Sunday, February 28, 2016

From lawn to succulents—grand reveal

While the front lawn conversion still isn’t 100% complete, I’ve decided to pull back the proverbial curtain and show you where we are at as of February 27, 2016.

The progress of this project has been fast and furious, mostly thanks to our landscaping contractor, Díaz Landscape Construction. A big shoutout to José Díaz and his crew. They once again did a fantastic job (this is our fourth project with José).

This is what the front yard lawn looked like on February 9. Ugly and uninspiring.


Front lawn, February 9, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Adding color among the succulents with South African bulbs

I continue to tinker with the succulent mounds that have replaced the front lawn. Most of the planting is done, but I’m waiting for the soil to dry a bit more after last week’s rain before planting out our big golden barrel cactus. It has been in a pot since 2011 and desperately wants to be set loose.

The guest speaker at last night’s meeting of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS) was Ernesto Sandoval, the director of the Botanical Conservatory at UC Davis. Ernesto gave a very informative presentation on how to keep succulents happy, both the parts above and below ground, and brought in a nice selection of plants for sale. Even thought I need new plants as much as I need a sharp stick in the eye, I couldn’t help myself. But instead of buying more succulents, I made an unexpected purchase: two Lachenalia aloides and two Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor.

You don’t know what they are? Welcome to the club. But take a look and you’ll know why I had to have them:


LEFT: Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor  RIGHT: Lachenalia aloides (species)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

UC Davis Arboretum Acacia Grove in full bloom

The Eric E. Conn Acacia Grove at the UC Davis Arboretum has one of—if not the—most significant collections of acacias in Northern California. From the Arboretum website:

The Eric E. Conn Acacia Grove displays over 50 species of acacias from Australia, Africa, and the Americas. In early spring, visitors can walk through clouds of fragrant yellow blossoms amid meadows of native California bunchgrasses. We are testing these attractive heat- and drought-tolerant plants, which range from prostrate, low-growing species to tall shade trees, for use in Central Valley gardens. The grove is named for Dr. Eric E. Conn, professor emeritus of biochemistry at UC Davis and an internationally-recognized expert on acacias.

In the past, the collection had a larger number of acacias from the Americas and Africa but since they tend to be frost-sensitive, many of them have died. As a consequence, today’s collection is heaviest on Australian species, most of which go by the moniker “wattle.” (The word comes from wattle and daub, a traditional building method that has been around for thousands of year.)

I think acacias are attractive trees right round. However, when they bloom in February and March, they stop traffic—not only because of the masses of yellow or cream-colored flowers, but also because of the heady fragrance. It’s hard to describe: sweet, a bit like honey, a bit spicy. A couple of species, Acacia dealbata and Vachellia farnesiana, are even used in perfume production.


At this time of year, you can see and smell the acacias at the UC Davis Arboretum even before you get to the Acacia Grove. It’s one of the most magnificent spectacles the Arboretum has to offer.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Front yard aloes starting to bloom

Tonight another El Niño system is moving in, promising up to ½ inch of rain in the Sacramento Valley, but this past week has been perfect: gloriously sunny and unseasonably warm. In fact, Sacramento broke all kinds of temperature records yesterday (77°F).

This boost of heat was the proverbial kick in the behind our aloes needed. After languishing in limbo for weeks, the aloes in the desert bed outside the fence have finally started to switch to flowering mode. This is just the very beginning. With somewhat lower temperatures in the forecast, I’m hoping we’ll get to enjoy the blooms into March.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening.


Much needed floral cheer in this planting strip

Monday, February 15, 2016

Transplanting a barrel cactus from a pot into the ground

We worked all weekend on our lawn removal projects—both in the front and in the back yard. There are still a few things left to do so the big reveal will have to wait a little while longer. But I want to share with you how my wife and I transplanted a big barrel cactus from a pot into the ground.

Here’s the bad boy:


I bought it in February 2011 at Mariscal Cactus & Succulents near Palm Springs. It was little smaller then; I’d say it’s grown by about 2/3. It’s now 16 inches tall and wide, not measuring the spines that stick out another inch on each side.

