Monday, August 31, 2015

Floral splendor in Iceland: blue poppies and more!

Friends of ours from Australia just returned from a trip to Iceland. They saw incredible natural sights ranging from fjords and volcanoes to rivers and waterfalls to hot springs and geysers. But the most unique—and unexpected—attraction was the botanical garden in the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The floral display our friends encountered was nothing short of spectacular.

But before we get to that, here are some landscape photos to set the mood:



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Late summer at the UC Davis Arboretum Valley-Wise Garden

This morning I went to a presentation at the Ruth Risdon Storer Valley-Wise Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum. I learned that the garden was started in the early 1980s as a demonstration garden to showcase plants that would thrive in our Mediterranean climate. The garden is watered only twice a month using a combination of sprinklers, above-ground drip emitters and buried drip lines. The drip systems run for 2-3 hours. To me that seemed like a lot, but it’s quite possible the emitters are very low flow.

What surprised me the most was a side comment by the presenter to the effect that this is the worst the Storer Garden has ever looked. Granted it’s the end of August when few things are at their best, but I really don’t think the garden looks bad at all. See for yourself and let me know what you think!


Thursday, August 27, 2015

VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC

VanDusen Botanical Garden (VBG) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada may well be the loveliest public garden you’ve never seen. I almost didn’t visit either on our recent Pacific Northwest trip, but then I read this description in Donald Olson’s book The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour (Timber Press, 2014):

No question about it: Vancouver’s 55-acre VanDusen Botanical Garden is one of the great gardens of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the great gardens of the world. Beautifully designed, impeccably maintained, with endlessly fascinating plant material and lots of intriguing outdoor sculpture, it’s a place that will enchant every garden and garden lover.


Established in 1975 in a leafy neighborhood in southeast Vancouver not far from the University of British Columbia campus, VBG was considered one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets. That changed in 2011 when the ultramodern, award-winning and LEED Platinum-certified visitor center opened its door, taking VBG into the 21st century and beyond. If you’re interested in green/sustainable architecture, I recommend this article about the VBG Visitor Center.

The approach from the parking lot is via a foot bridge. Soon you see the visitor center’s dramatically undulating roof supported by massive wood pillars. The walls of the building are concrete and rammed earth.


Bridge to the VBG Visitor Center

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Meet my book aloe (Aloe suprafoliata)

I won’t lie, agaves are my favorite group of plants, but aloes are right there near the top. They offer as much variety in size, texture and color as agaves do and many of them flower every year—unlike agaves, which typically flower only once, at the end of their lives (and then promptly die). I particularly like aloes that grow and flower in the winter when little else is in bloom.

The aloe I want to show you today is one of the more unusual ones. Native to northeastern South Africa and Swaziland, its botanical name is Aloe suprafoliata, which means “leaves stacked on top of each other.” The common name in Afrikaans is boekaalwyn, literally “book aloe.” It’s easy to see why: the stacked leaves resemble the pages of an open book.


Two juvenile Aloe suprafoliata at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

I find this distichous leaf arrangement to be both fascinating and strangely beautiful.


Annie’s Annuals, the cult nursery in Richmond, CA, refers to Aloe suprafoliata as the “mustache aloe,” which is both appropriate and humorous.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Grand opening of The Cannery farm-to-table community in Davis, CA

Last weekend was the grand opening of The Cannery, the first major new-home development to be built in Davis in over 20 years (Davis is renowned for its anti-growth politics). I’m not looking to move but like so many people in town I was eager to get a first look at what is being billed as “California’s first farm-to-table new home community”.


Built on the 100 acre site of the former Hunt-Wesson tomato cannery on the northern edge of town, this project will eventually have close to 550 housing units, all of which feature solar power, LED lighting, tankless water heaters and electric car chargers. The lots are small—how small you will see later—but there’s a big focus on shared spaces—parks, walking trails, a community center and pool, etc. Somebody told me that no house will be more than 300 ft. from the green belt that winds its way through the community.

The standout feature that every press release and promotional video seems to hone in on is the 7.5 acre “Urban Farm.” Run by the Center for Land-Based Learning, a local non-profit, it will be a teaching lab for future farmers and grow produce to be sold right on site (I guess that’s where the “farm-to-table” bit comes in). Right now the farm is planted in corn, pumpkins and tomatoes, but I suppose the selection will vary based on what proves to be popular.

At this stage, the only structures completed are a large barn, a welcome center, as well as 14 model houses ranging in price from the mid $400,000 to the “low $1 million.” I was a bit shocked by these prices, especially considering the lots are microscopic. But Davis is one of the most desirable towns in the Sacramento Valley and there is so much pent-up demand for new housing that the market will apparently bear such lofty pricing.

The main reason why I wanted to visit The Cannery was to check out the public landscaping. With California in the middle of the worst drought in 1,200 years, I was eager to see what landscaping choices the developers had made. Read on to find out what my impressions were.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Three new aloes from Facebook

Did you know that you can buy plants on Facebook? While there aren’t any traditional online stores, there are many groups dedicated to buying, selling and trading. Succulents seem to be particularly popular.

I’m always excited when our mail lady delivers a box of plants—even more so when it’s two boxes.


