Thursday, April 30, 2015

Heads up: Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show May 2-3, 2015

What are you doing this coming weekend, May 2 and 3? If you’re in Sacramento or are up for the drive, join us for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale at Shepard Garden and Arts Center adjacent to McKinley Park. This will be the club’s 55th show, and it promises to be a great one.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Field trip to the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

A few weeks ago I organized a field trip to the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory for the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). Botanical Conservatory director Ernesto Sandoval and nursery technician Marlene Simon gave us a tour of the greenhouses and showed us some of the best succulent plantings on campus. The outside areas we visited were the same I blogged about earlier this year (see here and here), and it was great seeing aloes in flower that hadn’t been blooming during my previous visits.

I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do when I’m on my own because I was busy listening to Ernesto and Marlene and/or chatting with other SCSS members, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave the camera in my pocket either.


The Botanical Conservatory is open to the public during the week from 9 am to 5 pm. Tours can be arranged for groups (info here). The closest visitor parking is at the Pavilion parking structure (directions here).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Drive-by agave sighting

Whenever I drive to the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, I see a row of Agave ‘Blue Glow’ in front of an office building not far from the RBG. Yesterday I finally stopped to take a closer look. It turns out the landscaping is even more diverse than I had thought.


While the agaves are the stars, there are other supporting players that make the overall planting scheme a success in my eyes. Take a closer look!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

Today, April 22, is Earth Day. To celebrate, I took some photos in the garden during my lunch break. There’s so much beauty all around us, let’s not forget to appreciate it as often as we can.


Aloe melanacantha


Grevillea ‘Peaches and Cream’

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Landscaping that sets a good example: La Jolla condo complex

Time was tight on our recent trip to San Diego so I didn’t get to drive through residential areas to see what kind of landscaping San Diegans might prefer. Is it yards filled with water-wise plants, with nary a lawn in sight? At least that’s the vision I have in my head. On our next trip I’ll hopefully be able to confirm whether this is true or not.

On our way to the beachfront in the wealthy enclave of La Jolla we drove through one residential street that had the kind of landscaping I’d pictured as typical for San Diego. At first I thought the building you see in the photos below was one gigantic contemporary mansion but at closer inspection it turned out to be a condo complex. I had to circle around the block twice before I found a parking space, but it was worth it. For commercial landscaping, this is about as good as it gets in my book. Take a look!


I thought the tree (some kind of live oak?) was the perfect size to anchor this bed


Check out the tile pattern on the stairs; it repeats on the balcony and in other places on the façade

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Finally switching to better plant tags

I’m sure you know how it is. Eventually the plastic tags that come with plants get brittle and crumble.


Or they just vanish into thin air without a trace. For some reason, this always seems to happen with plants I can’t identify 100% without that tag. Is it Dyckia ‘Cherry Cola’ or something else? Agave utahensis ssp. utahensis or ssp. nevadensis?

Whenever I’m at a botanical garden I longingly gaze at their metal plant tags. Somebody asked me a while ago why I don’t use tags like that, and I said “because they look dorky in a private garden.” Plus, professional metal tags are expensive! Heck, a tag can cost as much as a small plant!

However, confronted in recent weeks with several lost and broken plastic tags in our front yard desert bed that’s just a year old, I decided to look for a more permanent solution. I knew I wanted aluminum tags you emboss with a ballpoint pen because any writing—even with permanent markers—quickly fades in our relentless summer sun.

I came across this eBay listing that promised to fit the bill at a price far more reasonable than anything else I’d come across on the Interwebs. Here is my first assembled batch:


Friday, April 17, 2015

Green Acres in Elk Grove: the newest nursery in the Sacramento area

While the Sacramento metro area is home to 2.2 million people (#26 in the nation for population), the opening of a new nursery is not a common event. In fact, the trend over the last 10 years has been going in the other direction, with several cherished nurseries closing during the Great Recession (Capital Nursery being the most prominent).

The first sign of a turnaround came in February 2012 when family-owned Green Acres Nursery & Supply opened its third location in Folsom in what used to be a Circuit City electronics store. At the time it was billed as the largest retail nursery in the Central Valley.

In March 2015, Green Acres took another step toward domination of the Sacramento area nursery market by opening its fourth location, this one in Elk Grove in southern Sacramento County. This is the first store Green Acres built from the ground up; the other three stores were converted.

I wasn’t able to go to the grand opening on March 21, but I finally made a trip last week to see how the Elk Grove store compares to the others. In a nutshell: It’s fantastic. How could it not be, considering that everything is brand-new, from the buildings to the shopping carts and the store fixtures. The inside even has a “new building” smell, much like a new automobile has that “new car” smell.

But what makes and breaks a nursery are the plants they sell. I took a lot of photos to show you what they carry so you can decide for yourself.


