Sunday, January 31, 2016

What a wonderful Whorn

St. Louis-based blogger Alan Lorence of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening! is not only an insightful writer and photographer, he’s also an accomplished woodworker. He recently started a new company, Nimble Mill, to market his handcrafted furniture and garden art. Nimble Mill has released three designs so far: the Whorn, a stool/table for indoor and outdoor use; the Bayce, a plant container or stand; and the Trang, a triangular variant of the Whorn.

The Whorn “spoke” to me ever since I saw a preview a few months ago. Last week I finally received my own pair. Eventually my Whorns will go in the backyard to serve both as additional seating and, for my own selfish purposes, as side tables when I laze in the hammock.

Even though the Whorn is designed for outdoor use, protected with a polyurethane finish that should withstand the elements, I’m keeping my units inside until the rainy season is over. And since they’re still shiny and new, now seemed like a good time to take a few photos.


The Whorn comes in a variety of colors. Mine are Just Red and Moss Green. (The shade of green looks a bit different in reality than it does in these photos. The colors on the Nimble Mill site are more true-to-life.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

12/30/15: DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, Tucson, AZ (part 2)

Part 1 of this post ended at the Mission of the Sun, the simple yet magnificent adobe chapel Ted DeGrazia hand-built with the help of Native American friends. Just beyond is the house where Ted, his wife Marion and their three children lived. Like the Mission in the Sun, it was built in 1952. It’s small and unassuming and blends in seamlessly with the tan-colored foothills of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. Even though the cactus, agaves and desert shrubs were planted, they look completely natural.


The home where Ted DeGrazia and his wife Marion lived


The barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp.) and horseshoe hanging complement the architecture perfectly

Thursday, January 28, 2016

12/30/15: DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, Tucson, AZ (part 1)

After my morning outing to Tohono Chul Park I finally visited a place I’d always wanted to see but had never had time for on earlier trips: Ted DeGrazia’s Gallery in the Sun.

Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia (1909-1982) was an artist at home in many disciplines but he’s best known as an impressionist painter. While his work covered a wide range of subject matter, his paintings of Native American children—reproduced ad nauseam on everything from greeting cards to bric-a-brac—earned him fame and scorn in equal measure. Here is an example:


© DeGrazia Foundation

I don’t want to debate the merits of DeGrazia’s work, but I love many of his drawings and paintings (not the children, I will admit that). However, what brought me to this spot in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains was the property itself. As you will see, what DeGrazia built here is simply breathtaking.


Looking at the main gallery, the Gallery in the Sun, from the parking lot

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: metal agaves

I’ve seen a lot of metal agaves. In nurseries and garden stores, that is. Not so much in actual gardens. Maybe because it’s not so easy to make them look good in the company of life plants? (I know because I have a small metal saguaro cactus.)

But I must admit I thought these three metal agaves, potted up in large terracotta planters to boot, looked quite fetching. What you can’t see is that they’re on the second story (street-level photo here). Getting them up there must have been quite a chore.


Metal agaves on 5th Avenue in Scottsdale, AZ


The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

12/30/15: Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, AZ

When it comes to scenic beauty, I know few cities that can compete with Tucson. I’m talking not just about the untamed wild (like the five mountain ranges that surround the city) but also “preserved” nature, including Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson Botanical Gardens—and Tohono Chul Park.

I’m sure most Tucsonites are familiar with Tohono Chul, but many visitors have probably never heard of it. That’s a real pity because in a town with fewer natural attractions it would take center stage.


“Horse,” a sculpture by Kioko Mwitiki made of reclaimed metal

As I said in my 2013 post,  Tohono Chul Park is a 49-acre “living museum” that was once the home of a Tucson couple who fought hard to preserve a slice of native desert. Today Tohono Chul—“desert corner” in the language of the Tohono O'odham—combines nature with art and culture. Miles of trails wind through natural areas and demonstration gardens while three art galleries, classroom facilities and a fine-dining tea room offer attractions for people who are less plant-crazy.

