I hadn’t been back since my last post on December 26 but fortunately it looks like my timing was just right.

This outing also gave me an opportunity to test-drive a fun lens I just bought for my camera: a 6.5 mm fisheye that offers an amazing angle of view. The first set of photos were taken with this lens before I switched back to my regular wide-angle zoom (17-40 mm). As expected, the fisheye is a bit gimmicky and doesn’t lend itself to too many situations. However, it’s just about perfect when you want to convey an exaggerated feeling of space. The vignetting from the lens hood actually helps by introducing an element of artifice that telegraphs in no uncertain terms that this is not a “normal” perspective.

Enough about lenses. Let’s look at the aloes, starting at the Botanical Conservatory on Kleiber Hall Drive:


LEFT: Aloe microstigma  RIGHT: Aloe striata


LEFT: Aloe microstigma  RIGHT: Aloe striata