Both are from Tony Norris who sells succulents on Facebook under the name Texas Aloe Growers. I’d bought from Tony before and knew he sells quality plants so I had no hesitations to do it again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, WA

It’s been a while since my last post about our Pacific Northwest trip earlier this year. Time now to return to Seattle, Washington! I didn’t have time to visit any of the great public gardens, but I did spend a few hours at a very special place in the heart of the city: Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Opened in 2012 in the Seattle Center right next to the Space Needle and the Pacific Science Center, Chihuly Garden Glass is a museum showcasing the studio glass of Dale Chihuly, arguably the most famous American glass artist of our time. It consists of an exhibition hall, a conservatory (“Glasshouse”), a garden, as well as a café, lecture hall and retail space.


Space Needle seen from the entrance to Chihuly and Glass

In December 2013 I’d seen a large Chihuly installation at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ and I was eager to see which pieces might be on exhibit here—his home turf, so to speak.

I was not disappointed. The large-scale installations in the exhibition space were breathtaking.


Ikebana and Float Boats

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Harvesting bulbils from our Agave desmettiana

Two weeks ago we cut off the massive flower stalk from the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ next to the front door because it was leaning too precariously. We rested the severed stalk against one of the bay trees in the backyard in hopes the bulbils would continue to grow. This didn’t happen. With temperatures again climbing toward the 100°F mark, some of the bulbils have started to shrink, no doubt because there is no moisture left in the flower stalk.

150816_Agave_desmettiana_variegata_001 150816_Agave_desmettiana_variegata_003

The flower stalk fell over the other day, crashing into the bamboo fence

This morning I decided to bite the bullet and harvest the bulbils.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Independent Sacramento nursery succulent selection

Last week I reported that the succulent selection at the big box garden centers in the Sacramento area has gotten much better than it used to be. I had some time on the weekend so I decided to see what Green Acres, an independent nursery with four Sacramento area locations, has to offer in the succulent department. I went to their newest location in Elk Grove, south of Sacramento, and I’m happy to say that they, too, have stepped up their game.

Like the big box garden centers, Green Acres has always carried small succulents—the kind that makes good container fodder—but now they also offer a larger selection of plants that wouldn’t look lost if planted in the ground. I’m sure this development is driven by demand for plant material suitable for lawn conversions and water-wise landscaping projects.

Let’s take a look!



Monday, August 10, 2015

De-pupping an Agave ‘Cream Spike’

Is there a better recipe for lifting yourself out of the summer doldrums than buying a plant? I don’t think so. Here’s my weekend purchase:


Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’

This beauty is the largest Agave ‘Cream Spike’ I’ve ever seen for sale in a nursery. It came in a 2-gallon container and is almost 11 inches across—a clear contradiction of the label which gives a height of 5 inches and a width of 6 inches:


The label indicates that the grower is Village Nurseries in Orange, CA

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Succulent close-ups at home

Lately I’ve been focused too much on the ugly side of summer. But when you ignore the dried up plants and the brown grass and look closer, there’s plenty of beauty to be found. To see what I mean, check out these succulent close-ups I took around the garden in the past week.


Agave bovicornuta


Agave sobria × Manfreda sp. (Greg Starr hybrid)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Big box garden centers adapt to the drought in California

I have a conflicted relationship with the big box home improvement chains (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Orchard Supply Hardware, etc.). On the one hand, I appreciate the one-stop shopping and huge range of products they offer, on the other hand I lament how they have all but eliminated the small, independent hardware stores that used to be a fixture in every town across America.

I do shop at the Lowe’s and Home Depots in the Sacramento area when our local Ace Hardware store doesn’t have what I need. However, it’s often an uneasy experience because I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing.

It’s even worse when it comes to their garden centers. I know I shouldn’t even be looking, but of course I do. And occasionally I even buy something. There, I’ve said it.

The big box home improvement chains are rarely on the cutting edge of trends. They lag behind at first, then play catch-up. That has been true for their response to the drought here in California. Three years ago, the succulent selection at the Northern California big box garden centers was very limited; usually one rack of 2- and 3-inch plants from Altman. Over time, the inventory has expanded to include many more offerings in #1 cans and larger. After all, it’s very difficult to re-do a yard with 2 and 3 inch pots!

Not having been to Lowe’s in a while, I was quite surprised to see this large banner outside the garden center at their West Sacramento store:


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Our ponytail palm is blooming for the first time

In yesterday’s post, “Cutting down the Agave desmettiana flower stalk,” you might have noticed that one of the ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) next to our Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ is in bloom as well. There are actually three of them. For all intents and purposes their caudexes are fused together now; originally they must have been three seedlings growing in close proximity.

Here’s a photo I took from the upstairs loft:


August 4, 2015

Rewind 6½ years to March 16, 2009. That’s when we planted this bed. I wasn’t writing a blog at that time but fortunately I took pictures.


March 16, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cutting down the Agave desmettiana flower stalk

The flowering Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near our front door has made frequent appearances on this blog (1 2 3 and others). I was going to wait until the fall before removing the bulbil-laden flower stalk, but unfortunately it was leaning so much that getting to the front door was getting ever more challenging, especially for delivery folks with packages.


For a brief moment we considered staking it somehow, but having a wooden pole protrude into the walkway wouldn’t have made access to the front door any easier. So yesterday we decided to bite the bullet and cut the big boy down.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pictures from a long, hot summer

I posted this screenshot from Weather Underground on Succulents and More’s Facebook page the other day:


For a number of days now we’ve had temperatures above 100°F (38°F) and a few about 104°F (40°F). Yes, it’s a dry heat, but heat is heat. And it’s taking its toll on people and plants alike, especially as we try to conserve water.