Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza plant porn (2 of 2)

Day 2 of the 2015 Succulent Extravaganza (see posts 1 and 2) started bright and early at 8 a.m. I left the motel in Marina at 7:15 a.m. so I’d have extra time in case I saw anything worth photographing along the way. And I did.


Sunrise over the Elkhorn Slough, an estuary on Monterey Bay, just a few miles down the road from the nursery

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza plant porn (1 of 2)

Yesterday I recapped the 2015 Succulent Extravaganza held September 25-26, 2015 at Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA. It was a great opportunity to photograph the many thousands of succulents growing at the nursery.

As always, I took hundreds of photos. I finally winnowed them down to 64. 32 are in this installment, the other 32 in tomorrow’s. The photos aren’t in any particular order. You never know what you’re going to see next. That’s the same experience you’d have during a visit to Succulent Gardens.


Arrangement by Baylor Chapman as part of her demonstration “Living Centerpieces”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015 Succulent Extravaganza recap

It’s a tradition now: The last Friday and Saturday of September are reserved in my calendar for the Succulent Extravaganza. Organized by Succulent Gardens, Northern California’s premier succulent grower, and held at their nursery in Castroville, the Succulent Extravaganza is a two-day affair jam packed with presentations, socializing and shopping. Over time, it’s also become a much anticipated reunion with friends and fellow succulent fanatics I only see once a year.

For last year’s Succulent Extravaganza, a select group of designers created a series of demonstration gardens to showcase how succulents can be used in residential landscaping. The same gardens were the focus of the 2015 Extravaganza as well. It was interesting to see how they have evolved. Read on to see photos.


Succulent Gardens at the intersection of Elkhorn and Amaral Road in Castroville, CA

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 5

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My last day on Adak. Our flight leaves tonight at 6 p.m. I eat my last bagel (brought from Anchorage) and then pack my suitcase. Usually I’m ready to go home at the end of a trip. This time, though, I would gladly stay a few more days. Until Sunday, for example, when the next plane leaves. But that’s not in the cards.

Since Shannon has the car, I decide to walk through the two housing subdivisions that are completely abandoned. The Navy spent a lot of money here; money ultimately wasted.

The first subdivision I want to show you was built in the early 1970s. We dubbed it “the Flintstones houses.” On this site maintained by a former soldier stationed on Adak in 1970-1971, I found a photo of these houses arriving by ship.

The houses in this subdivision look to be in good shape. I saw none of the damage evident elsewhere. Rumor has it that they could be made ready for occupancy with relatively little effort. If that’s true, the city of Adak definitely has options should a large employer come to town.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 4

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cousin Shannon convinces me to get up early so I can photograph the sunrise. We head over to the fuel farm and walk out on the pier. Just in time. The clouds light up with the drama I was hoping for.


It doesn’t last long, but I do get a photo of god rays:


The wind is picking up and, combined with a slight drizzle, I’m feeling uncomfortable for the first time since I got here. Ever so briefly, I get a sense of how nasty the wind must be when it really blows.

Fortunately, the wind and rain don’t last long. That’s pretty much my experience with any kind of weather on Adak: Wait a few minutes and it’ll change. That’s what they say about Hawaii, too.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 3

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Day 3 on the island and I’m falling into a routine. Get up at 8 a.m. just before the sun rises, have coffee, do some work, then head out for a little walk before meeting up with Elaine at noon.

This morning I don’t have much time because of work. I can never really get away from it unless I go to a place that has no Internet at all. But even Adak, population 100+, has Internet although it’s expensive. Another surprise: There’s decent cell phone coverage, even away from town. But only on AT&T. As a T-Mobile customer, I get no signal whatsoever. I must admit it feels strange being disconnected from the world like that. Strange, but healthy.

This morning I check out the abandoned McDonald’s in town. This was once the westernmost McDonald’s in the world. As you can see below, the building itself is in almost perfect condition. As is the inside, from what I can see through the window. Apparently the building is still used for civic functions so the city keeps it heated in the winter to prevent damage.