Mariscal said it was a fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizeni) but when Greg Starr visited last summer, he thought it was actually Ferocactus herrerae. Some sources list Ferocactus herrerae as a variety of Ferocactus wislizeni, so the two appear to be closely related.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Moving a large Agave mitis

Agave mitis (aka Agave celsii) is native to the east-central Mexican states of Hidalgo, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosí where it grows on steep cliffs. It typically offsets quite freely and is hardy to the low 20s, possibly lower (zone 8b).

My plant came from the Landscape Cactis and Succulents Nursery at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. My records, spotty as they are, show that I bought it as a 3-gallon plant on May 4, 2009 for $25. It’s been in an egg pot on the front porch ever since. In those 6¾  years it has grown tremendously, all in the same pot, but it has not produced a single baby. Maybe because it’s been in a pot all this time?


Late last year I noticed it leaning forward precariously. I thought it might be getting ready to bloom and I was just going to let it go. A couple of week ago I took a closer look and to my big surprise the soil in the pot was completely dry—think BONE DRY. Since the pot is right on the edge of the front porch, I had assumed it was getting enough rain to keep the agave hydrated. I guess not.

Friday, February 12, 2016

12/30/15: Mesquite Valley Growers, Tucson, AZ

When I asked a friend in Tucson what the best full-service nurseries are in town, he didn’t hesitate: Mesquite Valley Growers and Civano Nursery.

I checked them out on my recent trip, and I’m happy to report that I liked both. Actually, I didn’t just like Mesquite Valley Growers, I loved it. And I’ll show you why.


The first thing I saw as I was approaching Mesquite Valley Growers were the planting beds along Speedway Boulevard. They separate the parking lot (and nursery beyond) from the busy road.


There’s a lot to love here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Wanna buy a succulent nursery in San Diego County?

Yep, you read that right.

If you’ve ever dreamed of relocating to San Diego County (✔) and/or owning a succulent nursery (✔), now’s your chance. This kind of opportunity may never happen again.

Just take a look:


Dreamy, isn’t it?

All photos are from the official listing web site found here.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Retail therapy at Annie’s Annuals

Yesterday was a perfect late-winter day—blue sky and warm enough to work outside in a T-shirt. But instead of puttering around in the garden, I decided to give in to the plant-shopping itching that had been plaguing me all week.

It’s no secret that I love Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, CA. I’ve certainly written about them plenty of times before (1 2 3 4 5 6). While they’re not exactly around the corner, their selection is so huge that I don’t mind the 60-minute drive (yesterday it was even less because traffic was as perfect as the weather).


I’m always fascinated by the cabbage trees (Cussonia sp.) outside the nursery. I have three different species in pots and bought a fourth yesterday.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Aloes and acacias: another few weeks of patience

This winter has been strange. Maybe because after four years of drought it’s marked a return to the “old days,” or a semblance thereof? We only had one night below freezing and certainly more rain than we’ve been used to lately (7.77 inches since November 1, 2015) At the same time it hasn’t been unseasonably warm like in recent years. As a result, the two groups of flowering “a” plants I keep an eye on at this time of year—aloes and acacias—are lagging behind a few weeks. Or maybe they’re right where they should be in a “normal” year? I must admit I keep forgetting what “normal” is.

Anyway, I did a quick check on the aloes and acacias on the University of California Davis campus this past weekend, and this is what I found.

160130_UCD_campus_001 160130_UCD_campus_002

A few aloes are in bloom in the alley between Haring Hall and the Sciences Lab Building but most of them are still in the bud stage

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A few new plants (early February 2016)

Admittedly, this is not the best time of year to get new plants. It is, after all, still winter—even here in California. But for reasons that are no doubt part physiological and part psychological I tend to go stir-crazy in late January/early February, wanting nothing more than to work in the garden.

What usually helps tide me over is getting a few new plants. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks—all without leaving the house. What did we ever do before the Internet?


The thrills of opening a package with plants inside