Green Acres Nursery & Supply, 9220 E Stockton Blvd, Elk Grove, CA 95624

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fence-top cactus flowers

I keep any number of potted succulents on top of the 4-foot fence that separates our front yard into a “public” planting strip adjacent to the sidewalk and a “private” garden with a small lawn and more planting beds. Nothing has ever been stolen, and the only time something fell off was during the South Napa earthquake on August 24, 2014 when two potted prickly pears were knocked over (the epicenter was 45 miles from here).

My favorite fence-top planter is a 22-inch terracotta bowl featuring several varieties of claret cup cactus and a small Agave toumeyana ssp. bella. Last spring a volunteer California poppy showed up and added an extra pop of color. I pulled out that poppy after it was done blooming, but miraculously another one appeared in the same spot this year. The color combination is the same as before but the claret cups have put on noticeable growth. The regular species (in the center in the photo below) has twice as many flowers as last year, and the giant form on the left will bloom for the first time since I brought it home from Santa Fe, New Mexico in the summer of 2012.


White Sands giant claret cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus ‘White Sands’), claret cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)


Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Claret cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

After I’d done all the damage I could at the Ruth Bancroft Garden’s spring plant sale last Saturday, I took a leisurely stroll through the garden. I’ve been here so many times, I’m always afraid of running out of things to photograph. Fortunately, the garden continues to evolve and I always find new things to take pictures of—or I take more photos of my favorite plants.

April is a great time to visit. There is so much in bloom, and the temperatures are still reasonably mild. Join me on as I meander through the garden. You might be inspired to transform your own garden into a miniature RBG!

A big thank you to Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, for helping me ID some of the plants in these photos.


One of the first groups of plants visitors see as they enter the garden proper from the parking lot near the office


This is a good spot to see agaves in bloom

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ruth Bancroft Garden 2015 spring plant sale: bigger, better, and longer

Yesterday (April 11, 2015) was the 2015 spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Or, to be more correct, it was the start of the spring plant sale. For the first time, the plant sale will run for six days. If you weren’t able to make it yesterday, you still have time until Thursday, April 16, 2015. The plant sale is in the expanded retail nursery right by the garden entrance and office. Business hours are 10 am to 4 pm every day this week, including Monday when the garden is normally closed. For more info and directions to the garden, visit the RBG web site.


Nursery manager Troy McGregor and his crew brought in more plants than ever this year so the selection was larger and popular plants didn’t sell out as quickly as before. They even had seven or eight ‘Hercules’ tree aloes (Aloidendron ‘Hercules’), which are normally difficult to find.

Take a look at all the goodies waiting for new homes!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Bamboos at the San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) has the largest public bamboo collection in the United States, comprising 121 taxa from Asia, South Africa and even Africa. In January 2014, it received accreditation by the North American Plant Collections Consortium as a National Collection.


This strong focus on bamboo at San Diego Botanic Garden (known as Quail Botanical Gardens prior to 2009) is no coincidence. In 1979, Richard Haubrich, a professor of geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla and a member of the board of directors of the garden, founded the American Bamboo Society (ABS) at Quail. At that time, only two bamboos existed at the garden: Bambusa oldhamii and Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ (amusingly, I have these two species in my own front yard). Soon many additional bamboos were planted, and Haubrich obtained a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import bamboos. Today, the quarantine greenhouse at the SDBG, operated by the ABS, is one of only four in the country. Through these government-mandated quarantine facilities, the ABS has introduced many new bamboos species into the U.S.


Dendrocalamus giganteus at the entrance to the Bamboo Garden. According to the plaque you see below, this bamboo started to flower in 2008 and eventually died (as with agaves, flowering is usually a terminal event for bamboos).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Quick tour of the San Diego Botanic Garden

At 37 acres, the San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG) isn’t immense but it still takes time to explore the 30+ distinct gardens that are accessible via four miles of trails. Since we only had half a day, we had to prioritize and ended up skipping the areas that weren’t that compelling to us (like the Lawn Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Herb Garden, Native Plants and Native People trail, etc.). Still, I ended up with a lot of photos I want to share with you. Today’s post covers everything we saw minus the Bamboo Garden; the Bamboo Garden was so special that I have a separate post about it.


Known until 2009 as Quail Botanical Gardens, the San Diego Botanic Garden is located on the former estate of Ruth and Charles Larabee, both heirs to considerable fortunes. Ruth donated the land to San Diego in 1957, paving the way for the creation of the garden we know today. Until 1993 the garden was supported by San Diego County; since then it has been privately managed by a non-profit foundation.