The coolest thing is the drive-through menu. I can’t believe it’s so well preserved after 20 years of Aleutian weather! The prices seem shockingly high to me—except for coffee, which at $0.25 for a small and $0.49 for a large was cheap even then.

Later, I use an inflation calculator to see what these 1995 prices translate to in today’s dollars. A BigMac Extra Value Meal was $4.59 then; at a cumulative rate of inflation of 56.4%, that’s $7.18 now. The Adak McDonald’s had to have been one of the most expensive fast food places in the world back in the day. Considering what little servicemen made, eating there was probably not a daily occurrence.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 2

Monday, September 7, 2015 (Labor Day)

Since the sun doesn’t rise until 8:15 a.m. and I’d had an eventful first day on Adak, I sleep in and then go for a walk in the neighborhood. The houses in this subdivision are basically all the same: either off-white with a blue roof, or tan with a red roof.

All of them have a solarium attached to the dining room. It feels a bit like an afterthought because it’s not really integrated into house; instead you access it through a door as if you were stepping outside. The solarium isn’t heated so you wouldn’t be very comfortable sitting out there in the winter unless you bring a portable heater. But it could be used to grow plants because temperatures don’t drop much below freezing here. I don’t know how many people have used their solarium for that purpose, but I cannot imagine that among the thousands of people who’ve lived in these housing units over the years there haven’t been a least a few with a green thumb.


However, I see no sign of gardening anywhere on the island. Cousin Shannon says she’s heard of people growing vegetables. Somebody even got tomatoes to ripen--quite a feat in a place that on average only has 76 sunny days a year. As I mentioned yesterday, Adak is in USDA hardiness zone 8 so the weather is mild enough to grow a great many things. And there’s plenty of water: It rains or snows on 264 days a year vs. the U.S. average of 100. The average annual rainfall is between 54 and 64 inches (the Internet sources I found can’t seem to agree).

The limiting factor on Adak is the wind. And it can be quite a doozy. During my 5-day stay the wind is benign, especially on the flatlands near town. In some exposed spots higher up, I get an inkling of what the wind might be capable of here. After all, Adak is nicknamed “the birthplace of the winds.” Sustained wind speeds of 20 mph are not uncommon. Gusts that seem to come out of nowhere, called “williwaws,” are said to be strong enough to knock people over. One particularly violent williwaw ripped the anemometer off the tower at the airport so nobody knows what its speed was, but gusts can exceed 110 miles per hour.

Knowing this, it’s easier to understand why there are virtually no trees on Adak and the other Aleutian islands. Because of the frequent precipitation, the soil is almost constantly wet. Even if a tree managed to grow to any size, a strong gust would quickly uproot it. All the trees that exist on the island—and there aren’t many—were planted. Without exception, they’re conifers and they look stunted. Later in the day, Elaine takes me to the Adak National Forest. What a hoot, as you will see.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Adak, Alaska: day 1

From this teaser you may know that I recently spent time on Adak in the Aleutians, a chain of 69 islands, many of them volcanic, extending 1,200 miles from the mainland of Alaska towards the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. Here’s a map to give you a better idea:


I love numbers, so let me throw some out for you. Adak is:

  • 2,700 miles from the north pole
  • 2,700 miles from Davis, California where I live
  • 1,300 miles from Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska
  • 870 miles from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia
  • 450 miles from Dutch Harbor, the nearest inhabited place in the Aleutian Islands (if you’ve ever watched the reality TV series Deadliest Catch, you might have heard of it)
    • At the same latitude as Vancouver, British Columbia
    • Horticulturally speaking, in USDA hardiness zone 8, the same as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington; Anchorage, in comparison, is in zone 4; Fairbanks, in south-central Alaska, in zone 2
    • Between the Bering Sea to the north and the North Pacific Ocean to the south

    If you head due south from Adak, you won’t encounter land for 4,700 miles—not until you reach the islands of Fiji in the South Pacific.


    First glimpse from the air

    Tuesday, September 15, 2015

    Rainy-day visit to the Alaska Botanical Garden

    Living in drought-ridden California, I had forgotten what rain is. But last Friday I got a reacquainted with the wet stuff that occasionally falls from the sky when I dragged my cousin Shannon to the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage. Born and raised in Alaska, Shannon had never been there and was happy to finally get a chance to see it.