Not that I think my opinion matters much in the grand scheme of things, but I highly recommend a side trip to Tohono Chul Park. And if you’re a member of another botanical garden, chances are you’ll get in for free under the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Preliminary winter damage report (January 2016)

In previous years I went overboard when it came to covering plants on nights with temperatures below freezing (see here: 2011 | 2012 | 2013). This winter I decided to relax and cover only one plant: my Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’, which starts to shiver when temperatures fall into the 30s.

While we hit 32°F six times in December, we only dropped below it once: on December 27. That was the day I headed out on my trip to Southern California and Arizona. I left our house at 6 a.m. and the thermometer in our backyard read 29°F, which meant it was a degree or so colder in the front yard. Indeed, the official low for Davis was 28°F—a balmy night in many parts of the country, but a c-c-c-c-cold one here.

For some reason, 28°F seems to be a magical number for many succulents. They’re fine at 30°F but start to show damage at 28°F and go into a serious tailspin at 25°F or below. The photos I’ll show you below bear out this observation.

To put things in a perspective, while my not-bothering-to-cover-things experiment was partially successful—plants I thought would get damaged at 28°F didn’t—other plants did. However, the damage appears to be cosmetic only, and all affected plants should survive.

Let’s take a closer look.


Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’, one of many offsets from the plant that used to be next to our front door but flowered and died last year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Agave Place

Yes, there are agaves on Agave Place.


Agave Place, Tucson, AZ


The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna Kullgren over at Flutter and Hum. You can read her current Wednesday Vignette post here. Be sure to check out the links to other blogs that are also participating.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

12/29/15: Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, AZ

While it isn’t cold here in Davis (62°F in my backyard at noon on Monday, January 18, 2016), the sky has been depressingly gray virtually all month. El Niño has brought us 3.77” of rain in January, which is exactly 3.77” more than in January 2015 but a fraction of what many of us had been expecting. Still, it’s better than nothing, and you’ll find few people complaining.

However, I want to go back to Tucson, Arizona to finish up the first day of my visit there three weeks ago. I started Tuesday, December 29, 2015 with a walking tour of Tucson’s Barrio Histórico  and then paid a visit to agave expert Greg Starr’s nursery. Since I was on the west side of town already, I decided to swing by one of my favorite spots in the Tucson area: Mission San Xavier del Bac.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

12/29/15: Another visit with agave expert Greg Starr at his Tucson nursery

Tucson is the home turf of Greg Starr, one the world’s leading agave experts and the author of what I think is the best book on agaves in print, Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers (Timber Press, 2012).  Greg’s first book, Cool Plants for Hot Gardens (Rio Nuevo, 2009), is out of print but he’s actively working on a completely overhauled and expanded second edition.


I had first visited Greg on my December 2013 trip and was excited to see him again on my most recent trip to Tucson. Greg and his wife Carol live in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains on the west side of town surrounded by scenery that reminds me old westerns.

This is what I saw as I was approaching their house:


Could it get any more iconic?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

12/29/15: Tucson’s Barrio Histórico

I had been to Tucson, AZ seven times before my recent trip, and yet I had never made it to the Barrio Histórico. That’s why a visit to this historic district in downtown was at the top my list of destinations this time around. ´

My first stop was at the Cathedral of Saint Augustine on S Stone Avenue. Its history traces back to 1776 although its present Mexican baroque facade, reminiscent of Mission San Xavier del Bac south of town, wasn’t built until 1928. While I’m not religious, I’m a sucker for grandiose church architecture and loved this building.


Much to my surprise, I was able to park right in front of the cathedral!

The Barrio Histórico is also known as the Barrio Viejo (Old Neighborhood) or the Barrio Libre (Free Neighborhood) because in the old days its predominantly Mexican inhabitants were free to follow their own laws. It occupies roughly twenty blocks between W Cushing and W 19th Street and between S Stone Avenue and the railroad tracks. I parked on S Meyer near W 19th and simply walked around.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

12/28/15: Sonoran Light at the Desert Botanical Garden

After spending a good part of the afternoon at the Desert Botanical Garden (1 | 2 | 3), I went back in the evening to see Bruce Munro’s Sonoran Light installations in all their multi-color glory.