A very large Kalanchoe beharensis at the entrance kiosk

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sunshine Gardens, Encinitas, CA

Since our recent trip to Southern California was primarily a family vacation, I stopped at only two nurseries. I’ve already blogged about the first one, Seaside Gardens located in the Santa Barbara area. The second one was called Sunshine Gardens—with such similar names, I constantly keep getting them mixed up in my own head.

Sunshine Gardens is in the San Diego County town of Encinitas, less than a mile from the San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG). We stopped there after our visit to the SDBG. It’s not huge, but according to their web site, it’s the oldest and largest independent nursery in Encinitas.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Front yard desert bed at age 1

A little over a year ago the area in front of the fence below was an overgrown tangle of Japanese mock-orange (Pittosporum tobira). After we had the hedge taken out, we built a mound of well-draining soil, planted succulents and other heat- and drought-tolerant plants, and added rock mulch. I documented this project in a series of posts you can access from here.


March 16, 2014

The plants in this bed took off right away and I greatly enjoyed following their development through the spring, summer and winter of 2014. Now it’s spring again, and it’s time to take a closer look at this bed. Be prepared for some impressive progress!


April 5, 2015

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Beavertail cactus says Happy Easter!

My beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) has been regaling us with a succession of flowers all week. The petals are almost diaphanous, with a lovely silky sheen and a deep magenta color.

Move over daffodils, this my official Easter flower!



Friday, April 3, 2015

More from Balboa Park in San Diego

I briefly outlined the history of Balboa Park in yesterday’s post about the Desert Garden. There are nine named gardens in the 1,200 acre park and someday I’ll get to all of them. This year there was just too little time and the needs of my family to consider.

This post is a potpourri of pictures I snapped as I was crisscrossing Balboa Park while my family was at the Museum of Man. The architecture alone is worth a trip; the lush plantings make exploring the park even sweeter.


Plaza de Panamá right in the center Balboa Park


El Prado is a wide boulevard that runs through the heart of Balboa Park. The buildings on either side of the street are truly impressive. I think the Spanish Baroque architecture fits the setting beautifully.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Howdy, Old Town San Diego

I’ve lived in California almost three decades, and this was my first visit to San Diego. I still can’t believe it took me this long, especially since San Diego is reputed to have the best gardening climate in all of California. The winters are mild and so are the summers, especially along the coast. The city of San Diego has an average of 201 days above 70°F, according to Wikipedia.

We had just three days in San Diego during our spring break vacation so we only scratched the surface. But what a surface it is! The waterfront is stunning, Balboa Park a jewel, but my favorite spot was Old Town, parts of which are now a State Historic Park.

The San Diego Presidio, established in 1769 on a bluff north of what is now Old Town, was the first European settlement on the west coast of the the present day U.S. The first of the California missions was built the same year on the same bluff, and by 1820 a small pueblo had sprung up below. In 1850, California joined the United States and the pueblo remained the heart of San Diego. That all changed in the 1860s when Alonzo Horton began to develop what is now downtown.


Agave salmiana in front of the Pedrorena-Altamirano House

Today, Old Town is a vibrant neighborhood of historic buildings, museums, shops, and restaurants. While it has its fair share of tourist traps, it felt surprisingly authentic and down to earth. And there were lots of interesting plants to see, including many succulents. I loved it.


Agave salmiana in front of the old Assessor’s Office

The Desert Garden in Balboa Park

Spread out over 1,200 acres, San Diego’s Balboa Park is the largest urban park in the country—1½ times the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s also one of the oldest, created in 1868. The Spanish Baroque and Mission Revival Style buildings that are now the hallmark of Balboa Park were constructed for the Panama–California Exposition that opened in 1915 and ran until 1917.


Casa del Prado with typical Churrigueresque ornamentation

Today, Balboa Park is home to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, 17 museums, 16 gardens, and a number of other attractions and venues.

Botanically and horticulturally, Balboa Park wouldn’t be what it is today without Kate Sessions (1857-1940). Known as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” she was given 30 acres within the park in 1892 for use as a nursery. In return she agreed to plant 100 trees a year in the park and 300 trees elsewhere in San Diego. She introduced many exotic trees from around the world, which she grew from seed in her own garden. One of these is the jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), now found all over the city.

Sadly, our time in Balboa Park was limited so I could only choose one of the larger gardens to visit. Not surprisingly, I picked the Desert Garden, which Danger Garden had blogged about recently. It’s located at the eastern edge of Balboa Park, separated from the rest of the park by a pedestrian bridge over busy Park Blvd. (the remain access road to the San Diego Zoo). The 2½-acre Desert Garden was created in the 1970s. It shouldn’t be confused with the Old Cactus Garden in the main part of the park, which was created by Kate Sessions for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to check out the Old Cactus Garden, but according to Danger Garden’s post here it’s well worth seeing.


Spring color on the east-facing slope