    Where else do you have a moose fence?

    Even though it wasn’t raining constantly—it was more of a fine drizzle—there were only two other visitors at the garden. That was completely fine by me since I didn’t have to wait for people to move out my picture.


    As you can see below, most flowers were gone but many trees and shrubs were at their fall best. I hadn’t expected to find such brilliant colors and I was giddy with the photo ops that presented themselves all around me. I would love to go back to the Alaska Botanical Garden in June when the wildflowers are in bloom—and their surprisingly large collection of Himalayan poppies (Meconopsis sp.)—but now for I’m thrilled I was able to take so many beautiful fall pictures.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2015

    Adventure in the Aleutians

    While I haven’t dropped off the face of the Earth, I’m close. I’m on the island of Adak in the Aleutians, easily the most remote place I’ve ever been. I’m too busy exploring (and the Internet is on the slow side), so I won’t be able to write regular posts this week. I’ll have one long post about Adak after I get back; here are some teaser photos.


    The arrow marks the location of Adak Island. To the northeast is Alaska; to the east is the Yukon (Canada); to the west and northwest is Russia. Adak is about 1,300 miles from Anchorage; the flight took 3 hours.


    First glimpse of Adak in the fog as the plane was descending


    The raw beauty of Adak is breathtaking

    Friday, September 4, 2015

    University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC

    Just as I’m about to embark on another northwestern adventure—in the extreme northwest of the American continent—I’d like to take you back to the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. Established in 1916, UBC Botanical Garden and Center for Plant Research—literally a five-minute drive from where we were staying during our visit this summer—encompasses 78 acres divided into two major sections: The North Gardens are quite exposed and sunny (at least in the summer) while the Asian Garden is a sheltered coastal forest underplanted with Asian trees, shrubs, vines and perennials.

    In contrast to VanDusen Botanical Garden, which feels more like an exquisitely manicured grand estate, the UBC Botanical Garden has a wilder edge, especially the Asian garden where I managed to get lost for a little while. If I lived in Vancouver, VanDusen is where I would take out-of-town visitors or go for a Sunday picnic with the family, and the UBC Botanical Garden is where I would go to find solitude in the woods.

    And then there’s the Greenheart Canopy Walkway, which provided adrenaline-filled moments of terror for everybody in my family. More on that later.

    For now let’s start near the entrance. There’s an ambience of lushness wherever you look. It’s clear this place gets plenty of water.


    Thursday, September 3, 2015

    Product review: PreGro plant sprayer

    I was recently approached by a company in Illinois called PreVal to see if I was interested in trying out their new PreGro sprayer. The timing was fortuitous since I’ve been battling mealybugs all summer—like every summer—so I gladly said yes.

    PreGro is an intriguing alternative to the plastic spray bottles most of us use. It consists of a glass jar that holds 6 oz. of your own solution and a pressurized atomizer cylinder (the “power unit”) that screws onto the jar. As the box says, using the sprayer is as easy as 1-2-3: fill, attach, spray. A separate grip is available for $7.95 for hazardous chemicals you don’t want to get on your skin.

    My sprayer arrived yesterday and I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl. Here are the main components:


    Tuesday, September 1, 2015

    Removing the dead carcass of my Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’

    I’m sure you’ve been lying awake at night wondering what’s happening to the dying carcass of the the Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ near the front door. It started to send up a flower stalk last fall and the first flowers opened up in February 2015. By May 2015 most flowers were gone and bulbils (live miniature plants) started to appear on the flower stalk. Eventually there were many hundreds, maybe even thousands of bulbils. In early August 2015 we cut down the flower stalk because it was blocking access to the front door. A few weeks later I harvested the bulbils, keeping the best-looking ones and tossing the rest into the yard waste.

    Now it was time to remove the dead carcass. Initial efforts to simply pull the rosette out of the soil failed. Time for plan B: bring out the electric reciprocating saw with a 9-inch blade.


    This agave species, like most, dies after flowering—a behavior called “monocarpic.”