When I got there at 5:30 p.m. it wasn’t completely dark yet so the Water-Towers didn’t seem lit (although they were). The illumination is quite dim and requires almost complete darkness to see well.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

12/28/15: Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ (part 3)

Part 2

Let’s take another look at the DBG map: We’re still on the Desert Discovery Loop Trail…


Senita (Pachycereus schottii var. schottii)


Agave angustifolia

…now approaching the Berlin Agave Yucca Forest.

Friday, January 8, 2016

12/28/15: Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ (part 2)

Part 1     ↔     Part 3

We’re now on the edge of the Desert Terrace Garden, one of several exhibits completed in recent years. While larger in scale than a typical residential project would be, it still showcases many ideas that homeowners could replicate in their own gardens: stacked-stone walls and matching raised planters as well as a wide variety of succulents from both the Old and New World that look great together.

The planting areas on the west side of the Desert Terrace Garden are dominated by a line of palo verdes. While ‘Desert Museum’ is still the gold standard for palo verde trees in cultivation, I noticed that the palo verdes planted here are a cultivar of the Sonoran palo verde (Parkinsonia praecox) named ‘AZT’. ‘AZT’ stands for Arid Zone Trees, the Queen Creek, AZ nursery that introduced this selection to the trade. What sets ‘AZT’ apart from the species are better cold hardiness (to 18°F), a lacy canopy, and a vigorous root system.

If I didn’t already have three palo verdes (two ‘Desert Museum’ and one ‘Sonoran Emerald’), I would seriously consider ‘AZT’. I really like its larger, rounder leaves.


Parkinsonia praecox ‘AZT’


Parkinsonia praecox ‘AZT’ leaves

Thursday, January 7, 2016

12/28/15: Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ (part 1)

Index     ↔     Part 2

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix is one of those magical places that I will never get tired of visiting. Every year there’s something new to discover—not just new exhibits (like Bruce Munro’s Sonoran Light this winter)—but new beds, new plantings, and even entirely new pieces of infrastructure.


What you see from the parking lot; the entrance is beyond that red sign post

The DBG is huge: 140 acres, with 55 acres under cultivation, featuring 50,000+ plants. It has 107 regular staff members and an astonishing 821 volunteers (all according to their web site). No wonder the place looks pristine, and there are always people around to answer questions.


Plantings near the entrance

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

12/28/15: En route to Phoenix, AZ

On my way to Phoenix last Monday I decided to take a scenic detour off Interstate 10: US 60. I hopped on 60 at its western terminus east of Quartzite and stayed on it all the way to Phoenix.

I think I-10 is plenty scenic but I hate the fact that you can’t just pull over whenever you feel like it—the highway patrol frowns on that kind of behavior. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem on a virtually deserted two-lane highway like US 60. The downside, of course, is that you end up spending way more time on taking photos than you would otherwise. But since I was on vacation and didn’t have a strict schedule to follow, it really didn’t matter.

Needless to say I took the requisite road shots:


But what I love best about these lonely desert roads are the small towns you drive you, usually preceded by a cluster of abandoned buildings.


Monday, January 4, 2016

What I brought home from my 2015 desert trip

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out what I brought home from the 2015 desert trip. I hope you didn’t get your hopes up too high because my haul is fairly modest. I could easily have gone crazy but my goal was to know what to do with each plant I purchase. And I succeeded, mostly.


What the backseat in the car looked like on the trip home

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Huntington Desert Garden the perfect ending to my 2015 winter desert trip

Today is the last day of my desert road trip. Unlike other trips, which go out with a whimper, this one ended on a high note—a very high note.

