Friday, November 27, 2015

More Thanksgiving winter magic

We spent Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s place in Mount Shasta in the mountains of far northern California. On Wednesday, we had a nice dusting of snow—about an inch—but Thanksgiving day proper gave us brilliant blue skies, crisp air, and plenty of sunshine.

After breakfast I did some exploring, braving the 20°F temperature. I hope the photos will give you an idea of how beautiful this part of California is.


This is the same barn I showed you in this week’s Wednesday Vignette


It looks quite different in the sun

Thursday, November 26, 2015

White Thanksgiving in Mount Shasta, CA

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that it was trying to snow as we were arriving at my mother-in-law’s house in Mount Shasta in the mountains of far northern California. As I went to bed last night, I was hoping to find a winter wonderland in the morning.

And to my delight I did. In fact, it was still snowing at 8 a.m. this morning. I quickly grabbed my camera and took some photos on my mother-in-law’s two-acre property. Get ready for some picture-postcard loveliness!


Barn in the backyard framed by Western redcedars (Thuja plicata)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday Vignette: en route to Thanksgiving

Like many of you, we’re traveling to spend Thanksgiving with family. Today, while my wife was driving, I took pictures of the clouds that seemed to be following us. My favorite was this cloud that looked like a very large bird:


Look, a bird cloud!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall color around town

Our part of California isn’t exactly known for stunning fall color. Most of the trees native to the Sacramento Valley simply turn a non-descript brown. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-native trees planted all over Davis that do provide pops of color. Many of them are at their peak, as you will see below, but some are just starting:


College Park

This means that there’ll be good color for another few weeks, provided we don’t get a lot of wind that would knock the leaves off the trees.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Front yard bamboo transformation

California is in year 4 of the drought. and the state is subject to mandatory water conservation. This summer I switched to a once-a-week watering regime. I knew the succulents and perennials would be able to handle it, but I wasn’t sure about the bamboos. While the running bamboos in the stock tanks in the backyard did suffer, the clumpers in the ground didn’t miss a beat. In fact, they produced more new culms this year than in previous years! As a result, the clumps have gotten quite congested—to the point where they need a good thinning out.

I tackled the most urgent case today: the Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridivittata’—say that three times fast!) next to the front porch. As you can see, it’s gotten huge and has been casting too much shade on everything around it. This is not the look and feel I want.


Can you see the large sago palm (Cycas revoluta) at the base of the bamboo? Look closely, it’s there.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Recommendations for Phoenix and Tucson area destinations?

In what has become something of a tradition, I’m planning another trip to Arizona this December. While I never get tired of revisiting favorite haunts, like the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, I’d like to discover destinations that are new to me. By “destination” I’m referring to gardens with interesting plants (public or private), nurseries, or sights that are beautiful in and of themselves.


Community of Civano, Tucson

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Vignette: coffee shop bouquet

On Saturday we found ourselves in an eclectic coffee shop in San Francisco. While the rest of the gang was ordering at the counter, I claimed one of the wooden tables on the sidewalk. Each table had a small bouquet of flowers in a mason jar. All too often these bouquets are quite forgettable. Not these! Ours had aeonium, rose, sea holly, leucadendron and Chinese pistache leaves for a pop of red. I was so taken with this combination, I snapped several photos and posted them to Instagram:


Monday, November 16, 2015

Painful palo verde amputation

Out of the three palo verde trees (Parkinsonia) we planted in the last couple of years, the hybrid called ‘Sonoran Emerald’ in the desert bed along the street has grown the fastest and the largest. In fact, too fast and too wide too soon. While we had been trying to shape it since day 1, it became clear in recent weeks that we simply hadn’t been aggressive enough. Look at the first three photos and you’ll see what I mean.


Yes, the branches in the front were forming the canopy over the sidewalk that I had envisioned. However, they were far too low too the ground—about 5 ft. above the sidewalk. This forced pedestrians to either duck and walk in the street.


Friday, November 13, 2015

I’ve glimpsed paradise… and it’s a front yard in Walnut Creek

A few months ago somebody at the Ruth Bancroft Garden told me about a fabulous front yard in Walnut Creek. It took me a while, but I finally checked it out yesterday when I had meeting in the East Bay anyway.

What did I think? Well, the title of this post, “I’ve glimpsed paradise,” may be a tad exaggerated, but if this were my front yard, I’d be one happy camper. It’s the perfect marriage of hardscape and softscape. And the plants are definitely not run of the mill (Agave americana aside). There is a wide variety of succulents, flowering perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs from all over the world. Clearly this is the garden of a plant lover: well designed, well curated, and well tended.

I must admit that I don’t know anything about the folks who live here, the history of this project, who designed it, where the plants came from (although I assume quite a few are from the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery). While these are details that would be interesting to know, sometimes I prefer to experience a garden completely unburdened. That allows me to respond exclusively to what I see rather than what I know. And in this case, I loved what I saw.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

UC Davis parking lot plantings done right

On Sunday I took advantage of a break in the rain (“showers” would be more correct) to check out the fall color at the UC Davis Arboretum. That particular mission wasn’t particularly successful (we’re still a few weeks away from the ginkgos turning their brilliant yellow), but in one of those moments where you glimpse something interesting in your rear-view mirror, I ended up in the new parking lot for Putah Creek Lodge. This area didn’t exist two years ago. Now it’s a fairly large lot that serves both Putah Creek Lodge and the UC Davis Teaching Nursery where the UC Davis Arboretum plant sales are held.


Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

My initial reaction was one of cursory interest; the yellows and reds I saw from the car were from the ornamental grasses and California fuchsias. But after I got out and walked around, I became more and more excited. This was no cookie-cutter public landscaping. It actually had a purpose behind it, a plan, a concept. All of the plants were either native to California or climate-appropriate, i.e. native to a region similar to ours. I find it tremendously exciting when a large organization like UC Davis puts its money where its mouth is.

While I didn’t recognize some plants in the Putah Creek parking lot, most of them are on the UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars list, “100 tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden.”


California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

Bear in mind that these plantings are young and need time to fill in. But there’s tremendous potential here, and I look forward to seeing what this area will look like in a year, or two.

While I wish that they used more succulents in this planting scheme, I cannot help but applaud them for their choices: all appropriate for our climate, all water-wise, and most of them attractive,


Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia)


California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)



Click the photo above to read more about this project


Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia) and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)


Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and blanket flower (Gaillardia sp.)


Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)


Dew drop (Calylophus berlandieri)



Gaura lindheimeri and Epilobium canum


Epilobium canum and Calylophus berlandieri


Calylophus berlandieri and Salvia chamaedryoides

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Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)


Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis)


Bouteloua gracilis and Gaura lindheimeri









Agave americana ssp. protoamericana ‘Lemon Lime’ and Gaura lindheimeri


Agave americana ssp. protoamericana ‘Lemon Lime’ and Bouteloua gracilis


Bouteloua gracilis


Stipa gigantea







Red buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens), a Southern California native



Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)


Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) behind pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia)


Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) and valley oak (Quercus lobatus)


Valley oak (Quercus lobatus)


Snowy River Wattle (Acacia boormanii)


Sign about the imporance of bioswales


Example of a bioswale


Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn


This lone Agave americana looks completely lost. While it will form a clump over time, I still question the decision to plant it here. There are many more agave species and cultivars that are far more garden-worthy than Agave americana. It’s apparent that whoever created the planting scheme for this area knew a lot about climate-appropriate perennials but chose not to pay more attention to succulents. That, in my opinion, is a gross oversight since many succulents thrive in our climate.


Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)