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!


I love this virtually indestructible trio: cape balsam (Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’), California fuchsia (Epilobium sp.) and tuxedo agave (Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’).



One of the most impressive sights in the Storer Garden right now is this blooming Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum). In contrast to agaves, dasylirions don’t die after flowering.

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Many shrubs are looking great, including this butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.) in the lower right and the Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) behind it.


This was the first Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) I ever saw, and it’s still my favorite. It looks perfect year round.



The UC Davis Arboretum is the only place I’ve ever seen eastern prickly pear (Opuntia compressa). It forms a low-growing mat.



This is a much larger prickly pear, possibly Opuntia robusta:


Great-looking lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus):


Pleased to see three plants not commonly found around here, leucadendron on the left (looks like a Leucadendron laureolum hybrid) and a pale yucca (Yucca pallida) in front of an Edwards Plateau muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) on the right:

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Two dasylirion species, Dasylirion longissimum on the left and Dasyirion wheeleri on the right:


Another nice foliage combination, datura on the left and Andulusian horehound (Marrubium supinum) on the right:


More California fuchsia (Epilobium canum):


Not sure what yucca this is, possibly Yucca gloriosa ‘Tricolor’. There are three or four of them throughout the garden.


While looking sparser this year than what I’m used to, the giant sea squills (Drimia maritima) are still one of my favorite late-summer sights:



The bulbs of Drimia maritima are partially above ground:


Bald agave (Agave pelona) found growing at the base of a pine tree:


More agaves; my guess is Agave mitis ‘Nova’:


They’re surrounded by rain lilies (Zephyranthes candida) and blue fescue (Festuca glauca):


A nice planting of what I call ‘Davis aloe’ (Aloe maculata × striata):


After the talk, I walked up the street to the UC Davis Teaching Nursery. There are demonstration plantings all along the sidewalk. A surprise was this clump of Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’. It shows some signs of sunburn but the leaves are remarkably plump considering it doesn’t get much water. This is a plant that prefers rich soil and frequent watering.


More plants that do very well in the full sun and require relatively little water:


Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and Wayne Roderick seaside daisy (Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’)


Hot Lips salvia (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’) and firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis)


Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and NOID bottlebrush (Callistemon sp.)

The Arboretum Teaching Nursery propagates the plants for the Arboretum plant sales and is also where the sales are held. This fall there will be three plant sales: October 10, October 24 and November 14. Remember that in our climate fall is prime planting season.



Two varieties of the tuxedo agave: Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’…


…and Agave americana ‘Mediopicta aurea’:


I had seen this vertical wall before but I was absolutely floored that it’s looking this great after a long hot summer:


The echeveria are perfect:


Here’s a description of this project. I wish they’d indicate how often it gets irrigated.


When I left, I felt better. Yes, this is the time of year when everybody is tired of the heat and dirt and is looking forward to the cool rains of fall even though they’re still a month or two away. But even at this low point of the Central Valley gardening year there are plants that still look good. I find that uplifting.


  1. I like this, just what is needed right now. Big, old gorgeous plants thriving in the heat. Colorful, too, that salvia and russelia combo, wow. Yay for them!

    1. I needed it too. I'm glad I went this morning. The talk wasn't a big relevation but I was glad to get out of the house and see water-wise plantings that looked good at this time of year.

  2. What a beautiful garden! I wish my firecracker plant was as robust and flowery as that one. The agaves are awesome. I have to admit that's the first time I've heard of or seen the bald agave (a. pelona).

    Thanks for the pictures!

    1. My firecracker plant took a couple of years to get established. The first year it looked sad and unhappy to the point where I was going to remove it. But then it found its groove and hasn't looked back. It flowers non-stop form spring to fall. I just planted another one.

      Agave pelona is uncommon in cultivation. I don't know why because it's very attractive. I've been looking for one to add to my collection but they're hard to find. It'll probably have to wait until I make another Arizona trip.

  3. I think it's looking great and it's good you got out. The gardening brain needs a little lift now and then.

    1. A occasional change of scenery, even briefly, is good for the soul, I think. I can't wait for cooler weather so I can do some real planting. I need to swap out several plants that have died, including a lavender whose drip emitter was closed (my fault).

  4. It does look good, I enjoyed seeing it through your camera lens, and now I feel better, too.

    I think I "need" a Leucophyllum...

    1. Thanks! And yes, I think you need a leucophyllum. Look at Leucophyllum frutescens 'Compactum' for something smaller.

    2. I swear I've seen one with blue flowers. Must have blue flowers...

    3. There's one called Leucophyllum zygophyllum, or blue ranger. The flowers still look purple to me, but everybody perceives purple differently.

  5. Looks fine to me. I wonder what plant losses are on their mind? Those gaps are what we see when we look at our gardens in August, not what's survived. And were these plants that well marked or is that just your erudition shining through?

    1. Erudition, ha! :-)

      I did recognize quite a few plants but in general the labeling is quite good, especially in the newer beds outside the Teaching Nursery.

  6. The garden looks good to me too but I think Denise is right - at this time of year, we tend to notice what's missing rather than what's still there. I'd like to get my garden established to handle summer heat and drought that well. I've been reading more about the value of limiting the frequency of watering while increasing the volume when you do water - perhaps the Arboretum's long sessions on a drip have accomplished the goal of sending roots deep.

    1. Kris, yes, that's the point of their watering regime: soaking the soil as far down as possible so the roots grow deep instead of shallow. I think that's easier to do with the Netafim lines that have built in emitters than with the kind of drip I use (separate spur and micro sprayer for each plant). I'll try Netafim when we convert the front lawn.

  7. Wonderful...again. I may be your biggest fan. I need to do a succulent post in your honor.

    1. Becca, you are too kind! Thank you so much!

      By the way, I've been trying to find your blog but haven't been able to. Could you share the URL?


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