At 8 a.m. this morning I met up with three fellow garden bloggers at the Huntington in San Marino, CA: Denise of A Growing Obsession, Gail of Piece of Eden (and her husband who took lots of photos), and Luisa of Crow and Raven. After a good 30 minutes marveling at the new entrance to the Huntington, we spent almost three hours exploring the world-famous Desert Garden.

Many aloes (and some other succulents) were in full bloom, creating a seemingly inexhaustible supply of photo ops. Below are just a few teaser images. Detailed posts will follow in the weeks to come.


Part of the new entrance: water rill with plants from dry-climate areas around the world


One of many drool-worthy vistas in the Desert Garden

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Succulent-heavy New Year’s Day in Southern California

Happy New Year! I wonder how long it will take me to remember that it’s now 2016…

I spent last night—New Year’s Eve—in Blythe, a non-descript town on Interstate 10 just a few miles from the Arizona border. It’s half-way between Phoenix, AZ and Palm Springs, CA and hence was perfect for my needs.

The coffee in my motel was execrable, but fortunately there was a Starbucks nearby. If I’d had more time, I would have had breakfast at this iconic-looking coffee shop:


25 miles west of Blythe I made a brief stop in the ghost town of Desert Center to photograph this gas station:


I simply have to share what Kathy Stoner of GardenBook wrote on Facebook earlier today after seeing this photo:

I'm not making this up I swear. I once excecuted a surprise birthday party at this very gas station in the middle of the night, in a VW beetle (circa 1969) on a road trip to Sedona. Back then if you had to drive through the desert in a car with no AC it was an all-nighter!

The world may seem big, but sometimes it’s a small place.

The first major stop of the day was at The Living Desert, a combination zoo and botanical garden in Palm Desert. I’d first visited The Living Desert with my family in 2011 and even though it hadn’t been on my list of destinations for this trip, I decided last night to change my itinerary.







Near the jaguar exhibit, a very friendly docent by the name of Bernie Rummonds asked me if I was Gerhard. It turns out she’s a regular reader of Succulent and More and had messaged me last night to invite me to The Living Desert! Talk about coincidence. While I didn’t receive her message (no cell phone signal on T-Mobile in Blythe), it’s as if my subconscious received it and prompted me to change my travel plans!

I had originally budgeted two hours for The Living Desert, but I ended up spending four. This made it necessary to ditch a few other destinations in Palm Springs I had wanted to visit, but there’s always next time.

With under four hours of daylight left and another two hours to drive, I decided to make only one more stop: Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. Pitzer is one of the renowned Claremont Colleges. What makes Pitzer so special is that the entire campus is a quasi botanical garden (John R. Rodman Arboretum), with a special focus on succulents and desert plants. The Cactus and Succulent Society of America held its 2015 convention at Pitzer this past June.

The Arboretum manager, Joe Clements, was the curator of the desert garden at the Huntington before starting at Pitzer in 2000, and his influence is visible wherever you turn. This is a truly special place since succulents are literally everywhere—imagine stepping out of your dorm and walking through a succulent wonderland to your classes! I’ll have a special post about Pitzer College soon.









Tomorrow morning I’ll meet Denise of A Growing Obsession, Gail of Piece of Eden, and Luisa of Crow and Raven at the Huntington, and then I’ll be on the road again, homeward bound.


Note: Somehow it seemed appropriate to give all the photos in this post a vintage desert look. Don’t worry, my detailed posts on The Living Desert and Pitzer College will have normal-looking photos.


December 2015 Desert Trip index

Friday, January 1, 2016

Arizona 2015—Phoenix teaser 2

I left Tucson bright and early and took Arizona Highway 177 north to the town of Superior where the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is located. It hadn’t been on the list of destinations for this trip, but I had such fond memories of my 2013 visit that I made a quick change of plans last night.

Arizona Highway 177 near the Ray copper mine

During my visit two years ago, the sky was overcast, which made for great photographs. This time I had to fight the harsh light and ended up focusing mostly on backlit shots.